There are some pretty big entertainment franchises out there. Often, one piece of a franchise is so popular that it will overshadow other properties, if it has its merits. 

Shadow of Mordor will release this week, and early reviews are painting it to be the best game ever associated with The Lord of the Rings property. Of course, there were other decent games (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movie game was actually pretty decent!), but this is the first time a game in the series is stepping out from the shadow of the films. Early impressions of Alien: Isolation seem to say the same thing, and we all know we need a good game after Colonial Marines…

What other games have done a good job of stepping out from the shadows of crappier games or behemoth movies?

Friday, 9:56 am – Ricky

GAVIN IS GAMENTARY.

At least for this week he was. Sorry for being all strong-and-silent-type on you – I’ve got some great impressions to share about Shadow of Mordor (which I bought and am so happy I did), Destiny and Wasteland 2. However, life is rolling on, and next week is another chance for me to share, so that’s when you’ll hear from me next.

Play games. And such.

Thursday, 8:42 am – Gavin

GAVIN BREAKS GAMENTARY.

After finishing Metroid, I was in the need for a new mobile title.  I’ve dropped dozens of hours into Mario Kart 7 and Ocarina of Time 3D respectively, so I figured I’d go for a change.  To celebrate the release of Super Smash Brothers U/3DS, Nintendo has been having a great sale on their eShop – all of the games with SSB characters in them have been on sale for the past three weeks.  Yesterday, I picked up Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D and I got down to playing it this morning on the way to work.

Bottom line?  It’s a very nice, very smooth platformer with decent, but not overwhelmingly incredible 3D effects (in the two levels I’ve played so far).  Despite everyone’s recommendations, I never got around to playing Donkey Kong Country 2 or 3 for the SNES; apparently, DKC 2 is one of the best platforming titles of the 90s.  A few years ago, I picked up Donkey Kong Country: Jungle Beat for the Wii and was thoroughly underwhelmed, as it used a new control scheme.  Gamecube fans may remember that this game actually shipped with a completely different controller – a set of goddamn bongos that you would use to control them.

Goddamn insanity.

On the Wii, these controls were simulated with the Wiimote and nunchuk – you would use them like bongos.  Conceptually, this idea was interesting enough – throws a bit of variation into the gameplay, and it was at least thematically consistent, but in execution, it was simply not fun.  Boss fights were twitchy and required a certain rhythm, so it was quite easy to lose them.  Timing was everything, whereas in the conventional DKC titles, it was more about simple conventional boss battles – hit this vulnerable spot, avoid these projectiles, etc.

Returns is a much better return (sorry) to the classic than Jungle Beat was.  It feels very familiar, like even though you haven’t played Super Mario Brothers 3 for 20 years, you still know where the warp flutes are.  The first level of Returns is definitely harder than the first level of Country 1 – the most common complaint about Returns and Tropical Freeze are their difficulty levels – but it’s really only trial-by-fire if you’ve never played a DKC title before.  For those who have played Country, which was itself not the easiest title out there, it’s like reconnecting with an old friend.  I was sad to miss out on this one on the Wii, but I’m really looking forward to diving all-in with this one.

Anyway, aside from that, still on with Mass Effect 3, yadda yadda yadda.  No need to hear any more about that.  I played more Mario Kart 8 last night and I’m reminded about why that is such an amazing title.  It’s absolutely gorgeous, and the frame rate really shines.  I pre-purchased the DLC, so I got a few new skins for Yoshi and Shy Guy, but I also got the DLC for the three Mercedes karts.  There’s something pathetically funny to met about an oversized Bowser breathing fire out of the sunroof of a GLK.  There’s nothing realistic about these karts at all – they’re just skins – but it’s an added element of silly fun.

Monday, 12:50 pm – Gavin

I’ll also note that LOTR: The Third Age was a terrific spin-off game.  Voice acting was dreadful, but it was a very pretty RPG title for the original Xbox.  It managed to take two of the things I hate most in gaming, turn-based combat and random encounters, and made them quite palatable.  I beat it precisely once, and there was a litany of stuff still left to cover, but it was quite decent.  It introduced new characters and brought back movie characters as well (Legolas, Aragorn, Gimli).  We got to experience the battle of Helm’s Deep and of Minas Tirith as a way to tie it back in to the source material.  Didn’t overshadow the movie – I don’t think any game can accomplish that, especially not with such enormous IPs such as Lord of the Rings, but it did shine.

In terms of games doing better than their earlier incarnations, I’m struggling to think of a great game that had a legitimately bad first entry.  There have been better entries later in a series – Mass Effect 2, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, and Super Mario Brothers 3 immediately come to mind, but nothing immediately where the first was bad.  Red Steel 2 was remarkably better than the first, but it didn’t achieve the critical success Ubisoft hoped for.  Spec Ops: The Line was infinitely better than the earlier Spec Ops games, but it shares nothing in common with them except for the name, and didn’t achieve the necessary critical success to really suggest that it stood apart from its predecessors.

In terms of games from movies, it’s always hard to break the association if a movie was the genesis of the IP in the first place.  No game will ever overshadow the movie it comes from simply by virtue of the accessibility of movies compared to games, but I’d note the following entries as shining a bright light on the game in addition to the title itself, to the point that they are enjoyable without familiarity with the source material:

  • Goldeneye (obviously)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum and City
  • Knights of the Old Republic, and, to a lesser extent, Battlefront II

I don’t know if this counts, but the WWE games are enjoyed by a considerable number of people who aren’t active wrestling fans.

The truth is that moth games based on existing IP might do a serviceable job of handling the source material, but they don’t really shine beyond that.  There were countless games based on existing IP on the Super Nintendo that were perfectly enjoyable, but their source material was just so ubiquitous that you’d never think of the games first – Aladdin, The Lion King, T2: The Arcade Game, the Hanna-Barbera properties, Ren & Stimpy, etc.

Monday, 12:20 pm – Ricky

I’m resisting the urge to pick-up Shadow of Mordor. I refuse to take on more than I can chew this Fall season, and I already looking for time to play a ton of games that I already own. Still, dat nemesis system… Here’s a pretty cool walkthrough to give you the lowdown on the game:

 

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