12 Former Video Game Icons Who Have Faded Into Obscurity
Considering how many video games are released each year, it's rare for a game to spawn its own franchise. For those games that can break through the noise and sell millions of copies, it's even more rare to repeat the feat with a sequel, and rarer still to repeat it multiple times over multiple console generations.
Over time, technology and gamers' tastes change. A game that might have been a classic 8-bit side-scroller in 1989 might just not translate to modern consoles, with near-photorealistic 3D graphics and compelling storytelling. Yes, some video game franchises can sustain their momentum over a few decades, but for every Super Mario Bros. or Pokemon, there's a Bomberman or Jak and Daxter.
Here are some video game characters who used to be iconic, but haven't sustained their popularity.
- Photo: Star Fox 64 3D / Nintendo
The venerable Star Fox franchise, in which the player controls one of a series of anthropomorphic animals who pilot starfighters against the Anglar Emperor, is one of the most successful of both the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 console generations, selling 2.99 and 4 million copies, respectively. GameCube's Star Fox: Adventures also moved 1.82 million units worldwide.
But Star Fox couldn't make the leap to the Wii generation, although Nintendo did try - Star Fox Zero and Star Fox Guard both failed to top 1 million copies sold. Following those misfires, Ubisoft acquired the rights to Star Fox characters and included them in its space combat title for the Nintendo Switch, 2018's Starlink: Battle for Atlas. To date, it's sold 570,000 copies.
- 2103 VOTES
Conker Went From PG Adventuring To Hard-R PlatformingPhoto: Conker's Bad Fur Day / Rare
Conker the Squirrel made his video game debut in 1997's Diddy Kong Racing on Nintendo 64. Then he starred in the kid-friendly Game Boy Color title Conker's Pocket Tales. After that, Nintendo deemed him worthy enough to warrant his own spinoff game on N64, 2001's Conker's Bad Fur Day (which was remade in 2005 on Xbox as Conker: Live & Reloaded). With the game's foul-mouthed, in-your-face attitude and intense cartoon violence, Conker seemed like the next great Nintendo character to shoulder his own franchise.
Problem was, Conker's Bad Fur Day was a much more adult-oriented game than Nintendo usually offers. When the company tried to market Bad Fur Day to its typical audience, the game sold just 55,000 copies in its first month.
- 365 VOTESPhoto: Banjo-Kazooie / Nintendo
The original Banjo-Kazooie game sold 3.65 million copies worldwide when it was released in 1998, making it the tenth-best-selling Nintendo 64 game of all time. Its predecessor, Banjo-Tooie, also came out on N64 and also surpassed 3 million copies sold. However, when the bear and bird returned in 2008 for Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts on Xbox 360, it did earn Platinum Hit status by selling more than 400,000 copies in its first year, but it also earned a paltry 79% positive critics' score on Metacritic.
In 2022, game developer Modern Vintage Gamer did say there were discussions about reviving the Banjo-Kazooie franchise, but so far the project remains rumored.
- 494 VOTESPhoto: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy / Sony Computer Entertainment
Altogether, the gunslinger Jak and his half-otter half-weasel sidekick Daxter have headlined four games, starting with 2001's Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, continuing with Jak II and Jak III, and concluding with 2009's Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier (though they also starred in a racing game, Jak X: Combat Racing, and Daxter got his own spinoff game). Following Jak III, developer Naughty Dog originally planned to reboot the franchise, under the direction of lead designer and developer Neil Druckmann.
Druckmann originally came up with the idea for The Last of Us while he attended Carnegie Mellon University. When work on the Jak and Daxter project began, Druckmann and his team felt like they were straying too far away from the Jak and Daxter concept, and their boss agreed to allow them to pursue a zombie game instead. That game became The Last of Us.
- Photo: Mega Man Legacy Collection / Capcom
The Mega Man franchise is one of the most successful of all time, surpassing even many of the best-sellers on this list with 37 million copies sold altogether. But the vast majority of those sales happened in the 20th century. Beginning in 1987 with the original Mega Man, publishers Capcom and Nintendo published a new game nearly every year until 1999, on either consoles or handhelds. Most of the games offered the same formula: side-scrolling action in a futuristic setting, against a series of increasingly difficult bosses. The franchise appeared to run out of steam in the early 2000s, although Capcom did release Mega Man 9 on the Wii in 2008.
There's still some demand for tough, futuristic platforming. The most recent Mega Man game, Mega Man 11, released in 2018 and sold more than 1 million copies.
- 656 VOTESPhoto: Rayman Legends / Ubisoft
Younger gamers might not remember Rayman, the limbless half-human, half-vegetable character who starred in a series of games in the 1990s and early 2000s. He was one of the most popular video game characters of his time, with Electronic Gaming Monthly naming him its Best New Character in 1995. Rayman went on to star in four direct sequels on consoles, as well as three spinoffs, plus numerous handheld and educational games. All games in the series are critically acclaimed, with 2013's Rayman Legends earning an impressive 90% positive score on Metacritic.
However, sales didn't follow the critical praise. An internal Ubisoft earnings report revealed Rayman Legends undersold its targeted earnings that year, marking the end of the franchise. The same report reached the same conclusion about another Ubisoft game, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, with similar results.