Few things in the video game industry are as certain as sequels to successful games. Very few profitable video games made in the last 40 years don't have at least one sequel or some manner of follow-up to its name.
While things have gotten better with movie sequels in the past couple of decades, in the 70s through the 90s it was often a dicey prospect to make a sequel to a beloved movie and far too often it fell short of the original. But going back to some of the earliest video game sequels—Galaga, Ultima II, Ms. Pac-Man—game series tend to improve via sequels. It makes perfect sense: smooth out the rough edges of earlier entries and use the feedback from fans to know what specific issues from those game to address. To illustrate that point, look no further than the fact that some of the absolute greatest games ever made have been sequels: Street Fighter II, Super Metroid, Metal Gear Solid, Half-Life 2, and Uncharted 2, just to name a few.
That said, sometimes sequels do take a step back from previous installments. In a perfect world, each subsequent installment in a game franchise would be better than the last, but that isn't always the case. Typically, the one thing we can at least count on is that a game sequel has better visuals than the previous entry(s) in the franchise, and that is almost always true...except in the outlier examples illustrated in this very list.
25 Street Fighter V
It was a risky move to have the core Street Fighter series move to 3D visuals with Street Fighter IV, but fans quickly embraced the new look when they saw that the game was as fast, fluid, and responsive as they came to expect with the series.
Nearly a decade of technological advancement should've meant that SFV looked even better than SFIV, but that failed to be the case.
By toning down the "ink" dynamic of SFIV's graphics and making the characters almost look like clay models, SFV is arguably the worst-looking game in the franchise for its time.
24 Prince Of Persia: Warrior Within
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was one of the greatest games ever made when it was released, and remains among the best of the "environmental traversal/puzzle solving" genre. But for some reason, it wasn't a huge seller—which led to Ubisoft thinking they needed to make the sequel edgier to draw in more fans.
The result was Warrior Within, which took Sands of Time's gorgeous, dreamlike graphics and turned them dark, gritty, and ugly. That the game itself felt rush and unpolished—and contained music from Godsmack—just made it that much harder to tolerate the visual downgrade.
23 Final Fantasy XII
While the Final Fantasy series has been dividing fans since its jump to the original PlayStation, it wasn't until the double-whammy of Final Fantasy XI being an MMO and Final Fantasy XII having real-time battles that really began to drive away a lot of longtime fans.
To be fair, FFXII was a visual showpiece for the PS2—but FFX was an even better one.
Sure, FFX cheats a bit by still having a lot of pre-rendered backgrounds while FFXII goes entirely 3D—but pretty is pretty no matter how it's accomplished, and FFX was just prettier than FFXII.
22 The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Developer Beenox was responsible for breathing new life into the Spider-Man video game franchise and giving it an awesome introduction into the HD era with the inventive Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Unfortunately, they struggled to keep that momentum going, and just three Spidey games later they delivered what some consider his worst game ever.
Chalk this one up to the infamous tradition of a game having to be rushed to be out in time for the movie it is based on, as Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a glitchy, unpolished mess with visuals that clearly needed another six months (at least) of fine-tuning.
21 Dino Crisis 2
When we say a sequel looks worse, we aren't necessarily saying it is worse. And most people would agree that Dino Crisis 2 is an overall better game than the original, trading in the somewhat formulaic "Resident Evil with dinosaurs" setup and smartly revamping it as an extremely satisfying all-out action game.
Dino Crisis 2 lacked the excellent pre-rendered background work that Capcom was known for at the time via games like RE2.
The result is a game that might have been more fun to play, but lacked the more visually interesting presentation of its predecessor.
20 Dark Souls II
The Dark Souls series really hangs its hat on being an old-school gaming experience, from its unflinching difficult to the classic medieval-esque themes. In a lot of ways, the franchise's visuals also match this retro aesthetic, looking almost like a game from 15 years ago with an HD filter—perhaps intentionally so.
That said, when Dark Souls II actually took a step back visually from the first game, it still felt disappointing. Sure, the finer visual details might have improved, but something about the art direction just seemed lacking in compared to the first game.
19 The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Speaking of art direction, if there was ever an argument to be made that interesting art design is not only more important but more future-proof than just trying to be as cutting edge as possible, it's The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
To go from Wind Waker to Twilight Princess was a rough transition to say the least.
You know how Disney cartoons from the 1940s hold up better visually than live-action movies made even 30 years ago? Yeah...that's the difference between WW and TP. Both games' HD remasters only further hammer home TP's visual inferiority to WW.
18 Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the best games of all time, and remains a masterclass in 2D game design. It also definitely put the NES through its paces and accomplished things nobody—not even Nintendo—thought was possible on the console when it was first released.
The problem is that returning to the boring ol' Mushroom Kingdom after spending time in the beautiful and weird dream world of SMB2 felt like a step backward.
SMB3 has better graphics than SMB2 in a strictly literal sense, but it just didn't feel as unique or interesting to look at.
17 Nidhogg 2
When developers go for that intentionally retro look, they usually don't go earlier than the NES era for inspiration. But developer Messhof did just that with it's fighting game Nidhogg, which looks like some unreleased Intellivision game from 1982.
Nidhogg's graphical style wasn't going to feel as special the second time around, so you can't entirely blame Messhof for upgrading the visuals for Nidhogg 2. That said, what they went with just ended up looking kind of weird and not remotely as charming as the original, even if it technically looked "better."
16 Silent Hill 4: The Room
Silent Hill 3 was one of the best-looking PS2 games ever made, in particular its stunning character models that went unrivaled for years. Sequel Silent Hill 4 had a lot to live up to in that regard, and it didn't come anywhere close to delivering.
The boringly subtitled The Room is generally seen as the first game in what would become a steady decline for the once-great horror franchise.
And while a lot of that is the disappointing, repetitive gameplay, it's also the visuals which were a significant downgrade both in raw tech specs and also art direction.
15 Crackdown 2
Ah yes, the dreaded developer switch: in this case, it was Crackdown developer Realtime Worlds yielding the sequel to Ruffian games, which caused Crackdown 2 to lose all of its heart and soul.
A big part of why Crackdown 2 looks worse than its predecessor is that it looks almost identical to its predecessor—and given the three year space in between the games and the fact that the first game didn't look cutting edge to begin with automatically means the sequel seems uglier by comparison. By 2010, the same old Pacific City just didn't cut it anymore.
14 Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
Almost everyone was betting against Metroid Prime when it was first revealed to be an FPS—until they played it and realized it was (and still is) one of the greatest video games ever made.
Prime 2 basically looks as good as the original on paper, but the "dark world" takes the art direction down a peg or two.
We might seem like we are fundamentally opposed to dark, gritty sequels given things we've said on this list, but we're not—it's just that darker, grittier sequels generally end up looking worse from a visual standpoint if we're being honest.
13 Dragon Age II
Bioware franchises are infamous for fluctuating quality between installments, as well as making controversial mechanical tweaks that end up losing fans of previous installments. As with Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age II was accused of being "dumbed down" and made too action-heavy in an effort to appeal to a more mainstream audience while turning off fans of the first game.
Another common complaint aimed at DAII was its graphics, considered inferior to the original game from a technical standpoint as well as having copy-and-paste dungeons and recycling too many assets from the first game.
12 Mortal Kombat: Armageddon
Mortal Kombat Armaggedon was definitely an impressive technical achievement in that it managed to include an astounding 62 playable fighters, nearly every character that had appeared in an MK game up to that point.
But that massive roster of characters didn't come without some serious sacrifices.
First was the much-criticized custom Fatality feature that was a thinly-veiled excuse for the developers to not have to include unique finishing moves for all 62 fighters. And second was the visuals, which were much more simplistic than previous 3D MKs in what was surely an effort to squeeze in so many characters.
11 Donkey Kong Country 3
It was hard to believe the SNES was capable of the amazing "3D" visuals in Donkey Kong Country, and so enamored were we with the graphics that we barely noticed the game itself was a fairly unremarkable platformer.
While subsequent DKC entries on the SNES got better gameplay-wise, the visuals seemed to take a hit in the process. Part of it was us starting to see through the trickery behind the visuals. But it also just felt like, by the third game in particular, environments weren't given the same attention to detail as the original. Also, Kiddie Kong is terrible.
10 Killzone 3
When Sony showed off teaser footage for its then-upcoming PlayStation 3 during E3 2005, audiences were skeptical that they were actually seeing in-game visuals. For the most part, they weren't—but when Killzone 2 finally came out a few years later, it looked admirably similar to the incredible target footage of the game shown during the E3 demo reel.
While Killzone 2 remained one of the relatively few games that truly proved the PS3 was as powerful as its specs suggested, follow-up Killzone 3 didn't quite pack the same visual punch. Nor did Killzone for PS4, for that matter.
9 Marvel Vs. Capcom Infinite
It's the same story as Street Fighter—Marvel Vs Capcom managed to go 3D without too much backlash from longtime fans, but then the next game took a nosedive in graphical quality.
Marvel Vs Capcom 3's gorgeous cel-shaded art style is gone for Infinite—and in its place is bland, simplistic character models and backgrounds.
Infinite's graphics just come off looking like a demo for a game whose visuals haven't been finalized yet—but the developers just decided to give up and go with what was there. And that's in addition to the many misguided gameplay decisions they made...
8 Streets Of Rage 3
There is no denying that Sega is one of the best developers of beat-em-ups in video game history—but there is also no denying that they seem to have trouble when they get to the third installment of their beat-em-up franchises.
We here in the West were thankfully spared from the terrible Japan-only Golden Axe III, but we did get the extremely disappointing Streets of Rage 3. All they had to do was basically make Streets of Rage 2.5 and we would've ate it up—instead they made a sequel that looked, sounded, and played far, far worse.
7 Crysis 2
There are certain games that have come out throughout video game history that were seen as new graphical benchmarks by which all future games were compared—well, until the next benchmark game, that is. It happens less than it used to, though, with Crysis being one of the last big examples.
In a lot of ways, Crysis 2 was an even better-looking game than the original. But the fact that Crysis 2's world was much more linear than its wide-open original made the game just feel less visually-impressive—not to mention inferior gameplay-wise as well.
6 Soulcalibur III
In a world where Namco is threatening that Soulcalibur VI will be the last installment in the series unless it is a big seller, it's easy to forget that the franchise was once one of the most popular in all of gaming.
For a time, Soulcalibur was the biggest name in fighting games, period.
Everyone has their own favorite, but for most people it is either the first or second installment. The PS2-exclusive third entry saw the series enter divisiveness territory for the first time, with many fans particularly being disappointed by the graphics looking far less pretty than SCII.
5 Assassin's Creed II
The original Assassin's Creed was good, but it was also a fairly repetitive experience and definitely felt like something of a trial run for what the series would eventually become.
And sure enough, Assassin's Creed II showed everyone what Ubisoft was trying to accomplish with the first game but hadn't quite gotten there yet.
All of the extra gameplay depth in ACII came at a price, though, as some of the finer visuals details looked inferior to the original game. But it's by no means an ugly game, and it also remains one of the best-loved entries in the franchise.
4 Devil May Cry 2
It's hard to comprehend how the great Devil May Cry and amazing Devil May Cry 3 could be sandwiched around such a trainwreck. But Devil May Cry 2 will always remain right at the top of search results for "video game sequels that are worse than the original."
It's almost as if the developers looked at DMC and said, "Let's take everything that is good about this game and not do that for the sequel," right down to taking one of the PS2's best-looking games and following it up with one of the ugliest AAA games of the last 20 years.
3 Resident Evil Zero
The Resident Evil remake for GameCube—recently remastered for modern platforms—remains the high-water mark by which all other video game remakes are compared. Really, the only truly negative thing you can say about it is that it inspired Capcom to revive a cancelled N64 game and try to make it just as relevant.
Resident Evil Zero's DNA as an N64 game shines brightly in this remake, and that isn't a good thing.
And because it was based on an inferior game to begin with, RE0 also fails to look as visually impressive as "REmake" does.
2 Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2
A lot of Castlevania fans refused to give Lords of Shadow—the reboot that was co-developed by Kojima Productions—a fair shake, which was unfortunate, as it was a great game taken on its own merits
Spoilers for the ending of LoS, but it is revealed the protagonist is the guy who becomes Dracula himself. So for the sequel, you get to play as Dracula. Pretty cool, right? Well, it should've been, except that Lords of Shadow 2 is an abysmal follow-up with lame mechanics and subpar visuals—the latter of which was a high point of the original.
1 Earthworm Jim 3D
It would've been easy to fill this list with franchises' first forays into 3D, as they generally looked worse than their sprite-based predecessors, but we thought that was unfair.
That said, Earthworm Jim 3D—aka Earthwork Jim 64—deserves to be picked on.
Seeing as how EWJ and EWJ2 were some of the most beautifully-animated and inventive-looking games of the 16-bit era, to have them followed up by yet another drab, blocky, boring 3D platformer was unforgivable. Maybe they should've wait until the tech was there to do Jim justice in 3D instead of settling for this.