By Nelson Schneider - 05/19/12 at 06:41 PM CT
Sequels: Love them or hate them, they are a fact of life in creative media. There is always another story to tell for a given setting or groups of characters. It’s easier to tell a great story when free to focus on the story, rather than the nuts-and-bolts and stuff that goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes sequels are great, building upon the original and hammering out the bad parts until there is nothing left but burnished gold…
But sometimes sequels go completely astray from what earned their originals enough praise from critics and consumers to warrant said sequel. Here’s a list of the worst offenders, which, instead of honoring their originals and building on what made them great, pulled-down their metaphorical pants and evacuated their bowels in the worst possible way.
10. Duke Nukem Forever
While I am of the opinion that it’s impossible to make poop worse by pooping on it, Chris informs me that “Duke Nukem Forever” completely defiles the original “Duke Nukem 3D.” I guess I can understand that, as it transformed a crude, juvenile old-style FPS (which allowed one man to carry an entire arsenal) into a crude, juvenile copy of “Call of Duty” (complete with two-weapon switching). And considering how long this game spent in development and how many promises were made by its various development teams, it couldn’t be anything but a disappointment.
9. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
The original “Legend of Zelda” introduced gamers at large to the concept of Action/Adventure games with a top-down perspective. It was a breath of fresh air at a time when every game – good or bad – was some variety of sidescroller. So what did Nintendo do when making the first sequel to their one franchise that would eventually surpass “Super Mario Bros.” in popularity? Turn it into a damned sidescroller! Sidescrolling for combat! Sidescrolling for dungeons! Sidescrolling for towns! Thankfully, Nintendo came to their senses after this mistake… at least for a while.
8. Super Mario Bros. 2 – The Lost Levels
After Shigeru Miyamoto helped Nintendo revitalize gaming in the 1980s with a little 2D Platformer called “Super Mario Bros.” a completely unrelated team within Nintendo was called upon to make a sequel. But instead of refining the original game’s engine and removing the few things that were bad about it (no scrolling to the left, dodgy controls, no continues), this team put on a Troll Face and whipped-up a half-assed ROM-hack of the original game. Combining the fact that the level designs were now evil instead of fun with a complete lack of improvements resulted in a game so bad that Nintendo realized they might re-crash the delicate North American gaming market if they released it. Instead, they whipped up another ROM-hack, this time re-skinning a discarded ‘Mario’ prototype that had been repurposed into “Doki Doki Panic” (which was originally designed by Kensuke Tanabe, but deemed ‘not fun enough’ to be a ‘Mario’ game by Nintendo’s bigwigs). While not universally beloved, Tanabe’s project still turned out better than the alternative. I just want to know where Miyamoto was during this whole mess.
7. NiGHTs: Journey of Dreams
“NiGHTs into Dreams” was a pretty interesting Saturn game, as it was one of the first games to utilize Sega’s analog controller – their superior answer to the N64 and its shoddy joystick. While the original “NiGHTs” featured tight controls for maneuvering a flying jester through psychedelic dreamscapes and an emphasis on earning high scores through stylish flying, the sequel, “NiGHTs: Journey of Dreams,” dropped all that. Instead of an abstract story and a silent protagonist, the titular NiGHTs was given the voice of an Australian woman and frequently tasked with guiding the plodding movements of two children through the same kind of hackneyed narrative that has been plaguing Sonic the Hedgehog as of late. And despite the presence of a third-generation analog joystick on the Wii’s nunchuck, NiGHTs’ flight feels unresponsive and lifeless... probably due to Sonic Team trying to cater to too many controller variations. Who would want to play a game like “NiGHTs into Dreams” using an inaccurate waggle-stick by itself?
6. Final Fantasy Tactics: A2
“Final Fantasy Tactics: A2” is not the sequel to the PS1 title, “Final Fantasy Tactics,” but to the Game Boy Advance title, “Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.” While many fans of “Final Fantasy Tactics” hated the handheld spinoff for discarding the grim and serious story for a lighthearted tale about schoolchildren transported to another dimension or for the Law System that made certain abilities ‘illegal’ in certain battles, I found the overall result to be a much more polished and balanced game. “Final Fantasy Tactics: A2,” on the other hand, commits the unforgivable RPG sins of discarding the story entirely and introducing interminable amounts of grind. While “A2” was still about a schoolkid transported to another dimension, the game failed to provide any meaningful series of events for him to deal with while there. The addition of a “Final Fantasy 12”-inspired bazaar, forcing players to kill hundreds of monsters to gather crafting components as loot drops, was another slap in the face – and completely out of place in a Tactical RPG.
5. Breath of Fire II
While the original “Breath of Fire” wasn’t exactly a stellar RPG, it was a good starting point for new players to get into the genre. It was easy, it was straight forward – a by-the-books 16-bit RPG if ever there was one. But Capcom was apparently dissatisfied with catering to RPG newbies when they made “Breath of Fire 2.” Suddenly, the sequel to the easiest RPG this side of “Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest” was brutally tough. The random encounters were constant, the enemies hit hard, and the rewards for victory were minimal. The result was a game that loved to beat the snot out of characters, while barely allowing them to limp back to town, where to spend all of the money they earned for a single night at the Inn. The fact that characters’ damage to monsters was capped at 999 (instead of the traditional 9999) made battles drag-on further still.
4. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
I’m not 100% sure which ‘Castlevania’ game “Harmony of Despair” is supposed to be a sequel to, but my instinct tells me it’s “Symphony of the Night.” So what did Konami do when making a sequel to their first ‘metroidvania’-style ‘Castlevania’ game – and the most universally-beloved game in the long-running franchise? Chop the castle into distinct levels! Add a time limit! Remove most of the RPG elements! Add online multi-player! Reuse all of the graphical assets! Instead of an homage to “Symphony of the Night,” Konami created a mockery – a blurry mockery fueled by hunger for ‘Castlevania’ fans’ wallets.
3. ActRaiser 2
The original “ActRaiser” combined the two disparate genres of God Sim and 2D Platformer. The result was a game with a simple – but fun – Sim aspect and a clunky Platformer protruding from the middle like a deformed, vestigial twin. Rebuilding cities was fun… making a statue run and jump and hit monsters with a sword was… tolerable. So when Enix produced “ActRaiser 2,” I went into it excited about the prospects of more depth in the Sim portion and better controls in the Platforming portion. Instead, Enix completely dropped the Sim portion and most of the story bits for a straight-up 2D Platformer. And their idea of ‘improving’ the controls that made the original’s Platforming such a downer was adding wings to the statue. Stone doesn’t fly, it falls, which made playing “ActRaiser 2” feel as futile as trying to paint a cement birdbath by throwing it off a balcony.
2. Shadowgate 64
The original “Shadowgate” was one of a trio of great Adventure games by Kemco-Seika, and a personal favorite of mine. There never were very many Adventure games for the NES – or any console for that matter – but “Shadowgate” represented the genre well: The game’s good graphics (for its time) allowed observation to become a key gameplay mechanic and most of the puzzles made sense. “Shadowgate 64,” on the other hand, pulled a complete 180: The graphics were hideous, yet overly-detailed, while the interface was minimized to a one-button affair. The result was an Adventure game where it was impossible to determine what parts of the game environments were interactive or what kinds of actions could be applied to any given item. It wasn’t just the puzzles that made no sense (like every other Adventure game ever made) but the entire interface.
1. Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors
The original “Stonekeep” is the missing link between old-school point-and-click dungeon-crawling RPGs and story-based first-person Action/Adventure games. While “Stonekeep” still featured grid-based movement and hunting-around for keys and other items as core gameplay mechanics, the combat was decidedly Action-based. Between the AI controlled party members and hovering the mouse over an enemy before clicking it to death, it’s pretty obvious where games like “Oblivion” and “Skyrim” got the inspiration for their combat mechanics. Yet, despite these changes, “Stonekeep” managed to keep at least the spirit of dungeon-crawling alive, and would have been an amazing game had it not required a patch before the Internet made such things commonplace. How could a sequel to such an old and buggy game screw things up? Well, “Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors” has nothing to do with “Stonekeep,” aside from the name of the dungeon – indeed, there are no story elements at all. Instead of resembling either a dungeon-crawler or Action/Adventure, it resembles such first-person abominations as “Heretic” and “Hexxen,” complete with searching for generic, color-coded keys on each bland, completely-disconnected floor of the dungeon and picking up colored health/magic vials. The grid-based movement is gone and the simplicity of clicking on an enemy to hit it has been replaced by overly-complex and completely-unresponsive motion controls that make it a chore to do something as simple as swing a dagger. AI allies no longer accompany the player’s character, but wander aimlessly, fighting the infinitely-respawning enemies that inhabit each floor. As a “Stonekeep” fan, playing “Bones of the Ancestors” is like having a complete stranger try to pass themselves off as a beloved family member by wearing that family member’s corpse as a cloak.