Crash Bandicoot, for getting too annoying and Tony Hawk for becoming too awkward and frustrating. But on to the real deals:
10. Guitar Hero (PC, Mac, PS2, PS3, 360, Wii, DS, WM7, iOS, various mobiles) – 2005-present
To be fair, the titles in the Guitar Hero series haven’t been awful. If one were to nit-pick, one could point out inconsistent difficulty spikes, the odd technical glitch and questionable decisions in track selection. But the biggest problem with the brand is that they played it too safe, rehashing the same basic concept over and over and trying to keep it fresh with tweaks and gimmicks rather than true innovation. The series is on hiatus (for now) but the suspect choices made were all the more incriminating when the market was saturated with other music games such as Rock Band and its respective spin-offs. The masses weren’t fooled, even if the instrument-shaped peripherals looked awesome.
9. Painkiller (PC, Xbox) – 2004-present
A marriage between the creepy atmosphere of Quake and the twitchy gameplay of Serious Sam, Painkiller appealed to our most primal senses of killing nasty things in a time when FPS titles were becoming increasingly obsessive about realism. After the success of the first game and its expansion, fans awaited a true sequel that would improve on the original, carry on the storyline and introduce new technology. What they got instead were uninspired rehashes of the first game on the same aging engine with extra bugs and insane load-times. Perhaps one day a true successor will appear but right now Painkiller is stuck in its very own limbo.
8. Spyro (PC, Mac, PS1, PS2, PS3, DS, 3DS, Wii, Xbox, 360) – 1998-present
There wasn’t much in Spyro that could be considered new or special. It was however an excellent example of how near-flawless execution can make average ideas into something extraordinary. The original games were a trilogy of enjoyable and vibrant 3D platformers with sharp and tight gameplay. Unfortunately, once the titular dragon left his native Playstation, the charm fizzled out. The series seems to be getting a second life with the more recent Skylanders, but fans haven’t quite forgiven the developers for their past sins… yet.
7. Test Drive (PC, Amiga, C64, Megadrive, SNES, PSP, PS1, PS2, PS3, Xbox, 360, GBC, Dreamcast, loads of dead consoles and computers…) – 1987 - present
The Test Drive games have been a largely hit-or-miss affair but it’s undeniable that the series started out with great promise. Starting from the fourth title, the games began to be plagued with dodgy controls and uninspired tracks and the Off-Road spin-offs didn’t help much to win back fans. Even though Unlimited was actually pretty decent, you can’t help but feel that other franchises like Forza and Need for Speed screeched in and stole the racing fanbase while Test Drive was asleep at the wheel.
6. Jazz Jackrabbit (PC, Mac, GBA) – 1994 – 2002
Back in the final days of the DOS era, Jazz Jackrabbit was the closest thing PC gamers got to Sonic the Hedgehog. Epic Megagames (now just Epic Games) shamelessly copied Sega’s key concepts and meshed them into a workable, fast-paced shooter-platformer that has a fanbase which endures to this day. A long-delayed sequel just couldn’t live up to its predecessor and a hop to the Gameboy Advance failed to impress fans and critics alike. All this coupled with the fact that Epic are too busy concerning themselves with their more profitable franchises mean that another Jazz is unlikely to ever see the light of day. Maybe it’s for the best.
5. Empire Earth (PC) – 2001 - 2007
A successful blend of historical, modern and sci-fi settings, Empire Earth was a rock-solid RTS with an innovative approach to the ‘age’ system, lots of civilizations and units and, for the time, amazing polygon graphics. The sequel was decent enough, but it failed to duplicate the charm of the original. The third title dragged the series into the ground with unimpressive graphics, clunky combat and absolutely abysmal AI. In fact, it was so bad that its developers seem to want to erase any trace of it from history in the hope that the world will forget about it. Consider it done.
4. Tomb Raider (PC, Mac, Saturn, Dreamcast, PS1, PS2, PS3, PSP, PSN, GameCube, Wii, GBC, GBA, DS, Xbox, 360, iOS, WP7, various mobiles) – 1996-present
Tomb Raider is legendary in most people’s minds but the overall series has more than its share of stinkers. As with many great franchises, Lara’s games churn out the same old tired formula again and again, resulting in bitter old fans who yearn for the “good old days”. It seemed like the brand would get a second life with the release of Underworld, but sadly the so-called “second era” quickly became a tired old affair. Still, the future looks bright as the more-recent Guardian of Light proved to be a successful departure from the norm. With a reboot in the works, we’ll see if Ms. Croft can be redeemed.
3. Lemmings (PC, Amiga, Mac, Megadrive, SNES, PS1, Saturn) – 1991-2000
Ah, Lemmings. One of the most addictive puzzle games ever. Members of the older gaming community will have fond memories of the first game, its numerous expansions and the two sequels. But that’s the thing; the rest of the series is hardly ever mentioned because it just went downhill after the third game. The franchise lost its charm (and playability) in making the absurd decision to go 3D and afterwards was left to gather dust and slowly slip into obscurity. Still, various remakes and clones are to be found everywhere as a testament to the brand’s former greatness.
2. Duke Nukem (PC, Mac, N64, iOS, GBC, GBA, 360, PS1, PS2, PS3, DS, various mobiles) – 1991-present
The Duke first rose to prominence as the star of a couple of sci-fi platform shooters, but it was with the release of Duke Nukem 3D that he got turned into the violent, foul-mouthed, womanizing egomaniac that we all fell in love with. Sadly, after his first FPS outing, he fell out of favor as his developers failed again and again to deliver the much-anticipated Duke Nukem Forever, as well as clogging the market with mediocre console titles and spin-offs. When Duke Nukem Forever finally arrived, it became the joke of the industry with its outdated gameplay and graphics, which was especially ironic when you take into account that it spent over a decade in development. It’s funny, but not in the way Duke’s creators intended.
1. Sonic the Hedgehog (Everything) – 1991-present
It’s unfortunate to have to put Sonic in the number one spot, but it’s quite clear that the series has fallen farther from grace than any other on this list.
Back in the early ’90s, this running rodent help cement Sega as a household name. In a time when Mario was king, Sonic showed us a different way of platforming, attracting millions of followers with its easy-to-pick-up, speedy gameplay, imaginative levels and catchy soundtrack. The brand spawned a whole slew of hits on Sega’s consoles and handhelds, and Sonic was at one time recognized as the most popular video game character in the world.
Two decades later, the Sonic games are bogged down with awful voice acting, dozens of lame supporting characters, poorly-designed levels, overly-simplistic gameplay and failed attempts to mush the Sonic formula with slashers and shooters. Many folks feel the franchise may slowly be on the mend, but nobody can deny that the ‘hog’s best days are long behind him.