From worst to first
Until I started writing this week’s Destructoid Discusses piece, I didn’t realize just how many Rayman games there were. Seriously, look at this Wikipedia page. It’s not nearly as bad as Mario, but hell, Ubisoft sure threw Rayman into everything it could. Of course not all those games made it over to the States so I, like most people, probably most associated the character with his original trio of platformers. Rayman, The Great Escape, Hoodlum Havok; all exquisite titles and still pretty damn fun to play.
Then came the Rabbids.
I’ll admit, I was excited for Rayman’s Raving Rabbids when it was the original concept: a free-roaming action game where Rayman battled the invading horde of Rabbids. Seriously, this looks amazing. But that’s not the Rabbids game we got. What we were given was a title similar to many others that plagued the Wii throughout its existence: a mini-game collection. Rayman Raving Rabbids was followed by Raving Rabbids 2, another mini-game collection. And then another mini-game collection. And then Rabbids Go Home, which is actually very fun. And then two more mini-game collections. I don’t even think Rayman had anything to do with the series at that point, like how Spyro became less of a factor in the Skylanders series as the franchise evolved.
But then came November 15, 2011. Having long grown tired of the Rabbids and their antics, I was right ready to get back to the Rayman series I loved. So on that day I headed out to my local Target and put down my hard-earned cash… to buy Fossil Fighters: Champions. I picked up Rayman Origins a week later.
Like a hammer to the head, Origins is a blunt reminder of just how good Rayman and 2D platformers can be. Coming off the disappointing and feature-deficient port of Rayman 2 to the 3DS, it was a welcomed reminder that Ubisoft still cared about this character. Origins and its follow-up Legends, simultaneously a better and worse game, are still the best examples of the power of the UbiArt Framework engine and, if you ask me, superior to New Super Mario Bros Wii. and U as four-player platformers.
Rayman Origins saved Rayman and I would love to see it ported to the PS4, Xbox One, or Nintendo Switch because I’d happily pay $20 for another trip through the entire Desert of Dijiridoos.
This is probably going to sound ludicrous to most people (especially since Pokémon never really stopped being popular), but Pokémon X and Y kind of re-sparked everyone’s interest in Nintendo’s critter catching series. People in my age group either became die-hard fans or completely fell off the wagon — I’m the latter — but Nintendo seemed to only be catering to a younger audience before X and Y came along.
Once those two titles hit, it seemed like the whole internet was back into Poké-fever. You couldn’t casually scroll through Twitter or Facebook without seeing someone talk about all of the new creatures they had encountered and how their fond memories of the past were flowing back to them. X and Y was a nostalgic trip that also happened to propel the series forward in a massive way.
So I suppose these games didn’t necessarily “redeem” the franchise, but they definitely brought it back into being mega-popular. Funny for the game that first introduced mega-evolutions.
Occams Electric Toothbrush
The saga of the Doom franchise has been an interesting one. I was around when it first came out and remember just how amazing that experience was. Doom II would go on to occupy many happy moments in my brain. Then things got quiet. Consoles started to have a bigger presence and Doom had a legacy but not a lot of presence in the modern gaming world. Then Doom 3 came out. And reading the wiki for the game, it looks to have been a critical and commercial success. But I remember it feeling…hollow. The charm wasn’t there. Monster closets and darkness and that goddamn flashlight being its own equippable item (yeah, yeah, I know, atmosphere and shit) just made the game feel like it could have been any sci-fi horror shooter.
Then DOOM was announced back in 2016. I was skeptical. It looked kind of corny. But then it came out and the hype was tangible, so I rented it from Gamefly out of curiosity. Not 20 minutes into the game and I was transported back to 1994 and my time with Doom 2. The sense of wonder and joy that the chubby flannel-wearing nerd felt was back. They made it so simple. It was violent. It was visceral. The pacing was akin to shooting cocaine directly into your eyeball. The magic was back and suddenly id Software had once again shown all of us the simple joy of ripping and tearing.
In a world that demands gaming grow to reflect the complexity of society, it’s nice to have a game remind us that there is something profound and beautiful in the simplicity of using a chainsaw to disembowel a demon.
Being a purveyor of more niche titles, I’ve had my fair share of… shall we say, not good games. And Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is definitely one such game. From the offset, the performance was just bad. Low framerates, jerky animations, and just very shoddy presentation didn’t make for a good first impression. So why did I put this on this list?
Well, there are 2 reasons.
Firstly, despite the issues, you could tell that there were solid foundations for a decent game underneath it all. It just needed refinement and that was what we got with the sequel and remakes following this game. It took a while but you can’t really call the most recent Neptunia games junk & their increase in quality started here!
Secondly, I’m not sure how many of you actually remember the original Hyperdimension Neptunia game (not Rebirth) but it was GODAWFUL!!! The game was a massive boring grind-fest and committed some abhorrent sins in game mechanics and design, making the mere existence of mk2 a bit of a miracle.
Like the series or not, the Neptunia games have dug out a decent and solid niche for itself, which is surprising considering the very rough start it had but it’s doing quite well for itself now and the rise of the series started right here!
For the most part, the best game in the Mario Kart franchise is the most recent one. That changed when Mario Kart Wii launched in 2008. While motion controls and motorbikes made the game more accessible to casual players, the game completely missed the point of its battle mode, requiring each team to be filled with bots and ruining the last man standing “Balloon Battle” game type. The new tracks included were also fairly bland and seemed to take forever to drive through.
Two years later, a portable version of Mario Kart was released for the 3DS as Mario Kart 7. Even though some niche outlets thought the game was too set in its ways, I thought MK7 added some great innovations that paid off in a big way for Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U and Switch. Being able to select your tires, chassis, and glider let each player create a kart that fit their individual playstyle, and the new underwater and air sections let the tracks go places they’d never been before. What’s more, the game got an actual battle mode, bringing back Coin Runners and the frag-fest Balloon Battle.
Basically, everything you like about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe came from Mario Kart 7. Still not sure why they screwed up the battle mode again on the Wii U, though.
Super Smash Bros 4 Wii U/Nintendo DS
They removed tripping.
Mario Mario, Esq. and Link duke it out from generation to generation for the title of Nintendo mascot, so both deserve to have pretty special games. I can’t think of a bad mainline Mario game that I’ve played; even the sports spin-offs and party games were great fun. I played the ever-loving crap out of Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games believe you me. But there are some games in the series that don’t really take your breath away, even if they are extremely enjoyable.
Super Mario Sunshine for the GameCube received excellent reviews but didn’t quite have the same magic about it as its successor, Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii. Right from the title screen, SMG smacks you in the face with its majestic orchestral OST; the vast intergalactic environments felt like they were pushing the capabilities of the Wii, even though the game came out relatively early in the console’s lifecycle. It gave us one of the strongest female characters in the entire series and certified best girl for Mario Kart, Rosalina. And who can forget filling up a Luma’s tum ’til he explodes?
Super Mario Galaxy was pure magic and showcased how the Mario franchise should drive people to buy a new console. History repeated itself with the release of Super Mario Odyssey for the Switch a few months ago, which proved to be a small step above the Wii U’s Super Mario 3D World in terms of flashiness and marketability. A Mario game should be a highly touching and memorable experience, and Super Mario Galaxy delivered that in spades, despite some of its predecessors being a millimetre or two off the mark.
Mega Man 9, Sonic Mania, and Donkey Kong ’94 are just a few of the games I could write about here. That’s why it was hard for me to land on Pac-Man Championship Edition, as that’s not even the best game in its sub-group (that trophy still goes to Pac-Man CE DX). Still, when it comes down to fitting the definition of “series redemption,” no other game better fits the bill.
Pac-Man was, for a time, the most popular game series on the planet. He had his own cartoon show. Kids bought his trading cards by the box-full. He even got his own chart-topping disco song. None of that would have ever happened if it weren’t for the game’s simple but exciting premise; run through a never-ending maze, eat as much as you can and try to escape from your inevitable death. A universally relatable scenario, easy to pick-up but hard to master gameplay, and a mascot who rivals the smiley face in iconic simplicity. It all added up to a recipe for success that has yet to be fully replicated, and Namco almost threw it all away.
For years, all we saw from Pac-Man were games that looked and played nothing like the greats that put him on the map in the first place. Pac-Land, Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, Pac-Attack, Pac-in-Time, Pac-Man World, all games that were Pac-Man in name only. They dominated the Pac-o-sphere for most of the 90s, almost completely eclipsing the little yellow ball-man’s sunshine years throughout the 80s. They must have sold well enough, or else Namco wouldn’t have kept them coming, but for true fans of the original Pac-Man, they were amusing head scratchers at best or deformed sell-outs at worst.
That’s why it was such a relief to see Pac-Man Championship Edition released to critical and commercial success. It brought real Pac-Man back to the front, where it’s managed to stay for a good ten years now, thanks to several Championship Edition sequels. Personally, I hope this little pac-er never stops pac-ing.
Resident Evil was a series that really shaped my love for the original PlayStation. As I got older the games continued to catch my interest, Resident 4 is easily in my top 10 games ever. It’s a damn near perfect example of the series pairing the perfect amount of action and horror survival.
I’m something of a Resident Evil 5 apologist. I stand by it being a perfectly competent co-op shooter, though, it might lean on action elements a bit too much. Resident Evil 6, on the other hand, is a horrible mess. I wasn’t sure anything would bring me back to Raccoon City after that, but then along came Resident Evil 7.
The series takes its first plunge into 3D while drawing back on its horror roots in a big way. The Baker House is a terrifying labyrinth and the family themselves make for great constant threats. I played the game entirely in VR only adding to my enjoyment. Cautiously peeking through doors and stopping for a moment to catch my breath after a large enemy encounter. I hadn’t felt legitimate fear in a game before or at least not on the level Resident Evil 7 scared me.
I’m not sure where Capcom’s horror shooter goes from here, but I sure hope it keeps embracing both its horror roots and VR technology. I wouldn’t mind returning to the Spencer Mansion in VR.
I think Street Fighter IV didn’t redeem the series since Third Strike had existed for a while before that. Every main Street Fighter game before IV was praised in some way if I had to guess. I mean, I think the versions before Third Strike were weird but they weren’t bad.
So yeah, this entry is to imply the broader concept I think everyone attributes to SFIV: that it reignited the fighting game genre as a whole. EVO wouldn’t be on ESPN2 if it weren’t for SFIV reanimating the corpse of fighting games after the genre as a whole went through a mini-crash thanks to the rush of competitors since Street Fighter II. I mean Tattoo Assassins? Are you kidding me? The scene would probably be still alive on in a subtler way, but thanks to SFIV bringing fighting games back into the limelight, everyone and their grandmother knows who Daigo is, Justin Wong, Alex Valle, Sanford Kelly, SonicFox, and even more people own a stick now.
Also, God bless Poonko’s Seth.
Perhaps it’s a bit early for me to be declaring this, but I’d argue that Final Fantasy XV really redeemed the Final Fantasy franchise, at least in my eyes. And I say this as a person who didn’t think Final Fantasy XIII was all that bad! But despite the fact that I think the criticism of that particular series is overblown, no one can deny that the debacle of the FFXIII trilogy, regardless of the merits of the individual games (which, again, I argue are underappreciated), damaged the brand greatly.
The voices calling for Final Fantasy to either get with the times or just die out had never been louder than after FFXIII (with a twist of the knife from the horrific state of Final Fantasy XIV‘s original incarnation), and even a company like Square Enix couldn’t fail to notice. Ultimately, what it took was to bring in people who could right the ship after years of meandering and put out a game. And in the end, despite being clearly unfinished and flawed in some key respects, it showed me that a Final Fantasy game could actually feel like a contemporary title and not just a reminder that I’m never going to feel the way I did in 1995, when I quit playing Final Fantasy VI (nee Final Fantasy III) because I was 11 and couldn’t figure out how to progress in the World of Ruin, or how I felt when paid a month’s allowance to pick up a bootleg copy Final Fantasy VII to play on my sister’s boyfriend’s PlayStation.
Whether it’s thanks to the distinctly ultramodern aesthetic, or maybe its slightly-too-modern business models (not entirely happy about the DLC schemes, I’ll admit), Final Fantasy XV feels like a game I can enjoy as a dumpy 30-something, without having to conjure up teen me.
Mortal Kombat (2011) was a fan’s dream. From MK3 onwards, Boon and Co. screwed around with the franchise, leading to an overblown roster of nobodies, sloppy 3D controls, and horrible gimmicks such as stage hazards and weapons. But Mortal Kombat 2011 was a much-needed smack on the big ol’ reset button.
Rewinding the clock to when the franchise was at its peak, the newly-rechristened NetherRealm Studios went back to what brought them to the dance: pulse-pounding, two-dimensional gameplay, ridiculously violent finishers, foreboding music and iconic characters. Familiar faces and locales from arcade days past received a modern-day rework, with the series’ muddled lore being rebooted via an excellent Story Mode, setting a new standard in fighters for single-player content.
Most of all, it just felt fucking great to play. Gone were the sluggish, polygonal models, gimmick-filled stages, and over-reliance on bad comedy. MK returned to crisp, skillful combat, drenched with lashings of the ol’ ultraviolence. From roster to story, from stages to music, Mortal Kombat felt like a gift to those who never lost hope that the series would find itself once again. It remains one of the best video game reboots to date.
Oh, and there was that amazing scene where Sindel kicked the living shit out of everybody.
So many great games, so many franchises saved by developers revisiting exactly what it is players want. Hopefully, other developers wallowing in mediocrity can look to these games as blueprints for what they should do going forward. I’m looking at you, Dead Rising developers.