We have all played video games that knocked our socks off at some point or another; we’ve also played games that have been afforded general apathy or even a sweeping wave of disgust. When a sequel to any title that falls into either of these categories comes along, it’s a defining moment for gamers. A sequel can make or break a franchise for both die-hard loyalists and those still raging about its predecessor.
Today, Power Up Gaming takes a look at five of the more successful gaming sequels; those that vastly improved their respective series or possibly even cemented it as a staple. Whether they wowed us on multiple levels, were a major upgrade from their roots, or even had us left cheering or speechless – one thing is for certain: all of them were left stuck in our hearts and minds.
Honorable mention: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SMD, 1992)
Mega Drive platformer Sonic The Hedgehog defined a generation of gamers, and gave birth to one of the industry’s most beloved (and in recent years, most hated) mascots.
Going up against the mighty Super Mario Bros. from Nintendo, Sonic’s key differentiator was its emphasis on speed – with springs, loops, and power-ups allowing the blue hedgehog to traverse through the levels as quickly as possible.
Featuring colourful sprites and vibrant levels which felt like they could have been pulled straight from a cartoon, Sonic’s visuals were something to behold back in the early 1990s; genuinely stretching the Sega Genesis’s technical capabilities to its limits.
Sonic 2, released in 1992 as the direct sequel to Sonic The Hedgehog, brought revolutionary gameplay changes to the series; the introduction of the spin-dash ability being the stand-out feature. The title also featured pseudo-3D special stages, and served as the debut of Sonic’s side-kick, Miles ‘Tails’ Prower, as well as the first appearance of multiplayer in the franchise.
Sonic 2 went on to sell over six million copies worldwide (becoming the Genesis’ second best-selling title behind its predecessor), and is largely credited with helping Sega to catch up to Nintendo in the bitter console wars of the early 1990s.
5. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (GCN, 2004)
We all know that Nintendo – for all its bright colours, friendly games and legendary icons – can sometimes deliver a punch to your feelings like none other. One of the first places beyond Majora’s Mask that this became evident was in the Paper Mario series. Thousand Year Door, the second entry in the series, gave the Paper Mario brand a unique flavour beyond its art style and Super Mario RPG-esque style of play.
The original Paper Mario did have a lot to offer: atmosphere, fun gameplay, some cute mini-games and even some memorable characters. What Thousand Year Door did was amplify all of this and add a level of depth to the story that made it something special. Paper Mario wasn’t without its moments of piqued emotions, but Thousand Year Door managed to combine the light-hearted spirit of the Mario series with a deep, emotionally-driven story and style that made it heartfelt and memorable, and at some points tear-inducing (anyone who’s heard that one music box tune knows what we mean).
Whether or not you’re a fan of RPGs or the series itself, Thousand Year Door opened doors (*ahem*) for future Paper Mario games – and even some of the main Mario series itself – to delve into more emotion, greater possibilities and darker plot points.
4. Street Fighter II (Arcade, 1991)
Long before Street Fighter 4 Ultra, Super slama-lama-ding-dong Edition, there was plain old Street Fighter (or Fighting Street, as it was later known on the TurboGrafx-CD). The game made its debut in the arcades and had players scrapping their way through the mean streets of the world to become the best fighter in existence. Choices were minimal and only allowed players to use Ryu and his rival, Ken, in the event a second player wanted to join. The single-player mode consisted of ten fights spanning five different countries with less-than-desirable graphics. Not exactly the melting pot of a fighting tournament one might hope for.
Thankfully, Street Fighter II changed all of that. Not only did the graphics pull a complete 180 and grab gamers with colourful backgrounds and breakable objects, but the game also gave players a handful of fighters with equally colourful personalities to take on the tournament with. Each fighter represented a different area of the world and had their own arsenal of moves that defined what kind of fighter they were. For example, if you didn’t have a penchant for projectiles like Ryu, a quick change to the Japanese Sumo wrestler, E. Honda, or Soviet wrestler, Zangief, would soon solve your problem.
Not only did each character boast a unique moveset and homeland, but they also had a storyline that would unfold once the tournament was finally beaten. This was a driving force for any gamer interested in the title and had players completing every backstory to get a full picture. Not only this, but bonus stages and bosses were added in to really round out the experience.
In all, Street Fighter 2 took what the original title had and not only gave more, but significantly made it better. Storylines, added characters, enhanced graphics and a bonus stage where you could destroy a brand new sports car with your bare fists really helped to create the Street Fighter that we all know and love today.
3. Metal Gear Solid (PS1, 1998)
You’ll rarely hear a bad word said against Hideo Kojima’s seminal Playstation stealth-action game, and for good reason: Metal Gear Solid was a masterpiece. Improving infinitely on the previous, MSX2 entries in the Metal Gear universe, it swiftly transformed the franchise into being one of the greatest of all time.
The game opened skillfully with Solid Snake infiltrating the docks of the stormy, snow-covered base of Shadow Moses. As you opened your inventory to see no weapons in hand, the game quickly taught you that stealth was key.
MGS’s background music was quiet and hugging walls was mandatory. That was, at least, until you were inevitably spotted, and a loud, startling noise would harshly scrape your ears. As the music changed pace – mirroring the rapid beat of your heart – you’d flee to the safest place you could, perhaps navigating Snake to underneath a cardboard box while you shook in your real-life chair, desperately hoping the guards wouldn’t suspect the ill-placed container.
Naturally, from this state of vulnerability, Snake would then go on to face a cyborg ninja, an intimidating psychic, and a giant mech. MGS could be both serious and playful, and certainly left its mark on gamers.
There are few PS1 games that have aged so gracefully, and none of these have a sequel releasing next year that we’re so eagerly awaiting. The popular franchise began moving with Metal Gear, took off with Metal Gear Solid, and has stayed soaring gracefully for around 15 years – so the take-off must have been pretty good.
2. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1990)
The first Super Mario Bros. was an eight-world, four-levels masterpiece that kindled a love of games for many of us that’s still with us to this day. It was groundbreaking, life-changing, and has influenced just about every game made since. But for all this good, it was only when Super Mario Bros. 3 came out that the series reached its pinnacle.
With its spiffy new world map, complete with route choices and shortcuts (oh, the satisfaction of being able to skip to world seven), a whole host of fresh enemies (we still remember the little booklet that came with it, outlining all their skills) and abilities that opened up a plethora of new areas (although we’ve never understood how a raccoon tail could make you fly), it was as much a revelation as the original (the less said about SMB2, the better) and is still thought of by many as the best game ever made.
By expanding the tried-and-tested formula but keeping the good of the original, SMB3 was the first game to show us what a sequel should be: bigger, bolder and better – something that so many of Mario’s later adventures have failed to be.
SMB3 stands not only as a glorious memory from our childhoods, but as a piece of gaming history that deserves to be honoured – even today.
1. Grand Theft Auto III (PS2, 2001)
While 2D shooters Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto 2 (as well as their respective spinoffs) certainly courted controversy due to their violent, crime-fuelled themes, they were also the worthy recipients of widespread critical acclaim. PS1 gamers loved GTA’s open world gameplay and the sense of freedom this afforded players – not to mention the series’ crisp shooting and driving mechanics.
However, early GTA games all paled in comparison to Rockstar’s 2001 release of Grand Theft Auto III on Sony’s fledgling Playstation 2 console, which truly revolutionised the landscape of 3D action titles. Gone were the cartoony, top-down cities of its two-dimensional predecessors – in favour of the fully 3D, gritty, living, breathing, New York-inspired, Liberty City.
While huge, open 3D world action games weren’t necessarily new (developers DMA Design themselves had experimented with the genre in their 1998 sci-fi title, Body Harvest), GTA 3 created a huge scope for players and featured levels of detail that had never been seen before in the gaming world. If GTA 1 and 2 had courted controversy, GTA 3 was its bedfellow; yet, the public furore only served to work in the game’s favour, demonstrating the excitement and impact of the game’s missions.
An immersive, professionally-voiced story (featuring a mute protagonist) gave way to brutally satisfying, fun and engaging gameplay as players attempted to make their way up the ranks of the shady, crime-ridden underworld of Liberty City. With a variety of weapons, non-linear missions and vehicles at their disposal, players could effectively play GTA 3 however they wanted to; even down to being able to control the game’s soundtrack through in-car radio stations.
Grand Theft Auto III was the best-selling game of 2001, and proved to be the watershed moment for the future of the franchise; a series which has continued to innovate, excite, outrage, and ultimately, sell millions, ever since.
Have Your Say!
Do you agree with our selection, or have we missed out one of your favourite video gaming sequels? Which other follow-ups significantly bettered their respective franchises? Let us know in the comments section below.
Contributors: Amber Colyer, David Tierney, Georgie Catto, Austin Flynn, Chris Mawson.