What Makes A Good Video Game Spinoff?

Agents of Mayhem is Volition’s latest effort, an open world action adventure game that takes place in the same universe as Volition’s other property, the Saints Row series. Agents of Mayhem takes place in a futuristic vision of Seoul, South Korea and brings together 12 different agents meant to help complete a series of missions. It’s an engaging adventure with plenty of cartoony, superhero elements, but I’ve found myself really missing the additional links that could tie it together to games like Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV, two of my favorite games from the universe.

I want to be able to interact with more characters I fell in love with during my time in Saints Row, and now listen to While Agents of Mayhem can stand on its own as a formidable open world title, this is a curse that several franchises often cannot escape. What makes a spinoff great, though, and not just like the rest of the failed attempts at melding universes?

Bringing back familiar faces

One of the reasons some spinoffs fail to engage is a total lack of familiar characters, or the ones players engaged with the most. I felt this a bit with Agents of Mayhem, but it was also an issue with Contract J.A.C.K., which was a spinoff of the excellent first-person shooter No One Lives Forever, a personal favorite. I just didn’t care about the new characters in that game enough to really see it through to the end. There was no Cate Archer to propel me through, so I wasn’t that excited to roll with wherever the journey would take me. In many situations, it’s the starring cast of characters that really makes the game, so taking away that important mechanic makes for something that just isn’t as entertaining when you try and rekindle the same feelings the original game did. It’s the same with movies, TV shows and anime.

Similar gameplay (or better)

If the game spun off from the original isn’t going down the same path, it needs to borrow heavily from it or put a better spin on its design decisions. For instance, if you take The 3rd Birthday, a game I’d consider a Parasite Eve spinoff, and give it completely different mechanics and tone, you’re going to be left with an unrecognizable product that simply isn’t as good. That’s not to say change can’t happen, as long as it’s done in a much better manner than the first product attempted. Too many spinoffs fail to realize this and we end up with a game that just isn’t as good.

Connections to the lore

Much like the characters in spinoffs should at least be references from time to time, the same can be said of the lore explored in the original game. What’s the point of a spinoff if you don’t go back and discuss and expand the world created in the original property? There should be a decent amount of worldbuilding to connect the two if the spinoff is to work, and some properties, like the other aspects, can’t figure this out. But when done correctly, like that of games like The Misadventures of Tron Bonne or games of that ilk, spinoffs can make for something great.

What do you think goes into the perfect spinoff? What ruins a spinoff for you? Let us know in the comments below!