Spinoff games are a broad category. They can range from placing revered franchises in entirely new genres, retain similar gameplay elements but provide novel twists, or be a completely different game featuring recognizable characters. Sometimes this experimentation leads to failure, but other times it results in some of gaming’s most memorable titles. Spinoffs offer fresh perspectives on many of gaming’s most storied franchises and here are just some of our favorites!
I really enjoyed the NieR games, which are a spinoff of the Drakengard series. Like the main series, the NieR games are of the action role-playing genre with some hack-and-slash elements. The characters, world, and original soundtrack are all stunning. Furthermore, the narratives in both games are beautifully written, and the thematic concepts are incredibly deep and haunting. While the Drakengard series is more of a dark fantasy, the NieR games are much more science-fiction in nature. The first game, NieR, takes place one thousand years after the events of one of Drakengard’s endings, in which Earth begins to decay and become an apocalyptic world. The player takes control of the titular character as he journeys with his companions, Emil and Kainé, for a cure for the illness known as the Black Scrawl, to which his daughter Yonah has succumbed. Its successor, NieR: Automata, takes place after one of NieR’s endings as well, where the Earth is completely destroyed in a war between machines and mankind. Mankind has escaped to the moon and created androids to become their proxy in this war, and the player follows the story through three different characters: a combat android, 2B, and her companion, a scanner model called 9S, as well as an obsolete prototype, A2. I personally enjoyed discovering new narrative elements that contributed to the game’s world and the characters’ personalities as I explored different routes and, in NieR: Automata’s case, the different perspectives of the characters.
If I had to pick one, I would have to go with Persona 4 Golden (sorry Kirby Air Ride). RPGs aren’t my usual forte since I often associate myself with action adventure games. However, Persona 4 Golden was the first RPG that made me realize how much potential this genre has. Being a remake of Persona 4, the game not only added new content (two new Social Links, a new dungeon, and a new ending), but it was designed to be more accessible to newcomers to the Shin Megami Tensei series. What makes Persona 4 Golden one of my favorites, though, was how it complimented the traditional RPG gameplay with an in-depth story that begs to be delved into. Every party character represents some issue that people are facing, some hitting closer to home than others. My first playthrough of this game still remains dear to me to this day. Persona 4 Golden singlehandedly motivated me to expand my gaming library to include more story-driven adventures, such as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, and to play the previous and future installments of the series. It is a game I wholeheartedly wish people to give it a shot.
Though it’s basically a franchise on its own, Mario Kart Wii is technically a spinoff of the Mario series, and even though it’s pretty controversial to say, I prefer playing Kart over any Mario Bros. title or other classic Mario games. One of the first games I ever played was Mario Kart 64 (weirdly enough, it was installed at my dentist’s office, which made some of my dreaded cavity appointments worth going to). I soon gravitated towards Mario Kart DS, but for my money, my all-time favorite Mario Kart is the Wii version. I have so many memories of getting a bunch of friends together after school and debating about whether or not it was “cheating” to use a nunchuck instead of holding the controller like a steering wheel. Though co-op is still preferred over any single races against AI, the single-player Grand Prix provided fun challenges and provided great incentives like new cars and characters for beating records and other people. Even now, I still sometimes play when I’m back home, and as long as I have access to a Wii, I’ll continue doing just that.
One of my favorite franchise spinoffs has to be Mario Kart (a spinoff of a spinoff). Although it’s arguable that at this point it’s become its own franchise, I have played and loved every Mario Kart title since I first raced around the tracks of Mario Kart 64. It’s a series that has shown innovation and polish since it first debuted in 1992, even as it’s grown in scope and size. It’s iconic and I’ve lost too many races than I would like to admit on Rainbow Road.
My favorite spinoff has to be Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. As if the name wasn’t enough of a brain twist to get you wondering, this game was singlehandedly responsible for getting me interested in the Borderlands series. I saw a trailer for the game, was instantly hooked, and while waiting for the release picked up Borderlands 2 and dropped several hundred hours into the game, finishing the campaign the night that the Pre-Sequel released. Although it had problems with post-launch DLC, I still consider the Pre-Sequel to be one of the most fun shooters I have ever played. The game improved greatly on Borderlands 2’s skill trees, making almost every tree for each character interesting and viable, and the addition of low gravity movement combined with the oxygen powered jetpacks made for a very fun mechanic. Because you could ground pound with these jetpacks, the combat flow of the game was nearly unbroken, since you could still reposition and even deal damage to enemies while moving, reloading or switching weapons. Had the game received the same post-launch treatment as Borderlands 2, I have no doubt that it would be revered today as a classic alongside its predecessor.
The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon has to be my favorite spinoff game of the Pokemon series. I did enjoy all the classic Pokemon games. However, I do not like turn-based battles because I feel like having to wait for few seconds on every opponent’s turn makes it less immersive and interesting. In The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, you can actually move using arrow keys to avoid getting attacked by enemies. It is also really different from the other Pokemon series because you are not Pokemon trainers but Pokemon themselves, who are on missions to rescue other Pokemon and deliver an item to clients, which all take part in dungeons. I also really loved how the layout of the dungeon is randomized, so it is more fun and exciting to explore the dungeons. I definitely recommend Pokemon fans to try this game, because I personally enjoy it more than other games in the series.
World of Warcraft was not just one of my long-time favorite games, it’s also among the most successful spinoffs ever. I was a huge fan of the Warcraft RTS games, which were highly influential for its genre, and when MMO version of the franchise was announced, I was instantly sold. I grew up exploring Azeroth, fighting against the Burning Legion and the Scourge, creating characters running the gamut from warlock to death knight. Blizzard took the deep lore and fascinating world that made Warcraft beloved and expanded its boundaries drastically, removing load times between zones, emphasizing the importance of sociability in order to take on larger challenges, and essentially creating an endless amount of content for players to dive into. Admittedly, I haven’t kept up with some of the more recent expansions, but the announcement of World of Warcraft: Classic has intrigued me. Unlike most other spinoffs, WoW has far outstripped its predecessor in popularity and has become a cultural icon. There’s even a South Park episode dedicated to the game!
One of my favorite shooters of all time is Battlefield: Bad Company 2. This spinoff from the mainline Battlefield franchise took a decidedly lighter tone towards warfare, providing a single-player component with genuinely likable, funny characters and a globetrotting adventure to stop a worldwide catastrophe. The multiplayer stripped down and simplified much of the core Battlefield mechanics while making meaningful additions to the sandbox. Prone was no longer available as a movement tool and the whole gameplay structure had a much more arcade feel. New additions like spawning directly into the battle on squadmates and the popular Rush game mode went on to become prominent features in the Battlefield games to come. I’ve always been sad that the Bad Company series never got a final installment before DICE returned to the more serious, straightforward franchise tone, but Bad Company 2 remains as a memorable highlight of my gaming history.
I debated on whether to talk about Pokemon Snap or Kirby’s Air Ride, two Nintendo games that I’m crushed haven’t had sequels. Pokemon Snap is an amazing game and it is criminal that the Wii U, with its motion-controlled tablet controller, failed to produce a sequel to the series. The concept was brilliant: you played as a photographer that captured Pokemon not by throwing Pokeballs at them, but by taking photos of them. The fun came from figuring out how to manipulate the environment to make Pokemon strike awesome poses. On the beach stage, for instance, you could throw a bunch of apples that lead Pikachu to a surfboard in the sand, who would then stand on its hind legs and pretend to surf. It still charms the heck out of me, despite its primitive graphics and has left me drooling at the thought of an HD sequel. As for Kirby’s Air Ride, that can be an article in itself.