One of the most difficult skills to master when telling a story is knowing when to stop telling it. The temptation to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on until somebody points a gun to your head and tells you to shut up or else is a hard one to overcome.
The videogame industry is chalk full of people who, to be blunt, did not overcome it. A typical timeline is so cluttered with ret-cons, prequels, sequels, between-quels, and just plain unexplained contradictions that the whole damn thing ceases to make sense after two or three installments. Here are some of the worst offenders:
10. Super Mario
It was fine as a simple “Italian plumber battles giant dinosaur for the hand of a lady” story. It was even OK when Bowser revealed he was a single dad with seven kids. But then the kids disappear; they’re replaced with ONE KID, Bowser Jr. What, did he give them all up for adoption only to adopt one more anyway? Hopefully he took time to party a bit before settling into fatherhood yet again.
Then we get Yoshi’s Island, a “prequel” where Yoshi is suddenly carrying around a baby Mario. Yikes; this clashes roughly 10000% with Mario being a regular plumber up until the events of Mario 1, not to mention the part where Mario meets Yoshi for the first time in Super Mario World, when he’s a damn grown-up! We’re almost afraid to delve into the Galaxy series, where Mario suddenly can bounce from tiny little planet to tiny little planet, for fear our brains would finally melt.
When does this thing begin anyway? Never before has a story been flooded with as many first chapters as Castlevania has. Honestly, every other game is the “first” in the timeline it, seems. The hero of the first two games, Simon Belmont, is now eighth or ninth in the timeline, due to countless ancestors suddenly rising up and saying “hey! I killed Dracula first, not this schlep! Now where’s my game?” Stupid embarrassing family.
Currently, Leon Belmont is the original Vampire Hunter, though this could change at any time. For all we know, he’ll be erased and ignored within a year. Just ask Sonia Belmont, who was the “first” Hunter for a spell until Leon and an unknown ancestor usurped her. Even better, her story was deemed “non-canon”, so she basically never existed. And the reason for her erasure from history? Her game was “inconsistent”. Like that ever stopped a Belmont before.
It’s tough to continue a series when you kill off the title character, but that’s exactly what they did after Super Metroid. The last Metroid was dead, the evil Mother Brain was dead so, what to do? Simple; create a trilogy of between-quels and send Samus to another planet with exactly one Metroid, ignoring the entire planet of them that she doesn’t get around to visiting until the second game. Mind, Metroids were known to be incredibly dangerous, and a whole planet of them might be considered bad news. But hey, might as well ignore them for now; it’s not like they multiply easily and turn into giant rabid crocodile monsters or anything, right?
Oh, and once that’s over, and we still need to make money, let’s artificially revive the Metroids! And when they all die, let’s make some more! Apparently, Metroids are easier to create than a batch of cookies. The final game in the timeline ends with Samus blowing up the Metroid’s planet, but we’re sure they’ll magically appear on another planet as soon as Nintendo has another bill to pay.
7. Mega Man
After the third installment, why is Mega Man constantly fooled into thinking Wily isn’t behind the latest evil scheme to destroy the world of 2XXX? Whether the cover is Proto Man, another doctor being blackmailed, or literally Wily in disguise, the end result is always Wily and his stupid Pop-O-Matic bubble spaceship. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me seven times, gamers just roll their eyes
And if that’s not enough, what exactly is Mega Man X? An upgrade? A whole new bot? The whole angle with X was he was supposed to be the first robot with independent thought. Well, that’s exactly what the original Mega Man had! He was a house cleaner until Wily showed up; he then volunteered to be modified into a warrior bot. Same damn thing, right? That’s like Reese’s advertising a new candy as the first-ever combination of peanut butter and chocolate.
6. Tomb Raider
Virtually every one of these game is independent of each other. Lara defeats one bad guy, the next game gives her yet another to fight. And all these baddies are supernatural and millenniums old; you’d think they wouldn’t give up after one shapely girl blows them to bits one time. And yet Lara moves on to the next evil entity, until she goes missing in the fourth game and is presumed dead.
So what to do for the next game? Hold a memorial service where her friends reminisce about her past adventures, and then you get to play said adventures! Even though all these tales are in the past and she clearly didn’t die at any point, so how do they explain the part of the story where the stupid player sends Lara careening into the mouth of an angry lion? “Oh sorry, the whiskey must be talking now. She actually skinned the lion alive, in front of her cubs! Oh, that crazy Lara…”
And then, when the series became too bloated and it was time to re-boot, Lara magically went from experiencing a plane crash at age 21 and surviving alone for two weeks, to her plane crashing at age NINE and witnessing her mother disintegrate after young Lara picks up a magical sword of doom. So much for reboots making things simplistic again.
5. Street Fighter
Many people seem to think that just because it’s a fighting game, no plot is necessary. And they’re right. BUT, if you’re gonna have a plot, have it make sense. Street Fighter doesn’t even come close, with characters constantly returning long after being written off, often with no explanation aside from “OK fine, you can play as Chun-Li again, just SHUT UP!” Bison somehow becomes more and more of a psychotic God with every update, which nobody seems to do much about aside from challenging him to yet another side-scrolling three-round punch-fest. That’ll learn ‘em.
Oh, and when are they finally going to connect Ken the fighter with Ken the spaceman? This is a twenty-year-old loose end that desperately needs to be tied up, even if Ken just gets tiger-uppercut to the Moon and decides to stay there. At least it’s SOMETHING.
4. Mortal Kombat
Street Fighter’s plot was convoluted, but at least it was in the background; you could ignore it if you really wanted to. Not Mortal Kombat though! Their confusing-as-all-Hell story is shoved right in your face and you’re expected to be impressed.
It started out fine; as cheesy as they were, the first three games made sense and were easily connected to each other. But after that, things went downhill FAST. The game’s creators fell victim to the same thing that killed Street Fighter’s plot: fans complained that their favorite characters weren’t playable anymore, so they were re-inserted in some of the clumsiest matters possible. The masked Sub-Zero is the brother of the masked one, who died after the first game but now he’s back! Liu Kang is a zombie! Johnny Cage died but managed to resurrect himself by escaping the realm of the dead!
By the time they got to Ultimate Whatever, with every character ever playable, fans had mentally checked out of the series. Until they rebooted the whole thing by having Raiden the Thunder God go back in time to change history. He didn’t have to do that; the guys who write this crap could’ve handled it all by themselves.
3. Legend Of Zelda
Ho boy. First game, fine. Second game, fine. Prequel, fine, since they never established if Link knew Zelda or Ganon prior to the first game. Fourth game, that was a dream sequence, so that one gets a mulligan.
But everything afterwards has been total mind-numbing confusion. Link’s a child. Link’s an adult. Link knows Zelda. Link doesn’t know Zelda. Ganon’s a pig. Ganon’s a man. Ganon’s dead. Now he’s not. No two Zelda games are connected to each other in any real way, aside from the basic character template. Nintendo recently attempted to satisfy this confusion with an official timeline released in coffee-table book form. Basically, Link’s destiny was split up into three separate parallel universes: defeated during Ocarina Of Time (which spawned the original four games), successful during OOT and then sent back in time as a child, or successful during OOT and allowed to continue on as an adult. That sounds like an awfully convenient way of saying, “we have no clue what we’re talking about, so here. It’s something. Now just shut up and buy the damn games.”
2. Ninja Gaiden
This is why prequels can be very dangerous things. Too often, “awesome” features are added that aren’t present in the original and the fact that they aren’t make the main character look blah. In the original trilogy, Ryu was a regular ninja. In the prequels, he is suddenly afflicted with a Dark Curse that can turn him into a Dark Fiend, and there are demon statues and Ryu turns into a falcon and has a hundred different kinds of swords and weapons and metallic armor and he can absorb the essence of dead enemies to become progressively more powerful.
By the time the NES trilogy begins, he does precisely NONE of those things. He doesn’t even bring them up: “Wow, I’m tired. Remember when I could absorb energy from dead people and turn into a demon of destruction? Yeah, that was awesome. I can’t believe I forgot how to do all that.” And really, the less said of his post-NES exploits as a tournament fighter in a series of games known for bouncing boobies and not much else, the better.
In the beginning, there was a set amount of Pokémon, 150 of them to be exact. But the cash cow came a moo-ing, so suddenly rare Pokémon were discovered, presumably under a rock that nobody had looked under, ever. Then more came along! Then even more! More more more! Then they rebooted the series and added all-new Pokémon, except once you beat the game, all the old ones came right back! Bottom line, there are now 649 of the bloody things; any more and they’ll outnumber the humans who are supposed to trap and train them. And, to be honest, we can’t think of a better way to end this bloated series.