Top 7 Ill-advised spin offs

Originally written for 7Bit Arcade, the original has since been taken down, this one has been edited to make it read better and stuff.

As easy as it is to moan about the death of originality and lack of new IPs, sometimes it’s just as simple to forget just how many great things have come from taking a tested idea and putting a new spin on it. Mario has more pies than fingers by now, Snake- sorry, Big Boss – has had some remarkable peace walking adventures and Donkey Kong got his own country. All thanks to the concept of spin-offs.

Shame that’s for a different article. Because today we’ll be looking at when things don’t go exactly to plan. Maybe the concept isn’t up to scratch or the execution let’s it down. Even for the games we couldn’t play, the history books haven’t been kind to them. Whatever the problem, here is the top seven games that were best left in the planning stage.

Metal Gear Acid

The launch of the PSP carried a lot of expectations back in 2005, but buried amongst the hype of Sony’s high profile console being hurled into the public arena was the launch of the first portable 3D Metal Gear game. But alas, E3 2004 happened and the world found out it was a turn-based card game.

Set in a semi-alternate timeline, Snake is called upon to save Senator Hach by infiltrating a secret military compound called “Pythagoras”. Not only does the storyline take place outside of the main game’s world, so too does the gameplay. As mentioned previously, it’s a turn-based card game – although one with a phenomenal amount of shooting – with the player given six cards that all have features that are related to the MGS universe in some way.

Why the ill advisement?

Acid is by no means a disaster. In fact, the focus on slow strategy meant that it could pull off the odd tense moment, where you stuck deciding between movement, stealth and action. But, the story – bizarrely out of the Metal Gear cannon – never truly makes a huge impact, as well as the fact that game’s lethargic nature means that you’re more likely to be spending time waiting for the computer to decide than actually playing the game.

As welcome as it is to see a fresh take on Kojima’s universe, MGS: Peace Walker proved that the handheld was capable of producing a true Metal Gear experience. By taking the Metal Gear name but divorcing it from pretty much everything we loved from the main series, Acid feels somewhat like the somewhat average child in a family full of geniuses.

CD-i Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda is – for some fans – Nintendo’s greatest franchise. The Ocarina of Time is usually spoken about with the same sort of reverence reserved for The Godfather, but the same could be said for any number of games in the series. Simply put, the only franchise that has rivalled it for quality is one involving an Italian Plumber.

But, did you know that it’s appeared on a non-Nintendo platform? The Philips CD-I is the only non-Nintendo home console in history that has had the pleasure to a house a Legend of Zelda game. Unfortunately, the circumstances in which it got the license to five of Nintendo’s characters is one that went on to ultimately shape a huge part of gaming history…

Why the ill advisement?

A double whammy of ill-advisement here, as the Nintendo deal with Philips to create a CD add-on for the SNES was the catalyst for Sony to get into the games market in the first place – the Playstation makers were originally meant to be creating the CD add-on for Nintendo, but they were snubbed for Philips instead- creating their biggest rival in the process. Secondly, Philips handed off the development of their Legend of Zelda to independent studios who were given a relatively low budget of $600’000 and roughly a year to work on it. This did not breed a quality game.

Thanks to Youtube, clips of these games live on in infamy, haunting the good name of Zelda and co. It didn’t help that the controls were reportedly extremely bad and that the voice acting in those cutscenes is laughably bad… Basically, the sheer lack of quality of these games almost masks the fact that they created Nintendo’s biggest rival in the console war. Almost.

Death By Degrees

Does the name Nina Williams mean anything to you? If so, then congratulations, you’ve either mistaken her for evil Nina off 24 or you know your Tekken. If it’s the second one, we’ll forgive you for trying to forget of this attempt to give Nina a chance to shine outside of the main series.

The game attempts to position her as a female Bond, hired by the CIA and MI6 to crash a fighting tournament and discover the secret plans of a company called Kometa. So let’s just go ahead and refer to it as Tekken’s Casino Royale and try to forget about the story and look at the game’s unique features, the analogue sticks being used for combat and the X-ray special moves that showed all manner of bones being broken.

Why the ill advisement?

Yes, we’ll be taking a look at them right under the ill-advisement banner. The story is merely an excuse to hang the gameplay onto something. The whole idea behind using the analogue sticks was to remove the feeling of button-mashing from third person beat-em-ups and it works… for a few minutes. Then the realisation hits that instead of button mashing, you’re stick swinging and replacing one repetitive gameplay hook for another is not evolution.

To rub some insult in that wound, you’ve then got to deal with the frankly ridiculous super moves. Watching Nina breaking limbs as if she had just graduated from Limb Snapington College is all kinds of fun – and six years before the Mortal Kombat reboot as well – but when these enemies show no signs of having their bones divided into two and carry on fighting perfectly fine afterwards, the system seems designed to simply show off some graphics. A decent concept ruined by some half-hearted execution.

Chocobo Racing

Chocobos are the adorable creatures that have made their way into most Final Fantasy games since the second one. Kart racing is the adorable genre that first came to prominence when Mario and his buddies hopped into their go-karts and drifted all the way into our hearts. Chocobo Racing is what happens when you mix all that adorable together. Colourful graphics, a tongue-in-cheek approach to the Final Fantasy universe and the chance to draw in an audience who may have never heard of Final Fantasy should have made this a winner…

Why the ill advisement?

Kart racing spin-offs are always going to be accused of trying to milk the plump cash cow. What separates the good from the bad is the ones that show a degree of understanding about the gamer they’re catered for. Mario has always been successful because its cast will delight hardcore fans of the series while its gameplay is able to enchant nearly everyone.

Chocobo Racing seems to forget that the majority of Final Fantasy fans are not interested in seeing whether a white mage can post a faster lap than a Chocobo, while it is obvious that the gameplay bar has been set so low that most gamers could finish the main storyline within a couple of hours of picking up the game. With no challenge and little incentive for anyone to pick it up, mark this one under shameless smash-‘n’-grab.

Mortal Kombat: Special Forces

During the original Playstation era, Midway was looking at how they could revive the success of Mortal Kombat on home consoles. John Tobias went off to work on a series of action-adventure games designed specifically for the home market and started off with the critically maligned but relative commercial success of MK Mythologies: Sub Zero.

Special Forces was meant to fill in the back story to Sonya and Jax, in a similar way to Sub-Zero’s adventure. However, it was designed to be in full 3D and, in an interview with IGN back in 1999, Tobias explained “It has similarities to Tomb Raider in its actual exploration and such but it’s not really like Tomb Raider.” So, a better engine, more development resources and the fact it’s a sequel should have given this one a fighting (see what we did there) chance?

Why the ill advisement?

While it would never have been a classic, Midway signed it’s death warrant by rushing it through production when several key developers left. Tobias, along with members, left to form his own studio and this left the game in a cripplingly unfinished state. Midway decided to finish it and release it as a budget game giving the world the worst Mortal Kombat game it’ll ever see.

As reviews noted, Sonya was removed from the storyline – which left the game with gaping plot holes – as well as problems with a camera that seemed to be designed to hinder the player and enemies that could appear from nowhere. The bargain price slapped on the game was probably damage limitation instead of kindness on Midway’s part.

Shadow of the Hedgehog

Stop me if you’ve read this line before, but you may have heard that the Sonic series never coped too well with 3D. Well before you recover from that shocking revelation, we’ll just quickly remind you that even if Sonic didn’t have too much luck with 3D, it could have been worse. He could have been Shadow.

The plot revolves around an amnesiac Shadow racing around areas with guns and trying to remember more than just his name. Yes, this is the era where Sonic characters had to talk and the games plots had to make no sense in the slightest.

Why the ill advisement?

It feels remarkably unfair to pick on Shadow any more, but to be honest, this was the inspiration behind the article, and so we would be doing you a disservice not to highlight some of the flaws. Firstly, the game’s whole attitude is bizarre, with the introduction of weapons feeling like a desperate attempt to drum up interest in the game.

Then comes the incredible attention to detail with the story. This is a game with ten (!) endings. A game that focuses on a speeding black hedgehog with a gun has more endings than The Return of the King, just you know… without a coherent script, anything approaching an engaging narrative and, I really hate to beat a dead horse, but a black hedgehog. With a gun.

Resident Evil Survivor

Resident Evil is a series that has been spun-off in so many directions, it must be pretty dizzy by now. The Mercenaries mode got its own 3DS game in 2011, Operation: Racoon City is nearly upon us and there’s light gun games on the Wii (Umbrella Chronicles) PS2 (Dead Aim) and PS1 (Survivor). It’s that last one that stands out though as being peculiarly weak point in the series.

Taking place during the events of the original of Racoon City, you play as an amnesiac man forced to venture deep into remains of the Umbrella facilities to discover your role in the events of the T-Virus outbreak. Sound decent? Well…

Why the ill-advisement?

Survivor is a true nightmarish experience when it comes to actually trying to play the game. Giving you a first person game, but asking you to control the character with a light-gun meant that movement in the game felt counter-intuitive. Trying to perform simple tasks –like walking – felt like a struggle for survival in itself, let alone actually trying to accomplish anything properly.

On top of that, the storyline was an insultingly obvious amnesia tale that lacked the punch of Nemesis and the accidentally cheesy humour of the original game. The only good that can be taken from this is that it paved way to the surprisingly good Wii titles.

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