10) Dragon Quest Builders
Dragon Quest has been around for a long time, and each title wears its lineage proudly. Indeed, the familiarity of the series is certainly a big part of Dragon Quest’s appeal. So despite the massive popularity of Minecraft-like building games inevitably attracting the attention of Square Enix, it felt a little strange when Dragon Quest Builders was announced. A Dragon Quest title that wasn’t a turn-based role-playing game about a hero saving the world? What sorcery! But we shouldn’t have worried because Dragon Quest Builders is a spin-off that manages to seamlessly integrate superb building mechanics into a narrative and setting that feels totally connected to the roots of the franchise.
Dragon Quest Builders certainly doesn’t play like a traditional Dragon Quest game. Gameplay centers around collecting resources, crafting, and occasional combat, which is a familiar loop for anyone who has played Minecraft. Yet there’s still an intriguing, cleverly written story that will appeal to children and adults alike. Builders is a fine spin-off, setting itself apart from the series it’s based off but weaving enough nods to franchise that it never feels as though it’s using the Dragon Quest name for extra attention.
9) Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
A fondly remembered PSP classic, Crisis Core was lapped up by fans of Final Fantasy VII. The game’s story delves into the iconic Nibelheim incident that binds together the fate of Cloud, Sephiroth, and Zack. The familiarity of the characters was wonderful nostalgia, but Crisis Core differed from the original by introducing a slick, pacey turn-based combat system that hybridizes Kingdom Hearts-esque combat with Final Fantasy menus and materia.
The big boo-hoo is that this spin-off has never been remastered for current generation, or even ported to PlayStation’s subsequent handheld, Vita. Crisis Core remains a gem tucked away on PSP. If you’ve never had the pleasure and you’re a Final Fantasy VII fan, you’ll be amazed at just how brilliant this near ten-year-old title is. The story explores relationships between characters new and old, the visuals still impress (especially the HD cut-scenes), and the gameplay is bags of fun.
Digital card games are all the rave these days, and Blizzard’s Hearthstone has arguably become the industry standard for the genre. Hearthstone draws on characters from across the immensely popular Warcraft franchise, and skillfully weaves them into an entertaining gameplay experience.
Hearthstone’s brilliance is that it doesn’t bog players down with overly complex rule-based gameplay. Yet equally, this isn’t a game in which you can just throw out cards and rely on luck to win. It’s accessible, but there’s loads of variety and flexibility in its systems to reward experienced players. It was among the first digital card games that really used animations to great effect. It’s just a blast to play, with awesome sound effects and vibrant graphics that make everything feel weighty and satisfying.
Notably, consider that card games would have been considered a niche ten years ago, but Blizzard has somehow made a game that has been enjoyed by over seventy million people since it launched. Not so niche anymore, then…
7) Forza Horizon
Slowly but surely, Forza nudged Gran Turismo off its perch as the definitive console racing game. There’s no doubt that Gran Turismo still provides a superbly detailed racing simulation experience, but Forza manages to achieve elements of that while simultaneously balancing it with a more accessible and arcadey gameplay. Forza Horizon takes this to the next level, marrying it to gorgeous open world environments and racing challenge modes that are incredibly fun to play. It’s now forged its own new genre, endearing itself to both hardcore and casual racing fans.
Forza Horizon 3 is the series latest and greatest, offering even more detailed customization and a deeper career mode. The vehicles all handle superbly with physics that feel convincing but aren’t punishingly realistic. It also happens to be one of the prettiest games on Xbox One, taking players on a journey across Australia’s beautiful vistas and stunning coastline.
Hardcore racing fans loyal to the franchise might consider the mainline series still the definitive version, but Horizon has brought racing to new audiences of people thanks to its less competitive open world formula.
6) Persona Series
Shin Megami Tensei commands a gargantuan following in the East, but, largely isolated on the 3DS lately, it hasn’t reached the same heights outside Asia. The Persona spin-offs, however, have gone global in its notoriety, recently finding a mass audience on the PS4, and it has now arguably become an even more important franchise to Atlas.
Persona’s success lies in its unique blend of traditional role-playing and modern pop culture. It’s a game about forging relationships at school, and dungeon crawling versus fantastical monsters by night. Persona’s alternative narrative premise sets apart from the monotonous fantasy epics that dominate the genre, and it is this point of difference that has surely helped its popularity sky rocket.
5) Final Fantasy Tactics
In an era in which Final Fantasy games all followed a similar beat, if not narratively then certainly with respect to combat, Final Fantasy Tactics was a spin-off that totally shook up convention. Tactics’ narrative is a politically driven epic fantasy that is engaging enough that it could have easily been a mainline entry, but the strategic grid-system used during combat sets it apart.
The battle system pioneers some key innovations. For example, each character has a speed stat that factors into their turn order, immediately adding a new layer of complexity on top of typical turn-based strategy. Overall, there is an astoundingly deep level of customization, too, with a huge array of recruitable characters across different classes, and a job system which each can be assigned.
Tactics earns its place in history as more than just a decent Final Fantasy spin-off; it remains the definitive tactical RPG to this day.
4) Super Smash Bros.
If there’s one thing Nintendo knows how to do, it is reinvent franchises in different ways to keep them feeling fresh. Smash Bros. doesn’t really do anything clever in this regard, it simply takes Nintendo’s stable of iconic characters, adds in some familiar faces from across the gaming world for good measure, and pits them against each other in a rudimentary fighting game. But what a fighting game it is. This is combat done Nintendo style: accessible, entertaining, endearing.
The series latest outing on Wii U adds up to eight player combat. The chaos throws all-new characters from all walks of Nintendo life; from Animal Crossing’s villager to the Wii Fit trainer. It’s a hilarious mish-mash, yet beneath its whimsical facade, it does what all Nintendo games do: play superbly well. Smash Bros. is now as woven into the fabric of the games industry as all the iconic franchises that comprise its roster of characters.
3) Metroid Prime
The word Metroid is most often used when describing the Metroidvania genre that it inspired. Super Metroid, in particular, is fondly remembered for forging a game design that has since been copied and iterated on countless times. Having earned so much acclaim for this distinct style, it would have been hard to imagine how the series could possibly have redefined itself as a first-person shooter, but that’s exactly what Metroid Prime did. The spin-off has since gone on to earn acclaim as one of the highest rated trilogies of all time.
Prime embraces the fundamentals of the 2D exploration of earlier titles in the series and managed to translate them perfectly into 3D. Everything we loved about Metroid’s 2D outings, including the atmosphere and unique art style is preserved perfectly in Prime, but with developer Retro’s own special flair. Roll on Metroid Prime 4.
Half-Life is a seminal series for the first-person shooter genre, and its spin-off, Portal, has had a similar impact on puzzle adventure games. The first title in the series was a brief, unforgettable game that introduced a stunning inventive mechanic which formed the basis of its spacial reasoning challenges.
If the first Portal impressed with its surprisingly deep story, Portal 2 later expanded on that even further, with an immersive story that brought to life with hilarious writing and superb acting. Valve essentially outdid every puzzle game ever seen before, with challenges that were not only commendable for their design, but importantly, were hugely entertaining to beat.
The Portal series stands proudly as the most influential game of its genre, and just as we pray night and day for a follow-up to Half Life 2, so to do we wish Valve would learn to count to 3 for the Portal series.
1) Mario Kart
Technically, Mario Kart is a spin-off of a spin-off. If you’re not up to speed on your gaming history: everybody’s favorite Italian plumber started life as a no name protagonist in the first ever Donkey Kong arcade game. Debuting in his own title, Super Mario, Mario then rose to fame as the most iconic character in all of video gaming. Since then, we’ve been inundated with Mario spin-offs across plenty of different genres, but one stands out in particular: Mario Kart.
Mario Kart is a fast, furious, and fun loving kart racer that has been a joy to play in all eight games in the series. It pits Nintendo’s charming characters against each other on the track, swapping realistic physics for comical power-ups and mad drifting. Firing shells, avoiding banana skins, and learning to master its drift-boost is controlled chaos that can be enjoyed by everyone.