PLAYING THE LAME PRESENTS: “It doesn’t just happen in the movies”.


PRESENTS: “It doesn’t just happen in the movies”.
AKA
“Ten inferior sequels to awesome games”.

I’m bored, so this is what you get.

You would think that the world of video games would be able, in most respects, to avoid the “inferior sequel” problem other major media products have to deal with; movies, plays, books and other such forms of media have to rely exclusively on the quality of the writing and/or acting in the product presented, which makes creating a sequel in these sorts of media challenging, while video games can simply improve the gameplay mechanics of the original product, thus at least redeeming the experience somewhat by allowing the player to say “well, this story sucks a fat one, but it sure does play nice”. Really, with the fact that technology is constantly evolving and developers are (or should be) learning every day, it becomes more and more likely that a sequel to a video game SHOULD be better than its predecessor, simply because flaws in the prior installment should be fixed, new elements should be implemented, and the things that made the first game great should be retained.

And yet, this isn’t the case.

Most of the time, video games simply go through the rehash cycle, where developers simply take the first game, map out a crapload of new environments, toss in a couple new tricks, enemies and/or weapons, and call it a brand new game (see Doom 2, various Mega Man games, and every Tomb Raider game between the first and Legend for examples), which isn’t so much making a bad sequel as a repetitive one. Occasionally, however, something worse happens: the developed DOES decide to change the game while making a sequel, but instead of tinkering with the flaws, they decide to tinker with the GOOD stuff. The end result can occasionally be good (Endless Ocean, AKA Forever Blue, was a sequel to Ever Blue 2 that completely stripped out all of the challenging elements of the franchise, yet still managed to be great in its own right), but most often will not (ask Final Fantasy VII fans how they feel about Final Fantasy VIII). The end result is an inferior sequel; a game that may or may not be playable, or even good, but is FAR inferior to its predecessor simply because all of the great stuff was changed or removed, and nothing cool was added in.

Now, my list is probably going to differ from the lists other people would come up with for a few basic reasons:

1.) I didn’t grow up playing the NES or SNES, so I don’t particularly dislike, say, Super Mario Brothers 2, The Legend of Zelda 2, or Simon’s Quest, and as such I won’t be including them in this list because they don’t really bother me. However, I DID grow up with the Sega Master System and the Genesis, so when a few old Sega games pop up on this list and you end up going “Huh?”, well, deal with it. Besides, it’ll save you money when they pop on the Virtual Console.
2.) This list isn’t necessarily a list of BAD games so much as it’s a list of games that weren’t as good as the games that preceded them, and as such, I’ll be happy to note whether or not I liked a game while I’m writing up the list. That said, do remember that “Good” and “Bad” are relative definitions of a product, and as such, if you happen to disagree with the relative quality of one game on the list in comparison to another (or, for that matter, the need for one of the games on this list to even be on here in the first place), do bear in mind that this IS all opinion, and as such, arguing with me about it really isn’t going to magically change my mind. Okay? Okay.
3.) Final Fantasy VII isn’t on the list, because we’ve all complained about it enough to last a lifetime, and the gameplay was fine.
4.) Spin-offs are not the same thing as sequels, so something like Resident Evil: Survivor isn’t eligible for the list for that very reason.
5.) This is not in any specific order, quality-wise, nor is it a definitive list of the ten worst sequels, so much as it’s ten sequels that kind of piss me off every time I think of them. As such, rest assured that there are, in fact, ten more (at least) sequels every bit as disappointing as these that I either omitted or couldn’t think of at the time, and that those ten sequels will, in fact, show up in a list at a later date, unless I die or something.

With that said, let’s jump right in to the list here.


FANTASY ZONE: THE MAZE

THE ORIGINAL GAME WAS: Fantasy Zone 2, a bright, colorful shooter that was lots of fun to play, had a creative and interesting concept behind it, and generally was one of the bright spots in the often dismal Sega Master System release schedule.

THIS GAME WAS: Pac-Man with shooter elements.

WHY THAT SUCKED: Had the game come out as its own, stand-alone product and been named something completely different and/or unrelated to Fantasy Zone, it bears noting that the actual game itself wasn’t trash; it had some neat ideas in it, and offered two-player co-op, something the prior games in the series lacked. That said, Sega had done this several times already, with both Alex Kidd and Wonder Boy, with variable success (each Wonder Boy game was generally better than the last, while the Alex Kidd games… well, you’ll be seeing them shortly), without realizing one key thing: the games being presented as parts of the franchise were not going to appeal to the players who had played the prior games. In this case, the appeal problem was due to a massive shift in genre; maze-hunting games like Pac-Man and shooters like Fantasy Zone attract different people for different reasons, and while one might be willing to swallow such a product, one is not going to accept this thing when they’re booting up the third game from a shooter franchise for the first time, only to find out they’re playing Pac-Man with lasers. Bottom line: it wasn’t a bad game so much as it was a horrible, stupid idea, and the fact that Opa-Opa (the hero from Fantasy Zone) has since been confined to the shooter genre in most all of his appearances afterwards pretty much cements this fact.


ZILLION 2: THE TRI-FORMATION

THE ORIGINAL GAME WAS: Zillion an awesome Metroid style action/adventure game that involved a bunch of neat mechanics, including changing characters, using passwords to unlock doors, and upgrading your characters and their weaponry.

THIS GAME WAS: A side-scrolling shooter/platformer that was excessively linear, clunky, and ugly as sin.

WHY THAT SUCKED: Two reasons: first, because the original Zillion was one of the most awesome games ever at that point and the sequel was so utterly poor and generic that it was literally depressing, and second, because the game itself was crap, outside of its predecessor.

To illustrate the first point, let’s make a simple example: let’s suppose, hypothetically speaking, someone came to you and handed you Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and said, “Here, here’s the very first Castlevania game ever, play it”. Now, let’s further suppose you’ve NEVER played ANY Castlevania games ever. Okay? Okay. So you play this, and you see the level-up systems, the free-roaming design, the neat mechanics, and so on, and you think it’s all fantastic. Now, let’s suppose, some time later, this same person comes to you and says, “Here’s the next Castlevania, play it,” and hands you Castlevania 3. Thus, you are now going from a free-roaming, generally visually appealing, sophisticated action-platform game to a linear, uglier game where the challenge of the product is based more on the awkward control mechanics than anything else, and the “gimmick” is cute for five minutes but otherwise disappointing in comparison to everything the prior game had to offer. Okay? We’re willing to go along with this example, yes? You can suspend your annoyance with my saying Castlevania 3 is a bad game long enough to realize how, if played after Symphony of the Night, one might think this, yes?

Well, playing Zillion 2 after playing Zillion was exactly like that, with one notable exception: Castlevania 3 is simply a product of the time it was released, and was good relative to the time it came out. Zillion 2 was never good.

You would play through stages, where odd-numbered stages featured you playing with a poorly controlling motorcycle that could turn into a somewhat less poorly controlling robot suit, and then you would play through excessively linear even-numbered stages that featured some of the most boring platforming and shooting gameplay known to man. The character sprites were stiff, the controls were clunky, and the visuals were garish almost all the time. Played as a stand-alone experience, Zillion 2 can, at best, be described as “bad”. Taken as a sequel, however, Zillion 2 is a sin against video gaming, and everyone involved in the design of the product should be dragged out into the street and shot.


PRINCE OF PERSIA: WARRIOR WITHIN

THE ORIGINAL GAME WAS: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a successful relaunch of the long-dead Prince of Persia franchise that managed to not only reinvent the entire genre Tomb Raider had created years ago, but also managed to give both Prince of Persia AND Tomb Raider the shot in the arm they needed to become profitable again. Now THAT’S pretty badass.

THIS GAME WAS: The same game, if you dressed it up in a fishnet shirt and leather pants. Oh, and broke both of its metaphorical knees.

WHY THAT SUCKED: Where to begin? The focus on combat that, while better than the first game, STILL wasn’t good? The draining of any significant or notable personality from the experience, leaving the whole thing feeling much like a nineties comic book, only almost a decade too late? How about the buggy gameplay that could leave the player, say, stuck in a zone they shouldn’t have been able to access and subsequently could not escape? Or the bugs that would cause the player to hit invisible walls and die while trying to make jumps, or would cause a jumping sequence to be unplayable after rewinding time, or would put you in the position where, in certain cases, saving and re-loading the game rendered the game unplayable from that point, leaving the player to START OVER? Or, perhaps we can simply say “the title theme was a Godsmack song” and leave it at that? Whatever. History has determined that the game itself was considered good at the time, but has since been determined to be one of the more horrid sequels to ever come out, so we can simply consider this me shoveling a scoop of dirt onto the grave myself and move on.


RIDGE RACER 5

THE ORIGINAL GAME WAS: Ridge Racer Type 4, an interesting arcade-styled racing game with a surprisingly amusing story mode built in that was, by and large, a well thought-out expansion of the series from its simple roots as a one-dimensional racing game.

THIS GAME WAS: The aforementioned one-dimensional racing game. Only very pretty.

WHY THAT SUCKED: Ridge Racer is not a series known for its complex racing gameplay; the various games are arcade-oriented, and are generally focused on being as simple to play as possible. This was fine way back in the early days of the original Playstation, but with games like Gran Turismo delivering a more simulation-oriented product that featured the ability to tune up and customize cars, something else was needed to keep the franchise fresh and exciting. After incorporating some interesting tuning modifications in Rage Racer and an inventive story mode that featured four different racing teams in R4, Ridge Racer 5 was a huge step backwards; it focused purely on the racing mechanics of the franchise to the exclusion of all else, and with nothing to stand on but the simplistic gameplay, it was pretty much bashed unmercifully. Sadly, Namco has since made ALL of their Ridge Racer games like this, and shows no signs of stopping any time soon, with the assumption being that by releasing only one per console the novelty of the franchise will remain intact. Considering how many other racing games are incorporating the very ideas they’ve cast aside (car tuning, storyline progression), this doesn’t seem to be the case, and that’s terrible.


ALEX KIDD: THE LOST STARS/ALEX KIDD IN HIGH-TECH WORLD

THE ORIGINAL GAME WAS: Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Sega’s answer to Super Mario Brothers. Featuring multi-directional platforming, item usage, interesting gameplay mechanics, and some significantly better graphics across the board, it seemed to be the franchise that was most likely to take it to the princess-saving plumber in all possible respects.

THIS GAME WAS: In the case of the first game, a thinly-veiled attempt at BEING a Mario game, complete with occasional power-ups to shoot at enemies, traditional side-scrolling gameplay, a timer, and bosses that could not be killed so much as avoided. In the case of the second game, a horrible adventure game that was, oddly enough, Sega’s attempt at emulating Super Mario Brothers 2 in about the worst way imaginable.

WHY THAT SUCKED: First, stop. Scroll up a bit and look at that foot. The one on the box on the right. Just look at it. Jesus Christ.

You’re getting a two-fer here because it really kind of needs to be done for this to make sense, and I don’t feel like having Alex Kidd take up two entries on the list. Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars was an arcade game based on the Alex Kidd character that had about zero to do with the original game, but at least featured two-player co-op and would have probably been a tolerable way to waste ten minutes in the arcade. As a console game, however, aside from the fact that it lacked the two-player gameplay of its arcade counterpart, The Lost Stars was particularly disappointing because it was a MASSIVE step down from the original game. Gone was the puzzling complexity of some of the stages. Gone were the usable items like the pedalcopter and the bracelet that shot energy. Gone was Alex’s ability to fight enemies without some type of power-up. Gone were the vertically-scrolling stages. Gone was any of the challenge of the original game (in The Lost Stars, death only reduced your stage timer a bit, and you popped up right where you died, meaning you could simply eat a death or two to get through the stage faster if you were so inclined). The end result was a game where you ran from the left to the right as fast as possible, avoiding everything in your path, to beat the game. That’s it. For fans of the original game, it was a huge step backwards and a major slap in the face.

So, of course, Alex Kidd in High-Tech World was WORSE. By this point, Super Mario Brothers 2 had come out in the US, which as we all know by now was, in fact, a completely different Japanese game that was simply remapped with the characters from that franchise. Sega did the same thing with a Japanese game based off of an anime (Anmitsu Hime, in case you were curious) by remapping all of the characters and sticking Alex Kidd into the game, which would have worked if not for two things:

1.) the game was a complete departure from the prior games in the franchise conceptually, in that the first game in the series had informed us Alex’s father was missing and his brother Egel (no, really) was the king of the planet… while this game, aside from telling us Alex lives in a more Japanese-looking castle than the one in Miracle World, also tells us his father and mother are around and perfectly fine. Way to keep up that continuity, Sega.
2.) The game sucks out loud.

Now, there are people out there in the world that will tell you that The Lost Stars is a worse game than High-Tech World, which can charitably be called about one-third true. The first part of the game basically plays like a mildly unintuitive adventure game, and in that respect it isn’t bad; the tests you have to take and the puzzles you have to solve aren’t absurd, so to say, and if you only played this section of the game, you’d be fine, probably. The third part of the game, however, is another adventure section that, aside from providing you two opportunities for an instant game over, requires you to leave the town by way of obtaining a travel pass, which could really only be done safely by going to the shrine and praying one hundred times. Aside from the fact that this is an incredibly boring thing to do, this is also a cultural thing that ONLY applies to the Japanese, and figuring out that this was how you had to progress was INCREDIBLY stupid. The second and fourth parts of the game were weird side-scrolling sections where you had to kill ninjas to prevent them from impeding your progress to High-Tech World. Now, remember when I told you “look at that foot”? Did you notice the giant fist Alex himself was bashing said ninja with? Right, well, that was his trademark attack in the first Alex Kidd game; his giant ham hock of a fist. You know why that’s a stupid thing to have on the box cover of High Tech World? BECAUSE YOU FIGHT NINJAS WITH THROWING STARS. So, yeah, let’s make a box cover for a game starring a character who is KNOWN for punching, make him PUNCH THE ENEMY ON THE BOX, then give him throwing stars in the game.

If anyone is wondering why the Sega Master System was a failure, you have a problem. Seek help.

Aside from the fact that these sections made absolutely no sense, they played like crap and were, to put it kindly, the antithesis of “fun”. Apparently the game realized this, as you were provided infinite chances to cross through these sections (which you certainly needed), but I can poke my finger with a needle as many times as I want, too, and there’s no reason to do that, either. Fortunately, Sega broke out of the crap cycle with the games long enough to make Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, but the damage to the franchise had long since been done, and apparently poor Alex is stuck working the retail counter in a Sega store in Japan now, because for a while, each game released bearing his name was worse than the last. Sad, isn’t it?


MORTAL KOMBAT 4

THE ORIGINAL GAME WAS: Mortal Kombat 3 and the various spin-offs from that, which were pretty much the last hurrah for the 2D versions of the franchise before it made the transition to 3D gameplay. They weren’t really any better or worse than the prior games in the series, though the appeal of the franchise was beginning to wear incredibly thin at this point because of the general lack of advancement.

THIS GAME WAS: The same game, with ugly polygons, lame weapons, and less characters.

WHY THAT SUCKED: Because it was the same game with ugly polygons, lame weapons, and less characters. Fans were tired of the franchise at this point, largely because it hadn’t really evolved in any meaningful way; while games like Street Fighter Alpha were going in mildly different directions and games like Tekken and Virtua Fighter were storming the playing field as the hot new thing, Mortal Kombat had basically remained the same old game for the past several versions; aside from the ability to string together combos and the fact that stages could be changed by breaking through floors or ceilings, the games had largely remained the same for years, with the only notable additions being new characters and new “-ality” finishing moves that were beginning to wear out their welcome. So Midway basically slapped polygons over the old character models and released a 3D Mortal Kombat that was essentially identical to its predecessors, only it had less characters, lame weapons, and was generally unpleasant looking in comparison. As a result, despite the fact that the game managed to turn a profit, Midway wisely shelved the property for a few years until they were ready to really overhaul the franchise and make a brand new game, as pretty much every reviewer on Earth crapped all over it for being, once again, the same game as its predecessors, only uglier and featuring lame weapons and less characters.


APOLLO JUSTICE: ACE ATTORNEY

THE ORIGINAL GAME WAS: Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations, the last game in the Phoenix Wright story arc, and the last DS port of the GBA games that originally debuted exclusively in Japan.

THIS GAME WAS: The first DS exclusive game in the franchise, with an almost entirely new character roster and a bunch of features that were supposed to really take advantage of the DS functionality.

WHY THAT SUCKED: Well, aside from the fact that the plot was the equivalent of cramming three games worth of plot into one product, and aside from the fact that it almost entirely jettisoned the cast of the first games (save for an appearance from Dick Gumshoe and the inclusion of Phoenix Wright and Emma Skye) and replaced them with less interesting characters, there were two significant flaws in the game that made it a significant disappointment in comparison to earlier games. First, the few concessions made to the DS functionality, aside from being elements that didn’t even NEED a touch-screen to be incorporated into the game weren’t amazing enough to make the also-ran gameplay fresh and exciting again. Second, the experience didn’t feel as satisfying as the prior games, largely because of the fact that in prior games you would engage in battles of wits with the prosecution, stomp them into the dirt, and take away great satisfaction at their defeat… while in Apollo Justice, you were never allowed that satisfaction because the prosecution would never show any weakness and would almost always graciously accept defeat. Without the endearing characters and satisfaction of stomping a mudhole in the prosecution that the prior games gave you, all you were really left with was the exact same games you had played before with a new coat of paint over the whole thing. Considering the franchise is going to center the next game around prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, it appears as though the decision to cram so much story into Apollo Justice was a good one, as a sequel starring the character may well never see the light of day.


METAL GEAR SOLID 2

THE ORIGINAL GAME WAS: Metal Gear Solid, which pioneered the “stealth game”, so to say, as well as brought Solid Snake triumphantly back from limbo. The game was incredibly innovative, fun, and interesting, all in all, and while it certainly wasn’t for everyone, it was generally well done on all levels and cemented the popularity of the franchise for years to come.

THIS GAME WAS: A sequel featuring a brand new main character, prettier graphics, less combat, and more talking.

WHY THAT SUCKED: We generally tend to tolerate it when RPG’s trend towards “more talk and less action”, so long as the talk is good. A forty hour game needs SOMETHING to keep interest going, and if that something is lots of talking, hey, whatever needs to be done, right? With a ten hour action game, however, when half of the gameplay time is spent watching people talk to one another, it quickly becomes less of a case of “playing a game” and more of a case of “interacting with a movie”.

Now, here’s the thing: a lot of people condemn The Bouncer for being an interactive movie, and rightfully so, but any time someone says the same thing about MGS2, a lot of Hideo Kojima fans descend from the heavens above and take a metaphorical dump on said critic for doing this thing. So deal with this: when half of the people who think MGS2 is one of the greatest games on Earth were off playing Donkey Kong Country or Mortal Kombat 2 or whatever, I was playing through Snatcher and extolling the virtues of Hideo Kojima to anyone who would listen, so I’m fairly confident in saying that MGS2 was not one of his better efforts. The combat was less engaging, the boss battles were less gripping, the story was way more frequent and way more obtuse, and the game was generally an uninteresting mess, albeit a very pretty one. MGS1 blows it away in every possible respect, and not even because Raiden isn’t an interesting character, but simply because it isn’t as good of a game. If this bothers you, I’m sorry, but I really don’t care.


DEAD OR ALIVE 4

THE ORIGINAL GAME WAS: Dead or Alive Ultimate, which was pretty much the pinnacle of the series insofar as pure gameplay mechanics were concerned; it played nicely, featured a decent-sized roster of fighters and a ton of unlockable content across all difficulty levels, and was the first game in the series to feature online play, something a lot of fighting game fans were rabidly anticipating from all of their favorite game franchises.

THIS GAME WAS: The same game with a couple of new characters, a broken online mode, and a more punishing, less rewarding difficulty curve.

WHY THAT SUCKED: Because you were, in effect, being asked to part with sixty dollars for a game that featured all of four new characters (one of whom was really just a palette swap of an older character, one of whom was essentially Akira Yuki from Virtua Fighter, and one of whom was a novelty character that was mostly made up of moves from characters no one really plays as), a broken online component (which has since been fixed, which isn’t the point), a core game that was more difficult (as the lowest difficulty was now Normal, and the final boss was oozing mozzarella out of every pore of her gashapon variant body) and less rewarding (unlike DOAU, everything that could be unlocked in DOA4 could be unlocked from the default difficulty)… and that’s it. And you were expected to do this, mind you, because at the time, DOAU was not compatible with the Xbox 360, so if you wanted to play the game, you had to buy the 360 version. Generally speaking, the game was more or less designed exclusively to appeal to fans of the franchise to the exclusion of anyone else, which is generally never a good idea, simply because it makes developers lazy; if you can simply change or add a few small things here and there without really changing anything significant or adding anything new to the product that’s noteworthy because your core fanbase will continue buying your products forever, that’s pretty much when you stop being bothered changing anything because you’ll make money no matter what. Just ask Electronic Arts. Bear in mind: this isn’t to say that the game was BAD. The playability of the core product was largely still functional, the game was still as playable as ever, it just simply didn’t change or add ENOUGH in comparison to the prior games in the series, which is, unsurprisingly enough, the same criticism everyone laid at the feet of Dead or Alive 3. Funny how times change, isn’t it?


RESIDENT EVIL 3

THE ORIGINAL GAME WAS: Resident Evil 2, a fairly massive survival horror game spanning two discs, that took place in the now obliterated Raccoon City. The game featured two separate storylines, depending on your chosen character, that ultimately culminated in one final huge boss fight at the end. It was also, for its time, easily one of the best games on the market (according to many people, anyway), and it pretty much set the template for everyone copying the genre to follow for years to come.

THIS GAME WAS: Half of the prior game.

WHY THAT SUCKED: Resident Evil fans had, at that point, begun to expect that there would be two playable protagonists in the games, each with different positive and negative traits, which essentially meant there would be a significant amount of replay value to the games just to get through both storylines. Resident Evil 3, aside from essentially re-telling the B story from Resident Evil 2 (giant monster that cannot be killed by conventional weapons is chasing you, you need to find a way to escape the city or you’re going to be killed by this hulking monstrosity, watch out for zombies and stuff along the way, and don’t forget Umbrella is a bunch of dicks), only offered one major playable character and no significant reason to play through the game more than once. It also really showed off the flaws in the control mechanics more than the prior two games, as without all of the neat extra content and diverse options of the prior two games, all the game really had to fall back on was its gameplay, which was beginning to become more and more ancient as the series progressed. Resident Evil 3 was still playable, certainly, and there was enough to it that fans wouldn’t be completely disappointed, but thanks to the lack of significant replay value, depth, or variety when compared to the prior two titles, it ended up being one of the lesser games in the franchise, and kind of kick-started fan apathy in the series (though Resident Evil Zero certainly didn’t help in that regard, either).

So, there you go. I did warn you it’d be a little weird, yeah? Anyway, feel free to discuss and suggest other disappointing sequels as you deem appropriate. Lord knows I could use more content for another column or three.

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