Friday, September 26, 2014

Top Ten Franchise Revivals

I've written articles asking for sequels to long-forgotten or shelved game franchises many times before in the past. However, what I haven't done yet is take those game franchises that saw actual reboots and revivals to them and were not only excellent games in their own right, but they successfully brought back attention to old characters and series. Some of these revivals returned their series to their traditional genre, but some completely turned their series upside down, for the better. These are the top ten franchise revivals of all time, as chosen by yours truly.

10) Killer Instinct (XONE)

We start off my list with the Xbox One launch title Killer Instinct, originally made popular in arcades and on the Super Nintendo back in the mid-nineties. Ken Lobb, an original development team member on the original games, supervised Double Helix Games, Iron Galaxy Studios, and Rare throughout the creation of this long-anticipated revival. The end result was an even more impressive graphical beast with as many regular combos, Super Combos, and Ultra Combos as fans expected out of the series. What it lacks in content, Killer Instinct has in excellent combo-centric fighting that both genre veterans and beginners alike can enjoy.

9) Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (PS2, GCN, XBX)

Taking the original 1989 Prince of Persia game and putting it into a 3D perspective, albeit retooled and rebooted, is not a task one should scoff at. However, the fine minds at Ubisoft Montreal was able to do so, and not just complete the task but do so magnificently. The Prince had an immense number of athletic moves he could unleash at the press of a button, such as running along walls, scaling platforms like Nathan Drake on steroids, and leaping over wide chasms, giving Nintendo's Mario a run (or jump) for his money. The success of Sands of Time allowed Ubisoft to stretch out the franchise to three mostly well received sequels. It wasn't until a second reboot on last generation systems that put the Prince out to pasture, at least for now.

8) New Super Mario Bros. (DS)

1992's Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins on Game Boy was Mario's final foray into traditional 2D platforming until 2006, a good fourteen years later. We take for granted 2D Mario games now, especially as there have been three others since with the same sterile presentation. That said, Nintendo knows how to deliver excellent, imaginative, and immaculate level design, and the New Super Mario Bros. series always amazes in that regard. Mario's return to 2D in 2006 with the Nintendo DS and New Super Mario Bros. might not be Mario's most marvelous moment in his illustrious history (I'd call it the weakest of the four NSMB games), but it put Mario's 2D escapades back in the front seat and into the limelight for one welcomed return.

7) Mega Man 9 (PSN, XBLA, WiiWare)

Speaking of taking specific series for granted, remember when we complained that there was too much Mega Man? It seemed in the mid 2000's that we, at least I, was whining how Mega Man had oversaturated the market with his games, albeit in different Mega Man series. Nowadays, Nintendo remembers Mega Man and treats him better than his own publisher, Capcom, does. There has to be a middle ground, right? Mega Man 9 brought back the Classic series of games after a long slumber. It tossed aside the updated visuals of Mega Man 7 and 8 for tried and true 8-bit visuals, and definitely a Nintendo-hard difficulty. Mega Man 9 was the series going back to its roots, allowing old fans to enjoy old school Mega Man gameplay and newcomers to see what the Blue Bomber was all about.

6) Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii) 

Rare, the talented Twycross studio, was purchased by Microsoft early in the sixth generation of home consoles. This turned many Nintendo fans into unhappy campers. This meant no more Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, and so on for Nintendo home consoles. What also stunk was the revelation that Donkey Kong Country as an IP was no longer in Rare's capable hands. After many years of Donkey Kong appearing in side games and experimental projects through the GameCube and early Wii's lives, it seemed the dream for a new DKC was dead. That was until an E3 reveal of a brand-new Donkey Kong Country, made by Retro Studios of all people. With exquisitely designed levels that were ripe with imagination and a game that contained the same charm of the SNES trilogy, Donkey Kong Country was back and in a big way. The Wii release, Donkey Kong Country Returns, became a million seller and would spawn a terrific Wii U sequel. As a fan of the SNES trilogy, this was a miracle to me and a dream come true.

5) Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)

Like the Ice Climbers in Super Smash Bros. Melee, there was a newcomer in the starting roster of Super Smash Bros. Brawl fighters that some folks weren't too privy on. Who was this winged angel-looking boy? Well, he was none other than Pit from the NES classic Kid Icarus. But who could foretell that this character would be found fascinating by the Smash series creator and director Masahiro Sakurai, and enough for him to director a retro revival starring Pit in the form of Kid Icarus: Uprising? Taking his trademark directorial skills-- lots of content, simple yet deep gameplay mechanics, and lots of charm-- and putting them into one hilarious self-referential on-rails shooter/action game hybrid, Masahiro Sakurai led his team into creating one of the Nintendo 3DS's best titles and one of Nintendo's greatest revivals of one of their older IP. Just remember to stop playing and take a break if your hands start cramping up!

4) Ninja Gaiden (XBX)

There's few directors that can take a series that was traditionally a 2D side-scrolling action game from the late '80s and early '90s and turn into a successful and incredible 3D character action romp. Tomonobu Itagaki is one of those directors, and with his leadership and his team, he made Ryu Hayabusa's miraculous and unexpected return to gaming in 2004 a sight to behold, a treasure to play, and a game that kicked the hind quarters of every player that opted to take on its brutal challenge. No doubt boys were turned into men after they beat the Xbox's Ninja Gaiden, and some men even turned into master ninjas. I simply turned into a young man who wanted nothing more than to continue slicing up foes with Ryu's sensational moves.

3) Mortal Kombat (PS3, 360, Vita)

After some middling entries in the long-running mature-rated fighting franchise, Mortal Kombat returned in 2011 with a full-blown reboot to the series. This ninth installment totally retconned the events of past games, took the franchise to a whole new level with its improved combat system, and was bloodier and gorier than ever before thanks to the addition of an abundance of gruesome fatalities and the new X-ray view, giving players a literal inside look at the damage caused by certain moves. 2011's Mortal Kombat was definitely a flawless victory for fans of the franchise and newcomers too.

2) Street Fighter IV (ARC, PS3, 360)

What I consider one of the most important fighting games to come out in the past decade, Street Fighter IV once again shook the foundations of the genre and made clear to everyone that it was still fighting game king. It is as deep or as shallow a fighting game experience as the person who plays it. It never compromises its gameplay fundamentals. to create a tremendous fighter for one and all. After a sea of upgrades to Street Fighter 3, it was a breath of fresh air and a damn relieving one at that to experience the next generation of the long-running fighting game franchise. It looked great, it played great, and it continues to impress to this day.

1) Metroid Prime (GCN)

Many Metroid fans felt things were amiss with their favorite bounty hunter not making an official appearance on the Nintendo 64 with her own planet-exploring adventure. This was despite the huge critical and commercial success of Super Metroid on the Super Nintendo. It wouldn't be until Nintendo's system after the N64 that Samus would get her glorious return into the spotlight. Metroid Prime had everything going against it. It had a team that didn't have a solid vision, it had multiple revisions and reworkings to it, it was being done in an first-person perspective, and this latter idea did not have much support from fans. Then the game released and all the reactions to the game were pretty much universally amazing. Fans loved it, critics loved it, and so did millions of others. Two sequels would follow, designed by the same Austin, Texas-based development team. What was once a mess of a project turned out to be one of the best games ever created in this blogger's opinion, and it brought Ms. Aran and the Metroid series back from hibernation... well, until Team Ninja got a hold of the franchise...


There's plenty more franchise revivals that have happened over the years that I didn't have room for in this list. Did I miss your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

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