Every long-running video game franchise has its ups and downs, but some spend more time in the mud than others. To be sure, it’s no easy thing to make a good game, let alone a whole series of them. But some franchises start out with so much promise that it’s a crying shame when future installments turn out to be duds. Sometimes that means they’ve latched onto a bad trend, while other times they’ve been rushed to market. Here are eight video game series that kicked things off like they meant business, but struggled to stay on the good side of fans and critics alike.
1. Sonic the Hedgehog
For a while there it seemed like Sega could do no wrong with its most famous franchise. The first three Sonic the Hedgehog titles are all fantastic games that held their own against Nintendo’s best-in-the-business Mario titles. But over the many years that followed, as Sega ran its hardware business into the ground, it also found diminishing returns in the Sonic games it kept pumping out.
Dozens of Sonic games have released over the years, and not all of them have been bad. But there are far more clunkers than there are winners. Meanwhile, Nintendo has done a great job of maintaining the quality of Mario games over the same period of time. At this point there’s little chance Sonic will ever compete with Mario again in any real way. So perhaps if you want to play as the speedy blue hedgehog, your best bet is to pick him as your fighter in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros.
Series low point: Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
2. Duke Nukem
Duke Nukem, for the uninitiated, is a muscular, flat-topped, gun-toting hero straight out of an ’80s action movie. In 1996, his game franchise was on top of the world. Having made a successful transition from side-scrolling action game to first-person shooter with Duke Nukem 3D, the series was making waves on the PC gaming scene. It featured all the cheesy one-liners, explosive action, and scantily-clad women gamers wanted to see in those days.
Developer 3D Realms set out to make a follow-up soon after. Years went by, however, and the game still hadn’t shipped. It wasn’t until 15 years later that the game actually came out, well past the time when an ’80s action hero could shock people or push the shooter genre forward. The game, Duke Nukem Forever, is a sprawling mess, developed over too many years and by too many people. It goes to show: Sometimes we need to let the past stay in the past.
Series low point: Duke Nukem Forever
3. Resident Evil
Ironically, this series’ problems began with Resident Evil 4, a game many consider to be among the best titles ever made. The one complaint some diehard fans of the franchise had with the fourth installment was that it had too much action. Which would be fine in most games, but the defining characteristics of survival horror are suspense, tension, and limited ammo. Resident Evil 4 delivered on most of those qualities, but it sure had a lot of shooting in it.
Resident Evil 5 continued the trend toward action, and Resident Evil 6 embraced it wholeheartedly — to the extent that it came off like a bad Michael Bay movie.
Resident Evil may have lost its way in recent years, but there are signs Capcom may be trying to get the series back on track. First up is the release of a remastered version of the original title, which will reaffirm to audiences that Capcom knows where the series comes from. Then there’s Resident Evil Revelations 2, a sequel to a well-received (and sufficiently scary) offshoot that came out on Nintendo 3DS. But the real test will be with Resident Evil 7. Keep your fingers crossed.
Series low point: Resident Evil 6
4. Guitar Hero
There was a time when music games ruled the charts. It all started with the 2005 release of Guitar Hero on PlayStation 2, a pricy game that came with a plastic guitar controller. It was an unlikely hit to be sure, but the game stood out from anything else on the market. It was new, it was intuitive, and it was a total blast to play.
As usual, with success came sequels, and the Guitar Hero franchise turned the sequel machine up to 11, pumping out game after game. Some installments added improvements, like the full band set-up introduced in Guitar Hero World Tour. But most just coasted on the same old gameplay with new songs. By 2010, gamers had largely given up on the franchise, and the following year Activision announced it was done making Guitar Hero games. Even the series rethink Guitar Hero Live didn’t do much to bring it back into popularity.
Series low point: Guitar Hero: Van Halen
5. Mario Party
When the original Mario Party came out in 1998 on Nintendo 64, it was rightly recognized as a fantastic way to get your friends together to run amok in the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s set up just like a board game. Each player picks a character from the Mario series, and rolls dice to see how many spaces they can move on the game board. Oftentimes, the space you land on will kick off a competitive mini-game for you and your friends to play. The goal is to collect more stars than any of your opponents.
Mario Party offered a whole lot of fun, as did the early sequels. But as time marched on and game after game came out, Nintendo stopped putting much effort into innovating on the concept. Nine Mario Party games have been released, but it’s been years since any of them lived up to a level of quality worthy of Nintendo. It’s a shame, because the core concept is great. It just needs a jolt of inspiration that Nintendo has so far been unwilling to provide.
Series low point: Mario Party 8
6. Silent Hill
Harry Mason and his daughter are on their way to the town of Silent Hill for vacation. Upon arriving after dark, he swerves to avoid hitting a girl in the road and crashes his car. When he wakes up, he realizes his daughter is gone and the town is cloaked in fog and filled with terrifying creatures.
It’s a spooky, mysterious set-up, and the first few Silent Hill games do a great job of capitalizing on it. After that, the series goes off the rails and never manages to find its way back.
Series low point: Silent Hill: Book of Memories
Lots of people view Yoshi’s Island as one of the best platformer games of all time. And for good reason: it offered an ingenious new take on the genre Mario made popular. But the game’s sequels have struggled to attain similar critical acclaim, with recent installments like Yoshi’s New Island on Nintendo 3DS and Yoshi’s Woolly World on Wii U proving that even great franchises from talented developers can nosedive.
Series low point: Yoshi’s New Island
8. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater kick-flipped onto the scene in 1999 and brought gamers into a whole subculture of underground athletes. Arguably, the series peaked early with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 in 2001. From there, it kept going and going, appearing on every system under the sun and adding new features as it progressed. Thanks in large part to over-saturation, the series went out with a whimper instead of a bang. Even Activision’s attempt to go “back to basics” with 2015’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 was a total bomb.
Series low point: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5