Professor Icepick: Hello, and welcome to another installment of Turn Based. I’m Professor Icepick and today we’re going to be discussing bad games in established series. Specifically, is it possible for an individual game to be so bad that it effectively renders its series “dead”?
To clarify, we’re not talking about cases where the financial flop of a game manages to kill a company or forces the franchise in question to be put on hiatus for the foreseeable future. However, I will be counting cases where terrible games have had a delayed effect on killing series: ruining the sales of a follow-up, regardless of quality, and leading the series to its doom, simply because the bad game in question did end up killing it.
Now, since we originally came up with this topic, the existence of Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back — a new game from one of gaming’s most infamous series of all-time — has definitely weakened my position, so I’ll be taking a backseat this time around. As such, I leave you in the hands of my capable opponent to get things started.
Seriously, who wanted a sequel to this?
SNES Master KI: So my basic position is that there is always hope for a series no matter how badly an entry in it is received, for one simple reason: if people care enough about a series to be upset that a game ruined it, people care enough for it to get a sequel. Apathy is the only thing that can kill a series, hatred will cause an equal but opposite reaction in most cases, hence the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Since Bubsy’s revival pretty blatantly let the cat out of the bag in that regard, I almost feel like we should move on to the other side of this topic, but I’ll give you a chance to argue this first, if you don’t think you’re just kitten yourself.
Icepick: Ha, cat puns. I’m more of a dog person myself. You do bring up a good point about apathy, but that is probably your ultimate undoing. We’ve definitely seen cases in the past where apathy can kill franchises, but the exact opposite of love for a property isn’t hate, it’s apathy. Hate implies that you still care, while apathy implies that you’ve given up all hope on that property. A bad game, a game that the fanbase generally hates, can definitely drive its fanbase to apathy. After all, the “hive mind” for a fanbase is simple enough to manipulate. Create a game bad enough, and they’d be willing to give up on the whole thing to avoid enduring another similar disappointment.
KI: You’re underestimating how much people hate things. A game that could potentially kill a series won’t cause apathy, it will cause hatred. No one will ever stop talking about it. Even if the fanbase wanted to ignore it, they wouldn’t be able to. Imagine if Nintendo made a Mario platformer that was as bad as Bubsy 3D. I know my response wouldn’t be apathy, I don’t think that would be many people’s response. And even if I wanted the response to be apathy, trolls would never let people forget about it. People would remember it forever, and no matter how bad it was, someday, the owner of the IP would want to try again. A bad game, especially in a series with a large fandom, doesn’t cause apathy.
Icepick: You’ve got a good point there. It seems like in many cases, the worst thing for a series’ health is to grind their audiences down with similar games, rather than just killing them with one big stinker. But, in terms of large fandoms, Rock Band and Guitar Hero weren’t above death. Prior to the bold new decision of making a game based around World War II, people were chanting for Call of Duty’s demise, to the extent where Activision had to pack-in a remaster of the game that made the series popular in the first place to drive sales.
People are getting sick of franchises that started as recently as last generation, and the diminishing returns aren’t just present in the games’ sales, the quality appears to dip as well. Hell, I consider myself a huge fan of the Dead Rising series, but the fourth game makes me hope that Capcom lays it to rest, simply because I’m afraid of the horrors they may unleash on us next. Not even the massive shift of 3 caused that kind of reaction out of people, but I’m certainly not alone.
KI: People chanting for the death of a currently active series isn’t the whole picture. Sure, if they kill off the series for the present, it probably wouldn’t cause a huge outcry. But this is about the long game. Let’s say Call of Duty completely burns out, the series stops, whoever is making it now gets sold for two crayons and a carton of chocolate milk. No one seems to care for years.
Then, it’s 2027. People who grew up playing Modern Warfare are the nostalgia panderer’s prime target. Whoever owns the franchise is going to capitalize on that. Fandoms don’t stop series from dying, but they stop them from staying dead. If the fans of something huge are still alive, it’s almost certainly going to return at some point.
The childhood of the future.
Icepick: I’m not so sure about that. After all, fans of Castlevania appeared to give up on the series after Lords of Shadow 2 and the departure of Koji “IGA” Igarashi, who had been running the series for many years. Even before his spiritual successor Bloodstained was announced, Castlevania’s video game days have seemingly been numbered. All we have to show for it now are various pachinko machines and a critically-acclaimed Netflix TV series. Revivals don’t necessarily have to remain within the original medium to exist. If Call of Duty does fall, I could it see it coming back in 10-20 years as a television miniseries, or maybe even a movie.
KI: Lords of Shadow 2 is only three years old, that’s not nearly enough time to say people truly gave up on it. I also think the rumored Switch Castlevania game is very likely to happen, but even if it doesn’t, there’s plenty of time for nostalgia to make people forget all bad experiences with the series and demand it return. This leads to a question I had already wanted to ask, what is the most popular franchise you can think of that hasn’t had a new game in at least 15 years?
Icepick: Does Kid Icarus count?
KI: No, last game was five years ago. It shows even 15 years doesn’t guarantee death, I said 15 to make it easier.
Icepick: What about MegaMan Legends?
KI: Subseries. IPs can certainly be radically different when they return, but MegaMan falls under one umbrella, only seven years since we got one.
Icepick: Fair enough. Golden Axe: Beast Rider and Sega’s Altered Beast revamp both seemed to kill any enthusiasm for either series. Though, your mileage may vary on the latter.
KI: Those were already revivals, though. Golden Axe had already had a badly received spin-off that killed it for quite a while (Golden Axe: The Duel) and I don’t understand why anyone wanted Altered Beast back to begin with, but Bubsy coming back makes it hard to argue. I still think both games could get something within 15 years of those failed attempts. But as demonstrated, sufficiently popular games/series almost inevitably get some attempt at revival. There are literally dozens of games that got sequels no one would have ever expected or at least been confident of in the last decade, IP death is never permanent.
Icepick: I’m just not so sure about that. We’ve seen several series fall by the wayside, with no clear path to resurrection. At this point, it just feels like we’re splitting hairs. Should we get back on topic?
KI: Yeah, it would take decades for either of us to actually prove our hypothesis. Let’s move on to that other topic I mentioned earlier, I’ll let you speak first this time.
Icepick: I personally do think that there are cases where games should have killed series. Bubsy 3D would be my chief exam-PAW-le. There are others, but I think it’s best to state my reasoning: if a game’s quality declines and offers nothing worth developing further, then there’s really no point to continue the series. At best, you could consider a reboot, but at that point, it might almost be better to explore new concepts with new intellectual properties behind them. MegaMan 10 being the last game in that series (at this moment in time) led to Shovel Knight, a game that blended mechanics from numerous 8-bit games to create something truly amazing.
KI: For the first point, Bubsy was never good, so I don’t think it’s really relevent. Bubsy 3D shouldn’t have killed it, the first game should have. The reason to revive a series is to bring back what was great about it, so there wasn’t much claws for reviving Bubsy. For the second point, I don’t think anyone who worked on Shovel Knight actually worked on MegaMan, I don’t think MegaMan continuing would have prevented the talent behind the game from making it. There’s only one game I’d say MegaMan’s hiatus directly caused, and I think that would be a Mighty weak game to use for your argument.
Icepick: Regardless of Bubsy’s inherent quality, 3D is considered among the worst games of all-time, well beyond the scope of all of its predecessors. As for MegaMan’s absence leading to other games, it certainly increased the profile of Inti Creates, the staff behind the Zero and ZX series, not to mention the latest games MM9 and 10. They managed to leverage that into popularity for Azure Striker Gunvolt, yet another spiritual successor.
Not quite a Blue Bomber, but you can hardly tell the difference!
To bring up a different shade of blue, there’s the Sonic the Hedgehog reboot, charitably dubbed “Sonic ’06” to save face. If we printed our all of the thinkpieces written in the past decade about how it’s time to put the Blue Blur on ice permanently, we’d both be crushed by the weight.
KI: Sonic is a shining counter example though. After failed attempt after failed attempt after failed attempt to make Sonic games good again, Sonic Colors finally did. If they had given up, we wouldn’t have Colors, Generations, Sonic 4 Episode 2, Lost World, Mania, or Forces. Going back to Bubsy, while Bubsy 3D may be worse than the earlier games, there was still no reason to revive the older games. Since we both want MegaMan to come back, I’m not sure where you’re going with that topic.
If at first you don’t succeed, fail again and again until you finally do.
Icepick: You seemed to be implying that MegaMan’s absence only led to a certain failed “Comcept”, when it was really a mixed bag. The point is, series can run their course and sometimes it’s better to get a fresh start as opposed to trying trying to redeem something that’s clearly a lost cause.
KI: But the people who made the good games didn’t have access to MegaMan after a certain point, they didn’t choose to make a clean break, they had no choice. There’s no reason to believe Inti Creates making MegaMan 11 or MegaMan ZX3 or my holy grail would have led to a worse result.
Icepick: The point is, losing the MegaMan license was a net positive for Inti Creates. They were able to step our of Capcom’s shadow and parlay that into original IPs and other licensing deal, most recently Blaster Master Zero from Sunsoft. To bring us back on-topic, are there no franchises you see no point in reviving.
KI: There are plenty of franchises I see no point in reviving, but not really any that I liked to begin with. Even if the developer made a better series later, I’d rather have both. I get very enthusiastic about Donkey Kong, Kirby, Yoshi, and Wario platformers, even if Mario platformers are clearly what I love the most.
Icepick: The point is, eventually, the majority of series eventually hits a wall. If they’ve already hit their clear apex, why continue?
KI: The apex game will never be new again. Playing a game for the first time is special, and I don’t want to lose that experience in series that I love. Besides, you never know for sure what the apex is, Super Mario World was my favorite up until Super Mario Galaxy 2 almost 20 years later.
Icepick: Surprised you didn’t bring up Yoshi’s Woolly World. The point is that the height of any game series is only visible in hindsight. Why should series that are clearly well past their prime continue, while perfectly good series are snuffed out?
KI: But we don’t know that a series is truly past its prime, you just brought up Wooly World, released after 20 years of Yoshi platformers that never came close to Yoshi’s Island. As for why some series should continue and some shouldn’t, it’s usually not a choice between them, developers are usually a big factor and individual developers rarely have a huge stable of IPs to choose from. Saying I don’t want any series I like to end is an idealized statement, it’s what I want, but I’m not saying I expect every single one to flourish. However, recapturing the magic of a once great series is still a completely valid reason to make a sequel.
Icepick: Regardless, many IPs lack the ability to maintain their existence indefinitely and frankly while many companies simply choose to put their series on “indefinite hiatus”, the point is that some series just have limited potential in general. Clearly, there are many exceptions, but limitations must be kept in mind in general. Shall we move onto final thoughts?
KI: I feel like we moved away from the original point, it wasn’t whether some series should end, it was whether a game can be bad enough that the series should end because of that. I maintain that there is always hope, even if it’s a reboot 10 years later, for a series to reclaim what once made it great.
Icepick: Personally, I still think that considering the fact that we’ve seen many series go inert after a poor follow-up, it’s entirely possible for a game series, even one that’s very beloved, could be ended completely at the hands of a poor game. I’ve proven that bad games can put long-running series into statis and that ignored series can effectively end up dead due to complete activity, so I think I’ve more than proven my point here. Sufficiently bad games can definitely kill even the most beloved series.
KI: Series going into stasis is never something I argued, I said they shouldn’t and often don’t permanently kill a series. I still haven’t seen evidence of a bad game killing a truly beloved series, after years of alarmist claims Metroid just made a big return. Sonic, Tomb Raider, Yoshi, Doom, (almost certainly) Crash, the big series always find a way back, often as good as before.
As expected, once again, we decided to agree to disagree on this topic. What do you think? Do you think that a bad game can stop a long-running series cold or that we should never say die? Feel free to let us know in the comments. — Professor Icepick