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The 10 Best IPs that Somehow Have Less than 3 Games

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By Nelson Schneider - 04/15/18 at 03:07 PM CT

Sequels: Love them or hate them, in an Intellectual Property-driven medium like videogaming, wringing all of the value out of an idea is simply good for business. Some companies, like Nintendo, have managed to stave off irrelevance solely via the strength of their long-running franchises. Yet, sadly, in far too many cases, a great IP is cut short and never allowed to live up to its potential. Among the ridiculously long-running franchises out there, there are also a significant number of tiny franchises that, for whatever reason, never managed to receive even a full trilogy of titles. I’m not talking about one-hit-wonders or stand-alone titles that were never intended to be part of a larger series, but actual franchises that just faded away as their slated follow-ups were canceled or never materialized. Perhaps the first game in the series was terrible, so nobody was willing to give the significantly-improved sequel the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the sequel was actually at fault, defecating all over the concepts that made the original interesting and ending the possibility of an ongoing dynasty. Let’s take a look at 10 such subjects

10. ‘ActRaiser’
‘ActRaiser’ is the poster child for terrible, tone-deaf sequels. The original “ActRaiser” blended side-scrolling action with top-down God Sim in a very novel way. Even the original, though, suffered from clunky controls and overall poor gameplay in the side-scrolling sections, making them more of an obstacle to overcome in order to get to the good part than an equal half of the whole. Unfortunately, when Enix developer Quintet went to make a sequel, they somehow came to the completely wrong conclusion that the platforming was the part of the original game that people liked, so “ActRaiser 2” featured nothing but super clunky side-scrolling platforming that had somehow become even clunkier.

9. ‘Stonekeep’
The original “Stonekeep” is one of those uncomfortable games in the evolution of the RPG and Action/Adventure genres. While it shares the grid-based movement and Dungeon Crawling aspects of older RPGs like “Dungeon Master” and the like, its actual mechanics are far more Action/Adventure-like. Regardless of that, “Stonekeep” also strove to break into new frontiers with FMV cutscenes and pseudo-3D character models… which never really worked. However, the writing and lore were interesting, and the dungeon itself was quite fun to explore for a ‘90s kid… when the computer would actually run it. Originally, a sequel was planned under the working title, “Stonekeep 2: Godmaker,” but due to Interplay’s various financial troubles never materialized. Two decades later, the necromantically animated remains of Interplay produced “Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors” for the recently defunct WiiWare digital shop on the Nintendo Wii. I couldn’t say enough negative things about that garbage sequel, and it essentially nailed the IP’s coffin shut, wrapped it in chains, encased it in concrete, and launched it into the heart of the Sun. I don’t think there will ever be another ‘Stonekeep’ game, thanks, once again, to a ridiculously tone-deaf sequel.

8. ‘Doodle’ (Rakugaki Oukouku)
The original Japanese titles for both “Magic Pengel” and “Graffiti Kingdom” on the PlayStation 2 reveal that the latter is a direct sequel to the former. They both take place in the same universe and involve the player creating living Doodles and commanding them in battle, ‘Pokemon’ style. While “Magic Pengel” is a Turn-Based RPG and “Graffiti Kingdom” is a 3D Platformer with heavy Action/Adventure elements, both games are quite enjoyable and share a nearly identical Doodling system for creating playable characters by drawing them by hand with the PS2 analog sticks. If developer Taito was able come up with a system for converting 2D scribbles into fully animated polygonal characters in 2003-2005, just imagine how much more refined that technology could be today, if only they’d kept up work on it. Since both ‘Doodle’ games were actually good and received positive critical attention, the fact that the IP just dropped off a cliff is mindboggling. The only possible explanation is the acquisition of Taito by Square Enix a year after the release of “Graffiti Kingdom.” We all know Square Enix has been busy churning out Western game sequels after buying Eidos in 2009, so maybe the company just isn’t aware of all the quality material they’re sitting on and not ruining using.

7. ‘Red Steel’
Built from the ground up by Big Three member, Ubisoft, to take advantage of the Wii’s revolutionary motion and pointer controls, the original “Red Steel” was generally panned by critics for failing to deliver what it promised. The sequel, however, did deliver on those promises, and served as a truly defining moment in my own personal relationship with the FPS genre. Unfortunately, “Red Steel 2” didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved, thanks in large part to its predecessor making consumers leery of the very title. I’m honestly surprised that Ubisoft, being the “AAA” Publisher they are, is willing to leave any IP fallow like this instead of throwing sequel after sequel at the public in an attempt to make us like it. Hell, with ‘Red Steel’ forging new frontiers in motion controls, it would be a natural fit for the struggling VR ecosystem that just can’t seem to nail down any must-play games.

6. ‘Neverwinter Nights’
The first official D&D game released after the implosion of Interplay and Black Isle, “Neverwinter Nights” was handled by ‘Baldur’s Gate’ alumnus, BioWare (lately of EA), while “Neverwinter Nights 2” was handled by Obsidian (lately a Kickstarter Indie dev) – Both games were published by Atari (delenda est). This series is widely loved by D&D fans for both its quality narratives and its extensive Dungeon Master Toolkit that allows for endless user-generated content and asymmetrical multi-player where a group of coop heroes can be tormented by a real human Dungeon Master instead of an AI or pre-built encounters. Honestly, ‘Neverwinter Nights’ was a bit ahead of its time, as PC games tend to be, as high-speed Internet penetration wasn’t that great when these titles were released. The fact that there hasn’t been a third game in the series now that user-generated content, online play, and asymmetrical multi-player are old hat is simply mindboggling. Apparently n-Space’s “Sword Coast Legends” was supposed to be a spiritual successor to ‘Neverwinter Nights,’ but the handling of the tabletop ruleset and conversion into something a little too videogamey saw the game met with overly-harsh criticism, which led to poor sales, which led to n-Space being bought and shuttered by a Chinese holding company. Nobody currently knows what Wizards of the Coast is doing with the official D&D videogame license…

5. ‘Half-Life’
The old joke is that nobody at Valve knows how to count to 3. Hence the ‘Half-Life’ series, which was revolutionary in its time for adding cinematics, story elements, and character development to the First-Person Shooter genre, has never received the official third-and-final game fans have awaited for decades. Between the add-ons, mods, and remakes, it’s easy to think that there are an ass-load of ‘Half-Life’ games, what with things like “Half-Life: Blue Shift,” “Half-Life: Opposing Force,” and “Half-Life 2: Lost Coast,” but nope, it’s just two games with lots of expansion packs. It’s a shame Valve doesn’t make narrative-based game anymore and are content to rake in money selling microtransactions, as the audience for an official finale to this series is enormous and rabid.

4. ‘My Life as a _________’
No, this series isn’t really a part of ‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles,’ despite having those words in the full title. Instead, the ‘My Life as a _______’ series serves as a nice ‘Crystal Chronicles’ spinoff that shifts the focus from tiresome coop Action/Adventure to something else entirely. “My Life as a King” is a fantastic take on kingdom management in the form of a Sim, while “My Life as a Dark Lord” is a quirky, vertical take on the Tower Defense genre. Unfortunately, both these games are trapped in the doomed WiiWare ecosystem, as they’ve never been ported elsewhere, despite Square Enix’ obsessive love of porting things elsewhere. These games not only deserve a sequel, but they deserve a Steam release, ASAP.

3. ‘Dragon Force’
One of Sega’s best first-party IPs is also one that they’ve barely used. The original “Dragon Force” debuted on the Saturn – Sega’s misbegotten Genesis/SegaCD/32X successor – and received one Japan-only sequel on the same platform. These games put a new spin on the Real-Time Strategy genre – typically confined solely to the neckbeardiest PC gaming environments – making it playable and enjoyable with console paradigms in mind. The tiny Saturn install base naturally led to weak sales, which made cottage industry localization outfit, Working Designs, pass on the sequel, which naturally caused the entire IP to fall into obscurity. Instead of beating ‘Sonic’ to death, Sega should dig through their catalog of IPs for hidden gems like this. They might be surprised at how well a ‘Dragon Force’ sequel would do in today’s hodgepodge PC/console market.

2. ‘Okami’
EA isn’t the only Big Evil Corporation that buys small game development studios and digests them. Capcom has been doing the same thing for quite some time, as it did with Clover, the development outfit behind the amazing 6th Gen ‘Zelda’-killer, “Okami.” While this gorgeous, artistic, mythology-steeped Action/Adventure did spawn a sequel, that sequel was a handheld exclusive (bad idea) and handled by a different development team (another bad idea), and essentially came off like “Muppet Babies” when compared to the original (really bad idea). Capcom has recently released an HD remaster of the original game, so there’s hope that they might have another sequel in the works… hopefully not exclusive to Android/iOS devices.

1. ‘Tomba!’
The original PlayStation was a breeding ground for fun, creative new IPs. Whoopee Camp, a nearly-Indie game development startup that began in Osaka in 1997, made one such IP: ‘Tomba!,’ a fun series of 2D Platformers blended with RPG and Action/Adventure elements that were absolutely jam-packed with stuff to do, similar to Nintendo’s recent Switch releases. While both ‘Tomba!’ games were critically praised, Whoopee Camp’s small potatoes status rendered them unable to produce enough physical game discs to allow the games to blossom. The company dissolved shortly after the release of “Tomba 2: The Evil Swine Return,” and ownership of the ‘Tomba!’ IP has been nebulous enough that even Sony had difficulty nailing down digital PSN Classics releases of these games from a legal standpoint.

Honorable mentions go to the ‘Portal’ series by Valve, the ‘Chrono’ series by Square Enix, and the ‘Baldur’s Gate’ series by BioWare. Each of these franchises only have 2 ‘true’ entries, yet don’t qualify for this list due to oddly-flavored interjections: “Portal Bridge Constructor,” “Radical Dreamers,” and two ‘Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance’ titles, respectively.

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View Chris's Profile


Wrote on04/26/18 at 07:16 PM CT

Some of my favorite one or two-off series:

Bully - Rockstar's take on school life was actually a lot of fun and far less violent than GTA, but with that cash cow it's little wonder they never went back.

Manhunt - Make Murder Great Again! Hell, they should re-brand this as a Manhunt: The Purge - crossover, it would make a mint.

Siren - The king of stealth horror and it was creepy as all get-out. The second was released as download-only on PS3 and I really wish both would get ported to Steam as well.

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