In film, it’s a cliche that a sequel is almost never as good as the original. In the game industry, it’s almost the opposite. Sequels routinely build upon the paths laid by developers in their original entries, making modifications to the engine, the game’s design, or its story that usually fix issues that the first entry had. However, as with every rule, there are exceptions. Just like some film sequels equal or surpass their predecessors, some game sequels — while occasionally succeeding as standalone entries — fail utterly to capture what made their predecessors so great,
We recently invited our writers to talk about some of their most personally disappointing sequels, and we received what are certainly some interesting answers.
Red Dead Redemption II
Red Dead Redemption II is by no means a bad game. Both visually and mechanically, there is exquisite attention of detail that I have only ever seen once before (in The Witcher 3). The amount of polish placed on simple things — like how the game’s protagonist, Arthur, gets off his horse — led me, as a novice developer, to feel daunted because the entire world is treated with similar attention to detail. The dialogue is well written, and there is an abundance of activities and missions to explore. Why then is this game disappointing?
The original Red Dead Redemption is still, to this day, my favorite game of all time. It’s a complete package, blessed with one of the best stories in gaming, some of the best visuals of the time, and gameplay that I couldn’t force myself to tire of. Every aspect feels perfect and well balanced. In many ways, Red Dead Redemption II is the sequel you would expect.
However, it feels like there’s too much of it.
While the first game took around thirty or forty-five hours to see everything, its sequel can range from seventy to one hundred fifty hours. Compared to the first game, where there was always enough to discover (but not enough to feel overwhelmed), Red Dead Redemption II feels overfull, and Rockstar’s choice of game design sometimes evidences this fact.
In Red Dead Redemption II, I’ve died in gunfights because when I tried to aim my pistol, I opened the dialogue tree by mistake. Similarly, I’ve spent hours collecting pelts, just to find out they were of poor quality or had them stolen mere meters from the nearest town. I’ve desperately tried to lose myself in the story, only for Rockstar to drag me away from it time and time again with a world so real and beautiful
that it dilutes the quality of the experience.
I’m enjoying my time with Red Dead Redemption II, but the magic of the original has not been replicated. Indeed, it reminds me of many Oscar nominees — a remarkable achievement and detail
within the industry, but not that enjoyable to experience as a game. (Chris Bowring)
Mass Effect: Andromeda
When BioWare announced the fourth installment in their acclaimed Mass Effect series, fans of the game were excited to venture back into the world that we had grown to love over the course of five years. Although the ending of Mass Effect 3 faced its own share of criticism, the trilogy was widely praised, and a new game was highly anticipated.
Unfortunately for BioWare and Mass Effect fans, Mass Effect: Andromeda was a disappointing entry in the franchise which failed to live up to its predecessors’ legacies.
You can’t discuss Mass Effect: Andromeda without mentioning the controversy around the
animations and various other technical issues upon release. The painfully bad and often laughable
glitches and facial animations were noticeable almost immediately, and it didn’t take long before the
worst offenses were posted all over YouTube and social media. Characters would emote woodenly on their robotic faces, and game breaking bugs would force you to load a previous save. For a AAA game from a well-known company and developer, these sorts of mistakes were unforgivable.
Inevitably, comparisons were made between Andromeda and Mass Effect 3, and before long, many fans began to think that the third game had better animations despite being released five years earlier — and on vastly inferior hardware. BioWare later released patches to fix some of the worst cases, but it was too little, too late, and fans couldn’t forgive that we were given a broken and unfinished mess.
Mass Effect: Andromeda was not an entirely bad game. For instance, the combat had some updated
features that made for fun gameplay, and it was enjoyable to venture back into the Mass Effect universe once again. However, there are far too many issues to ignore. I loved the missions in the original trilogy, but I found them not half as engaging in Andromeda, as a fair amount were boring fetch quests across empty worlds. This, along with the multiple technical issues and lackluster narrative, made for a game that was just plain disappointing. (Toni Haynes)
Super Mario Sunshine
The 3D Super Mario games are some of the most acclaimed, yet surprisingly divisive, titles in Nintendo’s history. While some are considered masterpieces (the groundbreaking Super Mario 64, Galaxy 1 and 2, and some would argue the recent Super Mario Odyssey), others aren’t so unanimously loved.
Coming off of the incredible Super Mario 64, I was thrilled when the second-ever 3D Mario game was announced for the GameCube. Unfortunately, that excitement rapidly turned to disappointment as I quickly realized just how painfully samey and unintuitive Super Mario Sunshine is.
Super Mario 64‘s core platforming mechanics are some of the most naturally designed and rock solid platforming mechanics I’ve ever experienced. Those are largely still intact in Sunshine, but with one major wrinkle that was tied to Sunshine’s gameplay hook: F.L.U.D.D. While it’s fun to mess around with at first (particularly its ability to make Mario hover), controlling it and switching between its different modes feels significantly clunkier than the Super Mario series’ core gameplay. F.L.U.D.D.’s forced utilization throughout (save for only a few areas) makes it wear out its welcome that much more quickly.
Sunshine also suffers from a distinct lack of varied environments. Super Mario 64 quite literally transports players to different worlds with every painting they enter. Years later, Galaxy allows the player to visit a stunningly diverse array of planets and galaxies. Sunshine, on the other hand, is very firmly rooted in its tropical aesthetic. Whereas other 3D Super Mario games had blown my mind and pleasantly surprised me with new and interesting locales, Sunshine just felt lackluster and visually uninteresting. At its release, it was a decent game, but I can’t help but feel disappointed whenever I play it. (Brent Middleton)
Silent Hill 4: The Room
The initial trilogy of Silent Hill games is rightfully looked upon as the holy trinity of survival horror. The original Silent Hill utilizes its limitations as strengths, focusing on ambiance and atmosphere to make players feel tense, rather than employing cheap jump scares. Silent Hill 2 furthers this approach by diving deep into the psyche of the characters and the players, forcing both to take a long, hard look at the horrors of the real world through a funhouse mirror. Silent Hill 3 returns to the themes of the first game, but focuses them through a maternal lens rather than a paternal one. It also re-structures the gameplay to put some of the power back into the hands of the player.
Then came Silent Hill 4: The Room. Saddled with the legacy of being a Silent Hill game, The Room loses much of its original charm when players leave the sinister apartment they are trapped in to visit random parts of the titular town, with the switch from first to third-person making these exchanges all the more jarring.
Meanwhile, The Room continuously pulls you in and out of the nightmarish world of the preceding games, destroying the creeping sense of fear and dread that pervaded each of them. In essence, Silent Hill 4: The Room is the worst of both worlds. Teeming with indestructible enemies, frustrating puzzles, and a disastrous clash of artistic visions, this game is rightfully looked upon as the beginning of Silent Hill’s downfall as a franchise. (Mike Worby)
Resident Evil 5
“How do you fuck this up!? How!?!?”
These are the words of William Hurt in A History of Violence, and they have become a constant reference point when I see slam dunks like this that someone, somehow, managed to bungle up. Case in point: Resident Evil 5.
Capcom had just saved this meandering franchise from falling into oblivion with its previous entry; Resident Evil 4 is one of the best-designed, most utterly fun survival horror games of all time. It masterfully re-balances the gameplay of Resident Evil so that the player can deliver the carnage unto their enemies, rather than just fearing the eventual onslaught. Yes, Leon occasionally gets violently dispatched with a chainsaw or pitchfork, but he also gets to blow up hordes of enemies with TNT, and crush them to bits with boulders and catapults.
Resident Evil 5 squanders this reinvention by making hasty, needless changes to the new formula. First, Capcom forced in a campaign-long co-op angle, making the game anti-fun unless you could find a friend to play with. Next, they threw the dark Gothic atmosphere and encroaching darkness of the previous game out the window. Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, RE5 returns players to the out-dated inventory system they had been straddled with for the five games that preceded the fantastic, empowering advent of the attache case system. Suddenly, one game later, we could only carry 6 to 8 items at a time, and had to stumble our way through pointless item exchanges with another character who we were probably controlling ourselves.
Finally, Resident Evil 4 at least had the good graces to imitate Metal Gear Solid with tongue firmly planted in cheek. By doubling down on the worst elements in the most ridiculous game in the entire series, Resident Evil 5 boulder-punched itself into the volcano of the worst sequels ever put to plastic.
7 minutes. 7 minutes is all the time I have to deal with this game. (Mike Worby)
Xenoblade Chronicles X
There are few Nintendo games that I actively do not like. Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of those.
Flashback to 2015. It had been three years since Nintendo had released Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii in North America, and for the past two years, they had been marketing its sequel. Revealed first at a Nintendo Direct in 2013 — and further introduced in marquee appearances at E3 in 2014 and 2015 — Xenoblade Chronicles X seemed poised for the same sort of greatness that its predecessor had found in America.
In great anticipation for what I thought would be, without a doubt, my game of the year, I went on media blackout for X, refusing to look at the details of scores or read many impressions of any sort. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been so naive. However, the hype has a way of numbing one’s logical capabilities, and as a result, I went into the game almost completely blind.
I knew (from what I couldn’t blackout) that the game had a lesser story than its predecessor, but I figured “Hey, I loved the combat in Xenoblade, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Needless to say, I was completely wrong.
Xenoblade Chronicles X completely obliterated the original Xenoblade’s most valuable asset — it’s incredible story — and replaced it with one of the most snooze-worthy, poor excuses of a story that I’ve ever played in a game. Whereas from its initiation, Xenoblade Chronicles’ story hits the player fast and hard, pushing them rapidly through a tale whose scale rapidly accelerated, X’s is a slog — a poorly-localized, poorly written, ham-fisted tale that takes the worst parts of the last two decades of JRPGs, sews them together, and calls it a day.
Whereas Xenoblade compliments its story with characters that, while embodying the typical cliches found in JRPGs, nonetheless represents some of the best examples of Japanese storytelling this side of Chrono Trigger, X assembles a cast whose pure blandness is nearly overwhelming. From the player-created protagonist to the main cast, the entire game is filled with the worst elements of Japanese anime cliches. With too-young girls, macho guys, and other anime cliches for which the medium and its fans are routinely lampooned in the West, X feels like it got lost on the way to the darker side of CrunchyRoll. Atrociously wooden voice acting that called to remembrance the oaken tones of early 2000s shows like Transformers Armada was the final straw. I sold it within a week of release and haven’t looked back.
But, hey, that’s just my opinion. (Izsak Barnette)
So what are some of your most disappointing game sequels? Tell us in the comments section below!