Oh, how publishers love their franchises. Hell, when’s the last time we saw a retail game that didn’t at least give off a faint whiff of sequel dreams? That is, when you can even find a major release that doesn’t have a number in the title.
Don’t get me wrong. I like a sequel that improves on the original. Put me in the camp that hated Assassin’s Creed only to buy into Assassin’s Creed 2 completely. Now Assassin’s Creed 3, due this October, sits near the top of my most-anticipated list. Then you get something like Dead Rising 2, which just didn’t do it for me. Not a horrible game but when your big upgrades are weapon mods and extra save slots, I start getting the sense you’re out of ideas.
So let’s just admit now that not every game actually needs a sequel, that sometimes a story should just end. And here are five prime examples of games where the publisher should’ve stopped while they were money ahead.
Ninja Gaiden 3
Here’s an idea. Take a successful franchise known for tight controls, a wide variety of weapons and weapon upgrades (Unlabored Flawlessness, anyone?), plenty of must-master special moves, and one famously murderous difficulty curve. Now replace all those things with…well, mostly with nothing. Unless you count quick-time events, and nobody does. Ever.
Everyone wondered what kind of Ninja Gaiden developer Team Ninja would produce without the vision of departed studio head Tomonobu Itagaki. The answer became a study in subtraction, where basic elements familiar to any franchise veteran went AWOL. Instead, publisher Tecmo touted a deeper look into series star Ryu Hayabusa and "streamlined" combat. In all fairness, Team Ninja did excise some of the cheesier tropes (i.e., females with breasts the size of a human head), but they also removed the exact reasons gamers went to Gaiden in the first place: deep, unforgiving, punishing gameplay. Woe betide the poor, innocent fool who picks up Ninja Gaiden 3 thinking it’s a real Ninja Gaiden game, then goes on to try other entries in the series.
Ken Levine, head of Irrational Games and creator of BioShock, passed on doing this quick sequel because, as he put it, "We felt we had said what we wanted to say about Rapture." Replacement studio 2K Marin, staffed by former Irrational employees, did a fair fill-in job, wisely going with an “Incident #2” scenario rather than rehashing past characters. BioShock 2 returned to the underwater funland of Rapture, cast players as one of the series' iconic Big Daddy behemoths, and shifted from Ayn Randian Objectivism to an individuality vs. conformity theme. They just couldn’t make it click.
Everything in BioShock’s crumbling, watery Rapture served as a constant symbol of self-entitlement run amok — Big Daddies, the scenery itself, even a gaming standard like looting bodies served the theme. Then it put a visceral choice on that heady idea with the option to rescue or kill Little Sisters. BioShock 2, on the other hand, reduced Rapture to a mere location, enemies into blank obstacles, and Little Sisters into an empty yes/no question. The story just didn’t fit its surroundings anymore.
But BioShock 2’s worst sin? It completely lost the ability to shock anyone. Small wonder that for BioShock Infinite, Levine’s taking us to an entirely new place…one that can potentially surprise us again.
Fountain of Dreams
Long before Brian Fargo’s Kickstarter campaign put Wasteland 2 into production, Electronic Arts threw together this 1990 post-apocalyptic follow-up…minus Fargo, his then-company Interplay, or anyone else responsible for making Wasteland a beloved classic. EA must’ve realized its error, because it pulled all advertising linking the two games well before Fountain’s release. What remained didn’t look great, didn’t play well, and didn’t last long. That said, elements of Fountain’s plot — involving a quest in mutant-rich Florida for an untainted water supply — filtered down into Wasteland’s other unofficial sequel: Fallout.
And before you jump back on the EA hate train, the publishing giant voluntarily opened the door for Fargo to make a real Wasteland sequel when it officially disavowed Fountain as part of the franchise in 2002. So this does have a happy ending, as all tales of nuclear annihilation should.
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
You know the old cliché that demands a sequel must be darker than the original? Prince of Persia: Warrior Within took it just a leeeetle too seriously. In fact, it took everything too seriously. Warrior started off at a disadvantage, forced to jump into the size-24 shoes worn by its predecessor, best-game-of-all-time contender Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Developer Ubisoft Montreal nevertheless took a curious approach to the problem…namely, subtracting all the humor, charm, and romance that buoyed Sands. Then, just for good measure, they switched out its acrobatic swordplay for pure hack-and-keep-hacking combat.
That didn’t make Warrior a bad game per se (Prince of Persia 3D still marks the series’ low point), but like BioShock 2, it lacked the magic fans wanted more of. Worse, it turned the swashbuckling Prince into a brutal, hunted, haunted thug. When the guy who used to quip “I'm working it out as I go!” starts screaming “You should be honored to die by my sword!” you know the ride’s come off the rails.
Every Dynasty Warriors sequel ever
Technically, this bumps me up to 392 completely unnecessary video game sequels, but outside of the first (a one-on-one fighting game), every single Dynasty installment recycles the exact same horde-spanking drudgery. It’s one game presented on multiple discs with new artwork and different names penciled in.
It doesn’t stop there. Publisher Koei shamelessly ported virtually identical gameplay over to spinoffs Samurai Warriors, Warriors Orochi, and Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War, plus imprints for anime classics Gundam and Fist of the North Star…and most of these also have sequels. Roaming a battlefield and winning the war of the Three Kingdoms by personally beating up every single opposing soldier had its appeal at one point, but that point just barely lasted one game. Now it’s time to make the hurting stop.
Hey, I didn’t pick on Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness! Tell me what sequels you could’ve done without, but be prepared to back up your choices. The Internet is watching!
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!