Why a Perfect Sequel Is More of the Same but Completely Different

The fine line between meeting expectations and being just more of the same.

by Ricardo Contreras
Dec 3 2019, 9:56pm

Image courtesy of Mossmouth Games

Game sequels can be tricky to pin down. Is it better to make a sequel that hews closely to the original or something completely different? How much change does it need to have to be a true sequel versus something that could be DLC for the original game? Sometimes players want more of a franchise because they love the story, but could take or leave the mechanics, and visa versa. And sometimes the reaction to a sequel will be tied up in worry that if the developer doesn't get it "right," it could be the end of a beloved franchise. The Waypoint Radio crew discusses what they want out of sequels, the shift in story focus in Pokemon Sword and Shield, and answer listener questions on today's Waypoint Radio. You can read an excerpt and listen to the full episode below.

Austin: Curious where you're at now thinking about this in relation to something like Spelunky 2, because I know you're just as, if not deeper into Spelunky. Spelunky had a similarly important role in in your day to day life for a little while there.

Patrick: Yeah, I'm nervous about Spelunky 2, because there's a very real world where it's just a sequel. I don't mean that to be like, as condescending as it might come across, but like Spelunky is like one of my favorite games of all time. I think it's a transformative game, it was for a lot of people, opened a lot of eyes into different types of games. And if you'd asked me like, "do you want to Spelunky 2?" my my response I think always was pretty consistent of "I guess?" But I don't know what I want from Spelunky 2, which then it's contingent on the designer to surprise you.

I didn't want Spelunky in the first place, I bounced off that game for like a year and a half before I fell back into it. And Mario Maker 2 was similar, but I also gave Mario Maker 2 a pass because I thought by putting it on Switch they'll have lots of updates coming along for it. They've learned a lot of lessons, it's on a platform where there are more people so like, it's it's it's okay for it to be kind of a Mario Maker 1.5 because Mario Maker 1 wasn't given nearly as much of a chance by being on mostly a dead platform. And Spelunky, 2. I mean, you and I played it last year, was that last year?

Austin: God we played that last year.

Patrick: Was that this year?

Austin: It was this year, that was at PAX East right? Was that not at PAX East?

Patrick: Well, either way, we played it and it's Spelunky, but I don't think I walked away from it going like, "Oh, I understand why this is Spelunky 2."

Austin: No, I didn't get the pitch. I love Spelunky, I'm excited to play more Spelunky, but I don't know, I don't know if there's a larger pitch or if it is just a good sequel. And I would think I'd be fine with the latter.

Patrick: Which would be fine, I'll enjoy that. But you know, it's like I want the Bloodborne of Spelunky. Part of the reason I love Bloodborne so much is it's obviously a Dark Souls game, but it is also like fundamentally transformative in important areas that it feels so distinctly its own, as opposed to being just "another one of those." Sekiro I think is the same way. It shares a commonality but is so different in important ways that maybe aren't. on the surface, recognizable? Someone who doesn't play Souls games could look at it and go "Yeah, just looks like another one of those." You're like, "No, no, no. No, it's not. Definitely not, I mean, it is, but ahhh."

And so I'm hopeful that something like Spelunky 2 has something like that, I just don't know what it is. But also, I hope that Derek Yu, the designer of Spelunky, is keeping a lot under his hat. So much of Spelunky was the discovery. If nothing else, the exciting part of Spelunky 2 will be just, "I don't know what this thing is," and then realize that constantly, everyday, people [are] finding new shit that they didn't know was in the game or how it interacts with different parts of the game.

So yeah, I don't know what to expect of that game. But I'm nervous of it being a sequel, because it could just be a sequel, which in some ways is itself a disappointment, even if that's unfair to put on [the developer]. You know, if you make one groundbreaking game, like, cool, you did it!

Austin: Right, better than I've done you know.

Patrick: Right, exactly.

Austin: I'm trying to think, are there any other similar [situations]. I guess if there was ever, for you, another Binding of Isaac straight up, though I know that he just released that deck building game right?

Patrick: Yeah it's just okay, I didn't care for it that much. But also I'm hot and cold on deck building games.

Austin: I'm trying to think if there's anything else in this specific space. The other thing that brings Spelunky and Mario together obviously is like there's a degree of "this is a good stream game" and they both came during a boom of this style of daily streaming.

Patrick: Yeah, there's a there's a chaos to both of them. That's part of the reason they work so well as stream games, you you die a lot. And Spelunky specifically you always died in such creative ways. That was half the fun, you can know exactly what you're supposed to do and you still jump on a spike, or you know something in the level design is strange and weird and surprises you despite it being hour 45 of you playing the game.

Austin: Which again is similar in some ways to Souls and the reason people like those games. Even though it's like a set level, you're you're being surprised as you play through, you're trying out new stuff, it can be very chaotic when things break bad. It's funny, I think one of the things that we've actually [hit upon] is that we could be here for Dark Souls, except that From Soft fucking pumps out games.

Imagine a world where Dark Souls 3 was coming out this year and they didn't put out Bloodborne. The cadence of those games, in terms of [the amount released in] the 2010s. We're gonna have some conversations soon about stuff throughout the decade.

Patrick: They release a game every 18 months.

Austin: Right? It's wild!

Patrick: We haven't seen Elden Ring but I'm sure that's coming out next fall, maybe next summer.

Austin: Yeah, you think for console launch?

Patrick: I'm surprised it hasn't been unveiled yet. So it's got to be part of the spring next gen reveals. I guess that's probably the first time we'll see gameplay. It'll end up being one of those cross gen games where it comes to everything.

Austin: Alright, I'm just gonna walk through just Souls, I'm not even going to talk about their various mech games like the Another Century's Episode or Armored Core series or their Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn game or any of the other good mech games that they've made. Demon Souls: February 2009. Dark Souls: September 2011. So that was a two and a half year gap there. Then Dark Souls 2: 2014. So again, they're putting out other stuff in between, you know, great games like Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. Yikes. Dark Souls 2 was 2014. I'm skipping DLC and stuff too, Bloodborne was March 2015. So less than a year. That was like two months apart right?

Patrick: The DLC is actually important because it fills in the gap years.

Austin: You're totally right because Scholar of the First Sin was February 2015, Bloodborne was March 2015. Presumably Dark Souls one DLC was in the middle there between one and two obviously. And then three was 2016, and then Sekiro was 2019. The longest gap there is about three years I guess, if you go from Dark Souls 3 to Sekiro. That's a lot of games in 10 years to be about the same thing. The thing I like about that is that we got over the hump of expectations, if that makes sense?

Patrick: Yes. It's like, Oh there will be another one. If this one doesn't work for me they'll [make another one soon].

Austin: Right. I think a lot of it like the backlash to Dark Souls 2 comes from a place of worry that this meant that they were off track, or that they'd only caught lightning in a bottle. As someone who'd already loved Demon Souls, I think I didn't go into it with that fear, and maybe that's part of why I had a more relaxed relationship with that game. But certainly by the time they put out Bloodborne you think "oh, wow, they're going to keep experimenting inside of this set of constraints."

And that is a that is why I wish we were at Spelunky six. I don't actually wish that, but this is one of those situations where I'm glad that we're there on the From Soft stuff because maybe they will maybe they'll start turning up clunkers and and Elden Ring will be something I don't care about, and then another game they put out will be something I don't care about.

Patrick: No way. I got special feelings about Elden Ring.

Austin: You just read that fucking reset era thread is all you did and you were like yeah, that sounds good. Horses, okay, cool.

This transcript was edited for readability and length.

Discussed: Pokemon Sword 10:46, Super Mario Maker 2 20:44, Spelunky 2 27:02, Souls Franchise 42:01, The Outer Worlds 47:33, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order 1:03:10, Streaming Services that aren't Stadia 1:26:12

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