In a previous post we touched upon the notion of video game sequels and which franchises, despite stumbling at times, have done an overall good job at improving on their previous titles. The big boys were covered, including “Final Fantasy” and “Call of Duty.” Titles like these are solid examples of why gamers come back to the same franchises over and over—because the best sequels straddle that thin line between maintaining what gamers love about the original, but delivering a new experience. In this article we’ll expand on that notion and break down some other titles and how they succeeded in being new while remaining the same.
Assassin’s Creed 2
What other much-hyped game in recent memory failed to live up to its potential like Assassin’s Creed? It was one of those mostly forgettable games that featured neither a compelling story, exciting gameplay, or standout design. Overall it was a write off.
To their credit, Ubisoft didn’t give up on the title. They did what all designers should do and remedied the mistakes of the first when creating the second. “Assassin’s Creed II” was the polar opposite of the original: it featured a compelling story, sleek graphics, an additive open world and white-knuckle combat. It’s a prime example of how it’s possible even in the high stakes world of video games to turn lemons into lemonade.
Pokémon Gold, Silver and Go
Aside from “Tetris,” it was the dual Pokémon titles “Red” and “Blue,” released in 1996, that made Nintendo’s GameBoy. This undeniably Japanese RPG allowed players to pit various brightly colored creatures against one another in virtual combat, and kids everywhere fell in love. It became so popular that it not only spanned anime, toys and movies, but a number of quality sequels.
Two of these, Pokémon “Gold” and “Silver,” released in 2000, are shining examples of how to do a franchise right. They kept the basic premise but added a dizzying amount of new collectible Pokémons, as well as improved the visuals and gameplay. More recently the runaway success of “Pokémon Go” is testament to how visionary thinking allowed the franchise to deliver a familiar experience (still played on a mobile device) while pushing the boundaries of what’s possible (introducing real-world Pokémon hunting).
Fight Night 2004
EA has been garnering some negative publicity of late. However, it’s important to remember there was a time when they weren’t just revolutionizing football video games but all sports games. “Fight Night” is a good example of this. The series is an unofficial continuation of EA’s “Knockout Kings,” a PlayStation franchise that offered little more than familiar boxing faces and button mashing. But in the early aughts the company pivoted, changing the game with “Fight Night 2004.”
Of course subsequent titles in a sports video game franchise usually improve on the previous ones (the Madden series is a good example of this), but just how EA improved “Fight Night” is noteworthy. By moving away from typical button mashing and introducing the Total Punch Control feature, the designers revolutionized game mechanics in fighting games. Instead of buttons, punches were thrown via the control’s analog sticks in circular motions, which mimicked the physical process of throwing a punch. Once gamers adjusted to this learning curve they were throwing perfectly fluid two, four and even six-punch combinations.
Batman: Arkham City
When Batman: Arkham Asylum was released in 2009, it quickly became a fan favorite due to its fluid fighting mechanics, Miller-esque world design, fun gadgets, top-notch voice acting and crowd-pleasing assortment of super villains. So how do you improve on something that doesn’t have any demonstrable flaws? You open up the world.
That’s exactly what developer Rocksteady Studios did with 2011’s inevitable sequel: Arkham Asylum. Taking a simple let’s-keep-what-works approach, they left everything the fans loved, right down to the sense of eerie foreboding permeating Gotham’s inky night sky. But they built a bigger world, one in which players could glide around until their little bat heart’s content. Round that out with a solid storyline and challenging puzzles and you have a master class on how to perfectly adapt a comic franchise to the medium of video games.
Halo 2 (and/or 5)
It wouldn’t be a “which was better?” list without at least one controversial example that incites heated debate. Like “Doom” before it, “Halo” revitalized and revolutionized the first-person shooter—mostly by switching effortlessly between first and third-person perspectives. Also, the story of nanosuit-clad Master Chief with his trusty AI construct Cortana invariably at his side quickly became beloved by gamers of the 6th generation consoles.
Then “Halo 2” came out, and it was popular. Very popular. That’s when the heated debate began about which title was better. One way in which “Halo” purists have a point is that, although the sequel added online functionality and dual-wielding of weapons, the campaign didn’t greatly expand on the original. In other words, it wasn’t new while staying the same; it just stayed the same. But even taking this into consideration, the subsequent sequels have done such a noble job of expanding a universe rife with intergalactic hostilities that many now believe “Halo 5: Guardians,” is the best in the series—no small feat since it was Microsoft’s 343 Industries and not original creator Bungie that produced the game.
These are just five examples of great video game sequels. There are more, of course, and the debate will continue. Maybe it will even continue in the comments section below.