Examining Amazon’s Acquisition of Double Helix Games

Rumors of an Amazon game console of some sort have been rumored since Android console gaming became a thing, and now, the retail giant has made their boldest move yet – purchasing Double Helix Games. The developers behind Killer Instinct’s reboot have gotten rave reviews for that title and with good reason – it retains everything that made the original game so fun, while modernizing the gameplay so that it could be enjoyable in the modern era not just by fans of the original, but newcomers as well. Its free-to-play model is also one of the best in gaming, and gives you a fairly decent value for your money by offering up the characters a la carte or in larger packs depending on how much you feel like spending. The group’s releases have run the gamut from sub-par licensed fare to the far more revered KI and so-far, so-good reboot of Strider.

The inconsistent history of the company’s run of games made many worry about how well KI would turn out, but thankfully with that, the group’s history of quality pre-merger as Shiny and The Collective shined though. As Shiny, the company shined brightly during the 16-to-32 bit era with releases like Earthworm Jim, MDK, and Wild 9. The release of Enter the Matrix and its sequel threw them wildly off-course though, and they wound up being merged with the Collective. That group’s best releases were the Xbox Buffy game, which was one of the better brawlers of its time. Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb, which was a good-ish 3D adventure game that has probably not aged well in the era of Uncharted and Tomb Raider, with Getting Up being their last big release that was both a a bit of a cult classic, and yet not really deserving of that title due to game-crashing bugs.

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With the acquisition involving both talent and IP, one has to wonder just what IP is actually part of this sale. One can safely assume that anything licensed isn’t part of the deal, which means that there won’t be a Killer Instinct or Strider game on whatever mystery platform this deal was struck to likely develop games for. Now, if they still own MDK and Earthworm Jim’s IPs, things could get a bit interesting because they’re somewhat beloved franchises from the past that have a bit of nostalgia appeal to long-time gamers. EWJ was hurt by the N64 installment, but the HD re-release brought the character back to some level of prominence. MDK on the other hand, hasn’t been seen since the 2011 Wii remake of 2000’s cult classic MDK 2. Wild 9 was a lot like EWJ, but nowhere near as big a deal. It was a reasonably-hyped PS1-exclusive that’s really gotten lost to the mists of time. It played far smoother than EWJ, and had better visuals, but hasn’t been given a PSN re-release – although copies on ebay aren’t going to cost you more than around $10. If only those IPs were retained, then there would at least be a solid foundation for a bit of retro gaming on the Amazon console right out of the game.

More importantly, the talent behind the games is there and could craft an original IP that could propel the system to greater heights. It’s very easy to imagine DH releasing a fighting game that benefits from the experience they had on KI. Perhaps it could be the next great big original fighting franchise – something that would be nice to see since the genre has certainly stagnated a bit, or they could make another inventive platformer. With the Amazon name, branding, and marketing hype train behind it, it would only take one high-quality game to really sell to the masses and get them to buy into the system. The OUYA had Towerfall for its launch, but didn’t have much of a marketing push to promote it – and being thrown next to random stuff at Target or in the furthest-corner of a Gamestop isn’t going to do much good for brick-and-mortar exposure either. Amazon won’t have to overcome that hurdle since their products appeal to the mass market and are going to sell well no matter what unless there’s some fatal flaw with them.

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This purchase is an exciting one because it shows that Amazon is serious about getting into the game industry, and while it may seem a bit absurd to some, a lot of companies have come out of other fields to achieve great success in releasing game consoles – like just about all of them. Nintendo started as a card company, while Sony’s gaming seeds were planted with the SNES and later a publishing deal that saw them release such high-quality releases as Mickey Mania. Microsoft took a lot of risks and entered the console market at a time when MS was far from the most consumer-friendly company on Earth, but did so and has been succeeding for years now. Amazon may not quite be aiming to be the darling of the hardcore gamer like MS was with the first Xbox, but they’ll certainly want to give as many different sub-sets of the gaming population something to enjoy, and this one acquisition shows that they want to make news right now. Had this deal been done before KI’s release, it honestly wouldn’t have meant too much, but with them proving their worth with that, and a Strider reboot only weeks away, it’s clear that they’re showing that they’ve got the money to spend to get companies that seem relevant and are going to be able to deliver top-quality content for them.