Six series that need an XCOM spinoff

If it worked for Mario, what other games could benefit from the turn-based tactical treatment?

Hello, it is me: the latecomer to the Nintendo Switch. I acquired one over Christmas week and proceeded to replay all of DOOM (2016) for reasons I cannot explain. Instead, I want to focus on the weird moment that popped when I loaded a new game on my flight home: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.

I knew from friends that this was supposed to take Ubisoft’s somewhat failed version of Minions and bang it together with Mario within the context of a game that felt like XCOM. I’d watched trailers and was still convinced that this was a long-running gag that I simply wasn’t in on. Nope. That’s what it is. Mario and his friends engage in XCOM style turn-based battles (with specific XCOM tactics and even camera angles) in an effort to accomplish all the goals one might expect from Nintendo Universe storylines. But…. but also? XCOM for kids?

Who was this…. And how was…. But for whom was the…. Look, I’m just glad it exists. I think there’s something really interesting here about how this style of game could expand across different series – XCOM-likes, if you will. There’s also a standard for what you need in-world to make this work, including overworld systems and equivalents to base-building and character leveling. There has to be big things to build toward, variations in enemies that would necessitate this type of game scale, and a world that you’d want to spend the required dozens of hours exploring and exploiting. There’s a lot of good joke answers out there, but I think this is a pretty good list of some real options.

And some great joke answers.

Castlevania

The C-Vane (as the youths call it on the street) is a series that is familiar with mind boggling levels of confusion in crossovers. The greatest of these remains 2008’s Wii game Castlevania: Judgement, which was a Mortal Kombat style fighting game featuring the cast of the anti-vampire legacy ensemble punching and whipping each other to their heart’s content. That game took odd chances and fared shockingly well with critics, so why not give it a go here?

Sprawling level design among the castle and countryside has always been a staple of the series, and moreso than any other series, this is the place to go to for incredible creature design and unreasonable levels of variation. Symphony of the Night showed just how deep the world and the game systems can get here, so why not try that out in a squad based game? Imagine your team clearing ballrooms and dungeons from the castles, only to return to your village base to upgrade and train between missions; all while the dark lord’s influence spreads across the countryside?

Also, any game world with vampires and zombies has a lot of interesting options with what you could do with fallen comrades. Do you risk turning them and having them go all evil on you just to keep them in the battle? I’d play the hell out of this.

Resident Evil

The grand-daddy of all survival horror (we don’t talk about Alone in the Dark) has been through almost every possible variation in game style, including co-op shooters, visual novels, and even a stage play. It doesn’t have a dungeon crawler, which is perhaps for the best considering what Silent Hill: Book of Memories did to the PS Vita. Resident Evil players love coming back to these squad based / team based games, so it feels like a natural progression to give a turn-based game a try.

First, there’s a dozen locations that the series has already cannibalized to death, so grabbing good environments shouldn’t be an issue. Second, there’s just a terribly long roster here full of names from the 20+ games that have been released over the years with bizarro backstories that could be fleshed out.

Some kind of helicopter based S.T.A.R.S. base would be a perfect between mission management point, a la XCOM 2, as the team travels around the globe unlocking some new weirdo mystery. There’s even the series’ penchant for sudden twists and betrayals that would make for a terribly frustrating good time – for instance, when your squadmate turns tail to fight for Wesker mid-battle. The series has also never shied away from allowing large scale pandemics of the virus, so managing its spread (just like the game Pandemic) would feel like a natural meta game here.

I’ll be honest: this is about the only way I could imagine revisiting that mansion yet again.

Sonic The Hedgehog

The idea of slowing down the fastest character in video games is incredibly funny to me. It’s such an outlandish idea, that I…. wait one second. *holds a finger to ear piece*

...OK, I have just been informed that this was already made. It’s called Sonic Chronicles: Sonic and the Dark Brotherhood and it was on the Nintendo DS.

I didn’t think to Google this before writing because why would anyone does this. Of the joke entries on the list, this was the most obviously joking. I mean there’s a thread of something there but now I’m down a hellhole of watching a long play of this game and every part of it seems bad. Sonic seems like an incredible jerk.

Dude, Sonic. Back the hell off.

The reviews reflect exactly my level of surprise and an even further degree of “leave it to Nintendo to innovate” so OK. There’s a definitive art style and just the right amount of Hedgehog-based sexual tension so I can see where this crossed a finish line. This is close to what I was picturing, but obviously something that could be revisited. I mean, the actual Sonic x Rabbids game seemed like, minus Ubisoft’s involvement, the sort of thing more in line with the Sonic and Mario games that have come previously, which were all delights, including the Olympics based titles.

Imagining Sonic and friends traipsing through an HD selection of the series’ best levels while freeing tiny animals from robotic prisons sounds like a good time. Weird to find out that I’m calling for a remake to a pre-existing thing, but everything about Sonic is already super weird.

Yakuza

I had not played a single minute of Yakuza but my editor Kris forced me to add this at literal gunpoint. They said “More Yakuza now” and I was all like, yeah absolutely. (I dispute this entire characterization of events. -ed) So I spent the weekend tied to a chair and playing several Yakuza titles and here’s the thing: Yes, I get it and agree. Yakuza should be in everything. But everything should also be in Yakuza. It is a puzzle in that way.

There is something very thin-line’d between Yakuza and the dynamics I previously established as for what would be make an excellent use of XCOM game systems. There’s incredible character depth that you feel invested in, but there’s also an overwhelming sense of world-building as you branch out into industries and sub-jobs. Moreso than say, a Grand Theft Auto, this series seems ripe for development in a turn-based extension. Based mostly in the interaction between these characters and their extended world. The city itself is brimming with personality and the close quarters fighting nature of the conflict seem like a cool match.

Mostly though, this series has a style and presentation that is simply not found elsewhere, and Yakuza’s ability to make picking up a phone feel like dealing a death blow in battle means Yakuza has the skill set to keep a possibly dry combat mechanic visually interesting from start to finish.

James Bond

It’s kinda…. been a while since we had a good Bond licensed title. My last pleasant memory of the franchise was the weirdo Goldeneye: Rogue Agent on the original Xbox where you kill James Bond in the first level and become an evil double-O agent doing evil things against other evil folks. Since then, there’s just a lot of drivel, but let’s not pretend that we don’t all have a big hole in our heart that a new Goldeneye type of title would fill.

Please don't tell Brock this one actually already exists as well: Klei's Invisible, Inc. Please don't tell Brock this one actually already exists as well: Klei's Invisible, Inc.

There are two ways I could imagine this going. I see one game that lets you take on the type of Bond adventures we’re familiar with. Normally it’d be weird to have a single character in a turn-based strategy title, but that’s exactly why I think it would work. Making this an oddly stacked-against-you title with multiple goals per level seems like an excellent -- oh god, did I just invent Hitman? I might have just invented turn-based Hitman. That actually sounds super fun too. I am one-hundred percent in for either.

The other Bond-based pitch here is the idea of the MI6 team backing 007 up. This is a bit more complicated, but what if the group of Qs and sub-double-O soldiers were working on levels that Bond himself is also working through, but Bond himself was not a controllable character? The team would have its own secondary set of goals and challenges that only their skill set could overcome, whereas a computer controlled Bond would do things like taking out a group of six bad guys with a laser-watch at exactly the right moment to forward the plot. Uh, maybe think of a version of Evolve where the team and the monster are on the same side, but against spies? Doesn’t that sound fun? And especially invading a series of classic Bond villain lairs gets us closer to the Evil Genius sequel we all deserve.

X-Com: Apocalypse

This 1997 MicroProse title, the third in the original series, is often overlooked because it changed everything about what X-COM was. But what I’d like to offer is that this title is absolutely worth of revisit and re-invention, and nothing would make me happier than the new series plundering Apocalypse for its good ideas.

Set in a single, futuristic Mega-City (a la Dread), portals open around town and alien ships start pouring in from another dimension. As you battle them, damage occurs to buildings, and instead of maintaining relationships with the countries of the world you must keep your reputation high with a series of corporations and government institutions within the city. Trade happens on such a microcosm scale that, if you don’t like the price you’re paying for ammunition, you can send your soldiers to raid the ammunition company.

In this way, every building in the city is accessible all of the time, whether infested with aliens or not. The alien invaders can also make pacts with various human organizations, so you can wind up fighting an entire building full of human mercenaries working alongside alien invaders.

But the biggest twist to Apocalypse was that the game also added a real-time button, allowing battles to play out without any need for the turn-based options, and the two worked side-by-side in a manner that has only been duplicated in Fallout’s ability to integrate VATS into a first-person shooter. All of the single city setting and new economy stuff aside, the ability to clear out an entire battle in a minute or two when dealing with lower-level threats spoiled me for turn-based games because the efficiency was so endearing -- especially later in the game when my team was too overpowered to need 30 minutes to handle middling threats.

Of course, you could always switch back into turn based battle if you came up against insurmountable odds or felt the tide turning against you. But I’d personally have a less stressful time in the new iterations of XCOM if I had the option to fast-forward through the stuff that shouldn’t matter.