We’re back to exploring our favorite video game sequels. Last time we decided a good sequel was one that improved on the original–either by perfecting a formula or re-invigorating it. Here’s five more games that do just that.
Hello and welcome back to Push to Smart. Last month we shared a handful of our favorite video game sequels. We defined a great sequel as one that respected the legacy of its predecessor while also giving us something new–either completely flipping the script like Dragon Age 2, or refining the perfect formula like Silent Hill 3. Today we’re rounding out the list with five more excellent sequels.
Mass Effect 2
The original Mass Effect was Bioware’s attempt to bridge the gap between popular cover-based shooter and the traditional RPG. The result provided a compelling story, but it also had a messy GUI, crowded inventory system, and battles that just weren’t fun. Mass Effect 2 changed all that. Mass Effect 2 didn’t just have the interesting story and characters, but it got its act together as a competent shooter. Gone was the bloated inventory full of weapons you couldn’t use; now you chose your specialty and you stuck with it. Fortunately, you could also direct your two teammates to use their abilities as well, so you never felt limited. The developers also had the foresight to include the ability to reassign your specialty, because who hasn’t deeply regretted their class choices hours into an RPG?
While Mass Effect 2 didn’t advance the series’ main conflict with the Reapers as much as one would expect from the second installment in a trilogy, it did have a compelling central story of self-sacrifice that relies on building your team. As such, getting to know all of the characters is important to the Mass Effect 2 experience; rather than relying on expository dialogue, each member of your team now has a mission to be completed. These missions run the gambit of borderline-buddy-cop adventures and spy thrillers; they work double to inform our teammate’s backstory, character, and capabilities, as well as to shake up the established space opera format.
Introducing some of the series’ most memorable characters, Mass Effect 2 set the bar exceptionally high for all Mass Effect games to follow.
After a generation of genre-defining games starring the likes of Dante and Kratos, Bayonetta seemingly flipped the script with its hyper-feminine and hyper-sexualized protagonist. On one hand, it seemed to uphold the objectifying standard set by Devil May Cry and God of War; on the other, it’s hard not to take notice when Bayonetta slays her enemies with her hair.
You could grapple with the Pantheon as Kratos in God of War or go toe-to-toe with demons as Dante in Devil May Cry, but we rarely got to see, let alone play as women who could keep up with these hyper masculine characters. Bayonetta was an action hero that could quip like Dante, had the destructive power of Kratos, but ultimately stood on her own. She claimed her spot among action icons in a traditionally male space, and she did it using skills that are heavily coded as feminine.
Bayonetta 2 turned everything up to 11. It immediately became apparent that the only game it was trying to one-up was its predecessor. Action was tighter, combos flowed organically and built on each other creating a gradual learning curve that made the game challenging, but never cheap. We learned more about the conflict between the Umbra Witches and Lumen Sages through the ridiculously fitting addition of time travel, and even found time to pilot a mech or two.
Bayonetta may have carved a spot for herself alongside Kratos and Dante in 2010, but Bayonetta 2 proved she was in a league all her own.
Unfortunately, Bayonetta 2 continues the tradition of linking feminine signifiers to sexual objectification. In its attempt to color Bayonetta’s sexuality with a wink and a nudge, Platinum Games stumbles into familiar territory of the genre, which places Bayonetta in a middle ground between subject and sexual object. This opposition never reaches an equilibrium in the original game, and continues its fascinating, frustrating dance in the even more bombastic sequel.
Bioshock 2 could have disappeared into video game history as yet another big-budget, perfectly serviceable sequel. It returned us to locations we loved from the original Bioshock; it gave us new and improved toys with faster, more exciting ways to use them; it even gave us an interesting new heroine. Bioshock 2 didn’t redefine a genre like its predecessor, but it did what it set out to do, and it did it well.
Bioshock 2 becomes especially notable after the release of the other Bioshock sequel. Infinite also introduced a new heroine and new toys, in a new world rife with conflict–many of the same conflicts seen in Bioshock 2. Infinite’s Booker, like Bioshock 2’s Delta encounter a world ripped at the seams by warring ideologies and discrimination; however, we found that these were little more than lazy stand-ins for actual motivation for the hero and villain in Infinite. Bioshock 2, by contrast, was more subtle. It populated its world with characters that had their own motivations and struggles; they felt less like fodder for the heroine’s coming-of-age story, and more like a part of a greater world we were just getting to know. An emotional connection built between the player, the heroine, and these desperate characters drives the drama forward more than any third act twist could. Add that to a competent shooter with the ability to mix and match Plasmids, and Bioshock 2 might just stand the test of time as the worthy sequel.
Majora’s Mask is weird. Like, really weird. After Ocarina of Time defined what could be done in an action game for a generation, Majora’s Mask took a turn for the David Lynch. While not the first time the Zelda series has veered into a strange, alternative version of Hyrule, Majora’s Mask has endured, in part, because of its ability to balance the oppressive, dark and downright strange atmosphere of a world on the brink of destruction with the more heartfelt, personal stories of the people who populate Termina.
Where Ocarina of Time was a sweeping epic, Majora’s Mask is more tightly coiled by necessity. The clock is–quite literally–ticking. Link has three days to save the world, and it’s three days he will live over-and-over again. Seeing the moon’s destructive force first hand is necessary for advancing Majora’s Mask’s story along, and your brush with the apocalypse will haunt your playthrough. The challenge at Majora’s Mask’s core, then, is strategically rewinding time to complete tasks and get to know all of the characters. The result is a game that builds on the original adventure of Ocarina of Time, bringing back the titular ocarina and then-revolutionary z-targeting, but narrows the scale without lowering the stakes.
Majora’s Mask is a more personal story and certainly a stranger one, but it doesn’t forget its roots. It remains one of the best sequels in the long-running series because of it.
Portal 2 was faced with the challenge of topping Portal. A game that was smart, accessible, and above else, fun.
As per the sequel standard, Portal 2 had to be bigger and better at everything, but how do you top a game that introduced the world to GLaDOS? You put her in a potato.
Portal 2 expanded the strange world of Aperture testing to include more puzzles. New tools mean more ways to interact with the space; instead of just creating portals and letting gravity run its course, you now have the ability to manipulate the height of your jump as well as your momentum. You could also pair up for the newly-added co-op mode that hosted an entirely unique set of puzzles. Solving GLaDOS’ challenges takes on a whole new perspective with a friend, and could easily dissolve into hilarious organized chaos.
Portal 2 also introduced more memorable characters, present and otherwise, who gave us insight into Aperture’s turbulent history–the birth of the murderous GLaDOS and a later chance at redemption. It’s just delightful. You should be playing it right now. Or if not right now, maybe after the episode. Maybe with a friend! 🙂
JAYLEE: So that does it for sequels, at least for now. Last time we asked which games you would like to see sequels for, and we got several responses.
STACEY: Several great responses!
JAYLEE: Bleeters brought up No One Lives Forever, a game she would love to see a sequel for. Unfortunately there’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes drama with the licensing issues. It doesn’t look like we’re going to get that, unfortunately. Which makes everyone very sad.
STACEY: ReverieNightengale voted for an actual sequel to Parasite Eve 2, not that other one that shall not be named here–which I back whole-heartedly.
JAYLEE: Hifumi Yamada would like to see a sequel to–is it “thirteen” or is it “x-i-i-i?” I’m guessing it’s “thirteen.”
STACEY: I’m guessing it’s “thirteen.”
JAYLEE: Anyway, very stylistic game that would be really cool to see come back again. And, also, (struggling to pronounce) Speilbilde?
JAYLEE: I’m not sure if that’s German. I’m sorry. They want to see a sequel to Bioware’s often forgotten RPG Jade Empire. So that would be cool. I’ve been wondering if they’re going to come back for another Knights of the Old Republic or Jade Empire, or if they’re just going to keep running with Dragon Age and Mass Effect.
STACEY: Well, they’re not making that Shadow Realms or whatever, so they presumably have plenty of time.
JAYLEE: (laughs) That’s true. So thank you all for your comments and do not forget to subscribe to keep up to date with all of our latest scripted episodes and water cooler discussions.
MORDIN: “I am the very model of a scientist salarian, I’ve studied species turian, asari, and batarian. I’m quite good at genetics (as a subset of biology) because I am an expert (which I know is a tautology).”