It’s no secret that videogames are incredibly difficult to create, generally taking years of effort from large teams of programmers, artists, QA workers, and more. Even if a game is a hit, this success brings on the next challenge, a sequel. While follow-ups frequently start with a technical and mechanical foundation that can alleviate some production troubles, they also come with their own baggage. Whether it’s meeting the hype generated by endless PR machines, determining how to continue a story without undermining what came before, or implementing clever ways to make things come across as “bigger” without feeling bloated, sequels face a variety of problems that can send even the most successful series careening into an abyss (until a remake comes along). Sometimes the shockwaves of an unsuccessful entry can kill franchises, studios, competitive scenes, and sub-genres altogether. Here are five game sequels that were letdowns in one of these ways or more.
PlatinumGames has delivered some of the most memorably absurd action titles in recent memory, and the Bayonetta series has long been a mission statement for the studio’s brand of bombast. The first two entries were defined by elegant brawls, a surplus of style, and some of the most hilariously turned-to-eleven set pieces imaginable, full of battles with celestial beings and duels set on top of ballistic missiles. While Bayonetta 3 maintains the excellent central gameplay of its predecessors, one of its most glaring issues is that in attempting to make things feel larger in scope, each level is packed with detours that dilute time spent with its well-crafted combat systems. Many of these sections are optional, but a sizable chunk of the mandatory stuff is also built around platforming, puzzles, shoot-em-up sequences, and other gimmicks. And even when you find a place to scrap, many of its fights are either over too soon, challenge stages built around frustrating objectives, or have you play as other characters with far less gratifying movesets than Bayonetta. The entire experience feels like it lacks confidence in one of its greatest strengths, its flashy combat. While these games have always been full of weird one-off segments, here it feels like the balance finally tipped, leaving a vanishingly small slice of time for the main event.
And if all this wasn’t enough to spoil the experience, its storytelling takes a major dive as well, doing many of its characters dirty as it cashes in on the multiverse craze. We flash between alternate dimensions in a whiplash of downer vignettes, an odd tonal departure from a series defined by high-octane thrills, as we arrive at unsatisfying resolutions for nearly every character relationship. Bayonetta 3 is a blast when it gives its well-crafted central action the spotlight, but so much time is spent engaging with lackluster segments and sub-par storytelling that it doesn’t shine as brightly as what came before.
Resident Evil 5
Resident Evil 4 is arguably one of the most influential games ever made, redefining the third-person shooter genre while also altering the trajectory of horror titles for years to come. In many ways, it was unlikely for Resident Evil 5 to live up to its accomplished predecessor, but several of its design decisions didn’t help its case either. While the fourth mainline entry in the series balanced scares with an increased focus on action, the fifth went all in on the latter, abandoning its last vestiges of survival horror in pursuit of upping the ante. The result feels unremarkable compared to the other meathead shooters of the era, its emphasis on cooperative play and guns-blazing showdowns killing any hope for a frightening atmosphere. If Resident Evil 4 put survival horror on life-support, its follow-up suplexed the genre into submission, leaving me missing the artfully placed fixed camera angles, tense exploration, and diminishing resources of its forebears. While pushing things in a new direction can be a commendable goal, Resident Evil 5 wasn’t up to snuff in the action-horror department either. It couldn’t recreate the thrills of its predecessor, and its only solution to making things more frenetic was to throw larger numbers of zombies at you while trotting out the previous game’s greatest hits, like its chainsaw-wielding foes, in a lackluster attempt at conjuring that same rush.
While it’s not the worst installment in these games and it does have some charms, such as the anime excesses of a certain boulder punching sequence, it signaled that the immediate future of the series and the genre as a whole was towards unrelenting action instead of something more haunting. Horror is diverse and has room for many different styles, but after Resident Evil 4 and its sequel, it briefly seemed like everything would be pulled into its orbit. Thankfully, in the long run, the genre proved more resilient.
After Bungie’s divorce from Microsoft and the Halo franchise, 343 Studios had big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, in the years since, the series has been unable to recapture the cultural relevance it once commanded, and issues with Halo 4, 343’s freshman effort, foreshadowed this listless future. The game’s central problem is that it drowned in the tides of a changing FPS market, awkwardly splicing its existing formula with fast-paced twitch shooter elements inspired by Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Specifically, movement speed was increased, and the time it took to kill an enemy was lowered, increasing the tempo across the board. One of the central appeals of Halo compared to other shooters at the time was that you had a beefy health bar to work with, making it possible to stage a comeback even if your opponent got the drop on you. A perfectly placed grenade or a few quick headshots could quickly negate a deficit, making each scuffle engaging. But after things were sped up, ambushes and quick deaths became more of the norm. Other changes, like additional “bullet magnetism” on sniper rifles, made it so that it was easier to pull off shots that used to take more of a time investment to perform, leading to some frustrating situations. While it’s understandable that 343 felt they needed to make changes to keep the series relevant, these switches undermined its core identity. On top of this, even by this franchise’s standards, its story sometimes felt like an incomprehensible word salad of proper nouns that required encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise’s backstory to decipher. When they weren’t prattling on about convoluted plans, the new enemy faction, the Prometheans, were a chore to battle due to their durability and aerial mobility.
In the coming years, other Halo games would struggle in similar ways to Halo 4, unable to keep themselves relevant amidst a shifting FPS landscape. Halo 5’s online multiplayer was defined by an egregious loot box system, while Halo Infinite would have a hard time pivoting to a free-to-play model. Although Infinite reverted many of the previously described gameplay problems to great effect, it has struggled to retain players due to its slow rollout of new maps, issues with its online modes, unrewarding battle pass systems, and other games-as-a-service woes. This has all culminated in Microsoft reportedly moving towards a “reboot” of the studio after a round of layoffs, with a new engine, leadership structure, and multiplayer-oriented approach planned. Instead of defining shooter trends like it once did, in the last decade, Halo has somewhat unsuccessfully chased the success of others in the space, a habit that reared its head with Halo 4.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
While the others on this list doomed studios, mega-hit franchises, and genres, Super Smash Bros. Brawl foreshadowed Nintendo’s hostility towards the grassroots competitive scene that arose around the series. Although design decisions for Brawl obviously weren’t made out of malice towards those who loved the previous game, from the perspective of someone who spent far too much time with Super Smash Bros. Melee, it felt like an intentional pivot from the elements that made its predecessor so enduring. Despite being packed with characters, modes, and loving odes to the many titles it borrowed from, the sequel felt stiff and limiting to play. Specifically, movement speed was slowed and advanced mechanics like “wavedashing” and “L-canceling” were removed. While there was a great deal of expressivity in how you could maneuver Melee’s characters and endless depth in its mechanics, its follow-up lacked these elements. However, in many ways, these alterations made some amount of sense. Super Smash Bros. was designed to be more approachable than traditional fighting games, so the idea that Brawl didn’t cater to those who had spent hundreds of hours cracking open the intricacies of Melee isn’t surprising. Still, some changes were annoying even when removed from a more competitive context, such as the inclusion of “tripping,” where every time you perform a dash, there is a 1% chance to fall over randomly, or balance issues such as how Meta Knight was far too overtuned at all levels of play.
However, while design decisions around Brawl indicated an understandable disinterest in the competitive scene from its developers, it was eventually revealed the larger company’s motivations were more outright hostile towards this scene. Lingering tensions would flare up years later when Super Smash Bros. Melee was slated to return to EVO in 2013, one of the biggest fighting game tourneys in the world. After fans raised almost $100,000 for breast cancer research to get it included at the event, Nintendo stepped in, threatening to pursue legal action if it was featured. The exact reason for their confrontational posture has never been outright stated, but many have speculated that the company wants to ensure the limelight is only ever placed on their latest full-price game. While the backlash over opposing the result of a charity drive eventually caused Nintendo to back down, the company’s distaste for this grassroots competitive scene has persisted for the last decade. Recently they shut down the Smash World Tour, a circuit which was slated to feature the largest prize pool of any Smash Bros. tournament ever. While these woes can’t entirely be tied to Brawl, this was the title where significant tensions between the company’s interests and the competitive scene became noticeable, indicating a tumultuous future.
After years of anticipation, Bioshock Infinite was released to commercial and critical success. It was praised for its immersive world and storytelling, which lived up to the mighty legacy of the original, at least according to those who reviewed it at the time. It was also a hit and would go on to sell over 11 million copies. However, despite achieving these barometers for success, it was the final project developed by the acclaimed studio Irrational Games. In the years since its release, the full extent of its messy development cycle has been laid bare, revealing how the management style of its creative director, Ken Levine, led to massive amounts of scrapped work, which strained relations within the team and with Irrational’s publisher 2K Games. After Infinite finally shipped, Levine announced that almost the entirety of the staff would be laid off, with the survivors forming what was essentially a new studio, Ghost Story Games. Close to 10 years later, they still haven’t released a game, although they recently put out a teaser for something that is apparently slated for 2025.
In addition to being associated with killing the acclaimed studio that birthed it, Infinite also had its share of problems. Even at the time, many elements of its core loop felt like a step back from the open-ended qualities of Bioshock, such as its limited arsenal of weapons and its more linear layout. While these elements were criticized at release, its deeper thematic issues would become even more glaring with time, and critics like Ed Smith noted that its narrative created a false equivalency between the evils of American racism, imperialism, and consumerism with those who are fighting back against these forces. While Bioshock is up-front in its disapproval of Randian objectivism, its follow-up lands itself in an ideology of soupy centrism by portraying both sides in its conflict as “equally bad.” Bioshock Infinite not only leveled a talented studio, but its messaging left a sour taste that has only aged worse with time.
Elijah Gonzalez is a former games intern for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing the latest indies and AAAs, he also loves film, anime, lit, and creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.