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1. Super Mario Bros.
You might be surprised to see Super Mario Bros. on this list. After all, this is the game that really put both Mario and the original NES on the map.
But before there was Super Mario Bros., there was the arcade game Mario Bros. In this one-screen game, you had to kill various creatures (including turtles that looked nothing like Koopas) as they came out of the pipes.
Many players experienced this for the first time as a multiplayer bonus stage in Super Mario Bros. 3. And this lets them see firsthand how different the Mario titles of that time were compared to the very first game.
2. Donkey Kong 3
The early Donkey Kong franchise is unique because of how different the games were. For example, Donkey Kong Jr. starred Kong’s son. But while the gameplay was different, the platforming still felt very familiar to longtime fans.
But Donkey Kong 3 is something else altogether. Instead of jumping over barrels or grabbing vines, you played as an exterminator trying to drive Donkey Kong away with chemicals. But the entire time, you also had to contend with bees and other enemies descending on you.
Was it a fun variant of games like Galaga? Sure. But did it feel like a Donkey Kong game? Absolutely not!
3. Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow
While Konami has made some weird decisions in recent years, they’ve always been able to see the writing on the wall. And after the success of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, they knew there was no way to follow that game up with a similar sequel.
And that’s how we got Lords of Shadow. Instead of being a cool 2D game, this title was like the bastard child of Devil May Cry and God of War. And while it has its fans, this sequel is obviously completely different than what came before.
4. Duke Nukem 3D
Duke Nukem 3D was a very strange brew. It took the best elements from various shooting games and action movies to create something that felt both very familiar and very unique.
And the “3” in the title helped to indicate this was actually the third game in the franchise. Earlier games were boring 2D titles. After Duke Nukem 3D came out, it completely changed the face of the franchise, and very few people even remember those earlier games.
5. Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures
Pac-Man seems like a tough series to screw up. While you can add new elements (like the excellent Pac-Man 99), the core gameplay is all about munching pellets and running from ghosts.
But Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures trades all of this in for an insane point-and-click adventure about Pac-Man and his family. But unless you’ve been eating your own “power pellets” all day, there is no way you’d think this bizarre game was a sequel to the original title.
6. Metal Gear Solid
When is a sequel not really a sequel? When it’s a reboot, of course!
Metal Gear Solid kicked off an amazing series and revolutionized what action/stealth gameplay could be. But scratch the surface and you’ll notice that this is mostly a soft reboot of the original game. Of course, Kojima would later lean into this idea by making Metal Gear Solid 2 resemble the events of the original game as part of the tortured plot surrounding the new character Raiden.
7. Pokémon Snap
Even early sequels to Pokémon games added new twists and features. But the core idea was the same: capture Pokémon by using the ones you have and beating the hell out of others.
But the original Pokémon Snap changed all of that. Now, the game was all about snapping killer pics of your favorite pocket monsters. And while this game has gotten its own popular Switch sequel, the N64 original remains a wild departure from earlier games.
8. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
A game sequel being completely different from the original isn’t always a bad thing. Perhaps the best example of this is Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island.
First of all, it’s no longer a Mario game. Instead, it’s all about Yoshi saving Baby Mario. And while the platforming is still there, the enemies and level design are completely different.
Even combat is different. Instead of focusing on jumping on enemies, Yoshi must instead gather eggs and fire them with pinpoint precision in order to triumph over those oversized bosses.
9. Bomberman: Act Zero
Bomberman is one of the best multiplayer games ever made. And as a character, he is one of the cutest designs you will ever see.
Unless you play Bomberman: Act Zero, that is. This sequel made the character into a dark and edgy cyborg. And instead of navigating a colorful world, he must fight his way through a grim and gritty dystopia. Not only was this a sequel that wasn’t really a sequel, but it was a game that sucked for everyone who experienced it.
10. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
While it wasn’t to everyone’s taste, the first two Banjo-Kazooie games earned a legion of fans for Rare. Gamers fell in love with the colorful platforming and thrill of discovery that came from navigating these character’s awesome world.
But the third game (Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts) ditched all of this and challenged players to build vehicles and complete different stunt challenges. It was fun in its own right, but it felt like getting a Mario “sequel” where Mario completes plumbing challenges instead of saving Peach from Bowser.
11. Star Fox Adventures
How do you mess up a sequel to a game as cool as Star Fox 64? By making it completely different from everything that came before!
Star Fox Adventures was a GameCube title where Fox McCloud didn’t have his trusty Arwing. Instead, he had to explore an alien planet using a melee weapon. It looked and felt like a crappy Zelda clone because that was what it was: Rare had been developing a separate game called Dinosaur Planet before Nintendo decided to make this a Star Fox game.
12. Wolfenstein 3D
Wolfenstein 3D is nothing short of iconic and laid the groundwork for later killer games like Doom. But Wolfenstein 3D was actually the third entry in a popular existing series.
However, those earlier games were simply top-down adventures. Wolfenstein 3D blew them away with its completely different format, and many modern gamers have no familiarity with the earlier games.
No, that spelling wasn’t an attempt to look hip and with it. DRIV3R was actually the third game in the series, and it made for a serious departure from the original series format.
The original Driver games focused exclusively on (what else?) driving. But this third game tried to cash in on the popularity of Grand Theft Auto 3 by adding in terrible action sequences you had to complete on foot.
Not only was this different from previous games, but this title kicked off one of the earliest controversies revolving around bribery and manipulation of game reviewers. And all to make this bad game sound better.
14. Super Mario Bros. 2
Super Mario Bros. 2 belongs on the list for a pretty obvious reason. After all, it was never meant to be a Mario game!
As you may already know, this game is basically just a Mario skin of a game called Doki Doki Panic. Nintendo gave us this title because they felt that the real Japanese sequel to Super Mario Bros. (later released as The Lost Levels) was too difficult for American gamers. The result was a “sequel” unlike any Mario game before or since.
15. Mega Man Legends
The original Mega Man games on the NES helped to define 2D action platforming. But when the series came to the PlayStation, Capcom decided to do something completely different.
Mega Man Legends ditches the 2D action platforming in favor of a narrative-heavy 3D adventure format. While this game has its fans and managed to land both a sequel and a prequel, most OG Mega Man fans were put off by how different it was.