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When It's Hard to Count Past Three
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on December 01, 2005   |   Episode 8 (Show Archive)  

It's a fact of life, nobody likes to age. Every year Americans spend millions of dollars on soaps, creams, pills, sprays, and paints that will make them look younger. But what if you're a video game? What if you're a franchise that doesn't want to look old? One that doesn't want to seem dated, or inaccessible to new gamers? Like real life, you lie about your age, or just ignore it all together. Over the last quarter century, video games have done everything they can to reinvent themselves, to bring new gamers in without telling them just how long they've been around. The most common way of doing this is to stop counting your sequels, and the magic number seems to be THREE. For some strange reason video games tend to count to three, and then completely forget about the numbers all together. This tactic, I've found, allows the company to be rather sneaky about what they do with your favorite series, not to mention allows for some mass confusion. In an attempt to get to the bottom of this trend, I trying finding rhyme and reason game by game, and you may be surprised by what've I've uncovered. Oddly enough, it's often the most popular franchises that have the hardest time coming to grips with the fourth game. Like Super Mario Bros., which had no problems getting to three, but couldn't quite make the leap from there. Essentially the Super NES launch title Super Mario World is Super Mario Bros. 4, but it never had the number, and would At least we didn't have to endure four Super Mario Bros. movies!! always live its life never knowing whether it was part of the series or just a side quest. Now that the games are in 3D, it seems even more unlikely we'll see a Super Mario Bros. 4. Will we ever learn what happened to Bowser's children and their flying machines? Will we ever revisit the giant worlds of Super Mario Bros. 3? Will we ever use a raccoon suit or hammer brothers suit again? All these questions could be answered, but Nintendo seems to like to avoid the number four. Taking Nintendo's lead, Sega decided to cap the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise at three. Oh sure, there were future Sonic sequels, but none carried that illusive "Sonic the Hedgehog 4" title. Once the series went 3D Sega turned it into Sonic Adventure, and when that didn't work, they created the Sonic Heroes franchise. When you look at Sega's track record you realize that Sonic may have some company. Golden Axe, Sega's popular fantasy/arcade game, was like Sonic and found its way to part three, but since then it's been a bumpy road. Sega has released updates, including The Duel and Revenge of Death Adder, but there seems to be a magical force keeping us from experiencing the fourth game. "Don't worry about it, I'm protected. This bright white and red outfit should keep me hidden in all dark passages!" This trend is affecting even new games. When Sega's most famous ninja, Shinobi, was revived on the PlayStation 2, Sega opted to reset the name instead of giving it a sequel title. They had already worked their way up to a Shinobi III, but PlayStation 2 owners would know this sequel strictly as Shinobi. To make matters worse, the sequel to the new Shinobi is called Nightshade (and Kunoichi in Japan), further separating it from the series. Unfortunately it's not just Sega's ninja games, it appears to be ALL ninja games. Just look at Temco's Ninja Gaiden franchise. After a mildly successful arcade game, Temco made a name for themselves in the 1990s by releasing three story-based action games that combined great platform action with weapons and magic. But here we are, the 21st century and there's no sign of the Ninja Gaiden 4. Oh, don't get excited, there's a new Ninja Gaiden game coming out, but like Sega'a Shinobi, Temco has decided to reset the name and simply call it Ninja Gaiden. Not Ninja Gaiden: Terror at Ming Palace, or Ninja Gaiden Solid, or whatever ... it's just called Ninja Gaiden. Like all the other games we talk about, this leads us to an interesting problem. Are we to believe that Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, and any other game that resets their name, have also reset the story? They are not a continuation of their third installments? Trust me, the fact that most of the photos are of half naked people wasn't by choice, it just worked out that way! To find closure, I attempted to look at a spin off of Ninja Gaiden, the Tecmo fighter Dead or Alive series. With beautiful visuals, busty women, and a slick fighting system, it's easy to get lost in a franchise like this. But upon further inspection I realized that Dead or Alive had a lot more in common with Ninja Gaiden than the same Ryu Hayabusa character. Even though Dead or Alive 3 is the most popular Xbox game in Japan, and the Xbox is in desperate need for another solid fighter, Tecmo is reluctant to release a Dead or Alive 4. Instead Xbox users will get Dead or Alive Online and the mysterious Dead or Alive Code: Chronus. And if you want to count it, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball isn't exactly the sequel we were looking for. Somebody that knows a thing or two about crummy sequels is Lara Croft. Tomb Raider: the Angel of Darkness is the worst sequel in years, it was so bad it made us completely forget how lame Devil May Cry 2 was. But who better to prove the point of this article than Lara? She's done just about everything else a video game character can do. Right? Even though Eidos Interactive managed to drag Lara all the way up to Tomb Raider III: Adventure of Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider series could never quite find that "IV" after the name. There was Tomb Raider: Chronicles, the Last Revelation, Phrophecy, Curse of the Sword, and of course the most recent Angel of Darkness, which we've already mentioned, but no Tomb Raider IV. But then, that should be a sign for the game industry. Tomb Raider is working example of just how to crash a franchise into the side After the failure of her recent game and movie, Lara Croft can barely afford to keep the clothing on her back! of a mountain. Just a few years ago it was among the most successful games of all time, and featured one of the most recognized characters around the world. They had a video game movie that was actually making money, and everything was going right. But in a matter of only a few years all of that has been forgotten, torn away, or blurred by their recent track record. These days a company should do the opposite of Lara Croft to succeed. Perhaps they should follow Mario's example, which is how we got here in the first place. What's good for Mario is good for Sonic is good for Lara is good for Ryu Hayabusa ... so why buck the trend? The makers of Crash Bandicoot saw no reason to, and yet the franchise still failed. Perhaps we're going about this all wrong; perhaps we're looking for a pattern where there isn't one. Maybe these titles just get boring or people grow up and don't remember the good times they used to have. Whatever the case, this trend doesn't appear to be going anywhere, and as long as there are trilogies four will be a lonely number.


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