If you enjoy video games—which is very likely since you’re reading this article!—at some point in your life, you probably looked at a new release of an old franchise and thought, “didn’t they just put something out?”
This cycle of repetition wears some franchises so thin that you might wish they’d just die already, but it needn’t always go that far; sometimes a series is solid, if a bit stale, while others are barely kicking. Regardless, the toll that repetition takes on a franchise’s lifespan doesn’t always correlate with the toll it takes on our patience. That’s why we’re calling out the most repetitive franchises in recent memory.
Whether it’s one terrible game in a series long past its prime, a slow downfall into apathy, or even a great series that could simply do better, we’ve collected a list of franchises that descended into autopilot mode. It’s important to note that being lazy doesn’t preclude a series from being good, although it’s clear that by this point a lot aren’t. We have high hopes for some of these series, and really, we’re harsh because we care!
If you’d prefer to get the lay of the land and see what franchises are still ticking, why not check out our list of Video Game Franchises You Didn’t Know Were Still Going?
15 Need For Speed
For racing, it might be said that there’s only so much you can do with the genre. Akin to sports games and straightforward fighters, occasionally there’s someone who argues you can’t reinvent the wheel (yes, I am proud of that pun). But in actuality, we’ve seen a great degree of diversity in racing from open world drivers to full-on destruction derbies. Even more “realistic” series that could easily degrade into lazy rehashes—such as the Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo franchises—have thus far remained fairly immune.
Need For Speed used to be counted as one of the more daring of even these, succeeding in developing radically different ideas in Hot Pursuit, Underground, and ProStreet. Not all of these attempts were equal, but since then, NFS has increasingly looked to older iterations rather than new ideas, trying to revive both Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted before rebooting the franchise altogether in 2015. Hopefully, the upcoming sequel PayBack will put the franchise back on track.
Few will argue that the Uncharted series is well-made. Even if you despise the Hollywood-esque jaunts, the cinematic execution is phenomenal, each sequel is ahead of the curve graphically, and there is little to critique about the gameplay from a purely mechanical standpoint. Still, with all this in mind, there’s one fact that looms over Uncharted’s various continuations: the blueprint is essentially the same in all four games.
When that blueprint garners such accolades as “game of the year” throughout nearly every entry in the series’ lifetime, it’s easy to see why things stayed the same. To the series’ credit, the mix of gunning, platforming, and puzzles stayed solid for nearly a decade, but it’s also exceptionally noticeable when the largest change is that time is a dialogue wheel... that doesn’t affect the ending. Don't rest on your laurels, devs!
13 Mario Party
Despite the simplistic format—you’re a Mario franchise character on a board filled with effects, whose movement is dictated by dice, as you attempt to capture stars (and coins) through movement choices, items, and mini-games—I’d argue there’s a pretty massive difference in quality as one peruses the various entries in the Mario Party series. Call me a hipster, but 4 is best. And look at that, I'm not the only one!
The difference, though, is not in the way the game is played. The core components of the 14(!!!) main and side entries are essentially the same. There are some outliers like Mario Party 9, which added different types of stars, but the real difference is in the number and quality of mini-games, the presentation, and the design of each board, leaving one to really question how long this format can be exploited. Considering that Star Rush came out last year, that answer would be “the foreseeable future.”
12 LEGO Licensed Games
In any “worst of” list, you’re liable to see a number of licensed titles—we can certainly attest to that!—as they’re often rushed through production to coincide with the release of a film or television show. LEGO games are often given a pass because they’re generally of higher quality than your standard fare, even when they’re under the same constraints while working within another property’s world.
But there’s a flipside to this consistency: LEGO licensed games are often treated like a conveyor belt, starting in a hub world filled with your ever-increasing collection from which you enter levels often ripped straight from the properties they’re taken from. That’s kind of the point, but it’s not where the similarities end: you’re almost always looking for gold bricks and trying to unlock new classes of characters to achieve specific interactions within the world. Even those interactions are largely cut-and-paste, a simple hue change sometimes denoting what you’re on the lookout for.
11 Animal Crossing
In the context of this list, Animal Crossing is a kind of inversion on the issues present in Uncharted. Its mechanics and style couldn’t be more different, exploring social interactions with anthropomorphic characters in a cute, cartoon style through slice-of-life daily activities. Yet, the problem here remains much the same: rarely does the series make an attempt to truly expand beyond basic or extraneous improvements.
The differences between the original Animal Crossing and its first two major sequels, Wild World and City Folk, are mostly aesthetic or incremental. New Leaf brought about the best iteration and most sweeping changes, but even that was mostly centered around more options of existing mechanics. That Animal Crossing would throw out three slapdash titles in a year and half, the biggest change between the three of them being Amiibos, shows that New Leaf would remain a high mark, but not a standard.
10 Far Cry
Like many of the entries on our list, Far Cry started off distinct. The original was critically acclaimed, for good reason, as it took the first-person shooter in a tactical direction. Others had done this before—such as the Rainbow Six series, which we’ll get to soon!—but not like Far Cry’s solo hero excursion. Far Cry 2 is where the series shifted to its now-familiar formula of an open-ended exotic locale traversed by a seemingly unstoppable superhuman with a grudge, albeit more punishing than later entries.
As the series wore on, this would be refined and regurgitated to better or worse effect; Far Cry 3 achieved perhaps the best balance in the series, which would be reiterated almost note-for-note in Far Cry 4. If that’s not bad enough, the very lackluster Far Cry Primal, released only months after 4, used effectively the same map as its predecessor, just with a different coat of paint. Talk about shameless! It just doesn't bode well for the franchise's future.
9 Guitar Hero
It’s hard to place the exact point at which rhythm games became over-saturated, and perhaps there isn’t one. Even if some such event horizon does exist, it’s harder still to put the blame squarely on any one franchise, but we can say one thing with certainty: Guitar Hero was there every step of the way. Not only was it the first to start the craze, it was still beating this dead horse long after others had abandoned it for trendier pastures.
What is easier to track, however, is the downfall of the Guitar Hero franchise itself. As original Guitar Hero developer Harmonix went on to revolutionize the genre again with Rock Band, Guitar Hero stuck firmly to its guitar-centric, rock-heavy roots with Legends of Rock... only to get in on the full-band action less than a year later in World Tour. As the bandwagon began to fall off the track, Guitar Hero defaulted to regurgitating their process from then on out. It’s clear how that worked out for them.
8 Dragon Quest
For series that run as long as Dragon Quest, particularly when they have as many entries as it does, diversification is key to survival. It’s easy to say that Mario or Final Fantasy do the same thing over and over again—and in some cases that’s true, as we saw with Mario Party—more often than not, these series do make pretty significant changes over their lifetime.
Dragon Quest proves that they’re just working too hard! With 11 main series entries and innumerable re-releases, the series has managed to squeeze the life out of relics of the past, even taking pride in its use of recurring characters (i.e., slime). While early on, you have to admit that there was some innovative ideas brought to the table, by the time Dragon Quest V rolled around in 1992, the template had been struck—and has changed glacially, if at all, since.
7 Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six
Let’s admit something first: Tom Clancy is an easy target. His name has proven effective, even posthumously, to sell a wide array of books, games, and other media, so effective in fact that there’s often no way of telling the quality of the product before interacting with it (kind of the point of putting your name on something, but oh well, that’s marketing!). The expansive Tom Clancy repertoire of video games has its fair share of critical successes and failures, but not all series are equal. If one stands out as particularly dated, it’s Rainbow Six.
Don’t take my word for it, just look what they did with Siege. After nearly 20 years of providing tactical shooter experiences of varying quality—innovated in the original, unrecognizable in Shadow Vanguard—by the end of 2015, Rainbow Six looks more like CS:GO than its progenitor. An ironic twist of fate.
6 The Sims
By the time The Sims 4 rolled around, longtime Sims fans knew the deal. While it was somewhat surprising that the open world of The Sims 3 had been taken away—along with such seemingly simple things as pools—we really should have seen it coming from a mile away; every new Sims generation begins with taking away some feature or another.
Retrospectively, the DLC practices of The Sims franchise should have prepared us from the beginning. Weather, pets, vacations, even magic were all present in Sims 1 expansion packs, and found themselves being repeatedly resold as “new” expansions in later games. Later Sims base games began to feel barebones on release, mostly because we’d become accustomed to having certain specific functionalities. It’s one thing to want to go a different direction with a sequel, but repackaging old content upward of three times isn’t just repetitive—it’s undeniably lazy.
We all knew this one was going to be on here. Now, before you league of detractors get up in arms, I will make a concession: in its lifetime, Pokémon has made some pretty dramatic changes, both in terms of newly added features and reinvention of old ones (most recently expressed in Pokémon Go, though there are problems there too). But let’s face the facts here: Pokémon is unique in its ability to milk the proverbial poké-train.
You all know what I’m talking about. The first generation alone had four iterations—red, blue, and yellow released worldwide, with green being Japan-exclusive—in a series whose catchphrase is “gotta catch ‘em all!” Even if you’d chalk this up to merely questionable sales practices, Game Freak then re-worked the red and green for re-release as FireRed and LeafGreen! While it’s hard to criticize such rampant success, it’s equally hard to deny its repetitive nature.
4 Call Of Duty
Ahhh, the obligatory entry! No doubt, some out there feel that Call of Duty is unjustly maligned as the arbiter of all things awful in first-person shooters—and in honesty, it’s not. While we might despise the yearly turnaround for COD entries, their multi-developer model is, at the very least, better than what we’d get if they just decided to plop it all in Treyarch’s lap. And some may point to their legitimate dilemma: after you’ve covered World War II, Vietnam, modern conflicts, near-future conflicts, and far-future conflicts, sometimes as much as five times, what else can you do? A lot, actually, but there’s still truth to the sentiment.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to deny that Call of Duty has a tendency to beat a concept to death before moving on to another and doing the same; now nearly a decade later, they’re even returning to World War II again—something that says more than anyone could.
3 Just Dance
While Guitar Hero may have gotten lazy at the top of the roost, at least it had that initial pedigree to sustain itself on some pretense of quality. Just Dance, the other side of the rhythm game conundrum, shows what an unbridled cash grab looks like. With no sense of context, Just Dance has put out yearly installments with virtually no improvements since its inception in 2009. Entirely coincidentally, that’s right around when the whole rhythm market imploded, too.
Unlike certain other genres, we’ve seen that innovation within rhythm games is entirely possible, leaving Just Dance no excuse. At the very least, they could make their songs topical! Even pleasantly esoteric would suffice. But even that seems difficult for this exceptionally lazy franchise.
2 Dynasty Warriors
If there is one game series that is the epitome of distinction without variation, it would probably be Dynasty Warriors. Anyone with even a basic grasp of what the series is about could sit down, look at a screenshot of any game in the series, and say: “Yep, that’s Dynasty Warriors.” Which one, you ask? You’d be hard-pressed to guess.
The plethora of main entries and spin offs has led many to overlook some of the very limited alterations that Dynasty Warriors has undergone over the years—such as the initial introduction of Musou Mode in the second entry and the surprisingly enthralling crossover in Hyrule Warriors—but really, there’s not much to miss. You know what you’re getting: it’s competent, it’s familiar, and that’s about it. You need only consider that the latest entry is an iOS port to nail this point home.
1 Silent Hill
In recent years, horror has made a comeback. But why did it need a comeback, exactly? Resident Evil and Silent Hill, the two ever-present juggernauts, were still churning out sequels. Even Alone in the Dark got in on the action. Yet reviews and fans’ reactions were clear: “survival horror” had mostly become “action game with scary things you can shoot!”
Most new developers got the message. Amnesia and Outlast got rave reviews for returning to a feeling of helpless horror, and even many low-budget projects like Slender and SCP: Containment Breach saw widespread success. The Resident Evil developers turned the ship around, first with The Evil Within, and then with their seventh iteration, and Silent Hill seemed primed to do the same with Silent Hills. We all know how that turned out. Now that demo, one of the best in recent memory, is virtually inaccessible as Konami digs their head in the sand, preferring pachinko machines to innovation. Truly, a sad and pathetic sight to behold.