Here’s a conundrum. Sometimes you can’t decide what kind of video game you feel like playing. Wouldn’t it be great to play two different kinds of games at once? But even in this age of way-too-many-games, it’s pretty rare for a single title to mix two genres in a way that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Below are six genre mash-ups that actually pull it off.
1. Valkyria Chronicles
Just describing this unique Japanese game might be enough to melt your mind. It’s a turn-based strategy RPG and a third-person shooter rolled into one. It’s also set in an alternate-reality version of World War II that pits an evil Germany stand-in empire against a small but spirited country. Your job is to lead a squad of fighters through a series of battles.
The basic rhythm of the gameplay is that you view the battlefield from a strategic vantage point above the action, then select a troop to make a move. The camera then dives in close to the action, where you control where your the characters move and how they aim their weapons to fire at the enemies. Miss your target, and you just wasted a turn. Valkyria Chronicles is a unique game that pulls off its genre mash-up with surprising grace.
2. Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure
When it first arrived in stores, the dual-screened Nintendo DS presented an interesting problem to developers: They now had to figure out how to fill twice as many screens as they were used to. The makers of Henry Hatsworth decided to use the bottom screen for an entirely different kind of game from the one on top.
In the top screen you have a Mega Man-like action platformer, starring a monocled, tea-sipping British gentleman. You’ll do standard things like leap over spike pits and plug away at enemies with a sword or pea-shooter. On the bottom screen is a different type of game entirely: a match-three puzzle game. Different kinds of bricks rise up from the bottom of the screen. If you let the brick-load reach the top, bricks turn into enemies for Henry to fight up there.
It’s a lot to keep track of, but if you can wrap your mind around it, the game is a lot of fun.
3. Puzzle Quest
Puzzle Quest also uses the match-three puzzle genre in an interesting new way. But instead of mixing it with a platformer, it mashes it up with an epic role-playing game. The setting is typical fantasy stuff, with orcs, wizards, warring nations, and a creeping darkness that’s spreading across the world. You even do typical RPG stuff like explore towns, talk to people, craft items, and accept side quests to earn extra experience points.
But when you fight enemies, things take a quick turn from the norm. Battles play out in match-three puzzles, like in Candy Crush Saga, but it’s a lot more strategic than that. You move tiles around, trying to line up three or more identical pieces into a row. Match three skull pieces, and you attack the enemy, picking away at its hit points. By meeting other matching conditions, you can also perform spells you’ve acquired. The thing is, the enemy plays its turns on the same board as you, and can ruin attacks you’re setting up for later.
It’s a surprisingly deep implementation of the puzzle genre, and it’s used to excellent results. Check out Puzzle Quest or its sequel if that sounds like your kind of mix.
4. Fallout 3
These days it seems like nearly every game has some kind of RPG element baked into it, like leveling up your character or filling out a skill tree to enhance your abilities. Shooters are no exception, so we now have series like Borderlands and Bioshock that plant their feet firmly in both worlds.
Perhaps the best example of a shooter/RPG crossover is Fallout 3. In this open-world game, you do all kinds of RPG things, like leveling up, choosing new abilities, talking to townspeople, and finding creative ways to solve problems.
Then again, since it’s also a first-person shooter, you’re always staring down the barrel of a gun that you’ll use to fend off all manner of enemies. But even the gunplay has a turn-based quality to it, thanks to the V.A.T.S. system that lets you freeze the action and plot out several moves in advance. The two genres intermingle to create one of the best games of the generation.
5. RollerCoaster Tycoon
What does building a fun roller coaster have to do with managing an amusement park? Not much! But this game gives you the opportunity to do both. Your goal on the management side is to maintain a safe yet exciting park that has rides for guests of various tastes (and various nausea thresholds). You also have to hire maintenance people to keep the grounds clean, the rides safe, and the park from being vandalized by morally bankrupt teens. If everything is operating harmoniously, you’re doing a good job.
On the roller coaster design side of things, you actually create the park’s coasters by laying down individual pieces of track. You can make them look and ride however you want, but you have to work within the laws of physics. Building a coaster from scratch takes a whole separate set of skills than maintaining a functional park, but that’s what makes RollerCoaster Tycoon a multi-genre game.
This indie gem looks at first like a minimalist shooter, with it’s simple, two-tone graphics, humanoid prisms, and what might trick an unobservant eye into thinking it has bullet-time. But what looks like a shooter actually turns into something of a high-octane bullet hell puzzle game. The game mechanic is that time is nearly still when you’re standing still. If you look around or move at all, time moves as well. At first, this makes things pretty easy, as you can plan every move against a handful of easy enemies. But the situations get stickier and stickier, and a challenge mode unlocked after completing the story reinvigorates the puzzles. If you enjoyed Portal and its shooter-turned-puzzler feel, you’ll likely find a lot of pleasure in this game (plus it’s cheap).
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