Go Your Own Way – Gaming’s Solo Acts

Matthew Hadick
Horror Games
Horror Games

Now that Mighty No. 9 has made the not-so-illustrious transition from gangbusters Kickstarter wunderkind to disappointing shovelware platformer, my mind is aflutter with other times auteur designers ditched their original studios to go solo. In many ways, game developers like those evoke the celebrity frontmen and women of music, tossing off the rusty shackles of their bandmates to make solo albums their way, George, Paul and Ringo be damned.

As with music, the results of these solo escapades tend to vary substantially. Sometimes, these projects prove very successful and it becomes clear the creator was stifled at their previous publisher. Oftentimes, however, developers underestimate the scale of such an undertaking and end up releasing a poorly executed, if well-intentioned, hodgepodge of disparate ideas. And unlike in music, the band rarely gets back together for a reunion tour to capitalize on their aging audience’s nostalgia. If these developers can’t make it as an independent studio, then there’s going to be trouble if their first solo work has problems.

Here are some of the more notable solo acts in gaming, mostly folks who left a Japanese publisher to find success elsewhere.

Keiji Inafune

Inafune_Fandom

We might as well get this one out of the way. Despite a promising Kickstarter campaign that eventually cleared over four million dollars, Mega Man character designer Keiji Inafune’s long-awaited Mighty No. 9, like an over-confident kid at a pool party, has flopped rather ingloriously. It turns out PlatinumGames designer/Capcom alumni Hideki Kamiya was right:

Oh well. At least there’s a four-hour long credits sequence – a mere $5 donation earned Kickstarter patrons a mention – to keep you entertained long after the game has ended.

Shinji Mikami

ShinjiFandom

After years bouncing around Capcom and a short stint with smaller studios like PlatinumGames and Grasshopper Manufacture, survival horror pioneer Shinji Mikami, best known for his work on the Resident Evil series, set out to start his own studio in 2010. TangoGames has only shipped one game thus far – 2014’s The Evil Within with Bethesda –  but the results were trademark Mikami. By which I mean gory and terrifying. A long-rumored sequel has yet to be officially announced, so our fingers remain crossed.

Hideo Kojima

KojimaFandom

One of the highest profile splits in the history of the industry, Konami stalwart Hideo Kojima parted ways with the company late last year after three decades with the publisher and amidst the strained release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom PainAfter months of behind-the-scenes squabbling and contractually-obligated silence, Kojima announced the reorientation of Kojima Productions as an independent studio.

At 2016’s E3, gamer’s got their first glimpse at the downright bonkers-looking – and oddly titled– Death Stranding, starring an infant baby and a naked Norman Reedus. Because, well, it’s Kojima – UNCHAINED!

Check out more about that below:

Tomonobu Itagaki

ItagakiFandom

It’s difficult to think of someone who sums up “game industry rockstar” more than Tomonobu Itagaki. Known best for creating the, erm, distinctive Dead or Alive fighting games and reviving the Ninja Gaiden action series, Itagaki worked at Team Ninja and Tecmo for a solid 16 years before he was driven to leave by the company’s iffy employee treatment.

His new studio is called Valhalla Studios. Their only game – Devil’s Third for the Wii U – is a complete piece of trash. Count yourself lucky if you’ve never heard of the half-finished Wii U exclusive. Better luck next time, Itagaki.

Yuji Naka

YujiFandom

In 2006, the man who gave us Sonic the Hedgehog went on to create a development studio called Prope, so Naka’s been at this for longer than the other guys on this list. Naka and his team are responsible for eccentric gaming experiences like Let’s Catch and Ivy the Kiwi? of Wii, and yes, that question mark is part of the title. Prope seems less like the byproduct of an auteur stepping away to chase a vision and more like a business-oriented designer working on simpler games to please the masses. Though Prope’s StreetPass downloads on the 3DS are hard to beat – Monster Manor and Ultimate Angler are so good we can almost overlook a bomb like 2015’s Rodea the Sky Soldier. Almost.

Koji Igarashi

IGAFandom

Koji Igarashi, better known to fans as IGA, was the assistant director for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the producer of all the games in the vampiric adventure series between Castlevania Chronicles and Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. In 2015, IGA launched a Kickstarter for his next game, a Metroidvania called Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a title that’s a not-so-subtle nod to its creator’s legacy. The game was playable at E3 this year and seems to have been well-received. Check out the most recent development update below:

Matthew Hadick
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