Super Mario Bros 2 (SMB) is a real sequel to the first. It says so on the NES cart. And I say that, knowing the history and choosing to ignore it. Pre-retro videos online, almost no one knew the true secrets behind the SMB2 and its reskin from another game (check out the Gaming Historian video for more information). Sure I heard people talking about how they might not have liked the game but that was more a matter of preference rather than an attack on the validity of it being a true sequel. I’ve never heard anyone attack SMB3, and that is a considerable departure from the both games other than it being a platformer. So this got me thinking about what a sequel should be. Should there be a departure from the original formula? Should the sequel play similarly, but in a bigger and better world?

I don't care what people say, I still love you SMB2.

I don’t care what people say, I still love you SMB2.

Welcome to Pixels to Polygons, the column where we compare the games of yesteryear to more modern entries.

Throughout the years sequels have changed. This seems to be due to two reasons:

I – A sequel should adhere to the fundamental mechanics of the game the precedes it.

II – Companies are no longer willing to take risks on changing a formula that works.

Let’s look at some examples.

Even more deviating than SMB2 than the original Mario games are the beginning entries of the Zelda franchise. We’ll put ourselves in the mindset that only the first two games exist.

Firstly, we have Zelda, the immortal classic. Players were treated to a large and intricate world to explore, with a diverse arsenal of weapons, characters, dungeons and music. Many games did the top-down adventure game before, Zelda just did it better. This was the definitive adventure game of the console and can still be quite enjoyable today (even without nostalgia goggles).

Then along comes Zelda II. Everything mentioned about Zelda can be said barring some add-ons. Combat is no longer based solely on dungeon pickups, but spells as well. This means you have magic included. To supplement the magic we have an RPG-style levelling system as opposed to upgrades kicking around (take that, hearts that fall out of dead bosses). But the biggest change was adding side-scrolling platforming in dungeons (the overworld kept the top-down style thought). To further changes, a moderate difficulty is now a rather relentless one provided the player is not aware of cheap strategies.

Oh, the people you angered.

Oh, the people you angered.

In contrast to the rest of the Zelda franchise, Zelda II is a black sheep, but it wasn’t at the time. There really wasn’t much to compare it to. It would have been safe to assume that the sequel would be the same but better since so many games followed that pattern. But I am glad that Zelda II shattered the expectations of many with its departures from the original formula. I can’t help but enjoy the daring nature of the developers toying with the expectations of gamers. The bold moves of the development team are welcomed in my books.

Zelda was not the only franchise to shatter expectations. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) went from a top-down adventure to side-scrolling action game (Zelda II style represent) to a series of beat ’em up games. Castlevania games went from a simple side-scroller, to a side-scroller with RPG and exploration elements, rinse and repeat, then stuck with the RPG exploration style. Many franchises made major leaps when adding another dimension to their 2D gameplay. Then there are games like Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross which are both turn-based RPGs, but so incredibly different in every facet imaginable. Which is better seems to cause some glorious debates, but not from myself as I love both very much. Even weirder is the shoot ’em up Philosoma becoming a Japanese survival-horror game with its sequel, Phase Paradox. And while all of these games seem to cause debate about their quality, they are definitely still sequels and have their place in their respective franchise. These risks are welcomed by myself and many others, but these risks don’t seem to exist in modern times.

What a wonderful transition.

What a wonderful transition.

I can’t think of a single modern game (barring one we’ll talk about next time) that changes its formula like the aforementioned, and many other, games. There are many new, ground-breaking franchises out there, but it seems like deviation from the establish formula is not an option. I can certainly understand why this is the case though. Why ruin what is comfortable and makes people happy? Financial losses can ruin a company immediately due to budgets and development times far exceeding those of retro games. While I understand the reasoning, I am a little bit saddened by the comfort at times.

What do you think? Should sequels break free from a fundamental formula? Or should they stay the course and do exactly what we expect?


My book about physics in video games:

The backlog of Physics of Video Games is only on Retroware.

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