To return to the earlier example of Grand Theft Auto: Somewhere in the jump from cartoonish two-dimensional crime game to sprawling three-dimensional landscape, the game changed in a fundamental way. There is a greater difference between Grand Theft Auto 2's rinky-dink bumper cars and Grand Theft Auto 3's fully-realized cityscape than there is over the span of twenty Bond films, six Rockys, thirty Godzillas, or umpteen Girls Gone Wild. Games have changed more in the last forty years than film has in the last eighty, or the novel has in the last four hundred.
As games are reiterated, they are slowly refined. As we play and play again, these same stories shift into new forms - sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes rapidly and monumentally. It's in this difference that videogame sequels set themselves apart from their originals - in some cases, they are different enough that comparing them is like apples to oranges. So you could make a case that Super Mario Bros. beats the pants off of Super Mario World and you could reject the high tragedy melodramatics of Grand Theft Auto 4 for the amoral simplicity of the first Grand Theft Auto, but neither of these is a given, and there is room for debate. The fact that we can argue these things, that there is no consensus on what makes one game better than another, is ultimately to our benefit. It promises that there will be generations of games to come that continue to wrestle with these ideas - including further sequels offering further variations on a theme.
Not every game sequel shares this amnesiac relation to its original - and as the technology of videogames continues to improve, we've seen an increasing number that attempt to continue game narratives in new and engaging ways. BioWare, in their Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles, have worked to extend continuity from one game to the next in a way that strives to treat players' in-game choices as canonical events in a larger story. And Valve, as teaser to the alternate reality game that has led to Portal 2's launch, went so far as to patch in a new ending to Portal - a dramatic and playful type of retroactive continuity that is mindful of the ways that sequels disturb original works. Even Grand Theft Auto 4, in its two expansions, offered an expanded story that shared certain events but contrasted deeply in theme and tone, suggesting a Rashomon-like depth to Liberty City that could not be contained by a single story.
But even these games, in their various treatments of videogame continuity, must still make good on that fundamental rule of videogame sequels: Do they tweak the game in an enjoyable way? Even as they bring us more of the same, even as they draw out familiar stories towards their dramatic conclusions, still there is that promise of the videogame sequel - to cover ancient ground, but take us someplace new. To play, then play it again.
Brendan Main has never been in a sequel, but one time he really was Lost in New York.