We’re doing a sequel
That’s what we do in Hollywood
And everybody knows
That the sequel’s never quite as good
–Muppets Most Wanted
(aka Deadpool but PG and with puppets)
Twitter asked recently what I learned from Star Wars and I said: “Quit while you’re ahead.” We’re not talking about Star Wars today, though. Oh no! Today, as ever, we’re talking about video games.
Welcome to another Asking Big Questions post, our eighth since the series’ inception. The goal has been to generate civil discussion and just have fun talking about the things we love (or love to hate about what we love). The past few entries have leaned toward heavier subject matters with jaw about violence in games and the questionable use of the phrase “real gamer”, so I thought we’d go with something a little more mellow this time around.
The idea for our eighth question had been banging around the back of my mind for a while now but it took, you guessed it, a conversation to get it out. Sub-note: this is yet another reason why communicating clearly and kindly with others is a great thing. It can introduce us to previously unknown ideas, patch up some old ones, and serve to inspire us to create something new. Words are powerful.
Anyway, the conversation I had was with that cache of inspiration, that conversationalist par excellence, the Mail Order Ninja Mage (aka Daniel Flatt of Home Button). We were talking about… well I guess you could call it the validity of older games that have been bettered by later games in their series.
I’ll leave the Ninja Mage to describe his own opinion on the matter but I suggested that games like movies or books don’t become invalid when new, better entries come out in their franchise. This could be tied to narrative being a decisive factor. Then again, older games being worse could be due to gameplay-emphasizing games where clear improvements are evident.
That got my ponderer pondering about the very opposite of what we were talking about: game series not getting better but getting worse. Ah, Sequelitis! Allergies are annoying but then there’s Sequelitis. It can be positively deadly! You know, the concept that the more sequels there are, the more potential there is toward a downgrade in quality. You can easily see it in many film franchises.
Take it from Spidey…
Entertainment history is stuffed full of incidents where the sequel didn’t live up to its predecessor. Sometimes this is because of hype. Sometimes this is due to the next game being a legitimately poor one. Maybe it took too many risks. Maybe it was too far a departure from the original. Maybe in the rush to create new titles, the series lost what made it special in the first place. It seems to me that Sequelitis is best judged on a case-by-case basis.
That brings us to our question, at last. “What Video Game Series got Infected with Sequelitis?”
NOTE: It’s easier to hate on something you already hate or have a long-standing bias against so let’s make the question harder with the following modification: name a video game series/franchise that you love, one of your favorites, that was unfortunately infected with Sequelitis! Again, that’s a favorite series that died or continues to limp on (or maybe made a shocking recovery) due to its sequels progressively getting worse and worse. Feel free to respond by creating an entire blog post for this question (or conversely leave a comment for us), just be sure to link to this article so we can find you!
Ooh! Ooh! Can I go first?
Of course, I can.
Though one of my favorite examples of downhill momentum is the Earthworm Jim series (from amazing to tired jokes to horrible 3D), I’d like instead to name the Mega Man X series. Everybody knows I love Mega Man. If you didn’t know that, now you do.
The classic Mega Man series has petered on with game after game after game, simultaneously saved and doomed by its own rigid, cookie-cutter formula. There’s not much risk and not much change and therefore not much opportunity for Sequelitis in the classic series, though of course its impact has shrunk dramatically over the years.
Mega Man X on the other hand started off brilliant and… is Capcom still making these? Does anyone know? The first game, Mega Man X, was this heavier, darker take on the Blue Bomber set even further into the distant future where Dr. Light has already died and X’s own origins are something of a mystery. The music, the world, the danger… everything felt as if it was imbued with so much more weight, with extra gravitas.
To be fair to the series, Mega Man X went a long nicely for the next two games or so. Though MMX was this bold departure from the classic series, taking Mega Man from the kid-android to a full-formed adult machine, Mega Man X2 and Mega Man X3 demonstrated that the only significant change the series was interested in was making the games darker (minus playing as Zero). A new but familiar cookie-cutter formula was established and the games went on much in the same way that the classic series did.
Then you get to Mega Man X4 and they brought on anime. Never a good idea haha! The cutscenes were cool as they ushered in more opportunity for storytelling, except it appeared there wasn’t much story to tell. Not even elevating Zero to series mascot above Mega Man could save the franchise from its new look, its ugly sprites, its dead-pan voice acting, its boring new characters that were as 2-dimensional as the cardboard anime they were cut from, and certainly I can’t fail to mention its lackluster music. Seriously, this series went from the energetic rock soundtrack in Mega Man X to tracks that sound like elevator music. Compare these.
How the mighty have fallen.
Where is the Mega Man X series now? Who knows. A truly new Mega Man X game hasn’t been seen since the PS2. It’s been relegated to Legacy Collections, i.e. digital museums. The latest entry in the series was apparently Mega Man Maverick Hunter X for the PSP, a remake of Mega Man X. Not a good sign: a remake on a handheld. Is that the legacy of this great reimagining?
Ultimately, the series was dead when it got to Duff McWhalen. What is that? Oh it’s one of the names of the bosses in Mega Man X5, though it limped on afterward for a few more outings. Compare Duff McWhalen to… well pretty much anything that came before. Storm Eagle! Crystal Snail! Magna Centipede! Flame Stag! Frickin’ Boomer Kuwanger!
And that’s before you even get to RIDE BOARSKI in Mega Man X7…
Duff McWhalen is so bad that you can use it as a byword for Sequelitis.
That series is Duff McWhalen it. It got Duff’d. Man, it’s McWhalen on me. Other improvised catchphrases.
And that’s that! If you’re interested in partaking in this Mediumish-sized Question, generate a blog post response and tell us about your favorite Sequelitis-infected series, what happened to it, where it’s gone, where it’s going. Conversely, you can drop a comment here if you don’t run a blog or can’t be bothered. Either way, enjoy the discussion-making!
In your service,
-The Well-Red Mage
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to games writing. We specialize in long-form, analytical reviews and we aim to expand into a community of authors with paid contributors, a fairer and happier alternative to mainstream games writing! See our Patreon page for more info!