One of the most interesting things about the games industry is that its properties don’t exist in little boxes made of plexiglass. This fact was bolded and underlined when Sonic the Hedgehog visited Mario and challenged him to some friendly sport in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. Then they took to some friendly sparring in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii. Given the mascots’ heated rivalry in the ’90s, a bloody cage match to the death would have been more suitable (and perhaps more welcome), but it was nice to learn that Mario and Sonic could get along. It kind of put the rest of the world’s conflicts in perspective.
The gaming world’s initial reaction to a crossover is generally surprise, then intrigue, then maybe a dash of skepticism. That was more or less the chain of emotions that followed the announcement that Capcom’s popular defense lawyer, Phoenix Wright, will be teaming up with Level-5’s own Professor Hershel Layton on the Nintendo 3DS. The two will exchange ideas (and probably some barbs) as they work together to solve a behemoth mystery that’s afflicting a town called Labyrinth.
Crossovers by Capcom are nothing new. In fact, Capcom has initiated the majority of the team-ups out there: Marvel vs. Capcom, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Tekken vs. Street Fighter, Capcom vs. SNK, and so on. These fighting games recall the arguments that everybody has when they’re kids: “Can Superman beat up the Flash, etc.” So even though they’re transparent ploys to siphon money, they’re “safe,” because they don’t hide what they are–and they’re a heck of a lot of fun.
But things are a little different with story-heavy games like Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton. Why has Capcom decided to pair the two up together? The fan and industry response has been overwhelmingly positive, as is the nature of a crossover: It reignites interest in both IPs involved. But what happens in the long term? Will the title cheapen the characters and their properties by forcing them together like two mismatched puzzle pieces?
Games/anime writer Heidi Kemps made a notable point shortly after the crossover’s initial announcement: Phoenix Wright’s career as we know it may be over, at least in Japan. “Capcom’s stuck with where to go for an honest-to-god fifth Ace Attorney game,” she wrote on her blog. “Players, especially in Japan, just did not like Apollo and crew in the fourth game – and many didn’t care for the changes in Phoenix’s character that came about, either. The backlash, while not as severe as, say, the ongoing [Final Fantasy XIV] fiasco, was likely not what Capcom expected, and it essentially put the kibosh on any future games featuring that cast.
“People might have bought one game with Apollo to see what he’d be like, but now that they know they don’t care for him and his companions, they likely won’t buy another.”
True, Gyakuten Saiban 4 — called Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney in English-speaking countries–sold well in its first month, but ultimately its whole new cast (and the transformation of Phoenix Wright himself) didn’t endear itself to Phoenix Wright fans. Capcom has since dallied with spin-offs like Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, which stars familiar fan-favorites like Miles Edgeworth and his whipped lapdog, Dick Gumshoe. But a true-blue sequel to the Phoenix Wright series is not forthcoming, even though it was a frequent visitor on the Game Boy Advance (Japan) and the Nintendo DS (North America/Japan)
In other words, Capcom isn’t selling out Phoenix Wright for a quick buck: It may be looking for a way to make the poor guy profitable again.
And this is a good way to do it. There’s no indication that Capcom will treat Level-5’s Professor with anything except care and reverence. Game developers grow to love and admire their mentors’ characters as much as their own: Look at Solid Snake in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Hideo Kojima, a great admirer of Mario and Shigeru Miyamoto, wanted to demonstrate his affection for the Nintendo properties he grew up with.
Sure, the end result was a little strange, but it was also enormous fun. Mario’s reputation carried on afterward, undamaged. So did Solid Snake’s (maybe he even enjoyed revisiting his youth, given the events of Metal Gear Solid 4). Nothing about the unification felt cheap or forced. Yes, people emptied their wallets specifically to get their hands on the team-up, but in the right circumstances, that’s not selling out. It’s a tribute that just so happens to translate to a good marketing strategy.
Moreover, this won’t be the first time two braniacs have matched wits in a video game. Sherlock Holmes took on Maurice Leblanc’s gentleman thief, Arsene Lupin, in the 2007 PC game Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis.
Crossover games initially appear to be a quick, easy way to get people talking about properties that may have cooled down after a few months or years of dormancy. At first glance, crossovers are cheap; they appeal to the lowest denominator, they’re a poor substitute for a new and fresh idea.
But this particular team-up may bring new life to a foundering character who deserves a second chance. Besides, the very idea of Phoenix Wright working in tandem with Professor Layton is a ridiculously fun concept to comprehend. It’s nice to know that there’s a game out there that everybody is looking forward to with their whole hearts.