Video Game Franchises: How Many is Too Many?

A recent post on N'Gai Croal's Level Up blog over at Newsweek made me start thinking about vieo game franchises. The post is an exchange between Croal and Stephen Totilo over at MTV News, both of whom are excellent, intelligent video game writers. Their joint "Vs." post derived from talking about their impressions of the new Zelda game, Phantom Hourglass. Croal had, surprisingly, never played a Zelda game before, while Totilo had played pretty much all of them. Nonetheless, Totilo was a somewhat let down by this newest iteration, and is trying to figure out if he can blame Nintendo. He says:

I would like to blame Nintendo. I would like to blame them for not finding a way to get their wing of the gaming industry in step with the book, music and movie industry. George Lucas doesn't keep making new "Star Wars" movies for me year after year. . . Nintendo got Zelda just right a few times already. More than a few times. Can't they just keep re-releasing the really good ones, polishing them up for new platforms, and make some newer non-Zelda stuff? I've heard all the arguments about limited development resources, but I'm unconvinced that remaking Ocarina wouldn't net Nintendo more money and do a better job of solidifying what is great about the series than routinely iterating sequels. The era of Zelda-as-rough-draft is past.

I really like his analogy to Star Wars, but it made me think even more about the differences between movies and video games. There have been over a dozen Zelda games. Very few movie franchises achieve that number, and of those that do, most of the sequels generally suck. Take for example, Friday the 13th or Halloween. In fact, as something of a critical movie watcher, I generally despise sequels. Most movie sequels are cash-ins by the movie studios trying to make some more money on a popular or new franchise. For example Pirates of the Caribbean. The 2 sequels were basically just the first movie wrapped up in more special effects, longer, and with bigger stunts. Oh, and those three movies are based on a fucking amusement park ride.

But strangely enough, I LOVE looking forward to certain video game franchises. Super Mario Galaxy is released here in Japan on Thursday, and I've hardly been able to contain my enthusiasm for about a month. God only knows how many Mario games there have been, not even counting the innumerable spin-off series. I feel the same way about Zelda, Metroid, and to a lesser extent Castlevania. But Totilo raises an interesting point. Are these endless sequels of the most popular franchises just too much? They come out at least once per system, sometimes more. In fact, of the 3 new consoles, I chose to only own a Wii due to lack of time for video games. But I chose the Wii specifically because I love Nintendo's established franchises. But of course, I also love innovative new games. Why are my feelings so different as compared to movies?

Perhaps it's because some of these games, such as Galaxy or Phantom Hourglass, aren't true sequels so much has more innovative and unique versions of Mario and Zelda. As much as I hate movie sequels that haven't been planned out from the beginning, I will always look forward to the next Mario game. Maybe nostalgia has something to do with it?

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