New IP is tough to make work. Endless sequels become boring. Look to the past. Capcom has taken this tactic to heart, with three standout titles each taking their own angle on the tactic.
Capcom's Mega Man 9
Firstly, there's the pure approach of Mega Man 9, which works entirely within the conceptual limitations of the NES-style platform that spawned the first six games in the series. Then, there's Super Street Fighter II HD Remix reimagines the classic fighter as a hand-illustrated, more accessible online dream.
Finally, there's Bionic Commando Rearmed, which uses contemporary technology to remake a die-hard gamer classic that hasn't had a fitting followup in 20 years -- in itself a teaser for a more fully-featured franchise reboot due next year. (Capcom had less interesting examples, too: 1942 and Commando had forgettable installments this year.)
It's not just Capcom which is taking this tactic -- it's just the most significant practitioner, with strong classic IP and robust support of download platforms. With other companies such as Namco Bandai resurrecting Pac-Man and Galaga in enhanced form, and Tecmo Bowl returning on Nintendo DS, existing names that people have nostalgia for, as in many other industries, might be gold.
Japan is widely perceived as struggling this generation. Yes, Nintendo is a world-beater. But core gamers have shifted their tastes to the wares of Western developers.
In fact, very few Japanese-headquartered companies have been able to capitalize on the strong support of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 gamers with anything like the reliability that they had in previous generations, or find the success on Nintendo's platforms that they previously had on Sony's.
This problem is significant enough that Yoichi Wada, president of both Square Enix and Japanese industry group CESA said in October that the Japanese games industry has "lost its position" on the world stage.
The problem is multifaceted, taking in technological, cultural, and audience issues that are difficult to untangle -- or solve. A walk around the Tokyo Game Show floor this year showed that the response of many developers has been to concentrate on the platforms that are popular in Japan -- Nintendo's -- with games that cater to niches in the market: RPG and simulation titles which de-emphasize action.
Of course, this tactic keeps the developers from gaining the technological expertise or cultural currency to ship products with global appeal; it's a vicious cycle that Wada wants to see the Japanese industry break out of.
The most positive sign, though, is that Japanese developers recognize their limitations and how to work within them. This war will not be won by ignoring these limitations, but by learning to work within them to create titles, like Grasshopper Manufacturer's No More Heroes, which maintain the unique creative spirit of Japanese development while plumbing themes and gameplay enjoyable by broad audiences.