Sequels, sequels everywhere

This NY Times article is the latest in a long line of both EA bashing and bemoaning of sequelitis that is rampant among major video game publishers. This passage is getting the most attention:

By year’s end, Electronic Arts plans to release 26 new games, all but one of them a sequel, including the 16th version of N.H.L. Hockey, the 11th of the racing game Need for Speed and the 13th of the P.G.A. Tour golf game. The company also relies heavily on creating games based on movies like the James Bond and Lord of the Rings series, rather than developing original brands.

The article focuses on the cash cows that are EA sports games. The father of a gamer planning to buy Madden 2006 had it right when he said, “If it wasn’t for free agency, Electronic Arts wouldn’t be doing so well.” Very astute. Sports games do lend themselves to sequels but it’s easy to complain about sequels to other games. But why are we picking on EA for doing exactly what Japanese developers do just as blatantly. We have like, what, 83 different Final Fantasy games? Aren’t there like 27 Dragon Warriors? No one seems to care when those games get a “roster update.” But that’s not my point.

The article got me thinking about sequels. What would happen if sequels weren’t so successful? What would we have missed out on? The first game that came to mind was Super Mario Brothers. The first one is undoubtedly the quintessential video game. A million Marios followed. Super Mario Brothers 2, on the otherhand, wasn’t as great as its predecessor. So what if Nintendo decided it didn’t want to continue with sequels of SMB? We’d never had the pleasure of playing my favorite Super Mario game, Super Mario Brothers 3. And let’s not forget Super Mario World, Mario 64 and a host of other excellent Mario games.

There have been plenty of other sequels that were heads and shoulders above the games to which they are sequels – Diablo 2, Warcraft 2 (did anyone even play the first WC? I did for about ten minutes), Age of Kings (Age of Empires 2), Halo 2 (which I’m sure some would disagree with), and many others. Sequels can be a good thing! A very good thing!

Of course, as gamers, we’d like to see developers augment their library with sequels, not depend on them. New franchises like Pikmin, Viewtiful Joe, and Katamari Damacy would never have seen the light of day if sequels really ruled the roost. While it is apparent that sequels are where the “sure” money is, games like Viewtiful Joe can be a pleasant (and profitable) surprise.

So let’s not be quick to dismiss a sequel. They are an integral part of the video game spectrum. Don’t forget, too, that sequals can tank. There’s probably just as many bad sequels as there are good ones. But that’s another topic for another day.

As an exercise for the reader, what other games would have made you sad if there never was a “2” or “II” after their name?

Update: There’s a rather lively discussion over at Slashdot about this exact topic. I didn’t read all the comments, but this one caught my eye:

“EA Games: Sequel Everything”

Comments

  1. Don’t forget that SMB 2 wasn’t even a “proper” Super Mario game, having first seen the light as Doki Doki Panic. Look there –> http://www.classicgaming.com/tmk/smb2_ddp.shtml

    Personally, I’m thankful for the Ratchet series and the Jak series. While I think Ratchet was better overall, Jak introduced some great challenges to gameplay in its sequels.

    As for older games, Mega Man 2 was the pinnacle of the Mega Man series – the first one was pretty bland (Gutsman?) and the third one just, well, didn’t do it for me. Ah well.

    The Dragon Warrior series got progressively more complex. IV was a real treat for me.

    Obviously Street Fighter II . . . well, who remembers the original, anyway?

    Of course, videogames play fast and loose with the notion of “sequels”. Zelda, for example usually re-imagine each game around a template of “boy/young man in green tights goes around cutting grass with a sword and lifting rocks and trekking through dungeons to beat big bad guy”.

    Mario does this kind of thing, too, though he ends up doing all sorts of crazy things. There really is no mario template except for “fat, mustachioed plumber” – and, really, he’s been squashing goombas so long can he really even claim to be in the plumber’s union anymore?

    I liked Simcity 2000 better than the first. However, the next two sequels ended up being a little too much for me to handle. I think 2000 hit a good balance (for me) between complexity and comprehensibility.

    Best “not actually a sequel” sequel: Goonies II (admittedly not a very good game).

    I happen to think the Tony Hawk games are just as fun with each new iteration.

    I see nothing wrong with sequels in any media. I loved every novel in the Fu Manchu series. Use Your Illusion I and II were great (I know, kind of a dual album, but not really). Aliens and Terminator 2 were just as good, if not better, than their progenitors.

    Granted, sometimes a sequel seems obviously geared as a cash in (the later novels in Orson Scott Card’s Ender series, the sequel to the Celestine Prophecy, et. al.). So the origin of the stigma is pretty easy to trace. I just think we need to take a deep breath and just decide whether we like what we’re seeing/hearing/playing/etc. or not.

    And remember that even original, brand-spanking-new IP can be total crap.

  2. Hmm I wouldn’t call most Mario games ‘sequels’, they are just games that share common characters, DDP shows that.
    The FF games are not really sequels too, only (afaik) one of the FF series has actually continued the story from a previous game. Not to mention games like FF Tactics who’s only connection to the rest of the series is the story style, and chocobos (not to mention Chocobo Country).
    I think the problem with sequels is when they are an attempt to milk cash, the mario and FF series do not seem to have these problems.

  3. Thanks for the sweet reply, Johnny. Your points are well taken and from your comment I take it that the first sequel is usually the best. I agree with that. Unfortunately #3 (T3, Aliens 3, others) usually pale in comparison. That doesn’t bode well for Halo.

    Factory, the Marios and FFs aren’t sequels, per se, but the idea of building on a franchise is there. That’s nothing more than what EA does with their sports games. Pure sequels they are not, but they do inherit certain characteristics from game to game.

  4. Europa Universalis II, Civilization II, Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin…

    There certainly comes a point where the franchising of game takes a turn for the worse, or at least the uninspired. But there seems to be as much consumer pressure driving this as there is commercial comfort. Check out any message board on the release of a new game. It’s never long before someone posts “What w0uld u lik to see in the nex version?”

    It’s probably that gamers have gotten to the point where they expect game titles to have numbers after their names.

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