Howdy, once again, pardners! Here’s another list of ten pretty random games that should have been franchises, as in series, as in they should have had sequels. These are all epic titles that were mostly overlooked and forgotten for no damn good reason. If you are not familiar with some of them, get off the Internet and get to installin’! Or at least, read about them here to find out if you really should. I wish some of them got remakes as well but they’re worth a few splinters as they are. Anyway, of course, this is not a complete list, and a bit of a sequel is coming up next, but for now, enjoy:
10. ALIEN EARTH
Imagine, if you will, the human race falling on the absolute shittiest streak conceivable. Now, double down because not only were most people wiped out by a massive nuclear holocaust, in Alien Earth, they were also invaded and taken over by some pretty fucking opportunistic aliens! Karma is surely a bitch but it made for a brilliant video game setting here. Seriously, it could have been one of the most awesome survival series in existence because no game has ever challenged you to survive all that. I mean really, can you think of a situation more unfortunate and hopeless? After Alien Earth, a haunted spaceship would seem like a stroll through one of them colorful Mario mushroom trips.
In Alien Earth, mushrooms trip on YOU. Just you try crossing that road faster than 25mph.
The game was an adventure/RPG. After one of the most badassest intro cinematics ever, you got thrown right into your quest to kick whatever aliens called “ass”, through some gorgeously depressing locations. What made it all particularly memorable was how much of a genuinely desperate feel the game established through gameplay. Before you got to any alien tech, you had to sift through shit and pick up a bunch of trash to whip yourself up something that would help you survive. A knife was your only first weapon, until you found a stick and a rope to turn it into a spear; and later, a bottle, a rag, and some gas from a helicopter crash netted you a Molotov. Moral? Littering saves lives!
As far as video game Westerns go, the Red Dead franchise did not stand out enough to capture the crown before its’… (I hope you’re not already angry)… redemption. Call of Juarez tried but not hard enough, though its’ name will forever remain a perfect term for a craving of Mexican food. One game came damn (say that really fast) close to earning the kingly stature though–the much underrated but very descriptively titled, Gun. That one was a more likely prequel to Redemption because it was the first solid Grand Theft Pony. It had an entirely linear story but it featured your free roaming, your open world, your side missions, your mini games, and yes, even your cattle herding for all you weirdos out there.
…And an ear cutting scene. Always a sign of quality.
Now that Neversoft missed their chance to turn Gun into a definitive horse opera with a big sequel, I still think that it can go on successfully today, in the post-Redemption era. See, while Red Dead is an all-fired fancy-pants blockbuster (which is great), Gun was more of a solid, old school, cud chewing, cowboy B movie, which could get properly campy and even racist. I’m not implying that it was of poor quality, mind you. It was a polished, well made game, and the voice acting was actually top notch. I’m just saying that it had a different enough tone to co-exist and you know what? Who knows. if Redemption was able to improve so much on Revolver, maybe Gun 2 could take away the crown entirely.
8. KILLING TIME
I have not even seen this game since my 3DO days and I am a bit reluctant to because I seem to remember things like clown ghosts and zombie ducks (am I crazy or was this game?) Whatever. All I know is that I loved it when I played it and I do also recall some great things about it that I would like to see again. For one, it was scary as fuck (at least back in 1995 it was). Killing Time wasn’t just another whack-a-mole with hellish monsters; it was a legitimate, spooky-ass horror game with an Amnesia-like feel to it. Well, not exactly but the game was all about the creepy atmosphere and solving a mystery of a haunted mansion (by busting caps but still). It wasn’t all successfully maintained through the game but that was the idea.
If you enjoy foie gras, you better watch your ass in there.
Despite occasionally looking like a gritty reboot of Duck Hunt, Killing Time was a very unique first person shooter. It was an unhurried, creeping affair where you had to really count those bullets. You couldn’t just go Rambo on those ghosts because they wouldn’t hesitate to… um, quack at you if you ran out or took too long killing them (in truth, the zombie ducks didn’t even qualify as enemies). In addition to that, the game did not confine you to a linear path. You were free to go anywhere you wanted at any time and you would only make progress by exploring and finding trinkets, a la Metroid. Why are there not more games like this?
7. BAD MOJO
This one does not really need a remake because it already has one, sort of, and also because it’s still looking fucking glorious. I think, however, that Bad Mojo could use another re-release, with some proper hype, if only for the sake of repositioning it as a potential beginning of something new and different, a whole new niche perhaps. Bear with me here: how many adventure games can you name, where players control an animal or animal-like creature across challenging stages, that is aimed strictly at adults? Not many and that’s pretty sucky because it means that we have to keep tolerating all the cutesy furry shit to enjoy those types of games.
I’d like to emphasize the “for adults” part here.
The main character of Bad Mojo resembled a 40-year-old Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber but was apparently Roger Samms, an entomologist, who lived above the filthiest bar outside of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’. The game began with a horribly acted cinematic that showed Roger excited about embezzling a bunch of grant money and hightailing it to Mexico, before getting interrupted by his asshole landlord. Long story short, he turned into a cockroach (what’d you expect?). The roach trip took you through some rather interesting and refreshingly adult environments, challenging you with some pretty imaginative (albeit easy) puzzles. That’s it. Great game. PS. Roaches have it tough.
6. JADE EMPIRE
Mass Effect was basically Knights of the Old Republic without Star Wars, and Jade Empire was basically KOTOR with martial arts. So, basically, Jade Empire was Mass Effect, where you got to physically tear ass. The idea is clearly genius and the execution was pretty darn excellent to boot. The game took place in a magical China, as imagined by us, white folk (kung fu and sake across the board), and you started out as a martial arts student, whose school got attacked, character got established to be special, master got kidnapped and yadda yadda yadda Dragon’s Amulet. Pretty standard kung fu movie stuff here but it’s the stuff that we’ve never got to actually experience properly in a video game.
Additionally… holy $*&$ dude! What the fuck happened there??
Jade Empire was the first proper Western RPG to delve into the whole world of “Chi” and “lotus” and guys named Li. It was refreshing to experience all that alongside the WRPG staples like non-linearity, character interactions with dialogues and side quests (yes, awkward love scenes too. It’s BioWare after all), a somewhat mature story and characters who didn’t look 12. Jade Empire was the Western world’s Kung Fu story (whether it was technically Kung Fu, I don’t know. Faces got punched and nuts got kicked) that made a pretty decent use of all the standard elements of the genre. After you’re done with Sleeping Dogs, play Jade Empire and start bugging BioWare.
You know those really ambitious once-in-a-long-while titles that feature unique universes, gripping stories, and awesome production values, with a whole bunch of technical bells and whistles? In 1995, that was BioForge. And you know what’s crazy about that? That expensive release was a slow-paced, ultra-violent, sci-fi survival horror game (talk about shit that won’t happen again). When I say ultra-violent, I mean that the game started with a dude cutting your fucking limbs off, turning you into a grotesque half-toaster, with a smile on his face. I also mean that within moments, you would be beating the living fuck out of a fellow inmate (not hostile to you) with his own severed arm over a fucking fork.
I know. Next, take the arm to the one creature that has none and beat IT to death too. Damn, who made this?
That’s BioForge for ya, but my description is selling the game somewhat short. I don’t want to make it sound like it was all about crushing testies. It’s actually more about exploration, and you know: the picking up of random shit, and the using of said random shit to solve puzzles and piecing together the very well-written background story. We don’t have many of those anymore because even Dead Space is turning into a fucking Lost Planet. BioForge was quite technically impressive as well. The animations were almost as good as you would see in a modern game, especially if it’s a Bethesda game, and your character would move and look differently depending on how badly his ass was kicked. In 1995!
I played this game entirely by accident, when I once found myself in my apartment, with a TV, a Sega CD and nothing to do for a whole week. It may sound like a fucking bizarre situation to happen in the year 2003, but it was some kind of a break, I was broke, some odd-smelling cigarette smoke was in the air and a buddy of mine dropped by, whose eyes already looked as red as mine (we were tired?). Anyway, before we knew it, we spent our last money on a pizza and a cheap-ass console setup, along with an old-ass game. I was really looking forward to having a laugh at the so called “story-driven” game from 1988… from a place where they eat horse icecream. I had absolutely no idea that Hideo Kojima was involved but about half-way through, I got really suspicious…
Thinking back, how the fuck could it take that long to get suspicious?! Oh, right.
…and by the time the game was over, this buddy of mine went from cracking terrible jokes about the it (like how the Bioroids were “a pain in the ass”…) to following the whole playthrough like it was the damn Sopranos. After a long, long, long discussion spanning robots, stuff that’s Japanese and anchovies, we both decided that Snatcher should have been continued alongside Metal Gear Solid. Keep in mind Hideo’s creative insanity and just imagine a modern-day first person cyberpunk adventure game, in the vein of the Blade Runner, by Kojima Productions. It’s the perfect setting for this guy to go nuts!
3. COMIX ZONE
You just said “pffft, I remember Comix Zone, everyone does!” But were you wondering why the fuck this game never turned into a huge franchise? Really, back when it dropped, it was truly a peanut in the turd and it still is such a unique game that I feel like it should have started an entire genre. Like a ‘Sin City‘ of video games, it was the closest adaptation of the comics to this particular medium. Every level was a comic spread and the main protagonist, named Sketch Turner (weren’t the 90′s clever?), would make his way from scene to scene, ripping through the dividers, scratching the paper off to find crap, and talking in speech bubbles. Imagine, just imagine playing through your favorite Batman comic that way!
But hey, even Comix Zone itself had a fun story and setting. The main guy got trapped in his comic book, like the dude in that A-Ha video (which is now stuck in your head), only here, the bad guy got out and immediately started trolling. A giant hand would actually appear and draw obstacles and enemies for you to defeat. And the villain drew beautifully! (which would obviously make him dangerous and unstoppable in the real world) The music too was so awesome that despite sounding like it was played on a synthesizer by mice (16-bit era), it received an actual soundtrack. Aaaand never as much as a sequel? You can’t explain that.
Here’s that mandatory cheating entry of the list: this game technically got a sequel but not only can I not play it, I’m not so sure that I want to. Ever. See, this sequel is named Lady Stalker (I shit you not), and as you would expect, it was only released in… wait for it… Japan (surprise, surprise). As far as the rest of us are concerned, there has never been a Landstalker 2 and that’s a damn shame because it was one of the best games on something as badass as M-M-M-MEGADRIVE! (the only way to spell it properly) It was supposed to be Sega’s–and later Sony’s–’Zelda’ and I honestly do not understand why it didn’t get as big or why the PSP remake got canned.
I challenge you to come up with anything cooler than this image.
Landstalker was an action adventure, in a gorgeous top-down isometric view, like A Link To The Past, only lower. You would play as Nigel, a dickish 88-year-old treasure hunter, who looked like a 16-year-old Legolas. He caught a cootie named Friday, who would lead him to a treasure of King Nole for saving her life and bug him (p-p-p-pun!) to help people out with their side quests. Despite how this sounds, it was one of the most believable male-female relationships in video games and it accompanied a truly challenging dungeon crawl. Essentially, it was the best Zelda rip off ever made.
Not to sound like an old fart again, but back in my day (ugh fail), developers made RPG’s in top-down isometric views so that they could spend a little less time lip-syncing and a little more time crafting awesomeness. One of the best outcomes of that approach was Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. Not only did it deliver a deep role-playing experience, it also introduced a fantastically fleshed out setting that cannot, must not be abandoned. Imagine a world divided over magic and science, like the fanbase of that vampire movie with that lama-looking kid and that pale Frankenstein gay-point-o. Now, imagine all the interesting situations that can arise there. And now imagine them done right.
It’s not a world where you can tease armor-clad dudes, knowing they can’t catch you.
I admit that I’d given up on the game twice before finishing it because figuring its’ shit out felt like making sense of an alien circuit board and I’m no fucking Jeff Goldblum. It was certainly one complex-ass game but it wasn’t actually complicated, just poorly tutorialed, as I discovered on my more motivated third attempt. Arcanum was just one of those projects that a group of talented, mature people took seriously and made for a mature audience, who needed to be willing to put in the time. And when I say “mature” I’m not talking the awkward BioWare romance nipple-twisters. This game kept it real and that’s why this is one RPG franchise we could really use today.
These are not really forgotten but still relevant:
Bulletstorm – The ad campaign that called you a piece of shit for no reason was dumb but the game was pure fun and the setting was rather decent. Too bad nobody bought it so it’s not looking good for a sequel but who knows, it hasn’t been that long.
Mirror’s Edge – I’m not the hugest fan but this game gave me a few fun moments and it was different. Good different that is. I would certainly not mind a sequel, which is not looking likely, although there is always hope.
Alpha Protocol – This WAS a good game with a huge potential. It was just unfinished and clunky as shit. I think Obsidian had a real hit on their hands but they just did not, or could not, take the time to see it out properly so it bombed. Maybe if they change the format somewhat, there is a chance? The best thing about it was the content, after all.