Judging by the way that Capcom has been aggressively promoting Street Fighter IV and the forthcoming, surely award-caliber film Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, you’d think the whole Street Fighter franchise died a slow, agonizing death since an impassioned Jean-Claude Van Damme gave a speech about justice, freedom, and kicking the asses of Raul Julia impersonators. Which is sort of true, in a way?there have been Street Fighter spinoffs, rehashes, and other things to keep the Street Fighter spirit alive in a catatonic state, but it’s been over a decade since “Street Fighter” was anything resembling a household name.
Aside from anything starting with Mario or Final Fantasy, video game franchises seem to come and go every so often, some successfully transitioning into the modern age (like, say, Prince of Persia), others languidly laboring in the shallow, murky depths of video game obscurity (like, uh, Excitebike). And while there seem to be no end recently of cool-sounding franchise resurrections, like the awesomely overlooked NES classic Bionic Commando or the “I freely admit to being too scared to play this in the arcade when I was 10-years-old” charm of Splatterhouse.
Then, of course, are the franchises that were thoroughly shoved down our throats as being Gaming’s Next Big Thing, that thankfully weren’t, or the games that Once Were The Big Thing and No Longer Are, Thank God.
5) Clay Fighter
I’m sure it’s fairly obvious to everybody on the internet who would be demographically inclined towards reading a blog dealing with Star Wars and other such geekery that Street Fighter practically invented the fighting game genre, but: Street Fighter practically invented the fighting game genre. Cut straight from Street Fighter II‘s mold, pun intended, is Clay Fighter. It’s like Street Fighter II, but the characters are made of digitized clay! And they have clever names like “Bad Mr. Frosty” and “Ickybod Clay,” and instead of blood, bits of clay fly off the characters! Just in case, somehow, after purchasing a game called “Clay Fighter” featuring characters that are very obviously made out of clay, you forget that clay is the leitmotif, here.
The series was thankfully put to rest after the release of Clayfighter 63 1/3, which doesn’t even have the excuse of being merely a terrible pun as much as a dated reference to the Naked Gun movies. Aside from Dan Castellaneta providing the vocal range of the “Boogerman” character, it’s an unabashedly terrible, unfunny, quite racist (the character “Kung Pow” attacks by throwing Poo-Poo-Platters at you with a Charlie Chan accent), ugly mess of a game. There hasn’t been a Clayfighter game since.
4) Double Dragon
The original NES version of Double Dragon? That game was, without question, the shit. If you could beat it, by yourself, sans cheat codes or Game Genie aid, you were the shit. This is more than likely due to the game’s violent content, a game wherein ripped-denim-vest-wearing dudes rescue their girlfriend from some thugs by beating them senseless and throwing them off buildings, in the usually non-violent, family-friendly era of Nintendo’s early dominance.
Then, there was a sequel, which really only served to frustrate kids who had mastered the first game and expected to waltz through the sequel with their godly skills by messing up the button layout something fierce: B to attack left, and A to attack right, no matter where you’re facing on-screen? The third game went back to the original controls but it didn’t really matter since it was insanely Goddamn hard, and when the fourth game came out kids had already discovered Mortal Kombat‘s vast realms of gore and flesh-chunks to get their video game violence kicks. For some reason, though, it was still considered popular enough to spawn a “hit” cartoon series, and an irreparably cheesy movie starring Mark Dacascos and Alyssa Milano. Featuring a ruined L.A. in the far flung future of 2007!
For all the awful imitators that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spawned in their wake of omniscience in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Battletoads certainly ranks among the foulest and most obscene. A desperate, cold-hearted attempt to create out of whole cloth a soulless, money-making video game franchise by mixing Double Dragon-esque violence, Ninja Turtles-like amphibians, and entirely unimaginative levels and story and everything else that usually makes video games memorable. Instead, Battletoads has an insane, impossible difficulty level! Because nothing destroys the potential fun to be had in a game where you play anthropomorphized, HGH-infused toads whose limbs can turn into anvils and other pain-giving weapons quite like a “Speeder Bike” level reliant more upon trial-and-error than actual skill or even luck.
Lucky for us, then, that Rare has wisely avoided any discussion of ever bringing back Battletoads, ever. In fact, Battletoads has since become something of a joke unto itself on the internet. The internet gets a lot of shit, what with pedophiles and Nigerian scams, but if it puts Battletoads in its place, the internet has proved itself.
Shortly before Mortal Kombat introduced shut-in video gamers to the joys of spine-ripping and heart-gouging, another zippy little character with loads of rude bad-attitude (henceforth known as baditude) by the name of Sonic the Hedgehog had spawned a literal well of imitators by companies desperate to give their corporate logo a squinty-eyed cartoon character. You know, to be all edgy.
Easily the most egregious example would be Accolade’s foray into mascot-based 2D platformers, an unholy meld of Garfield-level humor, Sonic the Hedgehog-style levels but with shitty control, dozens of zany voice-over “quips” that are mostly inaudible thanks to the poor sound quality of 16-bit hardware, bugs and glitches galore, and other displays of horrors that seem to prove that Satan possessed the knowledge and technology to create video games himself, and that he wasn’t afraid to release them.
While some may refute that claim, pretty much everybody will agree that Bubsy 3D, a clumsy Mario 64 “inspired” 3D platformer released for the Sega Saturn and Playstation, was actually forged in Hell by Lucifer, the Prince of Lies and Darkness. Little known fact: Bubsy’s voice is actually sampled from the literal cries of the Damned, looped into what seems like snarky, non-sequitur jokes out of the Jim Davis staple of jokery. Thankfully, Bubsy 3D‘s poor sales and critical crucifixion seemed to get the point across that Bubsy was not, in fact, a lovable videogame mascot destined to live on. They did, however, make a half-hour pilot episode of a planned cartoon show out of it. That it was never picked up is a sad testament to the fact that “WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG!” never quite became the catchphrase it seemed destined to become.
1) “Virtual Reality”
Yeah, so “Virtual Reality” isn’t a game franchise at all, but it certainly felt like one for a while. Until the late 90s, when we had an idea of what realistic computer graphics actually looked like, the movers and shakers (and, more importantly, investors) behind the video game industry seemed to only have eyes for Virtual Reality. Games where you weren’t just playing the game, but the game was playing you! Where you put on some needlessly expensive headset with stereoscopic goggles, attached some potentially fire-hazardous gloves, and generally were strapped in to some kind of melange of plastic, wires, multicolored buttons and switches, and an attendant nearby to make sure all the colors and realism of the crappy 3D boxing or racing game you were playing didn’t make you nauseous or, worse, transport you to a computer realm reminiscent of the movie Lawnmower Man.
Blissfully, the gaming populace never really caught on, realizing that just pressing maybe a button to make Mario jump is a lot easier than jumping inside of some HAZMAT suit connected to a bunch of sensors. Also, the various ingredients that proponents said would characterize Virtual Reality games in its nonexistant future developed more or less independently of each other; CD-ROM drives brought richer sound, more powerful hardware obviously delivered more realistic graphics, and the Wii even demonstrated the proper use of motion controls. And for those of you still yearn for a virtual reality world to escape the dreary doldrums of the real one, hey, there’s still Second Life.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.