The holiday season is when people pause to reflect on the things they are thankful for, and the thing I am thankful for this year is extensions of IP into weird video game genres. Most recently, I am thankful for Dragon Ball: The Breakers, potentially the most bizarre and unexpected game release of 2022. It is the latest in a long line of licensed games that nobody asked for but that ended up being an excellent way to expose people to new experiences.
Various IPs have been taking weird left turns with video game adaptations for almost as long as video game consoles have existed. Star Wars: Jedi Arena for Atari 2600 lingers in my memory for being a game where, instead of clashing lightsabers with your opponent, you just deflect laser blasts from a training probe lifted from A New Hope. It’s about as fun as it sounds. Indeed, there are lots of terrible licensed video games regardless of what genre they are.
But sometimes these games stick the landing, and beautiful things happen when they’re in a genre nobody expected. One big example, albeit an example that somewhat cheats, is Super Mario RPG. Mario has obviously always been a video game character, so you can’t exactly call any game involving him a “licensed” IP. Nonetheless, Mario had always been Nintendo’s icon of twitch-movement action games, but in the hands of Square, an outsider, he suddenly became the hero of an epic role-playing adventure.
Many people ended up playing Super Mario RPG just because it was a Mario franchise game, having had little or no experience with the RPG genre previously. And since Super Mario RPG happens to be spectacular, that positive experience incentivized players to seek out more games in the genre, like Final Fantasy. It’s a delightful case of cross-pollination, and it’s a healthy trend for the video games industry.
There’s no need to dwell on every example that exists of an IP heading into weird video game genres, but it’s worth citing a few. For starters, BioWare’s Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood on Nintendo DS was basically the same situation as Square’s Super Mario RPG on SNES. (The only difference is that Sonic Chronicles is abhorrent garbage — in my book, at least.) Likewise, BioWare taking the Star Wars IP and creating a huge role-playing adventure in a whole new timeline with Knights of the Old Republic was unexpected but well received and extremely influential.
In more recent times, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk introduced Berserk fans to Omega Force’s unique Warriors / Musou sub-genre of action. The Warriors sub-genre is admittedly absolutely perfect for the ultra-violent Berserk IP, but it’s still not a game anyone was expecting or requesting until it just suddenly existed. Similarly, nobody was begging for a digital collectible card game using the Marvel IP, but Marvel Snap has millions of players now (regardless of how predatory it might be). Inevitably, at least a few Marvel Snap players will branch out and try other digital CCGs like Hearthstone.
And lastly, there is Dragon Ball: The Breakers, an asymmetrical survival game that everyone described as “Dead by Daylight with Dragon Ball characters” in the lead-up to its release. The asymmetrical survival genre had always intrigued me, but I almost never play games online and seldom play multiplayer games in general. I presumed the genre wouldn’t be able to hold my attention for longer than a week or two. When Dragon Ball: The Breakers launched in October, I still presumed it couldn’t hold my attention — but I bought it anyway on Nintendo Switch, just because I loved the idea of Dragon Ball as a survival game.
… And I’ve been playing it ever since. I try to play it at least twice every week, not because I care very much about its progression systems or cosmetics, but just because I adore the gameplay. Slaughtering the weak as Frieza is endlessly thrilling. Skulking around Namek as a survivor trying to undermine the bad guy with teammates is also a delight. The controls can be amusingly floaty sometimes, and there are honestly small aspects of progression and gameplay I’ve just never understood or bothered to learn. But it says something that I can have so much fun and success with a game without even needing to understand every nuance.
Dragon Ball: The Breakers is the most engaged I’ve been with playing an online game since the multiplayer component of The Last of Us on PlayStation 3 in 2013. And I never would have touched The Breakers if it weren’t a game with the Dragon Ball license slathered all over it. I have been exposed to a whole new, fun genre just because developer Dimps dared to do something different with Dragon Ball. That is the power of cramming an IP into a weird video game genre. And it should really happen more often, to solicit more serendipitous moments of discovery for players.
Admittedly, I don’t know if Dragon Ball: The Breakers will actually inspire me to try Dead by Daylight or a similar such game. It could very well be that I’m still just more interested in fun Dragon Ball experiences than I am in asymmetrical survival games. But even if that is the case, and even if that would describe a lot of people who try such things — that’s still not a bad thing. It’s still an avenue to enjoying something that people normally wouldn’t, and that can only ever be a good thing.
Now, I’m going to sit here and wait for someone to create a Sailor Moon dating sim.