Respect the Unexpected

Sometimes when you look back on a game after the fact, you realize it wasn’t as good as you made yourself believe when you first got it, or you realize it was actually a lot better than you gave it credit for.  Those games aren’t the focus of this list.  This list is for games that instantly changed my strong preconceived notions as soon as I played them.  It can either be a game I went into with hype that was instantly deflated, or a game that I expected to hate or at least be indifferent towards that I ended up liking.  I have three examples for both types, and I’ll be alternating between negative and positive.  Since I always like ending on a positive, I’ll let the negative examples start the pattern.  Let’s get started!

Mega Man X6

What I Expected

I really, really love the Mega Man X series.  I would consider the first three games to be my favorite trilogy in all of gaming, and the original Mega Man X is one of my favorite games of all time.  The first four X games are my four favorite Mega Man games of any type, and Mega Man X5 is a step down but still a great game that I have played through dozens of times.  So, it should go without saying that I had very high expectations going into Mega Man X6, it looked like just a level pack for MMX5, but I was fine with that.  Two console MMX games in the same year seemed too good to be true, but really, what could go wrong?

mmx6

What Actually Happened

I’m still not sure what the hell happened with Mega Man X6.  MMX6 isn’t a lazy level pack, that would be so much better than what we got.  No, X6 is a train wreck that seems to go out of its way to make as many stupid, frustrating level design choices as possible.  Levels range from the same tedious and frustrating mid-boss fought four times in a row to nightmarish extended dashes to safety as a one hit kill ceiling tries to crush you.  Bosses are just as bad.  Even the story is terrible.  I beat X5, X8, and even the infamous X7 on the day I bought them.  I didn’t force myself to beat X6 until over six months later.  I could tell something was wrong right away, and to this day I don’t understand what happened.  This isn’t the result of greed and laziness, it’s a calculated attempt to twist one of the best gameplay systems there is into a horrible parody of itself.

Doom (1993)

What I Expected

I am a console gamer, I have been ever since I stopped being forced to subsist on Hi-Tech PC games, and I always will be.  So, Doom being a PC originating series that only got inferior console ports for most of its existence put up quite barrier to me getting into it.  I wasn’t all that into first person shooters to begin with, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much, a mid-90s western PC series didn’t sound like it was going to offer much.  I tried the famously arcade like and over the top Serious Sam games via their console compilation, and enjoyed them.  I decided that it was worth trying the Doom compilation, three games and several expansion packs for around $10 made the risk exceptionally low, so why not?  But I wasn’t expecting that much out of it, especially the original Doom and its very direct sequel.

doom

What Actually Happened

Damn you realism, damn you real guns and human enemies, and damn you every mid-90s magazine dismissing all FPSes as worthless “Doom clones.”  I love old style FPSes.  The varied weapons, the enemies with attacks you can directly dodge, the fast movement and lack of reloading, the creative level design, Doom is everything I wanted in the genre but didn’t know until I played it.  The modern console remasters of Doom and its sequel have everything the PC versions did, and I love them.  Doom and its level pack like sequel are probably my favorite western developed games of the 20th century, and easily my favorite PC originating games of all time.  By extremely good fortune, I got into the series just a bit over a year from the phenomenal DOOM 2016, which I have raved about at length in previous articles.  Doom expanded my horizons in a wonderful way.

Twisted Metal (2012)

What I Expected

I was fascinated by Twisted Metal 2 years before I owned a PlayStation, the characters and concept were very interesting to me and I read all I could about it in game magazines.  My instincts correctly blocked any interest in Twisted Metal 3 and 4, but I eventually got to play TM2 and I liked the gameplay just as much as the characters and concept.  Twisted Metal Black rekindled my interest, even though I once again didn’t have the system it was on when the game was released.  I eventually got it and loved it even more than Twisted Metal 2.  Then the series just disappeared, despite the acclaimed revival.  There was nothing but a decent PSP game for a decade, but then hope came, another reboot of the series.  Not having stories for each car was a big negative, but maybe the unified story mode could make up for it, and the important part was getting more of that signature gameplay, with online I could use!

twistedmetal2012

What Actually Happened

989 rose from the grave and cursed Twisted Metal 2012.  That’s my best guess, anyway.  For one thing, the “real story mode” was actually just three traditional driver stories (previous games had 4-5 times as many, for reference) glued together, ranging from decent to an idiotic pun ending.  But that’s not the worst part.  The controls were extremely slippery and mocked me by putting in the classic style that I wanted to use but making it unplayable with a small change (Human biology trivia: we only have two thumbs.  Do not demand we use both analog sticks and face buttons at the same time).  And the “story” mode put in absolutely atrocious and mandatory checkpoint race missions that the controls made into pure torture.  Assuming this doesn’t kill the series, the next reboot needs to be much, much, MUCH better.

Knack

What I Expected

Knack has been a running joke ever since it was announced alongside the PlayStation 4.  A generic PS1/2-era platformer with a character getting bigger gimmick, this was what Sony chose to showcase their new console!?  Sony giving digital copies away with PS4s and not bothering to tell the people who bought the systems just made the game more of a laughing stock.  While I didn’t think the game looked horrible, it seemed like it focused on mindless combat with minimal platforming.  I had little desire to play it unless I could find it for really cheap, and even then it would mainly be so I could make fun of it while streaming it.  Well, the game was $5 on a PSN Flash Sale, so I jumped on it.  While in my Skype group chat I started the stream, ready to laugh at the infamous Knack.

knack

What Actually Happened

My thoughts upon starting the game were that the controls were actually very good.  Combat was pretty solid, much better than I was expecting and actually a significant challenge on hard mode.  Good enemy variety.  Wow, the levels are really long, and there are a ton of worlds.  I thought, “Maybe people were too harsh on this game, or maybe it all goes to repetitive hell soon”.  It didn’t.  The levels and enemies stayed varied throughout the game, the platforming wasn’t too frequent but there was enough to add variety to the combat.  The combat was fast paced and reminded me of classic beat-em-ups, specifically Turtles in Time for some reason (my favorite game in the genre).  Knack… Knack is a hidden gem.  It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a very solid game that definitely kicks the crap out of PS4’s other 2013 and 2014 exclusives.  I’m genuinely anticipating Knack 2, which looks like a significant improvement on what turned out to be a solid foundation.  Give this game a chance: the fact that it’s getting a sequel is a miracle.

Grand Theft Auto III

What I Expected

If you’ve been following my articles, you probably saw this coming a mile away.  But if you haven’t, this is probably a pretty big surprise.  The first two negative example games are hated by most people, but not Grand Theft Auto 3.  This is considered one of the most influential games of all time, it basically started a genre and just look at how much you can do!  Being under 17 and having just recently convinced my parents to let me play M rated games when GTA3 came out in 2001, I decided not to push my luck and ignored it while everyone raved about it.  Years later, I finally picked up the game, my first GTA.  Having heard everyone rave about this game for years and intrigued by the length and scale of the game, I had pretty high hopes when I started.  What could possibly go wrong?

gta3

What Actually Happened

Did you realize that I was referencing Bubsy there?  Now don’t worry, I’m not going to be a hyperbolic hater and say Grand Theft Auto 3 is comparable to Bubsy 3D in quality.

…But it is about as good as the original Bubsy.  Now before you tear into me and I retaliate with my story about how I missed out on a genre I really enjoy for years because everyone insisted GTA was the pinnacle of it (the first good GTA game is Saints Row 2), let me go over everything GTA3 does wrong.  Horrific aiming system, absurdly harsh penalty for dying that means you basically have to load your save every time that happens (and save points are NOT frequent), having to drive back to the start of missions every time you want to try again, needing to track down hidden packages that could be absolutely anywhere in the entire game if you want to mitigate that penalty for dying, this open world game from 2001 not having a freaking MAP.  Trying to actually play this game for any purpose besides mindless chaos is a nightmare, and the game still makes said chaos a pain in the ass to accomplish.  The consequences for dying or being arrested being so harsh goes completely against the “freedom” this game supposedly gave players.  And while future GTAs would fix some of the problems from this game, several gigantic ones stayed around until Grand Theft Auto V in 2013, the first game in the series I actually like.  And it would have been so easy to fix these problems (the HD remaster of San Andreas fixes enough to make it enjoyable), but no one seemed to care about them in any way until Grand Theft Auto IV’s fan backlash.  Sorry, but I think GTA3 is a genuinely bad game and probably the most overrated of all time.

Tetris Attack

What I Expected

Puzzle games seemed inherently boring to me when I was new to gaming.  Doing nothing in a game but rearranging blocks seemed completely pointless.  I was aware of Tetris because everyone on the planet is, but I had no desire to play it, similar games, or games that I would later discover only had its name slapped on them for a marketing gimmick (you know, we’d probably have this game on Virtual Console if it was called Yoshi’s Puzzle League).  I never would have chosen to play Tetris Attack, but Blockbuster had a promotion where renting it came with a free other game rental of your choice, so there was no reason not to rent it.  And since I had the cart, why not give it a quick chance?  But aside from the Yoshi’s Island setting, I wasn’t expecting to really enjoy anything in the game, it would probably be a more colorful Wordtris.

tetrisattack

What Actually Happened

Literally the second I started playing I loved it.  I could go on about why Tetris Attack is the best puzzle game of all time, going into how the mechanics fix a massive flaw inherent to almost every other competitive puzzle game, but that wasn’t what I was thinking when I played the game the first time.  The intuitive and addictive base gameplay is what drew me in when I thought I hated puzzle games.  The competitive mode gave things a fighting game feel that I loved.  There was just something so inherently satisfying about the game, I don’t remember exactly what I identified it as on that day over 20 years ago, but I know my love was instantaneous.  My horizons were expanded that day, and Tetris Attack has remained one of my favorite games on my favorite system without ever wavering.  That moment where a game connects with you instantly and against all your expectations is something that can’t be fully recreated at both my age where I have played so many games, and in the age we live in where you can easily watch videos and read all you want about every game before you play it.  There’s a magic in my first encounter with Tetris Attack that I will always remember.

So, there you have it, six games that flipped my perception of them upside down within the first play session.  Aside from my personal reminiscing, the takeaway from this article I want everyone to have is that you can’t really know what a game is like until you play it.  Even with games where my expectations weren’t so radically shattered, nothing except ruining the game by watching a full playthrough can really let you know what a game is like before you play it.  Always be prepared going into a game, it might be a tragic disappointment, but it could also be a magical moment or great surprise that you never saw coming.

 

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Top Ten Video Game Series Comebacks (Part One)

I like sequels. If you’ve read my previous articles, you know that. But I’ve done enough articles in a row trying to convince people of something, so let’s do something more upbeat. There are few things in gaming I love more than when an abandoned or tainted series brings out a new game that is as good or better than the glory days. To qualify for this list, prior to the game in question its series has to have either had at least two bad installments in a row, or been missing for at least one console generation. Let’s get right to it, I’ve even ranked the entries this time!

Number 10: Twisted Metal Black
Playstation 2; 2001

How Things were Before: One of the earliest games for the original Playstation, Twisted Metal popularized the car combat genre and enticed gamers with its interesting characters and quite dark setting and sense of humor. Everyone loved the weapon infused, city destroying destruction derby of the titular tournament. Twisted Metal 2 improved on the original in every way, and is a classic still enjoyable today. Then the original developer, SingleTrac, left the series and it was handed over to the infamous 989 studios. Twisted Metal 3 was a poor clone of Twisted Metal 2, using an identical formula but with much worse controls and writing. Twisted Metal 4 tried to be more original, but the gameplay was not improved and the story was a terrible fanfic (Calypso apparently had a never before mentioned magical ring of souls as his power source, meaning Sweet Tooth could steal it and take over the tournament). Twisted Metal had become a joke and no one wanted another one.

The Revival: Launching on the new Playstation 2, Twisted Metal Black was developed by a reincarnation of SingleTrac, Incognito Entertainment. Rebooting (well, kind of, it’s impossible to explain without spoilers) the series into the opposite of Twisted Metal 4’s corny insanity, Twisted Metal Black made it clear from the start that it was not a simple follow-up. One of the most disturbing games ever made, TMB’s characters all had horrific pasts that shocked gamers. The psychological horror angle was done excellently and made the series feel completely fresh again. The gameplay was polished to be even better than Twisted Metal 2, with balanced and strategic combat that the developers themselves called “Street Fighter II on wheels.” Twisted Metal Black was everything you could ask for in a series revival, so why is it only number 10? Unfortunately, upon being saved the series immediately went away, not getting a new entry until five years after TMB that was decent but underwhelming. Then it went away AGAIN until Sony decided to just have another reboot. The reboot was terrible, and the future of the series looks bleak. Twisted Metal Black did everything right, but its series threw away the new life it was given.

Number 9: Punch-Out!!
Nintendo Wii; 2009

How Things were Before: Punch-Out had two successful but not famous arcade games in the mid-80s, but what everyone remembers about the series is the NES installment. More a series of boss fights with puzzle elements than a boxing game, the NES Punch-Out became iconic and beloved. The series got another installment on the Super Nintendo, which didn’t get quite as much attention but was an excellent game that was even better than the first. Then… the series just vanished. Lost among the overwhelming number of franchises Nintendo had to support, the series did not get a new game on Nintendo 64 or GameCube. A lot of people thought the Wii’s controller would be perfect for the series, but did Nintendo still care about the franchise? With a different boxing game included in Wii Sports, it didn’t seem that way.

The Revival: In 2008, at the height of panic over Nintendo abandoning their fans and classic franchises (I’ll spare you the multi-paragraph rant on how people are now complaining about the exact opposite), a new Punch-Out game was announced for the Wii. Called simply Punch-Out!! (there are five games in the series, and only two names between all of them), the announcement was very welcome to Punch-Out fans and Nintendo fans in general. But now that the series was alive, there was the question of how it would transfer into the modern gaming client. The previous Punch-Out games were not very long, could the series justify a $50 release in 2009? As it turned out, absolutely. Punch-Out Wii may have had only 14 opponent boxers, but with their complete transformations in Title Defense mode, several special missions for each, and a high difficulty level, 100%ing the game was a massive undertaking. Add in the huge amount of personality given to the boxers and your trainer, and you have the best game in the Punch-Out series by a wide margin and a successful revival. Let’s hope another one is coming, even if it will probably be called Super Punch-Out yet again.

Number 8: Rayman Origins
Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii; 2011

How Things were Before: In 1995, 2D platformers were in the later part of their golden age. With the next generation of gaming starting, most developers focused on polygons and 3D gameplay. Rayman, however, was a traditional sprite based 2D platformer that used more powerful hardware to look absolutely beautiful. There were some very severe problems with the gameplay, mainly the difficulty balance, but the wow factor made the game popular. As the generations proceeded, Rayman would get 3D sequels that were less visually distinctive but better designed in gameplay, and the series gained a loyal following. In 2006, a fourth entry in the series was announced for the upcoming Wii, which would see Rayman battling a new enemy species called Rabbids. The game was taken over by novel uses of the Wii Remote, and became a collection of mini-games. The game was very popular, with the Rabbids overshadowing Rayman. The Rabbids became the stars, with Rayman eventually being pushed out of his own series. The Rabbids even got a few platformer spin-offs, without Rayman in them at all. Rayman seemed dead and forgotten.

The Revival: As you might expect, despite Ubisoft seeming to have forgotten about Rayman, he still had a quite dedicated fanbase that was not happy about the Rabbids taking over. In 2010, it was announced that Rayman would return to his platforming ways in an episodic series of digital download games. In 2011 this changed into a full retail release, and the final game was better than anyone could have expected. In some ways it was similar to the original Rayman (which is good, since the plot had been all but removed, making the Origins in the title a relic), a beautiful 2D platformer using 2D animation to look absolutely stunning. However, unlike the original, the gameplay was just as good as the visuals. Rayman Origins managed to be a creative, very challenging platformer without relying on trial and error level design or bad collision detection like the original game. Rayman Origins not only got Rayman back in the spotlight, it far exceeded all previous games in the series and is sure to be remembered as a classic platformer.

Number 7: Mortal Kombat (2011)
Playstation 3, Xbox 360; 2011

How Things were Before: Anyone alive in the 90s, gamer or not, knows about Mortal Kombat. Most famous for the uproar its violent finishing moves caused, Mortal Kombat was always a series that got by on image. But what an amazing image it was, for a time period in the mid-90s Mortal Kombat was just the coolest thing imaginable. It wasn’t just the blood, the dark fantasy setting and seemingly endless secrets captured the imagination of gamers everywhere. It was enough to make you not realize how shallow and unbalanced the actual fighting was. Needless to say, when the cool factor wore off, the series fell hard. Mortal Kombat 4 had an awkward transition to 3D that hurt the presentation as much as the gameplay (the digitized graphics in the 2D MKs were a big part of the appeal), and gamers had clearly gotten sick of the series. The series went on hiatus, with a five year gap between Mortal Kombat 4 and the next game in the main series. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and its follow-ups made more of an effort to be quality fighting games, but they still fell short and never came close to recapturing the aesthetic feel the 2D games had. That fighting games as a whole were far less popular than in the series’ heyday did not help. After Mortal Kombat vs DC was released over a decade since it would have been relevant, there seemed to be no hope for the series.

The Revival: With Street Fighter IV making fighting games popular again (more on that later) it made sense that another revival of the Mortal Kombat series would be attempted. Called simply Mortal Kombat, the game would be a reboot (albeit one caused by in-story reasons) retelling the first three games of the series, its prime. It would have almost every character and stage from the first three games included. But would that be enough to make people care about the series again? Turns out it didn’t have to be, after more than 15 years Mortal Kombat finally became a legitimate fighter. NetherRealm studios completely redid the fighting engine, and finally made a balanced, competitive fighting game for the series. There was also an exceptional amount of one player content added, including a story mode that had a ridiculous plot but showed off the setting people had loved in the past very well. The best game in the series by a huge margin, Mortal Kombat is the best thing that could happen to longtime fans.

Number 6: Donkey Kong Country Returns:
Nintendo Wii; 2010

How Things were Before: Donkey Kong is one of the oldest still active video game characters, debuting with Mario over 30 years ago. But the series this revival is about started in 1994 with Donkey Kong Country, a Super Nintendo platformer that blew everyone away with its pre-rendered graphics. It was followed by two sequels on the same system and the trilogy became some of the best loved games of SNES’ many, many classics. There was also a solid trilogy of GameBoy spin-offs. A Nintendo 64 sequel was a given, and it was released in 1999. There’s some controversy over its quality, but many, including me, feel its obsession with collecting and switching characters made for a far inferior game compared to the SNES installments. After that, the series faded away. The only thing you could even argue was a Donkey Kong platformer on GameCube was Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, which was a good and creative game, but very different from the Donkey Kong Country games. As a new decade began, the series’ glory days were far behind it.

The Revival: As E3 2010 approached, there were rumors of a new Donkey Kong game by the extremely talented Retro Studios. At Nintendo’s showing, these rumors proved true, but to our surprise the game was a 2D sidescroller. The platformer revival having just started, people were not accustomed to such an anticipated console game being two dimensional. There was some disappointment caused by the game being 2D, but most were just excited that Donkey Kong Country had finally, as the title itself announced, returned. The game turned out to be better than anyone could have hoped. With level design significantly better than the already excellent SNES games, and also a much longer game, Donkey Kong Country Returns was the best game in the series. Like another series that it isn’t time to talk about yet, Retro had given Donkey Kong Country a truly glorious rebirth. And with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze announced less than a week ago as I write this, that rebirth seems to have been sustained.

That’s all for now, but stay tuned for the second part of this article. We still have the top five video game series revivals of all time countdown!