Mexican honey mustard and popcorn. Crunchy peanut butter and lamb-jelly sandwiches. Dippin’ Dots and buttered grits. All of these sound, on paper, like pregnancy craving fever dreams. But as it turns out, they’re actually all freakin’ delicious.
This same phenomenon exists in videogames, with the very excellent indie hit Wizorb from Tribute Games — which combines Breakout-style ball-bouncing with RPG-style spell amassing just hit Steam — being just the latest in a very rarely (successfully and satisfyingly) revisited trend: games that seamlessly blend two different play styles into a wholly fresh and original experience. Gaming peanut butter, meet gaming chocolate: Topless Robot is rolling up its sleeves to look at some of the very best times developers decided to synergize where no one has dared synergize before.
11) Final Lap Twin
For whatever reason, RPGs are like the town bicycle of this list, so get ready to ride, hard. When it comes to sports games getting all up in RPGs’ level-grinding grill, though, the clear standout is Final Lap Twin for the Turbo-Grafx 16. Basically, it’s like your standard nonlinear RPG, only the protagonist’s epic quest is to make his racing champ daddy proud of him. The random battles out in the overworld are, if you haven’t guessed it already: races. Leveling up comes in the form of souping up your wheels more and more. Then, and only then, can you become the “world Baby Four-Wheel Drive Champion.” It’s worth noting there’s a tennis version of this game as well from the same developer, Namco, but the true crime is that Hit the Ice, a canceled NES hockey RPG for the NES, sadly never hit shelves. Not sad because HTI was great – far from it – but because players never got to see this disturbing advice-giving screen from your coach about hamburgers.
10) Typing of the Dead
This one’s an oldie but a goodie. In fact, it’s hard to believe this typing educator/rail-shooter zombie blaster came out a dozen years ago. Even harder to believe? That’s the last time zombies being introduced into something was an original, interesting, and surprising choice. What other pearls of wisdom do you have to offer the games industry, Mavis Beacon?
9) Metal Gear Acid
Leave it to Twitter-enthusiast foodie and occasional game director Hideo Kojima to turn his own convoluted series into a stealthy turn-based strategy collectible card game. What’s more audacious? Slinging together that many descriptors, that that’s the most concise way of describing this PSP game, or that it actually works astonishingly well?
8) Quest for Glory
Back not only when adventure games reigned supreme, but also they were actually kinda new, Sierra’s Hero’s Quest games were landmark for many reasons. Chief among those was because it had the ingenuity to mix classic adventure games and RPG elements. Its influence can be felt even as recently in games like Skyrim, which forces players to level up by actually doing things in the game world. Admittedly, it was somewhat less fun then: I remember spending days (in the game) trying to climb the same tree over and over again just to get my stealth up by one. But at the time, it still held enough sway and power to activate the endorphin rush known only to gamers who like seeing arbitrary stats increase by miniscule amounts. The visual representation to the text-heavy adventure only added to the fun – it was like the transition from radio to television by adding graphics to a text-based adventure game.
7) Recettear: A Item Shop’s Sales
The proverbial they (not the shadow government) always say there are two sides to every story, and this sleeper PC hit puts you in control of Recette Lemongrass, RPG item-shop owner extraordinaire. Actually, she’s not so great at it at first, and is only running the store to pay off a massive debt. So, there’s a strong tycoon element to the game by trying to keep your combo chain (sequential successful sales) going and occasionally you can accompany an adventurer who takes you along into dungeons to scoop up rarer and more valuable items. There’s a refreshing a respite in these sequences, where you take over as the adventurers. And then, after that, it’s back to the exciting world of debt management!
Most players despised Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for its massive amount of first-person platforming, but Portal turned that into an asset by doing away with the enemies and, in their stead, placing sweet, delicious puzzles. That’s right. We’re saying Portal is basically one huge Turok rip-off.
SimCity‘s biggest drawback always came whenever you tired of meticulously laying water-treatment plants and power lines: throwing in tornados and Godzilla was always… anticlimactic. Well, this SNES game addressed all that by offsetting the city-building sim sections with thoroughly enjoyable and expertly paced action sequences. If city-building as a tiny cupid sounds boring to you, well, in the other sections you can slay a manticore in the city of Bloodpool. There’s not a single dull word in the previous sentence, other than the word “boring.” (Side note: It’s truly unfortunate that ActRaiser 2 excised the world-building sections, making it a weaker game and the last entry in what could’ve been an enduring series.)
4) Mario Golf: Advance Tour
The exclamation on the box says it all: “role-playing golf!” There’s a level cap at 99, but by then, depending on how you’ve distributed your points among your drive, height, shot, control and impact, and spin, not even Mario himself beating you with his clubs can disturb your serene, Zen-like putting. By the way: He’s mad at you because you beat him at his own game, which is golf.
3) Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Love it or hate it, it’s pretty tough to deny the genius merger Puzzle Quest has of Bewjeweled-style matching with fantasy-RPG battles. It was a surprise hit that was both imaginative and seemingly simple but deceivingly complex. What it didn’t explain, though, was what, exactly, your character and his attackers were really doing when matching gems in an imaginary plane. Were they aligning errant gems on a gravel road? Couldn’t they just divide the loot and continue on their merry way? That’s the true puzzle.
2) Xenoblade Chronicles
Whodathunk there actually was a reason Nintendo codenamed the Wii “Revolution?” Xenoblade Chronicles is an amazing game, nearly revolutionary in its unabashed twisting of JRPG style with Western RPG conventions. It has so much of the whimsy, visual sense, and goofiness inherent in JRPGs but without a lot of what makes those games such annoying slogs – and, it has fast, elegant, and real-time combat for us hot-blooded Americans to get all palpatin’ about. Another nifty concession is the seemingly never-ending supply of World of Warcraft-like side quests. It’s like a mash note from JRPGs to RPGs, and from Nintendo to Wii owners for hanging in there all these years.
1) River City Ransom
If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out what River City Ransom is a fusion of, that’s because it’s such a cohesive mix of a button-mashing beat-’em-up with RPG elements that the lines between don’t even blur. For Alex and Ryan, it gave their every headbutt and whirlwind kick a purpose: to earn coins to make those headbutts and whirlwind kicks so powerful they’d launch punks into the stratosphere. It’s either a comment on the evils of capitalism or just a brilliantly pioneering game – so brilliant it forced many of its own characters to exclaim “BARF!” at its brilliance.