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.

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Retrospective: The Legend of Zelda – Part I

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Welcome to the first in a sporadic series of retrospectives I’m planning on doing. Considering that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild releases today, it seems only fitting that I start with the Zelda franchise. This is, by no means, a complete look back on the entire series. While I do plan a follow-up in the future to round out the remainder of the series, as of right now I’ve only played through many but not all of the Zelda games. In addition to the ones listed below, I’ve also managed to play Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds. So, given the fact that I’ve played what could potentially be considered the first half of the Zelda franchise – a bit less, honestly – I figured I might as well cover my thoughts on the franchise’s early days in honor of its latest release. Continue reading

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2017

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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!

Continue reading

Spinoff Sideshow: The Zelda of Legend

I don’t know why, but it seems like I have this tendency to start new series on Retronaissance, and despite my efforts to continue them, it just never seems to pan out for me. At best, it seems like I just come up with new series that seem like new takes on older ones, almost like a spinoff. With that awkward segue, I bring you yet another series, which hopefully won’t meet the same fate as those others: Spinoff Sideshow – where I will be detailing potential spinoffs for existing video game franchises that just strike me as interesting.

Video games are one of those rare mediums where sequels generally have the potential to exceed their predecessors. Likewise, they have a tendency to be the rare genre where spinoffs can truly deliver a unique experience, as opposed to just being the same ol’-same ‘ol in a new locale or a weak vehicle for the breakout character of an existing property. Throughout my time gaming, I’ve seen my fair share of interesting spinoffs – games that do more than just regurgitate the standard formula and slap a new character on the front (granted, some of those are pretty good, like UmJammer Lammy or MegaMan & Bass). However, I personally prefer to see games that feel like a totally new experience, merely using the existing intellectual properties to make the sale. I’m talking about games like Luigi’s Mansion, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks.

Our inaugural topic for this series? Well, people have been asking for an official Zelda-led Zelda title for quite some time now. Zelda’s playable appearance in Hyrule Warriors managed to stoke the flames of demand for that one and even Eiji Aonuma, current producer of the Zelda franchise, has expressed interest in such a title. I’ve seen some fan proposals for a game across the internet, most prominently one that turns my stomach by reducing Zelda to a gender-and-palette-swapped Link, stripping the character of her unique properties. Personally, I think I can do better than the others.

First of all, let’s consider the name. Since most people associate Link with the “Legend of Zelda” game, I’d avoid using it. Personally, I’d probably go for “Hyrule Historia” or “Legend of Hyrule”. Though if you want to make sure that Zelda’s name is in the title, we could go with “The Zelda of Legend”. I mean, it’s clever in a not-really clever way. I would personally go for a Hyrule-related name personally.

Now onto the real meat of this spinoff, the gameplay. The basic concept is simple – think of a traditional Zelda game with less of an emphasis on melee combat, focusing instead on slower, ranged combat and stealth. Obviously, the puzzles would also be kept, but Zelda would have a completely different moveset when compared to Link. While Link mostly utilizes on his Master Sword for combat, Zelda would instead mainly use light arrows (which are commonly associated with her) and other forms of magic. After all, we’ve seen Zelda cast various magic spells when acting as an NPC and in playable appearances in other games, such as Hyrule Warriors and especially the Super Smash Bros. games. For example, I could see using her Naryu’s Love attack from Smash to reflect projectiles back at enemies (a common strategy for taking down Zelda bosses) and Din’s Fire could be a potential replacement for bombs and the lantern.

My consideration for the most important aspect of Zelda’s arsenal is something that should be familiar to Zelda aficionados: transformations. After all, Zelda’s had more than her fair share of disguises in previous games, most of which gave her access to brand new powers and abilities. Now, the following examples are just that – examples – but hopefully, they’ll still provide some context. First, there’s the obvious pick, Zelda’s most famous alter-ego: Sheik, the stealthy Sheikah warrior. When disguised as Sheik, Zelda’s stealth abilities would increase and she’d be given access to new attacks. Another form that comes to mind would be Tetra from The Wind Waker, which would allow for direct melee combat, perhaps replacing magical skill for the cutlass and pistol she wielded in Hyrule Warriors Legends. The last concept I had for a transformation would be a monster transformation, not unlike how Zelda possessed a Phantom in Spirit Tracks. This ability would be entirely defensive, unable to attack, but in return, Zelda would be able to walk through dungeons without being attacked by monsters, even gaining the ability to talk to them not unlike the Power of Alter from Ys II, effectively adding a new dimension to the stealth gameplay I mentioned before – hiding in plain sight. This “Phantom” form would also be large, thus able to move certain objects, making it indispensable when it comes to solving specific puzzles.

As I said earlier, puzzles would be a key element for this game, to the extent where there would even be ways to obtain specific items or defeat enemies with little problem by utilizing certain items to solve puzzles. Likewise, the magic and transformations I mentioned earlier would count as dungeon items. Better yet, a Zelda-led spinoff could be the perfect opportunity to experiment with the standard Zelda items, modifying them to some extent. One of the ideas I came up with would be replacing the various effects of the Ocarina/Harp and various rods in the game with minor spells that could be found throughout the overworld map and dungeons, imbuing Zelda with control over fire and ice, the ability to fling herself into the air and to warp to various locations. Another idea would be to bring back old items that haven’t resurfaced in Zelda games in quite some time, like the Cane of Somaria, the Roc’s Cape or the Magnetic Gloves. Zelda could also utilize standard items in unique ways – for example, placing the Mirror Shield would allow Zelda to set up angled shots for her Light Arrows to hit a specific target placed at an angle she couldn’t hit directly. Finally, while I would like to keep Zelda’s standard form’s ability for melee combat limited to distinguish her from Link, I would also like to see the Rapier from Hyrule Warriors emerge in the game at some point, likely as a very-late game item, possibly even in the final dungeon.

Of course, one of the more important elements of the Zelda series with regards to its fanbase has been the story. I’d pretty much leave this blank for the most part, but in spite of the focus that has been placed upon the Zelda timelines, I feel like the stories work best when they come up with the storyline first and try to place in within the timeline later, as opposed to just trying to work a game into a specific point in a specific timeline. I guess this could be in the Adult Link timeline, you know, the one where the Hero of Time disappears? That’s my best guess off the top of my head.

I guess there are still two elephants in the room: what to do with Zelda’s most commonly recurring co-stars – Link and Ganon(dorf). I’m of two minds about Link. On one hand, leaving him out would probably be a far more suitable situation for Zelda taking charge in her own adventure. Likewise, this would also likely cement my suggestion for setting the game in “The Era Without a Hero”. On the other hand, it might be interesting to see Zelda react to a standard incarnation of Link, perhaps she could view him as her rival – not wanting to fall into the traditional role of damsel in distress her eponymous ancestors commonly fell into and instead choosing to save Hyrule all on her own. As for Ganondorf, personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a different final villain, especially one that could be original to Zelda’s story. Unfortunately, there’s the argument that could be made that saddling Zelda with anyone besides the Great King of Evil, pig demon or not, would likely delegitimize her adventures. I’d consider this a shame, but I can see the argument for making Ganon(dorf) the big bad.

As for the game’s style, for some reason I’ve always pictured this game as more of a 3D game, as you may have been able to guess by my write-up. Having said that, a 2D game could be interesting as well, though aside from A Link Between Worlds, those games have a reputation for being low-rate handheld titles when compared to the 3D games that commonly originate on consoles. Regarding a second quest, I mean that’s a Zelda staple, so it seems like it would be a perfect choice. Instead of just making it a mirrored hard mode, however, I’d like to see an alternate playable character. My personal pick would be Impa, though I’m sure there could be other worthy characters. Having said that, being a Zelda-centered game would be a good excuse to throw in a little fanservice – I know what you’re thinking I mean, but you’re wrong. I mean Nintendo should make the effort to throw in some popular side characters from earlier games into the setting of Zelda’s adventure, whether in the form of identical descendants/ancestors or just extremely similar counterparts.

I’ve always considered the idea of a Zelda-led game to be more interesting than the common request to just “make Link a girl”, due to the simple fact that Zelda’s unique ability set would lead to a far more interesting game in the interest of “promoting diversity” than simply giving Link a pair of X chromosomes ever could. I’ll be honest, the latter always struck me as lazy pandering. Hopefully, Nintendo decides to do a Zelda-led game at some point in the future, either as a fully-featured console title or even as an eShop pilot title which could lead to a full-fledged expansion in the future.

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2016

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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.

Retro or Reboot?: StarTropics

I’ll be honest, I really enjoyed doing the first Retro or Reboot article and really wanted to do another one as soon as possible. So what if I decided to cheat my own rule about leaving an entire month between articles in a particular series, technically I’ve written 2 more articles since the last one. That has to count for something, right? The only real issue was trying to think up a new topic that could get me just as excited as the last one.

Before we get started, let’s recap the purpose of these articles. I’ll be taking a look at various series (with at least two games) that have fallen on hard times, ones that haven’t received a new game since the PS2 era (I think IPs that originated after that still have a pretty decent chance for revival). Usually, I’ll favor franchises that saw all of their major iterations in the span of a single generation and older generations tend to be favored, just to make for a more radical difference between the two proposals for a new entry in the series: a retro-themed revival that effectively takes the original gameplay and updates it to fit modern game design sensibilities and a full-on reboot, which merely takes the setting of the old franchise and implements it onto an entirely new playstyle. Sort of like a clash between budgets, small versus big. Of course, to make this more of a positive experience, I’ll be optimistic with my proposals.

This article’s topic is StarTropics: a lesser-known Nintendo franchise, but one I’ve been begging to get resurrected for almost two generations now. Effectively the Ristar to Zelda’s Sonic, StarTropics was an adventure game that took the base mechanics of the original Legend of Zelda and took them in a slightly different direction, focusing more on rudimentary puzzle solving and taking a more linear route over Zelda’s open-world exploration. Players took control of Mike Jones, a teenager searching for his lost archeologist uncle, last seen studying the mysteries of C-Island. Armed with only a yo-yo at first, Mike sets off to find his uncle and to solve the mystery of the island. The game’s cult status can likely be attributed to two main factors: the original was only released in North America and Europe and the second game, Zoda’s Revenge, was released exclusively in North America on the NES in 1994, well-after the release of the Super Nintendo. There were rumors back in 2008 of Camelot working on a new iteration of the series on the Nintendo Wii, but nothing really came of it. Likewise, there was a similar rumor stating that Retro Studios was working on a new StarTropics game for Wii U, with similar results. As of right now, the original NES games can be bought on the Wii Virtual Console in North America and the Wii U’s Virtual Console in Europe.

Retro

What we’re looking at here is basically “Super StarTropics”: a game that does for StarTropics what A Link to the Past did for the original Legend of Zelda. Though at this point, it’s also the kind of thing Link’s Awakening, the Oracles games and A Link Between Worlds did for the original Zelda as well. Like with Streets of Rage 4 before it, Super StarTropics probably wouldn’t be the final name for a new game in the franchise, it just perfectly represents how this game should be developed.

Considering the fact that Nintendo R&D3, the developers of the first two games, has been disbanded and the fact that it was mostly popular in the West, I’ve got a specific developer in mind that I think would be perfect for it. You’re probably thinking Retro Studios, but you would be wrong. After all, I can still remember the backlash from when Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze was announced and how it kept Retro from developing Metroid Prime 4 their own original IPs. Besides, this is intended to be a smaller project in terms of scale. Frankly, I’d feel more comfortable with “Super StarTropics” being handled by Next Level Games. They did an amazing job on Punch-Out!! for the Wii and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and they have a close enough relationship with Nintendo that I’d consider them a “second-party” developer for the Big N.

I see this game being sort of a hybrid of A Link Between Worlds (due to the added emphasis on puzzle solving compared to ALttP) and the original StarTropics. The puzzles in the dungeons themselves would be more intricate than just the hidden switches in the original Startropics games (though it wouldn’t be StarTropics without them) and the puzzles on the overworld needed to progress through the game would also likely be made more complicated than those from the NES era. Aside from that, I’d also keep a more linear progression compared to the Zelda games, to better differentiate the two series. Keep the limited ammo on the sub-weapons, the awesome bosses and the control style from the original StarTropics. Mike Jones better be able to jump in any new StarTropics. Ditch the lives system from the old games though, maybe incorporate an item similar to Zelda’s fairy to replace it instead.

Now onto the boring part: graphical style. As usually, I’m pretty neutral on the whole thing. High-definition hand-drawn 2D graphics, 3D models incorporated into a 2.5D style (ala ALBW) or even retro-styled pixel sprites, it doesn’t matter to me. As long as it’s pleasing to the eye, I’m good.

Usually I wouldn’t really have anything else to say here, but I do have some other thoughts on the retro revamp this time around. Specifically, which platform I’d prefer it to be on. Oddly enough, I think this type of game would work better on 3DS (or whatever future handhelds Nintendo comes out with) than on a home console like the Wii U. Maybe it just has to do with the fact that it would be a smaller game and I couldn’t really see something like this being a big hit on a console, especially if it’s a download-only game. A Link Between Worlds, on the other hand, performed fairly well and it was a handheld Zelda that managed to get major acclaim.

Reboot

I guess the best way to describe this one is “StarTropics: Ocarina of Time”. Again, as with “Super StarTropics”, this isn’t by any means a final title, just a summary of how this would play out. In fact, considering how poorly the story of Zoda’s Revenge was received, maybe we should just stay away from time travel entirely. Basically, what I’m proposing here is a game that brings StarTropics out of the early ‘90s and into the modern day, doing for the franchise exactly what Ocarina of Time did…back in 1998.

Earlier I said that I wouldn’t feel comfortable if Retro Studios developed a retro-themed throwback to the StarTropics games of yore, but if we’re talking a modernized big-budget release, I feel like they would be a perfect fit. People have been clamoring for a Retro-developed Zelda game, but Shigeru Miyamoto himself has gone on record stating that even if they are qualified to make a new game, the code base for Zelda resides in Japan while Retro is an American company. Nintendo has a tendency to be very watchful with their more important ideas, so the differences in both time zone and distance would make this project troublesome. On the other hand, StarTropics holds strikingly little importance among Nintendo’s intellectual properties, so Retro would likely require far less oversight on a project like that. Better still, since StarTropics has lied dormant since the NES era, Retro would likely be more able to put their own spin on things without Nintendo fearing fan backlash if they deviate too far from the original formula.

The gameplay style for this game is somewhat obvious: start with the basic action-adventure mold made popular by such games as Okami, Darksiders and every mainline console Zelda since Ocarina of Time. Then throw in some characteristics from StarTropics: mild platforming, puzzle solving and a greater emphasis on the overworld. Keep the basic characters, settings, items and storyline from the first game. Try to ignore the second game’s storyline, or if you have to, make fun of its silly time-travel plot (Bad dream? Fanfic?) Considering the biggest audience for this one is likely to be Westerners, so the gameplay should favor that audience overall. On that note, I’d keep things fairly light and comical in tone, we don’t need any more poorly thought-out gritty reboots.

Unlike the retro revamp, 3D is really the only viable choice for graphics in a big-budget title like this. So, instead, I’ll be talking about the game’s aesthetic. What I say here would also apply to the lower-budget revamp as well. I would like the artstyle of this new game to somewhat resemble the cutscene graphics from the old NES games, especially the old one. I wouldn’t mind seeing character designs take on a similar look to Punch-Out!! on the Wii: something cartoony, but strictly Western. Try to avoid anime aesthetic as much as possible.

There is one last thing I’d like to touch on, something that applies to both proposals. It would be really cool if any new StarTropics game utilized Nintendo’s vast array of sensors for various puzzles. See, back in the day, the original StarTropics came with a letter that revealed a secret message when submerged in water. Imagine decoding messages like that using the Wii U or 3DS’s touch screen. Imagine blowing the dust off of an ancient artifact using the built-in microphones. Imagine using the gyroscope or even the NFC to complete various puzzles in-game. I don’t know about those of you reading, but I think something like that, some interactivity more physical than just hitting buttons would be really cool.

Thus ends another entry in the Retro or Reboot series. What did you think of my ideas this time around? Would you like to see “Super StarTropics” or would you rather see Retro bring the series into the 21st century? Do you disagree with both of my ideas or even feel like StarTropics is not worth resurrecting? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section.

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2015

SNES Master KI

Before I get to the honorable mentions, I have to acknowledge two games I jumped the gun on last year.  Xenoblade Chronicles X and Yoshi’s Wooly World were on my 2014 list (under their codenames), and would have definitely made this list if it weren’t for that.

Honorable Mentions

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Publisher/Developer: WayForward
Platform: PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: 2015

I haven’t gotten around to playing the third Shantae yet, but if it’s as big of an improvement over the first two as I’m told, I’m sure I’ll love this one.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Grezzo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: Spring 2015

While I don’t love Majora’s Mask as much as a lot of people, it’s still a great game and a remake that could fix some of my problems with it has great potential.

Scalebound

Publisher/Developer: Microsoft Studios/Platinum Games
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: 2015

I’m almost certainly not going to be able to get this in 2015, but it’s still a Platinum game, and I love Platinum.


10. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Intelligent Systems
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: March 13, 2015

While strategy games aren’t exactly my forte, I’ve managed to get into the ones Nintendo has made, so I’m cautiously optimistic about Codename STEAM.  I’ve managed to not resent it for not being Paper Mario, at least, and am hoping that Nintendo can pull off a real-time/turn based balance that very few games can make work for me.

9. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Publisher/Developer: Activision
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2015

The only sports series I’ve ever truly loved (really, it’s more of a combo based platformer), I have wanted the THPS series to return to its THPS4 glory for over a decade now.  While we don’t know anything about this game besides its 2015 release date, I’ve seen series return to form after long dark ages before, and I have faith that it is at least possible for it to happen again.

8. Bloodborne

Publisher/Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment/From Software
Platform: Playstation 4
Release Date: March 24, 2015

I really wanted to like Demon’s Souls, I loved the idea of a massive and ultra-challenging dark fantasy action game.  However, I couldn’t get past the WRPG elements.  Bloodborne’s faster, action game style battle system gives me renewed hope.  I don’t have a PS4 yet, but if this game delivers, it may be what gets me to take the plunge.

7. Rise of the Tomb Raider

Publisher/Developer: Microsoft Studios/Square Enix/Crystal Dynamics
Platform: Xbox One, Xbox 360
Release Date: Holiday 2015

Tomb Raider 2013 was a fantastic revival for the series, I loved it as soon as I played it despite not being into the Tomb Raider series to begin with.  Being able to control your jumps just makes everything feel so much better.  This game would be higher on the list if not for the Xbox timed exclusive issue.  I hate timed exclusives, regardless of whether the system I own is the one which gets them (remember the Resident Evil 4 trolling?).  But I still have faith that this will be a great game, whether I settle for the 360 version or wait until 2016 for the inevitable PS4 release.

6. Splatoon

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: Q2 2015

My initial impression of Splatoon was that it looked interesting, but that I wasn’t going to get hyped until a solid single player mode was confirmed, which I was sure would happen.  Well, it happened, and in time to shoot the game up on this list.  The puzzle/platformer/shooter hybrid gameplay in single player looks great, and easily unique enough to justify this being a new IP.  Maybe people will actually remember this before going into the “Nintendo never makes new IPs” nonsense.

5. 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: April 2015

Mega Man will come back.  It is impossible for a series that old and popular to be killed for good, no matter how incompetent Capcom has become.  But in the meantime, Mighty No. 9 should do a great job of filling that void in our hearts.  Inafune is not making any effort to pretend this isn’t a replacement goldfish for Mega Man, and I’m fine with that.  The classic/X hybrid gameplay looks great, the only thing that could make this better is if my joke to troll Icepick came true and Beck was replaced by Mighty Number 10 (but you can call him X) after the first level.

4. Mortal Kombat X

Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros. Games/Netherrealm Studios
Platform: PC. PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: April 14, 2015

Like the aforementioned Tomb Raider 2013, Mortal Kombat 2011 was a fantastic return to form for a long-suffering series.  And unlike Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat was a series I had plenty of nostalgia for.  All Mortal Kombat X has to do is keep the same solid fighting engine that the series finally achieved, and have the same boatload of single player content, and I’ll be happy.  And thanks to story mode, we can look forward to seeing what happens next in this game, instead of finding out what happened in the previous one.

3. Mario Maker

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: 2015

Now this game is long overdue.  After more than half a decade of the premiere make your own platformer franchise being little on intuition and big on floaty physics, we’re getting a game with intuitive touch screen level design and the perfection of 2D Mario physics.  I can’t wait to make my own levels and play yours, even if we don’t get an expansion pack’s worth of pre-made levels included like I’m hoping.  I’ve already got several level ideas planned for this, and you’ll get to play them.

2. Star Fox Wii U

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: 2015

“Come on Reggie, give us Star Fox!”  Well, he did.  We don’t know much about this game, but Nintendo has been on a roll with game quality lately, so I see no reason not to expect this to be the long overdue return to form for Star Fox.  Not much more to say, but I know I’m not the only one greatly anticipating learning more about this game.

1. The Legend of Zelda Wii U

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: 2015

After a long pseudo-drought where we only got touch-screen controlled Zeldas, the series has come back in a big way with the last couple games (yes, I liked Skyward Sword, and so will you in a couple years).  While the idea of an open-world emphasizing Zelda would have frightened me a few years ago, A Link Between Worlds showed that there is absolutely nothing to worry about.  Like Star Fox, we don’t know a terribly large amount about this game, but I’ve never had more confidence in Nintendo’s game quality.  On November 20th, 2015 (Yes, that’s a guess, but my guesses about release dates for Nintendo’s big Holiday game have a pretty good track record), it’s time to return to Hyrule.

Professor Icepick

While last year was pretty good for video games, I notice that a few of the games I had on this list last year missed their release windows. Oh well, it appears none of them died, due to copious updates. Last year was pretty good (at least for me, AAA market kinda took a hit), here’s hoping 2015 manages to be even better.

Honorable Mentions

Cuphead

Publisher/Developer: Studio MDHR
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Release Date: 2015 

A quirky 2D platformer that takes design cues from classic black & white cartoons.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Grezzo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: Spring 2015

A long-awaited enhanced port of a classic Zelda title for the Nintendo 64.

Hyper Light Drifter

Publisher/Developer: Heart Machine
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, Ouya
Release Date: Early 2015

A top-down 2D action-RPG that draws inspiration from both A Link to the Past and Diablo II.

Timespinner

Publisher/Developer: Lunar Ray Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, 3DS
Release Date: November 2015

A SNES-inspired Metroid-like that takes cues from games like MegaMan X and Symphony of the Night.


10. Axiom Verge

Publisher/Developer: Tom Happ/Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: 2015

So let’s start things off with an indie game you may not have heard of. Axiom Verge is unique as it is being developed by a single man: Tom Happ, who previously worked on such high profile titles as Tiger Woods and NFL Street. The game’s development started as a part-time hobby back in March 2010 and the game is finally approaching completion. It’s an exploration platformer that takes cues from games like Metroid, Contra and Blaster Master. It’s also got a really nice looking 8-bit aesthetic that is somehow simultaneously simple and detailed.

9. Tekken 7

Publisher/Developer: Namco Bandai
Platform: Arcade
Release Date: February 2015

I’ve actually been playing the Tekken games since the original one hit arcades back in the mid-90s, and despite a few missteps (Tekkens 4 & 6, respectively), the latest major release in the series, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, was incredible. T7 appears to be going in another new direction, removing TTT2’s bound system and adding “Rage Arts”, which are basically super combos. These trends worry me a little, but I’m still anticipating the game, especially as this may finally be the first Tekken to hit PCs when it is released for the home market.

8. Citizens of Earth

Publisher/Developer: Atlus USA/Eden Industries
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, 3DS
Release Date: January 20, 2015

I’ve mentioned in the past that Nintendo’s Earthbound is one of the few traditional turn-based RPGs I like, due to its unique setting, clever writing and quirky variations on JRPG gameplay. When Eden Industries (made up of ex-members of Next Level Games) announced Citizens of Earth, I’ll admit, I was a little excited. Mostly because this probably the closest thing to another Earthbound we’ll ever see in the West. Alas, their initial crowdfunding campaign failed, but Atlus USA stepped in and funded the game themselves. Citizens of Earth places you in the role of the Vice President of the World, who recruits friends, family and other citizens to help him campaign for re-election, allowing for a unique party system where various members have different unique abilities.

7. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Intelligent Systems
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: March 13, 2015

Code Name S.T.E.A.M. was one of those games I just loved at first sight. With an awesome steampunk setting, an aesthetic inspired by American comic books and a unique battle system that harkens back to Valkyria Chronicles’ turn-based strategy/third-person shooter hybrid gameplay, this game just looks amazing to me. Considering the fact that you’re fighting off an alien invasion with famous characters from literature under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln with anachronistic steam-powered technology makes it even cooler. It’s got such a ridiculous premise, I can’t help but love it. Here’s hoping the game lives up to its potential though, but with Intelligent Systems handling development, I’m sure it’ll be a blast.

6. Splatoon

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: Q2 2015

Speaking of new Nintendo IPs, Splatoon’s a definite departure from what we’ve come to expect from the Big N. Debuting at E3 2014 as a 4-on-4 third-person shooter, the game’s colorful and vibrant artstyle was interesting. Competing with your opponents to cover more of the stage with your ink, it’s an interesting twist on traditional multiplayer shooters. What made the game even more palatable for me was the announcement of an extended single-player campaign. Definitely can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

5. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: February 13, 2015

This was one of the biggest surprises I had all year. Kirby: Canvas Curse was one of the most interesting games on the Nintendo DS and I always figured it was going to be a one-hit wonder. Lo and behold, Nintendo decided to make a sequel on the Wii U of all things. Better still, they decided to use a really cool claymation aesthetic, which I fell in love with at first sight. Better still, it’s heavily rumored that this is going to be a $40 title like Captain Toad. At that price, how could I resist?

4. Yoshi’s Woolly World

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: Spring 2015

I’ll be honest: when this game was first announced as “Yarn Yoshi”, I was incredibly skeptical about it, as every single follow-up to the SNES classic Yoshi’s Island has been mediocre at best. However, as I saw more footage of the game and learned of Good-Feel’s involvement, I became excited, mainly because of how much Woolly World began to resemble Kirby’s Epic Yarn as development progressed. Of course, then there was that long period of radio silence where I feared the game had been cancelled, but fortunately more news eventually came and the game was confirmed for release in 2015. After so many years of waiting, it looks like Yoshi’s Island is finally getting a worthy sequel and I can’t wait.

3. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Publisher/Developer: WayForward
Platform: PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: 2015

Another of my Kickstarter darlings, Half-Genie Hero is the fourth game in the Shantae series. For the longest time, I was merely a fan of Shantae from afar: I had only played a small portion of the original. This past year, however, I beat all three games in the series: the first on 3DS’s Virtual Console, the second in its recent Director’s Cut re-release on Steam, and the third on 3DS. Of course, HGH is going to be an entirely different animal, with hand-drawn HD graphics instead of traditional sprite work. This is also going to be the first time the series isn’t released on a Nintendo handheld and the first time it will appear on Playstation and Xbox systems. While the 2015 date isn’t solid, Wayforward has recently confirmed the scope of the project and is hard at work, delivering another amazing product.

(Oh, by the way, I know this was on my list last year, despite missing 2014 entirely. Let’s just retroactively give that spot to Pirate’s Curse, which for some reason, I thought was going to make its 2013 release window. …in January 2014.)

2. Mortal Kombat X

Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros. Games/Netherrealm Studios
Platform: PC. PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: April 14, 2015

As you may very well know by now, I’m a huge fan of 2D fighting games. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many games in that genre in 2015 that have been announced that aren’t either expansions of existing games, Japan-exclusive “doujin” titles or recent Kickstarters that may not hit their release targets. Fortunately, Netherrealm Studios has got my back. We’ve seen them blossom into a truly skilled developer in 2011’s Mortal Kombat, watched as they experimented with new system mechanics in 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, and are looking to deliver a truly glorious experience in their upcoming Mortal Kombat X. With each character being split into 3 variations, each with different strengths and unique abilities, plus stage interactions returning from Injustice, MKX is shaping up to be a truly amazing game. I just hope the PC port is more stable than the previous NRS releases, whether it’s done by High Voltage Software or a new team altogether. Their previous ports crash my current laptop, despite being powerful enough to run the games (albeit on low settings).

1. 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: April 2015

Does this really surprise anyone? I’ve been mooning over this game ever since it was first announced. By the time it comes out next year, we’ll have gone half a decade without a new MegaMan release from Capcom (the last game they actually managed to release was 2010’s MegaMan 10). I think we’re long overdue for some classic run-and-gun platforming. Though the game’s development has been marred by some controversy (especially with regards to “slacker backing” additional content like voice acting and an additional stage as future DLC), I’m still incredibly excited to see the final project in action.

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.

When Does Fanservice Hurt?

Before I begin, I’d like to apologize for the misleading title: no, this isn’t an editorial on the extremely controversial topic of sexualized females in video games. It just seems like all of the good points on that subject have already been made, and frankly, I don’t have anything unique to say on the subject. This article is about something far less consequential with regards to real-world events, but I’d argue far more interesting and objectively more important with regards to video games in general: when pandering to a fanbase leads to terrible games. Let’s face it, ladies and germs, the sexiness and/or gender of your protagonist doesn’t really have a distinct impact on the quality of gameplay, while catering to hamfisted, moronic fan demands typically does.

We live in an age where fan interaction with the various creators of video games — the publishers AND developers — is at an all-time high. Numerous companies like XSEED, Atlus USA and even some heavy-hitters like the Western branches of Capcom and Namco Bandai games have official channels of communication with the general public. They use them to better understand the desires of their long-time customers, “the fans” if you will (though looking at some communities, fans might be the wrong term). We’ve seen real-life examples of this kind of thing: Project X Zone getting released in the West, PC versions of Dark Souls and Ys I &II, a full HD remake of the NES Classic Ducktales, for Inafune’s sake!

But at the same time, there’s a clear downside to this as well. Not only are we affecting what’s being made, we’re affecting things that were already being made. And quite frankly, sometimes, gamers at large (or more likely, the extremely vocal minority) don’t wield this power with any sort of wisdom. When Eiji Aonuma is aware of the “Zelda Cycle”, clearly there’s some kind of problem. Clearly, there are cases where too much pandering to fans can lead to incredibly shitty games.

What’s that? You’re demanding proof, specific examples of terrible games that were clearly caused by taking fan advice to strange new places? Sure, why not? First on the agenda: the utterly despised Sonic the Hedgehog reboot from 2006 (better known as “Sonic ’06”). Why do I blame the fans on this monstrosity? Well, simply put, many of the non-glitch flaws the game had (mandatory side character missions and the over-the-top serious plot) were the direct result of fans wanting the games to be more like the Sonic Adventure games. And don’t get me started on the Genesis Sonic fanboys who were blatantly pandered to in the first episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, a game that Sega said was a letter to hardcore old-school Sonic fans, while the objectively superior Sonic Colors was “just a game for kids”.

Of course, it’s not always that blatant. I’ll never forget how much my fellow writer SNES Master KI complained when ascended fan-game Street Fighter X MegaMan got a save functionality in its second version in the form of…passwords. To be fair, he wasn’t the only one annoyed by that choice, but I personally didn’t mind that myself. Then there was that entire era where portable Castlevanias were trying to find their own identity after the overwhelming success of Symphony of the Night, one in particular was a blatant knockoff and by extension, the blandest of the bunch: Harmony of Dissonance, the second Game Boy Advance entry. Then there was Mortal Kombat Trilogy, a game that attempted to combine the rosters of every 2D Mortal Kombat into such an incoherent mess, it makes Marvel vs Capcom 2 look well-crafted and would make 9 out of 10 MUGEN players blush. Worst still was Mortal Kombat Armageddon, which attempted to recreate Trilogy’s “magic”, but as a result, nixed unique fatalities due to a lack of storage in lieu of the “Kreate a Fatality”, which is far less interesting than it sounds. Worse still, putting every character from the 6 previous games not only made the game daunting to even look at, but also blatantly made it clear how little anyone cared for anything outside of the first 3 games, which lead to future iterations gleaning from those particular rosters, with few exceptions.

Of course, in most of these cases, it seems like the major flaws stem from older, more popular games in each franchise. In fact, all of my examples tend to be based on games that were fairly popular amongst fans, and as such, the companies (and single developer, in SFxMM’s case) in question simply took a myopic view on what made these particular games great, focusing on bringing back specific minor elements from earlier without planning out how to implement it into a new engine which may not support such things. For example, Super Castlevania IV still had sub-weapons, despite the aimable whip making them pretty much worthless. Games like the two aforementioned Sonic games, MK Armageddon and some post-SotN Metroidvanias, on the other hand, just suffer from being pale imitations of earlier games.

But why blame the fans? The answer should be obvious: these companies are trying to pander to an audience that is clearly bi-polar and generally doesn’t even know what it wants. Trying to appeal to your audience isn’t really a bad thing, but letting them dictate your entire vision is a recipe for disaster. One of the opinions all of my favorite creators of any kind of media have all shared is that the primary audience of any work of media should be the creator him/herself. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to get the best work out of anyone.

Besides, if there’s two universal truths in the universe, it’s that only death and taxes are constant and fanbases ruin everything. No exceptions, fanbases are probably the worst possible place to get any kind of constructive criticism. The worst part being that if any singular aspect of your next game even resembles any individual fan’s ideal vision for a sequel, chances are this will enrage them, as you didn’t make the exact game they themselves conceived. And the more elements that match up, the more rage-filled they become. Keeping up with the fans’ ever-changing opinions is a fool’s errand at best. For example, take The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. When it first came out, the reactions were strictly negative. “Stupid kiddy art style!” “Nothing like Ocarina of Time!” Nowadays, it’s one of the more popular 3D entries in the series, but given the huge fan backlash, the higher-ups at Nintendo literally had to be coerced to greenlight the recent HD re-release. An even better example would be Super Mario Sunshine. Even to this day, Sunshine is utterly despised by the majority of the fanbase, but each time a new Mario platformer (2D or 3D) gets announced, more and more people hold up Sunshine as an example of the kind of unique gameplay they expect out of future Mario games, despite still hating Sunshine to an insane degree!

Worse still is that you’re pretty much always going to have to deal with broken bases on literally anything. No matter what, you’re probably going to be dealing with at least two equal but opposite sects of your fanbase on literally any issue. A really common example would be how to deal with the gameplay for the sequel to a game, especially next-gen sequels. Half of the fanbase will want the new game to resemble the last one (or in some cases, an even older game) exactly, while the other half will want the game to be an entirely different experience. Of course, going forward with either of those options will likely get you destroyed by the fanbase in the end. But this kind of thing applies to literally anything about your game.

Of course, doing the exact opposite and never listening to any fan feedback at all isn’t exactly a good idea either. After all, listening to the fans got us things like Ultra Street Fighter IV as opposed to another boring rebalance, Super Mario Galaxy 2 giving us more of a formula we wanted and the massive improvement on the second episode of Sonic 4. I guess the lesson that all developers should take to heart is that to take all fan requests with a grain of salt. If they’re conducive to the game you’re trying to build, then by all means, implement it. But if it compromises your vision in any way, then just don’t do it. We’ve already seen too many good games get destroyed by pandering to a fickle and feckless fanbase.

The Sequel Conundrum

After years of reading various video game reviews and comments all over the internet, I’ve realized that there has to be a perfect formula you’ve got to keep in mind when making the sequel to a video game, especially a popular one. There must a perfect equation that accurately represents, to the finest decimal place imaginable, the ratio between changes and similarities compared to the previous game in the franchise. Unfortunately for developers, I’ve got no idea what that equation is or even any sort of idea where one would even begin to start calculating such a mystical equation. How do I know it exists then, you ask? Simple: the proof is the very nature of the number one and two most common complaints with regards to video game sequels: too much of the same or too different. …or vice versa, it depends on the franchise honestly.

Let’s answer the easier of the two questions first: under what circumstances would the sequel to a game to be considered “too different” from its predecessor? It’s hard to come up with an objective definition of what could make a sequel too different, but the general consensus seems to involve a complete shift in gameplay – the American/European Super Mario Bros. 2 is a particularly common example of what it means when a game is too different from the predecessor, though this is somewhat justified, considering it was originally a Japanese game by the name of Doki Doki Panic. But by that token, Super Mario World is even more different from its successor, Super Mario 64, but both of these games are held in high regard to this day. Needless to say, accusing a sequel of being too different appears to be extremely random: Grand Theft Auto III is held in much higher regard than the first two GTA games, despite being an almost complete departure from them in terms of gameplay. On the other hand, even now, some people still complain about Zelda II: The Adventure of Link’s differences from the original Legend of Zelda.

In my opinion, another game that diverged from its source material to its own detriment was the NES Strider. Lacking the slash-’em-up action seen in both the Arcade and Sega Genesis games of the same name, the NES Strider reminded me more of another NES Capcom game: Bionic Commando, stripped of all of its unique gameplay elements. There have also been a myriad of Sonic the Hedgehog games that overtly abandoned the series’s signature formula to each game’s detriment: Sonic 3D Blast comes to mind right off the bat. Sonic’s first foray into 3D was a colossal misstep: shoddy controls and confusing perspectives made what could’ve been an interesting diversion into an aggravating sendoff to the blue blur’s glory days on the Genesis.

Despite the argument’s simplicity, it’s easy to understand why many people can criticize a game for diverging from earlier titles in the series. After all, losing the basic essence of what made the fanbase fall in love with the franchise in the first place is a perfectly reasonable fear. Take, for example, Resident Evil: once considered the first true “survival horror” game, the series is now more of an action-shooter these days, much to the chagrin of the older games’ fanbase. Of course, considering that Resident Evil 5 outsold Resident Evil 2 (the highest selling “survival horror” RE) by over 1 million units. Factor in that the last Resident Evil game made with emphasis on “survival horror” underwhelmed Capcom in terms of their target sales (some sources claim it didn’t even break 100k sales) and chances are that in spite of the fanbase revolting (and trust me, they are revolting), the new direction has taken hold over the series for the foreseeable future, but perhaps Revelations’ re-release on more platforms might change things. The point is, that you never know what any sort of major change to a franchise may bring.

Of course, shifting gameplay mechanics can also be extremely advantageous as well, breathing new life into a franchise, when done properly. Take, for example, the Darkstalkers series. The original Darkstalkers was effectively a prototype of the Street Fighter Alpha games starring some wacky Universal Monsters knockoffs, and while the second game Night Warriors didn’t change much, it did begin to carve its own niche within Capcom’s stable of fighting games, focusing more on fast-pased chain combos and non-stop action, effectively inspiring the later Marvel vs. Capcom games. But the series reached its peak with its third (and as of yet, final) game: Vampire Savior, which offered fighting game action so fast, some Japanese players even say it’s “too fast for the West”. Another example of a series that benefitted from some fresh new ideas would be the Castlevania franchise, at least with its shift between standard, stage-based platformers to the “Metroidvania”-style games that focused more on exploration. While I did always prefer the old-school Castlevanias more than any other gameplay style for that particular series, I must admit that the “Metroidvanias”, as they’re called, offered an excellent change of pace. Finally, there’s also Kid Icarus: Uprising, which wasa complete change from the original Kid Icarus games on NES and Game Boy, but was amazing nonetheless.

But then there’s the flip side of the coin: accusing a game of being too stale by not changing enough between iterations. As gameplay is the most important part of any video game, simply improving upon the previous mechanics and perfecting them, in most gamers’ minds, is simply not enough to justify making another game in the franchise, unless there’s some kind of a new mechanic that changes everything. You all know by now that I’m a huge fan of the MegaMan Classic franchise, right? MegaMan has been the video game poster child for stagnation since the ’90s, to the point where even the joke that “MegaMan is stale” has been stale for years now. I’m not going to lie and say that there’s no truth to that, it’s a valid example. People have also said the same thing about Call of Duty and Madden, but those two franchises still sell like gangbusters and are critically-acclaimed.

One game comes instantly to mind when I think of stale franchises: Dynasty Warriors and its various spinoffs. Egads, there have got to be at least 30 of those games all together by this point, and I got sick of this game back around Dynasty Warriors 4. But Koei just keeps making them again and again and again and again and you get the idea. I’d also argue that Mario Kart has been suffering from this kind of stagnation since the Wii incarnation and the fact that another one’s been announced for Wii U already fills me with dread.

Again, this is a valid point: letting a series stagnate is probably the worst thing you can do to it. At least if you end up changing things for the worse, you’re trying to improve on the original. Enshrining the design and mechanics of a series pretty much kills any incentive for most people to buy any future titles (again, aware of my hypocrisy with regards to this statement and my love of Classic MegaMan). So, much like how changing a series too much can be seen as a detriment to the fanbase, leaving everything exactly the same as before has the potential to kill any potential future sales, and by extension, the series itself.

I guess I tend to look upon a franchise’s stagnation much more favorably than most people do, I’ve seen so many ROM hacks, remakes and fan tributes to old games that have piqued my interest in the past. The number one example I’d use with regards to loving a franchise that saw it was fit to “stop evolving” is obviously the aforementioned MegaMan games. You could also bring up numerous old-school puzzle games like Tetris or Puyo Puyo, which don’t really change much in terms of mechanics from games to games. Some also argue that the Professor Layton series also follows a set formula and few have held that against that series.

So we’ve established that all video game sequels have the potential to either discard what made the series so beloved in the first place or to remain exactly as its predecessor was to the point of becoming stale. I never really had any problem with either hypothesis. The real question I wrote the article to figure out is whether or not there is a perfect median between these two extremes. I mean, it would clearly need to vary from franchise to franchise if such a happy medium existed, but whether or not this point exists in the first place is what I’m trying to figure out.

Of course, when it comes right down to it, all of these complaints are the products of people having their own opinions on video games in general. Obviously, there is no perfect ratio to save a sequel from the criticism of being considered too similar or too different from its predecessor. In several cases, you’ll hear people on opposite sides make opposing arguments over the same game: one person’s stale rehash is another’s bastardized departure from what made the original great. The real lesson for developers here is to just avoid trying to please everyone and focus more on developing a proper follow-up to the preceding game(s) in the franchise, regardless of how much you change and how much you retain from earlier games. Because if you don’t, you’ll just end up with something like Resident Evil 6: an ambitious game that tried to please everyone, but in doing so, ended up bland and unsatisfying.