7 games with out-of-left-field genre mashups

A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That

At one time or another, we've all wondered what our favorite foods would taste like with a little something extra. Sometimes those new creations are quite good; other times they taste so obscene that we still shiver at the thought and rue the day we decided to play god. Either way, mixing things up is always a surefire way of keeping off the doldrums.

Video games are no different. You have all of these ingredients to play with, and over time developers have come to understand--much like cooking--that certain ingredients complement some more than others. But every once in a while, a studio comes along and decides to toss out the playbook on game design and mix and match genres with reckless abandon. Let's take a look at some of the greatest genre hybrids these master chefs cooked up!

Portal - mind-bending puzzles without a shot fired

There is no denying that Valve's Portal series is a very different kind of game. When most shooters' campaigns open to a gripping battle that sets the stage for the whole game, Portal opens with you in a glass cube listening to catchy radio tunes (seriously though, listen to that song again and tell me your hips don't wiggle just a little). That isn't the only thing different about Portal. Using the familiarity of a first person shooter, the game introduces you to a wonderfully inventive world that hinges on your puzzle solving abilities rather than your twitch reflexes.

The puzzles contained in Portal and its sequel are still, to this day, mind-bending and creative. You want to feel like a genius? Play Portal for a few hours--nothing beats the satisfaction of finally cracking that one tough puzzle. Portal shows us that first person games aren't only for shooters; they can also be hilarious, witty, and genuinely creative.

Natural Selection 2 - shooting meets strategy

Multiplayer shooters have always had a penchant for tossing out the playbook and exploring unique forms of combat, but Natural Selection 2 easily stands out among the pack. Blending the mayhem of fast-paced shooters with the strategy and tactical depth prevalent in the best real-time strategy games, Natural Selection is an incredible alternative for those dying to get a different take on the Alien franchise.

With one team playing the xenomorph-inspired Kharaas, and the other manning the guns of the Frontiersman, the two sides clash in an epic struggle to conquer the other. Meanwhile, commanders from each team view the battle from above, not unlike many real-time strategy games. Commanders issue orders, gather resources, build structures, and improve the abilities of those fighting for them. Natural Selection 2 has a unique relationship between soldier and commander, and is one of the only games to seamlessly blend the immediacy of an alien trying to eat your face with the genius of masterfully employed strategy.

Crypt of the Necrodancer - the rhythm roguelike

A game in which you dance fight your way through endless hordes of monsters sounds like the type of elevator pitch that could make a heart stop. Welcome to Crypt of the Necrodancer: combining the seemingly endless depth of roguelikes like The Binding of Isaac, with the dexterity of Dance Dance Revolution as you attempt to plumb deep below ground in search of treasure.

Navigating Crypt of the Necrodancer is no easy feat, as each step must be rhythmically timed with the heart-thumping electronic music that accompanies each level of the crypt. Attacking monsters and moving around the world becomes an elaborately choreographed dance worthy of a fight scene in the Matrix, in which you only have only a split second to make your next move or risk falling out of time with the music--the gravest sin you can commit. Whoever dreamed of mixing a dungeon diving roguelike with everyone's favorite "I'm bored and the movie doesn't start for another half hour" arcade game is nothing if not a mad scientist. Someone please stop them.

Persona 4 - high school romance role-playing

Popularized by Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, Japanese role-playing games have existed on consoles for decades. And while the turn-based battles that have come to define the sub-genre largely remain, Atlus threw everyone a curveball when they introduced an element to their series that would become a trademark going forward: the dating sim.

In a sense, Persona 4 is two separate games. By day you are just an average high school student dealing with all of the stress and drama of balancing your studies and the needs of your hormone ravaged body. By night, you're a member of a super-cool crack team of demon wranglers. While a good half of Persona 3 and 4 are dominated by decisions like what you should bring for lunch tomorrow, the seemingly mundane dating sim element is anything but. Before long, it won't be the opportunity to tackle some crazy looking demon that'll keep you pressing on, but wanting to progress your relationships with your classmates. Characters are pitch-perfect, and Persona shows us that sometimes it's the quiet moments that define a relationship.

Odama - Strategic Feudal Pinball

Somewhere out there, locked in a vault, is a design document with a Venn diagram showing two circles overlapping. In one circle is written "real-time strategy", the other: "pinball". Honestly, we may never know someone dreamed up such a crazy concept, but either way, Odama is probably one of the most original concepts for a video game. Ever.

Taking control of two flippers, you can fling the Odama, a giant pinball, around the field of battle, using it to smash enemy fortifications and units while your own men scramble to get out of the way. The game even came packed with a microphone, which allows you to bark orders at your men in a feeble attempt to get them to move before getting pancaked. If you've ever wanted to know what a feudal Japanese general's sake-induced nightmares were, this one is probably on that list. While Odama wasn't a critical success by any means, it needs some recognition for bringing something entirely new to the table.

Dark Cloud 2 - dungeon diving city builder

Every hero needs a break. Eventually, you'll need to give up the hunt and return to the village to recuperate. Not content to let you idly wander a handful of static towns and villages, Dark Cloud 2 sought to give us an even better incentive to pop back to town every so often. Above ground, you hang up your weapons and pick up a hardhat and blueprints to become a city planner extraordinaire.

Taking a dash of inspiration from games like Sim City, Dark Cloud 2 introduces the Georama mode. Using materials that you found on your quests, you can return to the surface to turn them into blueprints for houses, buildings, and even rivers. Villagers can be recruited to populate your rapidly expanding village, though each will have their own idea for how the city should look. Building a town to perfectly meet both yours and its citizens needs is a noble quest, one that will probably keep you up until late hours of the evening rotating houses so they line up just right.

Brutal Legend - metal tactics

Brutal Legend probably isn't the first game to blend third-person action and strategy elements together, but it's the one that is most likely to beat us up for not including it on this list. If anything, Brutal Legend is easily the most memorable due to its rockin' premise and how much pure Saturday-morning-cartoon fun it is to play. Taking up the axe (literally) of metal-head Eddie Riggs, you're transported to a land ripped right from an Iron Maiden album cover to help save the last vestiges of humanity.

But premise only goes so far, which is just fine considering how Tim Schafer's metal-est game manages to take the best of beat 'em ups and weave some pretty interesting real-time strategy into the mix. Commanding a mob of head-bangers, Eddie can direct his squads to defend or attack various positions, which quickly becomes an intense juggling act as you manage multiple objectives. Hilarious, completely off-kilter, and fun to play: Brutal Legend is the perfect game for your inner rock god.

Shaken, not stirred

Listen, routines are boring. Everyone gets bogged down in the monotony of everyday life, which is why mixing things up is so important. If you've been feeling a little stale, why not freshen up how you tackle life? Go on! Be bold! Wear socks with sandals! Brush your teeth and then drink your orange juice! Order chicken fingers with sweet and sour and plum sauce (just don't get carried away).

Getting into the routine of playing the same type of game day in and day out is eventually going to kill your enthusiasm. Which is why it's important to celebrate the ones that aren't afraid of going boldly where no game has gone before. So, what are you favorite games that have tossed a few genres in the blender and made something new? Let us know in the comments!

Steven Messner
Freelance writer and salt and vinegar chip enthusiast. You can find my work all over or just hit me up at @stevenmessner and say hello!