In the current generation of gaming, there are more than a few long-running series to be found across the different consoles. Of course, considering how companies often don’t like to give up on a basic formula that works and sells, it’s an understandable aspect of any medium. However, despite the similarities between almost all the games in any given series, circumstances can sometimes be very different. Occasionally, a series will take a sharp turn from the norm and produce a game quite different from the standard format. These “black sheep” of the series are often seen as inferior due to those major differences, but they can often be just as good as the standard for the series. So, to give credit to these much maligned games, I’m listing my top “black sheep” games here. Without further ado, let’s get started.
For as long as I can remember, I have always liked light-gun arcade games and, naturally, one of my favorites in the genre is the House of the Dead series. From the incredibly campy voice acting to the actually physically changing weapons as the series progressed, I’ve always found a lot to like. However, no matter how silly the arcade games were, nothing quite compares to the ridiculousness of The Typing of the Dead. To put it simply, the game is a remake of House of the Dead 2, expect the light-gun has been replaced with a keyboard and, instead of pulling a trigger, the player has to type out words and sentences to actually hit and kill the zombies. Some would probably call it a gimmick above an actual entry in the series, but I find it more than different enough from the base game to be a completely different experience.
To be completely honest, I just can’t get enough out of the concept of the game alone. The fact that I’m killing zombies be typing silly sentences and words is more than entertaining enough in its own right, let alone being accompanied by the laughable dialog from House of the Dead 2. Even then, the game manages to be fairly difficult, especially in the later stages. Some of the phrases required to beat the bosses and tougher enemies are designed to feel odd to type out and, as a result, cause a ton of mistakes. I would never even begin to claim that Typing of the Dead is a really good game. In fact, I’d probably have difficulty justifying it as an objectively good game. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that I had a ton of fun with it and, despite its differences, it’s another fitting entry in a very well-known series.
While I haven’t had the opportunity to play every game in the franchise, I’ve always found the Kirby games to be charming and enjoyable platformers, if a bit easy. However, one thing I can say that I wasn’t expecting from the franchise was a racing game. It was even less expected that the racer would actually be pretty darn good. Kirby Air Ride is a racer featuring the popularized Warp Star that serves as Kirby’s main method of transport alongside a laundry list of variations to the basic design, from the attack-boosting Shadow Star to the rather silly Wagon Star. The many significant differences between the various vehicle choices made for a very dynamic game that, while unbalanced in a few ways, was still fun.
The addition of many extra features to the game beyond the simple races only increases the staying power. The Kirby staple of absorbing enemy abilities is still on full display here and many classic powers can be gained along the tracks, such as the Sword and Wheel abilities. The “City Trial” mode also stands out from the pack, letting the players mess around in a random-event laden overworld collecting powerups for an eventually mini-game, be it a battle royal or a contest of who can go the highest. Despite the many great features of the game, I barely see anyone talk about it at all, even when Kirby surfaces in conversation. That fact is really a shame, as the game deserves far more attention than it has ever received.
Even with a large number of games in a relatively short time span, the Ratchet and Clank series has rarely ventured far from its core mechanics. Nearly every Ratchet and Clank game has provided a great platforming experience with ridiculously awesome weapons and fun gadgets being used along the way. All except one, that is. Ratchet: Deadlocked was a departure from the norm in that it dispensed with most of the platforming and focused squarely on the combat. The weapons doubled from having five standard upgrade levels to ten and the goals changed from exploration to fighting across multiple battlefields trying to fulfill specific objectives. The titular partner, Clank, dropped from being a protagonist to fulfilling a supporting role and the number of new locations to explore was severely limited. In short, an entire half of the game was dropped to expand the other half.
However, that doesn’t mean the expansion was badly done. Ratchet: Deadlocked may be one of my least favorite games in the series, but it is by no means bad. As the weapons became the focus, the developers made each weapon have significance. There wasn’t a dud in the bunch and each one had many distinct uses throughout the game. In addition, the strong writing the series is known for remains completely intact, with many new and entertaining characters on display. A particular favorite for me were the commentators for “Dread Zone,” the death game Ratchet is forced to participate in, for their funny comments and great banter. However, the game is still maligned by many fans for the losses inherit and while I can be counted among those who are sad to see the platforming go, I still appreciate what was there.
There are a couple games on this list that I have seen people really dislike for the differences from the standard format of their series. However, Super Paper Mario is definitely one of the games that gets it the worst and, in my opinion, certainly deserves such venom the least. As people who have read many of my writing can no doubt guess, I am a huge fan of the Paper Mario series, with Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door being one of my favorite games of all time. Naturally, with such strong feelings for the previous entry, seeing such vast differences in Super Paper Mario left me conflicted at first. It’s difficult to call the game a traditional RPG as the fights aren’t so much battles as they are obstacles to defeat along the way and the only real leveling to be seen is attack boosting and HP increases. While it isn’t bad, I can’t say I like the system nearly as much and the battle system from the previous games was one of my favorite things about the series.
Despite my misgivings however, I quickly came around to seeing all the good there was to be found. The story, for example, clearly stands head and shoulders above the rest of the series, with very enjoyable characters and some truly heartfelt moments to be seen. Instead of specific enemy troops being stationed in one location and never seen again when beaten, each villainous minion has a ton of personality and I really got to know them as the game progressed. In addition, Bowser as a playable party member only makes things all the better, with his hilarious personality providing many of the more amusing moments alongside some spectacular writing. The visuals and paper-related gameplay feature of Super Paper Mario also deserve a lot of credit, as the game has an extremely smooth look with many distinctly interesting locations and the 3D-flipping feature uses the 2D nature of “Paper” Mario quite well, even if it could have been improved some. Even with its differences, Super Paper Mario is a great game and anyone who has the capability should really give the game a try. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
When one thinks of long-running series in gaming, it’s only a matter of time before Zelda is brought up. As one of the most beloved series to be found in the medium, everyone has probably played at least one of the many legends to be found and I am no exception to that rule, in either sense. Even as gaming has progressed over the years, the Zelda golden standard has remained just that: standard. Although every game has its own distinctions from others in the series, the formula of exploring a large overworld, finding and clearing dungeons, and eventually collecting a bunch of plot coupons to fight the ultimate evil is a rather consistent constant. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a standard that lends itself to great design and I’ve enjoyed more than my fair share of the series. However, there are a couple games that still manage to be very different from the rest. I know many would probably expect to see Zelda II on a list like this considering the game’s reputation, but I feel the Majora’s Mask, while not quite as deeply colored, still manages to stand out from the flock in all the right ways.
The most distinct difference in Majora’s Mask is readily apparent upon the first steps into Clock Town: the 3-day limit. The Moon will fall on Termina in three days and Link has to save the land before that happens, using the Song of Time to repeat those three days until he has managed to do just that. In fact, nearly all the major differences in Majora’s Mask can be traced back to that timer, and I find every one to be an effective deviation instead of an additional hindrance. Most plainly, the timer instills a sense of urgency and purpose to everything done in the game. Every second matters as that is one more tick closer to destruction, and that constant presence puts the player in just the right mood for it. Also, due to the decreased number of overall locations to explore, each area is given far more detail than what would otherwise be seen. It’s extremely easy to become involved in the efforts to solve each regions specific issues and, upon completion, true accomplishment is felt. In addition, the buildup to each of the four dungeons is expertly done and, unlike the other games, every single one is given significant buildup instead of blindsiding the player as some dungeons in the other games tend to do.
However, what really makes this game shine amongst its ilk is the strong focus on characters and sidequests. Unlike most other Zelda games, the NPCs are all fleshed out significantly. Every character in Clock Town has their own schedules and lives that become familiar upon the necessary repetition of the three days. Even minor characters are given strong characterization and minor details can be discovered everywhere that each give that much more depth to the effect that the impending doom has on the folks living in Termina. Those differences are what truly make the game distinct in all the right ways. While the details are found throughout, the best example is most likely the most involved sidequest in the entire series: the Anju and Kafei romance. After adhering to many strict events across all three days, Link finally reunites the lovers in the last moments before the Moon falls and the emotions involved, from both characters and players, are summed up perfectly by the final line they say. “We will face the new day… together.”
Well, that was my list on my favorite “black sheep” games. I hope you enjoyed the list and learned about some games you may not have considered before. As always, please comment about both the list and your own personal choices below. I love hearing your opinions.