Games that nailed it first try

A couple of months ago I discovered the existence of Parsec (a PC app that allows to play remotely on a single computer, effectively turning every local multiplayer game online) and went berserk playing retro games with friends, specially PSX. I got like 30 gigs worth of every possible multiplayer game we could want to try but in the end, as these things usually go, we ended up playing almost only one: Bushido Blade. I don't really know how many hours we got into the game but it even got to the point I looked for my physical copy to check the manual for special moves and putting in some practice.

So there it is, a fighting game that tried something very different in a genre full of conventions and routines almost every other game follows, and most important of all: got it perfect first try. Games are very iterative and a fair amount of the most beloved are usually concepts that peaked in some way or another in their sequels. Bushido Blade had one of those but it failed to capture the success of the first game and was just a worse game.

Another one that comes to my mind is Tetris. Tetris is perfect! And every time they try to do something else with the formula it just becomes less than perfect.

So, which games come to mind that got it just right the first time they tried?

Imagine if Bushido Blade was a surprise launch game for the PS5! If only we also had a Ridge Racer…

My pick would be **Another World**. Not only was it an exercise in new computer engineering and development techniques, but also a landmark title that would shape games going forward all created by a solo Éric Chahi. Everything about that game is a crowning achievement.

This topic also really makes you think about how many great games are iterative. I think good examples are games that are mostly trying something new and left little room for improvement.

I guess Pac-Man would fit the bill? It was preceded by stuff like Head-On and Heiyanko Alien in terms of top down perspective exploration and free-roaming controls, but nothing as simple and perfect as its rules and AI and difficulty tuning existed in video games beforehand. Your mileage may vary on the importance of Ms. Pac-Man but it took decades until anything truly interesting was brought up to mix up the original concept (with Pac-Man Vs. on the GC+GBA combo).

Pac-Man was pretty much a perfect game and recognized as such upon release in 1980, and somehow remains just as fun and playable today (to compare with early versions of Tetris as mentioned above). I guess one could argue it flubbed the easiest part: beginning its commercial career as Puck-Man instead of Pac-Man.

I think the first Crash Bandicoot is unmatched by any of its sequels. It‘s a simple platformer of just the right difficulty that doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Each subsequent game in the series just piles on pointless additional garbage and sucks out more of the first game's humour and character, while forcing you to say howdy to Crash's insipid new friends and take a ride in his poorly-implemented new vehicle / jetpack / jetski / sphere thing / aeroplane / whatever, all because there's no real way to improve on the already-excellent core gameplay of Crash 1.

In the style of those single-disc _White Album_ playlists, I'd love to play stripped down, platforming-only versions of Crash 2 and 3 (maybe even _Wrath of Cortex_ and _Twinsanity_ as well).

The first Zelda is still the beat Zelda. No Zelda since has combat that's nearly as satisfying, secrets as rewarding, a world as actually open, or a post game as engaging as that first try. I have a lot of love for Majora's Mask and Breath of the Wild, but they're good in different ways for me.

Technically cheating, but Symphony of the Night is the best exploration-type Castlevania game.


I remember that castle like it's a real place, whereas I immediately lose all familiarity with subsequent entries' castles once I'm done with them.

@Syzygy#6605 I mean, of course we can discuss the particulars, but shouldn't be too hard to settle on unconventional/different games at the time games that realized their vision fully without requiring revisions or sequels to achieve the sweet spot on their designs. Those sequels can exist, and can improve or adjust certain elements, but if the original game was already the good stuff we can discuss it.

I know Tetris has added some elements and refined the formula in subtle ways (I play Tetris regularly) but I'd argue that the first iterations of the game already had everything that makes the game such a staple to the medium. I love T-spins and saving pieces as much as anyone but I don't think those things fundamentally change how we play or think about Tetris.

@copySave Another World is probably one of the best examples of this phenomenon that I can think of. It was extremely relevant on its day, but speaking of the present, I feel almost every recent videogame that tries to take the games as cinema route is super derivative of this game. 100% of the stuff Naughty Dog has done since Uncharted owes a lot to Another World. Same thing goes for the Fumito Ueda games (maybe easier to see in this case). ICO is basically Another World in 3D, and that heritage continues through SotC and shows again in The Last Guardian.

I think the first Metroid Prime nailed pretty hard. Not only it is the best game of its trilogy, but it accomplished something I would have said it was impossible, translating the Metroid formula to 3D while maintaining the feeling of the earlier games.

Daytona USA and Sega Rally. Both are just such perfect arcade racing experiences. Both have sequels that try to add complexity and loose the spark. I know both are building on Virtua Racing, but the jump in tech and spectacle is pretty huge.

@robinhoodie#6617 Wouldn‘t you agree that the one that nailed it was Virtua Racing itself then? After playing the Sega Ages version released on Switch I’m seriously inclined to say so (although I admit Daytona is my favorite of the bunch).

@JoJoestar#6615 I agree - You can see the primordial soup in Turok but Metroid Prime is incredible for such an experimental title. One of my fondest memories is getting that game on launch day and just sinking into it completely.

On that note we have to include **Super Mario 64**. Good lord what a huge gamble and subsequent epoch. 2-D platformers had been around a while before the original Super Mario Bros. but there was nothing for 3-D for Nintendo to iterate on. I don't think any subsequent 3-D Mario games feel as good as 64 does, but that's my personal preference. Nothing was like getting to finally play it as a 9 year old at a Wal-Mart kiosk. Must have watched this terrible video 50 times too:
While the indoctrinating ads certainly set the stage for my childhood wonder of Mario 64 I can honestly say I still play it quite often - more than other modern 3-D Mario games. Not for nostalgia, but simply for how it feels. Newer games are too safe. (I am a fan of Sunshine though...)

interesting topic!! Bushido Blade is a good example because it doesn't really build on anything else. Also this has got me listening to the soundtrack again.

A lot of the more innovative games I can think of that inspire me, like Panzer Dragoon Saga, are more subversions of existing genre and series expectations than they are one-off successes. To that end I feel like Metroid Prime, and SotN are kiiinda cheating, as is any game in a series? If it reinterprets an existing series into a more modern context, isn't that still building upon existing success? I could make a better argument for daytona USA since it's neither part of the virtua franchise nor building on the game feel of virtua racing.

Anyway, Ranger-X is one of those - a bunch of good ideas in a solid package with neither predecessors nor sequels.

Likewise Gunstar Heroes - perfect implementation of a certain kind of action game whose sequel felt like an also-ran. I guess a lot of original Treasure games are like this now that I think about it. Bangai-o, Ikaruga, and Silhouette Mirage all kind of fit the bill here.

@copySave#6620 Oh, Mario 64 for sure! What that game did was an accomplishment still today. The only thing I think that hasn't aged well is the camera, but that is easily fixable with the PC port developed by fans. Everything else is masterpiece material all around.

@exodus I hear you on Metroid Prime and while I agree, I still feel that game was a tremendous achievement. But yeah, maybe it is so more as an exercise of translation from 2D to 3D than a 100% new game. With SotN I feel even more so, because the game is still a side-scroller and it's action based.

Okay then, Clock Tower. As it happens with Treasure, a lot of Human Entertainment games fill the bill, because they tried to do a lot of weird stuff and didn't do that many sequels. The thing with the original Clock Tower is that I like it more than a lot of the japanese horror games that followed. The constant surprises, the quality of animations, the different outcomes and the giallo inspired story, soundtrack and aesthetic are so very well done that it feels like a crowning achievement even by today's standards.

@JoJoestar#6618 Virtua Racing is very good. But it is a much more demanding game. It is more simulation feeling in line with its F-1 trappings. It is kind of incredible how good a game it is right out the gate. But if I was making a racing game to create fun and excitement in the arcade it would be Daytona and not Virtua Racing. To clarify I consider the Daytona arcade game to be the at least 4 cabinet model and not the stand alone. The oval track with 40 cars and 4 human players… nothing in Virtua Racing touches that.

I’d argue it’s impossible for games like SOTN, Metroid Prime or Mario 64 to fit the topic when they are all evolutions of earlier series.

I really dig the more specific conversation of “which series peaked with the first entry?” because they highlight some interesting design challenges and the issues of how to approach sequels.

For instance, I would argue both Zettai Zetsumei Toshi and Metal Slug peaked with the first game, for almost opposite reasons.

The original Zettai Zetsumei Toshi was the most authentic interpretation of an idea, and its sequels tried less interesting new things while losing the element of surprise and novelty of the first entry (kinda the same issue which is blamed on Crash Bandicoot above).

On the other hand, Metal Slug peaked with the first game because the sequels did not really add anything notable to what made the first game so great but also didn’t really try anything different; they are just dilutions of the same idea over and over again (I guess they did add a more complex food mechanic down the road). Some episodes could be considered better than the first one depending on minor factors (game balance, themes, technical performance, which slugs you prefer) but they really are all more or less the same game.

What I find interesting above is that both series have the same designer.

Another good candidate for the dilution issue is Katamari Damacy. The original author was pretty much done with that concept on its first try. The other episodes are pretty good but almost feel like expansion packs or playable excuses for new soundtracks.

Crazy Taxi might be another good candidate. I prefer the mechanics and map of Crazy Taxi 2 but the first episode pretty much nailed it. I would argue however (_uh, with myself? Well, I am French..._) that the real but forgotten first episode in the series – the Street Fighter 1 of Crazy Taxi if you will – was Harley Davidson & L.A. Riders.

Gears of War might count. I personally prefer Judgement. But taking the Metal Slug metric, everything that the game would ever be in single player was figured out in the first game. Its also probably the series' best most compact story.

Human is a great example, with Clock Tower and Mizzurna Falls, whose concept only got a decent second try 10 years later with deadly premonition.

The original version of Tetris looks pretty rough,

Tetris has received a few really meaningful improvements and still has room to be made better.

I don‘t think I’d put it on the list.


@chazumaru#6633 Metal Slug peaked with the first game because the sequels did not really add anything notable to what made the first game so great but also didn’t really try anything different; they are just dilutions of the same idea over and over again

I agree with this, though I think 2/X is a really good sequel that made some decent improvements for playing 2 player.

Maybe I don't believe in the idea of this, really.

There is always some room for improvement and meaningful iteration.

Bushido Blade is better then anything that came out since, but it is far from a perfect game.
It only seems to work well as an example of this because the sequels were so bungled.
It would be possible to make a better Bushido Blade, even though no one has yet.

I think you might be restricting yourself out of a thought experiment here Geoff! I don't think the implication is that the first iteration was perfect, but that it was the best version of itself that exists, to this day.

I realize I forgot about that earliest version of Tetris, so I agree there. But when it comes to Bushido Blade, there has not been a better version of that game since Bushido Blade 1. Whereas Street Fighter II blows Street Fighter out of the water. I know Joestar said "perfect" in the initial post, but I think that was hyperbolic - there's always room for improvement of course!

I believe the real thought experiment here is games that:

  • - tried something interesting
  • - succeeded in communicating that interestingness very well the first time out
  • - never had the success of the original superceded by sequels.
  • @exodus#6646 Oh, for sure, it was just rhetoric. There are tons of ways Bushido Blade could be improved upon now. Saying it was perfect was just a way of expressing that the game is still very cool and holds up very well.

    I also agree on everyone's suggestions and apologize for not communicating the idea properly or defining explicit rules. I didn't want to be too strict and besides, figuring stuff together is more fun anyway. What @exodus#6646 and @chazumaru said works fine by me, I would just invite everyone to interpret "interesting" in the widest sense possible.

    I like the idea of talking about game series but what about games that have a clear lineage even though are not part of a franchise as such? Like for example, I don't know, let's say Haunting Ground for the PS2. That game is basically Clock Tower 4, seems unfair to not treat it as such! And there is also the issue of leaving some games out because they didn't receive any sequels, but I don't know, I'll agree with whatever you decide.