games / Columns

The Top 8 Games That Swerved Into New Directions

March 23, 2021 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Super Mario RPG

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! This week I’m here to talk about “game swerves”. What do I mean by this? Basically, a game in a long-running or existing franchise that turns to common tropes completely on their head. A good example, which I haven’t played yet, is Yakuza: Like a Dragon. That game isn’t an action/brawler like the past 6+ Yakuza games, instead it’s a turn-based RPG. Games on this list are of that same style. Enjoy:

#8: Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

The Might & Magic franchise is primarily known as being an action/strategy franchise with some D&D like elements thrown in. Some games may hem closer to strategy rather than action but almost all of them have it, and are fairly dark games as well. Clash of Heroes isn’t exactly like that. It’s basically a strategy-match 3 game, where you attack and defend with your units but only if you match them with them with the same type. So you need three soldiers in a column to actually use them. Also, it’s a much lighter and more anime-inspired look compared to most games in the M&M franchise. I’d love it if Clash of Heroes could come back for a sequel.

#7: Oddworld: Strangers Wrath

You know what the past (and future, from the looks of it) Oddworld games were missing? Shooting other creatures! The past/future Oddworld games are primarily puzzle-based games where you have to lead your fellow NPC’s along challenges in a, somewhat janky, conversation system. “Wait” “Follow Me” and “Angry” are just some of the dialog options you have to get the other characters to do stuff. Strangers Wrath, by contrast, is an actual game, where you control Stranger as he hunts down various alien bounties on the planet, using his crossbow with live ammo bugs, and shaking off damage like a wet dog shakes off water. It was an attempt by Oddworld to make a game that was way more in the mainstream for it to sell well, and I think, due to the lateness of the console generation, it was the game that sold the least.

#6: Persona 4: Arena

The first of the Persona spinoffs here and it’s great! I really dug Arena for its fighting system, it was way more approachable due to its auto-attack system but still had the usual depth that any Arc System Works game had. Arena also looked absolutely superb, the generational bump-upp in graphical power really helped to bring each P4 character to life. I just wish they would re-release it again on current systems.

#5: Sonic Spinball

Considering one of the big things about Sonic is “Gotta go fast!”, it makes perfect sense to build a pinball game around him. I remember, at the time (1994 or so) thinking the game was awful and way too hard but I’ve learned to really appreciate it as I got older and how the controls were actually pretty well thought-out for controlling Sonic as he tries to gather emeralds and dispatch enemies. The other two obvious great pinball spin-offs are Kirby’s Pinball Land and Metroid Prime Pinball.

#4: Typing of the Dead

How do you shake up a franchise like House of the Dead, which was an arcade-style light gun game? Easy, you make typing the only way you can kill zombies. While I think there was an arcade version in Japan, I primarily know this as a home console (Dreamcast) release. You basically had to type out words/sentences on screen to hurt and kill the zombies that would attack you. You could even type quick letters/words to gain bonuses or save civilians, just like you would in actual HOTD2, if you were quick with your shooting. There was also a “Mario Teaches Typing” game, back in the day, but it had just a tad less zombie killing than this one.

#3: Persona 5 Strikers

Having just recently played/beat this, I was fairly impressed with how well the game turned out. They managed to make a pretty decent sequel (in story) to Persona 5 and also cram in some Dynasty Warriors-style gameplay as well. It’s not completely DW, which is good. There’s no territory control or situations where it’s like “You’re in sector 7, enemies are attacking sector 3 (across the entire map), ride over there and kill them!”, which is to my benefit. The levels are fairly linear actually just like a RPG. The battle system is really good though and fits nicely with established P5 systems, like enemy weakness and like. More than that, Strikers is just kind of fun, except if you’re going to try and get the Platinum trophy like I did, which is an exercise in patience, for sure.

#2: Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks

While Midway did dabble with an adventure game before (Mythologies), that was an abject failure on almost every level. By contrast, Shaolin Monks was a success on almost every level. It was basically a 3D beat’em up game where you could play as either Liu Kang or Kung Lao in a re-telling of the Mortal Kombat 2 story. The cool thing was, the abilities you unlock feel like they were in line with the characters, with Liu getting additional/more powerful fireballs and Kung getting more hat tricks. It was/still is a great game to play with a friend, and an HD re-release with online co-op would be great.

#1: Super Mario RPG

God, I love me some Mario RPG. It’s still the real reason I haven’t (and won’t) give Paper Mario a shot because it seems like such a pale imitation of a great game. I actually really dig the story that a MORE evil force threatens the land so Mario, Princess and Bowser have to team up, along with new characters Geno and Mallow, to try and stop them. The music is great, the battle system remains fun the entire time you play, and the game just remains a delightful twist on the whole Mario franchise, that it remains memorable to people, 25 years after it came out.

For comments, list your favorite swerve games and why.

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