The circle of life doesn’t stop — even in the video game world. No matter how popular a game genre might be, it’s always in danger of becoming irrelevant.
Sometimes, that’s due to oversaturation, or perhaps interests have simply shifted elsewhere. While no video game death is permanent, several genres are in deep hibernation — and others are threatening to join them. Here are five game types in serious need of some extra lives.
As much a staple of a healthy video game diet as sports, racing games have been popular for nearly as long as video games have existed. But troubling sales have led to dwindling interest at the publisher level.
Two once-powerful racing game developers — Black Rock Studios (Pure, Split-Second) and Bizarre Creations (Project Gotham Racing, Blur) — have closed down, leaving things a bit up in the air for racing fans.
There’s still an occasional blockbuster in the genre (Nintendo’s Mario Kart, Microsoft’s Forza and Sony’s Gran Turismo still demand attention), but in general the titles don’t sell like they used to. And in a hit-driven industry, that’s scaring most publishers away.
Rock Band 3 (Harmonix)
It’s entirely possible that music games could have lived a long, healthy life, but when publishers flooded the market in a dizzying 2008-2009, players threw their hands up in disgust. In that two-year period, Activision released a whopping ten Guitar Hero games, while and Harmonix released three versions of Rock Band.
It killed the golden goose. Ubisoft tried to revive it last year with the innovative Rocksmith, but sales were marginal. While dance games have picked up the torch — and are currently doing just fine sales-wise — the concept of making music on fake instruments, once thought to be the future of the industry, is now very much in trouble. Is all this plastic recyclable?
The Curse of Monkey Island (LucasAsrts)
It’s been a long, slow slide for what used to be one of the powerhouses of the industry, but since the golden age of LucasArts (Grim Fandango, the Monkey Island games) and Sierra On-Line (King’s Quest, Space Quest), few companies have had a lot of luck with adventure gaming.
Most major publishers have given up on traditional adventure games entirely, although Telltale Games has kept the genre alive by transforming adventure classics (like Sam & Max) and licensed content (like Back to the Future) into episodic content. The other bright spot? The successful hidden-object genre, which is now incorporating classic adventure game elements, like inventory puzzles, into the mix.
Extreme sports games
Tony Hawk Ride (Activision)
Not that long ago, you couldn’t swing a joystick in a video game store without hitting a Tony Hawk title. The X-Games were hotter than ever and players wanted to emulate those extreme athletes. Snowboarding, surfing, even wakeboarding games were coming fast and furious.
But sales began tapering off, and when Activision’s innovative but problematic Tony Hawk: Ride faceplanted at retail, it marked the end of the line for these games as a major player in the industry.
Signs of a resurgence are afoot — Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, which offers classic levels from the first two games with polished graphics will release on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network later this year, and a reboot of EA’s SSX franchise is looking good — but the days of extreme sports games regularly topping the charts are seemingly over.
Mascot platform games
Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega)
This might seem an odd choice, given how every new Mario game rockets to the top of the best-seller list. While it’s true that Mario’s as strong as ever, the genre he personifies is having less luck overall.
Years ago, game consoles were crawling with furry, jumping critters, but those glory days are long gone. Sega keeps pumping out Sonic the Hedgehog games, which sell just enough to justify sequels, but aren’t nearly as anticipated (or critically-acclaimed) as they used to be. Other mascot platform franchises have fallen off the map entirely (Crash Bandicoot? Jak & Daxter?), and though Sony is readying a new Sly Cooper game, that would be the franchise’s first new entry in seven years. Recent critical smash Rayman: Origins proves there’s room for a comeback here, but we wouldn’t bet our golden coins/acorns/idols on it.