I remember being rather disappointed when Pokemon Snap was first announced. I was a huge Pokemon fan, and it seemed rather stupid for Nintendo to be wasting time on some photography simulator, when they could've been making a full 3D Pokemon adventure. Then one day, I came across a demo station in Toys R Us and finally gave the game a shot.
I spent the rest of the week forcing my parents to drive me back to Toys R Us, just so I could keep playing the most addictive video game I'd ever encountered.
Pokemon Snap is hands down, the best Pokemon game ever created, and the fact that there hasn't yet been a sequel seems almost criminal. The game is essentially a rail shooter, though instead of shooting down dragoons (or whatever), players are tasked with snapping pictures of Pokemon. Back at the lab, Professor Oak goes through your snaps and rates them by how well you filled the frame, how many Pokemon are in the shot, and what actions the Pokemon are performing. Pikachu riding a surfboard? Mad points. The back of a Geodude's head after you've hit him in the head with an apple? Not so much.
Even though the actual game was rather short, there was something undeniably addictive about replaying the same levels over and over, trying every trick in the book to get a rare shot. Some Pokemon had to be enticed with food, others scared from hiding by shock balls, while real photo geniuses knew what environmental set-pieces could be struck, unlocking hidden paths and even forcing some Pokemon to evolve.
Really, it sounds crazy to someone who's never played it, but this game cannot be put down. Once I spent hours practicing the timing needed to arrive at the bridge just in time for a trio of Butterfree to fly into frame. That shot was a work of art my friends, and my only regret is not printing off a sheet of stickers from one of those Pokemon Snap kiosks they had at Blockbuster Video.
Best of all, there's no wrong way to play Pokemon Snap. My buddy once made it his goal to fill his photo album only with pictures of Pokemon who just had an apple chucked at their face. Professor Oak was a bit confused to see an album filled only with pictures of Pokemon abuse, but those photos were a work of Warhol-level genius.
Final Fantasy Tactics
If you've never played Final Fantasy Tactics, know that there's a reason Square charges an ungodly $16 for it on the iOS app store: the game is fantastic. The mixture of spire-based graphics and 3D environments still looks great, and the gameplay is rich and complex, rewarding players who maneuver their units strategically, while drawing from the game's various classes in order to form a well balanced team of fighters, mages, archers and more. The fact that the game also managed to include a truly intriguing storyline was just icing on the cake.
However the most addictive aspect of FFT was undoubtedly the job system. Players could create their own custom units, then advance them through the ranks, letting them branch off from their original job into a variety of specialized disciplines. Players would also earn skill points, letting them unlock a variety of cool new abilities, encouraging them to experiment with every type of character in hopes of finding the right addition to the team. Not to mention that there was a definite thrill in building your Lv. 1 Squire into a Lv. 99 Dark Knight, assuming he could make it that long without perishing on the field (death is permanent!).
Unfortunately, recent Final Fantasy Tactics games have failed to capture the unique charm of the original. Still, Square paved the way for other Strategy RPGs looking to come across from Japan, including Nintendo's Fire Emblem franchise and Nippon Ichi's Disgaea series. If you've got an iPad and some money to blow, definitely consider picking this one up.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Though we've now seen Mario make his appearance in numerous "Paper Mario" and "Mario & Luigi" games, it's easy to remember a time when the thought of a Mario RPG seemed ridiculous. After all, RPGs were medieval fantasy stories about bands of epic warriors. Mario is a stout, portly plumber from Brooklyn. These things do not mix… or do they?
Well, Squaresoft believed that yes, even Mario could be a true RPG hero, and proved it in the SNES classic Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Not only that, but they managed to craft an RPG which not only used Mario characters, but also featured elements from the games themselves. Scattered throughout the colorful worlds were those familiar item blocks, now crammed full of gold and treasure. Mario even wielded his trusty old hammer(from the Donkey Kong days), and utilized his classic jumps and fireballs as special moves.
Also: Bowser as a playable character? Awesome.
Given the strength of the Mario license, Squaresoft likely could've phoned this one in. Instead, they gave us an adventure still remembered fondly by tons of Nintendo gamers, with many of their innovations having made their way into later Mario RPG titles. Sadly, both of Square's original characters (Mallow & Geno) have pretty much vanished from the Mario universe. Hopefully Nintendo can make friends with Squaresoft and get these cult characters into the background of the next Smash Bros game along with the long overdue appearance of Cloud Strife.
Who's with me?
When gamers first got word that the Metroid series was returning, reactions were mixed, especially upon finding out that the classic sidescroller was being redone as a first-person-shooter by some unknown developer called Retro Studios. Many expected nothing more than a Call of Duty clone with some crappy morph-ball sections, and waited to see just how badly Retro would screw things up.
Thing is, all the haters quickly found themselves biting their tongues. Not only did Retro Studios figure out how to make a first person shooter work without invoking the second analog stick, but Metroid Prime also managed to retain the classic exploration elements of Metroid despite the radical new viewpoint. In fact, Metroid Prime was crammed full of even more exploring than the original games, with Samus's scan visor letting the beautiful bounty hunter collect information on just about every aspect of the game world, while still stumbling across classic items like the Ice Beam and Grapple Beam.
Oh, and those Morph Ball sections? Actually a ton of fun!
Metroid Prime helped turn a troubled studio into one of Nintendo's strongest first party developers, with Retro having continued work on plenty more Nintendo properties, including Donkey Kong Country Returns and Mario Kart 7. As good as these games have been, current rumors claim that Retro Studios are hard at work on a Wii U title, one based on an even more exclusive franchise.
Legend of Zelda: Prime? We're crossing our fingers
Mega Man Legends
Honestly, we shouldn't be so surprised about Capcom choosing to spin-off their Lost Planet franchise. After all, this is the same company which owns Mega Man, a character who's had his own fighting game, racing game, RPG, Pokemon ripoff… hell, he even dominated Dr. Wily at future soccer. That's one busy robot.
Though out of all of these titles, Mega Man Legends stands out as the greatest of the numerous Mega Man spin-offs, the solid action-adventure still regarded by many as one of the best original PlayStation games. Mega Man Legends was the first game to take Mega Man into the realm of 3D, and though the controls were a bit wonky (the DualShock controller hadn't been invented yet), the game's exciting dungeons were still a blast to explore, packed full of traps, secret passages and massive bosses.
Perhaps most memorable was the game's cast of characters, all of whom seemed plucked from the ranks of a classic Saturday cartoon show. The lovable Gramps, Mega Man's sidekick (and potential love interest) Roll, and of course the lovable villian Tron Bonne and her army of Servbots. Of course, in the mid 90s Tomb Raider was making buckets of money, which meant this fun, brightly-colored romp went rather ignored by a gaming public hungry for more violence and sex. This meant plenty missed out on one of the funniest moments in Mega Man history, our intrepid hero checking up on how Roll is doing in the shower:
Point is, Mega Man Legends was packed full of content, all of it excellent. Unlockable weapons, voice-acted cutscenes… the game even had a hidden "Good/Evil" meter, which would subtly change Mega Man's armor color depending on your actions within the game. Many astute players figured out you could spend 10 minutes kicking a pig against the wall to turn Mega Man's armor completely black, which though a bit questionable morally, looked totally badass:
Anyhow, more than a few fans were disappointed when Capcom cancelled Mega Man Legends 3 for the Nintendo 3DS. Knowing how the once-legendary studio has been struggling, we'll wait to see if E.X. Troopers actually makes it to production…
Gamers were admittedly a bit confused last week, when Capcom released a trailer for a newly-announced Lost Planet spinoff to be titled "E.X. Troopers." The reason for their puzzlement? The game's bizarre departure from the gritty and mature themes known to the franchise, featuring instead colorful anime avatars and clean cel-shaded graphics, complete with manga-style sound effects dancing around the screen.
Though the look of the game still has many scratching their heads, there's really little cause for concern. To be honest, E.X. Troopers looks pretty awesome, and many are quick to forget that some truly awesome franchises have been spin-offs of already successful games.
Not convinced? Here's five examples of fantastic spin-off games, which despite jumping genres and styles, are true classics in their own right.