Some of the best games in history are represented in the Super Smash Bros. series. Among these include Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, Metroid, Animal Crossing, and more. If you include elements featured outside of playable characters, Nintendogs and Wii Sports — two of Nintendo’s best-selling series ever — also appear in the series.
To think that all those series appearing together means they’re created equally, however, would be far from the truth. As a teen, I grew up in the early 2000s when Metroid Prime was being hailed as Nintendo’s big holiday-selling game. Surely, this would mean that Metroid would be guaranteed a dedicated future along the likes of the aforementioned titles, right?
Unfortunately, the fate of Metroid has also happened to a number of illustrious, highly-rated series that just didn’t catch on to the mass market. Whether it’s due to poor sales or poor marketing on the publisher’s part, games that received high ratings didn’t see the future that other prominent series received. I would like to address some of the best games you might remember that deserved such recognition but failed on the sales level which prompted their respective publishers to drop them, or at least not release games at the same clip as other big IP.
And while these series were not all exclusive to Nintendo consoles, it is fair to state that most of them either started on or found most of their fame, if not sales, on The Big N's systems. And one other thing to keep in mind as you read about these iconic series are the numbers for some of Nintendo's other starring franchises. Zelda is in the neighborhood of 150 million copies sold, Marios is well over 300 million, and Pokemon titles are approaching an astonishing 400 million.
After an 8-year hiatus from Super Metroid’s 1994 release, the beloved franchise came back in full form on both the Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance in the form of Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion. These November 2002 releases would sell over a million copies in that holiday season. Unfortunately, poor sales in the series’ later releases would not guarantee its future.
Metroid: Zero Mission, released in 2004 for GBA, sold under a million copies. The next disappointment, the critical failure of Metroid: Other M, released in 2009 for the Wii, would put the series on hiatus once again. Besides a panned spin-off, Metroid Prime: Federation Force for 3DS, the main series would not see the light of day again until 2017’s highly anticipated Metroid: Samus Return.
2021 would see Metroid Dread as Nintendo’s key holiday seller and become the highest-selling Metroid game in the series’ 35-year history. But despite the that long run and the fame the series enjoys, it has sold just over 20 million copies in its entire lifetime.As such, it’s all but certain that thanks to incredible marketing by Nintendo, we will see this series continue along the likes of Mario and Zelda once again.
Despite the series' invention and rise to prominence on NES and SNES, and the success of 1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation, the latter Castlevania releases would never quite sell as well again. There were plenty of releases, as alongside KCEK’s Castlevania: Circle of the Moon for GBA, Symphony of the Night producer Koji Igarashi would develop Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow for GBA. He would also create the series’ next trilogy — Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia — for Nintendo DS. These were in addition to the PS2 releases — Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness — all of which released during the mid-late 2000s.
While the PS2 titles received lesser reception due to the 3D games having lackluster level design, Aria of Sorrow and the DS titles were lauded for getting close to the illustrious Symphony of the Night. Unfortunately, high critical reception from internet forums and gaming review sites does not translate into strong sales for publisher Konami. As such, Konami would reboot the Castlevania franchise and strip its identity in the form of the high(er)-selling, yet woefully generic, Lords of Shadow in 2010.
Koji Igarashi’s last Castlevania title would be Harmony of Despair in 2011 before leaving Konami to form his own studio, Artplay. While IGA’s new project, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, became a resounding success via Kickstarter, Konami struggled to sell the Lords of Shadow reboot series before scrapping it completely. Most recently, Konami has gone to the ever-popular nostalgia-collection well, releasing Castlevania Requiem, Anniversary Collection, and Advance Collection on modern platforms. Finding total numbers for sales is difficult, but best guess puts total sales across all games in the franchise between 20 and 30 million copies.
Debuting as a launch title for the SNES, the Mode 7 racing series would spawn a sequel on N64, GBA, and eventually come to the GameCube as F-Zero GX. The latter title became incredibly popular among series’ enthusiasts and introduced new fans to Nintendo’s high-velocity racing franchise. Thanks to Captain Falcon’s popularity in the Super Smash Bros. series, anyone playing F-Zero GX would instantly know who he was.
Unfortunately, despite that title selling 1.5 million copies worldwide, Nintendo never felt justified to continue the series. The only remnants came from F-Zero GP Legend on Game Boy Advance — tying in with the series’ anime adaptation — as well as one final title released in Japan — F-Zero Climax.
Outside of Smash Bros. and the tracks released in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, F-Zero has barely been mentioned by Nintendo in any capacity since the mid-2000s. While the gesture to release the first two games on Virtual Console, eShop, and Nintendo Switch Online are nice, they’re not enough to fill the void left by the series’ best game or the long-awaited release of a sequel. Best available numbers put the franchise at somewhere around 6 million copies sold in total.
Before the series debuted on the GBA in 2003, the Fire Emblem series remained in Japan. Nintendo’s Strategy/RPG series became knowledge to the overseas market thanks to the inclusion of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Owing to heavy demand by fans, Nintendo caved in and released Fire Emblem: Blazing Blade to the west.
Unfortunately, when Nintendo decided to release Fire Emblem on home consoles in the west, the series’ popularity began to decline. Path of Radiance (GameCube, 2005) and Radiant Dawn (Wii, 2007) both suffered from poor sales. The remake of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon for DS (2009) sold so poorly that Nintendo refused to release the remake’s sequel — New Mystery of the Emblem — in the west. Even then, the latter title failed miserably in Japan.
Spurred on by Nintendo’s threat to cancel the series, Intelligent Systems gave Fire Emblem one last go on the 3DS. This effort resulted in Fire Emblem: Awakening, arguably the best title in the series. It would be followed by Fire Emblem Fates and Fire Emblem Echoes, all resulting in tremendous success. This would pave the way for Fire Emblem: Three Houses becoming the series’ best seller and seemingly securing the future for Nintendo’s illustrious SRPG series. Total sales for the franchise are approaching 17 million, but more than half of that number is concentrated in those last three games.
While this title isn’t affiliated with Smash Bros. in any capacity, one of Capcom’s most beloved series has also had the typical “success with the core market” but failed to sell everywhere else. The visual novel title that introduced the western world to the genre in 2005 became a cult-hit turned worldwide success.
Ace Attorney began to sell so poorly on the DS that Capcom even decided not to release Gyakuten Kenji 2 in the west. As such, the publisher would also keep the 5th and 6th canon titles — Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice — exclusive to digital releases in the west. Moreover, the Ace Attorney Chronicles series also received no release in the west until years after when they were ported to the Nintendo Switch and other consoles.
To this date, we have yet to see an Ace Attorney 7 following 2016’s Spirit of Justice. While the release of Chronicles in 2021 is more than a nice gesture and may spur serious interest in the legacy games, the 6-year gap is now longer than the gap between Apollo Justice (2008) and Dual Destinies (2013). The series has sold just under 10 million copies across all releases.
Theoretically, you could write an entire article on Capcom franchises that have been missed since their initial releases. Whether it’s Haunting Grounds, Viewtiful Joe, Power Stone, Darkstalkers, or Dino Crisis, any fan of these series knows Capcom has been avoiding these franchises for far too long. Even their mascot series, Mega Man, only received his last release in 2017. While it’s nice that Capcom releases compilation ports of the past titles to modern platforms, the once beloved platformer barely sees the light of day in new releases.
Games of popular franchises will come out to rave reviews. Yet despite that praise and high reception, their poor sales will indicate to the publisher that it’s not ideal to continue the series. This will leave many fans feeling abandoned and wanting a new title for their favorite franchise for years while seeing other games continuously get new releases. High critical reception does not equal continued success. That was a hard lesson I had to learn when clamoring for new Castlevania titles many years ago.
In some cases, like Fire Emblem and Metroid, the future is kind to them. Thanks to the publisher’s ability to market titles strongly, their recent titles have seen strong sales, and the publisher capitalizes on their success. In doing so, they become established franchises once again with new titles for years to come. As such, these examples showcase the possibility — the hope — that more of our favorites will have their day to flourish hopefully in the near future.
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