“Rock Band” developer Harmonix, hard at work on its as-yet-untitled Beatles game, made waves recently when its CEO announced that we’d see no “Rock Band 3” in 2009. If you’re disappointed, don’t be.
“Rock Band 2” (rated T, available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii at a variety of prices) perfected the first game’s formula, and Harmonix and MTV Games are keeping the cupboard stocked with fresh downloadable songs every week. Harmonix is a small developer and, as Wired’s Game Life blog pointed out, putting off yet another “Rock Band” will allow the team to stay focused on the Beatles game, increasing its chances of being better than that lame “AC/DC Live” game from last year.
In that spirit, here are a few other often-updated franchises that could stand to take time off:
Electronic Arts’ “NHL”: Like the “Rock Band” franchise, the last EA hockey game, “NHL 09,” (rated E, $60 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, $50 on Wii, $40 on PC, $30 on PS2) was so well made it’s pointless to try to improve it in a one-year development cycle. Rather than make minor tweaks and risk ruining a good thing, why not mark down copies of “NHL 09” to $20 before the start of next season and sell updated rosters as downloadable content? What’s more, flesh it out with new arenas and legendary teams you can sell on the cheap to people who bought and loved your game the first time around. Compared with EA’s NFL and FIFA franchises, hockey is a niche title, making the “NHL” series a great place to experiment with new revenue models.
Activision’s “Guitar Hero”: Since it bought the rights to “Guitar Hero,” Activision has merchandised and exploited the franchise to within an inch of its creative life. Last year alone saw the release of “Guitar Hero: World Tour” and “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith” (both rated T on Wii, PS3, Xbox 360 and PS2) for consoles, as well as two “Guitar Hero: On Tour” games for Nintendo’s DS handheld. “Guitar Hero: Metallica” is due out in May, and the brand name has been put on everything from keychains to fried chicken. While “Guitar Hero’s” name alone is guaranteed to keep registers ringing, inferior single-band games and rushed sequels are diluting the brand. Keep going with this stuff and your cash cow will turn into the next “Tomb Raider.”
Eidos’ “Tomb Raider”: It’s time to retire Lara Croft. The last few “Tomb Raider” games have been released to decent reviews, but nobody’s buying them. What’s more, the poor sales cause the games’ developers to endlessly twiddle the “sexy” knob. One year, we’ll hear how people who grew up with Lara on the PlayStation are too old now for the jigglefests of yore. Then, the next year we hear about how the last game wasn’t sexy enough. In just one game, Sony’s new “Uncharted” franchise for the PS3, whose male protagonist prompted the nickname “Dude Raider,” has shown that gamers care more about brains and heart more than, well, you know.
EA’s “Need For Speed” and Microsoft’s “Project Gotham Racing”: This console generation has seen at least 15 racing games on the medium-to-decent end of the spectrum alone. The best existing games — “Burnout Paradise,” “GRID,” “MotorStorm,” “Forza Motorsport 2,” “Mario Kart Wii” and ATV racer “Pure” — have us covered. “Gran Turismo 5,” which hits the PS3 later this year and fills the same niche as “Forza” on the 360, looks to be the only upcoming racer that’s necessary. Luckily, EA’s already decided to put “Need for Speed” on an indefinite breather after going 0-for-4 this generation. “Project Gotham Racing 3” was fun back when the 360 launched, but its developer, Bizarre Creations, was bought by Activision, and the trademark reverted to Microsoft, which owns “Forza.”
Nintendo’s “Mario Party”: Can you believe there are eight of these now? There are enough licensed mediocre minigame compilations on the Wii without Nintendo’s beloved mascot wading into the fray yet another time.