The holiday season has historically held great power over the gaming industry. Whether through the deals of Black Friday—or, in recent years, Black Friday Week—and Cyber Monday, or the holiday electronics rush of December, the season always has large implications over the gaming world. This can especially be seen in the year-end video gaming staple discussion – I’m talking about “Game of the Year.”
So, in honor of this year’s great debate, we’re going to take a look at the top five games of the past that had a clear-cut path to GOTY success – but never quite made it.
#5 – Bioshock 2 (2010, 2k Marin)
Perhaps more than any other sequel, Bioshock 2 had been set up for GOTY success by its predecessor. The follow up to the critically-acclaimed shooter Bioshock, Bioshock 2 had everything to build from, including a rich environment, unique backstory, and the innovative game mechanics of the original. However, where the first game created by Irrational Games thrived on this innovation, 2k Marin’s sequel Bioshock 2 simply rode its predecessor’s coattails. Rather than straying from the formula, the second game in the series took a directly in-shadow approach. While still a great game in its own right, Bioshock 2 failed to shock or awe the player, which happened to be the key reason for the success of the first game in the series.
This game could have been GOTY, but it filled the familiar cliche of a late musician’s relative that tours the world playing their parent’s famous tune.
#4 – Duke Nukem Forever (2011, too many developers to name)
Perhaps gaming’s most notorious piece of vaporware, 2011’s Duke Nukem Forever saw a development cycle spanning over the entirety of my teenage and adult life, and most wondered if the game would ever live to see the light of day. However, after 14 years, with development having changed hands, the sequel to one of the most vulgar and campy—yet ironically high quality—shooters to ever exist was finally released.
Some speculated that in 2011 the game wouldn’t be as entertaining or funny to the Duke’s fans, who now own minivans, have children, and work in cubicles. However, that discussion never actually came into play, because — quite frankly — Duke Nukem Forever sucked. It was a terrible shooter with sub-par and dated game design, and it offered nothing to a generation of gaming with blockbuster FPS staples like Halo, Call of Duty, and the Battlefield series. The controls were bad, the game engine was bad, and unfortunately, even 14 years of hype couldn’t save this atomic bomb of a failure from being 2011’s worst Game of the Year.
#3 – E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982, Atari)
What do you get when you mix one of the most beloved and highest-selling movies of all time, home console gaming’s most powerful force, and millions of dollars in development costs?
One of the worst games and biggest entertainment flops of all-time. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, based off of the Spielberg mega-hit of the same name, shared almost nothing with its movie counterpart — barring a few crappily drawn sprites. Nearly impossible to play and rushed to market, the game provoked rage at an almost instinctual level in the average human gamer. This game should have been a shoo-in for GOTY at a time when license-titles were typically better than other games. Instead, as the only game on this list that isn’t a sequel, it crashed and burned as one of the most colossal failures in the history of video games, and nearly destroyed the industry altogether.
#2 – Chrono Cross (2000, Square)
Chrono Trigger, like many of Japanese developer Square’s games, is rarely left out of any SNES-era gamer’s list of all-time greats, including my own. Its sequel, Chrono Cross, was a very polarizing game. Depending on who you ask, the game is either a deep and engaging follow-up that held up the sense of mysticism and purpose innovated by the original or a vague and convoluted mess that desecrated everything the first game accomplished. I tend to align with the former opinion, but it can be seen how those who would want a more direct follow-up would be disappointed. The sequel was a little darker and lacked the charm of the original. However, it made up for this discrepancy with unique characters, dream-like ambiance and an interesting combat system.
Unfortunately, while very positively reviewed and still beloved by many fans of the series, Chrono Cross never hit its predecessor’s mark in the eyes of many, but it still serves as time-capsule entry in the last great age in JRPG history.
#1 – Shenmue III (Unmade)
Shenmue was one of the few successful and fondly remembered titles for the defunct Sega Dreamcast. It was largely considered to be one of the games that ushered in a new era of sandbox gaming; the game had a beautifully crafted collection of towns, cities and ports, and its attention to detail—from playing classic games in an arcade, to checking your mail and shooting pool—was unprecedented. It was touted by its creator, Yu Suzuki, as the start of an epic trilogy featuring a game-world with vast Asian locales, realistic martial arts, and life-like inhabitants. It spawned a sequel that perhaps undersold but was also very favorably reviewed. The third game in the series would have all the trimmings of a proper GOTY meal but it never got pulled out of the oven. Strangely, development for Shenmue III has been started and canceled several times, and the heir to the throne Shenmue I and II held has been seemingly swept away by the winds of time as the Game of the Year that never was a game at all.
There you have it, and I hope you enjoyed my list of the Top Five list of games facing huge expectations…that never quite hit their mark.