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Milking It: 10 Video Game Franchises That Will Never Die

Fancy graphics are fine, but all gamers know in their hearts that nothing will ever top the drama of Final Fantasy VII or the pure physicality of Super Mario Bros. 3. Playboy’s Retro Gaming articles look at why we love the classics and give you your nostalgia fix.


As Hollywood has proved, there’s money in sequels, and the entertainment industry has become a series of franchises to be milked endlessly. Of course, gamers have experienced this phenomenon for eons, with some of the biggest video game franchises in history spawning endless sequels, spin-offs, media crossovers, and re-imaginings.

With that in mind, we wondered just what are the most prolific video game franchises ever? We’re not just looking at actual sales, but sheer number of titles released. It’s pretty amazing how addicted we’ve become to certain characters and concepts, as the following list attests.


SUPER MARIO
First emerged: 1981
Number of titles: 200+
This spunky little Italian dude really does have the life. He’s rescued maidens in distress (Donkey Kong), teamed up with his brother Luigi in various adventures (Super Mario Bros.), battled deadly viruses (Dr. Mario), proven himself to be an expert racer and athlete (Super Mario Kart, Mario Tennis, Baseball, Golf, etc.), and even had to time to help educate young children (Mario’s Early Years!).

He’s got the #1 video game franchise in the world (although the Super Mario Bros. movie tanked). When we finally send people to Mars, he should be among the first citizens to go. He’ll protect us from everything and terraform the planet in no time.


STAR TREK
First emerged: 1971
Number of titles: 125+
It is hard to get an accurate count of how many Star Trek games there are since so many have come and gone, but Capt. Kirk and company boldly ventured into video game terrain early, first as a text game in 1971 then a standup arcade game in 1972, later infiltrating our homes en masse by the late ‘70s, waaaaay back in the early days of portable games and the Commodore 64.

While Star Trek rivals Mario for sheer volume, it’s not quite the gaming cash cow that other franchise is. Still, points for being ahead of the curve.


STAR WARS
First emerged: 1981
Number of titles: 125+
Love it or loathe it, no movie franchise has probably had a greater cultural impact than Star Wars. There are only six movies in the series (a new set begins in December), but George Lucas’s sci-fi baby has produced an unsurpassed extended family of comic books, novels, toys, role-playing games, and yes, video games.

The Lego Star Wars games reportedly account for over half of the franchise’s 50 million-plus sales, and the new movie will undoubtedly push those numbers higher. There’s a game for every film and seemingly every movie environment shown. And look at the free app Angry Birds Star Wars—it’s been downloaded over 50 million times.


DRAGON BALL/DRAGON BALL Z
First emerged: 1986
Number of titles: 100+
Ever watch one of those Dragon Ball Z anime fights? They can be exhaustingly epic, often due to the combatants regularly powering up. A climactic Goku/Frieza battle once lasted nearly 10 episodes. Thankfully, the games move a bit quicker.

While this martial arts series first centered on Goku, that feisty fighter with superhuman strength scouring the globe for the seven wish-granting Dragon Balls, many of the subsequent games have brought in numerous other characters. Like Gundam below, a majority of the Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z games have mainly had a Japanese release, along with Europe and Australia for certain titles. Steady American game licensing hit in the 2000s.


GUNDAM
First emerged: 1979
Number of titles: 100+
With technology inspired by Robert Heinlein’s seminal sci-fi novel Starship Troopers, the original anime series Mobile Suit Gundam, about a war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon seeking independence from it, inspired numerous novels, manga, and a slew of video games.

But aside from a few titles here, most of the Gundam games have only been released in Japan, many of them for various PlayStation consoles. But hey, just because you’re not huge in America doesn’t mean you’re not huge. Just ask Kylie Minogue and X Japan.


SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
First emerged: 1991
Number of titles: 75+
That spiky-haired speed demon and his nemesis Dr. Robotnik have been enthralling fans for nearly a quarter of a century through games, movies, TV shows, and comic books.

Aside from their classic confrontations, Sonic has also dived into racing, pinball, puzzle, role-playing, and Olympic escapades. In fact, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is due out next year. Maybe they could be our official mascots.


THE SIMS
First emerged: 2000
Number of titles: 75+
Given the American obsessions with self improvement and real estate, it’s no surprise that this multi-generational family-building series and its city-building SimCity spinoffs have been big hits. Unlike games where you rack up points, the life simulation approach to The Sims and SimCity focus more on exploring a digital existence, developing characters, having fun, and completing tasks.

If you’re a hyper action type, this won’t be for you, unless you’re into virtual sex possibilities. But 175 million units in sales prove that somebody digs it.


FINAL FANTASY
First emerged: 1987
Number of titles: 65+
Square Enix’s colorful role-playing game has spawned not only dozens of sequels and spin-offs but also a feature-length animated film (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) and countless other merchandise and spin-offs.

The sales of this fantasy game saga have been brisk, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be abating anytime soon. Final Fantasy XV has taken years to gestate, but it’s finally on its way and will reportedly be the first in the franchise to receive a simultaneous global launch.


TETRIS
First emerged: 1985
Number of titles: 50+ (not to mention countless knock-offs)
Gen Xers will fondly remember Tetris as the game that helped them procrastinate throughout the school year. At least you could say you were improving your problem-solving skills rather than just blowing shit up.

But the puzzle passion extends across generations. You would think that a game where you’re trying to keep a wall of blocks from rising higher might only offer so many variations, but its creators have managed to spin off lots of alternate versions with different play modes and difficulty levels. (“Invisible Tetris,” anyone?) Incidentally, Tetris inspired one of the best Futurama jokes ever.


PAC-MAN
First emerged: 1980
Number of titles: 50+
How much can one video game icon eat? Not enough evidently, and he’s still managed to maintain his round shape, which in this case is a good thing. The franchise has been freshened up over the decades with new mazes, storylines, and 3D versions.

Numerous video game series I researched had around 50 titles (Mega Man and Batman among them), but Pac-Man deserves the spotlight because, along with Space Invaders, it ushered in the arcade craze of the 1980s. It even inspired the hit novelty song “Pac-Men Fever”.


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