Over the years, there were tons of video games that are universally liked by critics and gamers alike, and there were sequels that had much more praise than their predecessors. However, even among the most critically acclaimed game series there are games that other entries can’t come close to. What I’ve decided to do was to make a list and narrow down specific games that meet this criteria. There were ten different choices I have made for this list, and with that, I present to you the ten games that are a Tough Act to Follow.
Street Fighter II: The World Warrior – Arcade (1991)
The original Street Fighter hit the arcades in 1987 with lukewarm responses, but when Street Fighter II was released in 1991, the game became an instant hit. It was so popular that Capcom made an updated version of it a year later, followed by three more subsequent updates ending with Super Street Fighter II Turbo. People were getting tired of the updates, as they were waiting for Street Fighter III. A new game was announced in 1995, but it wasn’t Street Fighter III; it was Street Fighter Alpha. While the game was popular, as were Street Fighter Alpha 2 and 3, they never reached the same success as Street Fighter II. When Street Fighter III was released, it did not catch on due to the lack of classic characters save for Ryu, Ken, Akuma, and Chun-Li (granted, Chun-Li only appeared in Third Strike, while Akuma did not appear in New Generation). While Street Fighter IV (and its subsequent updates) was successful, the original game was criticized for balance issues (mainly with Sagat being overpowered, which was proven to be unfair). Still, its popularity couldn’t match the same type of popularity that Street Fighter II had.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles – Genesis (1994)
After two successful games in the series, Sonic the Hedgehog became a pop culture phenomenon in the early 1990’s. To capitalize on the success, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on what was dubbed as “Hedgehog Day”, which happened on Groundhog Day of 1994. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 introduced a save feature, a new character, new ways to get into special stages, bonus stages through checkpoint lamp posts, and new power ups. There are greater distinction of levels per zone (including the music), as well as differentiation of characters in regards to their skill (such as Tails being able to fly or swim). While Sonic 1 and 2 had in game cutscenes, it was fleshed out more in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles to show what’s going to happen next. The game’s reception was a lot more critically acclaimed in comparison to its predecessors in spite of the fact that Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles were released separately within a span of eight months.
Super Metroid – SNES (1994)
The original Metroid introduced exploration in a side-scrolling adventure game in a non-linear world. Metroid II introduced save points, which eliminated the need for passwords. Both of those games were popular in their own rights, and were both well received; granted, Metroid II wasn’t as well received as the first one, but was still popular enough. When Super Metroid was released, it introduced many new elements to the series, such as a map, more expansive areas, eight-way directional shooting, and new weapon and item upgrades. It is exponentially better than the original Metroid, and has done a lot more than what the original Metroid has offered. There have been many other Metroid games that came afterwards, but none of them have reached the same critical acclaim that Super Metroid had, although Metroid Prime came close to it. Since Super Metroid is held to a high standard, every Metroid game that came after it would always be judged in comparison.
Super Mario 64 – N64 (1996)/Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Wii (2010)
After many years of 2D Mario platformers, with the last ones being Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island on Super Nintendo, and Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins for Game Boy, the next step was to bring Mario into a new world: The Third Dimension. The goal was to bring Mario into a 3D World where he can explore new areas like never before, and Super Mario 64 accomplished that. While the Nintendo 64 was not as successful as the Sony Playstation, Super Mario 64 was very popular, and to this day, is still highly regarded as one of, if not, the best platformers of all time. Super Mario Sunshine tried to capitalize on it with more expansive worlds, and a new mechanic, the F.L.U.D.D., specifically made for this game. Unfortunately, it didn’t reach the same critical and commercial success that Super Mario 64 had.
Super Mario Galaxy changed things up, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes it into another level. The gameplay is similar to the original Super Mario Galaxy, where it has a new physics engine, which allows each and every celestial object to have its own gravitational force, which lets players circumnavigate rounded or irregular planetoids, walking upside down, or sideways, for a matter of giving the game a feel of going through galaxies. There are new unique stages with excellent level design, as well as a new Hub World, the Starship Mario. You collect 120 Power Stars, 120 Green Stars, and 2 special Power Stars, bringing it up to a total of 242 Stars. The game received critical praise that matches Super Mario Galaxy, with many of the critics citing that this game is better than the original. There have been debates on the Galaxy games (specifically Galaxy 2) and 64 as to which is the best in the 3D Mario series, and with Super Mario 3D World out now, only time will tell if it will match or surpass the praise of these games.
Final Fantasy VII – PS1 (1997)
While past Final Fantasy games were popular amongst dedicated gamers, Final Fantasy VII was the first Japanese RPG to have a mainstream presence in the western market. The gameplay hasn’t changed much from the previous Final Fantasy games, but it was the first game in the series in 3D. The pre-rendered backgrounds and the breathtaking FMV cutscenes wowed people to the point that an entire market opened up to JRPG’s. Final Fantasy VII for many gamers was an introduction to Japanese RPG’s, and the story was a lot more complex than what gamers had seen, and was a one of the first console based games to have more openly adult themes in western markets.
Final Fantasy VII was well received, and sold really well, and it cemented Sony’s dominance in the fifth generation console wars. While some later Final Fantasy games, such as IX, and in between X and XII, had dedicated fanbases, none of them matched the mainstream impact that VII had. To this day, people still demand a remake of Final Fantasy VII, but all Final Fantasy VII fans received were spinoff games and a movie.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – PS1 (1997)
Castlevania has always been a popular series ever since it made its debut on the NES back in 1987. While it had a lot of hits with games such as Dracula’s Curse, Super Castlevania IV, and even the Japanese TurboGrafx-CD game Rondo of Blood, it wasn’t until the series made the jump on the Playstation with Symphony of the Night. This game was a complete departure from other Castlevania games, and adopted a Metroid-esque style with RPG elements, allowing you to explore Dracula’s Castle in its entirety. The popularity of this game led to more games in the series, as well as other games to adopt this style, dubbed as “Metroidvania” due to their similarities with Super Metroid with the map and structure with the game. There have been other Castlevania sequels to come out after this game, and while some of them couldn’t match the popuarity, others just fell flat. No matter what Castlevania game comes out, people will always make the claim that Symphony of the Night is the best game in the series.
Resident Evil 2 – PS1 (1998)/Resident Evil 4 – GCN (2005)
While Resident Evil 1 and 3 have their respective fanbases, Resident Evil 2 was the most popular game of the original trilogy. The controls were refined, the ammo wasn’t as limited, and when you draw your gun, you face towards the nearest enemy. It made better use of having two playable characters, giving the game continuity between the character’s stories, and having rewards for beating the game with the second character. This game was well received, with fans wanting a remake of this game.
By the time Resident Evil 4 had been released, the initial Resident Evil Formula was considered stale due to the awkward fixed camera and controls, as well as it being a newer generation at the time, so it felt much like an early 3D game. Therefore, Capcom capped Shinji Mikami to reimagine the Survival Horror genre. While many prototypes became other Capcom games, the final product was significantly different from the Resident Evil of old. The game now resembles a Third-Person Shooter, but still stayed true to the series’ Survival Horror roots. You don’t have to find a specific item to save anymore, which removes the limitation of saving. It got really good critical reception, it received good reviews on release and has won Game of the Year on multiple publications. This game is also a fan favorite, with fans claiming that it was arguably the best game in the series. After Resident Evil 4, fans argued that the games in the mainline series focused more on action gameplay, as a detriment to the series. Other games in the series that had the Survival Horror gameplay either didn’t succeed financially, or did not give the Survival Horror experience that longtime fans had hoped for.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – N64 (1998)
Like Super Mario 64, Nintendo wanted to bring The Legend of Zelda to a new world. They did so by changing the top-down overworld seen in past Zelda games into a more dynamic 3D environment. It is the first Zelda game in the series to introduce free-roaming, context-sensitive actions, and Z-targeting. There is a method where you can change the setting to seven years in the future, where Link becomes an adult, and must rescue the rest of the seven sages. While the Ocarina has appeared in past Zelda games, Ocarina of Time lets you learn twelve different melodies for solving puzzles and teleporting to locations you already visited within the game.
When Ocarina of Time was released, the critical acclaim was exceptional, and even to this day, it’s always at least in a close struggle for the highest game in Gamerankings and Metacritic. It is not only claimed by fans and critics to be the best Zelda game of all time, it is also claimed to be the best game of all time. There have been other games in the series that rivaled the popularity, but Ocarina of Time is the last Legend of Zelda you can praise without the fanbase attacking you. It was even remade in 2011 for the Nintendo 3DS, which many people enjoyed just as much as the original, if not, more.
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door – GCN (2004)
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is much like its predecessor, only better in every way. Timed moves and the Partner system were improved: with the partners now having their own Heart Points, as well as having more abilities. The battles are staged and audience participation can have an impact on the battle, and as you level up, it increases the audience size. Save for Game Informer’s infamous 6.75 score, the game was well received, and it sold well for a Gamecube game. The reason that many Paper Mario fans don’t like Super Paper Mario or Sticker Star is because it deviates too much from the formula that The Thousand Year Door perfected. Beta footage of Sticker Star implied that it was going to be a direct sequel, but as development time went on, it changed to a completely different game.
Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening – PS2 (2005)
While Devil May Cry was a genre trendsetter, Devil May Cry 3 felt more like a modern action game. It fixed the problem Devil May Cry 2 had, which was that the game was a lot easier. It added different styles for Dante to use that dramatically changed the gameplay. After gamers grew attached to Dante’s cocky and aggressive attitude in Devil May Cry, his emotionless performance in Devil May Cry 2 disappointed many. Devil May Cry 3 completely reverses this with Dante being even cockier, and the game had more over the top cheese than ever. After the negative reception of Devil May Cry 2, Devil May Cry 3 redeemed the series for many gamers and reviewers. Devil May Cry 4’s reception was lukewarm from fans and reviewers, and DmC had a massive fan backlash.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest – SNES (1995)
It gave the series its own identity after the original borrowed elements heavily from Super Mario World. The level design really hit its stride with its cleverly hidden secrets. The game is held at a high regard where arguably not even the other games in the series would match its popularity.
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 – Arcade (1995)
While Mortal Kombat 2 may arguably be better, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was ultimately considered to be the last great Mortal Kombat game in the series until Mortal Kombat 9.
Mega Man 2 – NES (1989)
Mega Man 2 was initially well received and even considered to be the best in the series. Even Keiji Inafune considers this game to be his favorite Mega Man game that he has worked on.
And there you have it, ten different games that set the standards of the video game industry, with sequels unable to match the sales success or popularity. These games will always be looked upon as some of the best games of all time, and it shows when you look at retrospectives and top 10 lists. Many fans argue about what happened with these respective series after the specific game gets high praise, and many argue about which game is really better in their series. Regardless, there will always be games that are a Tough Act to Follow.