Remember Cheers? Remember Frasier? Now, remember The Tortellis? Nobody else does, either. The question of “do spin-offs strengthen or weaken the core brand?” is one that is difficult to answer. I certainly don’t plan to answer it here, but I can give you a few in-depth glances at franchises that have gone off the beaten path, and some that lived to tell the tale.
As pictured above, when the “app-frenzy” that the iPhone and iPad created came to all smartphones, you had to make sure your brand was available as a pocket sized download, and games like Assassin’s Creed were no exception, even going so far off the beaten path as to have what is essentially a Collectible-Card-Game ala Magic The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or Vanguard: Cardfight, in Assassin’s Creed Recollection. Emphasis on collection.
The entire Star Wars franchise, as far as video games are concerned, has been everything from an in cockpit combat simulator, to a side scroll to an MMORPG. Most recently, a trademark filed for Star Wars: First Assault make people think a Batllefront-style game might be coming back.
Although the gameplay should stay the same, spinning off of the original Gears story, Gears of War: Judgment will be set before the events of the original and follow some of the slightly less famous characters of the franchise. Will it see the same success? Time will tell.
Mortal Kombat Mythology: Sub-Zero was a platformer with some fighting mechanics which told more of the story everyone’s favorite snowman, while MK: Shaolin Monks took the 3D brawler into a new era of spin-off good news.
CAPCOM are probably the ultimate masters of crossover – essentially inventing the franchise cross over magic of things like Marvel vs. Capcom, but also allowing their characters to wander around inside their own universe. Capcom started letting their characters mingle and have their own spin offs as early as games like Street Fighter: 2010 (oh Cyborg Ken Masters, where are you now?), and Super-Puzzle Fighter / Super Gem-Fighter. Final Fight’s Haggar crossed over in to the wrestling game Saturday Night Slam Masters back in the 16-bit era, and Guy ended up in Street Fighter. Even the Street Fighter Franchise itself, while true to it’s fighting roots, morphed between it’s standard 2D fighting origins, to an anime-centric art style in the Alpha series (where you would first meet said Final Fight characters in the Street Fighter universe), to polygon pounding pugilism in the Ex games. Even with all of this to distract you from the game’s main saga, people are always eager for the next installment of Street Fighter.
Sonic The Hedgehog might be my runner up (GET IT!?), but having appeared in his own racing and tennis games, it’s easy to call him a copy of Mario. Even Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine was no match for Dr. Mario’s prescription for playability. But you have to love when he bended minds in Sonic 3D Blast, and warmed each chamber of our hearts in Sonic Spinball.
Although “Super Mario Brothers” and “Super Mario” has stayed true to his platforming roots (revamping in to 3D, or super-flat-2D like Paper Mario here and there), Mario is still the King of the Spin Offs. He earned his PhD in puzzle and became Dr. Marion, had a pension for racing and went in to Mario Kart, was a bit of an artist in Mario Paint, and has pretty much found as many places to put his name and face as Michael Jordan did in the 1990’s. In fact, Mario plays baseball (and is about as famous for it as Jordan was), Tennis, Soccer, he appears as a guest referee in Punch-Out!, he is everywhere! But has it hurt the core brand? Ask the undoubted million-plus-by-now sales of New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS.