Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Most Improved Video Game Sequels - Part Two

Too often we see video game sequels that don't quite live up to their predecessors... but we already have an article series dedicated to those games. Instead, let's take a look at those video game sequels that not only live up to their predecessors but greatly surpass them in quality. It's time to bring back The Most Improved Video Game Sequels (you can read part one here) to check out these sensational sequels that delivered and did so in a deliciously delightful manner.

Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)

We begin this second edition of The Most Improved Video Game Sequels with a franchise that is synonymous with open world gaming. It's Grand Theft Auto, and its third iteration was a marked improvement over its predecessors, not just upping the presentation values considerably, but ushering in open-world gaming's immense popularity. It's the type of popularity that continues to this day, and saw many developers attempt to dethrone GTA at its own game with titles like True Crime, Saints Row, among countless others. Grand Theft Auto III took its series from the now-rudimentary top-down overhead cities of the first two games and revolutionized the gaming world with an open 3D metropolis in Liberty City to explore and wreak havoc in. Though future games in the series would further refine the foundations and fundamentals in world-building and gameplay that Grand Theft Auto III introduced, there's no doubt how much greater GTA III is as a game and cultural phenomenon when compared to its predecessors.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)

The original Uncharted was a remarkable romp that introduced the world to the charming, quick-witted master of quips, treasure hunter Nathan Drake in an adventure that felt like a cross between the globe-trotting adventures of Indiana Jones and the gameplay of Tomb Raider. However, the game suffered from some gameplay issues that make repeated play-throughs a bit of a slog, such as a seemingly never-ending supply of bullet sponge enemies to contend with and poorly conceived vehicle segments. Don't get me wrong, though--Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was an excellent game. It's just that its sequel, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, took the formula and foundation that its predecessor laid down and improved on it to such a delightful degree. Everything was bigger and better--the story had greater stakes, the set pieces were lavish and jaw-dropping, the pacing was phenomenal, and the addition of multiplayer was a fantastic one. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is considered one of the best games of its generation for good reason. It's an action-packed romp reminiscent of an entertaining interactive motion picture.

Monster Hunter: World (PS4, XB1, PC)

The Monster Hunter series long languished as a series with not too many revolutionary changes to its formula due to being stuck on weaker hardware. (That's not to say the games weren't still highly enjoyable, though.) The series also struggled to reel in heavy amounts of players outside of its native home of Japan. All this changed with the release of Monster Hunter: World, offering a game on powerful enough hardware to eliminate the need for the disconnected areas and lands that were found in previous games, and the loading times that came with them. The titular monsters in the game were smarter and more vicious, thanks to the greater processing power of the platforms World was put on. Multiplayer was less of a hassle to get together with friends and randoms alike to go out on the hunt with. Not related to the improved technology provided by the game's targeted hardware platforms but an improvement all the same, the tutorials were more intelligently designed, allowing more players than ever before to have a greater "jumping in" point to the Monster Hunter series. While other games in the series were evolutions of the series to various degrees, Monster Hunter: World was a complete and welcome revolution.

Luigi's Mansion 3 (NSW)

The first Luigi's Mansion was a short and sweet diversion, but it was more of tech demo turned game to show off Nintendo's then-newest platform, the GameCube. The much awaited sequel, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, then arrived on the Nintendo 3DS many "moons" later, and it offered more mansions and more hours to the adventure. However, its mission-based structure haunted a good deal of players. Luigi's Mansion 3 for the Nintendo Switch not only improved upon both games (one mansion but with plenty of floors to explore without feeling disconnected in a mission format, a lengthy journey, and insane production values), but it's one of the Switch system's greatest games in general. Smarter puzzles, better bosses, ingenious floor designs that keep players continually guessing what is going to come next, and clever co-op and multiplayer made for a sequel in Luigi's Mansion 3 that wasn't just good--it was scary good.

Red Steel 2 (Wii)

The original Red Steel succeeded commercially on the Wii by virtue of being the first revealed third party game for the system, but unfortunately, the beautiful screenshots that led the game's marketing charge weren't exactly the most honest. And doubly unfortunate was that the overall game lacked precision, polish, and just wasn't that enjoyable to play. The promise of proper motion-controlled swordplay in Red Steel was unfulfilled, but its sequel, which completely retooled and reworked the franchise, would finally make good on the promise. Red Steel 2 was a remarkably stellar and solid first-person shooter with swordplay elements that made players feel like an honest to goodness bad-ass in a way that the original Red Steel promised but failed to live up towards. The cel-shaded art style was a major improvement over the original's muddy mess, and it worked well with the Wii's obviously weak (when compared to its competitors) hardware. Red Steel 2 may have had any potential for success destroyed by its predecessor and due to its requirement for the Wii MotionPlus accessory, but that doesn't stop it from being a terrific and quite improved sequel.

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (PS1)

We conclude with the second Naughty Dog title to appear on this volume of Most Improved Video Game Sequels, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. This game was bigger and better than the original Crash Bandicoot in pretty much every way. The first improvement was the refined difficulty, while still challenging, it was nowhere near as punishing as the original. Levels offered multiple paths to explore, rather than being as linear in their design like the game's predecessor. The graphics were also more astounding, offering greater visual effects such as the ability to see character and object reflections in ice. Perhaps the only lacking quality, and one that remained equal to the original Crash Bandicoot, was Crash 2's boring and basic boss battles, which did less than challenge most players. Still, with the second game in the Crash Bandicoot trilogy, it was more than Cortex who struck back; it was Naughty Dog as well.

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