The Top Ten Most Overrated Games of All Time and What You Should Play Instead (Part 1)

I’ve been wanting to do this article for a long time. Over a year and a half ago, I made a ranked list of what I consider the ten most overrated video games of all time. Due to having limited freedom in what my articles could be about at the time and then constantly feeling like I was doing too many lists after returning to Retronaissance, it has taken until now to finally give this list the articles I always wanted to. But the waiting hasn’t been for nothing, I recently (well, it was recently when I started this article, then I got sidetracked yet again) came up with a gimmick for this list: in addition to listing overrated games, I will also be including an antidote, a game that is similar to the game on the list but fixes my issues with it. So, with 20 games to cover, let’s get right to it!

Number 10: Super Mario 64


As controversial as this choice is, I can’t help but feel that it also acts as a personal safeguard. Starting with an entry from my favorite publisher in my favorite series (on my least favorite console they made, but let’s save that for another time) seems like a pretty good shield against accusations of bias when we get to non-Nintendo choices on my list (although I promise this isn’t a token Nintendo entry, more are coming…). But while this is easily my favorite game on the list, hence it being number 10, it’s still a genuine pick. Super Mario 64 may have been a gigantic leap forward for 3D games, but damn it, it is not retroactively the sole arbiter of a “true” Mario game. It does not get to make linear Mario games a bad thing or deviation. It also isn’t an avant-garde work of horror that later Mario games ruined with their “kiddiness.” The eel isn’t trying to scare you, it just doesn’t have a lot of polygons to work with. And this isn’t even getting into the control and camera improvements that later 3D Marios made. It may sound like I hate this game, but I really don’t, it has just been given a sacred status that went way too far, even if a lot of it is earned. It’s overrated mainly in comparison to other Mario games, which is why it’s only number 10.

Instead You Should Play: Super Mario Odyssey


While I may prefer linear style Mario games, I’m not going to use this category as a bludgeon against non-linear ones. After a decade of complaining, Nintendo made another sandbox style Mario game (sandbox Mario games coming from the timeline initiated in the Autumn World ending from Super Mario World, while the linear ones came from its normal overworld palette) and while it wasn’t my first choice, they did such a good job with Super Mario Odyssey that it was the first game I felt my old level of hype and excitement for in years. Super Mario Odyssey improves on Super Mario 64 in every conceivable way, with more jumping tricks to exploit, more actual platforming, and way, way more to do and find in its levels. 120 stars? Odyssey has 880 moons. No, not every moon matches the main stars, but SMO is still going to take much, much longer to fully complete. Super Mario Odyssey also makes exploring more pleasant by not forcing you back to the start of the level after almost every star/moon, and it is filled with the brilliant platforming that Super Mario 64 often came up short in. Odyssey may not quite be my favorite Mario, but it gives me hope that an even better direct sequel could make a style of Mario game that fully satisfies fans of both linear and sandbox style, which is not a hope that Super Mario 64 ever gave me.

Number 9: Final Fight


I don’t really have as much to say about this as the previous entry, although I’m just now realizing it could be considered something of an inverse. While Super Mario 64’s status as the supposed unquestioned best 3D platformer of all time leads to an absurd level of worship for it, Final Fight’s status as the most iconic beat-‘em-up of all time leads to the genre as a whole being thrown under the bus. Brave journalists who want a controversial opinion that no one will get mad at them for often announce that they consider the entire beat-‘em-up genre an outdated relic that was never that good in the first place. The claims that go with this, that they are repetitive button mashers, do apply fairly well to Final Fight in my opinion. Overly large, not very mobile characters fighting a few main enemy types over and over again in levels that are mostly window dressing without much technique in combat. Final Fight isn’t a terrible game, but it just doesn’t hold my interest very well and doesn’t deserve to be considered the main representative of its genre. Sure, some people would say the Genesis’s Streets of Rage series deserves that title, but I have a different choice for the SNES’s champion in that contest…

Instead You Should Play: TMNT IV: Turtles in Time


Now take every complaint I had about Final Fight and reverse it. Reasonably sized, fast characters with jumps that could handle most Mario levels and lots of moves which almost all have their own purpose. Tons of enemy types and level obstacles. And instead of having a watered down SNES version, the home version obliterates the arcade game with more levels, bosses, and greatly improved controls. Turtles in Time is what a classic style beat-‘em-up has the potential to be, and the greatest argument for their value. I’ve loved this game for almost all of my life, but it was relatively recently that I realized just how much it excelled compared to other beat-‘em-ups even if you completely ignore TMNT nostalgia. Turtles in Time will be just as fun as it ever was in 2020: Neon Night-Riders and beyond.

Number 8: Bioshock


This is the game on the list that I made the least progress in. While I beat most of the overrated category games on this list and made a lot of progress in the couple others I didn’t, I just couldn’t make myself keep playing Bioshock. Yes, the story and atmosphere are good, but it had been generations since I played an FPS with such clunky control and poor hit detection. I felt like I was playing one of those action-RPGs I can’t stand where you essentially have to trade hits (yeah, stay tuned, we’ll get to one of those later). Regardless, I’m sure I could have beaten it if I really wanted to, thanks to its checkpoint system. Really, if it wasn’t for that checkpoint system, I’d almost file this game under “just not my thing” and leave it off the list. But that checkpoint system, not only do I hate it with a burning passion, it spread into and poisoned other FPSes. In its default mode (turning off this feature will result in unfairly huge gaps between checkpoints) dying in Bioshock will make you spawn at a checkpoint equivalent. However, everything except your health meter will be exactly as it was when you died. Enemies stay dead/injured, ammo and consumables you used are still gone, you just have to walk back to where you were. So, the penalty for dying is now tedium, solely tedium. Sorry, no amount of men, oceans, and lighthouses can make up for that.

Instead You Should Play: Metroid Prime


This is probably the antidote game that’s the most different from its counterpart, but I think there are still enough similarities to justify my choice. Metroid Prime is an atmospheric, lore heavy, varied mix of weapons and abilities sort of-FPS, like Bioshock. While it trades an emphasis on direct story for puzzles and platforming, Metroid Prime shows that gameplay doesn’t have to be sacrificed for atmosphere, and that’s why I picked it as the antidote. Metroid Prime is a faithful recreation of Super Metroid’s formula in 3D, and it pulls off everything it tries expertly. I don’t want to go into too much detail about it since, again, this is more different than its counterpart than would be ideal, but if I get an itch for the type of experience everyone describes Bioshock as, Metroid Prime is my first choice for scratching it.

Number 7: Strider


Now what could I dislike about this legendary action game with great, buttery smooth control and a high but always fair difficulty level? I guess the biggest issue would be the fact that I have no idea what game everyone praising it is playing. I’ve played both the arcade and very faithful Genesis versions of Strider, and neither one matches the game everyone else apparently played. Strider’s controls are as stiff as the original Castlevania, and the level design is definitely not built around them to the extent that it is in that game. Strider is also among the most prominent examples of one of my biggest gaming pet peeves, your character is way too big and it makes dodging even more difficult. I can’t make any progress in the game without tedious memorization to compensate for how big, slow, and clunky the title character is. That is not my idea of a well-designed action platformer, and unlike with Bioshock, this is a genre I definitely have enough familiarity with to judge. I genuinely don’t understand the disconnect I have with everyone else when it comes to this game, but it’s huge and I have to put Strider on this list.

Instead You Should Play: Hagane: The Final Conflict


This is the most obscure antidote game on the list, but it’s also one of the most perfectly fitting. Hagane was released late in the Super Nintendo’s life, and sadly it is currently only available in that form and at an absurdly high price. Regardless, it is the game everyone seems to be describing when they talk about Strider. A very hard but always fair melee-focused action platformer, Hagane is everything you could want from this type of game. I feel like the agile ninja that everyone says Strider is when I’m slashing through enemies and dodging projectiles in Hagane. This is one of the best hidden gems of the 4th generation, and it deserves the praise and great 2014 revival game that Strider got.

Number 6: Sonic Adventure 2


There’s a third of a good game in here. The Sonic and Shadow levels are some of the best examples of 3D Sonic platforming even to this day, but they are only a third of the game. For the other two-thirds, you get two play styles from the original Sonic Adventure, but for some mind-baffling reason they’ve been made worse. The shooter levels have become mindless and tedious thanks to your reasonably agile robot from Sonic Adventure being replaced by clunky, slow walkers. And the treasure hunting levels… someday I’m going to play Sonic 2006 just so I can justify saying they are the worst thing ever in a 3D Sonic game. Wandering around levels with a horrific camera that was not designed for any kind of backtracking, possibly walking right by a buried master emerald shard because the radar will only track one shard at a time for absolutely no reason. I don’t care how much you love the music or how you think this is the only game ever made where Shadow is cool instead of an edgelord, two-thirds of this game ranging from boring to atrocious means it doesn’t deserve to have praise heaped on it. Also, I hate the Chao Garden with a burning passion.

Instead You Should Play: Sonic Adventure


As I mentioned, the worst crime Sonic Adventure 2 committed was making two of the gameplay styles from the original Sonic Adventure worse in every way. So it’s pretty easy to see why I’d recommend just playing the original. Sonic Adventure has the same amount of Sonic style levels, much more enjoyable versions of the other level types from Sonic Adventure 2, two other styles that are pretty fun, and one level type that is poorly executed but represents a much smaller portion of the game and can be breezed through instead of the drawn-out torture of the SA2 hunting levels. The open adventure fields aren’t great, but they’re mostly simple and painless, much better than what Sonic Adventure 2 makes you go through for the majority of its duration. The music is at least as good as SA2 and the story is similar in quality, just make sure to pick up the DX version so that you don’t have to deal with unskippable cinemas showing the same scenes in different characters’ stories. I still hate the Chao Garden, however.

Well, I finally did it, halfway there and ready to post the first part of this article. Writing about games higher up on my lists is usually easier for me, so hopefully it won’t be that long until we get to Part 2, stay tuned!


Of Axioms and Idioms: The New Sub-Standard

While I’ve been having fun revitalizing older series that I abandoned awhile back, it would be hypocritical of me to orphan my latest series. This time, it’s not so much a lack of topics that has caused me to forgo writing Of Axioms and Idioms, it’s more a lack of time. I’ve got so many ideas for new articles that I’ve managed to leave a good number of worthwhile topics on the back-burner for quite some time. It doesn’t help that I seem to be coming up with more new ideas quicker than I can write the existing ones. Worst of all is the fact that I tend to find my newest ideas the most intriguing, which pushes things back even further in many cases. Still, it’s been roughly half a year since the last time I wrote an article in this series, so it seems like it’s the right time to bring it back.

This one’s been rolling around in the back of my mind for quite some time, yet ironically, it’s also the latest topic I’ve managed to come up with for this series. Basically, there’s something of a stigma when it comes to long-running series. Specifically, when it comes to their latest iterations. The issue isn’t specifically liking the current games in an old series, that seems to be alright by most accounts. Rather, considering the most recent entry in well-established franchises to be the best that said franchise has to offer seems to be frowned upon among die-hard fans. Likewise, when a more or less “objective” best game is chosen, it’s generally a relatively early title in the series’ history.

To show you just how long this idea has been sitting around, the original example that inspired this topic is no longer relevant. Tekken Tag Tournament 2, while still currently my favorite game in the Tekken franchise – ironically, I’ve yet to pick up Tekken 7 – is no longer the latest game in the franchise. Still, I felt a little ashamed to acknowledge that the latest entry in the series had become my favorite, simply because I was a long-time fan and therefore, was familiar with the earlier games in the series. Meanwhile, ask the average Tekken fan and chances are they’ll name a much earlier game as their favorite: specifically, Tekken 3. If you’ve read my Tekken retrospective from earlier this year, you’d know that I was never really quite as enamored with the game as the majority of the Tekken fanbase, even if I did recognize its quality.

Another slightly more relevant example would relate to MegaMan, specifically the Classic series. Personally, I think the tenth game in the franchise – which has been the most recent game for a whopping 7 years at this point – is the best that the series has to offer. Most of the Classic faithful, on the other hand, are still hung up on MegaMan 2. Honestly, I don’t even think MM2 is the best of the NES games, let alone the best in its entire series. MegaMan 2 made the most significant improvements over its predecessor, but the franchise still had room to grow. What I find especially ironic is that MegaMan 9 – a game that was essentially built to perfectly emulate an MM2 ROM hack – received much greater acclaim, despite having weaker level designs. Worst of all, it seems like if you don’t accept 2 as the “one true Classic MegaMan game”, you’re bound to be accused of being a contrarian, or worse still, a hipster. Don’t get me wrong: MM2 is a great game, I just think that some of the later games in the series made vast improvements to the formula, but they’re generally cast aside as inferior copies. As a side note, I think it’s a crying shame that the Game Boy games (namely IV and especially V) don’t receive as much attention as they deserve: I think both of those games blew MM2 out of the water, in spite of their hardware limitations.

A slightly less relevant example would be the near-deification of Super Mario 64 among the 3D Mario platformers. Sure, people recognize the quality of both Galaxy games – to at least some extent – but for whatever reason, 64 is still somehow the golden standard to which all future Mario games of that type are held against. I’ll never understand it: honestly, I never thought SM64 was that good in the first place and I think every other game of that type in the Mario series surpassed it in some way, even the abomination/cult classic Super Mario Sunshine. To make matters worse, I actually consider 3D World to be my favorite in that particular batch of games, though I’ve seen more than a few people dismiss it as an inferior knockoff of 3D Land which was, ironically, my previous favorite. I’d argue that the 3D Marios keep improving with each game and that makes 64 the worst by default. Yet it is still the clear favorite for some reason.

Of course, perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon is the fan reaction to the Legend of Zelda games. While both A Link Between Worlds and especially Breath of the Wild have seemingly put it to rest, the so-called “Zelda cycle” is, by and large, the most prevalent and observable example of this mentality I’ve seen on the internet. The Zelda cycle, as I understand it, can be broken down thusly: after enough time has passed since the release of the latest Zelda game, the fanbase begins its backlash against the game itself, deeming it terrible. This, in turn, allows the previous game in the franchise – the one that was previously dubbed the worst the franchise had to offer – to be viewed as an acceptable game for the series. The game that came before that will then usually take its place at the series favorite, the stated “gold standard” for what the next Zelda game should attempt to be. The former “gold standard” is then considered to be overrated (but still good) and everything before that seems to just fade into the ether, effectively just becoming acceptable in general but not a major focal point for the franchise. A safe choice, considered “good for their time” and generally otherwise ignored.

As for a counterpoint to this particular attitude, the best I’ve really been able to observe would have to be within the Ys fanbase. Put simply, “every Ys is best Ys”. Given the fact that the series has gone through at least two major gameplay shifts in its 30-year existence, it only makes sense that most of the fanbase would generally be pretty chill about liking the newest games in the franchise, as Falcom always seems to strive to improve upon mistakes made in the previous games and avoids change strictly for its own sake, rather only fundamentally shifting the gameplay style once they’ve reached the limits of their current format. Of course, this isn’t a perfect example by any means: there’s a distinct faction that considers The Oath in Felghana (and to a far lesser extent, Origin) as the one true Ys game(s), disavowing anything that came after and, bafflingly enough, before. I guess there are problem children in every fanbase.

Then there’s the Sonic fanbase, which I supposed also acts both as an example and a counter-balance to this perspective. There are essentially three major camps contained within the Sonic fanbase: those who enjoy the original Genesis-era games and feel that this is the best direction for the franchise moving forward, those who cut their teeth on the series during the Adventure games and want the games to go back to that style (in spite of the fact that Sega already tried to recreate said formula twice and ended up with the games generally considered the worst in the entire franchise in the process) and finally, fans of the modern games who consider any references to older titles to be meaningless pandering to a bygone era. If it’s not obvious, the former two camps clearly act in support of my theory, while the third and final camp appears to be its Bizarro doppelganger rather than a nuanced reaction. Of course, these three factions don’t encompass the entire Sonic fandom – there is room for nuance elsewhere – but they definitely make things difficult for Sega moving forward.

Of course, there is a certain level of forgiveness allowed when it comes to committing the grave sin of liking the latest game in a long-running series in general. This is generally reserved for those new to the series. After all, you always remember your first and as they’re new to the series, they have time to learn the “right way” to consider the series. Older fans, on the other hand, generally aren’t afforded the same level of leeway. They’re already familiar with the franchise and its history, so the entire concept of long-time fans disagreeing with the status quo is inconceivable to the hiveminds generally associated with these fanbases. It’s almost like to prefer a game that was intended as an improvement to earlier games in the series is to completely discount the series’ entire history in one fell swoop.

So what exactly is the cause for this animosity towards the most recent games in a franchise? An obvious culprit would be the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t necessarily follow: if nostalgia were to blame, then every fan would generally consider the first game they played to be the best in the franchise, which would be a particularly difficult move for those who had been playing games in the series since its inception. Not to mention the fact that if the first game in a franchise is its best, then there’s really no point in continuing to produce them, diminishing returns and all that. Likewise, given the fact that many video game franchises tend to have one or two games that are considered the best at large, that would also imply that most of the fanbase started playing the series upon the release of that specific game, which seems a bit farfetched if you ask me. So clearly there’s more at work here than simple nostalgia.

A much more likely explanation is equally simple: credibility as a fan. With well-established series – regardless of medium – knowledge of the series’ origins has a tendency to give the impression of legitimacy with regards to any particular fan’s adoration for the works in the general. The same could be said for general consensus: as with most group dynamics, a lack of dissention among the ranks has a tendency of creating a much stronger sense of community, an element that fandoms require to thrive at any stage in their life cycles, from their humble beginnings on. Whether or not this means that most fans legitimately believe that the designated best game in the franchise is their actual favorite, they’re simply giving the game lip service to fit in or that they’ve been essentially railroaded into considering said game to be the best in order to align themselves properly within the group tends to vary – all are clear and distinct possibilities, though I’d consider the former two to be the most likely.

This leads to a much more pertinent question: why is there such resistance to the idea that modern entries of an existing series could potentially surpass their forebearers? I mean, it just seems logical to me that games should constantly strive to improve over what came before them, so maybe I’m missing something. Does acknowledging the strength of newer games make the older ones retroactively worse? Is one’s credibility at stake if they acknowledge improvements made to an existing formula if they just happen to be implemented to close to current year? I’m at a bit of a loss here.

Maybe newer games are just being held to a higher standard in general. After all, they do have years of experience to fall back on, so I can’t argue that they should be held to a higher standard than the games of old. However, there is also the potential to take things way too far in this regard: while nostalgia isn’t completely to blame, they can generally build classic games up to be better in fans’ memories than the reality – take a look at how well various re-releases for more obscure games have been received. Put both the overinflated quality of older games with an expectation for every game to exceed the previous entries in their series to an obscene degree, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

I mostly wrote this article to essentially dispel any shame, perceived or otherwise, I’ve felt when liking the latest games in series I’ve been following for quite some time. The sheer sense of elitism when it comes to long-time fans vis-à-vis newer entries has always just struck me as weird. I suppose that this was more of an exercise in trying to justify my own preferences to myself. Of course, this is a fitting use of the “Of Axioms and Idioms” banner, as they’re generally meant to explore my various opinions, unorthodox or otherwise. But what do you think? Do you think I’m completely off-base or am I on to something? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

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.

What Went Wrong: Platformers in the 3D Era

The 8 and 16-bit eras were a glorious age for platformers. Super Mario Bros. completely redefined gaming at the start of the third generation, and as a result platformers became the dominant genre in console gaming. This continued through the 16-bit era, with Mario and Sonic engaging in the greatest franchise war in gaming history and countless companies trying to cash in. Despite the mascots with attitude invasion, there were still plenty of great platformers. Donkey Kong Country, Ristar, Mega Man X, Kirby Super Star, Rocket Knight Adventures, it seemed like the good times would never end. As we all know, however, they did. I don’t think anyone would deny that in the sixth generation, platformers were nowhere near as prominent as they had been a decade earlier, but what led to this and where did it start? In my opinion, the roots of the problem can be traced back to the very start of the fifth generation.

When Super Mario 64 was released, the last thing on anyone’s mind was that platformers were going to face a decline. Arguably the most influential game of the 90s, Super Mario 64 single handedly carried Nintendo 64’s launch to record breaking heights, and it was one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. No one can deny that it had a huge and positive impact on 3D gaming as a whole, and few would deny that it is a great game. There are, however, some valid questions about how great of a platformer it is. Super Mario 64 was praised for its sense of wonder and exploration, the feel that you could go anywhere and do anything (at least relative to other games from the time period), but as it took people far too long to realize, that’s really not the point of a platformer. Super Mario 64 did not have as much pure platforming as the 2D Mario games, there was a lot more time spent searching and exploring with often minimal environmental challenges, and dying from anything except bottomless pits was nearly impossible. The non-linear nature of the levels necessitated a simplicity in their design, since it always had to be possible to backtrack. Despite these issues, Super Mario 64 was still a great game and a quality platformer. However, something that revolutionary is bound to have wide reaching influence, and not every designer knows when to stop.

Anyone who was into platformers during the fifth generation will recognize the label collectathon. A collectathon is a platformer where the goal of the game is to collect a huge and varied amount of items that are strewn throughout the levels. They are usually non-linear, and most of the items are checked off a list scavenger hunt style (“In this level find 10 Important Plot Things, 6 Kind of Important Things, 100 Scattered Everywhere Things, and 3 Secret Things”) instead of being a renewable resource like money in an RPG. Super Mario 64 was fairly restrained in what it made you collect, but naturally future 3D platformers wanted to be even bigger and presumably better. Some games such as the Crash and Spyro series struck a good balance, but for other platformers this spiraled out of control. “Platformers” became more and more about checking every corner of usually mapless levels and less about any sort of actual platforming. Since the non-linear design made standard platforming so difficult to incorporate, mini-games were given more and more emphasis (more on that later). This came to a head in Donkey Kong 64. Not only did you need to collect 25 Golden Bananas, 375+ bananas, a couple of hidden Banana Fairies, an Arena Crown and Boss Key, and enough banana coins to buy all the new abilities in each stage… you had to do this with five characters, almost every collectable only being available to one of them! The backtracking and aimless wandering through the massive levels completely overshadowed any platforming, and that’s not even getting into the chunk of the game taken by genre switching mini-games. Donkey Kong 64 was the rallying point for a backlash against collectathon platformers, and developers did listen. Unfortunately, the solution was arguably even more detrimental to platformers.

Enter the sixth generation of gaming. Things started out rocky for platformers from the very start, with Sonic making a rough transition to 3D, Crash and Spyro leaving their original developers, and Mario missing GameCube’s launch. The generation really got started in Fall 2001, and some of the most popular and influential games of that time were Grand Theft Auto 3, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Halo. I bring those up not only because they were trendsetting games that weren’t platformers, but because they are all M rated, which demonstrates one of the big problems platformers faced in the sixth generation. The sixth generation’s market was dominated by mature rated games, which barely any platformers fall under (and the few that do tend to be satire based instead of gritty realism). Grand Theft Auto 3 is especially relevant to the decline of platformers’ mainstream popularity, since the wide open sandbox genre it popularized in many ways took the role platformers had in the fifth generation. Huge open worlds with a gigantic amount of collectables, sub-missions, and gameplay types made the generational transition, but the platforming elements didn’t come with them. Sandbox games were getting all the clones, not platformers.

The defining platformer for the sixth generation was Ratchet and Clank. The gun focused combat system, increased emphasis on story, and more clear mission objectives were all things that the series made standard for 3D platformers in its generation. The influence can clearly be seen with the Sly Cooper and Jak and Daxter series. The first game in those series came out before or at the same time as Ratchet and Clank, and both sequels changed a great amount to be more similar to R&C. Unfortunately, like Super Mario 64, Ratchet and Clank’s formula (which still had a good amount of platforming) would be exaggerated to its detriment in future games. The Ratchet and Clank games consistently reduced the amount of platforming in them throughout the generation, replacing it with RPG style upgrades for the guns and a combat emphasis. Other platformers used the wide open sandbox approach of Grand Theft Auto, leaving little room for platforming. The evolution of platformers in the sixth generation was a lateral move, while the new standards were less annoying than the collection mania of the fifth generation, platforming had been even more shoved to the wayside.

Things were not looking good for platformers as the sixth generation came to a close. What exactly was it that caused the genre to go from its industry dominating golden age to the verge of extinction? The biggest internal problem was the transition to 3D, platformers thrive on complex environmental level design and precise control, neither of which were the strong point of early 3D games. This caused platformers to look for another way to wow gamers, and while it initially worked, it grew out of control to the point where gamers decided they didn’t need the platforming at all. Combined with the rise of cinematic and adult oriented games, everything was perfectly lined up to knock the platforming genre from its dominant position. Things were going to get even worse in the seventh generation, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But that’s a story for another time.