Last week, SEGA Sequel Saturdays took a look at 5 of my favorite SEGA Sequels and why they managed to overcome my usual “sequel hatred” to become games that I really enjoyed. This week, it only seemed natural to look at the other side of that; to write about 5 of my least-favorite sequels and why I feel they failed to deliver. So, without further ado, let’s jump into episode 8!
(As always, feel free to throw in your own two cents via the comments section.)
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
I’ve decided that it would actually make a bit more sense to devote an entire Sequel Saturdays episode to the first part of the Sonic 4 saga, because there’s so much I can talk about as far as why it just didn’t work and what can be done to salvage the Sonic 4 project for its second go around, but that’ll be for next week.
Simply put, though, a sequel needs to exist not just to sell copies, but to actually take a series to the next level and bring the fanbase along with it. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 failed to do this in every way. Lacking the familiarity to feel like a true sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog 3, while at the same time failing to bring the series anywhere new and exciting, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 felt more like an imitation than a sequel, and a giant missed opportunity to do, well, anything special.
The Vectorman series is one I’d love to see continue, this despite a 2nd installment that I felt didn’t even come close to living up to the first one. Dark environments like swamp bogs replaced the bright and colorful futuristic cityscapes, blue oceans, and arctic ridges of the first Vectorman adventure. The music I felt was much less memorable, while the difficulty was one step beyond the line that separates “challenging” from “tedious.” A prime example of a sequel that offered more of the same, though with much less to write home about.
Toejam and Earl 3: Mission to Earth
Toejam and Earl 3 was an unfortunate case of a franchise revival gone wrong, one of three such cases this week. Though this series was well-received and quite popular on the SEGA Genesis, this 3rd installment spent years in development, with a history that includes the N64, the Dreamcast, and, eventually, the Xbox. When Toejam and Earl 3 was finally released, the end result was a case of the studio, ToeJam & Earl Productions, simply not knowing how to develop a game that would resonate with next generation audiences.
Visual Concepts partnered with them to assist in its development, but the simple fact was that Toejam and Earl 3, which chose to revert to the gameplay style of the first Toejam and Earl title instead of taking the series to new places, centered around dated gameplay mechanics and plot ideas. Things like randomly generated levels, hip hop aliens, and lack of gameplay variation just didn’t have much of a place in the gaming landscape that Mission to Earth eventually saw release in. Top that off with a story that wasn’t completed in time for release (resulting in the last-minute removal of many of the cutscenes, in other words, much of the driving force behind the characters’ mission on Earth) and some technical issues like pop-up, and you have a sequel that, sadly, failed to deliver to players today the way the previous two installments did for gamers back then.
It wasn’t a complete loss, with the co-op play offering some fun, and there was plenty of charm to be found in the art direction and music. It’s just unfortunate that it was a game many would probably play, but never finish.
Greg Johnson and Mark Voorsanger are awesome guys and it’d be great to see them develop more games, but Toejam and Earl 3 should definitely not be a blueprint for anyone’s future projects.
Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller
I feel bad about this one because this is coming up right after Barry the Nomad praised Crazy Taxi 3 in his latest Weekly 5 feature, but this makes my list for a number of reasons. Crazy Taxi 3 represented for me the stagnation of a series, one which seemed to have run out of ideas and was content to repeat itself. The Glittering Oasis stage that was the game’s big draw was lacking, featuring a small strip but then endless desert surrounding it: simply not a great thing for a game that’s all about delivering passengers to nearby locations. The soundtrack was as limited as ever, and though they brought back the levels from the first two Crazy Taxi games (though Big Apple from Crazy Taxi 2 was missing in action,) it was hard to justify this game’s $50 price point. A perfect example of a sequel made for no reason other than to make a sequel, even when the development team had clearly run out of inspiration.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
As with Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and Toejam and Earl 3, we have another franchise revival that missed the mark. Even though I had never visited SonicTeam’s land of dreams before playing Nights 2, (unless you count Sonic Adventure’s Nights pinball stage, of course) it was obvious to me that Nights 2 failed to capture what made the first installment such a memorable game for so many Saturn owners. Pointless and clunky on-foot platforming sections, painfully childish cutscenes, visuals that alternated frequently between great and terrible, and bad controls no matter which controller was chosen, all complemented the stale gameplay that was once the franchise’s big appeal. Nights 1 was all about the feeling of flight, and at the time it was released, that was how to deliver this feeling to gamers. Nights 2 chose not to modernize this idea for the next generation. Instead, SonicTeam decided to simply rehash the gameplay from the original game despite the fact that it was 11 years old, while at the same time adding nothing that justified the sequel’s existence.
The result was that, as with Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Nights 2 was another sequel that failed to live up to fans’ memories of the original while at the same time avoiding taking the series anywhere new and exciting.
To sum up…
It is possible to make great sequels. Though it’s my tendency to look at sequels with skepticism, last week’s episode tried to show that it’s not only possible to create great sequels, but that SEGA’s done this many times throughout their lifespan. Like anybody else, though, SEGA has also had their share of duds when it’s come to sequels and franchise revivals. Reviving an old franchise is always a risk, and that’s why it’s crucial that fans have input in its development from the start, and why it’s crucial that the game be given the time it needs to be completed. When a company does decide to move forward with a sequel, it should exist not just for the sole reason of making money, but because the developers have a strong vision and feel that this sequel has a chance at being better than the original. For various reasons, the sequels in this list did not work, but that doesn’t mean that these are hopeless franchises.
The point of this weekly feature is to look at SEGA games and franchises and examine how sequels to them can be done, but actually developing the sequels is not something that should be taken lightly. Developers should not simply count on fans being so excited to see a long-dead property back alive that they’ll ignore the fact that it’s not as good as the original, or that it doesn’t innovate or push the industry like the original did. Sequels such as these may be good for short bursts of fun or nostalgia, but overall, they tend to find themselves forgotten: lost in the shadows cast by the legacies of the originals.Ad: