Some video game series enjoy long and prosperous runs, filled with blockbuster sales and critical acclaim. However, even our favorite franchises miss a beat here and there. For every Rocky, there is a Rocky V, and for every Empire Strikes Back there’s a Phantom Menace. Here are the five best – and worst – games in some of our favorite series.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back vs. Crash Bandicoot: Wrath of Cortex
In the late 1990s, Crash Bandicoot was the de facto mascot for the PlayStation brand, and his games turned developer Naughty Dog (Uncharted, The Last of Us) into one of the biggest names in the business. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, released in 1997, remains the pinnacle of the series, perfecting the run-and-jump formula of the original while balancing the difficulty, fixing some of the wonky camera angles, and otherwise bringing the series from “great” to “all-time classic” status.
After Naughty Dog finished its run on the series with Crash 3: Warped and Crash Team Racing, Eurocom developed a party game spin-off, Crash Bash. A new mainline platforming entry didn’t come until 2001’s Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, developed by Traveler’s Tales, the studio that would later go on to create Lego Star Wars.
At its best, Wrath of Cortex comes close to capturing a facsimile of the magic of Crash’s PS1 glory days, with linear platforming levels broken up with gimmicky special stages (the Hamster Ball-styled levels are a standout). Unfortunately, the game lacks the Naughty Dog era’s precise control, with Crash himself feeling slow and heavy, with a weirdly floaty jump. The traditional platforming levels are huge and complex, but there are so few of them. Many prominently featured tough-to-control vehicles like planes, jeeps, submarines, and a mech suit, none of which feel particularly good to play.
After Wrath of Cortex, the series spiraled out of control, delving into 3D open world territory with Twinsanity (novel, but unpolished and buggy as hell), and a more combat-oriented approach with Crash of the Titans and Mind Over Mutant. All of these games failed to win back the crowd, and earned increasingly dismal critical scores at Game Informer: The Naughty Dog entries all scored 9 or above, Wrath of Cortex barely scraped by with a 6.75, and the most recent entry, Mind Over Mutant, bombed with a dismal 4.75. The bandicoot has been mostly silent since then, and time will tell if the upcoming N. Sane Trilogy collection by Activision studio Vicarious Visions will restore Crash to his former glory.
Devil May Cry 3 vs. Devil May Cry 2
In the old days, Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, and Final Fight were the biggest names in the bare-knuckle beat-em-up genre, but as technology moved on, the genre expanded into the realm of spectacular 3D visuals and stylishly over-the-top violence. Games like Ninja Gaiden and God of War are the successors to the old-school brawlers, but few can match the pure adrenaline of Devil May Cry. Capcom’s vaguely hack ‘n’ slash adventure featured an addictive combat system; we all remember the first time we launched an enemy into the air and juggled them with a barrage of gunfire from protagonist Dante’s twin pistols, Ebony and Ivory. The first game was a trail-blazing classic, and the third game, a prequel, perfected the formula, allowing the player to switch between fighting styles on-the-fly, greatly expanding Dante’s offensive capabilities. To top it all off, the game told a story which was sincere and silly in equal measure.
And then there’s Devil May Cry 2, the proverbial red-headed stepchild of the franchise. In his review of the DMC HD Collection, our own Joe Juba said the compilation brought together “two great games for one great price. Also, Devil May Cry 2.”
After the success of the first game, Capcom sought to tighten up the experience by addressing the perceived flaws of the original title – the unrepentant difficulty, relatively small environments, and Dante’s laid-back attitude in the face of demonic threats. Unfortunately, DMC2 suffers from a textbook case of overcompensation, and the numerous deviations from the original crippled the game. The difficulty was significantly toned down, and encounters were reduced to boring slogs with little challenge or player urgency. While the setting of the first game could get repetitive, the new setting for DMC2, Dumary Island, is bland and devoid of personality. The developers attempted to enhance combat by pulling the camera out and giving players more room to kick butt, but the plan backfired, with sparse, empty environments lending a lifeless aura to the proceedings. Dante became uncharacteristically stoic, and his dull dialogue was a far cry from his stupid/awesome one-liners from the original – say it with me: “Flock off, feather face!”
Devil May Cry 2 was never officially removed from the canon, but DMC3 was a prequel, DMC4 took place after the original but way before the first sequel, and then the series was rebooted with DMC: Devil May Cry. This leaves DMC2 stranded at the end of an abandoned continuity, a distant epilogue generally ignored by all but the most forgiving fanatics.
Final Fantasy VI vs. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
What’s your favorite Final Fantasy game? Don’t answer that – I don’t need that kind of blood on my hands in the comments section. There’s no “right” answer to that question. So many entries have compelling arguments, from the pure grind of the 1987 original, to the complex and rewarding Job System of V, to generation-defining titles like VII and X, which pushed the limits of storytelling in video games. More often than not, the title that rises to the top is VI (originally released in the U.S. as Final Fantasy III, because localization is weird). Final Fantasy VI is still regarded as one of the greatest games of all time, thanks to its deep characterization, unpredictable plot twists, intricate RPG systems, and open-ended storytelling in its second half, where the narrative goes non-linear and the player is left to explore the World of Ruin at their own pace and decide how the endgame plays out.
Standing in stark contrast to VI is XIII, which takes away any illusion of player control over the world and instead forces them down what is essentially a long corridor for 40-plus hours. Making matters worse is the fact that the upgrade system, the Chrystarium, functions as a way-too-simple version of the Sphere Grid from FFX, with the added insult of intermittent level caps which are raised slowly as a reward for progress in the main story. By the time the party reaches Pulse and is given the ability to take on side quests by consulting mission-giving crystals, it feels like a half-assed consolation prize.
Things don’t get better in the sequel, XIII-2, which theoretically opens up the narrative with more non-linear progression and the lifting of the level cap. The battle system is simplified, and most encounters up to the final dungeon can be conquered with brute force, making character roles like Sentinel, Synergist, and Saboteur all but useless in 99 percent of situations. Lightning Returns changed up the formula and earned a degree of success among some fans, but it also added a poorly-implemented Majora’s Mask-esque time-limit which alienated much of the community. While Lightning Returns has its supporters, most appreciated the game solely for the opportunity to close the book on XIII and never look back.
Next: Resident Evil takes a turn for the worse, and Sonic flies off the rails like a train wreck in slow motion.