In the movie world, sequels are a dreaded affair and are usually just cheap ways for a movie studio to quickly cash in on a hit (the Hong Kong movie industry is a big offender in this regard, especially in the 80′s). Very rarely does a movie have a sequel that can stand alongside the original, let alone surpass it.
There are a few exceptions to the rule of course (The Godfather 2, Terminator 2 and Blade II come to mind), but mostly they suck (2 Fast 2 Furious, Ocean’s 12, and how bad was Son of the Mask?!?).
In the videogame world, things aren’t that much different. If a new IP does well, you can expect a sequel out soon that is pretty much the same game except with flashier graphics. But just like in the movie world, there are exceptions to the rule and every now and then a sequel will come out that is not just as good as the original, but actually leaps and bounds better.
We’ve put together a list of the 10 best sequels that have ever been put out. And remember, the games on this list aren’t here just because they’re prettier, but they also push the envelope in innovation and design to deliver a hugely improved gaming experience.
#10 – Dead or Alive 2
When the first DoA came out, it was little more than just a faster version of Virtua Fighter with exploding floors and ridiculously bouncy boobs. It introduced a cool rock-scissors-paper fighting mechanic where strikes beat throws, throws beat reversals and reversals beat strikes, but it didn’t quite push it enough and it felt mostly like Virtua Fighter with bouncy boobs.
Then came DoA2, blasting out of nowhere with a huge list of improvements such as multi-tiered levels (where you can knock a player off a rope bridge and then jump down and continue the fight in the river below), two-on-two tag team battles (including these awesome tag-team combo attacks), and a greatly refined fighting engine that made it really easy for beginners to put on a flashy and fun fight while retaining a level of depth to satisfy veterans. This major tweak also gave DoA2 that polish that really made the gameplay stand out on its own.
And yes, the boob bouncing received an extra special overhaul with a new physics engine to give you the most realistic bouncing boobs ever seen in a videogame at the time.
#9 – Wing Commander II
Wing Commander 1 was an epic game that made you feel about as close as you can get to being Luke Skywalker without invoking the holy trilogy of sci-fi movies. It pushed the graphical abilities of PCs at the time to fully immerse the player in a spaceship cockpit (think exploding balls of sparks in your cockpit when your ship gets hit, and a depiction of your hand on a joystick that accurately follows your input) and it had a stellar plot and great cast of characters to put you in the middle of a space opera.
But while Wing Commander 1 told the its tale through text-based conversations with other pilots in the bar, Wing Commander II added a huge amount of cutscenes and digitally recorded voice samples to really take the term “interactive movie” to a new level. Sure, the open-ended structure of Wing Commander 1 was altered to become more linear, and events are now more scripted than before… but in return you get a really heightened sense of drama, and a deeper emotional connection to your co-pilots because they are now more integrated to the storyline.
Wing Commander 3 will always be remembered as the game that started the 90′s boom of live-action cutscenes, but Wing Commander II pushed the interactive movie years before that.
#8 – Assassin’s Creed II
Assassin’s Creed 1 was an incredibly over-hyped game. It promised all sorts of coolness with a free-running assassin in an open world, and lots of cool assassin-moves and stealth kills. But what it turned out to be was an incredibly repetitive and dull experience, full of time-wasting activities like “follow a random NPC around town” and “try to pick-pocket a random NPC” or “try to follow and then pick-pocket a random NPC.”
Assassin’s Creed II took the potential of the first game and made it happen. Suddenly, you could actually do cool things. You didn’t have to waste as much time in the “real world” listening to Veronica Mars tell you stuff that isn’t all that interesting. And the missions actually had variety and felt like they added to the plot. And of course, you had those awesome free-running activities such as “let’s find a million random feathers scattered across the roof-tops.”
If you read the sequel’s manual, it even makes a lot of in-jokes at the inadequacies of the first game.
#7 – SimCity 2000
SimCity was a great game in that it came completely out of nowhere. Nobody in their right mind would’ve guessed that a game with no winning conditions or storyline could be successful. Well, they were wrong, and SimCity gave birth to the sandbox genre of games.
But as innovative as SimCity was, it also was quite limited in what it could do. You could really only zone residential, commercial and industrial areas, and then build roads, fire stations and power plants to support them. There was just so much that you could not do, and so much else that you wanted to do.
SimCity 2000 fixed all of that by greatly expanding on the city-building aspects of the game, and threw in a whole slew of new buildings and utilities. Not only do you have to maintain power lines now, but you also had to provide plumbing and water via a new underground view. You can build schools and hospitals to improve your residents, and you could choose between nine different power plants to balance energy efficiency, cost and pollution. Different types of roads can be built, and public transport was introduced. And those arcologies… those cities-within-a-city. They were awesome!
And how to best enjoy your new elaborate cities? How about an awesome midi soundtrack?
#6 – The Sims 2
Here’s another sandbox game that was greatly improved in the sequel. The original Sims was an instant best seller because it was something so unique and so openly accessible. But just as the first SimCity was limited, so was The Sims. For starters, every day was the same. There was no concept of weekends, or time off for your Sims to really enjoy themselves. Imagine working every single day without a break. It’s not fun for the Sims, and it’s certainly not fun for you. Sims also didn’t die. Children don’t age past being children, and adults don’t die of old age. It was a bit… static in that sense. Also, every Sim was kind of the same.
That all changed in The Sims 2. The inclusion of weekends allowed Sims to finally do something aside from the mundane daily grind of work and sleep. And to break the static nature of the original Sims, a proper life cycle was introduced. Now Sims can have children, who will grow from babies to teenagers to adults, and then grow old and die. You no longer look after the same member of the family, but now you will oversee generations of a family, complete with genetic mingling. Yes, babies will inherit the genetics of their parents, so you can really tinker with their DNA and breed your Sims accordingly.
Another feature introduced to distinguish the Sims is the Aspiration System. Different Sims now have different aspirations, and meeting these aspirations will grant them bonuses and joy. Not only does this distinguish the Sims from one another, but it also gives players some goals when the game gets just a little bit too “sandboxy” (aka pointless).
The new fully 3D engine is not just prettier, but it also allows you to zoom in and get up close and personal with your Sims, making them feel more alive than ever before, and allowing for different camera angles for those people making machinima videos.
#5 – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 was a pretty amazing game that took skateboarding and made it fun in a videogame. Before THPS came along, you could only skateboard in games like California Games, and that was pretty nasty! But THPS did it right, and it made virtual skateboarding fun. It even made a household name out of Tony Hawk, and re-popularized skateboarding for a new generation of kids.
But the skating in THPS was rather limited, and was centered around vert-skating (basically going up and down a half-pipe). The only way to get a good score in the game was to get massive air off a half-pipe and then either pull off a few flip tricks or a 720 grab trick… and that was only a small part of real skateboarding.
THPS 2 had more tricks and bigger locations to skate in, but the key difference was the humble manual (basically a wheelie on a skateboard). By introducing the manual, tricks can now be chained together for larger combos. Now you can kickflip into a grind, flip out into a manual, and then head over to another railing for another grind to maximize those combos! Street-skating was finally a viable method to score in THPS 2, and to date no single addition to the THPS gameplay has had as big an impact as this tiny trick.
#4 – Halo 2
Halo was a huge hit for the original Xbox, and redefined what a console FPS should be. On top of the epic storyline with a great cast of aliens and allies, it also had an incredibly fun multiplayer mode that caught the attention of gamers everywhere and soon “Halo parties” were being thrown in geek households everywhere.
How do you top that? You deepen the storyline by including a sub-plot that reveals the story from the aliens’ point of view (and even includes missions where you play as a Covenant warrior), and throw in some John Woo action and allow some dual-wielding gunplay. But these are just small potatoes compared to the big new addition.
You see, the biggest impact would be the inclusion of Xbox Live-enabled multiplayer. While 16 player battles were supported in Halo 1, that meant connecting at least four TVs and four Xboxes together, and that’s just pretty damned inconvenient. 4-8 player matches were far more common, and that’s not quite a large enough match to get team games going. With Xbox Live support, you can now go online and whack 15 other players without needing to tweak your spine lugging TVs around. And that means multiplayer is taken to a whole new level, in a way that’s accessible to all.
Halo 2 was not only the most popular game on Xbox Live, but was a huge reason for Xbox Live’s success, and Internet-based console gaming in general has benefited from this classic game.
#3 – Street Fighter II
Most people think that Street Fighter 1 is a lot like Leisure Suit Larry 4, in the sense that it never existed and the game developers merely chose to skip one number. But while LSL 4 really didn’t exist, there actually was a Street Fighter 1 back in the late 80′s that just didn’t have the impact that its sequel would four years later.
SF1 really laid the foundations for SFII, with the familiar joystick and six attack button configuration. The now industry-standard joystick movements for the Hadouken and Shoryuken special moves were already present, and the best of 3 rounds format was in place, but the game was limited in the sense that you can only play as Ryu (or Ken if you’re challenging player one). There were the other opponents to defeat (including Sagat and a bunch of other faces that would reappear in the later sequels), but they weren’t playable so players could never really get acquainted to them.
What did SFII do differently? It gave the player not just one but eight different characters to choose from, each with their own distinct special moves and fighting styles (well, except for Ken and Ryu, that is). It tightened up the fighting engine to be a bit faster and led to the first appearance of “combo attacks” (though they weren’t an intentional addition at the time). These seemingly minor changes made all the difference needed for the game, and SFII become a worldwide hit and brought fighting games to the forefront, with many derivatives spawning from the woodwork (some good, but most were horrendous).
#2 – Dune II
It was actually quite hard to decide which of the top two would be number one, but eventually I went with Dune II to take second place. The first Dune game was an adventure game that had players assume the role of Paul Atreides, going around the planet and befriending the local fremen. The second game, however, was completely different and bore little to no resemblence to the first game (probably because it was done by a different studio).
Instead of being put into the role of House Atreides, players can now choose between three different Houses to control, each with their own unique set of units. Each mission would the player gather spice for money, and the money can be spent on building up a base or constructing new tanks and weapons of war. The interface was a simple mouse-driven affair, where you can quickly click on a unit and then click on where you want it to go or attack.
If it sounds a lot like a RTS, then it’s because it is. But this wasn’t just any other RTS, because Dune II was the RTS that defined the genre for decades to come. All the modern RTS conventions that we take for granted these days like base-building, resource gathering, fog of war, and faction-specific super weapons were all institutionalized in this ground-breaking game. Just as SFII championed the fighting game genre, Dune II championed the RTS genre, solely from the sequel’s merit.
BTW, check out our revisit of Dune 2 on Android!
#1 – Star Control II
Star Control was a pretty fun and colorful game, but it was little more than a prettier version of the ancient SpaceWar! game. Basically, two spaceships would duel in space, with a simple five button setup (turn left/right, thrust, main weapon and special weapon). You could choose between 14 different alien races, each with their own unique spacecraft that had differing speeds, firepower, and special abilities. It also had a simple strategic component, and the storyline (about a war between two factions in space) was mostly non-existent, except for some bio screens of the aliens and their spacecraft.
Then two years later, the sequel came out, and it was a whole new game altogether. Instead of a simple combat game, it was now an epic adventure about a young human captain trying to liberate the entire galaxy from an evil alien armada. All of the storylines that were hinted at in the original came out in full force, and were fully fleshed out through a whole lot of interactions with the various alien species. And the interaction was great! You would zoom about the stars and meet all of these wild and whacky aliens, each with their own distinct personalities. And none of the aliens were cookie-cutter species either, as they all had their deep and varying histories and back stories, some that would be important for the upcoming war, and others are there just so you can immerse yourself into a living and breathing alternate universe.
The gameplay was highly open-ended, and you could zoom around where ever you pleased, and your actions could greatly influence what goes on during the war. In most games, when a major alien civilization is destroyed, it is a pre-scripted plot device and there’ll be little you can do to prevent it. In this game, if an alien civilization is destroyed, it will be due to your actions (or inaction), and not only will it gravely affect the balance of power in the galaxy, but you will probably miss them because they had such infectious personalities.
The dialogue and story in the game was the perfect balance between sci-fi drama and comedy, the combat was simple and addictive, and the aliens will endear themselves to you, long after you complete the game. This isn’t just a great sequel; this is a great game, period.
PS If you haven’t had the pleasure of playing this game, you can download an open-source version here.
Got your own favorite sequels? Disagreed with some of our choices?
Let us know in the comments below!
Drew used to be a professional videogame reviewer, then he took an adulthood arrow to the knee. Now he is a content strategist, helping brands tell their stories without resorting to overused videogame memes.