“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”
-Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden
“What’s this? A listicle? Bah!”
Hold on, now. This ain’t BuzzFeed.
This is merely an amiable countdown of sorts, collaborated into existence by the inklings of a few beautiful minds, about video game series that died with the advent of the 3D era. What we’re looking at here is one-part history and one-part conjecture, with like a fifth-part fandom somewhere in there.
This idea came up after I reviewed Metroid Prime, a very successful transition for Samus from two to three dimensions. For whatever sundry reason, there have been several video game franchises which just couldn’t translate from 2D to 3D. Maybe some of them should never try. We’re overlooking series which had definite 3D games that just weren’t successful, and instead looking at those which didn’t ever get a 3D game to their name.
We had fun putting together this list, the last section of which you can find on the excellent blog Retro Redress, which should be credited with the inception of this idea in conversation. Enjoy and share any other franchises you can think of which were killed by 3D in the comments below!
And from the top… the twentieth game franchise that never saw the light of 3D:
When you hear the name Nintendo, what do you think of first? RPGs, right? Yeah, me neither. That’s because Nintendo puts out only a handful of RPG games now and then, Paper Mario and Fire Emblem among them. Nintendo is much more famous for series like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda but EarthBound remains nonetheless one of their many iconic titles and it has retained a level of fan respect through the years since its release on the SNES in 1994 (1995 in North America). EarthBound is remembered as a non-high fantasy RPG dealing with psychic powers and aliens instead of dragons and wizards.
As it turns out, EarthBound is a part of a larger series, the Mother series, which spanned 17 years but included only three games. EarthBound is just the second game in that series, also known as Mother 2. Mother and Mother 3 both were never officially released outside of Japan and Mother 3 in 2006 on the Game Boy Advance didn’t take the series into the realm of 3D, rather it stuck with its predecessor’s 2D, top-down perspective personality. Will there ever be a Mother 4? Who knows but that’s my big wish for the Switch: a trilogy collection of the Mother series in English with a brand new fourth entry. Whether such a proposed game arrives in 3D or not is irrelevant to me but I doubt that Nintendo would want to break the Mother mold.
#19. Gargoyle’s Quest
Gargoyle’s Quest was game for the original Game Boy starring Firebrand, an enemy monster from Ghosts ‘n Goblins, making it a spin-off of Capcom’s more popular NES platforming title. Carrying an entire series on the back of a single enemy couldn’t have been an easy task for anyone and Capcom has had a history of plenty of platformers to deal with, several of which have been on the backburner for years anyway (heck, Mega Man himself only just came back into the public sphere with the announcement of Mega Man 11). As such, Gargoyle’s Quest led to Gargoyle’s Quest II on the NES and the series later followed Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts to the SNES with Demon’s Crest in 1994, a darker and less silly Gothic adventure.
No matter how solid of a gaming experience Demon’s Crest itself was, it wasn’t enough to save Firebrand’s devilish soul. He ended up relegated to the typical Capcom cameo across other games from the developer, like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that Capcom simply has bigger fish to fry if they’re to ever concern themselves with bringing back old franchises again, so while the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts series went on to flirt with 3D graphics, any tentative Gargoyle’s Quest sequel fell even further from heaven.
Turrican is a series I haven’t played too much of but it belongs on this list. A handful of games exist under the umbrella of this moniker, beginning first with 1990’s Turrican developed for the Commodore 64 by Rainbow Arts, later ported elsewhere. This run and gun adventure about a bio-engineered super soldier was followed up with Turrican II: The Final Fight. That subtitle turned out to be false advertisement as Mega Turrican aka Turrican 3: Payment Day followed close on its heels in ’93. The Super Nintendo also saw both Super Turrican and Super Turrican 2, but that’s where it dried up.
A potential Turrican 3D was in the works; you’ll recall that it was popular at the time to simply tack on the descriptor “3D” for the latest games in that era. However, Turrican 3D never coalesced. Developer THQ cancelled the project, staff members claiming that development failed due to it being too profit-oriented. Poor leaps into 3D were aplenty, meant solely to capitalize on the exciting new technology, and that explains a lot of the crappy games at the cusp of the 3D age.
While another Turrican game was in the works with Factor 5 in 2007, that was 10 years ago. Though Factor 5’s US branch closed in 2009, in 2017 co-founder Julian Eggebrecht had announced that the company was back and had reacquired the rights to the Turrican franchise. Fingers crossed, I guess? I mean, who’s waiting for another Turrican game?
#17. Captain Commando
What? Captain Commando had a series? Yes, per se. This is cheating just a little bit (but who are gamers, of all people, to cheat?). The Captain Commando “Challenge Series” (it says “series”) was a moniker Capcom came up with for the titles they released between 1986 and 1989. 1942, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Mega Man, Trojan, Section Z, Gun Smoke, Strider, Mega Man II, Willow, and DuckTales featured an illustration of a flashy 20XX space pilot with a message from him congratulating the owner of the game for buying Capcom. This was the original Captain Commando, Capcom’s fictional spokesperson and intended representative in the world of gaming (though their blue boy Mega Man is arguably their most significant icon).
Did you know that Capcom originally came up with their name with the words Capsule Computers, referencing the arcade machines they made back in the day? Well, Captain Commando isn’t too far off, either. In 1991, Captain Commando successfully made at least one formative transition, from the back of game boxes as a would-be mascot to his own self-titled game. Captain Commando was a coin-op arcade beat ’em up with a cast of playable characters as bizarre as the Captain himself: a baby genius piloting a bipedal robot, a mummy, and a ninja. Unfortunately, the Captain never got an actual series beyond his original “Challenge Series” cameos. But hey, he was a playable Marvel vs. Capcom character… that’s got to count for something.
#16. Maniac Mansion/Day of the Tentacle
This was my jam back in the hey-day. Maniac Mansion was. I’ve not played Day of the Tentacle yet. The Lucasfilm Games point-and-click series was short-lived with only two games and a cameo appearance of the tentacles in Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Point-and-click adventures went comparatively extinct as time went on, morphing into other forms and genres, giving way to things like the visual novels. But there was something novel about these old cursor-dragging quests and among those the Lucas games were some of the best.
Maniac Mansion was about formulating a team of friends to break into this crazy family’s house to rescue the main character’s girlfriend and man was it wacky. Maniac Mansion II: Day of the Tentacle was released 7 years later and it follows a group of friends trying to stop an evil tentacle from taking over the world. Day of the Tentacle of course got a Double Fine remaster in 2016, endearingly. Sadly, no amount of hijinks and hilarity seems to have been enough to bring a Maniac Mansion III into the world. If anyone can do it, it’s Tim Schafer and Double Fine. Well, them or the fans. Even then, would a third game still be in the same vein as the original?
*a soft whisper on the internet breeze intones* Thimbleweed Park….
Yeah, me neither. ‘Nuff said.
Just kidding. So Bonk, for those of you without enough cognizance to instantly recall to mind completely pointless and irrelevant trinkets of gaming history, was a bald, baby-faced caveman. His origins lay not in prehistory but on the TurboGrafx-16 with Bonk’s Adventure in 1990. Bonk is also known as “PC Genjin” in Japan (a pun on PC Engine) and BC Kid in Europe, and as it turns out he’s got about a dozen games to his stupid name! That puts him head and shoulders above some of the other entries on our list, however a lot of these are mobile phone games or compilations. The last console game Bonk appeared in was Cho Genjin 2 for the Super Famicom (Japan only release). No new Bonk games were ever in 3D and in fact the series had a cancelled N64 title that would have been called (surprise) Bonk 3D. Who knew that an ugly character could be so obscure?
Apparently Konami owns the rights to the Bonk series now, having consumed Hudson Soft, so don’t hold your breath.
How ironic that a series which clearly reached for 3D by buying into the 16-bit trend of balls and orbs went up in a puff of pixelated smoke when the real 3D era of gaming arrived. You may remember the spheroid super hero Vectorman from such hits as Vectorman and Vectorman 2… and that’s about it. There was apparently a PS2 game that went straight for the rubbish bin and got cancelled, an image of which you can see above on the right. While other emblems of Sega’s edginess campaign survived into the age of three dimensions, there has not been an attempt to make Vectorman 3 since 2003, so far as I can tell.
#13. Aero the Acro-Bat
Nothing says “Aero the Acro-Bat” quite like Aero the Acro-Bat, except of course Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel and Pipi the Self-Immolating Monk Seal. Well, the first of those two spin-offs is actual. The first Aero game was developed by Iguana Entertainment and published by Sunsoft in 1993, a platforming game about a bat in the big top fighting off an evil ex-clown. With so many other gaming icons thriving at the time, Aero just sort of appeared and disappeared. He had a second game to his name in ’94 on the SNES and a spin-off based on Zero in the same year on the Sega Genesis. So what happened? It appears no amount of anthropomorphic animals with silly suffixes could have saved a fairly limited series concept. Where else could Aero go as an acrobatic bat? That’s not a very versatile skill. Besides all that, what is concrete is that there was simple too much competition in the mid-90’s platforming scene.
#12. Zombies Ate My Neighbors/Ghoul Patrol
Out of all the games and franchises on this list, this is one short lived series that I would absolutely love to see again. Well… so long as it’s more like Zombies Ate My Neighbors and less like Ghoul Patrol. I will take nearly any opportunity to talk about Zombies Ate My Neighbors, one of my all-time favorite games. With the absurdity of LucasArts, its developer, it was a 1993 top-down perspective run and gun starring two kids fighting back hordes of B-movie monsters with squirt guns, bazookas, soda, and anything else they could get their hands on. Such a fun game.
In 1994, Zombies received a sequel called Ghoul Patrol on the SNES, though it never made it to the Genesis like its predecessor did. Though Ghoul Patrol features the same kids, Zeke and Julie, from the first game and the gameplay itself wasn’t too dramatically changed, maybe this was just a case in which there was no possibility for any sequel to live up to the first game. While Zombies was a sensation, Ghoul Patrol didn’t even seem to amount to a flash in the pan. I guess some humor only works once and I can’t really think of any way that Patrol improved upon the gameplay laid out in Zombies.
With LucasArts now out of the game development business and Konami doing their thing, I can’t imagine we’ll ever see a future entry in this series, not to mention one in 3D.
#11. Double Dragon
The leap into 3D was particularly brutal for a few groups of genres, as you might have noticed from this list. Platformers were plentiful in 2D but 3D platforming proved difficult with measuring distances and managing new camera angles. Point-and-click adventures didn’t translate into 3D so well given their strict reliance on perspective and observation. Then there are beat ’em ups. Though these flourished in the 2D age with the arcades and home consoles, taking the side-scrolling punch and flying kick conquests into 3D was something that didn’t quite jive with all developers, signaling the end of many a popular franchise from the time.
The Double Dragon series was a set of legendary arcade-style beat ’em ups that I remember being hugely popular, so popular in fact that they even had a cartoon and a live-action movie. However, the fame didn’t last. 1987’s Double Dragon by Technōs was followed up by Double Dragon II: The Revenge and Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone (called The Sacred Stones for the NES port). Super Double Dragon made for an SNES exclusive in ’92, but it was the last game in the series developed by the original Technōs team. Technōs themselves would make their very last Double Dragon game for the Neo-Geo in ’95, simply called Double Dragon.
1994 saw Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls, a tournament fighter instead of a beat ’em up, released by Tradewest. It wasn’t until 2012 that Double Dragon Neon came out as an intentional self-parody and 2017 featured the release of a new title in the series Double Dragon IV, which debuted to poor reviews. The only games to attempt 3D were Neon (2.5D) and the remake Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons, but since the former didn’t quite get there and the latter is just a remake, and overall the series saw much better days in the 2D era, this once-prolific franchise lands a spot on our list.
“The following submissions were contributed by The Badly Backlogged Mage.”
Battletoads was originally a beat ‘em up for the NES in the mould of Double Dragon or Streets of Rage. It was extremely successful, even scoring its own TV show that (unsuccessfully) competed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Its absence since 1994 is probably due to a combination of over-saturation (they released 5 games from ’91-’94), the death of beat ‘em ups in the early 3D era and Rare/Microsoft sitting on the rights through the retro revival of the 2010s. Microsoft Studios re-trademarked it in 2014, so it’s a safe bet someone will remake it eventually.
#9. Impossible Mission
“I have a visitor. Stay awhile… stay forever!” People who played the original Impossible Mission, a 1984 C64 platformer by Epyx, will never forget those words coming from the speakers. Impossible Mission was a spy-themed platformer where you were tasked to save the world from destruction by finding puzzle pieces in a series of rooms filled with killer robots. It was unique at the time because it did not have a life system, instead it gave the player a total of 6 hours to finish the game, then deducted 10 minutes from the clock each time they died. Also its rooms were randomized, making each play-through unique. It had two sequels, Impossible Mission II in 1985 and Impossible Mission 2025 in 1994, and a largely unsuccessful 2D remake in 2007. But it skipped the 3D era – probably due to bad timing. Impossible Mission was already dead by the early 3D era, and the 2007 version was too early for the retro revival of the 2010s. It was a great series, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for a revival.
#8. The Lost Vikings
IPs can be killed by success, just as much as failure. Lost Vikings is clearly the former; originally released on the SNES in 1992 by Silicon & Synapse (and published by Interplay during its heyday), it was a fairly successful 2D platform/puzzle game, in which the player tried to get three Vikings, each with different abilities, to the exit of each level. Imagine a platform version of Gobliiins or a 3-lemming version of Lemmings. It was quite popular, certainly popular enough to warrant porting to a wide number of platforms (including a GBA version in 2003) and a 1997 sequel called Lost Vikings 2: Norse by Norsewest. But it was killed by success – I don’t mean its own success, but the success of other games. You see Silicon & Synapse have since changed their name – to Blizzard. And you can count on one hand the number of games made by Blizzard since 1997 that don’t have titles that contain the syllables “…craft” or “…ablo”. Lost Vikings is not one of those games, nor is it likely to be while Blizzard can recoup masses of money from its other franchises. Still, if you want to play Lost Vikings the original is available for free on battle.net – or you can just play Trine, which is basically a modern Lost Vikings minus the Vikings.
#7. River Raid
There was a time when being a gamer meant owning an Atari 2600, and owning an Atari 2600 meant owning Pitfall or River Raid. Alright I exaggerate slightly, but Activision’s River Raid from 1982 is, according to IGN, the 8th best-selling 2600 game of all time, and everyone I knew who owned a 2600 either owned River Raid or Pitfall or (more often) both. River Raid was an endless vertically-scrolling top-down shooter. It also had a great difficulty curve; starting off fairly easy and quickly becoming fiendish. This made it somewhat unique – fun to play for both the hardcore-twitch-older-brother and the annoying-little-sister. A sequel did not follow for a full 6 years – River Raid II was released in 1988. By this time the NES was out and Super Mario Bros. was a hit; no-one cared about River Raid. Activision has changed a lot since 1982, but assuming it still has the rights to River Raid (a big assumption), it’s safe to assume that its current direction does not involve retro-remakes for people who remember 1982. At least, not until Michael Bay makes a film based on it.
#6. Commander Keen
Commander Keen was the DOS answer to Mario and Sonic. First released in 1990 by id Software it was a brightly coloured 2D platformer that featured an 8-year-old boy in a space helmet using a pogo stick and turning angry potatoes into flowers. Yes, this is the same company that would later make Doom. Keen was a big hit when it was released, and was part of a string of DOS 2D platformers at the time such as Jill of the Jungle, Captain Comic and Duke Nukem. Yes, Duke Nukem started off as a platformer. The Keen games followed the popular “Shareware” model at the time; the first episode was free and you could buy the later episodes. This meant that most people with a PC played Keen, and while it wasn’t Mario, it was probably the best of its ilk at the time. But the team that made it soon lost interest in 2D platformers when they released Wolfenstein 3D, then Doom… and the rest is history. Activision released a Game Boy Colour entry in 2001, but the series has otherwise been dormant. If Activision still has the rights I wouldn’t hold your breath for a remake while the dead horse that is COD can stand a few more whacks, but otherwise it might make an appearance on Kickstarter.
“The following submissions were contributed by The Dapper Zaffre Mage.”
In your service,
-The Well-Red Mage