Ups and Downs – The Best And Worst Games In Long-Running Classic Franchises
Some video game series enjoy long and prosperous runs, filled with blockbuster sales and critical acclaim. However, even our favorite franchises miss a beat here and there. For every Rocky, there is a Rocky V, and for every Empire Strikes Back there’s a Phantom Menace. Here are the five best – and worst – games in some of our favorite series.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back vs. Crash Bandicoot: Wrath of Cortex
In the late 1990s, Crash Bandicoot was the de facto mascot for the PlayStation brand, and his games turned developer Naughty Dog (Uncharted, The Last of Us) into one of the biggest names in the business. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, released in 1997, remains the pinnacle of the series, perfecting the run-and-jump formula of the original while balancing the difficulty, fixing some of the wonky camera angles, and otherwise bringing the series from “great” to “all-time classic” status.
After Naughty Dog finished its run on the series with Crash 3: Warped and Crash Team Racing, Eurocom developed a party game spin-off, Crash Bash. A new mainline platforming entry didn’t come until 2001’s Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, developed by Traveler’s Tales, the studio that would later go on to create Lego Star Wars.
At its best, Wrath of Cortex comes close to capturing a facsimile of the magic of Crash’s PS1 glory days, with linear platforming levels broken up with gimmicky special stages (the Hamster Ball-styled levels are a standout). Unfortunately, the game lacks the Naughty Dog era’s precise control, with Crash himself feeling slow and heavy, with a weirdly floaty jump. The traditional platforming levels are huge and complex, but there are so few of them. Many prominently featured tough-to-control vehicles like planes, jeeps, submarines, and a mech suit, none of which feel particularly good to play.
After Wrath of Cortex, the series spiraled out of control, delving into 3D open world territory with Twinsanity (novel, but unpolished and buggy as hell), and a more combat-oriented approach with Crash of the Titans and Mind Over Mutant. All of these games failed to win back the crowd, and earned increasingly dismal critical scores at Game Informer: The Naughty Dog entries all scored 9 or above, Wrath of Cortex barely scraped by with a 6.75, and the most recent entry, Mind Over Mutant, bombed with a dismal 4.75. The bandicoot has been mostly silent since then, and time will tell if the upcoming N. Sane Trilogy collection by Activision studio Vicarious Visions will restore Crash to his former glory.
Devil May Cry 3 vs. Devil May Cry 2
In the old days, Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, and Final Fight were the biggest names in the bare-knuckle beat-em-up genre, but as technology moved on, the genre expanded into the realm of spectacular 3D visuals and stylishly over-the-top violence. Games like Ninja Gaiden and God of War are the successors to the old-school brawlers, but few can match the pure adrenaline of Devil May Cry. Capcom’s vaguely hack ‘n’ slash adventure featured an addictive combat system; we all remember the first time we launched an enemy into the air and juggled them with a barrage of gunfire from protagonist Dante’s twin pistols, Ebony and Ivory. The first game was a trail-blazing classic, and the third game, a prequel, perfected the formula, allowing the player to switch between fighting styles on-the-fly, greatly expanding Dante’s offensive capabilities. To top it all off, the game told a story which was sincere and silly in equal measure.
And then there’s Devil May Cry 2, the proverbial red-headed stepchild of the franchise. In his review of the DMC HD Collection, our own Joe Juba said the compilation brought together “two great games for one great price. Also, Devil May Cry 2.”
After the success of the first game, Capcom sought to tighten up the experience by addressing the perceived flaws of the original title – the unrepentant difficulty, relatively small environments, and Dante’s laid-back attitude in the face of demonic threats. Unfortunately, DMC2 suffers from a textbook case of overcompensation, and the numerous deviations from the original crippled the game. The difficulty was significantly toned down, and encounters were reduced to boring slogs with little challenge or player urgency. While the setting of the first game could get repetitive, the new setting for DMC2, Dumary Island, is bland and devoid of personality. The developers attempted to enhance combat by pulling the camera out and giving players more room to kick butt, but the plan backfired, with sparse, empty environments lending a lifeless aura to the proceedings. Dante became uncharacteristically stoic, and his dull dialogue was a far cry from his stupid/awesome one-liners from the original – say it with me: “Flock off, feather face!”
Devil May Cry 2 was never officially removed from the canon, but DMC3 was a prequel, DMC4 took place after the original but way before the first sequel, and then the series was rebooted with DMC: Devil May Cry. This leaves DMC2 stranded at the end of an abandoned continuity, a distant epilogue generally ignored by all but the most forgiving fanatics.
Final Fantasy VI vs. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
What’s your favorite Final Fantasy game? Don’t answer that – I don’t need that kind of blood on my hands in the comments section. There’s no “right” answer to that question. So many entries have compelling arguments, from the pure grind of the 1987 original, to the complex and rewarding Job System of V, to generation-defining titles like VII and X, which pushed the limits of storytelling in video games. More often than not, the title that rises to the top is VI (originally released in the U.S. as Final Fantasy III, because localization is weird). Final Fantasy VI is still regarded as one of the greatest games of all time, thanks to its deep characterization, unpredictable plot twists, intricate RPG systems, and open-ended storytelling in its second half, where the narrative goes non-linear and the player is left to explore the World of Ruin at their own pace and decide how the endgame plays out.
Standing in stark contrast to VI is XIII, which takes away any illusion of player control over the world and instead forces them down what is essentially a long corridor for 40-plus hours. Making matters worse is the fact that the upgrade system, the Chrystarium, functions as a way-too-simple version of the Sphere Grid from FFX, with the added insult of intermittent level caps which are raised slowly as a reward for progress in the main story. By the time the party reaches Pulse and is given the ability to take on side quests by consulting mission-giving crystals, it feels like a half-assed consolation prize.
Things don’t get better in the sequel, XIII-2, which theoretically opens up the narrative with more non-linear progression and the lifting of the level cap. The battle system is simplified, and most encounters up to the final dungeon can be conquered with brute force, making character roles like Sentinel, Synergist, and Saboteur all but useless in 99 percent of situations. Lightning Returns changed up the formula and earned a degree of success among some fans, but it also added a poorly-implemented Majora’s Mask-esque time-limit which alienated much of the community. While Lightning Returns has its supporters, most appreciated the game solely for the opportunity to close the book on XIII and never look back.
Next: Resident Evil takes a turn for the worse, and Sonic flies off the rails like a train wreck in slow motion.
Resident Evil 2 vs. Resident Evil 6
One of the longest-running soap operas in video games is the Resident Evil series. While everybody has their own opinion on which title marks the high point of Capcom’s survival horror saga, there’s a strong argument to be made for 1998’s Resident Evil 2, which shipped on two PlayStation discs. Its innovative gimmick was the fact that each disc contained a unique scenario, with one disc for Claire, and the other for Leon, and the order in which you played the scenarios affected how events would play out. This unique storytelling approach offered a new twist on the horror/adventure gameplay of the original title.
By 2012, the Resident Evil brand had evolved past its survival-horror roots and into one of the biggest action blockbusters in the industry. For better or worse, the series had evolved to mainly focus on over-the-top action and two-player co-op, divorcing the franchise from its classic horror sensibilities.
With 2012’s Resident Evil 6, Capcom’s desire to please every disparate corner of the fandom backfired. RE6 is a sprawling title with a lot of action and a distinct lack of focus. While it assembles a veritable “who’s who” of Resident Evil figures as its lead characters (Leon! Chris! Sherry! Ada!), the story is a meandering mess with no form or structure. Resident Evil 6 has four distinct scenarios, but its multiple viewpoints don’t add perspective to the proceedings, and the corporate espionage plotline fails to form a cohesive whole (Neo-Umbrella? Clone Ada? Ugh). To make any sense of the sordid affair, one needs to find 80 Serpent Emblems to unlock all of the in-game files. This hurdle makes RE6 feel like a series of vaguely connected vignettes, rather than a meaningful postscript to Resident Evil 5.
The story is a mess, and the gameplay is full of changes, many of which hurt the experience. While the ability to simultaneously move and shoot is much appreciated, the game is constantly interrupted by meaningless quick time events and brainless spectacle set pieces like “the explosion.” You know the one. Meanwhile, the intricate inventory management and weapon upgrade system of RE4 and RE5 is gone, replaced by dull, passive ability upgrades like “+5% damage.” Finally, and this seems like a quibble in comparison to RE6’s numerous egregious infractions, the new melee system is lackluster, eschewing the satisfying impact of the context-sensitive moves of earlier entries.
While RE6 remains one of the best-selling titles in Capcom’s history, and it still has a handful of ardent defenders, many fans rejected the title in favor of the handheld spinoff, Resident Evil Revelations. After the disappointment of RE6, Capcom went go back to basics, first with a straight horror take on modern RE’s core co-op gameplay with Revelations 2, and then with the well-received franchise retool, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 vs. Sonic '06
Back in the day, Sonic the Hedgehog was seen as being on equal footing with the plumber himself, Super Mario. As Sega’s mascot, Sonic led the charge as the first true challenger to Nintendo’s unopposed dominance in the console space. His 2D adventures remain legendary for their tight control and impressive sense of speed. Something about Blast Processing, or so the old commercials say.
1999’s Sonic Adventure (1998 in Japan) was Sega’s attempt at a true 3D platformer, with the goal of replicating the success of Super Mario 64 on the shiny new Dreamcast hardware. The running and jumping worked well enough, but it wasn’t enough to save the Dreamcast from an early death, a defeat which led to Sega dropping out of the console market entirely.
Sonic Adventure could have been a decent jumping-off point from which to build a 3D platforming empire on PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, but Sonic’s 21st century adventures were never able to reach the heights of his 1990s heyday. Titles like Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Heroes, and Sonic Rivals have their fair share of fans, but they failed to expand upon the core gameplay of Sonic Adventure. Still, as milquetoast as Sonic Heroes may be, and as downright bad as Shadow the Hedgehog definitely is, I’d rather play those titles non-stop for the rest of my life than be stuck in the same room as 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog, which is widely-recognized as one of the worst games of all time.
Every second in Sonic ‘06 is an adventure, because you never know if the pitiful blue rodent is going to walk, run, or literally fall through the floor and die. Game-breaking glitches lie like traps around every corner. Sonic ‘06 was an unmitigated disaster and the damage it did to Sega’s most iconic brand cannot be understated. For proof, look no further than our Super Replay of the infamous title, and you will see just how bad this game truly is.
With a little luck, Sega can turn things around for their down-on-his-luck mascot. Games like Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors were able to nudge the needle a bit for fans, but he has yet to truly regain even a fraction of his former glory. Perhaps the one-two punch of Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces can put the Hedgehog back in the good graces of gamers. We can only hope, or else it might finally be time for Sega to take the old blue blur out back and put him out of his misery.