We start out the list with back-to-back games that redefined the side-scrolling/platformer/action genre. EWJ and EWJ2 were published by Shiny Entertainment in 1994 and 1995 and received critical acclaim for their quirky cartoonish graphics, irreverent style, and challenging gameplay. The games also set themselves apart due to their gross-out factor (for example, you battle a bungee-jumping booger named Major Mucus in one level, and the main antagonist is Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-for-a-Butt - and she's every one of those adjectives defined). Sadly, Shiny Entertainment never quite revisited the levels of greatness they acheived with EWJ. Their 3D-shooter follow-up, MDK, did rather well (by utilizing the quirkiness that garnered them success earlier), but not even the Matrix movie tie-ins could grant them the kudos they had gotten through Earthworm Jim.
Konami scored a one-two punch early on in the 8-bit years with Castlevania and Contra - two games that took the side-scrolling action/adventure genre to new levels. Both games would go on to spawn several sequels, including some in 3D, but it's the classic 2D formula that continues to work best with these two franchises.
Id Software established itself early on in the shareware market with its Commander Keen series, but the company made a huge leap into the spotlight with its (at the time) ultra-impressive and ultra-violent Wolfenstein 3D, released in 1992. Id immediately one-upped itself the next year when it released Doom, which upped the violence factor and pioneered two popular gaming conventions: online multiplayer deathmatch and user-created expansions. These two games are also well-known for bringing the issue of video game violence to the forefront of social and political discourse.
Square scored a big combo with these two games. FFX brought Square's flagship series into the sixth generation of consoles with the inclusion of voice-acting (a feature never before seen in the series), while KH hit a knockout with the unlikely combination of Disney characters and locales with Square's FF cast (not to mention an all-star line-up of voices for both sets of characters, with several voice actors reprising their roles from Disney movies). Both games have since spawned sequels (FFX-2 was the first actual FF sequel) and both series show no signs of stopping.
The success of Pokemon Red/Blue in the States, as well as the success of the animated series, led Nintendo to release a special edition of the first generation of Pokemon games - this time, allowing players to start, like the hero of the cartoon, with Pikachu as their first Pokemon. Beyond that, there weren't many other upgrades to the original Red/Blue games, but it was still the fastest-selling handheld game at the time. So what do you do after that? Try doubling the size of the game world, adding game conventions such as breeding and held items, adding a game clock that affected when and where you could find certain Pokemon (not to mention certain NPCs), giving the type-matchup chart a huge overhaul, and adding 100 new Pokemon. That's what they did with Pokemon Gold/Silver, released the following year, and it was just as successful as the previous iterations.
Nintendo brought Link into the 3D generation with Ocarina of Time, and the game is still regarded as one of the greatest games of all-time. Stunning graphics, an expressive score, a large overworld, countless puzzles and sidequests, and one of the most engaging plots ever seen - all of these make for a fantastic transition from 2D to 3D. So how do you top it? Well, in some minds, you can't - and many felt that way when Majora's Mask was released two years later. The game featured better graphics (utilizing the N64's Expansion Pak), a darker storyline, an intricate web of NPCs to help, and an equally expressive soundtrack, but some felt it didn't quite live up to its predecessor. (I, however, do not think that way, and in fact, I enjoy Majora's Mask more than OoT.)
Blizzard had already scored hits in the RTS and hack-n-slash/RPG genres with Warcraft I/II and Diablo I, respectively - Diablo I also pioneered their free Battle.net service, serving to make setup of online play easier than ever - but with the releases of Starcraft and Diablo II, Blizzard staked their claim to the PC gaming and online multiplayer markets. Starcraft put a new spin on the gameplay they had established with Warcraft by allowing the player to play as one of three factions (instead of WC1's two factions) and then upped the replay value by allowing multiplayer online through their Battle.net service. Even 9 years later, the game is still played around the world, even coming close to being a national sport in countries like South Korea. Blizzard followed two years later with another sequel, Diablo II, which expanded the world of the first game many times over. Many of the conventions (such as the talent tree, item durability and quality, and the inventory system in general) would make their way into Blizzard's mega-popular World of Warcraft. These two games cemented Blizzard as both a PC gaming mainstay and an online gaming juggernaut for years to come.
"What?" I hear you exclaim, "Those two games aren't sequels, and they're 3 years apart! How can they be a one-two punch?" Well, there are some, myself included, who consider PD to be a "spiritual sequel" to Goldeneye, as they were both made by Rare and the style is very similar. Yes, there were games Rare made in between these, but these two stand out in the FPS genre for many reasons, not the least of which is that they both proved that not only could first-person shooters be done well on a console, but that *multiplayer* FPS could be done well on a console. Add to that the fact that they're just all-around great games on their own and you've got a one-two punch even George Foreman could be proud of.
What can I say about these two games that hasn't been said already? They are easily the greatest RPGs from the 16-bit era, and arguably among the best games of all-time. Both games have expansive worlds to explore, plentiful sidequests to complete, beautiful graphics, deep and moving soundtracks, plots that captured our imaginations, and they both provided us with hours of gameplay that easily stretched into double-digits. And yet, each story was unique - FF6 wove a story on the grand scale that actually had the villain succeeding in his bid for destruction, changing the face of the overworld for the second half of the game; and CT took players across a world that stretched through time, where actions in the past affect events in the future. And the ENDINGS! Without giving anything away, FF6's cinematic ending lasts a good half hour, while Chrono Trigger features no less than a dozen different endings (which one you see depends on when you fight the last boss).
What else could possibly be #1? First, you have the game that single-handedly saved the home video game industry and established itself as the gold standard by which all other side-scrolling adventure games are measured. That alone is enough for a knockout punch, but were it not for Nintendo's somewhat-patronizing-yet-aptly-founded belief that the Japanese sequel (the real SMB2) was "too hard" for U.S. gamers, followed by their decision to rebrand a little-known title "Doki Doki Panic" with their flagship characters, future games in the Mario series would be much different than they are now. Imagine Super Mario Bros. 3 without the vertical scrolling levels. Imagine Super Mario World without the ability to pick up items. Sure they would have been just as playable, but I doubt anywhere near as enjoyable or successful.
So there it is - the two-hit combos that made everyone stand up and take notice. I would recommend taking a crack at all of these games if you haven't already - yes, even Pokemon - each and every one of these games has aged quite well since their release. There are others I would have liked to put on this list, such as Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and the first two Super Smash Bros. games, but I don't feel they've made as big of an impact as the 10 pairs I've listed here.
List by TheEggman (05/23/2007)
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