I’ve always been interested in how quickly videogames are forgotten. Remember Brute Force? That old shitty Xbox third-person shooter? Millions of dollars were dumped into marketing that thing, they’d play the trailer once every commercial break on G4, and now it’s like it never existed. There’s probably a Brute Force story bible sitting on a hard drive somewhere in Microsoft HQ, with tendrils stretching out the narrative into trilogies and spin-offs, and nobody will ever see it.
That’s probably a good thing. We live in a business without second chances. Publishers know better than to let bad ideas go. It only gets weird when that doesn’t happen.
This is a list about sequels. Sequels generally point to a successful franchise, either critically or commercially. Madden and Call of Duty get renewed each year to varying levels of disdain, and anyone flabbergasted is far too idealistic about the industry. A game like Pikmin 3 makes less money sense, but Nintendo can count on a dedicated group of adherents to buy it regardless of any Mountain Dew sponsorship. But the games below don’t fall into either of these categories. These are games that came out under the banner of franchises that never had a chance. They died of natural causes, and nobody remembered them. The only question left is… why? Why on earth did it ever make commercial or critical sense to give these games another shot? These are, without a doubt, the most inexplicable sequels of all time.
Bomberman: Act Zero
The idea was to reboot Bomberman. Yes, a Bomberman reboot. The little guy with the pink hands and the giant eyes, who made for good, chaotic multiplayer fun on the TurboGrafx and SNES. Bomberman had no real character, he was a cutesy mascot who solved puzzles and fought bosses, but 2006 had an attitude and Hudson Soft panicked. Instead of riding Bomberman out into the sunset with, say, a downloadable $12 title that recaptured the series’ highs for those old enough to remember, they instead turned Bomberman into a literal man and gave him a dystopia.
There was no bad Bomberman game before Act Zero, and there has been no bad Bomberman game after Act Zero. It exists in its own paradigm, a righteously bad idea with no upside. I mean, I guess technically there’s some bizarre alternate universe where Bomberman is the new Master Chief, but I prefer to stay far, far away from that reality.
True Crime: New York City
They got too greedy.
We all remember the salad days of the GTA clones, where every publisher rushed to cash-in on that open-world, two-degrees-off-a-massacre-simulator money. The kids loved nihilism, who knew? Sometimes that lead to actual subversive greatness, like the latter-day Saints Row games, but there was plenty of chaff too. Anyone remember Dead to Rights?
Between those was True Crime: Streets of LA, an aggressively mediocre romp that featured an angry man in angry sunglasses. It sold a grip of copies in spite of itself, and instead of running with the blood money, Luxoflux returned to the well with True Crime: New York City in 2005. Guess what! By 2005 consumers had smartened up, and nobody bought it. Luxoflux made Kung Fu Panda and promptly went out of business.
However, True Crime’s over-extension did eventually give us a rebranded, retooled game called Sleeping Dogs, so maybe we owe a little penance. You can always take gun metal lemons and make gun metal lemonade.
Army of Two: The 40th Day
I guess if there’s one thing I can be thankful for about the Army of Two sequels, it’s that the lizard-brains at EA didn’t go with Army of Two 2 and Army of Two 3. That would’ve momentarily broken videogame writing in the winter of 2010.
Army of Two was a dodgy, occasionally fun, and righteously irrelevant third-person shooter. You jump behind the foreheads of two mercenaries as they blast their way through your usual rigamarole of late-aughties battlegrounds (Somalia, The Middle East, and yeah, eventually the U.S. itself) and everyone has a very neutral time. If I remember correctly, one of the defining features of the first game was the ability to “bling out” your guns. This is also the game that famously opened with actual footage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to “set the stage.” You could say that the tone was a little… schizophrenic.
Maybe that’s why it was so weird EA geared up to make Army of Two a top-tier franchise. I don’t know anyone who disliked the original game, but it was what it was, a mild 7/10 that existed specifically to fill the GameFly gap until the game you actually wanted to play showed up. There was no hope of attuning to greatness, but The 40th Day was still shoved out there to mine an exhausted fanbase until the diminishing returns outweighed the profit margin. You don’t want your decent game to end up like Army of Two—you’d much rather let the legend grow in the lack of attention, like Crimson Skies.
Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom
This is my favorite cynical sequel of all time. Death Jr., if you remember, was envisioned as the PSP’s KILLER APP. You had a port of a Tony Hawk game, you had an actually-pretty-excellent Wipeout game, you had Lumines, and you had Death Jr.! An action-platformer from Backbone Entertainment! The company that hasn’t made a good game before or since!
If you haven’t played Death Jr., it’s basically like playing Ratchet and Clank, if Ratchet and Clank had a bad camera and exceptionally boring level design. Eventually we’d go on to learn that it was physically impossible to design a PSP game with a decent camera (not even Ratchet) and all was forgiven, but at the time Death Jr. was kindred spirits with Perfect Dark: Zero. Or better yet, Fusion Frenzy.
Backbone would go one to develop Death Jr. II, which was equally as drab but came with the “well we invested a lot into the first game” justification, but my personal favorite entry in the lineage arrived in 2007. Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom had Backbone abandoning the PSP that had given them so much trouble and instead developing for the DS. It didn’t work. But the circumstances are amazing.
Was there anyone in the universe thinking “man, those Death Jr. games look pretty sweet. Too bad I only have a DS”? Backbone believed three was, so Backbone decided to rely on brand loyalty and earn a 47 on Metacritic, and a whole ton of exasperated shrugs. We’re pretty glad you’re out of our lives, Death Jr.
Duke Nukem Forever
You might be saying “Luke! How is Duke Nukem Forever an inexplicable sequel? It was in development for decades and everyone loved Duke Nukem 3D.”
You are technically right. In the end Duke Nukem Forever did garner all sorts of savage curiosity from an audience that was very eager to see 14 years of combined work fall flat on its face. Forever ended up selling about 400,000 disingenuous copies in its first month. Sometimes it’s better to be profitable than good.
HOWEVER, it still does not make any sense a Duke Nukem game came out in 2011. I mean, it’s Duke Nukem. Popping off action movie quotes in dead languages, constantly enveloped in that old-fashioned 12-year old misogyny—it’s not that people hate Duke Nukem now, they just don’t care. He’s such a relic from PC gaming’s medieval period that a revival stopped making sense around the same time Eminem went into hiding. There’s a reason Johnny Cage was recast as a doofus in the last Mortal Kombat.
Maybe that was Gearbox’s plan all along. They knew full well Duke Nukem was irrelevant, but if they were responsible for putting out one of gaming’s greatest vaporware horror stories? At least some of us were going to pick it up, if only to see what the fuck went wrong.
Luke Winkie is a writer living in Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter at @luke_winkie.