The Top 10 Spiritual Successors
“Tangible vessels perish, but their spirits keep on burning.” This saying holds true for videogames. As opposed to direct sequels/prequels, spiritual successors do not continue an existing storyline, nor do they typically share the same characters and/or world. But in keeping with the same developers and hence production values (in most instances), and maintaining the guts of genre, style and theme, these ‘successor stories’ are, more often than not, met with widespread acclaim from both veterans of their source material as well as newcomers. Although they may appear to be totally incomparable to their inspirations at first glance, conceptual lore pervades throughout to provide – in most cases – a wondrous and somewhat rose-tinted experience that’s both old and new at the same time. These are my Top 10 Spiritual Successor Stories.
#10: Maximo (PS2) – Ghost ‘n Goblins (Multi)
The two knights – Arthur and Maximo – have much more in common than simply being slaves to Capcom. Both of them have had their special ladies whisked away by a maniacal demon. They both then set course on a perilous journey through the lands of the undead, somewhat unprepared, with naught but a single pointed bit of metal and some incredibly fragile armour. But when the goings got tough, when the endless mobs of zombies, skeletons and those pesky floating ghosts overwhelmed them to the brink of insanity, both Arthur and Maximo were manly enough to press onwards in their underpants. The way these optimistic fellows saw it was that once they rescued their fair maidens, it’d be one less step (not having to remove their over-garments) before the victorious shag. As far as spiritual successors go, Maximo clearly embodied the craziness of Arthur’s legendary strides, maintaining not only the absolutely brutal difficulty with endless waves of hellspawn, but also the mad-cap life system by way of how much clothing they had left on their skin.
#9: Fallout (PC/Mac) – Wasteland (Apple II/C64/PC)
As their titles suggest, both of these games are set in a post-apocalyptic world where nuclear fallout has lead to the earth being run down into a harsh wasteland. You may not have heard of the latter, but in light of recent news – regarding a next-gen sequel to an RPG that doesn’t feature such juvenile, nonsensical creatures like chocobos, slimes and summon spirits – I’m sure you are at least familiar with the critical acclaim of one of the finest PC RPGs ever – Fallout. It improved upon its predecessor by adding in a staggering number of recruitable NPCs, a time-based mechanic that ensured no slacking around, and refined customisation that enabled the player to control the development of a diverse range of skills and attributes – everything from handling big guns to lock-picking and even gambling. This game makes the often-prophesised apocalypse seem like something we should look forward to.
#8: Famicom/Advance Wars series (NES/SNES/GBA/GCN/Wii) – Fire Emblem series (NES/SNES/GBA/DS)
Technically speaking, Fire Emblem preceded what we now know as Advance Wars. However, back in 1988, Intelligent Systems started the ball rolling with Famicom Wars that saw assorted little red men hop into slightly larger tanks to engage in combat with their blue-coloured counterparts. The simple turn-based strategy was adopted into the Fire Emblem series and was eventually transformed into the now-famous, Byzantine weapon triangle. Although both games are set in entirely different worlds and eras, with fearsome fire-breathing dragons inhabiting one and military aircraft capable of carpet bombing acres at a time in the other, both Intelligent Systems helmed franchises offer deep, rewarding, strategic turn-based gameplay loaded with rich appeal and nigh on unlimited replayability.
#7: Paper Mario/Mario & Luigi series (N64/GCN/GBA/DS) – Super Mario RPG (SNES)
Who would’ve guessed that slapping Mario and co. onto an RPG would yield such a success story? (Not a trick question…) But then Square sent in a letter of resignation, later flanking Nintendo’s rival – Sony – on the rebound. Mario’s role-playing days were over. Or so we thought. As the N64 was hanging onto its last lifeline, Paper Mario was born. It may have eschewed the lush, isometric graphical style seen in the plumber’s debut RPG, opting to go for a simpler, cleaner and obviously flatter look, but the underlying turn-based, but action-orientated, battles still kept their zany addictiveness. Sometime later, the Mario & Luigi portable series began its run on the GBA. Now with his dim brother in tow, Mario firmly established himself as a real rival to other esteemed RPG households. I mean, who needs a sword when you’ve got on a pair of shoes that can crush absolutely anything you step on.
#6: Shadow of the Colossus (PS2) – ICO (PS2)
This highly artistic duo may be as far apart as possible where story and the key goals are concerned, but with both games featuring a washed out, yet picturesque, dreamy world, backed up by some of the finest orchestral works to ever grace a videogame soundtrack, they are nevertheless, inextricably linked. From Ico’s pledge to a lovely white maiden – to escape together from the enchanted shrine that an unfortunate fate has placed them in – to the lone Wanda who has only a mystical, flimsy blade and his trusty steed to aid him on his incredible undertaking – to topple the sixteen gargantuan colossi that hold the dormant power needed to reawaken his recently fallen sweetheart; ICO was a masterpiece in gaming that never received the attention it deserved (at least, until recent times), but Shadow of the Colossus’ larger-than-life approach managed to smash its way into the hearts and consoles of countless gamers, proving that such a beautiful game is capable of stirring up our psyche in a way that no-one could have imagined a decade ago.
#5: Bioshock (PC/X360) – System Shock 2 (PC)
Surprise, surprise – as if you didn’t see this one coming! The underwater city of Rapture is your dystopia. As you attempt to discover what secrets this gritty, but gorgeous lost world holds, you’ll encounter various hostile forms that will require more than just a high degree of expertise with various killer firearms; you’ll also need to skilfully integrate a myriad of plasmids into your genome to confer special functions such as the power to discharge electrical bolts of energy, the ability to unleash a swarm of infuriated insects, and even the occult phenomenon that is telekinesis. System Shock (1 and) 2 heralded the first FPS to masterfully incorporate similar RPG elements, along with a dark, foreboding atmosphere to boot. Bioshock has since modernised that revolutionary design with some incredibly smart AI, an immaculately polished interface, and a pristinely grim environment in which you’re able to tear down to shreds in a flurry of orgasmic fireworks.
#4: Starcraft (PC/Mac/N64) – Warcraft II (PC/Mac/PSX/Sat)
Both of these franchises are currently alive and kicking (hooray for Starcraft II – finally announced, nearly a decade after the original!) Warcraft may have a larger fanbase (*cough* WoW), but many hardcore RTS gamers will no doubt see its sci-fi offshoot as quite possibly the most balanced and engaging strategy game ever. Yes, even to this very day. With a marked distinction in gameplay tactics between each the three complex races, a horde of brutal units with which to ravage the fantastic sprite-based maps, a cosmic mythos that trumps any human/orc-based feud that its progenitor can conjure up, and an eternally addictive multiplayer mode via LAN or over the net, Starcraft is the ultimate in RTS, period. Until the second coming…
#3: Soul Calibur series (Arc/DC/Multi) – Tekken series (Arc/PSX/PS2/PS3)
Tekken was owning up the 3D beat ’em up scene with Virtua Fighter being its only real competitor. In an effort to create a worthy equal, the same parent company – Namco – decided to cast forth a selection of fighters spanning years of rich history, equip them with a bounty of ferocious arms, and bring them into a Tekken-esque fighting system modified to suit – heavily modified, that is. 8-way walk allowed for a degree of freedom of movement previously unheard of in a fighting game; ring-outs were introduced to pose a serious threat to turtle-style brawlers who were constantly on the run; guard impacts turned a precise defence into a fearsome offensive starter; nearly everything that made Tekken so damn godly (sans the ridiculous juggling) was meticulously ported over to the most comprehensive weapons-based fighter conceived. Sure, the Tekken scene has regained its momentum with Tekken 5 and its various upgrades, slightly overshadowing the luminosity of Soul Calibur, but they are now so different with respect to playing styles that they both deserve to share the top spot for the best fighting games ever. As for myself, I’m now a retired veteran pugilist, but the soul still burns ever so brightly.
#2: Nintendo DS – Game & Watch
Eh? I AM ERROR? No – seriously, this hardware evolution is no joke. Back in 1980, Nintendo and the creative Japanese mind of Gunpei Yoko brought to the world the Game & Watch system: a handheld electronic videogame unit. Over the next couple of years that followed, a few screen designs were tossed around – amongst other things, the dual-screen version that came with the now-classic Donkey Kong was let loose in 1982. It’s hard to believe that it took the collective brains over at Nintendo HQ more than twenty years to finally reinvent the dual-screen concept in the form of the Nintendo DS – the (stealthily) touted successor to the illustrious line of GameBoy derivatives. With a new-fangled touch-sensitive screen, a built-in microphone and backwards compatibility to a plethora of GBA titles, the DS was fully equipped to handle nearly anything one could possibly throw at it. Well, Sony tried; they revealed their secret little weapon shortly thereafter in the form of the PSP. It had a widescreen plus a graphical and sound system that obliterated the measly ‘advanced’ specs of the DS. However, Nintendo’s propensity towards innovation and ingenuity paid off in the end with limitless third-party support, in addition to its already sound first-person teams, to provide games and ‘non-games’ to cater for people that fit into virtually any demographic you can name. The Game & Watch was an oddity which wasn’t very well received during the days when videogaming was a hobby usually reserved for then-dubbed ‘geeks’. The Nintendo DS, on the other hand, has not only shattered records worldwide, but it looks set to be the most successful (handheld) console ever.
#1: The “Castleroid/Metroidvania” (PSX/GBA/DS) – Metroid 2D series (NES/GB/SNES/GBA)
There was a time when gamers would say, “just one more level” – but, then Metroid showed up. Instead of moving from one end of a 2D landscape to the other, the goal of Metroid was to search down the entire planet of Zebes and annihilate the tyrant Space Pirate leader, Mother Brain. However, it wasn’t as easy and knocking on her front door; a variety of obstacles of all shapes and sizes – lava pits, heavily armoured pirates, seemingly insurmountable cliff heights – stood in Samus’ way. Before attempting to locate the final boss’ lair, Samus would first have to track down a bevy of special weapons and ancient devices to give her the edge. This encouraged exploration in a way that offered the gamer free reign over where they wanted to go (and in the case of ‘sequence breaking’, when); what equipment and stock they wanted to obtain; and how they would go about it. This freedom was borrowed by the PS1 Castlevania title, Symphony of the Night, and has since gone on to be a mainstay in the series’ portable follow-ups (dubbed the ‘Castleroid/Metroidvania’ to show the association between the two, as well as to distinguish them from the earlier, classic-style Castlevanias). Instead of playing as a fully-suited, inter-stellar bounty hunter, Castlevania put you in the worn shoes of a noble Vampire Killer, exchanging the plasma-based firearms in for a myriad of melee weaponry, from swords to scythes, and of course, the mighty whip. These days, 3D and HD may be all the rage, but let us not forget that 2D games still deserve a place in the gaming community. While they may not be as good-looking as their evolutionary forms, contemporary 2D games, like Castlevania and its ilk – spiritual successors to the videogames of yore – demonstrate that they can be just as fun and often-times more appealing than the next big budget, over-hyped extravaganza.
In this day and age, the videogame library is stacked with sequel after sequel after prequel: Resident Evil 0, Devil May Cry 4, Tekken 6, Dragon Quest 9, Final Fantasy… 13!? Sure, originality doesn’t arise as often as the sun, but we can definitely do much better than rehashing the same story, the same concept… the same blah – day in, day out. This is what spiritual successors represent: beloved gaming ideals reworked to provide an entirely fresh perspective and to reinvigorate a tired genre. Key concepts aren’t just refined – they’re given a total overhaul. Honourable mentions that missed the cut include Perfect Dark (GoldenEye), Bully (Grand Theft Auto 3/VC/SA), Crisis Zone (Time Crisis), and Jak & Daxter (Crash Bandicoot). The near-future looks promising already with the likes of Crysis (Far Cry), Hellgate: London (Diablo), and Kiki Kai World (Pocky & Rocky) – and we can only hope that more inspirational successors are on their way, perhaps to quash the dreadful curse of sequel-itis that the modern gaming world has been afflicted with. “Tangible vessels perish, but their spirits keep on burning”