Many gamers bring forth arguments about sequels; how they are a bad idea, how they are a good idea and how idiots go and buy the same game time and time again, yet they themselves go and buy the latest game in their favourite blockbuster franchise. What exactly is it that grates with the ďhardcoreĒ about the repetitive nature of sequels? Is there something written down in the holy gaming handbook about not being able to re-use ideas or have continuity of design in the games? I want to take a look at questions like these and examine the nature of sequel game design.
There are as many arguments about sequels as there are games, the arguments are usually based on the games themselves as opposed to a wholesale rule-set. It may be a defence mechanism against being a hypocrite or it may be just plain good sense to see that every game is different and that generalisations are not a good idea. Whatever the reasoning is, it is clear that there is strong resistance against games that are, at first glance, the same game with a different title. I can understand this view point because in this generation of games we routinely place down £50 or $60 for a new title and if we pay such a significant amount we expect it to blow our mind or at the very least try to. In this light it is easy to see one side of the argument, but the other side is well known too. This side belongs to the publishers and developers who need profits to keep going, they know that ďSuper Awesome Vampire Pirates 4Ē made them a good solid profit on the last consoles so the first thing they do is start to make ďSuper Awesome Vampire Pirates 5Ē for the new consoles. It just plain good business sense, if you have a large and willing audience that likes a certain game then a sequel will generally be more successful than an unknown title full of strange ideas.
This business strategy is widely adopted by the gaming industry as can be evidenced by the mind boggling amount of sequels, franchises and, to an extent, spin-offs that exist in the marketplace today. The business of sequels is so well documented that games are being designed from the ground up to be parts of trilogies or to have multiple sequels, for a modern example have a look at Assassinís Creed which has been designed to be the first in a trilogy of games. Square Enix have become masters at this business and successively bleed each one of their masterpieces dry so that they can swim in pools full of Yen notes, or possibly create new games with increasingly large budgets.
The type of sequel that gets the most abuse at the hands of gamers is the yearly update of a sport game. This I can understand to a point because at face value it is the same game with a new roster and the current year beside its title. EA are notorious at this practise, to get the sales of the rabid football fans they release their Madden games each year with the current roster of players and what appears to be little else. In truth these near-identical games are created because letís face it, what else can you do in a football game apart from play football? Sure you can have different tournaments, leagues, playoffs, Super bowls etc but you are still essentially playing football. The developers wouldnít dare screw about with the actual football itself for fear of losing the fan base (although they do try it with their XTREME labels, released in most cases to critical and commercial failure). The developers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, or rather the publishers thirst for money and the fans thirst for up-to-date rosters in sports games.
The Halo franchise is a good solid trilogy (at the time of writing anyway) of games, the original was lauded as being one of the first truly great made-for-console FPSs and as an excellent game in its own right. It went on to spawn two sequels which continue the story of the last Spartan super soldier ďMaster ChiefĒ. Now I like games that continue on their story, as that is the very reason I play games. I play not for challenging puzzles, not to ďtrainĒ my brain, not to play only online (although I have played online heavily since days of Counterstrike 1.6) but to see a story, that I have personally unravelled, develop in front of my eyes. From an excellent base Bungie made what appeared to be the same game but with more story, however if you look closely you will see many improvements and tweaks (let us not forget the online multiplayer) that make it Halo 2. I see no problem in these kinds of game that tell a continuous story, if there are problems I like them to be sorted in the sequels but if the game has the same mechanics as the game before rarely do I complain. I understand that people donít like this kind of thing but really what do you want? A story arc that in the middle chapter sees Master Chief playing mini-games on a sunny beach with the Arbiter? If there is continuity of story and themes then I would like to play sequels that bare more than a passing resemblance to each other, and if the developers tweak their formula to perfection then who am I to complain?
JRPG series also take a heavy hit from people crying out that ďitís just last game but with a different storyĒ or ďI hated this battle system in the last 5 games, and I still hate it nowĒ.
This affects me too as I love the Persona games but 3 and 4 are VERY similar and appear from the early screenshots of P4 to share many common features and assets. People however do complain about the fact that Final Fantasy games for the most part are the same game but with different art styles, stories and characters (although some remain staples of the series such as Biggs, Wedge and Cid). I find this argument, while valid, to be somewhat thin on the ground because each game is set in its on bespoke universe with its own lore, myth and art direction. The people over at Square Enix make each title as a separate game and it really shows. If they recycle a battle system because it works well then all the better because it can make a great game amazing.
Mario games such as Super Mario Bros have always baffled me. Not because I am so ridiculously stupid that I canít beat the game, but because they are all very similar yet sell through the roof. This has been brought up time and again but why is it that Mario sells, and has always sold, really well when we are basically replaying the same game each time but paying more for the privilege with each successive generation of hardware? The games may have different stories but these are never continuous and are general isolated from other games. The NES and SNES Mario games all had similar looks (I am talking about the main series games and not the spin offs) and similar goals to achieve, but no one ever complained about this series being overly-familiar. Nowadays the home console Mario games are becoming more inventive and different but the portable ones never seem to change. Mario kart and Super Smash Bros seem to have the same problem, since their inception very little has changed apart from the switch to 3D for Mario Kart 64 and online for both of the titleís latest incarnations. At times they are hard to tell apart from an infrequent playerís perspective and even reviewers are noting this in their reviews, especially Mario Kart Wii. Is it possible the real reason we donít complain about the similarity of the Mario, and come to think of it most Nintendo titles are because we loved the original adventures of a (possibly latent homosexual) plumber? Does that little guy hold enough gravitas for us to blindly and unerringly hand over cash for his latest title? What separates the mind numbing same-ness of Nintendoís titles to that of any over developer?
There are many kinds of sequels and many different viewpoints, no one will ever agree on all things. The best I can do is give you my take on these things. I feel that sports games (because everyone wants to play as their favourite teamís current star player) and titles in a series of games that tell a continuous story should be allowed to have repetitive design (so there is continuity between the games). All other games should at the very least try to innovate and avoid repeating themselves as much as possible because otherwise to me, it becomes difficult to tell the titles apart. I realise this article will probably anger more people than it pleases, but these are just my opinions. They may be right or wrong in your opinion but that is something which you are entitled to as well. If I have, however, made arguments without logic then feel free to tell me, constructive criticism is always welcome. read