Franchises that were better off dead

Contributors: Charlie Barratt, Heidi Kemps

Accepting death can be difficult. When loved ones have passed on, we refuse to let them go, fantasizing that they’re still alive and secretly hoping, wishing and even praying that they’ll walk back through our door at any second.

Unfortunately, in the case of videogames, they sometimes do. Thanks to the powers of lazy publishers and lucrative nostalgia value, we’re constantly forced to watch as old, long-buried franchises are exhumed and then paraded around as reboots, relaunches, reinventions and reimaginings.

A few of these updates work. These, though, are the ones – the horrifying, unnatural, “Oh God, aim for the head!” zombies – that didn’t.


The dead franchise: Alone in the Dark (1992-2001)

Four years before a polygonal zombie dog smashed through the window of a Raccoon City mansion in Resident Evil, giant murderous rats and undead pirate slaves were chasing players through the haunted 3D hallways of Alone in the Dark. Seven years before Silent Hill unlocked the psychological fear of its protagonists through foggy exploration and foggier puzzles, Alone in the Dark asked us to solve the suicide of a tortured artist by investigating the mysterious belongings and macabre booby-traps he left behind.

In other words, this series was the original. These games were the classy old grandfathers of the genre. If you’ve ever enjoyed a survival horror adventure, you have Alone in the Dark to thank.

The failed resurrection: Alone in the Dark (2008)

You know your franchise is better off dead when Uwe Boll is no longer the worst thing about it. 2001’s Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare may have suffered from a dumb title and a dumber movie adaptation by the loathed director, but the actual game was a faithful update on the original formula.

That reboot didn’t take, though, so a new team of developers tried again in 2008. We really wish they hadn’t. The latest Alone in the Dark has a few highlights – the special effects are cool and the graphics are good – but these are quickly overshadowed by a poorly told story, badly designed controls, half-baked missions and game-breaking glitches.

Even if it wasn’t an unplayable mess, however, this version would still be a major betrayal of the brand. The first Alone in the Dark cast you as Edward Carnby, a gentlemanly 1920s detective trapped in a Louisiana mansion, fighting the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired forces of evil through quick reflexes, but more importantly, quick wits. The last Alone in the Dark, meanwhile, casts you as “Edward,” a foul-mouthed smartass stuck in present-day New York City, fighting off generic zombies through a combination of melee combat, fetch quests and driving minigames. If we wanted a derivative action movie, we could’ve stuck with Uwe Boll.


The dead franchise: Bionic Commando (1987-1999)

You need to know one thing – and one thing only – about the original Bionic Commando games. Grapple arm. Nobody cared if the graphics were fancy (they weren’t), if the story was interesting (it wasn’t) or if the hero was complex (his personality consisted of spiky hair and sunglasses). Nobody even minded that the “damsel”-in-distress was a grizzly old dude named Super Joe instead of a beautiful princess.

Why would we, when Bionic Commando taught us to swing and soar through levels rather than trudge across platforms? When we could grab enemies from across the screen with a badass robotic claw rather than just shoot at them? All that mattered was the arm, and the newfound freedom that arm delivered.

The failed resurrection: Bionic Commando (2009)

So when the folks at Capcom decided to bring Bionic Commando back in 2009, they kept things pure, simple and focused. Right? Well, as should be obvious from the headline of this article... not so much.

Everything about the experience has been needlessly complicated. The protagonist, who was once a harmless and happy 8-bit sprite, is now a grab bag of modern gaming clichés: edgy, angsty and rebellious, with a stupidly exaggerated set of muscles and a predictably mysterious past. The story tries way too hard as well, introducing overwrought themes of terrorism, genocide and government betrayal.

Then, of course, the arm. Our poor, beloved grapple arm. Why must you be reimagined, too? Why are you so ludicrously large? Why do you appear ten times heavier than the man who is carrying you? Why have the developers restricted your glorious potential with tight, narrow corridors and invisible “radiation” borders? Why, oh why, must you be the target of gaming’s most terrible plot twist?

By the way, Capcom also released a remake of the NES classic, with essentially untouched gameplay, in 2008. Guess which version scored better…

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  • Ganonpork - June 7, 2010 5:50 p.m.

    lolurz i want Valis X. XD ya shoulda put spectrobes on there. everything went to hell once it was released on wii.r
  • twishart - February 8, 2010 11:59 p.m.

    Bionic Commando had huge potential - I enjoyed the hell out of the Rearmed version. Actually, a lot of things on this list had potential... I think Sonic didn't make the list because he's NOT better off dead. I'd love to see him enjoy the same longevity Mario has - if only to rekindle that schoolyard rivalry the two had back in the early 90's. Here's hoping the 2d update delivers - I'm sure I'm not the only one...
  • VermithraxDagon - February 7, 2010 9:14 p.m.

    Contra - better left dead? Blasphemy! Heresy! Oh man, you really did it now. I'm gonna come down there and break yer frakkin legs!
  • DriveShaft - February 5, 2010 9:10 p.m.

    I think Mario died once the N64 did x]
  • Tomsta666 - February 5, 2010 2:55 p.m.

    Where the hell is Mortal Kombat on this list?! If ever a franchise should die, and be left to rot it's Mortal Kombat.
  • pikachu2000 - February 5, 2010 1:51 p.m.

    I want to punch the idoit who made that dumbass decision to make Valis X. What the hell where they thinking?!? And to add insult to injury, that game was released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the series. BULL$#!% I think that the Mortal Kombat series came just a bit close to being on this list if it weren't for MK vs. DCU.
  • Zetsubou - February 5, 2010 11:01 a.m.

    The title is wrong, these are not really "Games that are better off dead", just some games that sucked, even though the originals were good. For example, Bionic Command had every right to be awesome, it could have been, but it just happened to turn out badly. Same goes for most of these games.
  • TheDirtyTurk - February 5, 2010 12:26 a.m.

    Charlie Barratt and Heidi Kemps, you two can lick my hoop (__)*(__), Charlie gets to lick when I push (__)O(__), Alone is the Dark is not as bad as you claim. Proubly never even tried it on pc with a real controller, it was fine. I just found out Charlie's looks like (__)8(__). I'd take another serving of AitD with part 2 rather than see it go away, some of those action sequences were intense.
  • RebornKusabi - February 4, 2010 9:52 p.m.

    I actually had the "pleasure" of playing Valis X sometime ago mostly because I was a fan of the original as of recently. Let me just say, I didn't like Girl on Girl going into this game (pun so god**** not intended >_>) but ugh- while this game wasn't as BAD as Princess 69 (That hentai is... horrifying to put it lightly- picture a fat and depraved old man doing unpleasant things to GRADE SCHOOL LEVEL girls...) or Rapelay (... .... I'm not even talking about that one lol) but it had it's moments >_< On topic, Alone in the Dark was awful. I honestly feel that it's actually WORSE than the **** Uwe Boll movie and that's saying alot. Also, Bionic Commando was laughably bad! What the hell happened during the development of that game? I blame the Cylons for that one lol Anyways, nice article Charlie! I know it wasn't ALL just done by you but the thought counts ; ) reCAPTCHA- the pieing (Que?)
  • Zerochantista - February 4, 2010 7:48 p.m.

    ensabahnur - Capcom's already working on it, thankfully! TheWebSwinger - no love for intreprid freelancers? In regards to Contra, I think a lot of people don't realize that 10 years ago Contra was considered as huge a dead horse as the Sonic franchise has been since about 2004 (until perhaps today). Nobody had high hopes for a new Contra when Shattered Soldier came along... and I still don't think it's a very good Contra.
  • ensabahnur - February 4, 2010 5:34 p.m.

    Also, final fight just needs to be re-released as an HD Remix for the XBLA, PSN. I would buy that in a heartbeat. Or just port it i dont care, ill buy it also. Along with every 8 Bit Game out there.
  • ensabahnur - February 4, 2010 5:31 p.m.

    Just bought Beast Rider for ten bucks on newegg, as well as bionic commando, i think i owe it to myself to play these bad games.
  • reveffect - February 4, 2010 3:40 p.m.

    i actually came close to buying rouge agent because it had golden eye in it and i loved playing the original golden eye. then i saw all of the reviews and saved fifty bucks...well until i spent it on another game that is. i could already tell what might have happened with valis even before seeing the picture. i just knew that the company they handed it over to would do something like that. thx for yet another great article.
  • 2muchGuitarHero - February 4, 2010 12:48 p.m.

    I would have put sonic on the list, but I just heard that a 2D sonic is in the works (entitled sonic the hedgehog 4). There may be hope for that hedgehog yet.
  • cen - February 4, 2010 12:12 p.m.

    I'm gonna keep this short, being a lurker. Golden axe: Beast rider was FAR better than, say, a game which gets 10/10's for swearing more than is even funny, pointless LONG 'driving' sections and extra unlockable costumes that are just bland. I'm talking about Bayonnetta (sp?).
  • MaynardJ - February 4, 2010 12:01 p.m.

    I completely agree with AuthorityFigure; more realism means less fun in many cases. I played BC Rearmed, killing this resurrected (nameless but very familiar looking) dictator at the end was FUN, and reminded me of the days games dared to be REALLY politically incorrect. Not in a Postal, Carmageddon or GTA way but by using real-world subject matter in a game storyline, abusing history as some would call it. Wolfenstein 3D did the same thing; you get to kill Dr Mengele (with a different name) and Hitler himself. Which was still FUN! Nowadays, only mythology gets that treatment, by letting you kill gods in the God of War games. Valis and NARC were the only ones I never heard of. I would have liked NARC in its time, it seems to fit the profile of serious subject matter in a fun game like the ones I just mentioned. The article itself looks a bit like you guys are revisiting your top 7 of "series run into the ground" from 2008, but it's OK because the included franchises are completely different. I'm hoping for a good resurrection of the Legacy of Kain series. I only played Soul Reaver on PS1 but recently bought the PS2 sequel as well as Blood Omen 2 and Defiance to pick the experience up again more than 10 years later. Ass-kicking, soul-consuming vampires never get old. It's already in a gritty and violent fantasy world, they couldn't do it wrong by making it realistic, right? As to justified_candy: I'm not sure if this guy is joking and if he isn't, I'll pick the honest and politically incorrect reply "You just made me jealous".:)
  • justified_candy - February 4, 2010 9:32 a.m.

    Unrelated to the topic that comment about finding out that the girl you liked in high school is now exploiting her body to support herself hit the mark a little with me, long story short best $150.00 dollars ever spent!!
  • TheWebSwinger - February 4, 2010 8:49 a.m.

    Whoa whoa whoa there. The Bionic Commando reboot was stupid, but actually fairly well made. The story was dreadful, of course, but totally tertiary. Otherwise, this was a great article. GR in top form, and of course, I've still got a (TOTALLY STRAIGHT I SWEAR) mad-on for Mr. Barratt.
  • egregious - February 4, 2010 6:03 a.m.

    Contra should be excluded from the list. Clearly Shattered Soldier, Contra 4, and Contra: ReBirth were good enough apologies for the PS1 games and Neo Contra or whatever, right?
  • Biohazard82493 - February 4, 2010 5:37 a.m.

    i remember the good old times with my brother playing golden axe on arcade machines althought i never finished it because i didn't have enough money hehe but i love it also contra one of my favorite as final fight too bad the remakes suck that bad