Whatever the medium, pulling off a successful reboot of an established brand is a tricky proposition. Creators have to deliver a product that not only will be embraced by existing fans of that specific property, but also introduce enough new ideas to justify doing the reboot in the first place. This is especially tricky in gaming, where fans often want to see their favorite series go in bold new directions, but still retain their “classic” feel.
Fortunately, gamers have been spoiled with excellent reboots in recent years, with titles like Tomb Raider, Wolfenstein, and Doom successfully modernizing gameplay formulas that were starting to look old and stale. However, those aren’t the games I’m highlighting here, but rather the reboots that, for whatever reason, failed to breathe new life into their respective franchises and ultimately held them back from being successfully revived.
15. DMC: Devil May Cry (2013)
DmC can be read as a cautionary tale for what happens when a reboot strays too far from the spirit of the original. Developed by Ninja Theory, DmC: Devil May Cry was meant to be a re-imagination of the brand, with a different character design for series protagonist Dante and gameplay that was reminiscent, but different, from the intricate combat system established in the previous four Devil May Cry games. While I personally think DmC is a very good game in its own right, many fans were not on the same page and criticized Capcom heavily for its decision to change things so drastically.
In addition to Dante’s new look, one of the most common criticisms leveled against DmC was that it didn’t offer the same level of depth or challenge as previous games. Despite the game’s critical reception being quite positive overall and Capcom claiming to be “very happy” with sales, it seems likely that the next Devil May Cry (if there is one) will ditch the rebooted universe and return to the franchise’s roots.
14. NFL Blitz (2012)
The original NFL Blitz is a beloved classic that offered a more light-hearted, arcade-style football experience to the more simulation approach offered by series like Madden and (at the time) NFL 2K. Unfortunately, subsequent Blitz titles didn’t leave as much of an impression, primarily due to the absence of the NFL license. Following Midway’s bankruptcy in 2009, EA picked up the rights to the Blitz franchise, meaning that they could reinstate the NFL license, which is exactly what they did with the 2012 NFL Blitz reboot.
Unfortunately, a new coat of graphical paint is about all the NFL Blitz reboot had going for it, as it was virtually identical to the original game and a watered down one at that. The NFL requested that late hits, a popular feature in the original game, be removed for the reboot due to the league’s hard stance on player health and safety — an understandable move that unfortunately robbed the game of much of its over-the-top style and made it feel closer to a Madden title than it really should have been.
13. Medal of Honor (2010)
In an attempt to piggyback off the Call of Duty franchise’s success in transitioning out of the World War II shooter genre with the Modern Warfare series, EA decided to bring Medal of Honor— another first-person shooter brand that had been solely WWII-focused up to that point — into modern times in 2010 with the release of the simply-titled Medal of Honor. This reboot focused on warfare in the Middle East; specifically, the War in Afghanistan and featured a surprisingly interesting plot involving the operations of an elite Tier 1 Navy SEAL squad.
However, as a shooter, Medal of Honor left much to be desired, as even though both its single player and multiplayer offerings were solid, they still paled in comparison to what Call of Duty was offering at the time. While other FPS franchises like Battlefield were able to carve out their own niche against the COD juggernaut, Medal of Honor offered an experience that was too similar to the competition, giving players little reason to jump ship. The sequel, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, was a worse experience on pretty much every level and its critical and commercial failure effectively put the franchise on hiatus.
12. Turok (2008)
No one would mistake the Turok games as a top-tier franchise but the Nintendo 64 titles in particular hold a special place in many gamers’ hearts. In 2008, Propaganda Games released a re-imagining of the N64 original that looked and played like many first-person shooters of the day, only with more dinosaurs to shoot.
Unfortunately, stealth-killing a group of raptors only goes so far when the rest of the game is bogged down with poor level design, ugly graphics and a plot that goes out the window after the first act. Underneath all the dino-killing, Turok was just another generic shooter and despite being a commercial success, a planned sequel was ultimately cancelled following the closure of Propaganda Games in 2011 and the franchise has been dormant ever since.
11. Bionic Commando (2009)
The original Bionic Commando, released on the NES, was a unique side-scrolling platformer in that it didn’t have a jump button and was instead built around the main character’s — with the awesome name of Nathan “Rad” Spencer — grappling hook ability. It took 22 years but a proper reboot was finally released in 2009. Re-imagined as a third-person action game, the Bionic Commando reboot was surprisingly decent, with the game’s 3D environments greatly expanding the functionality of Nathan’s bionic arm’s grappling ability.
A ridiculous late-game plot twist notwithstanding, Bionic Commando successfully paid homage to the original game while and introducing some new ideas of its own. That being said, the game sold very poorly, which pretty much ruined any chances of a sequel. The other main issue was that Bionic Commando Rearmed, a remake of the original game released a year prior, is arguably the better game and remains the franchise’s high point.
10. Alone in the Dark (2008)
The original Alone in the Dark has the distinction of being the first ever 3D survival horror game and helped lay the groundwork for more popular franchises in the genre like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. With that kind of pedigree, it’s no surprise that the 2008 reboot was met with considerable anticipation from fans of the original prior to its release. Sadly, developer Eden Games must not have paid attention to advances in the survival horror genre in the intervening years, as their episodic game turned out to be a glitchy, frustrating mess that screamed “budget title.”
Featuring bad controls, repetitive combat, and an overly convoluted plot, it’s little surprise that Alone in the Dark was met with much critical disdain and only modest sales. Making matters worse, Atari threatened several European websites with lawsuits for publishing reviews with average to low scores, arguing that the publications must have downloaded the game illegally and didn’t have the final version, which only further hurt the game’s reputation.
9. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (2008)
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a good game … if you can accept that it isn’t a proper sequel to the N64 classics. Released on Xbox 360 in 2008, Nuts & Bolts shifts focus away from the 3D platforming gameplay of Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel Banjo-Tooie and centers the game around vehicle construction and racing challenges. While this decision proved that developer Rare wasn’t interested in resting on its laurels, the vehicle-based gameplay divided fans, with some writing off the game completely for largely abandoning its platforming roots.
Sequels are often criticized when they don’t do enough to change up the gameplay formula established in previous installments but in the case of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Rare arguably went too far with their objective to offer a different type of experience and coincidentally, there hasn’t been a new entry in the franchise since.
8. Space Raiders (2002)
A little while ago, I had the thought that it was weird how we’ve never seen anyone try to reboot the iconic Space Invaders and then I discovered that someone already did … and it turned out very poorly. Released in 2002 for PS2 and GameCube, Space Raiders is essentially Space Invaders re-imagined as a third-person shooter.
Unfortunately, multiple playable characters and additional modes do little to disguise the fact that Space Raiders is an ugly, repetitive game that fails to make a case for why Space Invaders being rebooted in the first place. In a way, it’s fitting that Space Raiders doesn’t use the Space Invaders name, as the game bears little resemblance to the original and is easily one of the worst re-imaginings of a retro game ever made.
7. Shadowrun (2007)
Released on the SNES back in 1993, the original Shadowrun developed a strong cult following on the back of its winning mixture of RPG elements and table top strategy games. After a few sequels, the franchise went on a long hiatus and by the mid-2000s, many fans had given up hope of there being another installment. Unfortunately, their wish was granted with a game that totally missed the point.
Released in 2007 for Xbox 360 and PC, FASA Studio’s Shadowrun abandoned the series’ RPG roots and instead turned into a online multiplayer first-person shooter. Most fans didn’t appreciate the change in genre and the game’s community quickly died off. Fortunately, as the title implies, 2013’s Shadowrun Returns returned to being a tactical RPG and received positive reviews from fans and critics alike.
6. Dungeon Keeper (2014)
The original Dungeon Keeper games offered a solid mix of strategy and humor, and while the series was never a big name, it certainly deserved better than the creatively bankrupt reboot treatment EA gave it. The publisher took the niche franchise and turned it into a shallow mobile game that amounted to little more than a microtransaction-laden cash grab. Even calling it a game is being generous, as the only real gameplay system is bashing your head against the numerous on-screen pop-ups demanding the player to cough up more money.
Representing the worst trends in “free-to-play” gaming all wrapped up into an experience that would have been mediocre even without all the in-app purchases, Dungeon Keeper didn’t breathe new life into the franchise but rather punctured its lungs, ensuring it will never breathe again.
5. Golden Axe: Beast Rider (2008)
The original Golden Axe was a classic side-scrolling beat ’em up for the Sega Genesis that spawned several sequels before going on a long hiatus. Sega finally resurrected it in 2009 with Golden Axe: Beast Rider, representing the first 3D game in the series. Unfortunately, this is one franchise that probably should have stayed in the Genesis era, as Beast Rider is an utter mess of a game from top to bottom.
A third-person action game in the style of God of War and Devil May Cry, Beast Rider’s combat system is overly simplistic and repetitive, especially when measured against those franchises. Really though, it’s Beast Rider’s poor production values that kill it, as the game is just an ugly, janky mess. If you’ve never played a Golden Axe game, I’d suggest avoiding this one like the plague and sticking to the retro installments.
4. Bomberman: Act Zero (2006)
Falling firmly into the drastic change school of reboot design, Bomberman: Act Zero has become infamous for its failed attempts to modernize a familiar franchise by turning into a gritty, “mature” experience. The developers of Act Zero took the cutesy aesthetic of prior Bomberman games and turned it into a violent game set in a dystopian future, which maybe wouldn’t have been so bad if the gameplay was any good. Although Act Zero maintains the same overhead perspective found in previous games, it does so in the most repetitive way possible, throwing players into essentially the same map design over and over with little in the way of variety.
Understandably, developer Hudson Soft got the message and has returned to the original visual aesthetic for all of its subsequent Bomberman games. The most recent entry, Super Bomberman R for the Nintendo Switch, may not be the most mind-blowing game, but it’s still miles ahead of whatever the heck Act Zero was trying to be.
3. Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)/Sonic Boom (2014)
Sonic reboots have been so bad over the years, I had to include two separate games for this entry. The first, 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog, truly requires no introduction, as the title is well-recognized for being one of the worst games ever made. Sonic’s never had the greatest luck in 3D but this game is uniquely terrible in the way it handles the Blue Blur. The camera is useless, the controls are messed up, the loading times are atrocious and the story (if you can call it that) is full of awkward moments of implied bestiality.
Released eight years later, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric shares many of the same issues as other 3D Sonic games, but with the additional insult of featuring truly horrendous character designs. I don’t know what the developers’ idea of “cool” is but making Sonic oddly proportioned and giving him a scarf is not the answer. Fortunately, Sega continues to pump out new Sonic games at a pretty rapid pace, so we’re bound to get a truly great one eventually … right?
2. Duke Nukem Forever (2011)
While technically a sequel to Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem Forever is essentially a reboot for the series too when you consider that it took a whopping 15 years to make. That being said, with the way the finished product turned out, this is one franchise that should have stayed dead. The problem with Duke Nukem Forever is that it’s a relic of a bygone era in pretty much every way imaginable.
Even if you’re someone who appreciates its crass, offensive humor, it’s hard to ignore just what a mediocre shooter Duke Nukem is. The game is riddled with bad load times, dated graphics, and level design that simply couldn’t compete with what other shooters were offering at the time. The successful reboots of other classic shooters like Wolfenstein and Doom in recent years prove that you can make legitimately good remakes of older games, so Duke Nukem Forever really had no excuse for how poorly it turned out.
1. SimCity (2013)
Released in 1989, the original SimCity was an important simulation game that spawned an entire franchise of other “Sim” games and arguably paved the way for popular creation games such as Minecraft. As such, the 2013 reboot was highly anticipated by longtime fans of the series eager to dive into a modernized version of the game that let them build cityscapes to their hearts’ content. Early buzz for the game and its impressive GlassBox engine was positive but some critics worried that about EA’s decision to require the use of a persistent online connection in order to play.
As it turns out, they were right to be worried as SimCity was almost completely broken at launch, with many players unable to play the game at all due to frequent network outages and poor server connections. Things got so bad that some publications flat out refused to review the game (because they couldn’t even play it) and urged consumers to hold off on purchasing it altogether until EA figured out the network problems.
While SimCity was a massive disappointment, it didn’t take long for the void it left to be filled, as Colossal Order’s Cities: Skylines arrived on the scene a couple years later and — along with actually working as intended — did many things better than SimCity anyway, rendering the latter game’s existence essentially pointless and throwing the continued viability of the SimCity franchise into question.
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