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Opinion: Debating the merits of game sequels

December 23, 2011
By JEREMY KINS - Staff writer (jkins@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

Everyone complains about sequels - especially in gaming. Most do, at least.

While yes, they can create a stale franchise by overstaying their welcome - like a guest who sat in your spot on the couch for a bit too long - or take over the potential for a new IP because the game is known and likely to garner better sales, but they also offer the chance for a developer to improve upon and refine what was already a solid foundation.

They are not evil, money grabbing schemes by large corporations to squeeze another $60 out of the consumers' pockets. Well, you could say that the yearly sports releases or the newest Call of Duty are doing just that, providing minimal updates to rosters, gameplay or maps, that could have come as a $10 DLC pack, but for the most part you are getting what you pay for. That is to say, a new product, a new vision built from the ideas a team of talented men and women that is worthy of a quarter of your - probably - deflating paycheck.

Why all the hate? We've all been burned by the examples above, but how many times has a sequel been exactly what you wanted?

Let's look at what I have in my basement at the moment for some examples:

Portal 2 - More GlaDOS and innovative portal-based puzzling? Sold. Add in more backstory, new characters and an incredible co-op experience? Yes, please. This is one of the many shining examples of 2011 that prove that sequels need to exist. Had they given up and moved on to something else, sure, I'd have been happy having experienced the original Portal, but I wouldn't have been able to experience the incredible realization of the Valve team. It's improved and refined upon in every way and deserves a spot in EVERYONE'S game library. There's a reason the Associated Press named it game of the year, as well as a number of gaming outlets.

Batman: Arkham City - The original, Arkham Asylum, made you feel like you were playing Batman. Arkham City makes you feel like you ARE Batman. The world is larger, the story is better and grittier and the gameplay has been tweaked to perfection. Many thought that it couldn't get better than Arkham Asylum when it came to superhero games, or gaming in general, then City proved it can. A remarkable feat not only for a licensed game, but for gaming in general. A must play.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - That's right, it's the fifth entry into the series. Do you hear anyone complaining? Nope. And you certainly won't hear me doing so either. While, maybe the distance between each entry softens the financial blow and nerd-rage, I think it's more likely the fact that each game is life-crushingly large and so full of stuff to do and breathtaking new scenery that it feels like each entry is a new game. New settings, new stories and hundreds of hours worth of stuff to do.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - I honestly can't even count what number game this is within the franchise. I'll make this easy - Do I care? Not one bit. I'm more than happy to drop another 40 hours into one of the most established worlds in gaming history. Familiar? Yes. Still awesome? You bet.

While these are just a few examples, and admittedly the cream of the crop, as they say, I think for this year they are the best for my argument.

Yes, I hear your complaint, oh seer of a brave new world where every game released is a startling, new creative vision. I just choose to ignore you. I buy new, original titles when they come out the same as I buy sequels to my favorite franchises. That's how it should be. Unfortunately it's not, and a lot of unique ideas get passed up in favor of sequels of established products, but that doesn't justify nulling their existence.

It's the chance for the developers, the artists, to perfect their ideas. Developers are under time constraints, and while yes, they can touch up their ideas as they go along, they can hardly scratch one and start anew.

When was the last time you wrote a poem, a work of fiction, and left it as its first draft, deeming it perfect and without flaw because you're the greatest thing the literary arts has to offer? A drawing? A movie, even?

Sequels are the video game industry's equivalent of a second draft. The draft that comes after time to objectively look at their work and see what went wrong and what was done right. It's only fair.

Sure, look at the newest Spider-Man, or any number of games on the Wii, or even your local GameStop and you're sure to find a plethora of worthless sequels that are exactly what they appear to be, a cash grab. That happens in any profitable industry.

Sequels in a favorite franchise provide the player more time to share and interact with characters they have grown to love, to experience a hand-crafted interactive story, to live more of the life they spent hours doing so already. Yakuza 4? Just bought it. And I'll buy the weird off-shoot Dead Souls when it releases too, because I love the characters and universe.

I cry every night over the fact that I'll never see the end of Shenmue. That I'll probably never get to see the sequel to Beyond Good and Evil release. These games are memories, fond ones and they deserve the light of day.

Buy sequels. Buy originals. Be balanced. That's what it's about. Not standing on a virtual pedestal crying the fall of new gaming rests on sequential shoulders.

(Kins can be contacted at jkins@heraldstaronline.com.)

 
 

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