In reviving classic games, Sega channels its old bohemian spirit

In reviving classic games, Sega channels its old bohemian spirit

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In the 1990s, Sega marketed itself as being the counterculture. Its TV commercials had a guy screaming the company’s name, representing a “rebel yell” against Nintendo’s dominance of the games industry.

That same yell returned in a trailer at the Game Awards in Los Angeles on Thursday night. The trailer showcases five new games from Sega series that mostly have been dormant for more than a decade: “Crazy Taxi,” “Golden Axe,” “Jet Set Radio,” “Shinobi” and “Streets of Rage.”

“Golden Axe” and “Streets of Rage” are traditionally 2D brawler games now being adapted to 3D. “Crazy Taxi” was an arcade hit centered around time-based street racing that’s getting a modern update. “Shinobi” seems to stay true to its 2D action roots but stylized with colorful flat-shaded animation. And the Tony Hawk-inspired “Jet Set Radio” will get a second chance after amassing a small but loud cult following.

Sega co-chief operating officer and Sega of America CEO Shuji Utsumi said this is a strategy he initiated that’s finally bearing fruit. Utsumi was instrumental in launching Sony’s first PlayStation console and Sega’s last console, the Dreamcast.

“We really want to show edginess and a rebellious mind-set,” said Utsumi, recalling Sega’s cultural impact as the “alternative” game console.

The Dreamcast was Sega’s last console before the company made the historic decision to become just a games publisher and developer, conceding the console market to Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. Despite its failure, it’s grown a loyal cult following that recognizes how the machine was ahead of its time, including having built-in online connectivity.

Utsumi said when he returned to Sega four years ago, he found a “treasure trove” of intellectual property to revisit. Originally for Dreamcast, “Jet Set Radio” (2000) was an experimental game that mixed extreme sports, 3D platforming and graffiti art, a concept so unique it was only replicated earlier this year by another studio.

Utsumi said these legacy series can find second life now that the games industry has a captive global market large enough to sustain Sega’s weirder concepts. Utsumi has firsthand knowledge of testing strange concepts as co-founder of Q Entertainment, a studio behind games that played with the concept of synesthesia and dance music.

“The concept of games like ‘Jet Set Radio’ is advanced. The original creators are involved again, and its time is now,” he said. “It’s a good time where people can appreciate all kinds of concepts.”

Utsumi credited three ongoing Sega franchises for holding up the company in recent years: Sonic the Hedgehog, which has now released two blockbuster Hollywood films; Yakuza, the crime drama that’s grown a large U.S. following; and Persona, the role-playing series about mystery-solving teens.

“We’ve been investing into these three titles the last three years, making these pillars grow, and they grew very well,” he said.

Sega also promises to revive even more legacy properties. Fighting game fans have been wondering why the first 3D fighter series Virtua Fighter is so dormant. Utsumi said the company is aware of the game’s niche status.

“We are evaluating right now. Virtua Fighter doesn’t use so many tricks, special moves like in Street Fighter, it’s very realistic,” Utsumi said. “How can we make it more dramatic? It’s something we’re working on.”

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