Welcome to The Franchise Report, where we take a look at a 3rd party game developer and see how their biggest franchises are doing these days. We continue this week with a bit of an underdog, Taito. They never quite became as big a name as other companies like Capcom or Konami, but their lineage contains some of the most important games ever created.
Taito has been around for a very long time, and they’re responsible for some of the greatest of the greats in terms of classic video games. They’re a part of the ever-expanding umbrella that is Square-Enix, which could be worse as they haven't exactly been terrible with their properties, though there is still plenty of room for improvement. So let’s take a look at what’s going on with the biggest names in Taito.
The original Qix debuted in arcades all the way back in 1981, and went on to become a decent success for Taito. It’s a game all about territory control, as you move a dot around a screen trying to color in as much of the playfield as you can without getting hit by the titular Qix. A simple but effective concept that’s as fun today as it was back then.
So what’s new? Not much. The last new Qix game came in the form of Qix++ which was released on Xbox Live arcade back in 2009 and ported to PSP not long after. It was a pretty fun game, but it’s pretty safe to assume it didn’t exactly set the world on fire given it was the last Qix they made.
Health Rating: Not so great
Any time you get a franchise that goes more than a decade without a new release, it’s safe to assume something’s up. However, Qix is a pretty basic arcade concept, so it’s not actually quite as dire as it may seem at first glance. These kinds of things can get a fancy coat of paint and a re-release at a moment’s notice, so I wouldn’t count Qix out entirely. Even though clearly things could be better.
It may essentially be a Breakout clone, but Arkanoid has been one of the highest quality games of its type since its original release in 1986. It’s been going pretty strong for quite a long time too, with somewhat regular sequels following throughout the years.
The franchise is in a bit of a lull at the moment, with the last release actually being the crossover game Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders which was released on mobile platforms in 2017 and is currently available in the spectacularly overpriced Space Invaders Invincible Collection that just released this year. (More on that later).
Before that, the last wholly original Arkanoid game was Arkanoid Plus! for WiiWare in 2009, which was pretty great.
Health Rating: Not too bad
It’s been a while since there's been a completely unique new Arkanoid release, but I'd say Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders is a fine trade off in that regard because it’s a really cool take on the Arkanoid formula. The series isn’t exactly flourishing right now, but it’s doing alright.
A game about two dinosaurs that trap baddies in bubbles, Bubble Bobble is one of the best co-op games of all time. It’s got a heck of an interesting lineage too, with sequels and spinoffs that contradict one another at every turn!
Things have been going pretty well for the series lately. Bubble Bobble: 4 Friends released on modern consoles back in 2019, which is in fact a full-fledged modern take on the Bubble Bobble formula. It isn’t, you know, great by any means, but it’s still pretty fun, and proof positive that the franchise still has plenty of life left in it.
Health Rating: Decent
There's a lot to love about Bubble Bobble and its spinoff platformer series Rainbow Islands. 4 Friends, however, left a bit of a bad taste in a lot of players' mouths (myself included), not just for being a bit paltry in terms of content, but in terms of value. Like the aforementioned Space Invaders Invincible Collection, Bubble Bobble seems to be trapped in the clutches of ININ Games, a company that seems to have a penchant for selling games at $60 that maybe don’t exactly warrant it. Still, content is content, and while the overall quality of Bubble Bobble’s latest release may be questionable, it does mean the brand itself is perfectly healthy.
Bust a Move
This may technically be a Bubble Bobble spinoff game, but it became enough of a thing on its own to get a separate look here. Especially considering that it's only real tie to Bubble Bobble is its aesthetics.
Gameplay wise, Bust a Move (or Puzzle Bobble depending on your region), is a color matching puzzle game, and a darn good one at that!
These games have been around for quite a while, and they’ve had a pretty steady release schedule dating all the way back to its debut in 1994. The formula has been cloned countless times by companies other than Taito, but even if you discount those, the official releases have been a constant for ages.
Health rating: Very good
Taito released their own Bust a Move clone just last year in Touhou Spell Bubble, which seemingly eschewed the Bubble Bobble branding entirely in favor of… whatever Touhou is. Is that an established thing? I’m out of touch. But even if you decide to discount that one because of the name, there was still Bust a Move Journey back in 2017, which wasn’t all that long ago. Bust a Move is doing just fine.
The very definition of a defining video game, Space Invaders is without a doubt one of the most important properties out there. It’s an incredibly simple concept, but it’s so much fun that arcades and home consoles back in the day were positively brimming with imitators. It’s also probably the most well known brand Taito has, and likely a large part of why Square wanted to purchase them in the first place.
Unfortunately, it’s also currently stuck in ININ Games’ grasp, meaning that the most recent collection of Space Invaders games is, you guessed it, borderline hilariously overpriced. That said, the Space Invaders brand has seen a lot more ups than downs in recent times.
Following a few dark years where we saw dreck like Space Raiders For PS2 and GameCube, 2008 kicked off a string of great reimaginings for the brand starting with the excellent mobile game Space Invaders: Infinity Gene. More interesting takes followed, with the most recent being 2018’s literal building-sized projection game Space Invaders: Gigamax, that pits up to 20 players at a time against a giant field of Invaders.
Health Rating: Very Good
Space Invaders is doing great, which is always a nice thing to say about this kind of property. When you think of arcade classics like this, a lot of times modern iterations leave a lot to be desired, but Space Invaders continues to see clever reinventions pumped into the world.
That about wraps it up for Taito. All in all Square hasn’t done a bad job maintaining these intellectual properties, though I’d personally love to see them get away from ININ games and their $60 compilations. Still, that’s certainly better than how some other companies treat their legacy content, so things definitely could be worse.
Check back in 2 weeks when we’ll be taking a look at one of the most sequel-happy companies in the world, Capcom. How’s their stuff doing? We’ll find out!