“Zero” Marketing is the Best Marketing: Dark Void Zero and Instant Nostalgia [Updated]

[As noted on Giant Bomb, a Zero or “0” in a game’s title establishes that it’s a prequel or remake, ala Resident Evil 0, Perfect Dark Zero and Metroid: Zero Mission.]

Dark Void Zero is a little game with huge potential – the lovechild of retro fan-service and innovative marketing has become a very compelling title, and is likely to lead the charge for similar games. Available today for a $5 download on the DSiWare Store, it’s clearly designed to build hype for its full-priced “big brother” Dark Void, ironically released today for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC – everything except the Wii. The two games are as different as their native consoles – Dark Void is a 3rd Person Action game (think Gears of War + jetpack) while Zero is a 2D action/platformer with a decidedly old-school look and feel. While it’s easy to write off Dark Void Zero as nothing more than a puffed-up, buyable advertisement, the game’s nostalgic details make it worth a second look.

Cheesy-yet-awesome "box artwork" for Dark Void Zero

The game blurs the line between old and new – it’s a 2010 release that seems to have slipped through a time-warp from 1988. Capcom even invented a fictional back-story claiming Dark Void Zero was originally developed for the Play-Choice 10 (a real Nintendo arcade unit that boasted two interactive screens), but when the system was discontinued, the game got “lost in the vault”… until now! Featuring tough-as-nails gameplay, pixilated sprite-based artwork and a catchy, blippy soundtrack, this modern-day throwback speaks to players from the early years of gaming. The little details make all the difference, from the corny intro video and “cover art” (there’s no boxed copy available) to a wink at the finicky NES – when the game is powered on, the player must “blow” on the virtual cartridge (via the DS mic) in order to get it working.

From a marketing standpoint, Dark Void Zero is a success on multiple levels. While the title is coming to PC and iPhone “soon,” for now it’s a DSiWare exclusive, and some gamers are calling it the first compelling reason to upgrade to Nintendo’s newest iteration of the DS. The game instantly expands the Dark Void cannon, allowing each game to lend legitimacy to the other. Unlike the movie industry, sequels and prequels have far more positive connotations in gaming, and both Dark Void titles play to the strengths of their respective consoles. While the next-gen title plays up the gee-whiz appeal of a Triple-A epic, the portable version combines time-tested gameplay with tongue-in-cheek aesthetics that appeal to older gamers. And that’s a growing, significant market – the average gamer is now 35 years old and is likely to have fond memories of their gaming youth.

Dark Void Zero is a dark horse for Capcom. With Mega Man 9 (and evidenced by its forthcoming sequel), Capcom has a clear picture of the demand for new, old-school titles – downloadable remakes and HD remixes have sold briskly across platforms. However, Dark Void Zero goes above and beyond by combining compelling gameplay with a unique approach to marketing. It’s the type of game that far more people will talk/blog about than will actually play, due in part to a lack of DSi owners, but gaming journalists and enthusiasts are bound to eat it up. Expect to see forward-thinking developers releasing more of these modern/retro hybrids. They boost brand awareness for their big-budget siblings while delivering cheap, nostalgic fun.

[update: Kotaku calls Zero the better of the two Dark Void games, noting its focus on fun over story, graphics and complex controls.]