No amount of high quality, big budget development can cover for a poor release strategy. Do you take a gamble and try to compete head-on against your rivals, or do you take a punt at launching when no-one suspects such a title to make a dent? Capcom made waves by launching some of its biggest titles at the start of the year, as did Nintendo with the launch of the Nintendo Switch, but many other games have fumbled out the gate. Some were caught with their pants down as another title took their limelight, and others became victims of simply terrible timing.
Below are five such titles that found themselves in awkward positions that, with a little thought, might have been avoidable.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Aloy’s debut in Horizon Zero Dawn was considered one of Sony’s bigger new IP launches when it hit store shelves back in early 2017, and it certainly made waves for its stunning open-world environments, intriguing lead character and, of course, giant robot dinosaurs. Though its launch can be considered a success, and subsequent sequels and spin-offs have followed, much of the limelight shined at launch upon a completely different release that dropped just days later.
Despite Sony’s best intentions for Aloy and developers Guerrilla Games, Horizon: Zero Dawn released barely a week before Nintendo dropped their brand spanking new console, the Nintendo Switch, onto the world. Along with that console? One of the biggest and most highly regarded open-world adventures at the time, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Sure, Nintendo’s release was a riskier endeavour given the leap into a new, undefined generation both in terms of hardware and software, but the history books will tell you Link’s wild quest claimed the vast majority of plaudits during award season that year, and the console has since sold like there’s no tomorrow. So who’s laughing now?
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp
To be fair, Nintendo didn’t have too much of a choice with this one…or did they? Heading into 2022, no-one expected what would occur in Ukraine and the atrocities that would follow. Unfortunately, that meant a certain Advance Wars was caught in the crossfire. Many might argue Nintendo could have released the game anyway, its initial scheduled date set just days after the real war began, but the Big N decided against ruffling any feathers and pushed the date back indefinitely.
The twist comes in that it wasn’t Nintendo’s first delay of the expected re-boot, which would have initially seen it arrive at the tail end of 2021. That first setback was seen as quality control, something Nintendo is known to do, but what happened after was certainly not as expected. It meant fans and newcomers were left wondering when the remastered double pack of Advance Wars 1 and 2 would resurface, if at all. Thankfully those fears were eventually assuaged earlier this year as Nintendo reaffirmed its commitment to launch the title in April 2023, capping off one of the strangest cases of unfortunate timing in modern publishing.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Poor Lara Croft. Bad movies aside (what?), the video game franchise has had a rocky road, with reboot after sequel after reboot leading to eventual success with a darker, grittier Tomb Raider in 2013. That title would spawn a sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, but again the franchise would find itself in a bind because of poor decision making.
Not only did publishers Square Enix decide it was a good idea to launch the sequel onto the Xbox One platform as an exclusive for the then struggling console, some poor executives also decided what better way to emphasise the importance of Lara Croft and her rebooted universe then to put it up against a juggernaut, multi-platform release called Fallout 4. On the same day.
That brash, big cojones move didn’t quite kill the brand (the future follow-up Shadow of the Tomb Raider put paid to that), but it certainly didn’t do Lara any favours. Still, subsequent releases of Rise on other platforms far outpaced the initial launch in sales numbers, so maybe we can blame Xbox instead?
Speaking of former Xbox exclusives, Titanfall took the world by storm when it launch first on Xbox One a year prior to Lara’s ill-fated journey. It’s not hard to see why, when you hand a team of former Call of Duty developers the keys to a first-person shooter full of giant mechs, only a disaster could have prevented its success.
Funny that, as when EA decided to take the eventual sequel multi-platform in 2016, a disaster followed. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, Titanfall 2 is still considered to this day to contain one of the best single-player campaigns of any modern shooter to date, but its October release date was sandwiched between two behemoths in the form of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and EA’s own Battlefield 1. Neither did Titanfall 2 any favours when it came to sales numbers, though why it was released so haphazardly has been debated ever since. The franchise was indefinitely shelved not long later before a highly regarded and far better strategically released spin-off, Apex Legends, kept the dream alive. Meanwhile, we forever ponder what could have been as we standby for Titanfall.
Assassin’s Creed Rogue
Remember Assassin’s Creed Rogue? I wouldn’t blame you for pausing for a moment to recall. Was that the one on the Vita? One of the ill-fated mobile games? Hardly.
Ubisoft, in their infinite wisdom, decided that one Assassin’s Creed game wasn’t enough for November 2014, and placed Rogue as a last-gen launch to complement its new-gen exclusive to keep fans on older hardware happy. The title would largely tie up the loose ends of both previous titles, Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, while playing with the formula by having its lead character be a Templar instead of another member of the Assassin Brotherhood. It was better than it had any right to be, but it came at a cost.
Unbeknownst to anyone except the French publisher, the second title that Rogue was to accompany to store shelves – the unfortunately titled Assassin’s Creed Unity – would not only become one of the worst Assassin’s Creed games of the entire franchise, but its many issues clogged up the airwaves to cast an even larger shadow over Rogue’s launch in the process, nevermind the series. To say Unity was a failure is one thing, but to leave a more reasonable spin-off in limbo at the same time? Blasphemous.
Something tells me there will be plenty of other unfortunate releases in the future, just look at how cramped the 2023 schedule has become, but will anyone be as lacklustre or unlucky as the above? Do any other games deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments down below and please, if you’re a big-name publisher, do right by your dev teams.