With the popularity of Gears of War, it was only a matter of time until another developer churned out a game aping its unique, cover-based shooting action. Army of Two was among the first, but took things a step farther and was informed not only by the game's cover mechanic, but its reliance on co-operative gameplay. Whether playing single-player or in co-op, A.I. or live body, the main character would be accompanied at all times by his partner. That said, Army of Two did introduce unique twists on the formula, with a weapon modification system and the "aggro" concept, in which aggression by one player drew attention away from the other character. This was smoothed out in the sequel, Army of Two: The 40th Day, which also expanded the weapon mod system and introduced a basic moral choice framework that, deviously, allowed whoever chose first to decide the path of the heroes. Oh, and it probably shattered a friendship or two.
The Heroes of Might & Magic series long stood as the premier (and perhaps the only notable) turn-based fantasy strategy/RPG mash-up. A few years back, though, a little game called King's Bounty: The Legend, snuck out the door and took the HoMM formula wholesale, washing away fans' murky memories of the underwhelming fifth installment. Here was a game that knew when to take things over the top, with battles against giant octopi and a combat-based leveling system for one's equipment. Like HoMM, battles occurred on a grid, but the grid was hex-based, expanding one's strategic options. It's an unforgiving and frighteningly deep title, but King's Bounty: The Legend has proved that the basic HoMM formula still has potential.
Double Dragon may have been the first side-scrolling beat 'em up (at least, the first that anyone really remembers), but Capcom's Final Fight became the archetype of the genre when it hit arcades and, later, the Super NES. With Capcom's seminal side-scrolling punch-fest on Nintendo's 16-bit behemoth, what were Genesis owners to do? Enter the Streets of Rage series, which had actually begun with a title on the Master System, but truly hit its stride with the Genesis-exclusive sequel. With a roster of four characters to choose from, consisting of the heavy-set wrestler, the all-around average guy, an acrobatic and skillful woman, and the super-fast glass-chin on rollerblades, Streets of Rage 2 provided both visual and tactile differentiation within its entourage. Throw in character-specific command-based special moves, in addition to the desperation clear-out, and this 16-bit sequel may have actually had a leg up on the title it was borrowing from.
The Ninja Gaiden series, since its very beginnings in the arcade and on the NES, has drawn from other sources for its basic gameplay. The arcade machine was a side-scrolling beat'em up that was more or less Double Dragon with ninja, while the NES game's side-scrolling platforming bore a sub-weapon and health system that was suspiciously close to that of Castlevania (though it gains extra points for having infinitely better controls and cinematic sequences between levels). It only makes sense, at this point, that when Team Ninja went back to the Ryu Hayabusa character for a new solo journey, they would choose to make a 3D action-game, and choose one of the most successful such games as inspiration: Devil May Cry. While Team Ninja would probably never admit it, the game's fast-paced combat, punishing difficulty, and essence based weapon upgrade system had initially been seen in Capcom's attitude-infused epic. Ninja Gaiden, however, came into its own with a two-button melee system (as opposed to DMC's single-button layout) and gave its character the ability to block, encouraging a more tactical, defensive playstyle, more akin to what one might find in a fighting game. Ninja Gaiden Black further refined this game to its absolute pinnacle.
Made famous by Doom, and more famous by Quake, id Software didn't get its foot in the door with demonic or science-fiction gore and gibs. In fact, the developer began its journey to fame with a little labor of love, attempting to code an engine that would allow for smooth, side-scrolling platformers on a personal computer. They succeeded and pitched their product to Nintendo, hoping to get the rights to do a PC port of the company's iconic Super Mario Bros. They were rejected out of hand, but rather than let the technology they'd created go to waste, produced a side-scrolling platformer about a boy who is also a football helmet-wearing space explorer with a pogo stick. The pogo stick was one of the game's unique additions to what was otherwise the basic SMB formula (there was also an explorable overworld map between levels). While never as popular as the game that inspired its engine, Commander Keen would spawn numerous sequels, paving the way for id's eventual journeys into the realm of 3D gaming.
I'm sure there are personal favorites and least favorites which failed to make this list, so, by all means, use the comments section below to plead the case for your entry, or to reopen the wounds of a horrid game worth of an extra dash of salt.
By Shelby Reiches
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*