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What Double Helix can do for Amazon's venture into games

What is Amazon thinking? CVG News reports that the e-commerce giant has just acquired Double Helix Games, the developer behind the modern Killer Instinct and Strider reboots. Official word from Amazon is that this move is "part of our ongoing commitment to build innovative games for customers." Those with an ear to the games industry ground suspect that this acquisition has something to do with Amazon's rumored Android-based home console that supposedly in the works. But why Double Helix, and why now? My guess: to win over the gamers who might otherwise shun an Amazon console.

To its credit, picking up Double Helix does distinguish Amazon from its Android console competitors: the floundering Ouya, and Mad Catz's still-in-the-works Mojo. Getting so-called core gamers onboard with an Android-based machine isn't an easy sell; people bought into the idea, as evidenced by Ouya's unbelievably successful Kickstarter, but the finished product garnered the kind of tepid reaction usually reserved for lukewarm, watered-down oatmeal.

Coming up with a list of the best Ouya games is incredibly difficult--I know, because I tried (and only barely succeeded). Kickstarter backers got their Ouyas almost a year ago, and so far, the only Ouya exclusive to command a modicum anyone's attention is TowerFall, the amazingly chaotic and enjoyable archery melee. Unfortunately for the Ouya, the new and improved TowerFall Ascension is headed to PC and PS4 this year, which could be the death knell for Android's first living room console. Not only that--developers are being scared off by Ouya's questionable business practices, so don't expect a TowerFall replacement any time soon.

Are Amazon's console credentials any more legitimate? It did make a bid for a piece of the gaming pie with the Kindle Fire, which is capable of running apps (though none have been exclusive to the Kindle). Currently, the body of work belonging to Amazon Game Studios is one game from 2012: Air Patriots, a single-screen tower defense game. Yes, it's maintained just over a 4-out-of-5 star rating on the Google apps store, and tower defense makes for a good bit of methodically paced fun. But trying to get gamers like you and me interested in what's essentially a Flash game for tablets is a fool's errand. 

However, while Amazon's interactive offerings on Kindle Fire have been weak, Double Helix has been making quite the name for itself. Before 2013, you'd be forgiven for not knowing about the studio, considering they made such mediocre movie tie-ins as Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. But Double Helix must've hit their stride after cranking out the licensed Battleship game, because Killer Instinct had a pretty stellar debut on Xbox One. Not satisfied with making just one exceptional game, Double Helix showed off the promising Strider reboot, which looks to do justice to Capcom's classic cyberninja. These are the kinds of games you and I get excited about; in the case of Killer Instinct, it may very well have been a system seller. That kind of fresh-in-our-minds clout could go a long way in helping Amazon grab the attention of your average gamer.

So while the concept of Amazon snatching up a next-gen developer initially seems bizarre, perhaps there's a method to the madness. Double Helix isn't exactly a triple-A third-party developer, but its recent efforts have undoubtedly shown promise. If Double Helix can craft games that appeal to the core even without established IPs, then Amazon would've picked up a huge asset in selling gamers on the Android platform. If not, well… Amazon's got billions of dollars to fall back on.

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7 comments

  • SnakeinmyBoot - February 7, 2014 4:36 a.m.

    What Amazon should do is drop that rumored console before it punches them in the wallet. And just let Double Helix make android games while Amazon sells cheap tablet, controller, HDMI cable bundles. Or at the very least, make kindle games with HMDI out and controller options. Not another android console with a proprietary store and exclusive games. Android was supposed to be more open, yet here we are getting more and more consoles running android with their own store and hence their own exclusives that limit what the customer can buy. It's like buying a PS4 from Walmart and not being able to play Knack because that's Gamestop's exclusive. DLC is bad enough, but droid consoles are doing it with full games and hardware. At least Sony and M$'s competing consoles have completely different OSes to handle their slightly different hardware. The only limits on android games should be that your hardware can't run them because it's getting ancient. The Ouya was suppose to be the "open system that you could make your own games for". It was a great idea at the time. But, android is already open enough that you can download a program from a third party on your tablet or smartphone(unless your carrier is greedy, in that case root the sucka). The Ouya hyped itself as they solution to a problem that it's own OS already solved. Its real value was the fact you could play android games without buying a smartphone or tablet. And that is quickly becoming moot as older model tablets and cells go down in price or get sold used for cheap, while their next Ouya revision isn't even upgrading its aging Tegra 3 chipset that phones are now running circles around. The Shield is a replacement for just getting remote desktop software for your gaming rig and taking your laptop to the WC with a controller. The Mojo has a Tegra 4 chipset but that will be eclipsed by the Tegra K1 coming out in a few months, so it has lots of life left but is already behind for what it costs. The Oyau is an old tired dog with a dream that never happened. The only way Amazon's android box can beat them and tablets is if it also has iOS as I heard from another ridiculous rumor floating around. (Apple hasn't let a hardware competitor sell a system with their OSes since Jobs came back and busted up the mac clone business in the late 90s, and almost got Sony to make Mac Vaios in the early 2000s, so I think that's just another publicity rumor.) None of them have any real merit unless you absolutely love what games android has to offer, and from what I've seen, the people who drop more than $200 solely on gaming hardware are gonna be spending it on xbones, PS4s, Wii Us, and PCs before considering an android or iOS system cutting into their budget.
  • g1rldraco7 - February 6, 2014 9:02 p.m.

    I don't like this very much, if they mess with Killer Instinct I will go on rampage!!!!!!
  • shawksta - February 6, 2014 10:04 p.m.

    Double Helix is already confirmed to finish everything they sought out in terms of Season 1. Season 2 on the other hand will be handled by another Developer, we dont know how this will goes, all we know is that Microsoft is soon gonna announce who the new developers for the rest of KI is gonna be. We can only hope for the best. KI is really, REALLY good and its a shame to shit shitfest to happen. Goddamn it Amazon.
  • shawksta - February 6, 2014 7:07 p.m.

    Its really out of nowhere and interesting that this happened. However im scared about what's gonna happen with Strider and KI, especially KI, i dont want them to affect the games in a negative way especially with KI still supposedly having a second season. It needs it as KI still needs fixing and its already an amazing game but needs more content. Microsoft said they are gonna announce a second partner for KI development but this worries me cause whoever it is, who knows if they'll handle the game right, the game is unbelievably balanced and i dont want that to change.
  • universaltofu - February 6, 2014 6:46 p.m.

    An unfortunate offset to the rising popularity of gaming and it's culture is the breaking off and splintering into more specialized offerings, which while great to select individuals, sort of de-simplifies things for better or worse.
  • GOD - February 6, 2014 5:53 p.m.

    Well if a company were to try and launch a console, it might as well be one as big as Amazon that already has a digital store front and a ton of money to throw around. The one question is, what could they do with their console to make it stand out? MS and Sony are already in a close battle for mainstream console, and the WiiU satisfies that secondary console that exists off of it's exclusives so what could this possibly do differently or better to make it worth a purchase?
  • winner2 - February 6, 2014 5:34 p.m.

    yeah i'll be back in 3 days with my OWN home console since apparently it's the hot new thing these days

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