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Going back for seconds

With the gaming industry more and more often "going back to the well," revisiting (remaking, rebooting, HD re-releasing) popular titles and franchises, it's sometimes fun to look back at games that were enjoyable, but not commercially successful, and wonder - why couldn't we get a sequel to THIS instead?

Is the kitchen still open? Can I get some more Psychonauts please?

So, here's a short list of some of my favorite games, that I wouldn't mind the game industry going back to at some point.

NAVAL OPS: WARSHIP GUNNER (2003, 2006)

This one did, in fact get a sequel - two of them, actually. But Naval Ops: Commander had more of a top-down RTS feel to it, and had little to do with the stellar original game, which Warship Gunner 2 followed. Released in 2003 and 2006, the games featured rather simple naval combat mechanics - navigate your ship, aim, and annihilate everything you're asked to. However, the games had one exquisite feature mostly absent from other military combat games - the ability to customize your fleet of mega-ships. 

While many sports and fighting games started to allow character customization by then, Warship Gunner let you create your warships by modifying templates, or even from the hull up if you were willing to invest the time. Featuring a MASSIVE tech tree that allowed you to research everything from cannon sizes to aircraft types to use with your carriers, the games put the "kill things, earn money, unlock new weapons, kill things easier" cycle to maximum use. Each part of the ship, from your engines and reactors, up to your radar and sonar, could be swapped out or upgraded. Want a small, fast ship with decent range? No problem. Want a behemoth with cruise missiles? You got it. A twin-hull battleship fitted with laser weapons? That's doable.

"Replace everything with lasers, and replace the original lasers with bigger lasers."

 You had to balance out your total power output vs total weight, as well as align all the components in your ship so they would fit. But once you got the hang of it, it was incredibly rewarding, especially since your in-game warship perfectly matched your design, each component and weapon exactly where you placed it in the editor. This was fairly impressive when the first game was released, but I'd love to see what KOEI could do with a modern day console.

 GODHAND (2006)

Saints Row: The Third proved that you can have great success with a silly plot, as long as you make the gameplay incredibly enjoyable. Few games remind me of the fun I had with SR3 as Godhand. The story and dialogue are very tongue-in-cheek, and the rogues gallery you'll face is the hilarious kind of assortment of out-there villains you'd expect from an anime series.

You would fight through levels, with your performance being rated Devil-May-Cry-style to determine your bonus. You'd then spend the points at shops along the way, purchasing basic combat moves, as well as over-the-top roulette specials. Basic moves could be mapped to a number of face buttons and d-pad combinations, but the real joy of the game was letting loose with your special abilities. Various beatdowns, energy attacks, and even knocking an enemy into the sky with a baseball bat were all available to you to choose from when bringing the pain.

That twinkle in the sky used to be an enemy. A dozen more, and I can make the constellation Orion!

The game was unforgivingly difficult, and had suffered from some AWFUL graphical bugs and glitches, but it was still an amazing, unapologetic, exaggeratedly fun time to play through. Asura's Wrath might very well the spiritual successor to this one, but nothing in the demo brought back memories of the sheer joy I had button mashing a DragonBall-esque boss battle quick time event, or wheel kicking an enemy over the horizon.

XIII (2003)

Video games based on movies tend to be awful, and movies based on video games tend to be just as bad. Same goes for movies and games based on comic books. Thankfully, Batman has recently entered the fray to prove it's possible to pull this off successfully, but a lesser known game based on an even lesser known Belgian graphic novel nailed it pretty well almost a decade ago.

XIII follows the original graphic novel, telling the story of the protagonist only known as XIII. Waking up on a beach with amnesia, you slowly unravel a massive conspiracy as you put together your own fractured past. While the conspiracy angle has certainly been done before, XIII was extremely well written, and makes me want to track down a copy of the graphic novel to see if it was the same great quality. XIII also made great use of cell-shaded graphics; even the Gamecube's visuals were colorful and lively, invoking the look and feel of comic books. But the game took it a step further, adding onomatopoeiatic graphical text in addition to sound effects, and dialogue bubbles to complement spoken text.

BAOOMM? That's the sound MY bazooka makes in real life! These guys really did their homework.

Certain actions - killing an enemy with a crossbow, or being too near a guard on patrol - would also bring up mini-frames, showing you what was going on around you while letting you retain control of the game in the main display. It was a small detail, but it added another layer to the comic book look and feel that made the game stand out. Alan Wake's episodic format and Arkham City's wonderful writing do a lot to bring the spirit if comics to life in video games, but few titles did the job quite like XIII. Since the game ends about half-way through the plot of the graphic novel, it's doubly disappointing that we never got a sequel.

JUSTICE LEAGUE HEROES (2006)

Marvel has put out several solid entries in the action-adventure genre, between the X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance series. But DC seemed to hit all the same notes perfectly with Justice League Heroes, and while the full roster may be smaller than the 20-some characters you can choose from in the other games, there's something undeniably iconic about being able to play as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the DC all stars.

Now with 70% less Aquaman!!

The game uses the now-familiar top-down angle, and the controls let you jump, melee attack, and map several superpowers to your face buttons. In addition to leveling up your stats and abilities, you collect power gems that can be allocated to these. Gems come in about a half-dozen varieties (power, speed, luck) and vary from level 1 to level 7. Combining 3 gems can yield a single, higher-level gem, and attaching them to your stats and abilities can give you all sorts of boosts, from more maximum health to regenerating your super meter faster.

The game featured same-screen co-op with a friend, and let you battle a number of the Justice League's rogues gallery, including Braniac, Doomsday, and Darkseid. Given the relative lack of good DC titles aside from the recent Batman: Arkham games, it's surprising no one has revisited the Justice League all this time.

EVERBLUE / ENDLESS OCEAN (2001-2010)

Granted, there have been four of these games altogether, two from each series. And frankly, I'd jump at the chance to play another. I'm probably in the minority amongst gamers, but the same part of my brain that compels me to watch Discover Channel for hours on end, countless marine life documentaries on Netflix, and as much Shark Week as I can get, is the same part of my brain that makes me crave these games. There's something simple and satisfying about a game that, rather than pit you against a horde of invading aliens, monsters, or terrorists, asks you to just go swim and admire the fish for a while.

That's great, but how's the multiplayer? Is deathmatch fun?

There really isn't much to talk about gameplay wise; the Everblue series relied on a simple loot system in order to complete tasks, while Endless Ocean requires you to discover certain species, or take photos of certain animals. There is very little danger to be had, and I don't think it's possible to actually die in these games. They're meant to be relaxing, and there's something awe-inspiring the first time you come face to face with a whale (or whale shark, or giant squid,) even if they are virtual.

URBAN REIGN (2005)

Given Namco's pedigree with two other fantastic fighting series (Tekken and Soulcalibur,) it's a shame this third series never took off. Unlike the big two, Urban Reign let players battle it out in full 3-d environments (where you could select from multiple opponents to focus on, similar to WWE games) rather than the one-on-one combat along a 2-d plane. Earlier levels have you fighting alone, but early on you get allies to choose from, letting you partake in 2-on-howevermany battles. And that's where the game really starts to shine - teamwork is essential in this game, and teaming up with your partner to perform special attacks and combos is the best path to victory.

There's no "I" in "team." There's no "hold this dude's arms so I can punch him in the throat," either, but I'll let it slide.

Another game with an unforgiving difficulty curve, Urban Reign allowed you to unlock most characters from the campaign for use in one of the most enjoyable multiplayer modes I've ever witnessed. Allowing for up to 4 players, AI to fill the slots, and any combination of teams (free for all, 3-on-1, 2-on-2, etc,) let you and your friends run rampant in a number of arenas. Off-the-wall attacks, moves that let you attack 2 or even 3 nearby enemies, and of course team-up moves that were spectacular to behold made it one of the most fun games I've ever sat down to play with a friend. The arena-style combat might be reminiscent of Thrill Kill or the Wu-Tang games, or recent entries like Anarchy Reigns, but I'd love to see Namco revisit this game and give it a second chance on today's consoles. 

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