First is the Worst: The Flawed Beginnings of Legendary Franchises (Part 1)

I’m a big proponent of sequels. Sequels have become a scapegoat for everything people dislike about gaming (and other forms of media), but video game sequels actually have a remarkably good track record for improving on the original. To demonstrate how beneficial sequels have been to video games, I’m going to profile the first game in six series that would go on to be legendary classics. The common thread between these games is that they are the worst (or at least one of the worst) in their series due to design flaws that were greatly improved in their sequels. Some of these flaws were nearly unavoidable at the time, but this is less about bashing the actual games than showing how much sequels can improve a formula and fighting back against nostalgia coded memories. Due to that second objective, games that are universally considered the worst in their series do not qualify for this article (so no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES or Street Fighter 1). So if you’re afraid for your childhood, this is your last chance to back out. Let the list begin!

Metroid

Platform: NES
Year of release: 1986

The Good Parts

Let’s dive right in with a controversial entry. I won’t argue that the original Metroid was a revolutionary game. The open world mixed with action-platformer gameplay and the way items were used to open new areas has created its own sub-genre and is a great concept. I’m not mentioning introducing passwords because I hate them with a burning passion and the only reason I’m not counting them against the game is that the original Famicom Disc System version had saving. Metroid was certainly an ambitious game with a lot of great ideas that laid the foundation for one of Nintendo’s best series.

The Bad Parts

However, that foundation was nowhere near finished and a danger to anyone who tried to explore it. For all the great ideas Metroid had, they had not been built to a playable state. The lack of a map in an open world game is always a gigantic flaw, and the repetition of the 8-bit graphics made figuring out where you had been before an even bigger problem. The power up system was innovative but having to switch weapons by finding their original location again, in a game that was already painful to navigate, was inexcusable. The difficulty was unbalanced with an unreasonably high penalty for dying in terms of how far back you were sent, and starting with 30 hit points (when you could get your maximum amount up to 800) made tedious grinding a necessity whenever you died or entered a password. Controls for this type of game also hadn’t been perfected in 1986, while they certainly weren’t horrible, they weren’t as perfect as is needed for a game this difficult. Unless you have the game memorized already, the current Metroid is only valuable today for historical purposes.

How the Sequels Fixed It

Metroid II: Return of Samus on the GameBoy made a few improvements to the formula, making navigation less nightmarish and adding saving for gamers outside of Japan. This also came with some drawbacks and a frankly disturbing story (Samus is sent to an animal’s home planet specifically to make it extinct), so while I think the game is better than the original Metroid it’s not where I would say the series became great. That turning point was Super Metroid. Released on Super Nintendo in 1994, Super Metroid is quite similar to the original in setting and structure, but fixes everything wrong with it. Perfect control, a much needed map, tons of items that add to the gameplay and never require you to recollect them, and masterful level design make Super Metroid a true classic and one of the best games on the SNES. The series never looked back, the problems that plagued the original Metroid would never return and even the weaker post-Super games were still significantly better than the original.

Kirby’s Dreamland

Platform: GameBoy
Year of Release: 1992

The Good Parts

Kirby’s Dreamland is a fun to play platformer with good level design and some interesting ideas with the sucking/spitting of enemies and ability to fly for an infinite amount of time. There’s really not a huge amount to say about Kirby’s Dreamland, but unlike most of the other games in this article there’s no crippling flaw in it either. Just a fun but not fantastic platformer.

The Bad Parts

You know what I’m going to say. Kirby’s Dreamland is absurdly short, with five not very long levels its length is closer to a single world than a whole game. The game is also extremely easy on the standard difficulty setting, but that can be forgiven due to a very challenging hard mode being available. Even with that, however, you can 100% the game in a day. It’s a fun game, but even in 1992 it’s hard to justify paying full price for it. The game just doesn’t feel complete, Nintendo hadn’t even decided on Kirby’s color when they released it.

How the Sequels Fixed It

Kirby didn’t have to wait long to reach its potential. Just a year after the first game, 1993’s Kirby’s Adventure was released and introduced the format for Kirby platformers that is still used today. Kirby’s Adventure added the signature ability to obtain powers by eating enemies, adding much more variety and giving you more incentive not to rely on the generous amount of hit points to get you through levels. It also added secret exits and mini-games, and most importantly it was much, much longer. Kirby’s Adventure is one of the best first party NES games ever, and even the GameBoy Kirby’s Dreamland 2 would greatly benefit from the template it set. Nintendo may be determined to only let Kirby have platformers on consoles that are about to expire, but no one can deny that Kirby has far exceeded his humble beginnings.

Pokémon Red/Blue

Platform: Game Boy
Year of Release: 1998 (1996 in Japan)

The Good Parts

Everyone knows the good parts of this game (except really bitter people who still think this over 15 year old franchise is a fad), Pokémon Generation 1 had a great concept that was enjoyable even without the whole playground consuming social aspect. Capturing and raising your own unique team of monsters was something few gamers (especially outside of Japan) had done before, and it was addictive as hell. With 150 (Er, 151. Wait, 152, don’t ignore Missingno! And don’t forget the 30 or so kids at school made up.) fully playable characters to capture and train, Pokemon could keep you busy for a long time, especially if you had other players to pit your team against. There was also the emotional connection you felt to Pokémon you had chosen out of so many options and customized so much, and the sheer excitement you felt when you finished a battle and got that wonderful “What? (Name you wouldn’t admit you chose now) is evolving!” message. The battle system was also deceptively complex, with 15 types and a huge amount of moves. Unfortunately, that aspect was lacking in some areas…

The Bad Parts

Of all the games in these articles, Pokemon Blue (Blastoise>Charizard dammit!) is the one I have the most personal nostalgic connection to. Despite this, I have to be objective and acknowledge a simple fact: Pokémon Gen 1’s battle system was completely broken. Several types had no good moves or a severe drought of Pokemon, and even people who didn’t play the game know how completely overpowered Psychic types were. If you somehow don’t, Psychic type moves were only resisted by Psychic Pokémon, and Psychic Pokémon were only weak to one type of move that’s only attacks were so weak being doubled in power still wasn’t enough. That’s not to mention Psychic being a special type attack, which due to how stats were determined had a giant advantage over physical ones. There were other problems as well, such as the tedious to use HM moves, several great moves only being available through a one use per save file item, and the lack of breeding making it a nightmare to get the earlier evolutions of the starters you didn’t pick. When not looking at Generation 1 through the eyes of a child amazed at the concept, there really are a lot of flaws that come close to complete breaking the game.

How the Sequels Fixed It

Pokémon has been making steady progress throughout its life, each generation making a good amount of positive changes (albeit it with a few steps backwards now and then).Pokémon Generation 2 fixed the most obvious flaw of Generation 1, the ridiculous type imbalance. While there were still some types that were better than others (which still hasn’t been totally fixed), there at least wasn’t one type so powerful it made the rock paper scissors system meaningless. As the series progressed we’d continue to get improvements like Generation 3’s ability and revamped EV system making the training of Pokémon more strategic, Generation 4 not permanently tying types to special/physical attacks and adding online trading to ease the amount of games needed for 100% completion, and Generation 5 speeding up the gameplay and making TM’s more user friendly. If you can look past nostalgia, you’ll see the current Pokemon games are greatly improved in both the single player quest and the meta-game of multiplayer battles.

That’s it for Part 1, but in Part 2 we’ll look at three more series and just how far they’ve come since their first games. Until then, try to appreciate the sequels in your life, do something nice for them.

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