Shinji Mikami was another nameless face in the crowd in the Japanese games development community prior to 1996. Born on August 11, 1965, Mikami, a videogame enthusiast, had managed to land a job with Capcom, one of the biggest videogame publishing houses in Japan, but he’d failed to make a name for himself. 1996’s ‘Resident Evil’ changed things for Mikami. Overnight, he became one of the hottest and most famous game designers in the world. Mikami has worked on dozens of games during his career, some better than others. This top 10 will cover the top 10 Shinji Mikami games.
10. Aladdin – 1993
‘Aladdin’ was one of the biggest movies of 1992. Produced by animated movie legends Disney, the film followed the escapades of Aladdin, a streetrat living in the fictional Arabian city of Agrabah, as he sought to protect his home city from the evil dark magician Jafar. Aladdin immediately captured the hearts of minds of children, adults, and film lovers everywhere. Its story was excellent, its characters well written and captivating (in particular ‘Genie’, played by Robin Williams), and its animation beautiful. In 1993, Disney commissioned Capcom to create a videogame based on the movie. Capcom created a team of some of their finest ‘up and coming’ developers to work on the game including Mikami, who was brought on as lead level designer. Aladdin was a fantastic platforming game. It featured bright, colourful graphics that carefully mimicked the look of the film and its controls were well designed and tight. Arguably Aladdin’s best feature was its level design and encounter design, however. The game’s levels were expertly designed with hidden secrets available on each level and each encounter in the game, particularly the boss encounters, was expertly tuned to be neither too difficult nor too easy. Today, Aladdin is looked back on as one of the finest 2d platformers on the SNES and one of the best movie adaptations ever made, in no small part due to Mikami’s excellent level design.
9. God Hand – 2006
In 2006, Mikami turned his hand to the 3d action brawler genre with ‘God Hand’, a game that saw players take control of Gene, a martial artist gifted with a pair of extraordinary ‘god hands’ that allowed him to punch and kick with startling power and brutality. The game followed Gene as he fought an army of demons on his way to save the Earth from certain doom. God Hand was an unusual game. It was decidedly Japanese and featured some strange Western and Japanese comedic sensibilities. Its story was fairly haphazard and confusing too, with a cast of strange characters pushing the plot along. While some players loved God Hand’s world, others hated it. God Hand’s gameplay was similarly decisive. While some players took to it immediately and found it a joy to control, others found it difficult and unwieldily to get to grips with. Still, one thing couldn’t be denied – God Hand’s enemy, boss, and level design were excellent in all respects, which made the game enjoyable to play through. God Hand received mixed reviews from critics. While some, like IGN who rated the game 3/10, hated the game, others loved it. Today, the game is rated a respectable 73/100 on Metacritic.
8. Killer7 – 2005
‘Killer7’ was a radical departure for Mikami. While he’d spent most of his career working on ‘traditional’ videogames with ‘traditional’ art styles and mechanics, Killer7 featured nontraditional controls, nontraditional characters, nontraditional game design, and nontraditional level design. The game was a risky move for Mikami but, somehow, he made it work, delivering one of the greatest games of 2005 and one of the most unique games ever made. In Killer7, players took control of a member of the assassin group ‘Killer7’. Players controlled this character as he travelled the globe taking out members of the terrorist cell ‘Heaven Smile’ with the aim of preventing the release of a deadly human killing virus. Killer7 featured cartoony cel shaded graphics that exaggerated and glorified violence. The game also featured a number of unique game mechanics, in particular a mechanic that allowed players to transform into different characters each with their own personalities and abilities. Killer7 was released to mixed reviews from critics. While some rated it highly, others rated it low. The game is currently rated a decent 73/100 on Metacritic.
7. Dino Crisis – 1999
1996’s ‘Resident Evil’ was the game that made Mikami’s career. A survival horror with zombie elements, the game had it all: great gameplay, fantastic graphics, and a well written story with interesting characters. The game blew up in popularity and was one of the highest selling games of 1996. In 1999, Mikami took his Resident Evil template and applied it to a different setting. While Resident Evil featured zombies as its primary enemy type, 1999’s Dino Crisis featured dinosaurs. Dino Crisis put players in control of Regina, a special forces officer given the task of infiltrating a futuristic military compound in order to find out why it has suddenly gone dark. The game followed Regina as she explored the compound and fought off the many dinosaurs lurking its halls. While Dino Crisis wasn’t an original game, it was a fun one. It took the Resident Evil template and refined it greatly, all the while delivering a fun game with great graphics and an interesting story. Dino Crisis received fairly positive reviews from critics who scored it 83/100 on Metacritic, making it one of the highest rated games of 1999. While a pair of Dino Crisis sequels were released in 2000 and 2003, neither managed to capture the brilliance of the original.
6. Viewtiful Joe – 2003
In 2003, Mikami formed a team of some of the brightest minds in Capcom. He took the company’s best graphics artists, best programmers, and best designers and combined them to make a dream team of Capcom’s best. He called this team ‘Team Viewtiful’. Team Viewtiful’s first, and only, release was 2003’s ‘Viewtiful Joe’. First released on the Nintendo Gamecube and later ported to the PS2, Viewtiful Joe, a 2d side scrolling beat ‘em up, was a unique gaming experience. It featured bright, colourful, cel shaded graphics and a deep combat system with dozens of linkable attacks. It also featured an intricate story complete with anime style cutscenes. Viewtiful Joe was a masterpiece and it received excellent reviews from critics who gave it an overall 92/100 score on Metacritic. Gamers, similarly, enjoyed the game thoroughly and bought it in big numbers. Following Viewtiful Joe’s release, Team Viewtiful quickly set to work on a sequel called ‘Viewtiful Joe 2’. Capcom, not wanting to pigeonhole the team, decided to rename them ‘Clover Studio’.
5. Vanquish – 2010
In 2006, Clover Studio, under the leadership of Mikami, broke away from Capcom and formed a new company under the name ‘Seeds. Inc’. Mikami brought over most of Clover’s key talent and created the studio with the goal of making unique games free from interference from publishers, shareholders, and managers. In 2007, Mikami announced that Seeds. Inc would change its name to ‘PlatinumGames’, the name it still holds today. Mikami’s first, and only, game with PlatinumGames was Vanquish, a third person shooter in the style of Western hits like Gears of War and Uncharted. The game played quite differently to its contemporaries, however. While most Western designed third person shooters played at a slow pace with slow moving characters, Vanquish was lightning quick with a rocket powered main character capable of travelling hundreds of metres in the blink of an eye. Vanquish was challenging and expertly designed. Its controls, while initially difficult to get to grips with, were impressively precise and well tuned, while the game’s weapons and enemies were also well put together. Vanquish was liked by critics and gamers. The game currently enjoys an 85/100 score on Metacritic and a reputation as one of the greatest third person shooters ever made.
4. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – 2001
Mikami has always been one of the biggest risk takers in the Japanese games development community. While many of his contemporaries have focused on only a handful of genres and IPs, Mikami has constantly pushed himself throughout his career releasing new and unique games in a variety of unexplored genres. ‘Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney’, first released on the Game Boy Advance in 2001 (Japan only) and the Nintendo DS in 2005, was a unique adventure game that put players in control of Phoenix Wright, a lawyer given the task of solving a number of crimes using logic and deduction. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was an incredibly fun game. Its gameplay was expertly tuned and it featured a surprisingly well written script with a cast of memorable characters. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney received mainly positive reviews from critics who scored it 81% on Metacritics. Gamers quickly fell in love with the franchise, however, and made it one of the biggest IPs on the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo 3ds, and, more recently, ios and Android.
3. Resident Evil 2 − 1998
1996’s Resident Evil was a revolutionary game. It single handedly created the survival horror genre and implemented a number of game mechanics and ideas that changed gaming forever. 1998’s Resident Evil 2 built upon Resident Evil, improving on its predecessor in virtually every way. While the original featured clunky controls that offered little freedom, Resident Evil 2 provided gamers with better, more responsive controls, and more mobile enemies to avoid. The game also featured a stronger cast and a better story with gamers being given the option of playing two characters – newly recruited police office ‘Leon Kennedy’ and damsal in distress ‘Claire Redfield’ – as they tried to escape the remains of the zombie ravaged Raccoon City. Critics loved Resident Evil 2, scoring it 93/100 on Metacritic. Gamers, similarly, loved the game and bought nearly 5 million copies of it. While Resident Evil crafted the survival horror blueprint, most agree that Resident Evil 2 perfected it, resulting in one of the greatest games ever made.
2. Devil May Cry – 2003
2003’s ‘Devil May Cry’ was a happy accident. Mikami, wanting to revolutionise his Resident Evil series, had spent months creating new gameplay sandboxes with new game mechanics and ideas. While many of these sandboxes were discarded as failures, one showed promise. This sandbox eventually became ‘Devil May Cry’, the game that changed the third person action genre forever. Devil May Cry was directed by Hideki Kamiya, the man who would eventually go on to create ‘Bayonetta’ and ‘The Wonderful 101’ and become Mikami’s co-founder at PlatinumGames. The game put players in control of Dante, a half-demon/half-human demon hunter trying to prevent the dark lord Mundus from taking over the Earth. While the Resident Evil series was tied down by fixed camera angles and limited movement, Devil May Cry was free flowing and fluid. Main character Dante danced around the levels, all the while killing demons with grace. Devil May Cry’s combat system was its crowning glory. Deep, intuitive, and rewarding, gamers praised it to the heavens. Critics gave Devil May Cry impressively positive reviews. Overall, the game was given a 94/100 score on Metacritic, making it one of the best scoring games in Mikami’s career.
1. Resident Evil 4 – 2005
Following the release of 1999’s Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Mikami set to work at revolutionising the survival horror genre once again. While many of his prototypes didn’t work out (although one famously became the game ‘Devil May Cry’ – see #2 on this top 10), one of them showed promise and Mikami set to work building it out into a full game. The resulting game was 2005’s ‘Resident Evil 4’, arguably the best survival horror game ever made. Resident Evil 4 once again put players in control of character ‘Leon Kennedy’, one of the two protagonists from 1998’s Resident Evil 2. The game followed Leon as he ventured into zombie controlled territory in order to rescue the President of the USA’s daughter from harm. While previous entries in the Resident Franchise featured clunky controls, 2d rendered backdrops, and forced camera viewpoints, Resident Evil 4 adopted an over the shoulder camera complete with an impressively realised 3d world to explore. As a result, the game felt more expansive and fluid than its predecessors. Resident Evil 4 received rave reviews from critics who scored it 96/100 on Metacritic. The game also received dozens of Game of the Year awards with many critics calling it the best game of 2005. Today, Resident Evil 4 is looked back on as the best game in Mikami’s long career. It’s also recognised by many as the best survival horror game to date and one of the greatest games ever created.