Thursday, August 13, 2015

Greatness Comes in Threes: Best Trilogies in Gaming - Part One

The trilogy-- in movies it's a common occurrence with hugely successful blockbusters whether it's Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Toy Story, or Back to the Future. Trilogies are also pretty common in gaming as well, but at the same token, an actual good trilogy is a completely different matter. This new article series details some of the very best trilogies that our hobby and industry have been able to create in its much shorter lifespan. This first edition delves into pure platformers, one of gaming's oldest genres.

The Super Mario Bros. NES Trilogy:

Super Mario Bros. (NES)
Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)
Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

We start off this list of terrific trilogies with one of the most prolific trilogies in gaming, perfect for the series's 30th anniversary this year, Super Mario Bros. Now, whether you prefer the Doki Doki Panic with Mario clothing Super Mario Bros. 2 or what in the West we know as The Lost Levels, this trilogy is of magnificent quality. We all know how Super Mario Bros. is a testament to brilliant game design, and we received something akin to an official ROM hack (perhaps not the best choice of words here, but work with me) with The Lost Levels, offering poisonous Mushrooms and warp pipes that sent players back multiple words that throw the once sacred rules of the original SMB right out the window. Then you have one of the greatest 2D platformers of all time with Super Mario Bros. 3, which delivered themed worlds, auto-scrolling levels, multiple unique yet brief levels, and new power-ups into the fray like the Super Leaf. the Tanooki Suit, Hammer Suit, Frog Suit, and fan favorite Kuribo's Shoe.

The Sonic the Hedgehog Trilogy:

Sonic the Hedgehog (GEN)
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (GEN)
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (GEN)

We move from a slower video game icon to a much faster one, one that definitely ruffled Nintendo's proverbial feathers with its marketing campaign. Sure, blast processing was a made-up buzz term, but there is no denying that Sonic the Hedgehog is a trilogy that brought with it blazing fast speeds, multi-path levels, cool boss fights against then-referred-to-as Dr. Robotnik, and beautiful stages. The original Sonic wasn't so much about speed in half of its levels (speaking about Marble Zone, Labyrinth Zone, and the final zone, Scrap Brain Zone). It was a well rounded title with equal parts pure speed and equal parts precision based platforming. Sonic 2 introduced a partner for Sonic, Miles "Tails" Prower, introducing cooperative play to the series. The game also nearly doubled the amount of zones for one lengthy adventure.

Finally, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, my personal favorite, gave the world Knuckles the Echidna, one of the series's best soundtracks, fun special stages levels, and eventually would be the gateway to playing Sonic 3 and Knuckles with a special cartridge attachment a la Sonic & Knuckles. Even without that, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on its own is a masterful 2D platformer that brilliantly brought speed and careful platforming to the forefront of Sonic's game career.

The Crash Bandicoot Trilogy:

Crash Bandicoot (PS1)
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (PS1)
Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped (PS1)

Another rival to Mario's platforming crown who also didn't mind slinging dirt and throwing shade towards the plump plumber in his marketing campaign, Crash Bandicoot was the platforming hero of the original PlayStation. Unlike strictly adhering to a 2D plane, the minds at Naughty Dog gave their bandicoot character levels that had him moving in levels away from the camera. The perspective was over the shoulder and directly behind Crash. There was also 2D sections more akin to platformers of the time. The first Crash Bandicoot game was one of the highest selling games on the PS1, despite having the most issues with it from a gameplay and 100% completion point of view. The sequels made it less of a headache to unlock all of the bonus content available within the game, and they were more well designed overall. Crash Bandicoot remains in hiatus since multiple attempts to bring it back from its current IP owner, Activision, though big honchos at Sony have expressed interest in reviving the IP for new generations and fans of the old games to enjoy.

The Ratchet & Clank Original Trilogy:

Ratchet & Clank (PS2)
Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (PS2)
Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2)

The Ratchet & Clank series is one of my favorites from the PS2 generation of home consoles, much more, it's one of my favorite PlayStation franchises in general. The original Ratchet & Clank is a little hard to go back to if you're familiar with its two sequels due to the fact that the strafing mechanic wasn't included in the series until Going Commando, making it much easier to keep a foe in view while avoiding their attacks with some side somersaults simultaneously. Going Commando, my favorite of the series, introduced the ability to level up weapons, adding to their power and functionality in the process. Up Your Arsenal brought with it the capability of leveling up weapons multiple times, throwing in even more replay value than the series already had with it. It also brought players the masterful Dr. Nefarious, who is a villain that outshines plenty others in the series.

The Donkey Kong Country SNES Trilogy:

Donkey Kong Country (SNES)
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble (SNES)

Rare's Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the Super Nintendo is a fantastic trip through 3D rendered sprites and backgrounds. The highlight here is Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, which brought with it two excellent characters to play as, Diddy and his girlfriend Dixie Kong, a wide array of amazing levels full of secret goodies, bonus stages, and well hidden DK Coins to collect, and the series's best ambient and atmospheric soundtrack yet. The other Donkey Kong Country games are no slouches either, mind you, with the original DKC creating the familiar formula of the franchise, though it's a bit dated in comparison to the latter two titles. Meanwhile, while Donkey Kong Country 3 didn't offer an astounding soundtrack like the first and second games, it did offer the best overworld in the series with plenty of secrets tucked away, levels with inspiring one-off gimmicks to them, such as Ripsaw Rage, where Dixie and Kiddy Kong must outrun an ascending saw through a vertical scrolling stage among the innards of trees.

The Mega Man X Original Trilogy:

Mega Man X (SNES)
Mega Man X2 (SNES)
Mega Man X3 (SNES)

Despite a good portion of the series not being up to par, I generally prefer the Mega Man X sub-series of Mega Man games to the Classic ones. The Mega Man X series had much more intense action, a greater difficulty, more to do in most of its games for some sizable side content, and a more appealing art style to me personally. Mega Man X hit the Super Nintendo with 16-bit graphics, animal-themed Robot Masters known as Mavericks, a more serious story, the ability to upgrade X with armor parts via Dr. Light's hidden capsules, and secret items called Heart Tanks that boosted X's energy. Mega Man X2 added more to the series with a much loved and resourceful midair dash upgrade, obtainable Zero parts, each guarded by one of a trio of X-Hunters, that affected the ending of the game, and Mega Man X3 would introduce huge unlockable armor for X to move around in, one of four special armor upgrades where only one could be equipped, and the ability to play as Zero, albeit in a much limited way. While X3 is what I consider the weakest of the SNES trilogy, all of the Mega Man X games on the Super Nintendo deliver action-packed gameplay, masterfully designed levels, and amazing art, spritework, and music.


What trilogies of gaming history do you believe are the best of their kind? Let the SPC community know by posting your thoughts in our comment section!

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