Like lost toys, the half a pizza with pineapple and children on a field trip without a buddy, some video games simply get left behind. Sometimes they were just released at the wrong time, eclipsed by a much bigger game or a surprise chart topper. Sometimes they just had bad marketing, or too many misconceived ideas about the game spread by word of mouth; often victim to the infamous “I heard it wasn’t that great” line. Occasionally the game drops in price too quickly and many gamers, rather than snapping the game up, just assume the price drop is because the game wasn’t that good. More often than not many of these issues plague the games that should have been hits but instead, like Firefly they fail to gain an audience. Well in our new monthly column, aptly titled Underrated Game of the Month, we reach down through the cracks and try to pull some of the more deserving games back into the spotlight.
This month’s game tried to make Mario Kart grow up and was at one point predicted to be the next big title in the racing genre, but ultimately poor sales would lead to not only the end of the franchise, but the closure of the studio as well. Blur is a great example of a game that should have been at least a modest success, but so many things seemed stacked against it. From a marketing campaign that was bordering on actually insulting people who enjoy the Mario Kart series, competition that released at the same time, some unfair bad word of mouth and rapidly declining prices; in hindsight Blur seemed destined to fail from a sales stand point.
That’s a lot of bad mojo for one game, what happened?
As I stated before, Bizarre Creations, the developers of Blur, seemed intent to take the time tested game play of Mario Kart style arcade racing games and give it a much more adult and for lack of better words, sexy aesthetic overhaul. Say what? Basically instead of driving around bright colorful magic worlds shooting turtles at your opponents go-karts, you would race the gritty streets in real world cars shooting giant fire balls at your opponents. The premise not only made sense, it sounded like a great chance for those of us who grew up on Mario Kart to have a more “adult” version of the game we loved. Unfortunately though, great ideas sometimes get strangled in marketing. As I stated previously, the main commercial for Blur seemed to imply that there was something wrong with the Mario Kart style games (see the commercial below). While a clever dig at the more kid friendly games, insulting your obvious inspiration and a series of games beloved by most gamers is rarely an effective marketing strategy to turn fans of said game into fans of your game.
OK, so marketing may have not done the best job, but what else?
Blur did release right along side another racing title by the name of Split/Second. Neither game did fantastic, and most likely each game hurt the other’s sales with Blur ending up on the losing end (if you in the market for a new racing game and two come out the same week you likely won’t buy them both, simple as that). The game’s bi-polar nature likely caused some of this. Blur looked more like a racing sim than an arcade racer, it looked more like Need for Speed than Mario Kart, but played more like Mario Kart than Need for Speed. Fans of the arcade racers were likely turned away thinking it was going to be too realistic, fans of the racing sims were turned away by the lack of reality (such as the absence of car damage or customizing the performance of your cars). In short, Blur tried to walk a line and didn’t manage to catch either side.
The last big problems Blur faced came in the form of some bad word of mouth and price drops that looked desperate. The game’s single player was fun in short doses but wasn’t great, and I think many arcade racing fans were hesitant to explore a competitive online multiplayer. Other small things, like gamers complaining about the number of power-ups being so small made an unimportant issue a point of contention amongst potential buyers (Those few power-ups were incredibly balanced and once you got into the game you stopped caring about the quantity making it a fairly moot point). Lastly, Activision freaked when the first few days of sales came in and Blur had only moved about 31,000 copies. In addition to slashing the price at retail stores everywhere only a week or two after release, they did something virtually unheard of in video games; they released a $20 manufactures coupon for the game. For some bargain hunters, including myself, this put a copy of Blur in our hands for less than $20 only a couple of weeks after release. Price drops of this sort often have the opposite effect on some gamers, convincing them that the game was not even worth the significantly reduced price or driving them to wait for the inevitable tanking on the price of the game used that results.
Now, we have spent a lot of time talking about why this game failed but haven’t touched on why it should have succeeded. The short answer is that it looked great, played great and had one of the best multiplayer experiences to come along in a long time. The car’s models, the tracks, even the backgrounds were top notch and Bizarre Creations clearly knew it (they included an ability to take photos for a reason). Everything also just had a very sleek glow to it, almost like the glow one sees when walking the Vegas Strip at night and everything is bathed in the light of neon signs. Blur was as easy to pick up and play as it was on the eyes. A lap or two with a car and you would be ready to take on the world, or at least up to 19 other people in the online multiplayer which managed to not be too overwhelming for the more casual fans. As stated previously, the power-ups were few but effective, well balanced and a great time was spent mastering them (learning how to just angle your car perfectly to unleash a series of Bolt strikes into an opponent was immensely satisfying). Ultimately Blur was exactly what Bizarre Creations had set out to make, a more adult oriented, sexier Mario Kart, and I for one thoroughly enjoyed it. Considering the game can often be found for less than $20 these days, there isn’t an excuse to not try it.
Do you disagree with what I’ve had to say here? Or do you have a game you want to suggest for the Underrated Game of the Month? Let me know in the comments below!