5. Resident Evil 4
What it was before: An initially revolutionary, but increasingly stale, survival-horror series about the evil Umbrella corporation, a handful of vigilante survivors and hundreds of moaning zombies and mutants with a nasty habit of jumping through windows for cheap scares.
Above: Been there, done that
What it became: A badass, ultraviolent shooter that reinvented not just Resident Evil, but also the horror genre and third-person action games in general. Ditching the cheap scares and awkward, plodding survival-horror gameplay, RE4 instead made its bones with the desperation that comes from facing down hordes of shuffling monsters hell-bent on your messy destruction. To help players get through this in the most awesome way possible, it introduced seamless environments that Leon Kennedy could run through and barricade as needed, as well as a unique over-the-shoulder perspective and aiming function that went on to be copied by most of the third-person shooters that followed.
More strikingly, it also ditched zombies in favor of the more intelligent Ganados, once-innocent Spanish villagers who’d been possessed and turned maniacal by the ancient, alien Las Plagas parasites. They could move quickly, use weapons and group tactics, and sometimes even survive headshots, making them a more terrifying threat than RE’s cliché zombies.
Above: Yeah, yeah, ‘un forastero.’ We’ll see how much Spanish you can speak with bullets where your teeth used to be
They were also far from the most terrifying thing in the game, and trying to survive some of the beasts that show up later in the game – like the Regenerators, for example – made for some of the most memorably frightening moments in what was already a pretty consistently scary game.
Where it went from there: Racism.
OK, OK, not really. If Resident Evil 5 is anything to go by, though, RE4 has set the tone for the franchise for the foreseeable future. Sadly, RE5 felt like something of a disappointment; it wasn’t bad, but after the bold flash of innovation that was Resident Evil 4, we kind of expected some more sweeping improvements, instead of just a similar game with an AI partner, a few more cool set-pieces and big amorphous blobs instead of scares.
4. Donkey Kong 3
What it was before: To be fair, Donkey Kong was from an era when sequels didn’t really have to have a consistent play style, but at least the first two games made a sort of sense when put next to each other. Donkey Kong, the first platformer, was about jumping over barrels and other threats in order to defeat a giant ape and save a girl, while Donkey Kong Jr. focused on climbing enemy-infested vines to defeat Mario and rescue Donkey Kong. One naturally follows the other.
Donkey Kong 3, on the other hand…
What it became: A bizarre, Galaga-like shooter in which obscure non-Mario hero Stanley the Bugman has to jump between parallel platforms and use a spray can to keep Donkey Kong and a swarm of bugs from stealing his flowers. This involved annihilating a lot of flies, but they were really a distraction from your main goal: squirting bug spray up Donkey Kong’s ass to force him up a pair of chains and into the next level.
Above: Yes, really
This weird departure was made far more creepy by what happened if Stanley should ever absorb a hit, either from the bugs or from anything Kong threw down. Not satisfied with Stanley merely falling over dead, the game would swarm his body with bugs, which left nothing behind but his spray can. Or, if you’re an easily traumatized, six-year-old me, a gruesome object that resembles a big-nosed, bloody-faced skeleton. Hell, it’s not like the game outright told us what it was.
Where it went from there: In all sorts of different directions, none of them quite as weird as this. After showing up in 1992’s Mario Kart, Donkey Kong got a 1994 Game Boy revival that expanded on the original game’s example, and soon after Donkey Kong was reinvented as a hero in the Donkey Kong Country series. He still occasionally shows up as an antagonist in the Mario vs Donkey Kong games, but he’s never squared off against Stanley since. Probably because Stanley’s dead.
Above: It could also be a silk-wrapped mummy, like a spider might leave behind