Last year we presented a list of video games whose developers were nice enough to build upon the original and deliver great sequels. These included such famous examples as “Batman: Arkham City,” “Assassin’s Creed 2,” and some subsequent editions by a little-known franchise called “Halo.” However, since the gaming world has a better track record of delivering solid sequels than, say, the film industry, it only makes sense to continue the list. So here are some more great game sequels that built upon the original in creative and effective ways.
Super Mario Bros.
When game designer Shigeru Miyamoto needed a Popeye-like character for his arcade classic “Donkey Kong” (1981), he created a diminutive Italian plumber-turned-hero named Mario. The plumber’s great skill was jumping, and he made the most of it as he bounded from girder to girder, avoiding flaming barrels and a possessive ape all in the hopes of saving a princess. Nintendo liked the character so much that they put him in a starring role in the arcade game “Mario Bros.” in 1983. This entry is notable as it featured early characters that would become regulars (Mario’s brother Luigi), and game features (enemy-spitting green pipes) that would make later entries famous.
Of course it wasn’t until Nintendo expanded this world with 1985’s “Super Mario Bros.” that the revolution kicked off. With this sequel, Nintendo raised a basic platformer to something few gamers had seen before: unique characters navigating an imaginative world (and universe) that seemed to have limitless story potential. Speeding up the popularity was the fact Nintendo released the titles on their NES home console, which put Mario in the homes of gamers instead of making them come to him. Even more impressive than “Super Mario Bros.” gameplay (it’s still playable today), is the fact Nintendo managed to not only continue with great sequels, but to make Mario the flagship character and face of the company from one generation of home consoles to the next.
Half Life II
All kudos to valve. It’s not a half-bad legacy when the first title your studio ever puts out, 1998’s “Half-Life,” goes on to dominate the PC gaming world and eventually earns a spot on the GOAT list. It would be seemingly impossible to top such fairy tale success, but Valve did indeed recapture lighting in a bottle with the 2004 follow-up “Half-Life 2.” Sure, the graphics were great for the time, but what fans really responded to was the continuation of a fully immersive gameplay experience. Dr. Gordon Freeman was back, interacting with characters both new and old, with each encounter informing the action to come. Some say that, as a sequel, “Half-Life 2,” rivals the other great entry on our previous list, “Halo 2.”
Grand Theft Auto III
The original “Grand Theft Auto” can be compared to the original “Mario Bros.” in that both titles were crude predecessors to what would eventually become culture-defining games. “GTA” is such an oldie, in fact, that it was first released on MS-DOS. It was eventually ported to the Sony PlayStation, but even then its overall aesthetic didn’t rise above crude graphics and very basic sandbox level designs. But like with Mario, the foundation of great gameplay was in place. This included the ability to jack cars and wield an arsenal of firearms. It even featured the phone-based mission system that would become the engine of the gameplay in future sequels. Still, this first entry didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
Grand Theft Auto II (released in 1999 by Rockstar) also didn’t move the needle in terms of sales. But something was looming on the horizon. The famed 6th generation of home consoles were being released, and Rockstar set their sights on releasing the next “GTA” game on the wildly popular PlayStation 2 console. Not only that, but they designed the game in 3D, eschewing the sandbox design for a third-person open world environment. GTA III didn’t merely arrive on the scene in 2001—it exploded. No one had ever played a game that looked so good and that allowed the gamer to wreak havoc at will and on anyone they chose. It didn’t hurt that everything else about the game—from the mechanics to the graphics to the voice acting to the sound design—was top-notch. And like Mario before it, GTA spawned sequels across the console generations, which managed to capture (and still does capture), the imagination of gamers.
The PS2 may have had “GTA,” but it wasn’t exactly known for great shooters. No, Microsoft’s Xbox had the market cornered on that with their and Bungie’s reinvention of the first-person blaster, “Halo.” It became a wildly popular franchise, and at its peak popularity it looked like no other rival title was going to beat it—certainly not “Killzone.” No, that was a sub-par-yet-slick-looking challenge to “Halo’s” dominance that didn’t offer gamers anything new or interesting. However, with the 7th generation of consoles looming, developers thought that if they made design and story tweaks they could indeed compete with Master Chief and the Covenant. And they were right. Early PS3 footage at E3 2005 made jaws drop, such was the harrowing nature of the gameplay and the near photo-realistic graphics. The rest is history.
These were just a few more awesome sequels to get the juices flowing. Luckily for us, the gaming world seems to have the edge on Hollywood, and we should be able to print another list of solid franchise sequels in the near future.