Video games are a high-risk proposition, so when a studio gets a big hit, it's hard to resist the temptation to milk it for all that it's worth. Sometimes this comes in the form of endless sequels iterating over and over again on the same concept, which is how we get seemingly deathless, repetitive franchises like Call of Duty offering the same game with a new coat of paint on a yearly basis. On the other hand, sometimes game developers will look at their successful creation, take a step back, and decide to take it in a completely different direction. That's when we get spinoff games, titles that aren't directly related to the franchises that birthed them. Spinoffs are often strange or experimental, crossing genre boundaries and reframing established characters and ideas to make them feel fresh and new once again.
Not all spinoffs are good - some, like Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, an ill-advised shooting game based on Final Fantasy VII, are kind of awful. Others, like the beloved but short Pokémon Snap or the largely forgotten Mega Man Soccer, are downright strange. But a good spinoff instantly feels like an integral part of the gaming landscape, to the point that you almost can't imagine a time when it didn't exist. Sometimes, those good spinoffs even surpass the games that inspired them. Here are the 15 spinoff games that are WAY better than the original series.
15 Warcraft/World of Warcraft
The original Warcraft is a pioneering real-time strategy game, one of the most popular entries ever made in the genre. But its spinoff MMORPG, World of Warcraft, is one of the most impactful games ever made in any genre. Its vast world, deep mythology and addictive gameplay have kept it going strong for over a decade. By removing the downtime from the usual MMO gameplay loop, reducing loading times, and giving players a beautiful, fantastical landscape to explore, World of Warcraft has far outstripped the original game and impacted mainstream culture in a way no MMO has before it. World of Warcraft has an entire South Park episode built around it - how many games can you say that about?
14 Shin Megami Tensei/Persona
Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei universe is notoriously vast, with multiple subseries and entries that are barely related to each other. While main series SMT games have found a dedicated audience, the spinoff Persona series has connected with a much broader community of fans – Persona was actually the first game in the franchise to reach Western shores. Shin Megami Tensei games are usually hardcore experiences with difficult gameplay and dark storylines, set in a grim post-apocalyptic universe. Persona preserves some of that challenge and morbid atmosphere, but the series’ high-school setting and younger characters also allows it to include silly teen drama and romantic relationships alongside its serious main plot. This delicate tonal balance creates a compelling mix of light and dark that's kept players anxiously awaiting each installment.
13 Tekken/Tekken Tag Tournament
Namco’s Tekken series is one of the foremost fighting game franchises, up there with games like Dead or Alive or Street Fighter. The Tag Tournament spinoff series, however, takes the franchise a step further. Mainline Tekken games are bound by plot continuity to include or exclude certain characters and to preserve a measure of seriousness. Tag Tournament has no responsibility to carry on a larger story, so it can include nearly every character who’s ever been in a Tekken game, from more realistic favorites like Nina Williams to out-there fighters like Kuma or Panda, who are literally bears. The Tag games also deepen the strategic possibilities by allowing players to switch characters mid-fight, creating a much wilder and more fun Tekken experience. Add in the Wii U port of Tag Tournament 2 that includes hilariously weird Nintendo-themed costumes and you get one of the most purely fun fighting games out there.
12 Mega Man/Mega Man X
The original Mega Man games were innovative action-platformers, but their challenging gameplay was wrapped in a kid-friendly shell so that they would appeal to a younger gaming audience on the NES. And because they were created so early in gaming history, their graphics and gameplay can be a little clunky, more frustrating than enjoyably challenging. The Mega Man X spinoff series, which originated on the SNES, took the basic Mega Man mechanics that players loved and upped the ante by adding a more mature edge, better graphics, more advanced gameplay mechanics, and iconic new characters like Zero. These changes made the original games feel a little bit like child's play. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.
11 Dynasty Warriors/Hyrule Warriors
This collaboration between Koei and Nintendo was met with skepticism at first, but the Legend of Zelda skin turned out to be just the ticket to rejuvenating the Dynasty Warriors franchise. Dynasty Warriors experienced heavy popularity on the PS2, even making appearances in mainstream entertainment like the television show The O.C. But each entry had similar gameplay, locations, and storylines; what started as a fun hack-n’-slasher quickly turned repetitive. While the gameplay in Hyrule Warriors is largely unchanged, the addition of Zelda characters, items, and locations adds an addictive fanservice element that’s kept players coming back to Hyrule Warriors almost three years since its release date. The game was so well-received that it even got an expanded 3DS remake as Hyrule Warriors: Legends.
10 Resident Evil/Resident Evil: Revelations
At the beginning of the decade, the Resident Evil series was going through a downturn. Resident Evil 4 revolutionized survival-horror and shooting games, but Capcom seemed lost as to what to do with the franchise after its success. Where main-series entries like Resident Evil 6 tried to boost the action quotient to mixed success, Resident Evil: Revelations returned the series to its horror roots, years before the recent Resident Evil 7 did the same. Its creepy atmosphere and focus on a single horrific location – a zombie-infested cruise ship – instantly made it one of the most essential games in the series. And to drive the creep factor even higher, Revelations is a portable game, meaning that the horror can follow you wherever you go.
9 Kirby/Kirby’s Epic Yarn
When Kirby's Epic Yarn came out, the Kirby series hadn't seen a home console release in nearly a decade, as fans had to settle for handheld ports of older games or dust off their copies of Kirby 64 to get their fix. Epic Yarn was so good that it both revitalized the main series and kicked off a subseries of yarn-themed platformers that continues today with Yoshi's Woolly World, while Kirby and the Rainbow Curse took its crafting theme in a new direction with clay-inspired art direction. It's not hard to see why Epic Yarn was such a success… literally. Its gorgeous visual style sets it apart from every other game in the series and allows for creative and fun gameplay mechanics, like unraveling the environment to reveal hidden items.
8 Forza/Forza Horizon
Microsoft’s marquee racing franchise has always been a favorite for racing fans, but the Forza Horizon spinoffs up the ante with an open world that allows for endless player freedom. The original Forza games are highly technical and realistic racers, in the vein of Sony’s Gran Turismo series for the PlayStation. By contrast, Forza Horizon is less restrictive and offers more opportunities for players to get wild. Want to spend your time drag-racing on city streets? You can do that. Want to do donuts in the desert or stage Burnout-worthy crashes? You can do that too. And that’s not even mentioning the recently released Hot Wheels expansion pack for Forza Horizon 3, which adds loop-the-loops, boost pads, and giant dinosaurs to the mix. How awesome is that?
7 Harvest Moon/Rune Factory
Harvest Moon games are calm and slow-paced experiences where players are tasked with running a virtual farm as the seasons pass. The series has engendered a lot of affection among fans and inspired other popular games like Stardew Valley, but its complex gameplay isn’t always accessible for newcomers. That’s where the Rune Factory spinoffs come in. Rune Factory takes the farming basis of the Harvest Moon games and adds in dungeon crawling and RPG elements, diversifying the experience and speeding up the pace considerably. If you want to focus on farming, you can do that; but if you want to slash monsters with a sword, you can do that too. These changes make Rune Factory more accessible than the main series while still preserving its charm, offering a little something for every kind of gamer.
6 House Of The Dead/Typing Of The Dead
A lot of the spinoffs on this list take their home series in new and interesting directions, but Typing of the Dead is probably the most bizarrely different of them all. It's a spinoff of the arcade lightgun shooter House of the Dead, one of the many weird-but-fun games released for Sega’s Dreamcast. Instead of using a gun to fend off hordes of shambling zombies, players are tasked with… typing words and sentences very quickly. It’s a weird combination in theory, but it works well in practice, preserving the quick-fire gameplay of the original while boosting the challenge and even adding in an educational, skill-building element. How many other games can boost your words-per-minute count and make it fun to boot?
5 Far Cry/Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
The Far Cry series of open-world titles is plenty popular on its own, well-known for its gorgeous graphics and unrestrictive gameplay. Blood Dragon, originally marketed as an expansion but working more like a spinoff in practice, juices the franchise with a parodic vision of 80s action films. Players traipse through a neon wonderland complete with lasers, robots, dinosaurs, and a synth-heavy soundtrack straight out of a John Carpenter film. It’s over the top and lots of fun, finding the inherent silliness in Far Cry's go anywhere/do anything mentality and amping it all the way up. These games already encourage players to feel like action-movie heroes, so why not put them in the middle of the most awesome action movie ever made?
4 SimCity/The Sims
The Sims is one of the best-selling games ever made and it completely altered the gaming landscape when it was released in 2000. It wasn't like anything that players had ever seen and it's one of the rare games that introduced the medium to completely new audiences, expanding our ideas of what gaming can do and who it’s for. The Sims’ impact is so huge that it's easy to forget that it grew out of Maxis' already-popular Sim franchise, which began with the beloved SimCity and its sequels. Indeed, you can draw a straight line from SimCity to The Sims – one game tasks players with running a neighborhood on a broad scale, while the other zooms in and asks that you control the lives of a few individuals. But while SimCity is a classic, The Sims is nothing less than a cultural phenomenon.
3 Final Fantasy/Final Fantasy Tactics
Final Fantasy is one of the most beloved franchises in all of gaming, but its main entries are also very uneven – for every massive, innovative hit like Final Fantasy VII, there's an equally reviled entry like XIII. By contrast, Final Fantasy Tactics, a spinoff series that began on the PS1, has been consistently great throughout its run and the original is possibly the best tactical RPG ever made. The game manages to capture that elusive Final Fantasy feel, incorporating a class system similar to that of the original games and including cameos from well-known Final Fantasy characters alongside original cast members. Its memorable story, beautiful art style, and unique setting enraptured gamers on release, and the experience still holds up today. Tactics had such an impact that it even changed the direction of the main series: Final Fantasy XII is set in Ivalice, the same world that Tactics introduced.
2 Donkey Kong/Super Mario Bros.
Mario is Nintendo’s mascot and maybe the most famous character in gaming, but he wasn't always the star. In fact, in his first gaming appearance, he wasn't even named Mario yet. Instead, he went by Jumpman, and it was a different Nintendo icon who got top billing in Donkey Kong. That original arcade game was fun but simplistic, tasking players with climbing a set of scaffolding to rescue Pauline. It was a far cry from the challenging, complex, and innovative adventures Mario would later undertake in the Super Mario Bros. series, experiences that would revolutionize video games multiple times. Donkey Kong has his own universe now and a few classic games to his name, but Mario is the king of the hill as far as Nintendo platforming is concerned.
1 Literally All Of Gaming/Super Smash Bros.
Video games are great, obviously. But sometimes playing just one game isn't enough. You know what's better? Playing almost every game ever made at the same time. That's what makes Super Smash Bros. amazing - it's wish fulfillment pushed to the extreme, maybe the ultimate video game. By compiling dozens of classic franchises into one frantic fighter, Smash Bros. captures an elusive magic that’s as fresh and fun on your 100th round as your first. Mario can fight Sonic, Cloud, and Bayonetta on Metroid's Norfair while throwing Pokéballs at each other. And, unlike many of the games it draws its characters from, Smash Bros. is designed to be fun and accessible no matter how good you are at playing video games. What could be better?