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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The 10 Most Baffling Forgotten Gaming Franchises

It's no secret that video games are one of the biggest forms of entertainment in the world. Even in a supposed slump, the industry more than holds its own with music and movies. What started as an exclusive circle for nerds without girlfriends has now dug its addictive little claws into pop culture.

Quick, what's the biggest franchises in the video game world?


Super Mario?

Just Dance?

You're right on all counts. And if you think I'm joking about Just Dance, look up the numbers. That game is a beast.

For all of the new IP's that seem to come out these days, not to mention the countless bland sequels (I'm looking at you, Duty), there are even more that were left behind in time. Sometimes, such as the case of Duke Nukem, there is a good reason for it. Duke is a relic now, and the lame attempt at resurrecting him only hurt his legacy and cursed all future games in the series.

But, at least he got a new sequel! It may have sucked, but history will always remember that players got a new Duke Nukem game, whether they wanted it or not.

But what about the not so lucky ones? There are a plethora of games that never got the sequels they deserved. Some of them were so good that their abandonment is just downright baffling.

And with that smooth segue, here is a list of the ten most baffling forgotten video game franchises as decided by me, some guy that played them!

1. Bubsy

It's not that I love Bubsy. I realize that it was never the greatest game in the world, but it meant something to me, damnit!

Back in "the day," platformers on the SNES and Sega Genesis were a dime a dozen. Compared to the excellence that was Mario and Sonic, it was hard for some newbie to stake a claim on that magical market that included running, jumping, and jumping while running in the most severe cases.

Bubsy might not have been the next coming, but it was an entertaining game. Anyone that says otherwise is either a liar, a Communist, or they didn't grow up in the greatest era of gaming.

Bubsy had a great sense of humor, and even though the platforming was spotty on occasion, it was a worthy challenger to the throne. It only got three sequels before they decided to put the lovable bobcat down. I'd like to think that it was an untimely death, but the little furry bastard deserved it for Bubsy 3D.

Still, it was a good series that could have been great in the right hands. He even had a TV show in the works, and you know that's when you hit it big. It would have been better if the show had been picked up, but still!

At this point, I think any hope of a Bubsy revival, or at least a guest spot in a new Smash Bros game, is just a fevered dream.

2. Earthworm Jim

This is a no brainer.

Earthworm Jim was one of the premier games in the 90's. The first two games in the series were near platforming perfection, with great graphics, characters, music, and game play. They were beloved by the gaming community and remain one of the best parts of the 16 bit era. There were Earthworm Jim games, toys, a cartoon series, and every indication that it would be a long running series in the same veins of Mario and Sonic.

And then came Earthworm Jim 3D.

Notice a pattern with these 2D platformers when they make the jump to 3D? It wasn't nearly as bad as Bubsy 3D, but it was still pretty mediocre. There was an attempt to return to 2D with the last game in the series, Menace 2 the Galaxy, but the magic was gone. There has always been talks of a new game in the series, but as of 2014 nothing has happened.

If any series deserves a new lease on life, it's Jim. I really hope that someday some company like WayForward will take a shot at reviving the earthworm one last time.

3. Contra

Contra is one of the most legendary series in the history of gaming.

Ask anyone that grew up with the Nintendo or Super Nintendo and they'll tell you these amazing tales of shirtless men who aren't Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, and how they took on and defeated evil aliens that aren't owned by Twentieth Century Fox.

This one had more than two great entries, which makes its disappearance from mainstream gaming even more baffling.

Contra and Super C were great. Contra 3 and Hard Corps were amazing. So where did it go wrong?

Well, not many things can stay golden forever. A decent set of Playstation games couldn't live up to the legacy, and eventually people just kind of forgot about the first truly memorable action game.

They did release Hard Corps: Uprising as a downloadable title for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and while it was a solid game, the anime inspiration from Arc System Works were a huge departure from the original testosterone soaked classic.

4. Double Dragon

Speaking of testosterone, arcade gaming in the 80's were often defined by how well you could kick the crap out of your fellow man, and none of them did it better than Double Dragon.

The series followed the exploits of Bimmy and Jimmy...I'm sorry, Billy and Jimmy Lee, kung fu brothers who set out to save their girlfriend Marian from a vicious gang. I can't remember which brother was actually dating Marian, but it could have been a new age three way relationship thing that I can't get my fiancee to agree to.

Like Contra, Double Dragon is just one of those classics that seemed destined to live on forever. It was a brawler with great graphics and a real sense of violence as you punched, kicked, and pummeled your foes with weapons through multiple levels of action movie magic.

The first two on Nintendo are instant classics, and even the third one has a special place in my heart. My dad won a thousand dollars on a scratch off ticket, and of that money I got Double Dragon 3. I guess I could have asked for a college fund instead, but if you put anything under a microscope you're going to find flaws. Super Double Dragon is possibly my favorite beat 'em up of all time, and there were a lot of great one on one fighters not named Shadow Warriors that did the name justice.

And, like Contra, one day the series just disappeared into the shadows. There have been okay to decent ports, but nothing mainstream in quite a while. Double Dragon Neon was a fun game, but the way it treated the source material was almost a mockery, and I don't consider it a true Double Dragon game.

5. Battletoads

If you're talking about kicking ass in the video game industry, you're going to want to include some combat frogs in that conversation.

You may have heard of Battletoads. I'm sure most GameStop employees have, as at one point it was quite humorous to call them up and ask them if they carried Battletoads games. With the recent rise of the independent game store that carries the classics, such humor is mostly lost. The good news is that you can buy a true classic like Battletoads.

It was a Double Dragon style game taken to the extreme. Fists became sledge hammers, webbed toes became giant boots, and friends became bitter enemies when they tried to co op this damn game.

Battletoads is as notorious for its difficulty as it is for its enjoyment. I've never personally known a single gamer who beat the original title on the NES. If you made it to the hover bike level you were good, and if you could beat that nightmare you were a legend.

Yes, it is incredibly difficult. Back in "the day," games prided themselves on it. And even though it was hard, I cannot think of a single poorly done Battletoads game. That's what makes this entry on the list so hard to comprehend. The NES version is a classic, the SNES and Genesis games were tons of fun.

They even had a crossover game with Double Dragon! And it was great! Where did these amphibians go wrong!?

Out of all the games on my list, this one confuses me the most. This is a series that BEGS to be revived, and no one has jumped on the opportunity!

I can't think of a witty close for this one. All I can do is plead to someone, anyone, to PLEASE make another Battletoads game!

6. Perfect Dark

It may seem too fresh to declare Perfect Dark a lost cause, but you need to remind yourself of just how good the n64 game was.

Joanna Dark and her quasi sci-fi exploits of stealth and espionage were incredible. It took everything that Goldeneye did right and made it a hundred times better. The stages were well thought out, the characters were memorable, the weapons were diverse, and the story was chock full of wit and a cool factor that has never been replicated.

And then there was the music. I can still remember my heart trying to burst out of my chest when that bass heavy Chicago beat wrapped itself around my sensitive little soul.

It was a great game and one of the best shooters of all time.

So where the hell did it go? Well, it went to the Xbox 360, and then it went strictly to the unemployment line along with the frogs and the worm.

I don't want to put the blame squarely on Microsoft for ruining this franchise, but you can't deny that they've made little effort with it after pumping out a highly anticipated and poorly received prequel that lacked both the charm and creativity of the original. They did re-release an upgraded version of the original, but the mechanics that made the game great when it first came out felt clunky in today's market.

It's not too late for this gem. The fact that Call of Duty fans will gobble up whatever scraps they're thrown year after year proves that shooters are still the most dominant genre in the industry. Isn't it about time Ms. Dark took on a new mission?

Also, give the series back to Nintendo.

Right now!

7. Rock N Roll Racing

Rip is in another time zone!

Anyone that played this Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis classic is smiling right now.

Racing games were a dime a dozen during the 16 bit era. Most were forgettable, some were enjoyable, but only one was iconic. Before Twisted Metal made combat racing popular, the cast of Blizzard's racer were blazing trails through different planets while blasting rockets at each other and trying to shut up that damn announcer.

Did I mention they did all of this to, as far as I can remember, the first game to feature a licensed soundtrack? It may have only been instrumentals, but while you were trying to catch up to the Aliens inspired Grinder X19 you were jamming out to the likes of Black Sabbath and Steppenwolf.

The gameplay was simple but entertaining, and it had great multiplayer.

So why did it only receive a port and a semi-sequel that didn't even carry the same name?

I couldn't tell you. Maybe the cost of the licensed music scared them away from ever trying it again. Maybe their focus on the Big Three (Diablo, Starcraft, Warcraft) deserved all their attention. I wish I could tell you. This is a series that needs a new entry, and it needs to rock your face with blistering speed and hair metal music.

An indie developer did release a new Rock N Roll Racing game not too long ago, and they used just about ever intellectual property that Blizzard had with the series. They even ripped the announcer right out of the old games and put him in the new.

It was available for about as long as you could imagine before the hounds of justice tore them apart.

8. Chrono Trigger

Oh, God. Why, Square? Why?

If you're too young to have played Chrono Trigger I truly feel sorry for you. This was the Final Fantasy killer of the 90's, and ironically enough it was made by the same company.

Square might be known today for going back on all of their original beliefs and pumping out uninspired sequels to games that weren't that good to begin with, but once upon a time they had a stellar track record.

Chrono Trigger was everything you could ever want from a role playing game. It had a large cast of colorful characters, a fantastic soundtrack, superb storytelling, and a time traveling gimmick that gave it an ability to continue the series indefinitely.

So, of course, they abandoned it. That's all. Nothing else to see here.


Fine, I'll try to suppress my rage and keep going. I do it just for you, you know who you are.

Despite strong sales and an overwhelming positive critical reaction, Square only made one true sequel to this masterpiece. To be honest, I liked the sequel even more than the original!

Chrono Cross was my favorite RPG on the original Playstation system. There were so many characters to choose from, and half of the fun was just finding the right combination of heroes to take against the enigmatic Lynx. The storytelling was just as good as the original, and the music was even better. I still listen to the overworld theme, and it still brings tears to my eyes every single time.

I am aware of the Japanese only Radical Dreamers game, but even if you count it that brings the total for the holy grail of RPG's to a whopping three.

And that is a damn tragedy.

9. Earthbound (Mother)

I'll be completely honest and say that I don't have as strong of a connection to the Earthbound series as a lot of other games do. This is one of those titles that people will literally get in fist fights over.

It was a lighthearted tale of friendship and adventure that was also one of the most unique RPG's of its time. The popularity of the game is so great, that almost TWENTY years after it was released in the United States, it still carries an impact on the genre as a whole.

They even included characters from the game in the Smash Bros games, which begs the question of why they don't just make another damn entry in the series?

What makes it even more painful is that there is one on the original Nintendo Entertainment System that was never released overseas, as well as a Game Boy Advance sequel that came out AFTER the popularity surge that they still never translated and sold in the US!

And that, my friend, is the epitome of baffling.

Take a game so immensely popular that there is probably a religion devoted to it, tease its fans with snippets of hope here and there, but never cash in on the craze and make everyone happy at the same time.

Good job, Nintendo. Hope you're working hard on another Wii Music game.

Honorable Mentions


10. Ultima

This is the series that made role playing games cool.

Richard Garriot and the team at Origin Systems, not to be confused with EA's Origin download service, created a world filled with incredible lore and ideas so fresh and creative that they inspired some of today's most popular titles.

From the time traveling plot to the virtue system, the Ultima series is the most unique RPG I've ever played. It saw a whopping nine games released for the PC, and that isn't counting spin offs and the legendary Ultima Online.

Ah, Ultima Online. If you've ever read any of my articles on MMORPGs, you know that I hold Ultima Online high and above any other title. It was the first true success in the industry, and its formula of a quest free sandbox that relied on individual skills instead of levels should be the standard today. Unfortunately, World of Warcraft took its inspiration from Everquest, and everything since then has taken its inspiration from WoW. Still, UO will always be the greatest multi massive online role playing game in existence.

And it wasn't just the online game that is remembered today. Gamers, especially those on the fore front of the PC gaming revolution, fondly remember the original Ultima titles. They told great stories and really made you feel like you were a part of the world. They were the peak of western RPGs and are classics today.

So then, can anyone explain to me why the only new Ultima games since UO was released in 1998 are a terrible web based cash grab and a mobile device cash grab remake of Ultima IV?

Richard Garriot sold his share in Origin to Electronic Arts, and they've done nothing with it other than let it die a slow panful death. They also cancelled the promising sequel to Ultima Online, twice, and have basically tried to wipe the series of the face of the earth except when they can make a quick dime.

It's a sad end to the greatest RPG series of all time.

The only consolation is that Garriot and a lot of the original Origin Systems crew will be releasing Shroud of the Avatar, which will be the spiritual successor to Ultima Online.

We can only hope the other games on this list will find the same kind of good luck someday.
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