Sequels can be a tricky business in the gaming industry, for a number of reasons. There are a ton of expectations to meet, especially if your sequel happens to be the follow-up to an already established success story. Unlike the standard Hollywood model of sequels typically being underwhelming, video games tend to be more of a mixed bag with sequels. While there are certainly many cases of blunders, there seem to be an equal or greater number of successes.
In a business which thrives so much on hype, it can be a daunting task to come up with suitable gaming sequels for this reason. Sure, you'll need to meet the standards set by the previous entry and create a memorable game, which can be tricky enough. But also, you've got the added expectations of being a more seasoned developer, advantages of working off fan feedback, improved technology, and more optimal game engines.
These factors and others can often drive hype and standards up to seemingly unreachable heights, creating more pressure for developers. On top of this, there are tough decisions game creators must make when making a sequel. Do you stick closely to the formula and content that worked in the first iteration, at the risk of coming across as dull and old hat? Or do you push boundaries and take more risks, which could alienate fans of the series?
With these obstacles, it's easy to see why so many gaming sequels have failed to live up to their predecessors. Yet, many developers have often risen up to the challenge by revamping, refining, or fleshing out what worked before, sometimes even creating stronger entries as a result. This article will highlight some of the most notable examples of both.
Fallout 76 is coming off a slew of recent reviews and critiques which are largely negative. The warning signs of a decline were already partially there, with the underwhelming Fallout 4; but at least that game still mostly adhered to elements that worked in the series.
A "fallout" indeed...
This title seems to take the open-world elements to the nth degree while failing to really flesh out the environments or content, or give incentive for gamers to explore the lands. The result is a vast wasteland of buggy blandness, which isn't helped much by its new MMO direction.
Where to begin on this one... Lack of a decent online multiplayer? Check. Lack of a campaign mode and any single player content of substance? Check. Unfair and seemingly random gameplay based on the weird gimmick of powerups that make you grow in size? Check again.
Yes, this Wii U iteration of Mario Tennis certainly was a step back from this otherwise enjoyable sports party series. Thankfully, Nintendo rectified many of Ultra Smash's flaws with Aces for the Switch, which came with better mechanics and meatier tennis gameplay.
Many regard Pokémon Red/Blue as the definitive classics in the series. After all, they pushed new boundaries and provided an epic experience despite being confined to the archaic Gameboy hardware. Yet, it was Gold and Silver that really brought the epic levels to crazy heights.
These games were everything Red and Blue were and more, taking the addictive RPG elements and enriching them with bigger, more diverse environments, and more Pokémon. It also added depth with an internal clock that brought time-specific events and Pokémon breeding.
The Resident Evil series is one of the most well-known and beloved survival horror franchises in gaming. In many ways, it helped birth the genre itself. It's odd then, that the pioneers of the genre, Capcom, had begun to drift in terms of both quality and the content adhering to the roots of Resident Evil, starting with the 5th iteration.
The gameplay began to flirt with more action-based mechanics, shying away from the depth of the puzzles, and the desolate eeriness of the horror elements. RE6 took this even further, making for some formulaic gameplay almost unrecognizable from the early entries.
Rareware seemed to be at the peak of their powers during the middle and later years of the N64's life. Games like Perfect Dark managed to take the enjoyable shooter elements of Goldeneye and jacked them up on steroids. This Xbox 360 prequel, on the other hand, felt more like a deterioration of Rare's gaming muscle.
This game feels rushed, likely to make the launch date of the Xbox 360.
The story was less inspired, the ragdoll physics felt cheap and sluggish, and the environments weren't nearly as interesting. It even felt like a minor step back technologically and aesthetically; quite a feat considering the N64 predates MS's console by a decade.
Ok, so the game isn't perfect, as it still carries the Bethesda tradition of having a smattering of bugs and weird gameplay quirks. But with Skyrim, not only have these been dialed back compared to other entries, but the gameplay is so epic, and the graphics so gorgeous, that most of us could look past them.
The magic system revamp is intuitive, the dragon slaying is a blast, and character models have been polished up, so they no longer possess that creepy robotic look as in Oblivion. This game brought massive open-world RPGs to the next level.
Much like Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, this redecorated version of Doki Doki Panic, Super Mario Bros. 2, isn't a bad platformer. Still, it's certainly a step down from its iconic predecessor, and also diverts a bit too much from the formula.
This isn't to say a sequel shouldn't take risks, but when it comes to say, a Mario platformer, the idea of plucking loads of turnips, digging underground, and tossing things at baddies just doesn't feel right. Luckily, the series would be redeemed massively with Super Mario Bros. 3 a couple years later.
This falls predominantly under the "spinoff" moniker rather than a true sequel. Yet, it's still true that many fans of the Mass Effect trilogy were immensely let down when going into this game, after expecting similar gameplay quality. What they got was a shoddy mess of poor animation, basic action-RPG gameplay, and a dull and pointless narrative throughout. It doesn't bode well for a sequel when developers BioWare are racing to patch it, or when its price quickly plummets at absurdly fast rates at retailers.
Here we have an example of a risk paying off, in terms of a sequel diverting from its usual formula. With Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo shifts focus from the cumbersome puzzles, NPC chatter, and linear gameplay, and opens things up far more.
With these new massive open worlds courtesy of the Switch's greater horsepower, gamers are invited to explore with greater freedom than ever. The gameplay is rich, the mechanics are complex, and the colorful aesthetics are dazzling. Breath of the Wild is a return to form, as it captures the essence of freedom found in old Zelda games while exploring vast new terrain.
It feels wrong to pick on Rareware twice in one article, but it really is warranted, as this sequel is possibly an even bigger downfall than Perfect Dark Zero. At least with that game, we pretty much knew what we were getting. Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, on the other hand, wasn't just lackluster, but it felt like an entirely different franchise altogether.
Instead of utilizing the charming 3D platforming of the N64 games, this spinoff/sequel focuses on the dull tasks of vehicle construction. After assembling your random vehicles, you'd take them for a spin by completing tedious, uninteresting challenges and collect-a-thons.
This could be described as "decent in it's own right". But as a followup to Castlevania, one of the premiere action titles of the NES library? It just doesn't measure up, and often doesn't even feel much like a Castlevania experience.
The game contains day-to-night transitions, which could be neat if you weren't interrupted by a text box every time.
Rather, the gameplay takes on more of a Zelda II vibe with its slower-paced sidescrolling and RPG elements pigeonholed in. The gameplay is also frustratingly ambiguous at times, containing cryptic puzzles and obstacles clearly designed for you to invest in a copy of Nintendo Power magazine.
While fans of the latest title in this smash-hit series, Smash Bros. Ultimate might have something to say about this claim, as of now, the gold standard of Smash is almost unquestionably Melee.
There's a reason this game still costs a pretty penny, despite being almost 2 decades old.
The game treads the line nicely between simple, to-the-point gameplay and complexity in its mechanics and unlockables. There is enough versatility and solid 4 player gameplay to provide endless replay value, and the fast-paced mechanics and tight physics keep things exciting.
This isn't just a mediocre sequel as a Mario title, but even within the smaller parameters of the New Super Mario Bros. series. While it's a decent, well-crafted platformer, it lacks the depth and imagination of even the NSMB games that came before and after its release on the 3DS in 2012.
The gameplay is just too simple throughout, containing recycled assets and music.
The game's "shtick" is that the 2D environments are overflowing with coins, and your main goal is to greedily gather as many as you can. Unless you're that enticed by the premise of grabbing coins, this game just isn't that appealing.
Sometimes it can be good to take a risk, especially in a genre that's seemingly been played out. Yet, in the case of Yoshio Sakamoto's Wii iteration of Metroid, it's perhaps best not to fix what ain't broke.
This game seems to steer away from most of the elements fans loved about this action shooter, favoring bland cutscenes and cheesy narratives instead. An uninteresting character-driven narrative of Samus bogs down the experience. The game is also plagued with awkward aiming controls and jarring shifts from 2D to 3D. Stick with Retro Studio's Prime games if you're a fan.
With an endless stream of Mario titles, it can be tough to create a sequel for this franchise that feels fresh and interesting. Regardless, Nintendo stepped up to the plate in a huge way with their mainline Mario title for the Switch. Not only does this game feel enjoyable and new, but it reaches a new level of epicness that hasn't been seen since Mario burst onto the 3D scene with Super Mario 64.
The game contains a vast array of colorful, open world environments, entertaining new baddies and powerups, and tons of fun 3D platforming. There's also a sprinkling of nostalgic retro bliss that old-school fans will appreciate.
This just may be it; the epitome of disappointing sequels. At least in the case of the CDi Zelda games, specifically Link: The faces of Evil, there weren't high expectations. After all, the games weren't even developed by Nintendo. Still, that doesn't stop this from being possibly one of the worst sequels/spinoffs ever.
Most gamers are aware of the ridiculously cheesy, poorly animated and poorly acted cutscenes, and in fact, this is where the only enjoyment of the game really comes from. The actual experience is riddled with bugs, cumbersome controls, and all-around terrible gameplay.
The Sonic franchise has been something of a roller coaster ride, except it's mostly been on the decline since the early '90s. This strange adaptation of the "blue dude with attitude", perhaps marks the ultimate low point for Sonic games.
You can mark this one down as both bad AND strange.
As it's a 3D Sonic game, there are plenty of flaws, awkward mechanics, and glitches, as you might expect. Though the blemishes are present in the narrative as well. It features lame animation and acting, a cringeworthy, cliche story, and the odd clash of Sonic existing in a world with humans twice his size, including a human princess love interest.
Many fans of this massive FPS franchise might think of Modern Warfare when it comes to Call of Duty's flagship title, but for our money, it was the original Black Ops that left the greatest impression. It has yet to be surpassed with any Call of Duty sequel to date in quality.
FPS fans have poured countless hours of fun into this game's well-crafted online mode.
The robust online multiplayer provides endless addictive and exciting gameplay, the mechanics are solid, and the amount of unlockables/customizables keep things interesting throughout, without being overwhelming. The diverse, memorable multiplayer maps are also perfection. You've got Summit, Jungle, Firing Range, and of course, the legendary Nuke Town.
This game is proof that hardware and control gimmicks don't equate to an interesting experience. In fact, in the case of Star Fox Zero for the Wii U, it can actually make for a headache. The game poorly utilizes the functionality of the gamepad's various attributes; namely the gyroscopic motion and aiming of the gamepad.
What should feel intuitive manages to feel clunky and awkward, as you're forced to steer with the joystick while aiming with the motion controls. You're also jarringly tossed into moments where you must guide a slow moving drone, which feels like a different game entirely.
Just like modern times, this action-packed series was riding a huge hype wave in the early 2000s, coming off the debut of this breakout hit action title on the PS2. While the hype looks to be largely met with the upcoming Devil May Cry 5, that sure wasn't the case with this disappointing sequel.
The word that comes to mind here is "standard."
The game just felt like a bland retreading of the same hack n' slash gameplay prominent in the first entry. The action also seems toned down, the boss battles are uninspired, and the characters, including the typically awesome Dante, just feel soulless.
There's a reason gamers so desperately wanted this (initial) GameCube exclusive ported to PS2 and PC; because it's just so epic. Capcom got just about everything right with this thrilling survival horror shooter; the tight controls and intuitive interface, the creepy environments and zombies, and the intriguing narrative.
The gameplay also finds that sweet spot between the slower puzzle elements and more engaging, frantic action. It takes the essence of what made the first few RE games so memorable and revs them up a bit, like a furious Ganado wielding a chainsaw.
Although they were still being overseen by Lucas Arts, developer Obsidian had a tough task ahead of them with this sequel. They were taking the reigns from the first game's developer, Bioware, and had to live up to high expectations, while doing the iconic franchise of Star Wars proud.
Did they deliver? Well, not quite. KOTOR II manages to be a competent game but falls short of the memorable, rich experience that was the first entry. It doesn't do much wrong, but its flaws mostly lie in what it doesn't do. The gameplay is more of the same, except it feels more dated, especially with its visuals.
This is in fact, a prequel/spinoff hybrid rather than a sequel, as the title might give away. Though, that didn't stop us hardcore Gears of War fans from being let down by this lackluster shooter. This game was the first Gears title to be developed by a new studio, People Can Fly, and it shows.
War never changes... But this Gears prequel did, mostly in a negative sense.
The controls – which have been revamped – feel shoddy and jarring, and the multiplayer modes are lacking, aside from the fun new OverRun survival mode. The campaign also manages to be forgettable and basic, despite following the two coolest characters, Baird and Cole.
This might have a touch of "more of the same" syndrome, but in the case of this epic adventure series, sometimes the same can be a good thing. This is especially true when it's augmented with an even more epic narrative, slicker aesthetics, more enthralling environments, and superior gameplay.
There is a fine blend of puzzle, stealth, platforming, and shooter elements that just clicks. Even if you're not too keen on many cutscenes, like we are, you'll still likely still be drawn into this captivating Tomb Raider-on-roids action adventure.
Despite the deceptive name, Goldeneye: Rogue Agent is more of a weird hodgepodge of 007 characters and lore, rather than an actual sequel, or even a spinoff to the classic FPS Goldeneye. This by itself inherently led to a lot of disappointed fans, and the fact that the game is pretty formulaic just adds to that disappointment.
The only significance to the "Goldeneye" name is that one of your eyes is literally golden. Real clever, EA...
Beyond the gimmick of playing as the bad guy for much of this game and its inclusion of iconic villains like Goldfinger, there just isn't much redeeming about this forgettable sequel.
The developers are on record for saying they were tired of making Tomb Raider games by the time the PS2 had reached the age of maturity, and it certainly shows in the gameplay. Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness contains some boring, tedious gameplay, glitchy elements, bland NPCs, and awkward, clumsy controls.
It also has some haphazard environments that are ill-fitting of the majestic temple themes in previous games. This was a tough game to get through, even if you were a dedicated fan of Lara's tomb raiding adventures, especially with the agonizingly long load times.
The neat thing about stylistic graphics like those in the Borderlands games is that, aside from looking cool, they tend to age much nicer than polygonal jaggies. But in the case of this awesome sequel, the gameplay holds up as well. It tweaks, refines, and adds to the formula of the original Borderlands, perfecting it.
It contains a plethora of weapons, imaginative environments, and rich gameplay with the perfect blend of action, shooter, and RPG elements throughout. It also sports a memorable cast of colorful characters, including one of the most amusing villains in gaming, Handsome Jack.
You would think a game which took up a whopping 15 years to develop would turn out solid. Not the case with this highly anticipated, underwhelming sequel. It's true the perception of this hinges somewhat on context – as it's tough for any game to live up to 15 years of built-up hype.
At least the game is appropriately titled, as it took forever to complete...
But even in a vacuum, Duke Nukem Forever just isn't a great game. It's muddled with some badly dated graphics, generic industrial environments, and lame jokes that may have worked in the '90s but fall flat here. It also sprinkles in pointless references to other shooters that you'd rather be playing than this dud.
It's odd that in just a handful of years, the Call of Duty series could go from such heights in Modern Warfare all the way to the lows of Ghosts. The game, to its credit, tries a few new things, like the new multiplayer modes, unique environments (outer space), and its odd emphasis on a dog comrade. Yet, these attributes aren't really well executed and feel a bit gimmicky.
At the same time, the core gameplay still feels formulaic and dated, especially with the lame, insignificant single player campaign. The heroic clan you fight for, known as the "Ghosts" are similarly cliche and uninteresting.
Much like with Uncharted 2 and various other entries, this is a case of taking an already solid formula and fleshing it out to near perfection, making for an even more epic experience this time around.
This game brought a relatively unknown RPG series by then-obscure Polish developers CD Projekt and turned it into a massive hit which took home tons of game awards.
Much like Skyrim, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt embraces open-world fantasy RPG epicness, though it uses a more gritty, semi-realistic premise and atmosphere. As it's based on a series of novels, its lore is rich and engrossing. Its awesome protagonist, Geralt, has become a such a gaming icon he's even made an appearance in Soul Calibur 6.