Whether it’s due to outsourcing, re-imagining, or attempting to capitalize on a formula that just doesn’t work anymore, it’s a sad day when some of gaming’s greatest franchises launch into a perpetual nose dive that renders them mere shells of their former selves. And while the argument could be made for many, many more, here are the top 10 greatest franchises who have managed to fall from grace.
10 ) Ninja Gaiden
Once a standout action title on the NES, Ninja Gaiden initially made the jump to 3D gracefully, giving us some of the most impressive action games in titles such as Black and Sigma.
In the past few years, however, the series has gradually fallen downhill, losing its edge in deep combat mechanics and even seeing a decreased emphasis on the great platforming that lent players the unique feeling of being a ninja. Add a plethora of bugs and wonky camera controls to the mix, and there’s something to be said about the quality of Ryu Hayabusa’s adventures going to the wayside. The most notable disappointment, of course, being the recent Ninja Gaiden III, which has a current Metacritic rating of 58/100.
Maybe it’s the perfect storm of Itagaki’s departure and the developer wanting to take it in a new direction, but one thing is certain: if Ninja Gaiden wants to stay relevant, it needs to start borrowing some pages from its glorious history.
It’s no secret that Peter Molyneux likes to talk big. Really, really big. As such, the ultimate release of the original Fable probably felt a little underwhelming, considering how it was supposed to change your life.
Despite the fact it could never have lived up to the hype set up for it, Fable was still a great game, and one of the more unique RPGs from the original Xbox era.
But unfortunately, it’s been a franchise that peaked with the original and slowly began its downhill descent soon after.
Fable II was in no way a bad game, but it lacked the same depth as the original. It was much shorter, felt a bit more streamlined, and didn’t manage to capture wonder and magic on the same scale. Fable III all but abandoned its RPG roots in favor of being a more action-oriented game, and the series has hit a new low with the Kinect exclusive Fable: The Journey and an XBLA brawler in Fable Heroes. Neither were generally well recieved, and no game in the series has managed to capture the same elements that made the original so great.
Despite its fall from grace, I’m still hopeful about the Fable franchise. It’s one that I’ve always enjoyed, and seeing it return to its hardcore RPG roots in a proper sequel would be nothing short of amazing.
8) Mega Man
The blue bomber helped to define platformers back in the early days of gaming with both Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3, two games considered some of the best of all time. But since his time in the NES era, there have been many, many different takes on Mega Man that have robbed him of his former glory and left him a bittersweet memory in the minds of hardcore fans.
The most frustrating thing, however, is the fact that Capcom continues to thumb their nose at fans with the Mega Man franchise. They have the formula to make great games today, yet they insist on ignoring him and treating him as an afterthought rather than the genre-defining brand he is. If he’s ever to regain his former glory, Capcom will need to stop ignoring his prowess as a key franchise and take note of what made him so great in the first place.
7) Silent Hill
Once upon a time, the Silent Hill franchise was hands down the most frightening and unique games in the survival horror genre. Creepy atmosphere, complex and mature storylines, disturbing enemies, and the iconic eerie fog shrouding the town made for one of the scariest and most memorable game franchises ever created.
Konami started to put the nail in the proverbial coffin of Silent Hill, however, when they began outsourcing the series to other developers. The result was a slew of games featuring clumsy combat and an overall product that lacked any of the conventions that had once made the series so fantastic. It’s not the first survival horror game to fall from grace over the years, thanks to developers taking the traditionally niche games and adding a more action flair to them in order to draw in more players. But despite it’s not the first, it’s still a fallen angel painfully felt in the gaming scene. Will it ever see a return to greatness and recapture its throne? It’s certainly not impossible, but the franchise’s future is just as foggy as the town of Silent Hill itself.
6) Crash Bandicoot
At the height of the original PlayStation’s popularity, Crash Bandicoot was one of the most impressive of the quirky cartoon platformers on the system. Created by Naughty Dog, Crash capitalized on unique gameplay and an overall smartass attitude that made him goofy and beloved by fans.
The infamous “O” word caught hold of even Crash himself, however, and the series was eventually outsourced to other developers as Naughty Dog turned to taking on other projects in his place. The result was a franchise that reached multiple platforms, but managed to grow stale and lose all the conventions that had once made him stand out in the midst of platforming games.
Could crash ever come back? Being that the era of the 90′s platformer is over, it’s hard to say whether or not Crash would manage to stay relevant and recapture some of the greatness that made him special back in the early days of PlayStation. Still, my inner child would be overjoyed at even the idea of seeing an HD remake bring Crash home once again.
5) Medal of Honor
The PS2 and Xbox era saw an explosion of popularity in the First Person Shooter genre with the likes of Call of Duty and Halo, essentially making the shooter mainstream and ushering in a new era of copycat games and titles trying to capitalize on the same appeal as their gun-toting counterparts.
Not to be excluded from the list, Medal of Honor made a name for itself in its own right by being a great shooter back in its early days. But for all the notoriety it once had, the military FPS has struggled to maintain relevancy in our modern day with its mediocre release of 2010′s Medal of Honor and the recent Medal of Honor: Warfighter, notorious for its massive day-one patch and poor critical reception.
Maybe the franchise can manage to yet strike while the iron of the military shooter genre is hot, but as of right now, it’s sunken to rest in the shadow of Call of Duty with many other console-based military shooters.
4) Tony Hawk
Back in the day, it was near impossible to find someone who hadn’t tried to master the complex combos of the first few Tony Hawk games. With great level design, fair amount of challenge, and superb controls, the game was a near masterpiece in the sports genre that kept us clutching our controllers and furiously tapping buttons in an effort to master strings of combos and collect tapes.
Over the years, however, the franchise began to suffer from fatigue, trying to introduce new elements as it gradually slid downhill into obscurity. The franchise’s lowest point, of course, came by the way of Tony Hawk Ride, a mediocre game at best complemented with an unreliable and clunky skateboard peripheral.
The recent release of Tony Hawk HD collection was a breath of fresh air, but as it stands, the franchise is still currently on its last legs.
3) Guitar Hero
A few years back, you couldn’t find a home with a console that didn’t have Guitar Hero. The game quickly became one of the most celebrated party games available, allowing players to join in on classic rock tunes while using the game’s well-designed guitar peripheral as they tried to best the scores of their friends. Gameplay offered several modes that accommodated the most novice and experienced of players, and there were more than a handful of dazzling YouTube videos that showed off players mastering Stairway to Heaven on the game’s hardest difficulty.
Eventually, Activision’s super power to run franchises into the ground doomed this franchise as it grew stale and eventually lost the traction it once held, leaving the once frequently-used plastic guitars to collect dust behind TVs as gamers moved on to other titles. Interest died down, and the music/rhythm game of today is all but nonexistent. Still, with the recent release of Rockband Blitz on XBLA and PSN, it’s hopeful that the genre could regain its former footing once again.
2) Sonic the Hedgehog
One of the most iconic figures in gaming, Sonic the Hedgehog was a must-own for Sega fans back in the early years. The frantic and crazy approach to platforming the blue hedgehog’s games took made it unique and a standout franchise that sold its fair share of Genesis systems and sat poised to give Mario a run for his money.
But an attempt to branch out and try new things with Sonic has seen his good name fall apart over the years in releases ranging from mediocre to downright terrible. The most notable, of course, being 2006′s Sonic the Hedgehog on Xbox 360 and PS3, a 3D action adventure with a bad camera, terrible controls, and a weird story of Sonic falling in love with a human better left to fan imaginings on DeviantArt.
As Mario continues to maintain his relevancy today, it’s sad to see Sonic fall to the wayside. Of course, there’s always a chance that he could reclaim his former glory again. But in order to do so, he needs to ditch the failed ideas of today and get back to the great action platforming mechanics that made him what he was in the glory years.
1) Final Fantasy
It goes without saying that the Final Fantasy franchise has quite possibly the most impressive legacy of greatness in the RPG genre. Few franchises have managed to redefine the genre as many times as Final Fantasy has, and many of its titles are still considered some of the best games ever made.
But despite its glory, the franchise has had multiple slip ups and disappointments over the years that have left a dark mark on its good name. XIV was a colossal disaster, XIII was not well received, Versus XIII has been caught in development hell for years, and the calls for remakes and HD versions of classic Final Fantasy games continue to go largely unanswered outside of a few ambiguous internet musings.
Add to that the recent travesty of the mobile game Final Fantasy: All the Bravest, and there’s good reason to question the motives of the folks at Square.
It’s unclear what the future holds for Final Fantasy. At this time, the franchise certainly isn’t doomed, but it also isn’t headed toward a very bright tomorrow, either. If it wants to rise to prominence once again, developers need to take a step back and remember what made the franchise such a landmark to begin with.