On a long enough timeline, even the most endearing of mechanics can grow stale. Developers constantly try to keep their franchises fresh and sometimes that involves rebuilding the series from the ground up. With the release of Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures this week, it seems fitting to take a look at some franchises that have found success in different genres.
Let’s start with an old one. Back in 1981, Muse Software released Castle Wolfenstein for the Apple II, with ports to MS-DOS, Commodore 64, and the Atari 8-bit family coming later. The game features a soldier trapped in a Nazi castle during World War II with the primary objective being to find secret war plans and escape alive. In terms of gameplay, Castle Wolfenstein is, at heart, a stealth game. That doesn’t mean violence is expressly forbidden, but both premise and gameplay make it apparent that avoiding detection for as long as possible is the way to go. While the sequel, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein was also a stealth game, the franchise inspired a game that was about as sneaky as a bull in a china shop.
In 1992, id Software made Wolfenstein 3D, a game inspired by the originals that carried the Wolfenstein name because Muse Software had let the trademark lapse. Although it originally featured stealth mechanics, the shipped product ended up being all action and one of the founding fathers of the FPS genre. The game received both critical and commercial success and, though not as popular as it once was, the series lives on today, with MachineGames handling development for 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order.
Castlevania’s evolution is an interesting one. The original, published in 1986, was a standard action game. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest expanded on that by having a bigger focus on world exploration and the addition of RPG elements like leveling up. After that, the series moved back to its roots, with Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse keeping the same structure as the original but adding branching paths and Super Castlevania IV adhering even more strictly to the format of the first.
Then the series moved on to the PlayStation, keeping its 2D style and drawing more on Castlevania II. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night debuted in 1997 and merged exploration, action, and RPG elements in a way that Simon’s Quest could only dream of. The game is revered as a classic and set the tone for numerous entries in the franchise through the DS era. It’s held in such high regard that it and Metroid have come to describe a whole genre of games in a similar vein: Metroidvanias.
Despite how many entries there are, the Final Fantasy series has stayed fairly close to its original genre. Released in 1987, the original and Dragon Quest are looked to as some of the most influential titles in the RPG genre. While the franchise has tried different formats, such strategy RPGs with the Final Fantasy Tactics games, most titles have been gradual evolutions and refinements on the original formula. The franchise has dabbled, with mixed to moderate success, in action with the Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles games and later with the Dissidia Final Fantasy series, but most of the series’ more genre shifting entries have either been kept to mobile platforms, like Final Fantasy VII: Snowboarding, or left to wallow in obscurity, like Chocobo Racing and the 3DS game we never knew..
One game did manage to launch and find success on the 3DS, though: 2012’s Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Theatrhythm is a rhythm game that combines the franchise’s best music with its leveling and customization, making for an addicting experience that’s mechanically excellent on top of being fantastic fanservice. With a sequel, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, coming in 2014, it’s clear that fans aren’t the only ones pleased with this genre shift.
Shin Megami Tensei
To start with, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and 4, are already weird spin-offs of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, combining the series’ traditional RPG elements with social aspects pulled from dating games. The mix is so distinctive that most people group 3 and 4 separately from the original and 2. Still, the two are largely responsible for Shin Megami Tensei gaining popularity in America, helping pave the way for recent 3DS releases in the series.
An even weirder spin-off exists, though, in 2012’s Persona 4 Arena. The game combines characters from Persona 3 and 4 and puts them in the fighting genre, with a visual novel inspired story mode. On paper, it sounds absolutely horrible, but Arc System Works did a fantastic job with the game’s mechanics, making it easily accessible for people just wanting to experience the Persona story while still being satisfying for fighting game fans. It worked so well that a sequel, Person 4: The Ultimate Ultra Suplex Hold, is currently in development.
The list comes to a close with a series that cannot be restrained by genres. Debuting in 1983, the original Mario Bros. for the arcade was an action game, requiring players to hit platforms beneath enemies and then jump on them to earn points. Then, in 1985, Super Mario Bros. came out, becoming one of the definitive titles in the platforming genre thanks to its smart design and responsive controls.
Since then, the Mario franchise has worn many hats. It’s dabbled in adventure with Luigi’s Mansion, board/party games with Mario Party, educational games with Mario is Missing! and Mario Teaches Typing, puzzle games with Dr. Mario, racing with Mario Kart, RPGs with Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the Paper Mario series, and the Mario & Luigi series, sports with mixed success in various fields, whatever the hell Mario Paint was, and many, many more. You can say what you will about Nintendo’s dependency on the plumber in recent years, but no franchise has managed to be as dynamic as Mario.
It isn’t the series’ first foray into the platforming genre and it remains to be seen just how well Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures will do for itself. Still, given the success of Pac-Man Championship Edition, I have doubts about how well going back to platforming will work for everyone’s favorite yellow ball. At the least, I imagine he has a long way to go to before he finds the success in a different genre that the games on this list have found.