Five Played Out Franchises that Desperately Need to Take a Break
The gaming industry is big business. While we might like to think of our hobby as somehow purer or more innocent than other corporate enterprises, when sales stretch
into the billions and massive corporations become the shepherds of our favorite series, some exploitation is inevitable. Nowhere is that more true than in the five
franchises listed below, once-beloved gaming icons that have been stretched almost fatally thin and desperately need to take a break and consider what made them so
successful in the first place.
In his heyday, Sonic was the face of a company and a generation, the mouthy, irreverent foil to Mario's stodgy silliness. Whether you liked the blinding speed and
blistering action of his side scrolling adventures or not, you knew his name, and you couldn't escape his face on cartridges, cereal boxes, or Saturday morning
Now, however, Sega has been trying to reinvent Sonic and make him relevent again for almost twice as long as he was actually popular. There was the Tails era, Dark
Sonic, attempts to shoehorn in some 3D, and finally the flailing attempts to recapture the magic of the 2D games on a new generation of consoles. But Sonic, like the
Noid or the Kook-Aid Guy, was the definition of a mascot cemented in a specific point in time, and there's no going back. It's less that Sonic needs a break to
reevaluate, and more that Sonic needs to be finally, gracefully retired. Stop mining (and in the process tarnishing) our nostalgia, Sega, and give the old blue wonder
the rest he so richly deserves.
Megaman and Sonic share a lot of common ground. They're both blue relics from the 8-bit era, both looming legends that had their fifteen minutes of fame, both cartoon
stars that sold an embarrassing volume of merchandise. And they both represent thoroughly exhausted franchises that belong in the archives of gaming's illustrious
history, not in watered down appearances that seemed designed to exploit our childhoods.
While attempts to resurrect the versatile blue blaster haven't flown quite as far off the rails as they have in Sonic's case, they've been prolific and similar enough
to leave us with a nearly permanent case of Megaman fatigue. Especially now, in an era where every other indie title seems partially inspired by Megaman's legacy,
there's no room left for yet another tired take on the shooter-platforming that seemed so novel in the mid-80s.
3. Gears of War
While we're quite sure we'll see a glut of Gears games on the Xbox One, we can't help but be charmed by the idea that the Gears of War franchise will be left in the
360 stable: the franchise that defined a console. One of the killer apps that first whipped up excitement for Microsoft's second machine, the trilogy of games that
stretched throughout the 360s life cycle was one of the cornerstones of the console's whirlwind success.
But by the end of Gears 3, you could feel fatigue creeping in. You can only take cover behind so many pillars, only chainsaw a locust into a pile of bloody gibs so
many times, before it all starts to feel a bit bland. By the time Gears of War: Vengeance rolled around, we felt like we'd done our part in saving Sera for humanity,
and even with it's kitchen sink approach of countless modes and skins and multiplayer, it all felt stale and used up. It's time for Gears to step aside, at least for
a bit, give the creative minds at Epic time to breathe some new life into those dusty lungs, and let another franchise takes up the banner.
2. Call of Duty
It should surprise no one to see a popular Activision franchise getting milked until it's a withered, desiccated husk (see: Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk), and while there
may still be a bit of meat left on CoD's sagging bones, it's getting thinner and thinner.
Way back when Call of Duty was primarily a PC series and set during the second World War, it wowed us with its massive set-pieces and chaotic, explosive, immersive
action. And when the series stepped into the modern era, it redefined multiplayer shooting on consoles and won legions of new recruits, from die-hard shooter brahs to
people who'd never heard the term FPS before in their lives.
But the yearly grind, even spread across two teams doing very different work, is eroding what once made Call of Duty great into a thin, regurgitated paste. Each year,
the feature list gets a little sillier, epitomized by the marketing for Ghosts that calls out highlights like reactive fish AI. Though we know how unlikely it is
under Activision's callous stewardship, we believe Call of Duty could be great again, if only it could slip away for a couple years of much needed vacation. We saw in
the transition from WWII to modern combat how a tired series could be revitalized, but working that kind of magic on a brutal yearly release schedule would be nearly
We know: in many circles putting Mario at the top of this list is borderline sacrilege. But take a moment and consider: when was the last time you played a Mario game
that captured even a bit of the exhilarating wonder of the golden age of NES and SNES Mario games? For us, the answer is simple: it was the last time we played Super
Mario Bros. 3.
Now, we're certainly not saying that every modern Mario game has been a flop. There have been some terrific spin-offs, and even some of the "core" games have been
serviceable, if not particularly revolutionary. But because of the way Mario and Nintendo have become synonymous, we've seen so much of the red clad plumber in so many
Nintendo products that just the sight of him now makes us a little bit sleepy.
In a lot of ways, Mario represents how Nintendo is trapped in its own past, still leaning heavily on a franchise from the 1980s to sell consoles in 2013. If the
company is going to escape the hole it's currently digging for itself, it's going to need some fresh ideas, and that starts by giving Mario and company a break and
letting someone else shoulder the burden for a while. Both as a franchise and as an emblem for the entire company, Mario needs to take a step back, or Nintendo's long
reign may finally, sadly, end.