The dead franchise: King’s Quest (1984-1994)
Young gamers still find this hard to believe, but during the ‘80s to early ‘90s, point-and-click adventures were just as popular as shooters, platformers and RPGs. None, though, were as big as King’s Quest. Over ten years and seven installments, this gold standard of the genre charmed us with fairytale plots that played like interactive storybooks, colorfully animated graphics that were considered revolutionary at the time and devious puzzles that required both a keen intellect and a keen sense of humor.
When shifting tastes, demographics and technologies made the classic adventure game virtually obsolete, however, King’s Quest was not spared. In a final gasping breath, the series attempted to reinvent itself to stay alive. The results weren’t pretty…
The failed resurrection: King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity (1998)
Need to destroy a franchise fast? King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity, released in 1998, offers the perfect three-step template. First, alienate all of your loyal, longtime fans by transforming the game into an exact antithesis of what they loved about the series to begin with. Second, do such a shoddy and amateurish job with the new style that you guarantee no interested new players will replace the disgruntled old ones.
If storytelling used to be important, for example, write out most of the recurring characters, create an insultingly generic new hero and send him on a predictable fetch quest. If your games’ picturesque, lovingly painted 2D landscapes were adored for a decade, try “upgrading” to crudely constructed 3D polygons. If thinking through riddles was the entire point of the experience, force us to chop off monster limbs and watch blood spray across the screen instead. If the genre is adventure, switch that to action/adventure… emphasis on the action.
Oh, and the third step? Admit that this abomination is a botched experiment by not even including the franchise’s next number in the title. King’s Quest “VIII,” we await you still.
The dead franchise: Golden Axe (1989-1993)
Golden Axe’s fantasy-inspired brawling was a massive success upon hitting arcades in 1989, and the later Genesis port became a must-have for the console’s early adopters. Sequels were produced soon afterwards: Golden Axe Warrior on the Master System was a fun Zelda-type adventure, the Genesis-exclusive Golden Axe II was well-liked but quickly forgotten and the arcade sequel Revenge of Death Adder was a gorgeous, fun game with limited distribution.
But Sega didn’t seem to know where to go with the series from there – the Game Gear spinoff Ax Battler is a mess and the Genesis’s Golden Axe III was so awful that an international release never happened (save for brief appearances on the Sega Channel service and, more recently, in the Virtual Console and Ultimate Genesis Collection). The series stagnated with the arcade/Saturn 2D fighter Golden Axe: The Duel until 2007.
The failed resurrection: Golden Axe: Beast Rider (2008)
What’s great about Golden Axe? Most gamers would suggest the co-op play, the memorable stages and the indulgent fantasy setting. Unfortunately, 2008’s Golden Axe: Beast Rider excises the first two elements and exaggerates the third to stupid proportions, focusing more on sole playable character Tyris Flare’s chainmail bikini than stuff like combat variety or a dodging system that actually functions.
Tyris herself is phenomenally unappealing, to boot - despite her nicely rendered model, she animates like a dysfunctional paper puppet, promptly subtracting any sex appeal she might have had from the equation. Even the titular beast-riding blows: your steeds control like mentally damaged elephants and using any of their cool abilities costs valuable vitality.