Not every video game is gonna be a winner. It's an undeniable fact of life. No matter how many successful releases a popular vide game franchise may have during its lifetime, there will always be that one game that didn't quite hit the mark. Whether it just failed to make a long lasting impression, or single-handily killed any good will associated with the series, there will always be a black sheep in the family. Publishers may try to hide a franchise's nasty little secret, such as Sega removing less-than-stellar Sonic the Hedgehog games from retailers, in an effort to improve the brand - but those who first experienced those disappointing sequels or spin-offs will never shake those memories away.
The term "Black sheep" is more derogatory than it should be. Sometimes it's not the game's fault it can't live up to crazy expectations of fans. There are even times where all-around good games are labeled the black sheep of the family, due to circumstances out of its control, such as the original creative team not being present for the sequel, or a game suffering severe shifts during development. With this list, we'll be looking at vide games that, rightly or wrongly, were generally labeled the black sheep of the franchise. Games that tried to appeal to a different audience, but ultimately lost the one that cared for it the most. Highly-publicized sequels that tried to do something new and different with the series, but became too ambitious for its own good. Video games that started out as one project, but transformed into something that would be familiar and marketable to public.
Here are 15 video game black sheep in popular video game series.
15 Ninja Gaiden 3
Before the release of Ninja Gaiden 3 in 2012, series developer Team Ninja was in a tough spot. Tomonobu Itagaki, the video game designer behind the modern 3D revival of Ninja Gaiden, resigned from Tecmo in 2008 and would later sue the company for unpaid bonuses. Two years later, development of Ninja Gaiden 3 began without the involvement of Itagaki, leaving Team Ninja with the intimidating task of developing the highly-anticipated action game without the man credited for its success. Ninja Gaiden 3 tried to push the series forward, but ended up taking it a few steps back wit questionable game design.
For starters, the series' intense combat and intellectually aggressive A.I. enemies were nowhere present in Ninja Gaiden 3. The game's revamped combat was shallow and lacked the refinement seen in previous games. A.I. enemies were shockingly dumbed down, often serving no other purpose that the be a part of the player's shameless QTE massacres. Speaking of QTEs, Ninja Gaiden 3 relies on the long criticized mechanic far too much, removing the joy once found by engaging in heated combat with an effortless and unearned kill streak. Ninja Gaiden fans saw the third game' streamlined approach as a shameless appeal to attract the trigger-happy Call of Duty audiences and weren't having it. Critics and fans alike slammed Ninja Gaiden 3, leaving Team Ninja with much to ponder.
An enhanced port named Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge was later released, altering many of the criticized mechanics of the original game, while adding fan-favorite additions from Ninja Gaiden 2. While not perfect, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge received more favorable reviews than the previous release.
14 Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
We've seen it time and time again that whenever a company - whether it's a gaming company, movie studio, or whatever - tries to remove everything that made its product special in the first place in an effort to win over new consumers, it only ends up alienating everybody as a result. This was especially true for the early 90s era of gaming, as Japanese role-playing developer Squaresoft tried to turn its niche Final Fantasy series into a mainstream franchise for Westerners. The end results were not pretty.
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest attempted to dumb down the complexities of the Japanese-produced Final Fantasy game, to make it easier for Americans to swallow. So many key RPG elements were oversimplified. Exploration was heavily restricted to following direct paths, random encounters were eliminated, the player is unable to purchase new equipment from shops, and the weapons with the strongest stats are forcibly pushed on the player. The game is also more action heavy, in an effort to attract a younger crowd that wants to be empowered right out the door. The handholding nature and lack of difficulty for Final Fantasy Master Quest resulted in negative reviews, lack of fan support, and failed to win over North American gamers it desperately wanted.
13 Resident Evil 6
Resident Evil 4 saved, yet, doomed the entire Resident Evil franchise. The fourth installment of the survival horror series reinvented itself as a cheesy action game that did away with the fixed camera angles and tank-like controls of past games for an over-the-shoulder shooting experience. At a time where horror games were starting to show their PS1 roots, Resident Evil 4 managed to make the franchise fresh again, while retaining some of the classic horror tropes of the original games. Despite the critical acclaim, Resident Evil 4 paved the way for future games to devolve into full-fledged shooters. This became evident when Resident Evil 5 began to abandoned the creepy atmosphere of the early games for more cinematic action sequences, and Resident Evil 6 took it even further.
Resident Evil 6 removed any pretenses of being a survival horror. The game was portrayed as another third-person action shooter flooding the AAA gaming market. Four playable campaigns featuring longtime fan favorite characters like Leon S. Kennedy, Chris Redfield, and Ada Wong were available. However, critics believed all the campaign modes varied in quality, with most leaning towards mediocrity. Many gaming critics and fans of the Resident Evil series were disappointed to see the franchise lose its survival horror identity in an effort to appeal to the Gears of War crowd, which may explain why Capcom decided to bring the horror elements back full force in the recently released Resident Evil 7.
12 Star Fox Adventures
The's only one thing fans expect from a Star Fox game and that's space combat. Star Fox and Star Fox 64 established the series as an arcade-like shoot 'em up set in the vastness of space. All you have to do to keep Star Fox fans happy is give them an airship with nifty guns and a galaxy to zoom through. Star Fox Adventures for the Nintendo GameCube did not do that. In fact, Star Fox Adventures did quite the opposite by stripping Fox McCloud of everything that made him unique and replacing it with a magic stick.
Star Fox Adventure was a radical departure for the series, as the game played like The Legend of Zelda but with dinosaurs. The airwing missions that defined the Star Fox franchise were reduced to short-lived, but mandatory minigames that allowed McCloud to access new on-foot levels. Why was the third Star Fox game so different from the rest? It's because Star Fox Adventures was never developed as a Star Fox game in mind. The game was originally conceived as Dinosaur Planet, an action-adventure RPG by Rare for the Nintendo 64. Dinosaur Planet originally featured a male and a female anthropomorphic fox named Sabre and Krystal. When Shigeru Miyamoto realized the character Sabre looked strikingly similar to Fox McCloud, the decision was made to turn Dinosaur Planet into a Star Fox game. While the move ensured Star Fox Adventures would become a best seller, it also resulted in a questionable deviation for the franchise that never found its roots after.
11 Soulcalibur 3
Bandai Namco hasn't done much with the Soulcalibur franchise, outside of celebrating the series 20th anniversary with a pachinko game, but back in 2002, the series was thriving with the release of Soulcalibur 2. The second installment in the weapon-based fighting game amped up the 3D action of the original game by improving mobility and adding a variety of contextualized combos, such as the wall-specific moves and the clash system. Soulcalibur 2 definitely benefited the most from its console exclusive characters, like Link from The Legend of Zelda, Spawn, and Heihachi Mishima from Tekken. Soul Calibur 2 had a lasting impression on the fighting community, while Soulcalibur 3 did not.
Unlike past games, Soulcalibur 3 was released exclusively for consoles on the PlayStation 2, limiting its user base. The game was criticized for being unbalanced, having cheap A.I. opponents, lacking online play, and having lackluster new modes. What hurt Soulcalibur 3 the most was the game's file corruption bug that jeopardized the save files of the Chronicles of the Sword side-quest, the save file for the entire game itself, or corrupting all data found on your memory card. There are good points to Soulcalibur 3, like its create-a-fighter mode, but the threequel just didn't match the hype of its predecessors.
10 Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!
While Donkey Kong Country is mostly remembered for its pseudo-3D graphics, the follow-up, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, elevated the sidescrolling action of the original, on top of further refining the awe-inspiring graphics and unforgettable musical score. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest proved the series had substance to match its flashy style. However, when the third Donkey Kong game, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!, was released on the Super Nintendo, the game's impact on audiences was feeble at best.
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! had a few things going against it upon its 1996 release. For starters, it was the second Donkey Kong game that didn't star the great ape himself, which made the Donkey Kong trilogy label silly in retrospect. Second, the new playable character, appropriately named Kiddy Kong, didn't entice gamers to try him out with his childish appearance. Third, the game didn't have any memorable music like "Aquatic Ambiance" or "Stickerbush Symphony" to soothe the player's ears. Lastly, Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! was released at a time where audiences have moved on to 3D gaming consoles like the PlayStation and Nintendo 64.
The first Donkey Kong game was able to hold gamers off with its illusion of 3D rendering, but the gimmick had lost its steam by the time game three was released.
9 Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
The partnership between Microsoft and British video game developer Rare will always remain a controversial one. Ever since Microsoft acquired the formerly renowned Rare studios for $375 million in 2002, industry analysts have criticized the Xbox maker for poorly utilizing their pricey purchase. Rare's Xbox debut, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, failed to turn heads, the long-delayed Kameo: Elements of Power was more meh than magical, and the return of Joanna Dark in Perfect Dark Zero never reached the highs of its Nintendo 64 predecessor. When Microsoft teased the return of the loveable bear and bird duo, Banjo-Kazooie, in 2006, many fans of the N64 platformer expected the threequel to continue the series's collect-a-thon adventures. What fans ended up getting was something vastly different.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is not your daddy's Banjo-Kazooie game. In an effort to keep the series afloat in a climate that abandoned 3D platformers for realistic open world experiences, Rare updated the collecting formula of Banjo-Kazooie by turning it into a vehicle adventure game. Players were encouraged to build the craziest of contraptions in order to traverse enormous worlds and succeed in various challenges (mostly races). Longtime fans of the series were turned off by the game's vehicle-driven approach and critics weren't entirely fond of its wonky physics.
In a special guest episode of Game Grumps, famed game musician and former Rare employee, Grant Kirkhope, expressed regret about the direction Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts took. "I really said we should make Banjo-Threeie," Kirkhop said. "That’s what people want to see, but at the time it looked like platform games weren’t… it was the year when platformers weren’t as popular people wanted shooters and all that kind of stuff and so we all thought it wouldn’t sell and people wouldn’t want to play a game like that."
While Banjo-Kazooie fans are likely to never play the Banjo-Threeie of their dreams, the spiritual successor known as Yooka-Layee is ready to fill that void.
8 Dark Souls 2
Following the cult-hit status of Demon Souls, the 2011 release of Dark Souls became a worldwide success for developer FromSoftware. The game's harsh - but fair - gameplay of exploring dangerous medieval environments and overcoming powerful undead enemies earned the developer praise from gamers who were sick and tired of AAA games always holding their hand. With the winning strategy working twice, one would think Dark Souls 2 would earn as much acclaim from audiences as the previous Souls games; if not more. However, the 2014 sequel had fans divided on whether it was a worthy followup to Dark Souls.
Dark Souls 2 is not a terrible game, however, it's a less polished experience when compared to the Souls games before it. For starters, the game received a graphical downgrade in a last-ditch effort to make it run smoothly on seventh generation consoles. Second, the Souls games' commonly praised level design was absent in the sequel, as the world of Majula wasn't as memorable - nor made geographical sense - as the previous game's location of Lordran. Last, but not least, Dark Souls 2 portrayed itself as a game that bought into the franchise's own hype of being difficult and cruel, instead of being a challenging and rewarding experience.
Some of Dark Souls 2's shortcomings could be blamed on Hidetaka Miyazaki - the series creator and usual game director - being absent from the director's chair in favor of developing the fast-paced gothic action game Bloodborne for the PlayStation 4. The team behind Dark Souls 2 seemed to learn much from developing the game, as the DLC releases received a warmer reception from fans and critics alike.
7 Metroid: Other M
If you're a Metroid novice and are wondering why so many people have been clamoring for a new game in the series recently, it's mostly because fans want to put the stinker that was Metroid: Other M behind them. Flashback to 2002: Texas-based developer Retro Studio shocked the world by successfully adapting the action and exploration of 2D Metroid games into a 3D first-person perspective for the Nintendo GameCube. Over the years, two more games set in the Metroid Prime universe would be developed by Retro, each receiving the same worthwhile praise of the original game. When the Metroid Prime trilogy came to the end in 2007, fans were left wondering where Nintendo would take the franchise next. Nintendo answered two years later with a shocking E3 reveal of Metroid: Other M, a third-person action game for the Wii.
On paper, Metroid: Other M sounded like a winner. The game was harkening back to the platforming days of 2D Metroid games, while portraying the action in a traditional third-person perspective. Not to mention the game was being developed by Nintendo and Ninja Gaiden developer Team Ninja. However, when it was released in 2010, Metroid: Other M faced harsh criticism for its linearity, terrible control schemes, and poor storytelling that reduced the badass bounty hunter Samus Aran into a helpless girl that won't shut up about "The baby." There hasn't been a new Metroid console game since Metroid: Other M underperformed in sales, but fans are still praying for Retro Studio to return to the franchise so they can set Samus Aran right.
6 Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
When it comes to picking out a game that fans would like to pretend never existed, the Sonic the Hedgehog games are a goldmine for such an occasion. Even diehard Sonic fans admit the franchise has had a rocky period of releases due to Sega's poor handling of the Blue Blur - although, things are finally coming around with this year's upcoming release of Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces. Before Sega came to the realization that the Sonic franchise needed better quality control, the Japanese publisher had to learn it the hard way with the 2014 Wii U release of Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric.
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was created as a brand new marketing venture for the Hedgehog; aimed at catering exclusively to Western audiences with a more story-driven game, new character designs that radically altered Sonic and friends, and a CGI Saturday morning cartoon to coincide with the game. On top of that, the game was developed by Los Angeles-based studio Big Red Button instead of longtime Japanese series developer Sonic Team. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was meant to take the Sonic the Hedgehog series to new heights, but ended up sinking the franchise into a brand new low. The game was panned by critics for its tedious platforming, repetitive combat, and laughably bad bugs.
If all this sounds familiar to you, it should. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric shares many of its devastating criticism with the 2006 release of Sonic the Hedgehog, a previous failed attempt by Sega to revitalize the franchise. The difference between the two is that Sega will at least acknowledge the existence of Sonic 2006, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way. For Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, Sega deliberately ignored the game existence during its 2016 SXSW panel; pretending the Sonic Boom cartoon and 3DS games were the only brand-related products. Ouch.
5 Super Mario Bros. 2
Before Super Mario Bros. launched on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, the video game market in North America was all but dead. The video game crash of 1983 portrayed video games as a fad that finally reached its expiration date. After the fall of Atari, no American electronic company wanted to take a chance on selling a gaming system and the same was said for retailers. However, that all changed when Japanese game company Nintendo released the NES in the United States and Super Mario Bros. with it. Super Mario Bros. charmed America and the world with its addictive platforming, tight controls, and colorful and imaginative graphics. Not only did Mario pave the way for future 2D sidescrollers, it essentially saved the gaming market in the U.S. and established Nintendo as a key player in the industry.
Naturally, you don't make a worldwide phenomenon and leave it at that. A sequel to Super Mario Bros. was in the works, but with the gaming industry still young, the idea of how to properly make a video game sequel wasn't as clear back then as it is today. Nintendo of Japan released Super Mario Bros. 2 in 1986, appearing visually the same as its predecessor, but featuring a higher difficulty curve. Fearing the higher difficulty would put off American gamers at a time where the gaming industry was beginning to heal, Nintendo of America requested a more consumer-friendly sequel to Super Mario Bros.
The black sheep stigma associated with Super Mario Bros. 2 comes from the fact that the game is a reskinned version of Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. The original game's Arabian family was replaced by Mario and friends, items such as magic lamps and giant hearts were changed to magic potions and mushrooms, and the insensitive blackface heads were thankfully changed to harmless Koopa shells. Gameplay-wise, Super Mario Bros 2. distinguished itself with vertical platforming, with the screen commonly scrolling upwards and downwards, in addition to scrolling left and right. While it's true Super Mario Bros 2. wouldn't exist without Doki Doki Panic, the same could be said for Doki Doki Panic, as the game was conceptualized as a Mario game first.
So yes, despite the naysayers, Super Mario Bros. 2 is a real Mario game.
4 Zelda II: The Adventures of Link
As mentioned in the Super Mario Bros. 2 entry, the youthful video game industry of the 1980s had much to learn when it came to creating sequels to their popular games. Do you deliver more of the same or do something completely different? When it came time for Nintendo to develop a sequel to its groundbreaking adventure game, The Legend of Zelda, for the NES, the gaming giant dramatically changed everything gamers loved about the original game.
Developed by an entirely different team than the first game, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was a 2D sidescrolling adventure game that featured many role-playing elements that would become a staple in the series, such as the magic system and interacting with non-playable characters. The game tried to match the adventurous aspects of the original Zelda game, while focusing more on platforming. However, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was only half successful in its translation, as the game is commonly criticized for poorly illustrating what the player needs to do to progress. Even series creator Shigeru Miyamoto admitted the sequel - while ambitious - was a failed experiment.
"Compared to Legend of Zelda, Zelda II went exactly what we expected…," Miyamoto told Super Play Magazine. "All games I make usually gets better in the development process, since good ideas keep coming, but Zelda II was sort of a failure…"
3 Devil May Cry 2
Sure, it's easy to mock Capcom for the overblown edgefest that was DMC: Devil May Cry and its Hot Topic interpretation of Dante, but it wouldn't exactly be fair. DMC: Devil May Cry wasn't Capcom's first attempt at turning the cocky demon slayer into a moody protagonist. That honor - or dishonor, to put it more accurately - goes to Devil May Cry 2.
Awarded Most Disappointing Game of 2003 by GameSpot, Devil May Cry 2 killed the flamboyant charm of Dante by toning down his cockiness and making him a silent protagonist for the majority of the game. It wasn't just the change in attitude that ruined Devil May Cry 2, critics were severely disappointed that the sequel dumbed down the difficulty from the first game and offering an unrefined combat system with a poor arsenal of weapons. Over-the-top action and style were Devil May Cry's meat and potatoes; failing on delivering both killed any love Capcom could have gotten for the sequel.
How did things get so bad for Devil May Cry 2? For reasons unknown, Capcom didn't ask Devil May Cry director Hideki Kamiya nor his development team Team Little Devils to work on the sequel, choosing instead to use an inexperienced team that had to be replaced halfway through development.
2 Snake's Revenge: Metal Gear 2
The thought of a Metal Gear game without the involvement of Japanese video game designer Hideo Kojima is unthinkable - and remains unthinkable despite Konami's claim of continuing the franchise following Kojima's departure from the company in 2015 - however, it's not impossible. Back in 1992, Konami produced a sequel to the NES classic Metal Gear without the involvement of Kojima, resulting in the release of Snake Revenge: Metal Gear 2.
Snake Revenge: Metal Gear 2 was developed with the intention of appeal more to North American audiences. This resulted in the game pursuing a more action-heavy gameplay than the original game and underutilizing stealth tactics that became associated in the series. Nevertheless, there's still a strong connection to the first game with the inclusion of characters like Jennifer and Big Boss, along with retaining the top-view perspective in addition to the new 2D areas.
Due to Kojima having zero involvement with the game, die hard Metal Gear fans don't consider Snake's Revenge to be a Metal Gear game. According to Kojima, even one of the developers of Snake's Revenge encouraged him to make a true sequel to Metal Gear, which he did with the 1990 release of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Kojima himself has no ill will towards Snake's Revenge, as he told Steven Kent in 1999 that the game was "faithful to the Metal Gear concept."
1 Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
Muck like Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest is a game that differed greatly from the previous installment, however, while Adventures of Link was still able to garner praise for its entertaining gameplay, Simon's Quest fell flat on its face. The original Castlevania game for the NES succeeded with its adult and horrific atmosphere; setting itself apart from other 2D platformers. It was a brilliant love letter to all the horror cliches we've come to know and love, paired beautifully with the game's difficulty level that enticed you to play again. If Castlevania was a huge step forward for platformers, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest was a huge leap back.
The polarizing reception to Castlevania II: Simon's Quest comes from many factors. Knowing where to go was impossible, as the game's cryptic messages and bad English translations made deciphering clues and gathering information a headache. A classic example of bad English translation is the game's hint of "hit Deborah Cliff with your head to make a hole" to instruct the player to kneel down in the western graveyard and summon a tornado. Other criticism included the dreaded day-to-night cycle that inconveniently making the game more difficult and annoying to play through, and spawning the infamous line "What a horrible night to have a curse." What makes this worse is that the game will force you to constantly backtrack in order the progress. And no, the boss fights aren't great either.
Oh, what a horrible night to play Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.