Monday, January 19, 2009

Franchises That Have Been Run Into the Ground

I love video games. Everyone here at Five-O-Rama does. We're gamers. We, games. A lot. What was I talking about? (glances at title) Oh, right. As much as I love games and as much as I love certain series of games, I really hate seeing their quality take a giant nosedive as a result of a plethora of shitty sequels. What sucks about game developers (who are bright and talented people) is that they work for terrible, savage people known as publishers who, unlike the developers, do not love games. No, what they love is money. So if a certain game sells very well, then the evil publishers get the clever idea to make a sequel for it. Then another. Then another. Then a ridiculous spin-off that shares absolutely nothing in common with the original game except some variation of its title. The next thing you know, what started as a cool first-person shooter or spy-action game has degenerated into a bunch of lame card battles.

This horrific phenomenon occurs because the asshole publishers know that in the world of retail, quality only counts once - the first time around. After that, all that counts is the name. Attach that name to any piece of garbage and it will sell like hotcakes. This is all that matters to the wretched publishers, while the developers, stretched to their limits, hang their heads in shame with the knowledge they are no longer creating great games. And we, the gaming public, suffer the disappointment of seeing a game series we once loved turn into junk and waste our hard-earned money. Here are some of the very worst offenders.

5. Medal of Honor
The original game was for the Playstation and it was cool. This is the series that brought World War Two shooters to the forefront and at first, this was a good thing. The sequel (which was actually a prequel story-wise), Medal Of Honor Underground, was also very good. One of the best things about these games was the really cool and realistic sound effects. They helped make for a very intense and immersive experience. Three different versions of a sequel called Medal of Honor: Allied Assault then came out on computers and it wasn't bad but although the graphics were far superior to the Playstation games, the gameplay wasn't quite as good.

I had high hopes for the first sequel to appear on the then next-wave of systems, Medal of Honor: Frontline. I played the PS2 version and it was painfully average. Maybe it was just a hiccup, I thought. But then, about two seconds later, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun came out and it was just as bad. Then TWO MORE sequels came out (still for PS2) and I didn't even bother with them. There was also a version for Game Boy Advance, another sequel on computers, and one for the PSP. As things stand today, there is ANOTHER PSP game (which is also somehow on the Wii) and the first (of what I'm sure will be many) on the PS3. No less than nine different developers have created a Medal of Honor game to date and that number is sure to go up. I just don't care anymore.

4. Army Men
Created by the fabled 3DO Company, I've never played a single game in this series. But the original concept seems pretty cool. You get to control various units of differently coloured warring factions of little toy army men as they battle in cute environments like living rooms. At first, there were just four different groups you could play as: Green, Tan, Blue and Grey. The Green were sort of the good guys, sort of American. The Tan were bad, representing the old Axis Powers from WWII. The Grey were sort of in between, fighting whoever. And the Blue were kinda like the French and mostly suited to stuff like espionage.

But as the sequels mounted, more and more stuff was added. When the dust cleared, in addition to these original four factions you had: Red, Black, Orange, The Galactic Army, The Aliens, Malice's Tans (although they only appeared in one game), The Cult (um, not the band), Bugs (not really a separate faction, just enemies to everyone) AND Major Malfunction's Toys (only appearing in one game). Wow, that's a lot more complicated. Now I'm sure at least some of these sequels weren't bad and actually brought some cool new stuff to the series but come on. How many games were there? To date, there are twenty-four separate Army Men titles spanning the PC, Playstation, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast, PS2, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo Gamecube, XBox, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS. Is it just me or is that a lot? 3DO of course died out years ago but other developers and publishers jumped in to carry the ball. Hurray.

3. Mortal Kombat
Here's a big one. The original game actually wasn't too special. It was popular almost entirely because of its gimmick - over the top blood and gore in a fighting game. That was something that hadn't been done before. But Mortal Kombat 2 came out and had more than just a gimmick going for it. It was actually a very good, deep fighting game and remains one of the best of any generation. Unfortunately, that remains the high point of the series as later titles barely added anything at all. In fact, Mortal Kombat is famous for repetition. This is most notable with its palette swapping. If you don't know what that is, let me break it down for you: Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Reptile. You know those guys - three different characters with different moves BUT they all look exactly the same except for being different colours. They're just the same sprite recoloured three times. And they didn't stop there. Soon to follow were: Smoke, Ermac, Noob-Saibot, Rain and Chamaleon. OK, that's EIGHT freaking characters! They did the same with four female characters then had three more guys all based on the same cyberguy sprite: Sektor, Cyrax and a cyborg version of Smoke. When all is said and done, three palettes were used to make FIFTEEN DIFFERENT CHARACTERS. And in Mortal Kombat 3 (Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 - the same game with a few very minor changes soon followed) and beyond, characters' fighting style only really differed as far as special and finishing moves went. Everyone used the same basic moves. It made for one cookie-cutter experience, let me tell you.

There haven't actually been a trillion sequels but even when they tried to mix things up a little, it just didn't work. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance tried to bring some originality to the series, adopting new fighting styles. And one of them (maybe that one, I don't remember) featured weapons but it wasn't very cool. Some lame spin-offs followed that tried to be action games, the first of which was Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. This game actually sold well but I can assure you as someone who played it, it was really quite terrible. It was supposed to be the first in a series but that never happened, thank christ. Over the years Mortal Kombat seems to have completely lost its identity but it's still going, with Mortal Kombat VS DC Universe being released just last year.

2. Mega Man
A brilliant series almost destroyed by lame spin-off material. I love the core series, Mega Mans One through Eight to death (although Six does kinda suck) and I'm told Nine, which I haven't played yet, is quite cool.Then the X series came out in 1993 and it was also very cool. But they just kept going with it and the games ranged from rockin, to very good, to average to LAME. And it seems as if portable systems was the worst thing that ever happened to the series. First, on the old Game Boy, they just released versions of the original games that were tweaked to combine two games into one with slightly different level designs. I don't know why they did this but it wasn't that bad. But soon a horrendous spin-off called Mega Man Battle Network crashed out of nowhere onto the Game Boy Advance and reduced Mega Man to something like a Neo Pet. They made six thousand of these games and are still making them, I think. They tried going 3D on the Playstation with Mega Man Legends, this time turning Mega Man into a non-sexy Tomb Raider. Mega Man Zero was similar to the X series (except starring Zero) and the games were actually pretty fun although, if you ask me, really unnecessary. I'll level with you and admit I don't even know what the hell Mega Man ZX or Mega Man Starforce are but I really don't think I want to know.

All these new series keep adding stuff that just isn't Mega Man. All I want is fun level design for side scrolling shooting action with fun, original boss fights. And if they've exhausted that I'd rather Capcom just drop it instead of continuing with all this crap. But Mega Man is more than just a franchise in the world of video games - it's become an institution and the games will continue to generate cash long, long after the quality disappeared. Mega Man 9 leaves me hopeful for a revival but I'm not gonna hold my breath.

1. Pokemon
Is anyone really surprised? In the world of video games, the Pokemon series is the biggest whore of them all. What's most tragic about this is that the first games were actually pretty decent. They started out as fun little RPGs full of interesting monsters you could collect to fight for you. A nice, simple concept. But they became so insanely popular in both Japan and North America that the demand was just so staggering that it's not shocking the quality would dry up. Pokemon Red and Blue are the originals in North America with Yellow being similar to those two but focusing more on the popular TV Series (don't get me started on THAT). So then you've got sequels that follow the same principles with mostly the same elements of gameplay: Gold, Silver, Crystal, Ruby, Sapphire (I think there's an Emerald in there somewhere but that might be something different). In between this there were spin-offs: Pokemon Pinball and an adaptation of the trading card game. There was some battle-arena-type game for the N64, Pokemon Stadium which would give way to a sequel of its own. Then there's a whole bunch of shit that came when I had long since lost track of the series: Pokemon Dash, Pokemon Puzzle League, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon (seriously) and then more sequels to the spin-offs, including Pokemon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire and Pokemon Puzzle Challenger. Then they made REMAKES of certain games with even more confusing names all the while shitting out more stuff like Pokemon Ranger (I have no idea what that is) and Pokemon XD: Gale Of Darkness.

Although the series isn't as insanely popular as it was when it first arrived over here about eight years ago it still just keeps going and going, presumably because the games (plus all the other crap I haven't mentioned) keep selling and selling. I own a few of the first games and I've actually enjoyed them. But now I just pray for the day when all this finally goes away.


Shane said...

Great list, I really learned some stuff. I had no idea that there are 24 Army Men titles...that's unreal.

I was kind of surprised that the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise never made the list. I thought that was a major contender.

I`m really saddened when I think of how the Megaman series has fallen. I can recall with great fondness playing megaman 2 and 3 on the nes with friends. It was just a great simple formula. Now you can see titles like "Megaman Star Force 2: Zerker X Saurian". I can't even make up something that stupid and random.

RyHo said...

I'm glad to see Mega Man on there. I have the same sentiments. Also, Shane is correct in that Sonic has way too many sequels and spin-offs that are just crap. That being said, you're list is pretty well done, so I guess it'd be 6.

Mega Man Star Force are more Battle Nework-esque games. In fact, they might be direct sequels with a different moniker.

I also enjoy the Zero games, but they often feel spat out and lazily made. The ZX games are what Zero is to X. I believe it's even further into the future, and you play as two kids that can adopt Mega Man/Zero-like abilities somehow. I have the sequel, but I don't want to play it until I play the original (I have no idea why, I'm sure it won't matter).

They also had Mega Man X: Command Mission that was an RPG for the PS2. I stopped caring about X after X6 because that game was just crap. Then from X7 on it went to a 2D/3D hybrid and I just couldn't get into it.

Anyway, great list, man.

Cole D'Arc said...

I guess I didn't include Sonic because, while there is an overabundance of sequels and spin-offs, many of them bad, I feel like it actually was a pretty slow process for the series to turn to crap. Sonics One, Two and Three are all good. Sonic CD is amazing. Sonic 3D Blast isn't nearly as bad as you'd think and the Sonic Adventure titles are also very well done.
I know there are lots of lame titles in the series now too but still feel the overall quality probably is superior to Medal of Honor or Army Men.
if this argument seems in direct contradiction with my placement on this list it's only because of how strongly I feel about the Mega Man series and truly hate seeing it changed and watered down and messed up and over and over.

Cole D'Arc said...

"my placement of Mega Man" that should read