While spin-offs are usually the result of developers wanting to try out new ideas, they can also come from a desire to attract a wider audience beyond the series’ core fanbase.
In some cases, spin-offs go on to become even more popular and successful than the property they’re attached to.
In this list, we’ll be highlighting the best video game spin-offs that are better than the original.
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Super Mario Bros.
Players were first introduced to the platforming plumber we now call Mario back in 1981 in the iconic Donkey Kong arcade game. In it, players assume control of an overalls-wearing hero called Jumpman as he sets out to rescue a damsel in distress from an angry ape named Donkey Kong.
Despite the franchise’s tremendous success and popularity, Nintendo caught everyone by surprise when they announced Jumpman would receive his own spin-off arcade game, a 2D platformer called Mario Bros. While the overalls and jumping remained, the character was assigned the new name Mario, along with a younger brother named Luigi.
Mario Bros. would eventually spawn a successor, Super Mario Bros., and the rest is history. Although there were numerous sequels to Donkey Kong, they simply couldn’t compete with Mario’s newfound popularity. Thankfully, the Donkey Kong series is still around today, although the character isn’t as angry and no longer spends his free time kidnapping women.
The Sims series has had a lasting impact on the video game industry and is mainly responsible for popularizing social/lifestyle simulation games. It was the first of its kind and targeted a specific demographic that previously had little to no interest in playing video games.
While the first entry was released in 2000, the series actually goes much further back, all the way to the year 1989 with SimCity. Unlike The Sims we have today, developer Maxis’ SimCity was a retro-style city-builder with 2D graphics and an overhead perspective.
Despite many graphical and gameplay differences, there are some conceptual similarities between the two. SimCity is about managing an entire neighborhood, whereas The Sims narrows its focus to just a few select characters. While SimCity has become somewhat of a cult classic for nostalgic fans, it’s nowhere near the same level as The Sims.
World Of Warcraft
You may or may not be surprised to learn that World of Warcraft is actually a spin-off of the classic real-time strategy series, Warcraft. Adapting the series from a traditional RTS format to that of an MMORPG opened up new opportunities for Blizzard to make players feel immersed in the world of Warcraft.
The online game has continued to build upon the series’ lore and mythology by introducing new characters, events, and storylines since its release in 2004. Even as of 2021, World of Warcraft is still popular and continues to benefit from an exhaustive number of updates and expansions.
As for the original Warcraft series? Well, it’s complicated. Although Blizzard has shown a clear interest in revisiting their earlier titles, evident by 2017’s StarCraft: Remastered and 2020’s Warcraft III: Reforged, they haven’t released a new mainline Warcraft game in nearly two decades, begging the question: will fans ever get to play a Warcraft 4?
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
The Far Cry games are known for their charismatic villains, exotic locations, and engaging first-person gameplay. However, a common criticism directed at both Far Cry and its developer/publisher Ubisoft is how formulaic the series has become in recent years.
It’s almost like Ubisoft keeps trying to recreate the success of Far Cry 3 but with increasingly over-the-top characters and settings piled on top. Instead of making the same game over and over again, it may be worth it to try something completely different, as was the case with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, an expansion that functioned more like a spin-off.
In it, players are tasked with exploring a neon-soaked island brimming with laser-shooting robots and dinosaurs while on a mission to “get the girl, kill the bad guys, and save the world.” Serving as a parody of both 1980s action films and video games in general, Blood Dragon offers a ridiculous yet refreshing take on the Far Cry formula.
While Persona may be the most popular series in Atlus’ catalog, it’s actually an off-shoot of the much older Shin Megami Tensei RPGs. The first entry, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei released in 1987 for the Famicom (NES) but was limited to Japan only.
In fact, the series wouldn’t make its way to the Western world until the release of Revelations: Persona in 1996. Whereas mainline SMT games prioritize challenging gameplay and thematically darker storylines, Persona focuses on delivering striking visuals and relatively low-stakes plots revolving around high school drama and romance. We should also highlight that Persona is just one of many SMT subseries; there’s also Devil Summoner, Devil Survivor, Devil Children, Lost Bible, and plenty of others. While Atlus is still churning out new mainline SMT games to this day, the Persona series has sold more copies and is generally more well-known throughout the world.
In 2014, Koei Tecmo and Nintendo partnered to release Hyrule Warriors, a hack-and-slash style action game in line with the Dynasty Warriors franchise, but centered on characters, locations, and events within The Legend of Zelda series.
Leading up to the game’s release, fans were concerned Hyrule Warriors‘ gameplay would end up feeling too repetitive, a frequent criticism of Dynasty Warriors, or that it would mishandle the Zelda property entirely. Thankfully, neither ended up being true, and Hyrule Warriors was a total success for all parties involved.
Although the gameplay is mostly similar to that of Dynasty Warriors, the addition of Zelda’s unique lore, weapons, and characters was enough to keep players hooked. Hyrule Warriors was such a success that it later received an expanded remake on 3DS along with a sequel, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity for Nintendo Switch.
Forza Motorsport was Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s long-running racing sim franchise, Gran Turismo. Much like the PlayStation exclusive, Motorsport emphasizes realistic driving mechanics in order to achieve an accurate recreation of real-life racing.
While this was great news for gearheads and diehard racing sim fans who now had another option, it didn’t quite line up with more casual players who come to the genre for some lighthearted entertainment. Enter in Forza Horizon, an arcade-driven racing experience that’s a lot more forgiving than the Motorsport games.
Instead of professional racetracks and precision-based objectives, players are dropped into a big open world filled with low stakes racing challenges. Although both series are still around today, Forza Horizon has definitely surpassed its older sibling when it comes to mass appeal.
Fallout: New Vegas
There’s no denying that Bethesda Softworks is responsible for resurrecting the Fallout series after its original developer, Interplay, fell on tough times. Bethesda’s first shot at using the property was Fallout 3, which maintained the post-apocalyptic setting and RPG mechanics but shifted gameplay to 3D with real-time combat.
Fallout 3 signaled the series would be moving in a new direction, and fans couldn’t be happier. The game’s huge open-world, memorable characters, and open-ended gameplay kept players entertained for countless hours.
At the time, it was hard to even conceive the idea of another developer topping what Bethesda had achieved; that is until Obsidian took a crack at the series. Fallout: New Vegas took a lot of Fallout 3‘s ambitions and executed them on a larger scale, all while exploring a more engaging plot that sees your character attempting to solve their own murder.
Aside from being one half of the inspiration behind the genre we now call ‘Metroidvania,’ Nintendo’s Metroid series helped paved the way for future generations. After all, without Samus’ intergalactic adventures, games like Axiom Verge, Cave Story, or Dead Cells may have never been created.
While Metroid games excelled at combining action-based platforming with RPG mechanics and non-linear world exploration, up until Metroid Prime, they were strictly 2D affairs. Add in the fact that a new developer would be handling the property, and it was clear to see why so many fans were concerned about Samus’ entry into 3D games.
Fortunately for everyone involved, Metroid Prime ended up being a worthy spin-off with bigger environments and more satisfying gameplay than its 2D counterparts. And because old habits die hard, Prime would go on to inspire 3D Metroidvanias such as the Batman: Arkham and Darksiders franchises.
Whether you know it or not, the Portal games are actually part of the much bigger Half-Life universe. This is evident by the numerous in-game nods to Half-Life 1 and 2 scattered throughout both Portal 1 and 2. Still, you would be forgiven for not realizing this beforehand, considering how differently both series play.
Portal places a greater emphasis on puzzle-solving and pretty much lacks any combat, a stark contrast to Gordon Freeman’s crowbar-wielding escapades. And although loyal fans will still have their opinions, we can’t help but suggest that one is superior to the other, especially when it comes to consistency.
Overall, the Portal series features much more polished gameplay than Half-Life. Additionally, the writing and pacing in Portal are more refined. That’s not a knock against Valve’s other love-child, as both series have already cemented themselves in video game history.
Final Fantasy Tactics
One of Final Fantasy fans’ major gripes with the franchise is the inconsistent quality and technical polish present in each of its numbered releases. As the series has progressed, this sentiment appears to be shared by an increasing number of players, so much that Square Enix decided to rerelease Final Fantasy XV following poor reception at launch.
However, it hasn’t always been like this, especially outside of the series’ numbered releases. Final Fantasy actually has a rich history when it comes to experimenting with different genres and exploring new ideas throughout its many spin-offs.
A great example is Final Fantasy Tactics, which shifts the traditional JRPG design of early Final Fantasy games in favor of turn-based tactical battling with an isometric POV. Drawing inspiration from games like Fire Emblem and Langrisser, FFT was able to capture the hearts of fans and went on to receive various sequels.
Tony Hawk’s Underground
The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games were able to dominate the early 2000s sports gaming landscape due to their flashy gameplay and casual appeal. Unfortunately, the series’ success would be short-lived as new entries began to display a noticeable dip in quality heading into the 2010s.
However, before the release of the critically panned THPS5, fans were treated to two spin-offs that reinvigorated the franchise, even if for a relatively small window. Released in 2003 and 2004 respectively, Tony Hawk’s Underground and Underground 2 set out to take some bold narrative risks with the series that ended up resonating with longtime fans.
Aside from giving players’ a much bigger role in each game’s story mode, THUG 1+2 sought to expand the gameplay and combo systems of the original series. This meant introducing even more ridiculous maneuvers along with a cast of larger-than-life characters to discover as you embarked on a globe-trotting skateboarding adventure.
The Mario franchise is probably responsible for more spin-offs than any other series on this list, with the most bizarre of them all being the Wario subseries of games. These usually fall under two main categories: Wario Land and WarioWare.
The first is a collection of bizarre platformers that play with the idea of a traditional Mario platformer. While the Wario Land games are perfectly serviceable, WarioWare has always garnered a bigger audience through its addictive mini-games.
The series debuted with WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! for the Gameboy Advance, and was a smash-hit for Nintendo, ushering in generations of WarioWare sequels. While it may not be as big or nostalgic as Mario Party, the series has definitely played a role in making Wario more of a household name.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Another Nintendo franchise making an appearance on this list, Kirby is often considered to be one of the most neglected Nintendo mascots when it comes to standalone games. However, Fox McCloud and Captain Falcon would probably beg to differ.
Prior to the release of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, the series hadn’t seen a home console release in almost a decade, meaning fans were limited to whichever ports or spin-offs came to handheld. However, that all changed in 2010 when Epic Yarn launched for the wildly popular Nintendo Wii.
The game managed to catapult Kirby into the modern age while introducing a new yarn-themed visual style that has spilled over into other Nintendo games such as Yoshi’s Woolly World. Pretty much every Kirby release since has tried to echo the success of Epic Yarn by incorporating features like 2-player co-op, hybrid 2D/3D environments, and puzzle-platformer gameplay.
Tekken Tag Tournament
Developed and published by Namco, Tekken is one of the most revered fighting franchises around today, even if it’s not without its flaws. The biggest issue with mainline Tekken games is their commitment to maintaining the series’ complex, ongoing plot.
This restricts certain characters from appearing in every game in order to maintain continuity. While this makes a lot of sense for someone whose goal is to tell a good story, since this is Tekken, most players could care less and just want to get to the fighting.
Enter in the Tekken: Tag Tournament spin-off games, which have the luxury of operating outside the realm of Tekken‘s official narrative. Aside from featuring a much more extensive roster of fighters, the Tag series gives players more room to strategize by allowing them to swap between fighters mid-battle.
Mega Man X
The original Mega Man series consisted of challenging action-platformers that were carefully disguised to look like the type of game young children would enjoy. Unfortunately, gamers at the time quickly caught on, resulting in lackluster sales and a general indifference towards the Mega Man property.
Even today, when demanding platformers are all the rage, the antiquated design of early Mega Man games makes it hard to revisit the series. However, one game that’s aged like a fine wine is Mega Man X, a spin-off of the series that first appeared on the SNES.
It took the basic mechanics of a Mega Man game and ramped them up to 11 in hopes of attracting a more mature audience. In addition, Mega Man X incorporated better graphics, improved controls, advanced gameplay techniques, and a host of new characters such as Zero, who has now become a staple of the series.