Arcade Box to Sandbox: The Evolution of 8 Video Games

Few video games fly off of store shelves, and of those that do, only a small minority have a successful sequel. Despite the difficulties, there are some games that strike a chord with gamers to such a degree that they manage to make the leap from game console to game console, and have become a consistent component of every avid gamer’s collection for over a decade (for some, more like three decades). Here are 8 of the most popular and enduring video games, and the evolution that has kept them fresh:

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Donkey Kong was one of the first games to ignite a popular following. Much advanced compared to the revolutionary (but boring) Pong, this simple side scrolling adventure has since migrated across every gaming console created by Nintendo, and has continued to push technology to new limits. Donkey Kong is now rarely seen from a side view, as he interacts with creatures in a fully 3D environment, or in games that use drums and other interactive elements. The arcade classic hasn’t been forgotten, however, as the World Record for highest score still makes headlines whenever it’s broken, and has even inspired a documentary, A Fistful of Quarters.

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Final Fantasy has gone through so many incarnations that it’s difficult to keep track of the innovations in each. One of the most well known and enjoyable role playing games, Final Fantasy’s original set up was so on the mark that few major changes in gameplay have had to be made; at least, until recently. Final Fantasy’s art direction and design became increasingly three dimensional as the series wore on, and it was only a matter of time until they decided to adapt the game format into a fully three dimensional space.

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Final Fantasy found a good game formula and they’re sticking to it, but rather than sit on their haunches, they’ve been refining and tweaking gameplay for over a dozen iterations. Three dimensions are now the norm, and the gameplay does not feel nearly as formulaic as it once did. The graphics have become beautiful, and the storylines are increasingly intricate and emotionally stirring. Final Fantasy has managed to adapt without changing the core that caught the attention of the gaming masses.

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Grand Theft Auto became a phenomenon and skyrocketed its creator, Rockstar Games, into a controversial, but incredibly lucrative, spotlight. The gameplay is addictive, as it melds the typical mission structure of other games with the total freedom of a sandbox environment where you can choose what you want to do and when you want to do it. Whether you want to go from mission to mission, or just race around on a motorcycle in a police chase, or even steal a helicopter… the most recent games even allow you to log on to the internet to join a matchmaking service and go out on dates. The success of Grand Theft Auto stems from the fact that they’ve been able to stick with the original structure, while expanding how it was played. Few people remember the first couple of Grand Theft Auto games, which were entirely from a bird’s eye view:

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The original incarnations of Grand Theft Auto contained the core mission type structure of the later versions, and provided flexibility with selecting missions, but it wasn’t until technology caught up that Grand Theft Auto was able to become the enthralling and culture changing 3D masterpiece that it is today.

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The Legend of Zelda series of games involve arguably the most formulaic game structure (except maybe for Mario), as every incarnation revolves around an incredibly simple premise: A boy named Link rises as a hero and fights evil to rescue the Princess, Zelda. As countless examples have shown, a formula that is easily reproduced, but made increasingly refined and intricate, is the real method for success. Many of the games have made drastic changes in character development and art direction, but all have just the right mix of action, mystery, and puzzles.

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Mario Kart has always been about showing off the Nintendo pantheon of characters in a free wheeling, enjoyable environment outside of their individual game universes. This series is just plain fun. Every generation of Mario Kart utilizes technology to run smoother, add more intricate and enjoyable maps, and occasionally tweak the specifics of the gameplay, but they all cling to the premise that anyone can sit down and have a good time, regardless of skill level.

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Mario is basically the mascot for Nintendo, and since his first appearance around 30 years ago, he’s stood as the example of all that Nintendo stands for: fun, ridiculousness, and innovation. From the brick crushing side scroller Mario Bros. through Mario Galaxy, he has hopped his way through every kind of environment imaginable, and saved Princess Peach just as many times.

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Metroid is an outer space adventure that is as notable for its longevity as it is for having one of the greatest surprises in any game… (SPOILER)… the fact that the main character, Samus, is actually a girl. Many gamers remember the first time Samus’ suit fell off and they beheld a beautiful woman, and how stunned they felt, and they can continue enjoying their adventures as she’s evolved from a side scroller to a first person shooter – where you’re in the suit, with a full arsenal of weaponry and a whole lot of high tech gadgetry. Take a look at the screenshots below, and it’s easy to see how far we’ve progressed since Metroid’s first incarnation:

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Samus’ suit was just as technologically advanced when Metroid first appeared on the scene, it was just difficult to tell with the technology at the time. As pixel sizes have dwindled, our hunger for space adventure has grown, and Metroid remains an incredibly popular series.

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Street Fighter was one of the best known side scrolling fighting games decades ago, and it remains a potent force in the arcade and gaming market. Street Fighter is such a part of the broader culture, that it’s inspired several feature films, released worldwide. With its over the top characters and unique fighting moves, Street Fighter has always stood apart from the pack. The unique characters and their stories have grown with gamers, but the gameplay, while much more tactile, still rewards button mashing.