A few days ago I posted a list of 5 Franchise Reboots That Worked. There’s been a lot of hate tossed towards the new DmC and Tomb Raider reboots, and the point of that list was to show people that reboots aren’t always terrible. Of course, there a reason why people are so wary of franchise reboots, and today I’m going to list 5 reasons why.
As I stated in the previous list, good reboots do two things: they manage to retain what made the original games worthwhile and unique in the first place, while at the same time blending in new elements that modernize and streamline the experience. It’s not an easy balance to achieve, and I’ll admit that I had a pretty hard time thinking up five examples of reboots that got it right.
That’s because for every Prince of Persia: Sands of Time or Ninja Gaiden out there, there’s at least several more reboots that were simply terrible and probably scared off more fans than attracted new ones. These reason these games failed is because of a number of reasons: either the developers completely misunderstood what made the original game so special in the first place, or the game was some poorly thought out attempt by the company’s marketing department to make a classic character cool or “edgy” again.
The following are five examples of reboots that completely missed the point: a few of them feature ridiculous, patronizing attempts at being “mature.” A few of them ended up bombing so badly that their publishers and developers like to pretend that they never happened. Most of all though, they are all pretty bad games.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
Ever since Sonic Adventure 2, Sega has pretty much promoted every new Sonic game as “the one that finally gets it right,” and a lot of gullible people (myself included,) fell for it over and over, a cycle that the internet would eventually dub “The Sonic Cycle.” Thankfully, that cycle was eventually broken with quality games like Sonic Colors and Generations, but only the most ardent of furries out there will argue that Sonic didn’t have one hell of a dark period for about a decade.
The 2006 Sonic reboot for Xbox 360 and PS3 represents Sonic hitting his absolute lowest point. To drive home the point that this was supposed to be a new beginning for Sega’s infamous hedgehog, the game was simply titled “Sonic the Hedgehog,” a-la the original Genesis title. Unfortunately for Sonic fans worldwide, the only thing that this game and the original Sonic have in common are the title: everything about this game is an insult to the Sonic name. The controls were completely broken; the game doesn’t really understand your controller inputs as commands- rather, it takes them as vague suggestions and seems to only respond to them when it feels like it. The game was also infamously buggy, as it’s not uncommon to lose a level simply because Sonic fell through what was supposed to be solid ground.
The game also features the most cringe-worthy, embarrassing moment in the series’ long history (and that’s saying a lot, considering how often Knuckles raps): some genius at Sonic Team decided to pander to and legitimize the franchise’s creepy furry audience by giving Sonic a human love interest and… well, I’d post a video of the game’s disturbing cutscenes here, but I’m pretty sure this site has guidelines against promoting bestiality.
The game was widely panned by critics upon its release, and its reputation was so bad that Sega even delisted the game from Xbox Live. For awhile Sega liked to pretend that the game never happened, and it didn’t reappear on Sega’s official timeline of Sonic releases until Generations acknowledged its existence last year.
There are a lot of bad reboots out there that motivate people to go back and play the original games. In comparison, the 2006 Sonic reboot was so bad that it made me re-examine why I liked the series in the first place. Thankfully the newer Sonic games have restored the Blue Blur to his former glory, but back in 2006, it was hard to argue against euthanizing the poor bastard.
Bomberman Act Zero
There are a lot of people complaining about the style and tone of Capcom’s DmC reboot: according to some very angry fans of old-school Devil May Cry, the new Dante is a pandering, Poochie-esque bastardization of the original character, designed by soulless marketing execs making a misguided attempt at appealing to dumb teenagers’ tastes. Regardless of how you feel about the new angsty Dante or the DmC reboot in general, it’s worth remembering that things could’ve been much, much worse. Take what Hudson did to Bomberman, for example.
I’m sure you all know and love (or you should, anyway) Bomberman. He’s Hudson’s cute, bomb dropping mascot, and he’s starred in some of the best multiplayer games ever made. Trust me, it’s worth buying a Sega Saturn, 10 controllers, and several multitaps in order to play Saturn Bomberman with 9 of your friends. Forget Smash Bros. or Goldeneye: Saturn Bomberman was the king of multiplayer games in the 32-bit/64-bit generation.
Bomberman has never been a huge seller, but he managed to stay afloat and maintain a dedicated following of hardcore fans throughout the last 20 years with quality titles like before mentioned Saturn Bomberman, Bomberman Online (Dreamcast,) and Bomberman Generation (Gamecube). Despite appearing on pretty much every major system released since the NES, Bomberman has always stayed true to his roots.
Of course, that all changed when this generation rolled around and suddenly Japan wasn’t the epicenter of gaming culture. A lot of Japanese companies scrambled to create games designed to appeal to the now larger Western audience (with varying results,) and Hudson decided that Bomberman needed a facelift in order to appeal to the supposedly grittier, hardened tastes of American gamers, and so Hudson created Bomberman: Act Zero.
Instead of the beady eyed, super deformed cartoon character we had all grown up with and still loved, Bomberman was turned into a robotic abomination that looked like a bad Rob Liefeld drawing. Bomberman’s bright, colorful world was turned into a dreary landscape of abandoned factories and desolate urban warzones. The catchy chiptunes of earlier games were replaced by the most generic techno music that’s ever appeared in a video game (and that’s saying a lot.)
Needless to say, Act Zero flopped. Nobody bought it, and no major sites gave it a good review. Like Sonic 2006, Act Zero’s developers like to pretend that this mistake never happened, and thankfully, Bomberman reverted back to his original appearance soon afterward.
Duke Nukem Forever
The original series of Duke Nukem games were and still continue to be great: even when you put nostalgia aside, the games’ light hearted take on the Doom formula is still accessible fun today, and even though Duke himself was little more than a reskinned Ash from Evil Dead, he was a fun, likable character.
Duke Nukem Forever possesses none of these traits: I suppose the gameplay is supposed to be a call back to the simple fun of 90’s shooters, but it lacks the clever level design of the originals, and the rehashed arsenal of weapons isn’t quite as interesting and inventive now as it was back in 1996. Game designers have learned a lot about how to make a fun FPS in the last 15 years, and DNF apparently skipped all those lessons. Yes, you can draw a dick on a white board, and that’s fun for five seconds, but after that all you’re left with is a first-person shooter where the shooting parts simply aren’t fun.
The game’s attempts at humor fall completely flat as well. I’m a big fan of dumb, inappropriate humor, but DNF just reeks of try-hard; it’s like the game was written by a bunch of teenagers who watched an episode of Beavis and Butthead and just decided to copy it verbatim, without understand anything about what made those jokes funny in the first place (i.e. context, timing, etc.) Instead of being a cool smart-ass who responded to every situation with a clever qwip, DNF turned Duke into dickish, middle-aged creeper who was trying to fit in with a younger crowd that he was completely out of touch with. If you want a game with genuinely funny dick jokes, go play Shadows of the Damned… or hell, even Bulletstorm, with its mangled Polish-to-English dialogue, managed to make laugh more than DNF did.
To put it simply, Duke Nukem Forever is to Duke Nukem what Batman Forever is to Batman: embarrassing, antiquated, and hard to sit through.
Alone in the Dark (2008)
Resident Evil may have made survival horror games popular, but it was Alone in the Dark (and to a slightly lesser extent, forgotten Famicom adventure game Sweet Home,) that originally laid out the formula that all other horror games would follow. Unfortunately, the Alone in the Dark series has never managed to rake in the millions of sales that every numbered RE pulls in, and despite pioneering the genre, the Alone in the Dark series has spent most of its lifetime clutching onto RE’s coattails.
Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare for Dreamcast gave up the original games’ Lovecraftian setting in order to make the series more like Resident Evil, and when RE made the jump over to action with the revolutionary Resident Evil 4, the AITD series likewise followed suit several years later. Unfortunately, the results weren’t quite as spectacular as RE4’s evolution: where as Resident Evil made the shift over to action with aplomb, the new Alone in the Dark was awkward, buggy, and frustrating.
There are some good ideas in the Alone in the Dark reboot: the game uses a episodic TV structure that makes you feel like you’re watching a serialized TV show (a narrative aspect that the far superior Alan Wake would later use,) and the game does some experimentation with a non-linear structure during it’s closing chapters. Unfortunately, all the interesting ideas in the world can’t compensate for Alone in the Dark’s frankly horrid execution.
Action games were obviously not this developer’s strong suit, as the game features some of the slowest and clunkiest shooting controls around. If you thought Resident Evil’s combat controls were slow and awkward, you’ll be driven absolutely insane by Alone in the Dark’s clunky mechanics. Alone in the Dark also constantly forces you to switch between first and third person perspectives, and the changes are even more jarring than the shifts in perspective in the old AITD and classic-styled RE games. The game’s puzzles are also so bad that they’re almost comical — here’s a PROTIP: pretty much ever puzzle in the game is solved by setting something on fire.
Alone in the Dark was one of those reboots that just completely misinterpreted why people liked the original game in the first place. It’s a sad, missed opportunity — the original Alone in the Dark was an amazingly intense game back in 1992, but it’s aged pretty poorly. The reboot gave Atari a chance to introduce a new generation to the franchise, but the developers behind the game seemingly spent more time trying to one-up Resident Evil instead of providing an experience worthy of the Alone in The Dark name.
Bionic Commando (2009)
I sort of feel bad for putting GRIN’s Bionic Commando reboot on this list, because I actually kind of like parts of this game. It’s not a good game by any means, but it’s not outright terrible either. If it was a movie, it’d be the kind of thing that hipsters go and watch ironically: it’s a disasterpiece.
There are elements of the reboot that are genuinely good. The game manages to get the feel and look of grappling and swinging right, and it uses these unique swinging mechanics to great effect during some great platforming sequences.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of trial-and-error involved in Bionic Commando: instead of visible level barriers that show you where a stage ends, the game uses annoying clouds of invisible radioactive dust to keep you from exploring beyond the level boundaries, and you’ll often get killed swinging into area that you thought was safe only to hit a deadly boundary that you couldn’t see. The game’s combat is also a mixed bag as well: using the grappling hook arm to quickly close the gap or toss things at enemies is pretty fun, but the actual shooting bits are clumsy to control.
But its Bionic Commando’s story and presentation that will either make you cringe or laugh out loud the most: the original Bionic Commando was a game that never really took itself seriously. The game had a GI Joe-esque, very cartoony representation of war that was filled with bright colors and weird characters. For whatever reason, the team at GRIN decided to take their Bionic Commando reboot into grim-dark territory, and the results are… strange to say the least. Series protagonist Radd Spencer was reimagined as “Nathan Spencer,” a guy who’s supposed to be a bad-ass commando but instead just kind of looks like a grungy, faux-hippie barista transported in from the late nineties. Instead of looking like a soldier, he just looks like the front man for a Creed cover band. The game also features some of the worst, machismo filled, wannabe-bro dialogue to ever grace a game, and it also has what is undeniably the most unintentionally hilarious plot twist ever. The game is almost worth playing just to see how bad the story is.
Like I said, Bionic Commando definitely has its moments, but if you don’t approach it with a “so bad it’s good” set of expectations, you’ll probably end up selling this game back to Gamestop after the millionth time you get killed by a radioactive cloud. The original NES Bionic Commando was a game that was genuinely great in all respects, and for failing to live up to that standard, GRIN’s Bionic Commando reboot definitely earned it’s place on this list.