The first Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare surprised gamers by evolving the original game’s 2D tower defense gameplay into full-fledged squad-based combat. With its sequel, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, coming out tomorrow, we’ve been thinking a lot about other games that have expanded their horizons by shirking the genre that made them popular.
This hasn’t always paid off, but it’s always interesting to reflect on the sometimes mind-boggling directions publishers are willing to take their most popular franchises. These ten series managed to wrestle themselves from the constricting shackles of the expected genre, whether as one-off diversions or steps in a new direction, to provide refreshing experiences that take advantage of familiar characters and iconography.
Star Fox: Adventures
Rare’s surprisingly well-received Star Fox Adventures for the Nintendo GameCube was a dramatic departure from the on-rails dogfighting that fans had come to expect from Fox McCloud and friends. An action-adventure game in the vein of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Star Fox Adventures follows Fox McCloud and Krystal as they explore Dinosaur Planet, solving puzzles and mercilessly smacking anthropomorphized dinos with a magical staff.
The game started out as Dinosaur Planet, the first game in a new standalone IP from Rare, but Nintendo design-wizard Shigeru Miyamoto was struck by the game’s stylistic similarity to Star Fox. When Miyamoto-san talks, people listen, and the game was soon after reoriented as the newest — and strangest — game in the Star Fox series.
Dynasty Warriorsis well known as a beat-em-up that tasks players with defeating endless waves of enemies with tactical prowess, a wide range of weapons and devastating power ups. However, the series originated as a 3D fighting game adaptation of the popular Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy series. When the developers were porting the game to the PlayStation 2, there was a noticeable surge in fighting game releases, so they needed to figure out a way to make the game stand out in the crowded landscape. Countless games and spin-offs later, it’s safe to say that the decision is paying off for Koei Tecmo.
The Final Fantasy series has truly morphed into something of a multi-headed hydra. In addition to the main series’ fifteen games, which in many ways have come to define the JRPG genre, there are a handful of spin-off titles, many of which have dovetailed into their own fully-formed series. From the turn-based strategy of Final Fantasy Tactics, which itself has spawned a trio of sequels, to the roguelike dungeon-crawls of Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon, to the party-based multiplayer quests of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, the Final Fantasy series has proven to be a chameleon-esque property, capable of convincingly pulling off any genre its developers see fit. Even kart racing.
Halo Wars/Halo: Spartan Assault
Since the release of Halo: Combat Evolved for the Xbox in 2001, Halo has evolved into a massive multimedia property for Microsoft, with a growing number of shows, books, and spin-off games based on Bungie’s groundbreaking FPS. In 2009, Microsoft surprised fans of the game with the release of Halo Wars, a surprisingly robust real-time strategy game in the vein of Starcraft that took advantage of the series’ rich mythology. While some were deterred by its controls — yeah, I guess there’s something clunky about using a controller for an RTS — these people may not have been trying hard enough.
Halo: Spartan Assault, a twin-stick shooter released in 2013, also manages to bear the series’ weight without feeling like a cash-grab. Its sequel, Halo: Spartan Strike, is another fun diversion worthy of the Halo name. The Halo books have provided developers with a rich body of source material — it’s nice seeing these stories put to use with these spin-off titles.
It really seems like EA was nervously mining the archives when they released 2012’s Syndicate, a cyberpunk first person shooter that received a mostly lukewarm response from critics. Based on a cherished real-time tactical action game from the early ’90s, its reboot barely resembles its source material. I suppose they both take place in a dark dystopia, which is something. Luckily, the team behind the original games released a worthy spiritual successor, Satellite Reign, late last year.
Kid Icarus for the NES was a side-scrolling adventure game similar to Metroid. Fans of the original were shocked upon the release of the series’ long-awaited follow up, Kid Icarus: Uprising for the 3DS, an on-rails third person shooter that completely abandons the original’s explorative spirit for a decidedly faster-paced experience. The game is often slammed for its clunky controls, but you have to hand it to director Masahiro Sakurai for trying to do something bold with a property that hadn’t been updated for over a decade.
World of Warcraft
The first three Warcraft games were real-time strategy behemoths that came to define the genre as we know it today. That said, no one could have anticipated the immense cultural impact of World of Warcraft. This game robbed millions of people of countless hours, changed MMORPGs forever, and made Blizzard a whole lot of cash. While I’ve personally never played World of Warcraft or any of its expansions — mostly out of the fear that I’ll be sucked into its unending vortex of grinding and raiding, never to be seen again — there’s no denying the impact the series has had on video games and culture as a whole.
If you haven’t heard of Castlevania Judgment, you’re not alone. The fighting game based on the gothic adventure series was a complete and total flop. It is absolute garbage and should be avoided at all costs. Even diehard fans of the series will have trouble recognizing the obscure characters from this motion-controlled snooze-fest. Some franchises should stick to their day jobs. Or at least try a little bit harder.
Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance
As if the Metal Gear Solid series isn’t absurd enough already, what with the La Li Lu Le Lo, the hour long cutscenes, and all of that subversive fourth-wall breaking, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, a balls-to-the-wall action game starring MGS2’s Raiden takes things to the next level. There’s hardly any “stealth” to speak of in this game, but there’s plenty of the over-the-top gameplay we’ve come to expect from the brutal maximalists at Platinum Games.
Hitman: Go reduces stealth to the genre’s most basic components, re-imagining Agent 47’s strategic takedowns as, almost literally, a game of chess. Turn by turn, players are tasked with moving a figure of the infamous assassin along a board, paying close attention to enemy vision cones and pathing.
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