While the “Top Ten Best Game Spinoffs” highlighted games that brought something more to an existing game or series, there is the other side of the spinoff coin: games that give other spinoffs a bad name, dragging down the relatively good names of those they’re associated with in the process. (Not that games like Dead or Alive were considered epics of “Ben Hur” status. “Benny Hill,” maybe. But I digress.) Whether through shoddy craftsmanship, cheap exploitation, or simply poor market analysis, these are all titles best left to spin off into oblivion. (And I don’t mean the game.)
In alphabetical order:
Battlespire [Elder Scrolls spinoff] (PC)
Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind, and Oblivion — just naming these Elder Scrolls RPGs can make a Bethesda fan smile and want to go back to exploring the land of Tamriel. These games came around rarely, and in between Bethesda tried to have spinoff titles, including a spinoff series called Elder Scrolls Legends, the first (and last) title being the action RPG, Battlespire. Its main appeal was to have been its multiplayer fighting option, but since the combat engine was not the game’s best feature, players stayed away. Since they stuck with the aging Xngine, not only did it require an MS-DOS environment, it also lacked 3D hardware support at a time when 3D cards were becoming popular. While not a horrible game, its relative mediocrity was a glaring contradiction to the high expectations fans had of the series in prior (as well as future) installments.
Castlevania Judgment [Castlevania spinoff] (Wii)
Since the early days of the NES, the Castlevania series has had its die-hard fanbase. But even they would be hard pressed to recommend this game, which brought the series to the Wii in full-3D waggle mode. That alone might be alarming, but it got worse. Instead of a storyline forged in past side-scrolling adventures, it was largely a one-on-one arena battle between numerous Castlevania characters. (One starts to wonder if any series will be spared from arena fighting.) Even more bizarre was how unrecognizable most of the characters were beyond their name. Elements reminiscent of Dead or Alive found their way in as well, from awkward dialogue to cleavage-enhancing outfits. Combined with the fact that most battle outcomes can be determined by which characters are facing off, it appeared that Judgment was something this game’s designers lacked.
Contract J.A.C.K. [No One Lives Forever spinoff] (PC)
No One Lives Forever, and its sequel No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy In H.A.R.M.’s Way, were fun, clever, innovative games starring Cate Archer. They were critically acclaimed, but ultimately didn’t sell well, perhaps because first-person shooter fans didn’t know what to make of a 60’s female spy protagonist. Enter John Jack, aka Contract J.A.C.K. (which stands for Just Another Contract Killer, thereby winning the After-The-Fact Acronym Award.) This spinoff, which chronologically occurred between the two NOLF games, lacked everything that was good about the original games (other than perhaps the soundtrack.) In lieu of clever puzzles, ingenious gadgets, and witty dialogue, one was “treated” to some good old-fashioned shooting ad nauseum. If one was playing the next iteration of Unreal Tournament, that was great, but for an espionage-style game, not so much. And since most players reported finishing the game in under six hours, it barely even qualified as a time-killer. (They could have called it No One Plays Forever, or perhaps Contents: J.A.C.K.)
Dark Messiah of Might & Magic: Elements [Might & Magic spinoff] (Xbox 360)
A console port of a pre-existing spinoff on the PC, this version managed to be even more disappointing than its predecessor. Despite using the usually beautiful and versatile Source Engine, the game’s visuals were a distorted, myopic nightmare in ways the designers hopefully never intended. What little RPG elements were in the original version had been dumbed down to the point of near uselessness, making the game little more than a generic hack-and-slash adventure, though the repetition of said hacking and slashing strains the definition of “adventure.” Finally, though multiplayer was added, the game’s relative unpopularity made this feature moot.
Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 [Dead or Alive spinoff] (Xbox360)
This was a sequel of a spinoff, namely Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball. However, it seems that the game designers have dropped the pretense of marketing it as a volleyball game, which wasn’t that spectacular (or relevant) to begin with, and have instead focused on the “real reason” for this spinoff series, which was apparently to view bikini-clad CGI supermodel athlete martial artists as they jumped around, played in water, engaged in water-related sports activities, and generally showed off the advanced, er… “jiggle physics.” (The fact that the game’s website requires age verification says it all, frankly.) But despite such innovative mini-games as “Pool Hopping” and “Butt Battle” (and yes, it’s exactly as gratuitous as it sounds), a lot of time was spent shopping for gifts (including skimpier bikinis), taking “pictures,” and other “friendship sim” activities, making one wonder what was ’Xtreme’ about the game, other than the boredom.
GoldenEye: Rogue Agent [GoldenEye spinoff/ripoff] (GameCube/Xbox/PS2)
It’s really unfair to even associate this game with the Nintendo 64’s GoldenEye 007 game, even under the label of “spinoff.” This is because it is about as far removed from that storyline — and indeed the Bond canonical universe — as one can get, short of just slapping the name on random Excel files or people’s pets. Without ruining the plot of the movie (or game) GoldenEye, the rogue agent “GoldenEye” is so named because of an eye literally made of gold (which doesn’t happen in any Bond storyline.) The game is so convoluted and borrows haphazardly from so many previous Bond storylines, the only way to get any enjoyment out of the mediocre gameplay is to have very little prior knowledge of 007’s world. Otherwise, you risk confusion at best and outrage at worst. (Note: I assure you that my last name was not a factor in choosing this game. I am not a huge Bond fan, but I enjoy it enough to not want to see the plots thrown in a blender as they were in this game.)
Minesweeper Flags [Minesweeper spinoff] (Xbox360)
One thing the PC user had been able to lord over the heads of the various console afficionados for years was that Windows-exclusive title Minesweeper. Well, now Xbox 360 owners can breathe a sigh of relief, as they too can enjoy the flag-alluding joy of Minesweeper, and pay for it, too! In this modern 3D spinoff of the Minesweeper desktop game, there are two new gameplay modes, campaign mode and multi-player (aka ’Flags’), because nothing says pwnage like flagging more possible mines than your opponent. Okay, all over-the-top sarcasm aside for a moment, Microsoft at least deserves some kudos for having the nerve to try re-branding what is essentially a throwaway time-waster as something to get excited about, complete with animation, sound-effects, and the added challenge of trying to point and click accurately with a thumbstick. Though there’s still a certain cruel irony in making the player ’unlock’ the Classic Minesweeper mode.
Pizza Tycoon [Transport Tycoon spinoff] (PC)
This early-90’s Microprose title earned a spot on the list for two reasons. First, because it arguably was the catalyst for an ongoing string of mediocre ’Tycoon’ titles from numerous companies, including Mall Tycoon, Prison Tycoon, and Hospital Tycoon, just to name a few guilty parties. In that sense, it sullied the otherwise good reputation of games like Railroad Tycoon, Transport Tycoon, and (later) Rollercoaster Tycoon. Second, the game itself had an identity problem, in that it couldn’t decide whether it was a serious micro-management game, or a fun and witty game with bizarre characters and cutthroat mafia-esque business tactics. So it tried to be both… and failed at both. The zany events and antics of the mob and customers couldn’t cover up the fact that you had to worry about every tiniest detail, from the color of the wallpaper to the thickness of the pizza crusts. Its low-res graphics (even for its ’94 release) didn’t do it any favors, either.
Shadow The Hedgehog [Sonic The Hedgehog spinoff] (GameCube/Xbox/PS2)
The spinoff that dared to ask the innovative question, “What if Sonic… had a gun?” Better yet (or worse yet, depending on your outlook) they went the “Evil Twin” route, making Shadow an angsty, self-absorbed, angry version of Sonic. As if this weren’t edgy enough, they threw in a quasi-RPG element in the form of alignment. That’s right, kids: now you could decide whether your high-speed running/jumping/ring-collecting was good or evil. While some of this may have seemed cool on the surface, the execution left a bit to be desired. From bad voice acting and disorienting color schemes to the tacked-on moral dilemma and unnecessary gunplay, Shadow managed to take tried-and-true gameplay and cram it into an uncomfortably faux-hip outfit that chafed the average Sonic fan.
Wing Commander Arena [Wing Commander spinoff] (Xbox 360)
While it may be presumptuous to label a game a spinoff of a series that hasn’t had a new installment since 1997, it’s no more presumptuous than slapping a noun onto said series and marketing it as a new game in the franchise, albeit a minor one for Xbox Live Arcade. While the original series was an in-depth space flight sim with full 3D movement and a rivetting storyline, Wing Commander Arena is a 2D multiplayer space shoot-em-up. Its shallow, uninformative game environment is a pale imitation of its decade-older ancestry. While only fans of the original series would realize that, it’s these fans that publishers were likely hoping to entice with this particular method of branding.