It’s never easy seeing a series you grew up with or have fond memories of fall off the rails. Much like movie franchises with too many sequels or TV series that go on for way too many seasons, video game series are just as susceptible to the ravages of time and a perpetual lack of new ideas and uninspired creative choices. While it’s easy to lay the blame for the diminished returns of certain game series at the doors of the teams who worked on them, the answer is generally much more complex and often has as much to do with poor business decisions on the part of the games’ publishers as it does the developers. There are just as many long-running game series that continue to innovate and provide players with quality experiences, so it’s definitely not impossible for franchises to continue to stay relevant and fresh years after they began. Unfortunately, the following 10 game series lost their way at one point or another and are simply nowhere near the vibrant experiences they once were.
10. Gran Turismo
Make no mistake: Gran Turismo remains one of the premier series in racing and even though it’s still years away from release, Gran Turismo 7 is easily one of the most anticipated titles for the PlayStation 4. Unfortunately, developer Polyphony Digital will have to pull out all the stops, as the last two entries in the series have damaged the brand to a fair degree, allowing rival series Forza Motorsport on Microsoft’s Xbox platform to emerge as the current king of racing simulations. While Gran Turismo was arguably at its height during the PS2 era with the back-to-back critical and commercial success of Gran Turismo 3 and 4, Gran Turismo 5 on PS3 fell short due to a host of questionable design decisions, such as recycling car models from previous games and an overall lack of polish. Gran Turismo 6 fared even worse and is widely considered to be the worst entry in the series, delivering a stripped-down experience that simply didn’t improve on what came before. Only time will tell as to whether Gran Turismo can reclaim its former glory.
9. Final Fantasy
Although it remains one of the most popular series in gaming, Square Enix’s Final Fantasy has stumbled significantly in recent years and hasn’t delivered a truly excellent mainline entry since the early 2000s. Final Fantasy’s downturn began with Final Fantasy XIII, a game that many long-time fans criticized for being too simplistic and boring. Naturally, the game went on to receive two direct sequels. However, the main culprit was the online-only Final Fantasy XIV, which was so broken at launch in 2010 that it had to be taken down and re-released as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn a few years later. At the end of the day, Final Fantasy remains an excellent series and it would be absurd to suggest that it’s totally lost its way, but at the same time, Final Fantasy XV will have quite the task ahead of itself if it hopes to repair the damage done by its immediate predecessors.
While the Spider-Man game license has been under the control of Activision for years, a number of different studios have tackled the property and the results have not been pretty for a considerable length of time. The early 2000s were a boon for Spider-Man games, with Tony Hawk developer Neversoft delivering a solid outing on the PlayStation One in 2000. Soon after, current Call of Duty developers Treyarch were handed the reigns and delivered the greatest Spider-Man game of all time and one of the best superhero games period with the movie tie-in Spider-Man 2 in 2004. Currently, Beenox has been responsible for the series and other than the surprisingly good Shattered Dimensions in 2010, their efforts have been mediocre at best. Frankly, it’s absurd that a game from 2004 has yet to be surpassed and it would be great to see Beenox get things back on track with their inevitable next entry in the series.
You have to feel a little sorry for Castlevania fans. After all, it’s not their fault that series publisher Konami is arguably the worst, most mismanaged video game company in the world and seem to actively hate some of their most successful franchises, including Castlevania. The Castlevania series was extremely influential in the 80s and 90s, hitting its critical peak with 1997’s Symphony of the Night, a game that is frequently cited as one of the best ever made. Unfortunately, Castlevania as a whole gradually went downhill from there and after the disappointing sales and critical reception of 2014’s Lords of Shadow 2, it appears that Konami has largely abandoned trying to make any new games in the franchise worth getting excited about. They are however coming out with a pachinko game called Castlevania: Erotic Violence, which only goes to prove how little they care about the series or its fans. Thankfully, a spiritual successor called Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is being made by former Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi, so all hope is not lost. Although, as long as Konami continues to hold onto the series, it looks like Castlevania proper won’t be coming back anytime soon.
6. Resident Evil
The Resident Evil series is actually having a pretty solid year: Capcom not only had significant success with Resident Evil HD Remaster in January, but the latest game in the series, Revelations 2, received solid reviews as well. To be fair though, the thing most Resident Evil fans truly care about are the major entries in the series and in this regard, Capcom has been stumbling for years. In 2005, Resident Evil 4 basically revolutionized third-person action games, but its successors — 2009’s Resident Evil 5 and 2012’s Resident Evil 6 — were considered inferior to RE4 and took the series in the wrong direction. Resident Evil 6 in particular didn’t even play like a Resident Evil game, putting the focus on substandard action gameplay rather than the series’ traditional survival-horror elements. Recent developments, such as the reveal that a remake of Resident Evil 2 is in the works, suggest that Capcom is aware of its brand’s struggles and wants to do right by its fans, but that doesn’t change the fact that a decade on, we’re still waiting for a worthy successor to Resident Evil 4.
5. Guitar Hero
If ever there was a series that was thoroughly and rapidly driven into the ground, it’s Guitar Hero. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that everyone had at least one plastic guitar lying around, but a combination of market oversaturation and chief competitor Rock Band simply being a better experience quickly relegated those fake instruments to closets everywhere. Decreased sales and a continual decline in critical response led to the series being put on hiatus in 2010, meaning that it only took five years for Activision to kill the music game boom. Guitar Hero is having a resurgence this year with the upcoming release of Guitar Hero Live in October, but it remains to be seen whether it will have what it takes to revitalize the music game genre along with Rock Band 4, which is also being released this year.
4. Call of Duty
Call of Duty continues to be a sales juggernaut year in and year out, but a definite sense of franchise fatigue has been creeping in over the past few years, as each subsequent title adds incremental updates and fails to deliver little more than a slightly different retread of the same experience again and again. It seems hard to believe now, but there was a time when Call of Duty was an innovator in the first-person shooter space. The original Call of Duty, released in 2003, is widely regarded as one of the best World War II shooters ever made and its 2005 sequel is even better. The series struck gold in 2007 with the first Modern Warfare and its innovative multiplayer mode, which still stands as an incredible achievement and is easily one of the best games of its generation. Unfortunately, Modern Warfare was arguably the last time publisher Activision has done anything truly new or exciting with the franchise, as each new entry merely expands upon the previous game’s multiplayer offerings while featuring yet another bro-heavy shooting gallery story. While Call of Duty games are still competent, enjoyable experiences, it would be nice to see the series try and do more than offer the same marginally-different experience each year.
3. Assassin’s Creed
An unfortunate victim of a yearly-release schedule, the Assassin’s Creed series has quickly become one of the most oversaturated in all of gaming. This is a shame because there are very few games that allow you to revisit specific periods of history with as much accuracy and detail as Assassin’s Creed does. Unfortunately, the series has become a victim of its own success, as franchise fatigue has begun to set in for many players who are tired of jumping off old buildings and following an increasingly convoluted story. Last year’s Assassin’s Creed Unity may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the game was released in a broken state that significantly tarnished the brand. While the Victorian London setting of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate looks promising, it’s hard to muster much excitement for a series that truly needs to take a break.
2. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
For many, the early entries in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series are a defining moment of their adolescence and a cultural touchstone of the early 2000s. It may seem absurd to today’s youth, but there was a time when the Tony Hawk brand was infallible and was one of the most popular in gaming. Sadly, the golden days are long gone for the legendary skateboarder and his brand of combo-nirvana extreme sports games, as there hasn’t been a legitimately good entry in the series in almost a decade. Worse still, Activision closed original development house Neversoft in 2014, which would seem to be the final death rattle for the series. While Robomondo, the studio responsible for the terrible Tony Hawk Ride games, are currently hard at work with a series revival in the form of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, most early previews indicate that the game is not very good and it will come as a major surprise if it can restore even a fraction of the series’ early glory when it releases later this month on Xbox One and PS4.
1. Sonic The Hedgehog
The poster child for a series that lost its way if there ever was one, Sonic the Hedgehog has become something of a laughing stock in gaming circles after years of increasingly shoddy games. It’s gotten so bad that it makes you wonder if Sonic games were ever really good to begin with. Of course, most people point to the early Sega Genesis games as being the best of the series and it’s not difficult to see why. For whatever reason, Sonic has never made a graceful transition to 3D game design and only feels truly at home in his 2D sidescrolling origins. Sega and Sonic Team have tried again and again to make Sonic work in 3D but other than the occasional bright spot such as 2011’s Sonic Generations, most of their efforts have proven unsuccessful at best and abysmal at worst. Put it this way: Sonic The Hedgehog, a reboot released in 2006, is universally considered to be one of the worst games ever made. That’s a deep pit to crawl out of and it’s hard to see Sonic doing so anytime soon, especially when he’s being featured in dreck like last year’s Sonic Boom. Whatever anyone says, Mario won this fight a long time ago.