Gamers these days tend to get way too hung up on innovation. Sure, being inventive is always noble, but it doesn't always lead to a successful product. Just look at Mirror's Edge. It's better to be good than to be innovative, and sometimes being derivative is the best way to succeed.
To demonstrate this very simple thesis, here are a number of games that do nothing to break the mold, and are often outright shameless in their treading of the well worn path. The common thing linking them all, however, is that they are fun to play, despite not being very original. Remember when games could just be about the fun? Let me jog your memory!
Lost Odyssey is perhaps the best Japanese RPG this generation. However, when it came out, a number of reviews were lukewarm at best, and they all regurgitated the same non-issue as a problem - it wasn't innovative enough.
Lost Odyssey does nothing new in terms of what we expect from an RPG. With its simple leveling system, linear progression through towns and dungeons and traditional turn-based combat, Mistwalker's game was never going to lead the industry forward. However, if you want a solid story, some excellent characters and gameplay that concentrates on being enjoyable instead of new, then there are few titles finer.
While games like Final Fantasy XIII try to reinvent the wheel with new combat systems at the expense of a good narrative, Lost Odyssey chose instead to focus on giving us what we're used to, which freed up development time for the crafting of a great plot. JRPGs these days are obsessed with moving away from random encounters and old fashioned combat systems, and I believe that such obsession comes at the expense of what really matters in a JRPG - the writing.
Lost Odyssey doesn't innovate and, unfortunately, critically suffered for it. If you love JRPGs though, you really, really owe it to yourself to play this.
Singularity is another game that seems to have been used as a sacrificial lamb by the gaming press for not being "unique" enough. There's no denying that Raven Software's recent first-person-shooter wears its inspiration on its sleeve, taking horror elements from F.E.A.R, a narrative structure from BioShock and some gameplay gimmickry from Half-Life 2. However, this does anything but lead to a bad game.
Singularity is a fantastic, criminally underrated shooter. It plays like a "best of" compilation, pinching some of the greatest gimmicks and gameplay mechanics of the FPS genre and blending them into one really, really superb game. The multiplayer is as derivative as the campaign, with a class-based system, perks, and a "man vs. monster" dynamic lifted from Left 4 Dead. Yet it's all incredibly fun, and that's what matters.
People didn't give Singularity a chance because it was developed by "those Wolfenstein guys" and I can't help wondering if the response from the public would have been vastly different if Infinity Ward or Bungie were behind it. As far as I'm concerned, Singularity made Raven a top-tier developer.
Just a shame nobody else seems to agree.