10 Classic Video Games Which Have Become Virtually Unrecognizable

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Innovation is crucial to prolonged commercial success, most series reinventing themselves constantly in order to maintain a sense of relevancy. That said, sometimes a core gameplay experience is evolved so considerably that it becomes virtually unrecognisable, changing everything about the original – from gameplay to narrative conventions.

Sometimes, these transformations are successful, breathing new lifeblood into an otherwise ailing franchise, adapting the formula into something remarkably fresh and exciting. Other times, the gradual change can prove disastrous, actively ruining iconic characters and images, and tarnishing the reputations of classic video games series in the process.

The 90s especially were an awkward, transitional phase in the history of the medium, and some games were pushed into an early grave in a desperate attempt to stay ahead of the times, ruining the core appeal of these franchises in the process. That said, reinvention should always be applauded – especially considering how stagnant some franchises have become – and while the results may vary significantly, the intentions are usually admirable.

Here are 10 franchises which gradually became unrecognisable over the years, pulled away from their roots and forced to evolve, sometimes unnecessarily…

  1. Bomberman

    Bomberman is another staple of the medium which gradually become unrecognisable, culminating in the release of Bomberman: Act Zero, which despite decades of success, decided to take the franchise in a completely different direction.

    Released in 2006 for Xbox 360, the game represented a significant departure for the franchise, featuring grittier visuals and a dystopian setting, the entire experience aimed towards a more mature audience, which almost defeated the entire point on the series. Epitomising the issue, the redesign of the character represented everything wrong with the experience, completely reverting everything about the once adorable mascot, amplifying his most basic qualities.

    Bomberman is already great, a simple, easily-communicable concept that doesn’t need to be reinvented, at all. Naturally, Konami being Konami, the appeal of the was completely misunderstood, and the result was easily one of the most miscalculated attempts to capitalise on a classic franchise.

  2. Pac-Man

    The original arcade classic, Pac-Man has gradually become unrecognisable over the years, despite remaining one of the most enduring games ever conceived, as well as a permanent fixture on the gaming landscape which just about anyone can appreciate.

    Pac-Man 2 – released in 1994 – transformed the game into a side-scroller, incorporating point-and-click elements, and reinventing the look of the character himself considerable. That said, Pac-Man would only become truly unrecognisable five years later with the release of Pac-Man World, released in 1999 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the franchise. In the game, players control the character in a completely three-dimensional environment, exploring numerous dungeons and collecting equipment, all of which is uncharacteristic of the series.

    The result was one of the strangest, most unrecognisable iterations of the iconic character ever conceived, but the critical response was actually surprisingly positive. Moreover, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is essentially the spiritual successor to Pac-Man World, meaning someone must have gotten something out of it. 

  3. Resident Evil

    The quintessential survival horror franchise, Resident Evil has enjoyed decades of success, as well as praise and admiration. That said, the series has evolved considerably since its inception in 1996. In fact, each instalment has developed the concept to some extent, building on the experience gradually throughout the years.

    Resident Evil 2 was essentially just expanding on an already perfected formula, but the fourth instalment – appropriately titled, Resident Evil 4 – changed everything, emphasising action-adventure elements over survival horror conventions. Resident Evil 5 introduced co-op, relocating events to a more contemporary setting, and distancing the series from its roots.

    That said, the series only became completely unrecognisable in 2012 with the release of Resident Evil 6, easily the worst entry in the entire series. For one thing, the game wasn’t even a survival horror game. Instead, it was essentially a thinly veiled cover shooter, distancing itself from everything that had come before, and completely misunderstanding the appeal of the series. 

  4. Sonic the Hedgehog

    Sonic Boom – released in 2014 – is a notoriously terrible game, panned almost universally. For one thing, the game barely functioned, allowing players the opportunity of escaping the confines of the environment, skipping significant portions of the game. Besides that, it was generally repetitive and uninteresting, brought down by a substandard combat system, monotonous action sequences, and an over-emphasis on slow-paced platforming.

    That said, the series has been struggling for years, never quite settling on a core concept, reinventing itself constantly in a desperate attempt to remain relevant, and mostly disappointing, despite a small number of successes. That said, Sonic Boom was the first time the series seemed virtually unrecognisable, revising even the most iconic aspects of the series – the characters themselves, which have remained virtually untouched since the early nineties.

  5. Castlevania

    Castlevania – a series which began back in 1986 – is singlehandedly responsible for some of the most iconic, critically celebrated moments in gaming history. Simon’s Quest – released a year later – is no exception, despite its status as one of the series’ lowest points, and arguably one of the worst entries in the entire franchise. Castlevania 64 –released in 1999 –implemented 3D environments, which made the platforming portions of the game especially troublesome.

    Castlevania: Lords of Shadow attempted something similar in 2013, reinventing the classic series once again in an attempt to capitalise on its popularity, the result – despite aesthetic similarities – something virtually unrecognisable, bearing almost no similarity to previous instalments in the franchise. In fact, the game borrowed so heavily from other franchises that it came across like a second-rate, bootlegged God of War, or Shadow of the Colossus.

  6. Fallout

    To date, Fallout 4 has been awarded numerous awards, constantly cited as one of the finest games of the current generation (which isn’t saying much). That said, the game – as well as its predecessor, Fallout 3 – were undoubtedly significant departures for the series. The original – a top-down, turned based role-playing game – was innovative in many ways, pioneering gameplay innovations, as well as a more mature narrative experience.

    Interplay Entertainment – the creators of the series – filed for bankruptcy in the early 2000s, and were forced to disband several studios, including Black Isles Studios – the developers of Fallout and Fallout 2. Thankfully, Bethesda Softworks acquired the rights - maintaining the series’ personality – yet reimagining nearly everything else, including the gameplay. For one thing, the series was no longer turn-based, the perspective a more conventional first-person viewpoint, creating a vastly dissimilar experience.

  7. Tomb Raider

    Tomb Raider – the polygonal classic, released in 1996 on PlayStation – shares considerably few similarities with Tomb Raider (2013), the remake, which maintained the same sense of adventure and exploration, but emphasised grittier visuals and more mature themes. The game – an action-adventure third-person shooter, not so much a platformer – was a tremendous success, despite the numerous and substantial changes it brought into effect.

    The series endured countless reinventions throughout the early 2000s, most of which disappointing, critically and commercially. The Angel of Darkness – released in 2003 on PlayStation 2 – was an unmitigated disaster, plagued by technical issues and frame-rate problems. Legends and Anniversary attempted to correct the problem – returning the series to its roots – however, their reception was mostly underwhelming.

    By comparison, Tomb Raider (2013), as well as Tomb Raider: Underworld transformed the series into something virtually unrecognisable – and whether or not you agree with these changes – they have proved remarkably successful, ensuring the continued relevancy of the series long into the foreseeable future. Nathan Drake, be warned.

  8. Devil May Cry

    Devil May Cry – the original, released in 2001 – was designed around challenging the player, requiring them to dismember their opponents in the most sophisticated ways imaginable, scoring points for stylishness. The remake – DmC: Devil May Cry – was easy, barely offering any challenge whatsoever, completely misunderstanding the entire appeal of the series.

    Besides that, the character was drastically redesigned, his endearing nonchalant disposition was completely overhauled, replaced with a more cynical, immature – and, some would say, irritating – attitude, complete with an overreliance on childish insults, self-aggrandising and casual disinterestedness, completely lacking any semblance of self-awareness.

    Even the boss battles were easy and straightforward, requiring almost no strategy or patience. In most cases, they could be defeated almost right away – and while some of the later bosses took a little longer – that’s only because they had more health, not because they were any more demanding. They were bigger, but just as simple to figure out.

  9. Metal Gear Solid

    Masterminded by Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid has always been a narrative driven series, the gameplay usually playing second fiddle to the countless, never-ending cutscenes and codec calls. The original in particular was ground-breaking – leagues ahead of its closest contemporaries – pushing the boundaries of interactive storytelling.

    By comparison, MGSV: The Phantom Pain is almost completely unrecognisable, sharing exceedingly few similarities to its predecessor, therefore representing a wholly different experience, prioritising open-world exploration, as well as sandbox style gameplay. That said, the stealth mechanics remained the focus; the personality was maintained, and the game was generally considered a tremendous success, despite its numerous developments.

    For one thing, the story was surprisingly subdued, communicated predominantly through audio-logs, instead of cutscenes. Besides that, the tone was completely altered, the characters and dialogue comparatively restrained, especially compared to the original.

  10. Final Fantasy

    Final Fantasy is easily the most celebrated role-playing series ever conceived, receiving numerous awards and acclaim since its inception in 1987. In particular, Final Fantasy VII is considered an undeniable classic, and a triumph in videogame storytelling, featuring an innovative turn-based combat system and unprecedented visuals, which have since been improved upon by subsequent instalments in the iconic series.

    That said – despite its numerous advances – the series has always maintained a distinct personality, setting it apart from its contemporaries. As such, Final Fantasy XV – with its sandbox exploration, open-ended gameplay and narrative intricacies – might represented the first time this particular series has strayed away from its comfort zone. The game – released just last month – is completely unique, implementing MMO inspired mechanics over a more conventional, strategic combat system, making the game seem more dynamic and exciting.

    The emphasis on action over storytelling – something which would usually be considered a criticism – is actually remarkably fresh, reinvigorating the series by distancing it from its predecessors’ shortcomings. The result: a virtually unrecognisable entry in a classic series which somehow excels despites its numerous and substantial deviations.