Yesterday 2K Games panicked some gamers with news that the turn-based tactics series X-Com will return as a first-person shooter. What other classic video game franchise have had their genres changed, and how did they weather the transformation?
We're calling the phenomenon genre bending. You take a game known as being one of the best in its original genre, and give it a gameplay facelift, oftentimes modifying the core elements that made it a classic in the first place. To some, this is a refreshing change. To others, it borders on blasphemy.
Let's take a look at how other classic franchise have fared when faced with genre bending.
Original Genre: Platforming Shooter
New Genre: 3rd Person Action Adventure
The Transformation: Capcom tapped developer Grin to recreate the 1987 arcade classic Bionic Commando as a full-on 3D action adventure game with 3rd-person shooting elements. Release in 2009, the updated game was praised for its visuals and ambitious gameplay choices, garnering average to high review scores.
The Verdict: It sold like complete crap. Actually, given the right salesperson, crap might have sold better.
Original Genre: 2D Exploration-Based Platforming Shooter
New Genre: First-Person Shooter
The Transformation: News that Nintendo was taking the classic 2D platforming series that started in 1986 on the Nintendo Entertainment System and turning it into a first-person shooter did not sit well with fans at first. There were cries of blasphemy, along with much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair. Then Nintendo released the first Metroid Prime title in 2002, and it went on to become one of the best-selling titles on the Gamecube.
The Verdict: I'd say the transformation was a success.
Original Genre: Action Role-Playing
New Genre: First-Person Shooter
The Transformation: Fans of the pen-and-paper, magic meets cyberpunk role-playing game Shadowrun loved the first game based on the series, an action RPG that stayed as faithful to the source material as a 1993 Super Nintendo release could. When FASA Interactive and Microsoft announced a new Shadowrun title for the Xbox 360 and PC, fans were ecstatic, until they discovered it was an online-only first-person shooter, completely bereft of story. Despite the negative fan reaction, the developers pushed on through, producing a final product that both fans and newcomers to the series generally disliked.
The Verdict: I like to pretend the second game never happened.
Super Mario Bros.
Original Genre: 2D Platformer
New Genre: 3D Platformer
The Transformation: More a product of evolution than an actual genre change, Nintendo was still taking a chance when it took its extremely successful Mario Bros. franchise from 2D to 3D. Super Mario Bros. 3 for the Nintendo Entertainment System was a gaming masterpiece, and the 16-bit follow-up, Super Mario World, sold countless Super Nintendo systems as a pack in-game. Bringing one of the most recognizable 2D characters on the planet into the realm of 3D is no easy task, but in 1996 Nintendo managed to make it look easy.
The Verdict: Mario 64 added a new dimension to the series without taking away any of the fun, and that's what the series has always been all about.
Original Genre: Isometric Role-Playing Game
New Genre: First-Person Action Role-Playing
The Transformation: If any video game franchise could be said to have a rabid fan following, Fallout is that series. The first two installments of the post-apocalyptic role-playing game from Interplay are considered PC classics of the highest order, and it would take a pretty ballsy company to mess with such a successful formula. When The Elder Scrolls developer Bethesda Softworks snagged the license for Fallout and announced the development of Fallout 3, fan reaction was mixed, to put it lightly. There were those that were ecstatic that the series was continuing, while early screenshots had fans calling the new title a clone of Bethesda's award winning RPG Oblivion.
Fallout 3 was released in 2008 to rave reviews, huge sales, and fans who somehow managed to overcome their doubts long enough to play through the game multiple times, before going back to being angry about how different it was.
The Verdict: A mixed reaction, but a very clear success.
The Legend of Zelda
Original Genre: Top-Down Action Role-Playing
New Genre: 2D Side-Scrolling Action Role-Playing
The Transformation: After releasing the bestselling classic The Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987, Nintendo oddly decided to mix up the formula for the sequel, Zelda II: The Adventures of Link. While Zelda II still used the top-down perspective of the first game for travel, the act of visiting towns and battling enemies shifted the game to a 2D, side-scrolling perspective, reminiscent of Super Mario Bros., complete with platforming elements.
Many features of Zelda II would be passed on to future games in the series, including NPC conversations, the use of magic, and the Triforce of Courage. The 2D platforming view was not, with the series returning to a more-or-less top-down view for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo.
The Verdict: It's hard to call a game that sold 4.38 million copies a misstep, but I'm glad they put the top down again.
Original Genre: 2D Action Platformer
New Genre: 2D Metroid-Style Exploration Platformer
The Transformation: No, we're not talking about the failed attempts to create a 3D Castlevania here. We're talking about a more subtle genre switch that occured between the 1994 release of Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Sega Genesis and Catslevania: Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation in 1997. Previous games in the series had all been relatively simple affairs. You'd travel from level to level, taking on bosses with your whip until the inevitable showdown with Dracula.
Symphony of the Night switched things up considerably, adding in a wide variety of weapons and equipment, attribute-based statistics, and animal familiars. While experience points and levelling made their debut in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest for the NES, Symphony of the Night refined those elements, making them a mainstay in the series. The most notable change to the Castlevania formula were special powers that changed how you tranvelled about Dracula's castle. Certain doors would remain unpassable until certain powers were unlocked, much like the system used in Nintendo's Metroid series, hence Symphony of the Night's nickname, Metroidvania.
The Verdict: It's hard to go back to the original games after playing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
These are just a few examples of classic video games that have undergone Genre Bending over the course of the past three decades. Sometimes the resulting games breath new life into stale franchise, while other times they've acted as coffin nails, sealing a series fate.
What does this mean for X-Com? Don't give up hope. The trip from turn-based tactics to first-person shooter is a rocky road, but as many of the game above have proved, swapping genres doesn't always end in tears.
Now it's your turn! Discuss your favorite video game genre benders in the comments section below! For extra points, be sure to start your comment with the words, "You missed..."