First Impressions

These past few months, I’ve been working on a couple more retrospective articles not unlike the one I wrote for The Legend of Zelda back when Breath of the Wild launched last month. In addition to writing a far larger than average article, I’m also left researching various things, simply to jog my memory for games I haven’t played in quite some time, so I’ve had little time to write much else aside from a post on my side blog and another list in what’s quickly become my April Fools tradition. The one upshot to all of this is that I was running low on topics to write about outside of said retrospectives and in the process of writing them, I’ve had time to think of new topics to write on. In fact, the topic for this very article was inspired by a trend I noticed while writing one of the retrospectives.

Effectively, I was researching the fan reception of one of the games I was writing for – a game that I specifically remembered being considered the worst of its series – and found that, unsurprisingly, the game had its own set of fervent defenders. Some of the people defending the game in question made the argument that it was, in fact, the first game in the series that was truly the low point of the series and that most people gave it a pass simply because it was the first game in the entire franchise – and therefore, was owed a great measure of respect, as the series itself wouldn’t exist without it. Obviously, the argument raged on after that, but I must admit the statement gave me pause. I’d felt this way about the originators of various other classic series: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, MegaMan …the list goes on. Yet somehow, an obscure flame war on some internet forum actually made me reflect upon it. Many fans of video game series do generally afford the first games of the franchise in question a greater extent of leniency than all other games in the series.

I mean, the reasoning is understandable. Being the first release in a series means that not only have the basic gameplay mechanics not been completely established, as the games that start series generally end up being far more experimental in nature, simply because they were often developed as stand-alone titles in the first place. As such, it’s dishonest to compare them to their sequels: after all, most sequels tend to build on whatever framework the original had. You know the old metaphor, “dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants”? Same basic principle here – the clear majority of video game sequels wouldn’t be able to reach their level of quality without learning from both the mistakes and successes of earlier titles.

Of course, that leads to the major question at hand: do we overcompensate when it comes to discussing these first games? It does seem entirely possible that when looking back at the games themselves, especially in the case of longer-running series, we’ll often forgive bizarre design choices, stiffer controls, blander level design and other short-comings, simply because they were the originators of their respective franchises. Of course, this is particularly evident in series where there is a designated black sheep – a later game in the franchise that is despised by the fanbase in general, no matter how many lone wolves claim that they actually liked it, either due to contrarianism or genuine love for the game in question.

The weird thing about this is that this level of protectionism only seems to apply to the first game in the franchise, as opposed to earlier games in general. It’s as if, by the time the second game rolls around, every aspect had better be perfected or else the game itself is considered garbage. Take the second Ace Attorney, for example – despite the fact that we only received the enhanced port of the first game, people judged the second game far more harshly. As such, people would ignore the improvements Justice for All made compared to its predecessor’s gameplay, such as increased complexity, a higher difficulty level and the addition of the “Psyche Lock” mechanic.  Instead, most player reactions concentrated on the game’s flaws, particularly some story elements that were not considered on-par with those of the first Ace Attorney. You’ve also got to consider many cases where the second game was a complete departure from the first game’s base concept, though this will often yield softer criticism than incomplete refinements of existing formulas. Yet, in other forms of media that gravitate towards a more serialized approach, missteps in the process of development are generally more easily forgiven. Why then are video games so different?

Is the reason for this standard practice merely consideration for the game’s age and relative simplicity compared to its follow-ups or is there more to it? Could nostalgia play a role? The fact is that while there is a case for nostalgia being attributed to some cases of blatant protection – Legend of Zelda, Virtua Fighter and Metroid all come quickly to mind – this isn’t particularly a rule of the case. I mean, I honestly doubt that many people attribute any lasting nostalgia to games like the original Tekken or Bomberman, but even new fans of a series avoid scrutinizing these early iterations harshly. On the other hand, there are cases where there are objectively worse games later on in the series, which kind of muddies discussion about the first game’s flaws – it’s kind of difficult to pick apart a game if one of its successors is obviously flawed in ways even the original managed to avoid.

This phenomenon is particularly strange when you consider video game genres and sub-genres in general. While the first game in a beloved series will often be given a pass for their various shortcomings, the same is not always true for games that originated entire genres. For example, Pac-Land could be said to be one of, if not the, earliest attempts at creating a side-scrolling platformer, but doesn’t receive nearly as much love as the original Super Mario Bros., which popularized the genre in general. The same can be said for Karate Champ with regards to the fighting game genre: it’s generally viewed as a curiosity as opposed to hailed as a legitimate game, despite creating many of the conventions the genre enjoys to this day. Likewise, I’ve heard few discussions of the history of RPGs mention the Atari 2600’s Dragonstomper, perhaps the earliest example of the genre appearing on home consoles. Most discussions favor discussing Dragon Quest, or worst case scenario, the original Final Fantasy. This would seem to imply that age is not the only factor that causes people to be protective of the first games in these series, likely because these games are so obscure, they aren’t really under attack either. Still, it feels a bit hypocritical that if earlier games are considered important, these trailblazers aren’t afforded the same privilege.

While writing this article, I also considered if there were any major examples of series originators that missed out on these protections. I racked my brain, trying to think of multiple examples, but in the end, I could only think of one: the original Street Fighter. For the longest time, most people’s knowledge of the series started at “Street Fighter II” and for some reason, no one ever seemed to question what had happened to Street Fighter “One”. I’m not sure what people thought – maybe they figured that the “two” was referencing that there were two fighters in a match? I’m not entirely sure. Basically, back in the 90s, if someone mentioned “Street Fighter”, you knew they were talking about SF2, period. Of course, I had limited knowledge of the original Street Fighter game – but that came in the form of a port that managed to be worse than the original in every respect. These days, however, knowledge of the original 1987 arcade game is a lot more common, albeit tinged with copious amounts of vitriol. I’d probably argue that it’s almost a comedy of errors that Capcom still celebrates the franchise’s anniversaries on the original Street Fighter’s release date. Nonetheless, perhaps it’s the fact that it isn’t afforded any respect that made Street Fighter stick out in my mind: at best, I’ve seen people request characters that are forever tied to the game reappear in later titles as fully playable characters, as they are considered concepts too good to be left as unplayable characters in a game no one likes.

Maybe the true reason for handling the first game in a series so gently is less due to hostility towards follow-ups, but simply done with the purpose – subconsciously or otherwise – of making sure that these games don’t end up like the original Street Fighter. In the end, these games definitely hold an important place in the history of not only the franchises they started, but in the case of some particularly old series, video game history itself. I guess when you take that concrete level of importance into account, it’s easy to see how an attempt at treating these gaming giants with well-earned respect can quickly go overboard – nostalgia filter or no. Likewise, bashing a game simply because the ones that followed it improved on the formula isn’t particularly fair. However, by that very same token, holding a sequel accountable for “not doing enough” to improve on its precursor by criticizing it excessively doesn’t strike me as the proper response either. In the end, I guess it’s just better to keep a firmer grasp on context in general when documenting a series’ evolution, regardless of medium.

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2017

SNES Master KI

Well, 2016 is almost over, and while there were some great games released, I mainly just want this year to end and to focus on the future (or gaming’s future, anyway).  Thankfully, 2017 in gaming fills me with a sense of true optimism (as opposed to forced hope) that I haven’t had in a long time, lots of series that haven’t had an entry (or a satisfying entry) in years are returning and while Nintendo has a lot less representation on this list than my ones from previous years, things should Switch on that front very early in the year.  So, let’s hurry up and get our focus to the new year.  I’ve decided to handle games from previous lists that got hit by delays with a rule that games can only appear on my lists twice, so Zelda won’t be showing up this time.  Let’s get this started!

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You Just Might Get It

Over the past year, we have seen a significant uptake in confirmations for long-awaited titles with a significant amount of fan demand. Square Enix is finally making a full remake of Final Fantasy 7, Capcom is at work on a remake of Resident Evil 2, Yu Suzuki is finally free to work on the long-awaited Shenmue III and Sony even revived The Last Guardian, a project many had assumed dead (myself included). We’ve also seen Half-Life 3 listed on a Steam database leak that included many other titles which have since been confirmed. Even last month, there have been some rumblings from some very reliable sources that Nintendo may finally be releasing Mother 3 outside of Japan, which is what led me to reflect on all of these events in the first place. Is this the beginning of a new renaissance for video games or could this be the beginning of the end of the current era of video games?
Yes, I know that last bit seems a bit like hyperbole, but think about it: many of these titles have been the money shot for companies, the one big thing each publisher could offer that could bring even the most jaded ex-customers evangelize that their once-beloved company has made a complete return to form…assuming all goes according to plan. After all, this isn’t the first time that games once thought impossible or abandoned have resurfaced.
Exhibit A: Duke Nukem Forever. After languishing in development hell for over a decade, DNF finally managed to hit store shelves in 2011. It was met with mostly negative reactions: the gameplay had modernized the wrong aspects, while keeping outdated elements that could use updated; the game’s storyline and humor was considered immature and juvenile at best and downright offensive at worst and some have even claimed that the graphics in the final build look worse than some of the earlier unreleased builds. One of the best examples of the old idiom “be careful what you wish for”, the only things that came out of Duke Nukem Forever’s eventual release were the IP being doomed to being confined to one of the scummiest developers I’ve ever seen since I started playing video games and the fact that it acts as a perfect warning that any dream game can easily be turned into a nightmare given the proper circumstances.
Then again, Duke Nukem Forever was merely a sequel. I’ve pretty much always assumed that remakes are held with even more scrutiny than sequels. A few years back, I wrote that sequels generally had a rough time just due to fanbases never being able to agree on how much or how little a new iteration of a series should change from its predecessors. Yet no one would disagree that a game’s sequel should change at least something. Likewise, very few fans would bemoan borrowing any concepts from the game’s pedigree – unless there were complete shifts in the series’ history and even then, most fans generally have a good idea of what game to use as a base for future games in their series of choice. When dealing with pre-established material, the idea that anything should deviate from the source material is itself a heated topic for debate. Some believe that a remake should closely resemble the original game as much as possible, with the only real alterations being improved graphics and load times. Others believe that a remake is license to fully reimagine the original source material to the point where it becomes unrecognizable. Most gamers fall somewhere between these two extremes and unfortunately, there’s the rub: with an even broader spectrum to play with, there’s an even smaller chance that the developers can make a product that would satisfy the majority of the audience.
We’re already seeing that now with Final Fantasy 7 Remake. When the game was first announced, every fan of the PS1 classic was completely elated, especially after the cruel tease that the Steam port of the original PC version was being ported to PS4 in the first place. Eventually, information began trickling in. Fans were pleased with the early graphics and the exploratory gameplay impressed many. Then Square Enix revealed the battle system: not the Active Time Battle-flavored turn-based system the fans had grown up with, but rather something that looked significantly more real-time and action-oriented. From what I could see online, the fanbase was immediately divided: some kept open minds about the changes, with a few even stating that the new changes looked interesting; while others felt betrayed, saying that Square Enix had turned their backs on them. However, the worst was yet to come – Square Enix then announced that FF7 Remake would be episodic, that is, split into multiple games. The most positive response to that bombshell was cautious optimism, but the majority saw the decision with pure, unadulterated pessimism.
The way I see things, there are two distinct outcomes for these games and they all rely entirely on sales and fan response, critics be damned. The game either hits or exceeds its sales targets or fails to make them by a significant amount. Ironically enough, I’d consider failure to be the more beneficial outcome on these projects. Why, you may ask? It’s nothing against the projects themselves, but if the games themselves fail and the publishers didn’t sink all of their finances on development, then it should be easy enough to regroup and come up with a new project without the hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase resting on its shoulders.
Conversely, let’s say these games are runaway successes. I’ve only got one question for the publishers should that happen: okay, what’s next? Let’s face it, if these games end up succeeding, all these companies (aside from SEGA, I guess, since they’re pretty hands off with Shenmue III) will have blown their loads when it comes to fan service. After all, what do you do for an encore when the most anticipated title in your library finally gets released? Sure, there are definitely other long-awaited titles from many of these companies – the problem is, none of them have quite the same reach as the titles they’ve chosen. Take Square Enix: if FF7 Remake succeeds, then what else can they do? Kingdom Hearts III has already been announced, but it’s currently being held up by FFXV. After that sees release, there’s really nothing with as much appeal – some fans might ask for a remake of FFVI (trust me, I know at least one guy who’s begging for one); others might ask for Squenix to try their hands at another series, Chrono Trigger comes quickly to mind. The problem with any of these projects is that they lack the same consolidated fan response that FF7 Remake has.
Of course, this is all just one man’s opinion – and that man tends to be pessimistic and likes to find the cloud in every silver lining. Maybe I’m wrong to scrutinize the logic behind finally giving the fans what they want, without any potential thought into the repercussions that might have in the long run or at least consideration of what “the next big thing” would be. In fact, I honestly hope I’m wrong. I happen to like most of the companies that are putting their necks on the line and don’t want them to go the way of THQ, all for the sake of a pie in the sky release that has a snowball’s chance in Hell of reaching the immense expectations of a fanbase that’s been salivating over these releases for at least a decade in most cases.

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2016

SNES Master KI

It’s time for another top ten most anticipated games list. 2015 didn’t turn out to be as good for games as I was hoping, and the primary reason for that was delays, so I’m doing things a little differently for this list. The jumped guns from my 2015 list are too numerous and prominent to just exclude, so I’m just going to ignore that list, even if it means some repetition. There’s still new stuff to say about the games, after all. 2016 looks even better than the pre-delays 2015, so let’s get to the list!

10: Pokken Tournament

A Pokemon fighter is long overdue, and one will arrive on Wii U in 2016. I’ve honestly lost track of what year it was when we first saw that teaser clip of an unidentified Pokemon game, but the long journey to a home system is almost over. Despite how obvious it was, I still breathed a sigh of relief when it was confirmed that Pokken Tournament would indeed get a home release. Wii U can definitely use a new fighter, and I’m looking forward to see what kind of bonuses we’ll get in the home version.

9: Ratchet and Clank (PS4)

I love platformers, I’ve made that very clear in my writing. While it feels like most retail platformers we could get in 2016 are in that vapor realm where they aren’t confirmed enough to make it to this list (Sonic’s anniversary game, Mario’s new concept 2D platformer and next 3D platformer), we do have Ratchet and Clank. A reboot of the series, the footage shown so far gives me hope that it will feel like a platformer, and it’s about time PS4 got one of its own (no I don’t remember Knack, and neither do you). Let’s hope it does well enough to give Jak and Sly another chance as well.

8: Ace Attorney 6

Being so story driven, I do no research about Ace Attorney games before playing them, so it’s hard to talk about this one. Regardless, I am very glad that it was confirmed for western release as soon as the game was announced, and I’m hoping the new setting will combat some of the predictability factor that hurt AA5 for me. Not much else to say, at least from me, but very much looking forward to this game.

7: Doom (2016)

I had a revelation during 2015: I love old style first person shooters. I played several Doom games for the first time, and was very happy to see that a new one with a simultaneous console release was already announced. Doom 2016 looks to have more of the fast paced action of the 90s games with some console style conveniences, which sounds great to me. A few years ago this series making my list never would have crossed my mind, but my horizons have been expanded and I can only hope Doom 2016 sparks a revival of FPSes with more enemy variety than “guys with different types of guns!”

6: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

This made Honorable Mention last year, with me saying that if Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse was as big of an improvement as I had heard, it would have placed higher. Well, Pirate’s Curse was better than I had ever imagined, becoming my favorite WayForward game of all time by a clear margin. So naturally, Half-Genie Hero is much more anticipated by me this year. A sequel that fixes Pirate’s Curse’s only flaw (graphics that were incredibly pixelated in HD) is just what I want, so let’s hope that Half-Genie Hero finally makes it out in 2016.

5: Street Fighter V

It will have been seven years since Street Fighter IV came to consoles when SFV comes out, and somehow this is FASTER than we’re used to for the series. Regardless, Street Fighter V seems to be doing everything right, from the free DLC characters to cross-play that will make things a lot easier for S-Rank. I haven’t been following this game as closely as some people I know, but Ryu will be waiting for me and I’m sure I’ll be able to jump right in and start fighting for the honor of D-Pads and consoles. I just hope I have some idea what the hell is happening in the endings this time.

4: Nier: Automata

This was probably the biggest pleasant shock for me in 2015’s gaming scene. I never expected Nier to get a sequel, and if I somehow did I sure as hell wouldn’t have expected Platinum to help make it. I loved Nier, I love Platinum, this is a match made in Heaven, or possibly a frozen hell. If you didn’t play Nier, it had some of the best RPG real-time combat I had ever seen and an amazing amount of gameplay variety. The combat had a similar feel to pure action games, so Platinum actually making it should make it truly amazing. Square-Enix had a great 2015, but this game is my favorite thing they announced all year.

3: Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam

If there’s a bright side to this game coming out late in NA, it’s that I’ll have Xenoblade X finished before I get this. Oh, and it also means it gets to make one of these lists. I loved Dream Team, and it sounds like Paper Jam is going to fix all the problems with it. More of the great level design and my favorite turn based combat system of all time, with better writing and skippable tutorials? Paper Jam sounds perfect, and you know which Mario and Luigi game it is? The fifth. It looks like my lucky number will come through again (even after 2005 and 2015 kind of shook my faith in it). And I couldn’t do this write-up with referencing paper jam Dipper. Akefhgkjfdgbnk!

2: Star Fox Zero

Yep, the top two (oh come on, you knew what number 1 was as soon as I said I wasn’t disqualifying games that were on last year’s list) are the same as last year. But after the tantrum thrown by people who don’t understand that Nintendo games always look much worse at their reveal than they actually will be, this game still needs love. Platinum is probably my favorite non-Nintendo developer right now, so Platinum and Nintendo working together on this game is pretty freaking awesome. After nearly 20 years of struggling, we are long, long overdue for an action-packed direct sequel to Star Fox 64, and it looks like that’s exactly what we’ll get in April. Never give up, trust your instincts, Nintendo franchises always strike back.

1: The Legend of Zelda (Wii U)

We don’t know much more about this game than we did a year ago, but dammit, what we know is still enough to get me hyped. A Zelda with a huge but more importantly FILLED open world sounds great, but that honestly isn’t why I’m excited for this game. I’m excited for this game because I trust the series and developer, and I don’t see why so many people regard that as a bad thing. Aside from a few games that ironically seem to have been rushed to make sure Zelda Wii U didn’t have to be, Nintendo’s quality level has been extremely high in the past few years, and I see no reason not to expect fantastic things from this game. We’ll probably have to wait two and a half years between this game’s announcement and release, but none of that will matter once we finally have it in our hands.

Honorable Mentions

Uncharted 4

I still have some resentment towards this series for replacing Jak, but my true spite is reserved for The Last of Us. I enjoyed the PS3 Uncharted games, and if Uncharted 4 takes some cues from the current Tomb Raiders, it should be the best one yet.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD

I love Twilight Princess, the only flaw is that combat is too easy. Just add a hard mode (which most Zeldas have now) and make sure to keep the Wii remote option, and things are perfect.

Final Fantasy XV

Haven’t been following this that closely, but if it has a good combat system and Square-Enix is as redeemed as they appear, this should be a great game. Not much else to say, really.

Shellshock

2015 was a very strange year for video games, and it didn’t leave me with a lot to offer. The games that did come out in 2015 that I’ve played were great, and I couldn’t get enough of them. Now that 2015 is about to end, let’s talk about 2016 and what it has to offer. There’s a lot of games coming out that I’m anticipating; some of them are games that were delayed, and others were announced within the year. Here are my top 10 most anticipated games of 2016.

10. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Developer: WayForward Studios
Publisher: WayForward Studios
Platform(s): PC, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, XBOX 360, XBOX One
Release Date: Early 2016

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero was originally targeted for 2014, but the game had constant delays due to the extra Stretch Goals that were added. Once again, it makes my list, as I have been playing the Shantae series (sans Pirate’s Curse, which I intend to play at some point). Even though it’s coming to multiple platforms, I will be picking up the Wii U version.

9. Yooka-Laylee

Developer: Playtonic Games
Publisher: Team 17
Platform(s): Wii U, Playstation 4, XBOX One, PC
Release Date: October 2016

I grew up playing Rare’s 3D Platformers on the Nintendo 64, and I enjoyed most of them (mostly the Banjo-Kazooie series). However, I’ve lost interest in Rare soon after Microsoft bought them out, thus ending their partnership with Nintendo. After playing Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts on the XBOX 360, I was disgusted with what they did with the series, and thought to myself that Banjo-Kazooie is dead. Needless to say, I’m not the only one who felt that way.

Playtonic games is a company made up of former Rare staff members, especially most of the key members who worked on the original Banjo-Kazooie. Yooka-Laylee is a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie games in many ways, but it also has elements from other games, such as Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong 64. I’m really looking forward to this game, as I would love to help keep the spirit of the old Rare alive!

8. Mighty No. 9

Developer: Comcept, Inti Creates, Abstraction Games (3DS/Vita)
Publisher: Comcept (Digital), Deep Silver (Retail)
Platform(s): Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Vita, XBOX One, XBOX 360, PC
Release Date: February 9, 2016 (Retail), February 12, 2016 (Digital)

Another repeat offender on my list, as this game keeps getting delayed over time. Thankfully, there is a guaranteed release date, as it’s going to be released on February 9th in Retail, and February 12th digitally across all platforms. Now as far as this game goes, I’m still excited for it, and anything that plays like Mega Man and the Mega Man X series makes me happy.

7. Street Fighter V

Developer: Capcom, Dimps
Publisher: Capcom
Platform(s): Playstation 4, PC
Release Date: February 16, 2016

Street Fighter V is the latest installment in the Street Fighter series. While Street Fighter IV (and its subsequent updates) provided a mix of nostalgia for Street Fighter II with a brand new look and feel to the series, Street Fighter V has a bit of Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter III added to the mix, with tons of new things to make it stand out from the rest. There will be a starting cast of seventeen characters (twelve of them are returning, and five of them are brand new), with other characters coming at a later date.

What gets me excited about this game is that Charlie and R. Mika, who are among my favorite Street Fighter Alpha characters, make their return to the series in Street Fighter V. Other characters, such as Birdie, Urien and Karin, are excellent additions and it’s nice to see them back after being absent for years. We also have new takes on other returning characters, and the newer characters seem very interesting. I tried the demo at New York Comic Con this year, and I thought it was a major improvement from Street Fighter IV. I’m definitely looking forward to playing this game!

6. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Developer: AlphaDream
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: January 22, 2016

Announced at E3, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is the fifth installment in the Mario & Luigi series. This game is a crossover between Mario & Luigi and the Paper Mario series, where both worlds collide. You take control of Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario to take on both Bowser and Paper Bowser, and their respective armies running rampant across the Mushroom Kingdom. Gameplay is identical to that of the Mario & Luigi series, but you now press the Y Button in Battle to control Paper Mario’s Actions.

Since this game has the quirkiness and the humor from both the Mario & Luigi and the Paper Mario series, this is definitely something I am looking forward to. I still need to beat Partners in Time (which I’m not really a fan of) before tackling the others, then finally making my way to this game.

5. Project X Zone 2

Developer: Monolith Soft, Banpresto
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 16, 2016

I was surprised to see that Bandai Namco Games sign on for a sequel to Project X Zone. There are a lot more characters you control in this game, from Bandai Namco, Sega, Capcom, and now Nintendo! Fire Emblem Awakening’s Chrom and Lucina and Xenoblade Chronicles’ Fiora join the cast. Other series new to Project X Zone 2 are Shinobi, Strider, Ace Attorney, Shenmue, Soul Calibur, Yakuza, and even Segata Sanshiro himself, among others, are represented here.

This game retains the character turn based gameplay from its predecessor, but what interests me about this game is that you now have a full player turn, where you control all of your characters, and an enemy turn, where all the enemies are controlled, as opposed to a random character turn. This is another Strategy RPG that I will happily add to my Nintendo 3DS library, and I look forward to playing every second of it!

4. Pokken Tournament

Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokémon Company
Platform(s): Wii U
Release Date: Q2 2016

I’m a huge fan of the Pokémon series, and I do enjoy playing Tekken, so this definitely works for me! Pokken Tournament has a fighting style where you roam around in an arena, performing multiple combos on your opponents, and unleashing an inner power (some of the Pokemon will become a Mega-Evolution) with a Resonance Gauge, allowing you to use Special Attacks. You can also summon assist Pokémon to help you out.

I got to try the arcade version of this game at Dave & Busters in NYC, and I’m impressed with the gameplay. It feels different from Tekken, but then again, with Pokémon, it works! This is one of my must-have games for 2016, and I cannot wait to play this!

3. Star Fox Zero

Developer: Nintendo EPD, Platinum Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Wii U
Release Date: April 22, 2016

Originally set for a 2015 release, Star Fox Zero goes back to its roots from the Star Fox (SNES) and Star Fox 64 days, with tons of new features, as well as scrapped ideas from Star Fox 2. This isn’t a remake, nor is it a prequel to the original Star Fox, but it is a new installment, nonetheless. There isn’t much dialogue revealed, but the gameplay is exactly as a Star Fox game should be. I got to try this out at Nintendo World Store during the E3 week, and I was impressed! The Gamepad controls takes time to get used to, but once I do, I will enjoy myself!

2. Fire Emblem Fates

Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 19, 2016

I’ve enjoyed Fire Emblem Awakening when it was released in 2013, as I was craving for a Fire Emblem on 3DS at the time. I was heavily excited when Nintendo announced Fire Emblem Fates on the January 2015 Nintendo Direct. As soon as more details popped up, I was curious about having two different versions, and the first thing that popped up my mind was “So is this going to be Fire Emblem meets Pokémon now?”, but as it turns out, it’s part of the game’s story.

It starts off similarly on both versions, but after a certain point, you take a completely different path. Once you do take that path, you stick to it throughout the entire game. There is also a downloadable expansion, which serves as the game’s conclusion. This is probably the biggest story in any Fire Emblem game yet, and I look forward to February 19th!


 

Honorable Mentions

Before I talk about what’s number one, I’d like to talk about my honorable mentions. These games are what I’m looking forward to, but not as much as the games on this list, and as a result, they make this short list.

Bravely Second (Nintendo, Square Enix), Hyper Light Drifter (Heart Machine), Cuphead (Studio MDHR), Genei Ibun Roku #FE (Atlus, Nintendo)


 

1. The Legend of Zelda (Wii U)

Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform(s): Wii U
Release Date: Holiday 2016

Another repeat offender, but there’s a reason for that. Eiji Aonuma needed more time for development of this game, so it’s slated for Holiday 2016 for now. We haven’t seen much of this, but what little I’ve seen is enough for me to put this on the number one spot. I am going to love moving around in an open world setting, and exploring new dungeons. We’ll see at E3 as to what’s going on with this game, and what else it has to offer.

And there we have it, my Most Anticipated games of 2016. It seems like 2016 will be a bigger year for video games, seeing as how we’re going to see the NX for the very first time, and how will it stack up against the competition. There’s a lot to look forward to, and I’m ready to take that ride!


 

Professor Icepick

Well, 2015 was a decent year for the most part. Sure, we got some good releases, but what I got out of it was more hope for the future. A lot of key titles were announced, and while most of them won’t hit until after 2016, it’s still important to look forward. On the plus side, all but 2 of my picks from last year actually hit this time around. Not bad, if you ask me.

10. The King of Fighters XIV

Publisher/Developer: SNK Playmore
Platform: PS4 (maybe more?)
Release Date: 2016

I’m going to be honest, I’ve been hard on the latest KoF game since it was first announced. After all, it would be hard to top the Playmore era’s magnum opus after SNK went back into hibernation for a few years. Then there was the Chinese buyout, which worried me somewhat at first, as I feared a shift from pachinko machines to mobile games. Worst of all was the first trailer: everything about it reminded me of the Maximum Impact games. But as time went on, especially after the latest trailer from the PlayStation Experience, the game’s look began to improve. It’s not quite at hype levels yet, but considering that it boasts a 50-character roster at launch (Mortal Kombat X only managed around half that, and it’s the closest competition that comes to mind), I think it’s worth keeping an eye on. Hopefully, the fact that PSX downgraded it to “Playstation 4 Console Exclusive”, as well as the fact that a key executive from SNK Playmore said that their success on Steam was a key reason they got back into game development, means I’ll be able to partake on my platform of choice down the line, hopefully with crossplay.

9. Star Fox Zero

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Platinum Games
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: April 22, 2016

If there’s one series that Nintendo fans have been clamoring for, it’s probably Metroid. Then F-Zero. Star Fox is definitely a close third, though. Sure, its legacy has been somewhat marred by various mediocre releases: Star Fox 64 was a tough act to follow. The upcoming Zero, however, looks like it might just do the trick. Co-developed by developer darling Platinum Games (Bayonetta, Madworld, Metal Gear Rising), Zero looks to be bringing Star Fox back to its action roots and is even managing to incorporate the Arwing’s Walker transformation from the cancelled Star Fox 2, among other things. With Platinum on-board and an emphasis on the classic gameplay of the first two games in the series, I’ve got a good feeling that this one might be the game to put Star Fox back on top.

8. Timespinner

Publisher/Developer: Lunar Ray Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, 3DS
Release Date: July 2016

Timespinner was merely an honorable mention last year, but it ended up getting pushed back to 2016, much to my chagrin. One of my Kickstarter darlings from quite some time ago, Timespinner is looking to evoke various classic games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and MegaMan X, with a SNES-inspired artstyle. Players take on the role of Lunais, a young woman with the power to control time. After the technologically advanced empire of Lachiem kills her family, she vows revenge, travelling through history to destroy them all. With interesting time manipulation mechanics and solid-looking gameplay, Timespinner looks like it will be worth the wait.

7. Cuphead

Publisher/Developer: Studio MDHR
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016

Cuphead was also only on my honorable mentions last year, but since then, this game has started looking better and better. A run-and-gun game with nothing but bosses starring two cup-headed inkblots who lost a bet with the devil and are forced to do his bidding. The real star of the game, however, is its beautiful 2D animation that looks like it was ripped straight out of a Max Fleischer cartoon. I thought it was due out last year, but there really wasn’t any solid confirmation on that.

6. Yooka-Laylee

Publisher/Developer: Team17/Playtonic Games
Platform: PC, Wii U, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Release Date: October 2016

Another one of my Kickstarter darlings, though I’ll be surprised if you haven’t heard about it. Yooka-Laylee is a spiritual successor to Rare’s N64-era platformers. You know, games like Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and to a lesser extent, Donkey Kong 64. With vibrant character designs and a glorious soundtrack handled by David Wise and Grant Kirkhope, Yooka-Laylee is set to launch at the end of 2016.

5. Doom

Publisher/Developer: Bethesda Softworks/id Software
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: Spring 2016

Growing up with only a PC and a Game Gear during my earliest of gaming days wasn’t easy, missing out on some really big titles. Sure, there was the occasional port; some good, some bad, but then there was Doom. Doom was probably the first big mainstream PC gaming phenomenon I actually remember and it was glorious. After Doom II came out, the series went on a long hiatus, only to be revived with the mediocre Doom 3, which tried to retool the game into a pseudo-survival horror game for some reason. Bethesda got its hooks into the series recently, and that’s a good thing: they’re taking Doom back to its crazy, gory but ridiculously cartoony roots. I’m not completely sold on the game just yet: the cinematic kills look like they’ll get tedious after a while and Bethesda doesn’t exactly have the best reputation for releasing games without a hell of a lot of glitches at launch. Still, it looks like it’s going to be good regardless.

4. South Park: The Fractured but Whole

Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016

I’ve loved South Park since the show debuted in 1996. I love Paper Mario, so it was pretty much a no-brainer that I’d like The Stick of Truth. When Matt and Trey announced they were working on a sequel at Ubisoft’s E3 conference this year, I was incredibly hyped…and the hype still hasn’t exactly worn off. This time, they’re ditching the fantasy motif and going for something more superhero-related. Considering how awesome the superhero-themed episodes of South Park are and the fact that Matt and Trey are returning to write this one (with more experience under their belts this time), I’ve got some high hopes for this game.

3. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

Publisher/Developer: Nihon Falcom
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: Summer 2016 (Japan)

Yeah, I know: Ys VIII will only be hitting Japan in 2016. Regardless, it’s exciting. We haven’t heard a thing about the game since TGS 2014, when it was first announced with that awesome teaser trailer. Then Toyko Xanadu took all of Falcom’s attention and for a while there, I thought Ys 8 might’ve just become vaporware. Fortunately, it’s back and with a release window no less: Summer 2016. Sure, we probably won’t see it hit the States for at least a year or two, but knowing it actually exists is good enough for me.

2. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Publisher/Developer: WayForward
Platform: PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016

I love me some Shantae, that much you should know by now. For the third consecutive year, Half-Genie Hero makes the list. I’m not sure if it’ll actually hit in 2016, just like I wasn’t sure it would hit in 2014 or 2015. I just feel like keeping the hope alive, especially since development has really gone underway, especially with the release of the limited beta on PC. Nintendo appears to think it’s coming this year though. So there’s that.

1. Street Fighter V

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform:  PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: February 16, 2016

Pretty obvious, when you think about it. I’ve loved the Street Fighter series since I played the second game on the SNES when I was a child. I’ve gotten my hands on the beta twice and I’ve had fun with it. I’ll probably have way more fun when I get a chance to play against friends though. The new characters look better than most of the ones from the original version of Street Fighter 4: F.A.N.G’s my personal favorite at this point in time, but I’ve honestly like all of them but Necalli. There’s also the fact that Capcom’s already confirmed 6 new characters for next year, all of whom will be free to those who put in the time and the effort to unlock them. All-in-all, Street Fighter V has been fun and hopefully it lives up to my expectations when the game launches in February.


 

Honorable Mentions

Project X Zone 2

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco/Monolith Soft
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: February 16, 2016

I was a fan of the original – never finished it though, because chapters got too long for me. Besides, it’s got Segata Sanshiro in it. ‘Nuff said.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Publisher/Developer: Atlus/Vanillaware
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3
Release Date: Spring 2016

Ever since I played Muramasa, I’ve wanted to try out more of Vanillaware’s games. I always sort of hoped that Odin Sphere would hit PS2 Classics, but this is even better. Only this that could make this better would be a PC release. (Then again, George Kamitani himself said they were exploring options for that sort of thing…)

Hyper Light Drifter

Publisher/Developer: Heart Machine
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, Ouya
Release Date: 2016

Making my honorable mentions list two years in a row is no small feat. Hyper Light Drifter is an action RPG with a beautiful pseudo-retro style. Despite not being released yet, it has managed to achieve quiet the number of cameos and references: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, Indivisible, Runbow, the list goes on.

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/AlphaDream
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: January 22, 2016

Aside from the original on SNES, I have enjoyed pretty much every Mario RPG games. Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi are two of my favorite turn-based RPG series of all-time, so a crossover between the two is more than welcome from my standpoint.

Clayfighter

Publisher/Developer: Interplay/Drip Drop Games
Platform: PC
Release Date: 2016

When I was a kid, I used to love playing the original Clayfighter on Sega Genesis. The sequels weren’t so good, but I’m still sort of looking forward to the upcoming reboot. Hopefully it ends up exceeding even the original, while maintaining its wacky sense of humor.


 

Dishonorable Mention

Mighty No. 9

Publisher/Developer: Comcept/Inti Creates
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS
Release Date: February 9, 2016

The reason I consider this a “dishonorable” mention is because, while I am still looking forward its release, the development cycle was infested with problems and constant delays. Don’t even get me started on the Red Ash debacle, which was followed with the final delay that pushed it into 2016. Part of me thinks that was Inafune’s way of punishing us, but I just can’t be sure.

So those are my most anticipated games of 2016. That’s not to say that there aren’t even more games that I’m looking forward to, but these are my top picks. What do you think? Did we miss any games you’re looking forward to? Feel free to sound off in the comments section with your picks for 2016.

Broad Strokes

For anyone that’s spent any significant amount of time interacting with the gamer community at large, you’ll know that there are certain specific phrases and subjects that provoke controversy, usually causing a conflict between two diametrically opposed but equally zealous sides of the argument. We’ve seen the big offenders: who has the worst DRM, used games, sexism/racism/social justice/etc. However, there are also those phrases that invoke an overwhelmingly negative reaction, to the point where there is little to no debate. One such phrase fills the entire online gaming community with overwhelming vitriol: “we’ve decided to try to broaden the audience”. I’ll be honest, I’m kind of on their side: retooling games to capture a larger market share tends to leave long-time fans of specific series and genres out in the cold and it’s been done so many times with the significant majority of attempts ending up as diluted failures, as opposed to visionary titles that bridge the gap between newbies, casual players and the long-time hardcore fans.

One has to keep in mind the reason why games tend to get retooled in order to appeal to a wider audience. The answer’s pretty simple: money. Like it or not, the majority of video game publishers are businesses, many are traded publicly on various stock exchanges. Above all, these companies have a responsibility to put the interests of their stockholders above all else, and making big bank is job 1. Of course, the art of making video games in the first place is getting more and more expensive by the generation, and this is especially evident now since we’ve just entered a new generation, with a whole new set of standards to meet, at least with regards to AAA titles. It only takes one big-budget bomb to wipe out a developer now, so there is absolutely no room for error anymore. Sometimes, a successful game isn’t even big enough to keep their dev team running: Irrational Games was recently closed despite their latest title, Bioshock Infinite, selling over 4 million copies.

Despite the understandable reality of the situation, gamers still remain cynical and hostile towards the broadening the appeal of video games, especially “hardcore” gamers. It’s not difficult to understand why this is the case, though. Many attempts at taking older games and crafting sequels for a larger audience have ended up as shallow reflections of their predecessors. Simply put, most of the time, the new games end up being dumbed down. I don’t mean simplified for the sake of streamlining (which I’d actually argue is a good thing), but literally dumbed down. As in a shell of its former glory, a game that resembles the originals in appearance and name only, but retains none of the compelling gameplay that made its old fanbase fall in love with it in the first place.

Of course, there’s another narrative here that’s become more common. Instead of the hardcore gamers fighting to keep the spirit of the original game alive in future incarnations, I’ve seen several game journalists pose an alternate explanation: hardcore games are nothing more than a bunch of big babies who refuse to “share their toys” with casual players. Of course, this is just another phase of yet another on-going narrative within the industry: the culture wars between “casual gamers” and the “hardcore”, but I’ll go into greater detail with that another time. The main thing to keep in mind is that many hardcore gamers feel that games that typically cater to them are being retooled in order to bring in a wider audience, but at the cost of what made that experience special to them in the first place. It was all perfectly encapsulated in the Dark Souls II “easy mode” controversy: a simple mistranslation in an interview led fans of the series to rage over the loss of one of the few modern games considered hardcore and gaming journalists tore into them, like a pack of wolves into a crippled doe. The whole situation was ridiculous, but it illustrates the issue at hand: many long-time fans tend to be left high and dry when publishers appeal to a larger audience.

While modifying games for wider appeal take on a multitude of different forms, I have noticed that there are some common methods that typically crop up, especially in the case where the new games offend the pre-existing audience. Perhaps the top offender is simplifying the gameplay. While this isn’t always detrimental to the gameplay (in many cases, I think it’s actually beneficial), there’s a difference between streamlining the game and removing the game’s complexities. Related is reducing the game’s overall difficulty, usually achieved by removing obstacles and dumbing down enemy AI. Of course, this isn’t always intentional: poor AI and level design are the hallmark of poor designers. One last common culprit of expanding a game’s audience is tacking on a multiplayer mode to a game that is either awkwardly implemented or simply isn’t needed. While this is commonly done to prevent trade-ins and attempts to appeal to hardcore gamers instead of casuals, it still has the negative effect of taking away resources from single-player campaigns.

There’s no better way to characterize the harmful effects attempting to broaden a game’s demographic improperly can have on the game’s overall quality than listing some examples. The first one that came to mind was Resident Evil 6: it attempted to recapture their old survival-horror fanbase from RE4 while holding onto the more action-oriented third-person shooter audience from RE5, but only delivered a bland, mediocre game decried by gamers and journalists alike. Mass Effect 2 and especially 3 were criticized for ditching some of the RPG elements from the original in favor of cover-based shooter gameplay, while Dragon Age 2 had been accused of reducing the gameplay to mindless hack-and-slash action gameplay. Dead Space 3, while otherwise a fine game, was tainted by microtransactions, which EA added under the pretense of “appealing to mobile gamers” and you can probably guess how well that turned out.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts has been argued to be an example of this as well, ditching the game’s classic collect-a-thon gameplay (and openly mocking it at times), though the only real evidence we have that this was done to appeal to a broader audience is an interview with the game’s composer, Grant Kirkhope. This practice isn’t even limited to the previous generation: Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was developed because Squaresoft was under the impression that JRPGs were too difficult for Western audiences. However, the most drastic example is probably Bomberman: Act Zero, which reimagined the classic character in a gritty, grimdark reboot with mediocre gameplay.

That’s not to say that there aren’t examples where attempting to broaden the audience for a particular title ended up making it a better game overall. Take for example, Street Fighter IV and its various expansions. As Street Fighter III ended up being a commercial failure for Capcom, SF4 ended up taking on gameplay more similar to that of the SF2 games, with slower, more deliberate action and reduced the complexity of various game mechanics. The parry system was dropped, while “focus attacks” were added in, which ended up being used by tournament players in a number of ways. Perhaps most controversial among hardcore fans was the transition from 2D sprites to 3D models, as this evoked the failed “Street Fighter EX” spinoff. However, the gameplay stayed entirely true to the game’s roots, resulting in a 2.5D game. Old fans of Street Fighter from the 90s ate the game up, and after a brief period of hostility, so did the majority of fighting game enthusiasts. That’s not to say it won over everyone in the community, but with the FGC, you have to realize there’s just no pleasing some people.

My next example is probably going to be the most controversial: the “Super Guide” function that’s appeared in recent Nintendo platformers. Yes, yes, I know it’s generally a win button that’s considered lame by most “real” gamers, but hear me out on this one. First, it’s optional, so even if it gets triggered in-game (after dying 5 or so times), you’re never actually forced to use it. Second, Nintendo’s made a pretty big point of trying to cater to casual gamers as of late, especially compared to Sony and Microsoft. So, with that in mind, Super Guide is probably the best solution to this problem: novice players have a way to continue on without getting stuck at some particularly difficult level and Nintendo has free reign to beef up the difficulty. And trust me, they have: Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country Returns are incredibly difficult games if you beat them without any help, even if you don’t take their post-game campaigns into account.

One last major case where simplifying gameplay to broaden an audience had a net positive effect was Saints Row 2. While the original Saints Row was your typical Grand Theft Auto knockoff, SR2 removed some of the more obvious design flaws that hurt GTA’s base gameplay: a lack of checkpoints during missions, long drives back to the starts of a missions and being penalized for causing chaos outside of missions. While game reviewers still thought of Saints Row as a low-rent GTA clone, many gamers prefer it, even to the then-recent GTA4. Furthermore, by differentiating itself from GTA in later games, the Saints Row series gained an audience of its own, being one of THQ’s most successful original franchises and was one of their first titles to be obtained after their bankruptcy.

The point I’m trying to make with this article is simple: video game budgets have swollen to the point where what would’ve been considered phenomenal sales a decade ago are simply not enough to keep AAA development going. Appealing to a wider demographic is one way to circumvent that and that’s not an inherently bad thing. What is bad, is using that as an excuse to deliver a shoddier product: one that doesn’t streamline existing gameplay, but rather scraps the elements that made the original game so engaging for its fans. That’s why core gamers revolt every time any publisher mentions “broadening the audience” – because it’s become a code phrase for “here comes an inferior product we’re literally pushing out to exploit casual gamers, but using a cult-classic IP to draw in the hardcore too”. If you ever want to buck that trend, you’re going to have to work hard to make games that are easy to learn but difficult to master, as opposed to just appealing to the lowest common denominator like you normally do. You need to make games that literally appeal to everyone, from the novice casual player to the veteran hardcore gamer. In short, deliver more games like Street Fighter IV and less like Resident Evil 6.

A Tough Act to Follow

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.

Honorable Mentions:

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.