Who doesn’t love a good competition?
Rivalries have underscored everything humans have done since the dawn of time. Whether it’s two two civilisations fighting for survival; two sports teams with rich competitive histories; or even something as trivial as the colour of a dress, we just can’t help but embrace our competitive spirit. The truth behind that is that no matter what you’re doing or what you’re watching, rivalries – whether they’re friendly or not – make everything more interesting, and the games industry plays host to some of the most compelling rivalries of our time. This month, for 2019’s first Multiplayer entry, the Doublejump Staff sat down to talk about the rivalries that have stood out in our minds over our long gaming careers.
Abir: Commander Shepard vs. Saren Arterius – Mass Effect
Saren was like that sneaky kid in class who acts up behind the teacher’s back but acts like a goody-two-shoes in front of them. He was charismatic and highly-accomplished, but he was up to no good. His disdain for humanity saw him undermine not one but two human Spectres (the lore’s elite special agents) in front of the Citadel Council, and he always seemed to have a snarky remark about why humanity was not worthy of the Council’s praise. So it was no surprise that the Council refused to accept Shepard’s word that the all-powerful Reapers have returned to “cleanse” the galaxy of all life against that of a seasoned-veteran like Saren.
Like any well-written villain, there are redemptive qualities to Saren the Savage Turian as well. He saw serving the Reapers as a means to protect the lives of the Milky Way’s inhabitants, but he, too, fell under Reaper indoctrination. His will was truly not his own any longer, and the final battle in Mass Effect gave players the option to return some dignity back to him by allowing him to end his own life instead of living in servitude. However, the angered Sovereign (his Reaper master) reanimates his corpse as a hideous monster devoid of organic life, and we are forced to fight the husk of a once-great soldier.
In the end, Saren’s character arc was one of tragedy. He truly wished to save the galaxy by proving organic life’s worth to the Reapers through servitude, however, his efforts were in vain. The Reapers only exist to eliminate organic life, and he was Shepard’s first glimpse into the suffering that lays ahead for all life if he or she were to fail to stop them.
Cai: Nintendo vs. Apathy
Nintendo has always been at the forefront of innovation in gaming, shown by its strange removal from the constant Sony vs Microsoft battles. Some of its ideas never quite panned out the way it hoped, like the pulse reader that never quite found a purpose, and many of its ideas were just too ahead of their time, like the “Virtual Boy” that came out two decades too early.
In 2007, though, the Japanese giant struck gold with what would soon become a feature of every console: motion controls. Finally, Nintendo had got everyone up on their feet, moving around and really engaging with the games. Everybody was swinging imaginary tennis racquets around like they were a blood pinata at a mosquito party.
Sadly, moving is so much effort, and it wasn’t long before we all collectively realised that while motion controls were fantastic, they weren’t actually omnipotent and the race to find a way to game the system was on. Some devoted fans still got up and danced around, while more and more figured out that a gentle swing from the comfort of a lounge chair would more than suffice. In beautifully apathetic style, nobody ever really won, it just slowly fizzled out and now softly flickers up on family game nights and old people’s homes. I’m sure Nintendo is working on something suitably dramatic to finally win the battle, though – it wouldn’t be Nintendo otherwise.
Cav: Mics vs. Mutes
There are few certainties in life, but the ones that do exist are always there to annoy us. Death, taxes, plugging in a USB the wrong way up the first time… To that list we can surely add the legion of people who are guaranteed to proclaim as loudly as possible to anyone who might be listening, whenever the subject of online multiplayer games comes up, that it’s impossible to perform well without using voice chat. Non-mic-users explain their reasons, usually get shouted down by the Baby’s First Spec-Ops crowd, and the debate remains at an eternal standstill. That’s the internet for you.
As with most controversies, the truth lies somewhere in between. As someone who often plays with randos, attempting voice communication is usually a self-served invitation to sphincter-scrunching frustration. If I wanted to hear prepubescent boys whining, yelping slurs and mumbling like they’re in the process of shitting out their last remaining brain cells with their Macca’s, I’d have kept teaching in high schools. It’s not like they generally play any better: in fact, you spend most of the time wishing they’d just shut the fuck up and pay attention to the actual game.
Besides, very few games really need that level of coordination. If we’re talking something hardcore, where close co-operation and positional play is vital – say, Rainbow Six Siege – I get it, but few competitive games are as complex or unforgiving. Most rely on simple rulesets and a set stable of actions that are done constantly, and it’s usually pretty clear when they’re needed. Most of the information that needs to be conveyed is usually very simple, as demonstrated by Apex Legends’s excellent ping system. If you don’t already know how to capture a control point, carry a flag, flank or heal going into a game, flapping your gums won’t help you – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that not using mics is almost never an excuse for not reading the game and playing with your brain.
Of course, voice comms with friends is always fun, but you already know each other well enough to at least be on the same page, so it’s naturally going to be a positive experience. Gamers tend to be so obsessed with the technical side of things that interpersonal chemistry rarely gets considered, but it’s really at the heart of the matter. Not only does it make voice comms fun and productive, it can have a positive benefit without mics as well. We’ve all stumbled across the occasional PUG who just seems to get it, that knows what needs to be done and watch out for each other the way you’re supposed to. It’s rare, but it happens. Respawn gets it, and finally gave us a tool to aid that experience. Here’s hoping that other developers follow suit.
Jake: The player vs. Team Rocket – Pokémon
Over the past 23 years, Team Rocket has been the archetypal “obstacle that looks scary but really, really isn’t.” From our first meeting with them in Mt. Moon – where a ten-year-old kid thwarts their entire Fossil mining operation – to Jessie, James and their talking Meowth’s constant acts of self-sabotage in their quest to steal Ash’s beloved Pikachu in the anime, Team Rocket has made a name for itself by looking like more of a threat than it actually is. Even in the games, the Grunts’ penchant for using pretty sub-standard Pokémon (we’re talking Zubat, Rattata, Drowzee and their evolutionary chains) makes their elaborate hideouts look a lot more intimidating than they actually are.
Bumbling stupidity aside, though, Team Rocket has provided some memorable – and, dare I say, fun – moments and memories throughout Pokémon’s existence. Of course, the most notable example here is Jessie and James’ uncanny ability to shoot themselves in the feet (usually after actually succeeding in their mission), but there’s much more to speak of: the infinitely-frustrating spinning floor trap in the Celadon City Hideout; essentially gifting us a shiny Gyarados by annoying it enough that we have to go out and fix the problem; and literally teaming up with the Pokémon League Champion to kick their asses, just to name a few… There’s nothing more fun in the Pokémon games than watching Team Rocket try, succeed, and then immediately turn that success into failure, except for being responsible for it.
John: Overwatch vs. Battleborn
Ah, that famous rivalry between the game whose title you recognise and the one you don’t. Admittedly, this “rivalry” was more of a petty feud than anything else, powered by imagination and developer Gearbox Software’s bizarre insistence on barely defining its own game. “MOBA shooter” was the gist of it, but in distancing the new would-be franchise (lol) from the Borderlands series, everyone had trouble figuring out quite what Battleborn was meant to be. Even reading this far, I bet you still can’t remember anything about it.
Overwatch, that small indie studio Blizzard Entertainment’s “Hero Shooter”, didn’t have this issue.
A few things solidified this public rivalry. First off, they were both hero-based triple-A multiplayer shooters – so comparisons were only natural. Second, they were set to release in the same month with Battleborn releasing on May 3, 2016 and Overwatch on May 24. Third, and the only convincing evidence that a rivalry even existed: Overwatch held a massively successful open beta that began exactly on Battleborn’s release date of May 3.
If Blizzard’s intention was to destroy Battleborn before its own game even released, it worked. Battleborn could barely light a half-built treehouse on fire, let alone the entire world, and it was summarily crushed by Overwatch’s awe-inspiring success a few weeks later. It was David versus Goliath, except David left his arms and legs at home and Goliath was a mech with laser eyes or something.
Horribly marketed from the get-go and memorable for little else, Battleborn’s little tiff with Overwatch was as entertaining as it was sad.
Kristian: Guitar Hero vs. Rock Band
The standout rivalry to me is Harmonix’s Rock Band versus Activision’s Guitar Hero. While the latter started out as a Harmonix IP in conjunction with RedOctane, Activision saw dollar signs following an impressive debut – the original game has a 91 Metacritic score, despite being made on a limited budget – and spent $100 million to acquire the franchise. After that, MTV swooped in to purchase Harmonix and put the studio to work on a new game, which came to be known as Rock Band.
Growing up, I didn’t have enough money to invest in both, and since Rock Band has never had a stable price in the Australian market, I decided to remain loyal to the Guitar Hero brand when Activision took over, rather than following Harmonix over to its new Rock Band IP. I even kept going with Neversoft once it introduced full band play with Guitar Hero World Tour the following year, plus the DJ Hero spinoff, which was a lot of fun. Guitar Hero 5 remains my favourite game in the series, thanks to its diverse soundtrack and incredibly sharp Career Mode format, and it’s even in my top 10 games of all time.
By the time both series were rebooted in 2015, I was in a position where I could buy them both. Again, Rock Band 4 launched ended up falling flat, I ended up preferring Rock Band 4’s more “classic” gameplay instead. Now, I’ve taken up streaming the game on my Twitch channel among my other content.
At this point in time, I am back in Harmonix’s corner, but I will never forget my roots and will gladly return to Guitar Hero with open arms. However, a new player is emerging with the upcoming Project Note Hitter. It remains to be seen how much of an impact the work-in-progress will impact both series going forward, with many of the top streamers playing Clone Hero, the game’s alpha version, on Twitch instead.
Matt: NBA 2K vs. NBA Live
As a huge basketball fan, I have plenty of memories playing NBA Live and thinking that things couldn’t get better, and so you could imagine my surprise when NBA 2K swooped in, took over as the best of the basketball simulations, and held the crown for many years.
Although it’s a little more one-sided nowadays, there was once a fierce rivalry raging between the two franchises. While EA’s basketball simulation series began three decades ago with 1989’s Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs, officially adopting the NBA Live moniker in 1994 with NBA Live 95, Visual Concepts didn’t launch its competitor until a decade later with 1999’s SEGA-published NBA 2K. The rivalry didn’t start in earnest until 2006, though, when SEGA sold Visual Concepts to 2K Sports and the game’s stock began to rise.
Visual Concepts immediately put its NFL 2K series to rest after the acquisition, focussing its sports offering on basketball (NBA and College Hoops) and the NHL while also assisting other developers when the need arose. The results spoke for themselves: releasing on the new Xbox 360 as well as the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, NBA 2K6’s presentation had become polished and smooth, while its gameplay had a sense of physicality that allowed players to feel the weight of every step, jump and bump.
The rivalry only lasted a couple of years, though: while Visual Concepts continued to innovate and add new features to its NBA 2K releases, EA rested on its laurels, approaching NBA Live with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality for long enough that gamers watched NBA 2K leapfrog it onto the top of the basketball simulation world. Despite a few hiccups, EA is still trying to compete with Visual Concepts, but the battle is becoming more and more one-sided.
At least we have the memories… Right?
Simon: PlayStation 4 vs. Xbox One
Console rivalries have been around for as long as the consoles themselves, and with rumours heating up that the ninth generation isn’t too far away, it’s hard to go past one of the most controversial rivalries in the industry’s history: the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, which were announced in February and May 2013 respectively, and released into direct, heated competition that same November.
It’s been a topsy-turvy rivalry to say the very least. Microsoft shot itself – and the Xbox One – in the foot in the early going, announcing the Xbox One with a famously-oppressive DRM and game licensing policy and the need to “check in” online once every 24 hours. Of course, Microsoft soon reversed these policies, but it wasn’t until after Sony had been able to use the fallout from Microsoft’s faux pas to lampoon the Xbox One itself and gain some major favour with the gaming community.
Of course, Microsoft managed to take back the upper hand in 2015 when it announced that it was making the Xbox One “backwards compatible”, allowing players to play their old Xbox 360 games on their Xbox One. Not all of the console’s games are backwards compatible, but it was certainly more than the PS4’s zero back in 2015, and the PS4 has kept that number consistent even now; certain PlayStation 1 and 2 titles have found their way onto the PlayStation Store, but the PlayStation 3’s library is nowhere to be found.
Despite Microsoft reversing the DRM and becoming the first of the two eighth-generation powerhouses to offer backwards compatibility, it’s easy to believe that the damage had already been done: Microsoft hasn’t released the Xbox One’s sales figures since November 2014, which can be seen as an indication that the numbers aren’t where the company had hoped they’d be. Regardless, this rivalry sparked more discussion and more controversy than any before it, and it can’t all be covered here. All we can say for sure is that the eighth-generation rivalry has been one for the ages.
Ty: Kazuma Kiryu and Ryuji Goda – Yakuza 2
From best-friend-turned-villain Akira Nishikiyama to villain-turned-trusted-”friend Goro Majima, Yakuza’s loveable beefcake of a leading man, Kazuma Kiryu, has no shortage of people trying to take him down. Of all of those looking to dethrone the Dragon of Dojima, though, none has stood out to me as much as Yakuza 2’s main antagonist, Ryuji Goda. As the leader of the Go-Ryu clan, goda leaves nothing but carnage in his wake as he looks to defeat Kiryu and prove that he’s the only man worthy of being called “the Dragon.”
Unlike Kiryu’s main rival, Majima, Goda only appears in the main series once (aside from his 12-year-old self’s cameos in Yakuza 0), but each of his clashes with Kiryu is more intense than the last. It all culminates in a Yakuza staple: two muscled-up dudes just slugging it out to a banging soundtrack. Although Goda loses the battle, he still proves himself to be Kiryu’s equal in far more than just martial arts prowess, and the pair’s comparatively short story has stood the test of time as my favourite rivalry in gaming.
Zack: Ocarina of Time vs. A Link To The Past
The debate over which is the best title in the storied Legend of Zelda series has raged for years on end, and while it’s impossible to reach a definitive answer, two titles stand out: A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. Although neither one is my own favourite game in the series, you simply can’t understate their impact on the franchise – and on gaming as a whole.
The debate around these two game really reflects a much larger argument: 2D games vs 3D games. A Link to the Past is often considered the peak of 2D Zelda, while Ocarina of Time brought the series into the third dimension with a game so widely praised that some still consider it the greatest game of all time. When examining the games themselves, however, their foundations are largely similar.
Both games’ plot structures are almost identical, requiring players to collect three trinkets to obtain the Master Sword and defeat Ganon/Ganondorf in an epic showdown. Each game contains similar items, with A Link to the Past having slightly more variety but Ocarina of Time introducing items more suited to a 3D environment. Finally, both games centre on a world-switching mechanic, with A Link to the Past’s Dark World and Ocarina of Time’s time travel, although the mechanic is far more prevalent in A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time’s time travel only appears to full effect in one dungeon.
These similarities mean that choosing which is superior really does come down to personal preference, where players are asked to choose between a streamlined adventure and a cinematic quest, as well as between a faster-paced game or one with more involved combat. This ambiguity ensures that we may never find the answer, especially considering the series’ incredible longevity: perhaps one day, there’ll be two completely new games at the forefront of the Zelda debate.
Of course, there are more than ten rivalries in the games industry, including in areas that we haven’t even charted with our own selections; feel free to get involved in our community and let us know what you’d have spoken about!
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Also published on Medium.