The basic plot: Apparent murderer who’s either insane or mind-controlled tries to cover up his crime and stay one step ahead of the police. Killer and cops are both controlled by the player.
Jumps the shark when: Protagonist Lucas Kane tries to rescue his ex-girlfriend from the mysterious Oracle, only to watch her die when both of them plummet from the top of a roller coaster. From there, the plot rapidly devolves into bizarre supernatural nonsense about apocalyptic conspiracies, a looming Ice Age, diabolical artificial intelligences, Mayan priests and psychic powers. It also involves more than one Dragon Ball Z-style fight, in which skinny IT manager Lucas flies around New York City’s skyline trading blows with the Oracle.
Clearly, that’s much better than what had been, up until the roller coaster incident, just a taut murder mystery with well-realized characters and eerie supernatural undertones.
GTA: San Andreas
The basic plot: Former gang-banger gets sucked back into life of crime by corrupt cop and launches campaign to become a major player in the his home state’s criminal underworld.
Jumps the shark when: Ne’er-do-well government spook Mike Toreno starts doling out missions. While the first tasks he gives you – like making air drops with a crappy prop plane – are in keeping with the game’s gritty, gangster tone, things quickly devolve into weirdness when he asks you to sneak aboard a cargo plane crammed full of agents in black suits. Said agents may or may not be aliens, and after killing them all you’ll need to plant a bomb and skydive to safety.
Soon afterward, your hippie buddy The Truth calls you up and demands that you sneak into the secret military test facility Area 69 and steal a jetpack, and from that point on, the story becomes a deliberately unserious blend of secret-agent missions, heists and rap-mogul fantasy. That arguably improved it, but it was still a far cry from the humble street story San Andreas started as.
Beyond Good & Evil
The basic plot: Spunky photojournalist and her talking pig sidekick discover a corrupt government is allowing aliens to harvest its citizens for food.
Jumps the shark when: After you’ve pieced together the entire conspiracy with very little help and stormed the alien stronghold, you meet the alien boss: a vampiric space crab that lives in a giant moving statue. He reveals that you are, guess what? NOT actually human. Nope. Instead, you’re an artificially created person (named Shauni), a sort of battery or container. In fact, you are the source of his power, made human by the good guys in hopes of weakening him. Oh, and he wanted you to figure it all out all along so you arrived at this exact moment in time so he could make your eyes glow and create a force field that traps the good guys’ spaceships. Or something. It’s all really vague and needlessly complex.
Above: The moral is, all journalists are alien batteries
But it doesn’t really matter because your response is to hit him until he explodes. The somehow-still-moving statue lifts you into the air, where you levitate and phosphoresce until all the kidnapped people trapped in the walls float free and begin orbiting you and you smile. Then the credits roll, ending on a downer of a cliffhanger that makes clear your pig friend has contracted an alien techno-virus. Thus, a brilliant game is rendered ridiculous by not one, but two of the most needless ending plot twists in history.
Sonic the Hedgehog
The basic plot: Sonic runs around and fights things. Please don’t make us elaborate.
Jumps the shark when: After hours of beyond-ridiculous scenarios, including time travel, alternate dimensions, evil clones, ancient prophecies and every other cliché ever discovered, Sonic is killed by a villain that we refuse to explain. Obviously the main character can’t stay dead, so his menagerie of animal pals pool their powers to revive him as the angelic Super Sonic. But, they can’t get there without a little extra help… from a human kiss.
Above: Your favorite bestiality joke here
We can accept the increasingly convoluted storyline that adds playable characters every time Sega’s rent checks are due, but what we will never, ever swallow is a real-world woman falling in love with what looks like a Disneyland mascot suit.
Above: These aren’t gloves, my hands just look like this
The series had been treading strange ground for years, so the fact 2006’s game featured another out-there story didn’t surprise us one bit. But, once Sega introduced an attractive, reasonably proportioned human girl into the mix, the whole universe fell apart, causing an already shitty game to not just jump the shark, but launch into orbit, circle the entire solar system and come crashing back down on that poor fish like Sephiroth’s Super Nova summon.
After this and the similarly stupefying Sonic Unleashed, Sega says it’s aware Sonic is in the dumps, and plans to fix the franchise. Word is that XBLA or iPhone are now viable options for the company, so maybe we’ll finally get our goddamn Sonic the Hedgehog 4?
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