When does a good idea become a bad idea? Usually when it involves stringing along a profitable video game franchise half-heartedly. Games aren’t cheap, and as such, gamers are some of the most discriminating audiences of any medium. Wasting fans’ $50 on tripe has historically resulted in stained reputations and decreased respect – things a license requires if it wants to continue raking in the dough. There are some key examples of a major franchise overcoming a dud, but for every success story, there’s a sad and lonely game that deserves its spot at the bottom of the value bin. Not all of the following games annihilated their established brands, but many did, and for that we should all be thankful.
9) Rampage: Total Destruction (Wii)
For some Rampage fans, Total Destruction is just another entry into the franchise. The 3-D monsters look great, the buildings are fairly diverse and the bonuses are plentiful. That would be wonderful if there were any decent controller functionality. But since the Wiimote and nunchuck aren’t responsive and the auxiliary gamepad isn’t an option, instead of smashing buildings, it’s best to avoid a personal rampage and skip this sequel.
8) Contra: Hard Corps (Sega Genesis)
While not a direct sequel to a specific Contra game, Contra: Hard Corps marked the series’ strange experimental phase between its run and gun origins and its recent retro revival. Despite decent action gameplay, the characters and tone of Hard Corps seems more like a Mountain Dew-soaked videogame version of G.I. Joe: Extreme than a Contra 4. There’s plenty of fun to be had killing mutants as a cyborg dog (think Poochie from The Simpsons), but perhaps this game would have been better served as an independent franchise than a bizarre rendition of a fan favorite.
7) Pok?mon Trading Card Game (Gameboy Color)
What’s more inarticulate than a Pok?mon battle on Gameboy? How about a Pok?mon card battle on Gameboy? Sure, given the success of the overall franchise in every media it touched, this game was a logical and profitable manifestation of the Pok?mon card craze and something of a sequel to the GB hits Pok?mon Red and Blue. However, that doesn’t make it okay. Face it. There’s pretty much a harsh divide between the card kids and the cartridge crowd, and this game spits on their completely irrational divide like a star-crossed digital/paper affair of Shakespearian proportions. It’s like a Dalek making love to a Cyberman. It’s practically an abomination – a deviation – a terribly popular piece of wrongheaded double nerdery. Don’t fight it. Give in. Let all the awesome action of two card graphics shaking and flashing in semi-simulated combat wash over that sweet obsessive collector mentality.
6) Army Men: Toys in Space (PC)
PC games have always had the misfortune of basing much of their controls on hardware best used for building spreadsheets or writing for popular nerd blogs. Third-person shooters and other games have faced the challenge with innovation, while other titles wallowed in incessant clicking to make fun happen. Army Men is one such franchise, and it’s a darn shame. Pixar’s Toy Story portrayed the plasticized warriors as badasses, whereas this game just doesn’t. While the game’s cut scenes look fairly sharp, the gameplay, sound effects, voice acting and overall graphic content leave a lot to be desired. The entire Army Men franchise is guilty of many of these same charges in one form or another, but TIS stands out mostly because of its wonky execution since gamers had a hard time knowing whether to laugh at or with the alien-centric plot.
5) ClayFighter 63 1/3 (Nintendo 64)
The ClayFighter series started out as a humorous (if sophomoric) take on the 2-D Fighter genre. Starring wacky characters like Bad Mr. Frosty and Taffy, the game used pixilated frames of clay models to deliver a unique kind of 32-bit claymation violence in ClayFighter, ClayFighter 2: Judgment Clay and various re-issues. Like a lot of games on this list, something went wrong as the franchise migrated to the next generation of consoles. Bad design, ugly rendering and weightless action made for a messy gaming experience despite appearances from guys like Earthworm Jim and Boogerman. The series’ gross-out humor and parody (63 1/3 isn’t quite 64, get it?) fall flat from the moment the title screen flashes, which is probably the biggest reason this game should have spent some more time in the kiln before hitting shelves. To make matters worse, the game makers practically acknowledged the game’s rushed state by releasing a special edition with additional characters available only at Blockbuster Video. The only real reason for this game to exist is because it counts as one of only, like, three fighting games released for the Nintendo 64.
4) Lemmings Paintball (PC)
Splicing genres can sometimes result in a surprisingly fun gaming experience. The Mario license, for example, takes advantage of this fact with thriving regularity. Given its unique gaming format, how would a developer mess up a Lemmings sequel? Pretty much how fans would expect. It didn’t utilize or expand the franchise’s signature gameplay, preferring to simply coat a whole new kind of game with familiar graphics. The game itself isn’t terribly cool either, signaling the pretty obvious practice of trying to take advantage of a fanbase with a completely unrelated experience. Want to make a paintball game? Fine. Just don’t add green hair to sprites and call them Lemmings.
3) Big Mutha Truckers 2 (PlayStation 2)
Why stop at embodying everything wrong with video games when you can embody everything that’s wrong with America at the same time? That’s pretty much the motto behind this atrocious time-waster subtitled “Truck Me Harder.” In the game, players drive a big rig to raise money to help bail out a crusty old woman from jail for tax evasion. A worthy goal, no? The trucking is sluggish and a bit ugly and winning the game involves math. Seriously. Whoever designed this Larry the Cable Guy fantasy probably was probably hitting the moonshine when they paired good ol’ boy adventuring with number crunch’n. Gross.
2) Backyard Wrestling 2: There Goes the Neighborhood (Xbox)
1) Toe Jam and Earl 3 (Xbox)
After two respectable, if goofy, outings on the Sega Genesis, someone at Sega decided it was time for Toe Jam & Earl to die. In the early ’90s, TJ and Earl’s overblown hip hop aesthetic seemed silly and borderline cute. In TJ&E3, the shtick reeks of idiotic caricatures, out of touch parody and a sense of humor that combines the worst aspects of B?b?’s Kids and The Proud Family. The developers’ pure hatred of their labors is apparent from start to finish, but especially in the game’s atrocious cut scenes. While the gameplay revisits the overhead gift utilization from the first game and adds the character interaction from the second, the lame “funk” premise ultimately overshadows any fun players might have had. This game not only didn’t need to happen, it really, really shouldn’t have.
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.