Titles like Puyo Puyo Tetris and Street Fighter X Tekken prove that bringing two successful franchises together can yield a match made in heaven. But every now and then two brazenly different intellectual properties form an unholy union that manages to get things right.
The somewhat surprising success of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle for the Nintendo Switch has some players scratching their heads and others contemplating what crossovers developers should be considering for their next big release. While the future may look bright for gaming mashups, the past still holds its fair share of titles that managed to meld two unique worlds into one playable package.
Just to be clear, we’re only recounting games that were full-on crossovers. A special unlockable skin, single character, or item from another series is all well and good, but we’re not considering those small instances as an official “mashup.”
Released: 1990, Master System
Background: Before Sonic made his grand debut on the Sega Genesis in 1991, Sega’s go-to mascot was a scrappy hero by the name of Alex Kidd. The last of his five adventures on the Master System (or any console for that matter) was Alex Kidd in Shinobi World. The game was a direct parody of another successful Sega property — Shinobi. When his girlfriend is kidnapped by Hanzo the Dark Ninja, Alex does what any hero would do and fuses with the spirit of an ancient warrior. Despite being an Alex Kidd title, the gameplay was nearly identical to the Shinobi series, with sneaky ninja attacks and swordplay in full effect. Fans and critics alike dug Alex’s new arsenal and not-so-subtle Shinobi ties. It’s too bad we haven’t heard from Alex Kidd since.
Released: 2002 (PlayStation 2)
Background: There are few intellectual properties better known than those produced by Disney. The world renowned entertainment company has crafted and acquired more successful franchises than anyone ever thought possible in its 90 plus years of operation. So when developer Square announced they would be partnering with Disney for a crossover RPG for the PlayStation 2, many feared it would be held back by too much red tape. Though both companies had different visions of what the game should be and who should star, game director Tetsuya Nomura settled on a new hero who would come in contact with well-known characters from both the Disney and Final Fantasy universes. By letting players sample different Disney environments and interact with Final Fantasy personalities the Kingdom Hearts team was able to create an action-RPG that was both familiar and wholly original.
Released: 2006 (DS)
Background: There are few sports that Mario and company haven’t tackled in the last three decades. When it finally came time for the pudgy plumber to hit the hardwood Nintendo decided to pair him with a rather unlikely crew. Joining Mario, Peach, and Donkey Kong on the court were classic reoccurring characters from the Final Fantasy series. Developer Square had a hand in developing the Nintendo DS title, and felt some of their more kid-friendly creations should show off their otherworldly basketball skills. Mages, Ninjas, Moogles and more were added to the roster, each with their own special abilities. Some players found the Final Fantasy characters to be a bit too good when compared to Nintendo’s roster, but Mario sports fans still found plenty to love. It’s all fun and games until some gets dunked on by a Cactuar.
Released: 2008 (PS3, 360)
Why It Worked: Not to be outdone by the Marvel vs. Capcom series, the creators of Mortal Kombat and creative minds at DC comics decided to team up. The result was Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, a fighting game that pitted the world’s most violent combatants against some of histories greatest fictional heroes and villains. Though the game sported a gritty and realistic look, the higher ups at DC refused to let developers Midway Games take things too far in the way of blood and guts. The regular gruesome Mortal Kombat fatalities were scrapped in favor of more creative death sentences, especially when it came to the DC fighters. The game was a nice compromise for both parties and found a decent following post launch. Though there hasn’t been a direct sequel, Mortal Kombat returned to its gory roots with the release of Mortal Kombat X, while DC introduced their Injustice fighting series.
Released: 2009 (PS3, 360, Wii)
Background: The Rock Band franchise was riding high after the launch of their sophomore entry, and fans of undersized plastic instruments everywhere were eager to find out what they would do next. The announcement of a Beatles-centric Rock Band title was met with cheers, but the follow up reveal of LEGO Rock Band had some players wondering if developers Harmonix were attempting an elaborate hoax. They weren’t, and LEGO Rock Band was released in the fall of 2009. The game swapped out realistic rockstars for LEGO mini-figures, and changed incoming notes to glowing LEGO bricks. Since the title was aimed at a younger audience the track list was curated to feature up-beat hits like Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” and Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting.” In the end it was another solid entry in the Rock Band series. Never underestimate the allure of LEGO.
Released: 2012 (DS)
Background: In the last 20 years Pokémon has grown to be one of the most successful and profitable gaming franchises of all time. The monster catching, trading, and battling sim has an unrivaled fanbase who are known to gobble up any new merchandise or game that is released. The following for the Nobunaga’s Ambition series is quite modest in comparison, but this fact didn’t stop Tecmo Koei from teaming up with the Pokémon Company to create a mashup fans never saw coming. Games in the Nobunaga’s Ambition franchise are tactical role playing adventures set in feudal Japan. Certainly not the average Pokémon environment. But it turns out pairing super powered monsters with ancient Japanese warlords is just as cool as it sounds. Pokémon Conquest (known in Japan as Pokémon + Nobunaga’s Ambition) was a wonderful twist on both series’ normal strategic gameplay.
Released: 2012 (3DS)
Background: Solving mysteries and solving crimes usually go hand and hand. Both involve scrupulous sleuthing, brain power, and (most importantly) pointing at things with passion. With this in mind developers Level 5 and Capcom joined forces to bring fans of the Professor Layton and Ace Attorney games an unforeseen, but unquestionably smart crossover. Despite their distinctly different art styles, the world of Layton and Wright meshed quite nicely in one grand escapade. During the “Adventure” segments of the game players controlled the professor as he searched for clues in the medieval town of Labyrinthia, while the “Witch Trial” segment revolved around Phoenix Wright’s bumbling courtroom cross examinations. Diehard fans from both sides were modestly impressed with the alternating gameplay and all-inclusive storyline.
Released: 2016 (Wii U)
Background: Being a teenager in Tokyo is hard. You’ve got school to worry about, bustling city crowds, and aggressive beings from an alternate universe who are trying to steal your dream energy. It’s all par for the course when it comes to the Shin Megami Tensei series. The super popular RPG franchise has had a number of spin-offs (included the critically acclaimed Persona games), so merging with Nintendo’s strategic Fire Emblem series wasn’t too much of a gamble. Then again, Fire Emblem titles are exclusively set in a fantasy world of swords and wizardry, while Shin Megami Tensei takes a more contemporary approach to otherworldly conflict. To appease all those involved Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE featured a modern setting where characters could fight along side special “Mirage” versions of famous Fire Emblem warriors. With the Wii U on the decline, many RPG enthusiasts were overjoyed to get their hands on this colorful collaboration.
What crossover or mashup games did you find the most unpredictably enjoyable? Let us know in the comments below.