Following in the Footsteps of Greatness
Terminator 2, The Godfather II, Aliens…we all know that some sequels have been successful in taking their source material and improving upon it, creating experiences that trump their predecessors in just about every way imaginable. Sadly, these sequels are few and far between. It’s far more common to see a series which declines in quality from one iteration to the next.
And then there are those instances that turn this phenomenon completely on its side. In this iteration of our venerated Top 5, we’re talking bad sequels: these are the games and franchises that saw a successful start and followed it up with a real stinker. From classics such as the Legend of Zelda series to PC adventure games and even RPG mainstays, it’s all rotten tomatoes and bad apples in this Top 5.
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5. Warcraft 3
Warcraft 3 shoehorned in a cookie cutter plot, silly new characters/factions, and unwelcome RPG elements. Bad decisions, as Warcraft 2 was a defining game in its genre and one of my all-time favorites.
4. Tales of Monkey Island
Tales of Monkey Island was worse than the oft-maligned Escape from Monkey Island. It felt more like a mediocre fan-made game rather than a professional one.
3. Neverwinter Nights 2
While the included campaigns in Neverwinter Nights are never as appealing as the user-made modules, man…Obsidian screwed NWN2 up bad, including shipping a (typically for them) buggy version of the Aurora engine…which had few bugs in the BioWare-developed KoToR and NWN.
2. Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight
Tiberian Twilight didn’t involve Kane vs. sparkly vampires, but after playing for five minutes, I sure wished it had.
1. Silent Hill: Homecoming/Shattered Memories
And then there are the Silent Hill sequels…while 4 isn’t particularly great, it has its own style, and to me, charm. Origins wasn’t bad. And then Homecoming and Shattered Memories came along, both spetacularly missing the point of Silent Hill, and amazingly doing so in completely different ways.
5. Bomberman: Act Zero
Bomberman Zero is a classic example of a company not understanding anything about not only their franchise, but the industry in which it exists as well. Konami saw the plethora of dark, gritty action-suit wearing video game protagonists and figured their popular and beloved Bomberman franchise could use one as well. What they failed to understand is that the Bomberman series is a relic of the time in which it was released. Games with a weird-yet-somehow-endearing premise like Bomberman are ultimately doomed to fail when put against modern game sensibilities. The only way for that not to be the case is if they’re created with irony and nostalgia in mind. Fans of the Bomberman games (myself included) would love to play a cheesy remake of everything that made the franchise fun to play. But Konami didn’t have enough faith in their original games and instead gave us the poorly-controlling, ridiculous Bomberman: Act Zero.
4. Devil May Cry 2
I put Devil May Cry 2 on this list not only because it’s a bad game, but because it was my first introduction to what was an otherwise awesome series of games. The first Devil May Cry was great, heck it pretty much spawned its own genre of video games, but instead of sticking to the formula that made the first game so good, Capcom decided to change things. It was easier, less complex, and ultimately worse in almost every way when compared to its predecessor.
3. Majora’s Mask/Zelda 2
I put this on my list not because I think Majora’s Mask is a particularly bad game; I think it’s quite great, but it was one of the very first video games that I can remember absolutely hating as a kid. It released during a period of time that I emphatically believed Ocarina of Time to be the corwning achievement of mankind. As far as my 8-year-old self was concerned, nothing had ever, or would ever be able to, top Link’s first forray into the third dimension. So when Majora’s Mask came out, I was excited but skeptical. I remember quite vividly the sense of betrayal I felt during my first experiences with the game. It was complex, artsy, and way more mature than anything I had experienced during any of the playthroughs of my beloved Ocarina of Time. It felt like a game that wasn’t made for me, a game that took all the goodwill that Link and friends had built up over the course of my adventures in Hyrule and shat all over it. I include Zelda 2 in this spot because I think it suffers from similar problems. Sequels have been a problem the Zelda franchise has struggled with, or at the very least mishandled since its inception. More often than not, every new Zelda game feels like it belongs in a different series when compared to its predecessors. Nintendo wasn’t afraid to play with the formula that made the series successful – something that to this day is one of the reasons I will forever remain a Zelda fan, at least ceremonially – every new game was a chance to improve upon the last, to change it and eventually create something new. Zelda 2 is an example of this philosophy going awry, and Majora’s Mask is a product of its success (but don’t tell 8-year-old Ryan that).
2. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
Wrath of The Lich King is a particularly bad expansion to the World of Warcraft series due to the fact that it marked a significant change in Blizzard’s design philosophy. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that the original game and its first expansion were designed towards more “hardcore” players, the means of progression to World of Warcraft‘s version of an endgame was very much a hardcore pursuit during vanilla, and the Burning Crusade. Rewards felt rewarding, and exclusive to only the players willing to spend the extra time and effort required to obtain them. Before Wrath of the Lich King, there existed players that would sit in the middle of the game’s major cities just to show off the armor that being in a high-end raiding guild allowed them to get, and they weren’t scorned for this. Players (myself included) actually appreciated the ability to see content they would otherwise never get to see within the game. Raiding and PvP were so hardcore-centric during the early days of World of Warcraft that the average player stood absolutely no chance of seeing all of the content in both facets of the game. Raids were challenging, and climbing the ladders in The Arena or in raid progression ranking required a significant investment of time from all involved.This may seem like a poor design philosophy; after all, shouldn’t the goal of any good multiplayer developer be to ensure all of his players have the same positive experiences within his game? The numbers say no. The reasons for the loss in subscriptions to World of Warcraft are vast and varried, but I’ve always been of the opinion that the primary contribitor to its decline is the release of the Wrath of The Lich King expansion. With Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard’s design philosophy shifted from one that favours the hardcore player, to one that panders to the casual. Raids became significantly easier and were avaialble to all immediately upon their respective releases, and the developer eschewed PvP balance and difficulty in ladder progression in favour of making high-end PvP rewards available to anyone willing to put in a modicum of time. In doing so they removed any incentive to actually try hard to accomplish anything within the game. Thinking that players would prefer all content be easily accessible to everyone is both wrong and shortsighted. People put effort into reaching end-game content because doing so was difficult, challenging, and ultimately lead to respect within the game’s community. In a world where everyone is driving around in Ferraris, what’s a middle-aged guy supposed to do for his mid-life crisis? Don’t get me wrong: the expansion wasn’t all bad, but it kicked off a trend that has already shown to be a primary factor in the decline of players willing to pay money to play the game. People need a challenge; you can’t just give them cheatcodes off the bat and say “have at it”. They may appreciate you doing so in the beginning, but as time progresses, they’ll struggle to find things to stimulate them within the game, and ultimately stop paying you to play it.
1. Bioshock 2
Bioshock is one of the greatest games of all time, or at the very least it contains within it one of the greatest games of all time (I maintain that if you were to end Bioshock at the penultimate scene involving a particular character’s head and a gold club, the game would have transcended any amount of greatness people lobby at it today). Thus, as a follow-up to one of the greatest games of all time, the odds were already against Bioshock 2. Add to that the fact that the creator of its predecessor would not be involved with the project, and you’ve got the recipe for disappointment. At its core, Bioshock was a story of opression. You played a character that is revealed later in the game to have absolutely no control over his actions, every enemy within the game seems to be more powerful than you, and the very setting in which all of this takes place is constantly fighting to resist the massive forces of the ocean trying to crush it. By espousing the conceits of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy and giving almost no face to those that opress you, the game functioned as a meta-comentary on the way in which gamers unquestioningly obey the orders of the people who develop the games they enjoy. Bioshock 2 is one of the finest examples of a development team not understanding the past of their franchise. By setting the game in Rapture, they lost all of the awe that was involved in first exploring the ocean city. Rapture had already been done as well as Rapture could possibly have been done, but spending time and recources on creating a new, unique setting to rival Ken Levine’s creation wasn’t something 2K was interested in doing. To add to the failure, instead of being a seemingly regular guy fighting against enemies of incomprehensible power to regain even a semblance of control over yourself, in Bioshock 2 you play as the most powerful person in Rapture. I can almost picture the board meeting now:
2K Exec: Okay, so people like Bioshock right? I mean, it made us money, and critics loved it, how about we start working on a sequel?
Ambitious Developer: Oh great! I love Bioshock, I’ve always dreamed of working on a sequel. Imagine the possibilities! I can’t wait to meet Ken Levine, he’s pretty much my idol.
2K Exec: Great, I’m glad you’re excited! Why don’t we start by hearing some of your ideas?
Ambitious Developer: Well, the first game dealt with themes of opression and objectivist philosophy, so we’ve covered that already. Ooh I know, why don’t we do the opposite? The ability that power has to corrupt. What if our main character was some sort ruler that is forced to watch the kingdom he rules crumble under the weight of his good-hearted yet dangerous attempts to further them as a society?
2K Exec: Oh cool, so this would be set in Rapture?
Ambitious Developer: Well, no. Rapture worked so well in the first game because…
2K Exec: But people like Rapture, the game needs to be set in Rapture.
Ambitious Developer: Okay, well, our protagonist could be Andrew Ryan. We could set the game before the events of the first Bioshock, you play as a young ambitious Andrew Ryan trying to fulfill what you believe to be your destiny but ultimately watching it be consumed by chaos despite your best intentions.
2K Exec: I like the prequel idea, I think we’ll stick with that, but will people really want to play as Andrew Ryan?
Ambitious Developer: Well sure, if you give them reason to enjoy…
2K Exec: I’ve got it! We can let them play as a Big Daddy! People love Big Daddies!
Ambitious Developer: That kind of contradicts the theme we’re trying to push, doesn’t it?
2K Exec: Here’s 2 million dollars, oh and also, Ken Levine won’t be working on this project.
Ambitious Developer: …Fine
Alright, time for the hate mail to roll in! Not all of these are necessarily bad per se, but just failed, at least in my eyes, to live up to the reputation and enjoyment of their predecessor. Now, for some series, the first game’s shoes can be pretty hard to fill, but here goes:
5. Earth Defense Force 2017 (3)
While this XBox 360 launch title quickly gathered a cult following, and is a game I love, as a sequel it leaves a foul taste in my mouth. Its predecessor, a budget title for the PS2, had a second playable character type, a larger number of stages, more enemies, and…well, everything, except for some highly polished graphics. Foolish me eagerly paid the not-so-budget price for EDF3 and only got a budget game. Though, I suppose it wasn’t too foolish, as my wife and I did log a combined 100 hours. To compare, however, friends and I logged well over 150 in EDF2, with a much lower overall percentage of the game cleared. Thus, my overall enjoyment of the game makes this take a pretty low slot on the disappointing meter.
Speaking of games that fail to properly build off their foundations, Crackdown 2 makes me want to cry. While it fixed some of the more egregious asshattery performed by the AI in the first (Hello, group of 10 guys with auto lock-on rockets juggling me to my doom!), it really felt as if it could have been a large DLC or appended game, a la Dragon Age: Awakenings.
3. Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals
This one, while not a literal sequel, was a reimagining of a classic SNES RPG. So instead, we got a multi-character, on-the-fly switching, real-time battle system similar to the Y’s games. Clever 2-D puzzles that required some thought and a few gos of trial and error become…block pushing. While the story was tightened up, and it is a fun game for taking a quirky and cute RPG and making it into another generic anime powerfest, Lufia slumps its way onto the list.
I’m sorry to have to include anything with the Shadow Hearts name on a list other than Amazing Games that Utterly Blew You Away and Left You Crying for More, but Shadow Hearts 3 makes it here. It lost the most awesome main character in existence, and replaced him with an amnesiac kid private detective. Gone was the gothic and macabre horror set against the backdrop of war of Shadow Hearts 1 and 2, and to an extent Koudelka. Gone too was the Gigeresque and Lovecraftian touches that so made the first games visually striking while disturbing. Instead, I got a campy comedy fest that failed to lampoon genre conventions while keeping the overall tone serious, and what I ended up with was atrocious racist caricatures and wooden single-dimensional cut-outs.
1. Final Fantasy 7, 8, 10
I promised that I’d receive hate mail for this list, and here it is. The three most atrocious Final Fantasy games I’ve ever played. These are the games that stopped me from continuing the series, a series I literally cut my teeth on. From the days of the first Final Fantasy, me and the Light Warriors were inseparable, working together to thwart the legions of maniacs that wanted to rip apart the planet, crush dimensions together, bring about a bigger apocalypse, or cause all life to be absorbed into another planet, bringing rejuvenation at the cost of annihilation. Gone were the touching scenes of humanity in the face of epic tales from days gone by, and to replace it I got 10-minute cutscenes that don’t reflect a single thing I can actually do in-game. Smoooooth. And let’s not forget uncanny valley faces of death staring out of the screen into your eyes. Staring, with their unblinking and utterly inhuman black pupils, slowly devouring all of the light from the room as you find yourself unable to tear away from that basilisk-like gaze…Sorry, flash-backed there. In fact, I need to go have a nice cup of tea, sit down, and pretend that 9 was the only PlayStation-era Final Fantasy original.
5. Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh
I think in the grand scheme of things, the era of the FMV adventure game was fairly short-lived, as well as a historical curiosity. Among its many franchises, Sierra reserved the FMV format for its horror-themed series Gabriel Knight and Phantasmagoria (not counting the ill-conceived Police Quest IV). The original Phantasmagoria was a classic horror fest, complete with a brooding and expansive mansion, an illusionist with a dark side, and a spree of grisly and violent deaths committed in the very house it was set (a certain death by suffocation induced by meat shoved through a funnel still makes me gag and squirm today). More than that, the game wasn’t afraid to push the envelope; a graphic rape scene near the end shockingly hit that point home. Coming right off of the cartoon fantasy fare of King’s Quest, it was quite a departure for designer Roberta Williams. Unfortunately, its sequel made a 180-degree turn, replacing the gothic Poe-inspired setting for office cubicles, the hum of a computer server room, and a S&M sex club. While it still had a scene or two that were pretty terrifying to my young sensibilities, it was just too much of a departure, and its ending in particular dropped the ball so spectacularly that it just became a laughable experience.
4. Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude/Box Office Bust
I’m honestly not trying to saturate this list with old Sierra On-Line titles, but I think in a list of sequels gone wrong, the non-Sierra follow-ups to Larry Laffer’s classic attempts to get laid deserve a special mention of derision. Maybe it’s the fact that Larry’s story in particular is just better suited to a point-and-click interface than a console controller; maybe the modern sequels have lost their magic when they dropped the original main character to feature his idiot nephew (at least that’s who I believe it was); or maybe it’s just that the self-deprecating brand of humor Al Lowe imbued his early Leisure Suit Larry games with cannot so easily be replicated.
3. Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2
Despite the fact this game is in number only the second Blood Omen game, it is in fact the fourth (out of five) title in the Legacy of Kain series, which includes a three-game stint into the Soul Reaver sub-franchise. Sadly, where all the other games preceding and following this installment were full of badass vampires, wraiths and the like who treat humans as nothing but a food source, with more twists and turns in their time-warping plots than a Möbius strip, this one-off title was set in an alternate future, completely removed from any context so far present in the series, and featured bland environments, a forgettable story, and did away with all of the fascinating characters featured in the previous games, like Malek the Paladin or the vampire Vorador. Thankfully, the series returned for one more memorable romp with its final outing, Defiance, but Blood Omen 2 stands as the one that should be omitted from the annals of history.
2. Devil May Cry 2
A perfect example of how to take a game with great combat fluidity and an atmostpheric gothic setting (deadly marionettes, a Dr-Moreau-like island), and turn it into a generic sequel using a soulless futuristic setting and trite enemies (I seem to remember battling some sort of demon in the shape of a building in the first stages!). Basically, this game is the Blood Omen 2 of the Devil May Cry world.
1. The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a Zelda fanboy, and – except for the handheld titles and the new Skyward Sword – have bought and finished all titles in the franchise. Except Adventure of Link. At first glance, it seems like there were some similarities to the Original Gangster, Legend of Zelda, with a top-down overworld, but all combat, towns, and, worst of all, dungeons switch the game to a side-scroller. The dungeons in particular were very Metroid-like with their lifts and maze-like hallways. Coupled with a magic system that just didn’t work for me (having to cast a spell just to see the invisible enemies in some caves?!?), this game was a lethal combination of tough gameplay, lack of enjoyment, and frustration (how many times should I be willing to restart back at the palace when losing my lives?) that just didn’t work for me. It is the only Zelda game that managed to take a fun concept of adventure and turn it into a tiring exercise in nerve-grating irritation. Yes, I considered putting Majora’s Mask in this spot (cue my own personal hatemail!) due to its abandoning of the familiarity that I loved about the franchise, but Adventure of Link stands head and shoulders above Mask on my disdain-o-meter.
Share Your Thoughts: What about you? Which games do you feel have made abominable sequels to great classics?