The Top 7… Sequels that changed everything

In the last 10 years, there’s been one complaint we keep hearing consistently, both from within and outside of the game industry: sequels, we are told, are the death of innovation. Little more than an excuse to do the same thing all over again, they are a reliable cash cow that lets publishers safely rake in cash while not risking any money or effort on something untested and new.

Well, that’s often true. And yes, the industry is full of stories of publishers killing a promising new property so they can milk a proven franchise for more games. But it’s an argument that completely ignores the ability of some sequels to completely shake things up and change the “safe” formula a franchise had previously established. Some of these did well enough to set the template their series would follow in the future; others failed to catch on and faded to black-sheep status. Boom or bust, here are seven of the most drastic examples we could think of:

7. Jak II

What it was before: A colorful, Banjo Kazooie-inspired platformer about a mute elf-boy and his mouthy ottsel sidekick. While it had some sci-fi elements, it had a relatively bright tone that was much closer to fantasy, as the pair wandered through a big, seamless world punching out goofy monsters and hunting for assorted collectible knickknacks.

What it became: A weird sci-fi take on Grand Theft Auto. Beginning by flinging its protagonists centuries into the future, Jak II twisted its formerly pure-hearted hero into a growling, goateed asshole who ran errands for crime lords, gunned down red-armored cops and could turn into a hulking were-beast. While a lot of the platforming-gameplay elements remained the same, the action was moved to a big, open, dystopian hub city in which Jak could steal flying cars at will, and third-person shooting – which hadn’t been part of the first game at all – suddenly became a key part of the action.

What kept this from being terrible was that, in spite of its darker tone, Jak II still didn’t take itself too seriously. A lot of the first game’s cartoonish appeal and overt goofiness was preserved, and Jak’s brooding new personality turned out to be a phase. Also, while the shift in tone turned off some of the first game’s fans, the changes added a lot to what was already a stellar platformer. But it’s hard to think of a series that underwent a more drastic shift in tone between the first and second games than Jak & Daxter.

Above: Except for maybe this one 

Where it went from there: First into the deep desert, as Jak 3 dropped some of Jak II’s GTA-ishness for a Mad Max-esque, barbarian-scavenger adventure. Then it shifted to dedicated kart racing with the spinoff Jak X (following the same three-games-then-a-kart-racer pattern developer Naughty Dog set with Crash Bandicoot), before returning to platforming with the scaled-down Daxter on PSP. Finally, its platforming was melded with air piracy in the so-so Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier. While most of the gameplay elements introduced by Jak II have remained, though, the series has never bared its teeth quite as menacingly as it did when Jak spoke his first words:

6. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

What it was before: A linear, arcade-style platformer/action game about whipping monsters to death and getting knocked into bottomless pits by medusa heads.

What it became: While the basic Castlevania gameplay remained the same in Simon’s Quest – jump around on platforms, whip monsters – the structure was radically altered. Gone were the convenient levels with their predictable monsters and singular sub-weapons, and in their place was a huge, open-ish side-scrolling world of towns, forests, lakes and mansions. The first game’s linearity was a thing of the past, too, replaced by a quest to track down and recover Dracula’s body parts so that Simon Belmont could resurrect him, lift his death curse and then kill him again. Roll in new abilities, persistent weapons and power-ups for Simon that could be purchased or earned, and the foundations were set for what would later be called the Metroidvania genre.

Where it went from there: Right back to where it started. Castlevania III, IV, Bloodlines and Rondo of Blood/XX/Vampire’s Kiss were all linear monster-stomps in the mold of the first game, as were all the Game Boy Castlevanias. For years, it looked like Simon’s Quest was doomed to be the black sheep of the family, forever standing out like a failed experiment.

Then, in 1997, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night rolled out onto the PlayStation, introducing an exploration-heavy, Metroid-style structure that hugely expanded on the elements introduced in Simon’s Quest (and actually inspired the term “Metroidvania”). This time, the design changes were here to stay; of the 17 Castlevania games that followed Symphony’s release, 12 of them either mimicked its free-exploration formula exactly, or at least featured some variation on it.

Above: And all because of one horrible night to have a curse

The release of Lords of Shadow might change all that, though; while it features some of the puzzle-solving, RPG elements and hidden areas that make the Symphony-style games interesting, it’s still a linear, level-based game. It also plays more like a God of War than a Castlevania, though, so whether it’ll actually redirect the series from here on out remains to be seen.


Top 7


  • pintofbeer786 - November 19, 2010 12:37 p.m.

    wa'bout just cause 2
  • pintofbeer786 - November 19, 2010 12:32 p.m.

    i think just ause 2 was a massive improvement
  • Kezmer - October 15, 2010 3:18 a.m.

    Actraiser 2... ruined it !!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • RazielArcanum - October 13, 2010 11:04 a.m.

    I don't seem to recall any "memorable" bosses in Zelda II. ... ...okay, I could never finish it. I'm sorry.
  • philipshaw - October 13, 2010 10:59 a.m.

    Great article, I'm playing through Jak 2 again and even though it's radically different to the first game, I still think Jak 2 is the best in the series. I was surprised to not see Resi4 higher up the list
  • BAbaracus1983 - October 13, 2010 9:10 a.m.

    Pretty good list. Too bad that the list isn't for the top 8; then you could add Metal Gear Solid
  • eyeKARUMBA - October 13, 2010 4:25 a.m.

    Couple things; first, shouldn't RE4 be higher than 5? I mean, it revolutionized not only the RE series but the entire survival horror genre, and is one of the highest-reviewed games of all time. Second, and perhaps more importantly: where is Fallout 3? It turned the series from a top-down, turn-based RPG into a 1st-person, open world action-RPG, and did it beautifully (ignoring the glitches).
  • ScrEAMaPiLLar - October 13, 2010 1:34 a.m.

    I'd have to agree with each one. Can't wait to hear the discussion about these on Tdar.
  • AlpineGuy - October 13, 2010 12:39 a.m.

    This ended up being a pretty good list. Nice jorb there, Homesta-I mean, Mikel. Glad to see Prince of Persia: Warrior Within got a mention. Godsmack, anyone?
  • oreopizza47 - October 12, 2010 11:13 p.m.

    I happened to like RE5 alot. RE4 was good, but I stopped caring when it said "escort mission" and haven't yet gone back, although it was beautiful until then. RE5 on the other hand, is amazing in my opinion, because of it's co-op. Single player can feel like one big escort mission, but when you've got a friend sitting next to you helping you rock the zombie world, you know shit just got real. Personally, I prefer local co-op to online, but as long as a game has both I'm good. Can't stand games with only online though.
  • ViolentLee - October 12, 2010 10:41 p.m.

    Way to mention Dynasty Warriors. So few people realize/remember that the original was a 3D one-on-one fighter.
  • TheBoz - October 12, 2010 9:15 p.m.

    Creatures 2 on the C64, the original was a platformer with violent, and I mean violent and bloody torture rooms. The sequel went away from the linear play of the platform levels and concentrated on the torture rooms with bonus levels of bouncing the creatures from one end of the screen to the other. Also FIFA Football, the original game on the Megadrive was a 2d affair but with the illusion of a forced 3d perspective and what that has grown into. Very similar comparison to Duke Nukem as mentioned.
  • soccerclownking - October 12, 2010 8:53 p.m.

    What about Call of Duty Multiplayer? With CoD4 everyone was like Z0MFG CoD4 FTW OMGWTFBBQ!!!1!one!1! Soon after MW2 came out, most people including me called it a stupid campfest for 12 year old n00bz.
  • Cleanser247 - October 12, 2010 4:56 p.m.

    Great Top 7 Mikel! I enjoyed it : D
  • Clovin64 - October 12, 2010 2:56 p.m.

    Dynasty Warriors 3 was the first DW game I played after the first PS1 game. I had no idea it had turned into a battlefield brawler. Oh God, I had so much fun with DW3. Killing swarms of troops in 2 player co op is some of my favourite gamng memories.
  • TheWizard92 - October 12, 2010 2:30 p.m.

    I loved playing Dynasty Warriors 2 when I was younger! And, I am glad to see that Resident Evil was in this because I always hated having to used the d-pad controls for the first one, I died practicaly every 30 seconds. Not my best effort. Lol.
  • Bitchslapthehomeless - October 12, 2010 2:24 p.m.

    and Street Fighter 2! There, I've said my peace... Still a great read, Mikel.
  • Bitchslapthehomeless - October 12, 2010 2:19 p.m.

    Jak II was terrible, and a complete reaction to the Grand Theft Auto craze that was going on... And with that, I think Grand Theft Auto 3 should have REALLY been mentioned along with Metal Gear Solid, Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Burnout: Takedown and Warcraft II deserve mentions over these games, as they all introduced stuff that really changed games.

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