Usually, when you play almost any game, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. You’ve seen the trailers for the game, read the back of the box, done the tutorial, and have a basic idea of the main loop of the game. But the interesting thing about video games is that, unlike other forms of media, they can take you out of the loop.
There are instances in some games where the entire genre is turned on its head, completely out of left field. An action hack-n-slash suddenly becomes a puzzle text adventure, a stealth platformer suddenly becomes a rhythm game, or a large-scale adventure suddenly becomes a combat game aerial. You’re practically guaranteed to be thrown for a loop when these games jump the rails.
10 The Sleep of Death – Replicant from NieR
It says a lot about legendary game director Yoko Taro that even though we all expect curves in his game design, he still manages to surprise us with them. Over the course of NieR Replicant, the gameplay changes slightly at times. All the way, it’s still basically a hack and slash game, but with occasional wrinkles, like battle challenges or changing camera angles.
The big exception to this occurs in the Forest of Myths, where the residents suffer from a disease known as the Sleep of Death. To save them, Nier and company have to enter their dreams, which manifest as an old-school adventure text with a handful of puzzles. Interestingly, they can apparently hear the narrator of these dreams and don’t much care for their tone.
9 Space Eagle – Bayonetta
Let a game as outrageous as Bayonetta hit us with a sudden throwback to a Sega arcade classic. As Bayonetta, Cereza, and Luka make their way to the Lumen Sages’ headquarters, their helicopter is suddenly bombarded with giant missiles. Being the creative type, Bayonetta immediately seizes one of these missiles and uses it as a personal transport.
As Bayonetta takes control of the missile, the angels begin to fly in suspiciously familiar patterns. Yes, they’re mimicking Sega’s classic arcade game Space Harrier, complete with a modern remix of the game’s theme song. Bayonetta even initiates this little flirtation with the “welcome to me Fantasy zone!”
8 Cop Rock – Stubbs The Zombie In Rebel Without a Pulse
Not long after the Stubbs the Zombie storyline, the titular shambler heads to the Punchbowl Police Station in search of some tasty brains to munch on. He is captured by the police chief, who promises to dance on his grave, and when Stubbs confronts him after trashing the station, we learn that he was being quite literal about it.
Out of the blue, Stubbs and the police chief engage in a game of the musical Simon Says, with the chief breaking some moves and Stubbs copying them. As weird as this segment is, it’s unarguably awesome thanks to a mix tape of classic ’50s tracks like Mister Sandman, Earth Angel, and Lollipop.
7 A Dance of Death – Sly Cooper and Thievius Raccoonus
Self-paced game segments were a strangely common thing on the sixth generation of game consoles. For example, in the third world of the original Sly Cooper game, the daring thief faces off against the evil voodoo priestess, Mz. Ruby in the heart of her haunted swamp headquarters. Being the sporty type, Mz. Ruby offers to take Sly to an arena for them to fight, but she makes him play a little game during their trip.
As Sly approaches Mz. Ruby, he fires blasts of magic corresponding to the PlayStation controller’s face buttons, to the beat of the music track. Sly needs to copy the sequence exactly to dodge each explosion, or else he’ll be thrown into the dank, smelly depths of the swamp. Amusingly, once he gets to Mz. Ruby, she has been defeated with little difficulty, despite her apparent strength.
6 Zero Stealth Suit – Metroid: Zero Mission
Samus is one of the most proficient adventurers in the games, thanks in large part to her hyper-advanced Chozo-tech Power Suit. The weapons on her suit allow her to destroy any enemy and resist any danger. However, when she has her suit removed in Metroid: Zero Mission, things get a little more complicated.
This was the first time that Samus was left almost completely defenseless in hostile territory. Until he can find a means to restore his suit, his only options are to briefly stun enemies with his Emergency Stun or avoid contact altogether. Metroid games don’t lack running, but running far of things was definitely new at the time.
5 Andross in Space – Star Fox Adventures
While Fox pilots his Arwing to travel several times throughout Star Fox Adventures, it’s not really a major gameplay mechanic. Since the game is primarily an action-adventure focused on puzzles, you’d probably expect its final boss to focus on those mechanics. Well, you would expect wrong.
As the giant statue of Krazoa’s spirit launches into space from Krazoa’s temple, Fox follows it on his Arwing. He imagines his surprise when he turns around to reveal the gigantic face of his archenemy Andross, who had apparently been sleeping in the temple for some reason. Whatever the reason, the two engage in an old-school dogfight more in line with classic Star Fox games.
4 The Return of the Evil Bean Machine – Sonic Mania
A love letter to all things classic Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Mania is packed with references to Sonic games from the Genesis era. Of course, one reference some gamers may not have expected was a nod to Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, a spin-off of 1993’s Puyo Puyo.
As Sonic runs through the classic Chemical Plant Zone, he suddenly finds himself thrown into a control room right next to Robotnik. The two engage in an impromptu game of Puyo Puyo, with the loser being thrown into the vat of chemicals swirling below.
3 Jetpac – Donkey Kong 64
At the climax of Donkey Kong 64, the Kongs make their way to Hideout Helm, ready to confront King K. Rool and stop the Blast-o-Matic. However, they are blocked by a large door emblazoned with the Nintendo 64 and Rareware logos, and will only open for the most die-hard gamers.
To prove yourself, you need to visit Cranky Kong and beat both the original Donkey Kong and the old Rare Jetpac game. By the standards of games released in 1999 like Donkey Kong 64, these games were Really tough, but both needed to be beaten to finish the game. Many ’90s kids needed to get familiar with the classic quarter chewers if they wanted to take on K. Rool.
two Queen Vanessa’s Mansion – A Hat in Time
A Hat in Time, like the classic collectible platformers that inspired it, is a generally colorful and cheerful game. Even in the eerie depths of the Subcon Forest, he still maintains a vibrant color palette and sarcastic sense of humor. However, there is a place in that forest that is No funny.
The seemingly abandoned mansion of the mysterious Queen Vanessa is only visited once in the entire game, but as the Hat Kid explores its far reaches, he is haunted by the screaming shadow of the Queen herself. If Vanessa catches the Hat Kid, she will yell in her face before freezing. The only way to survive is to hide, run, and stay out of sight, suddenly turning the game into a stealth horror title.
1 The Underchomp – Super Paper Mario
Although technically still an RPG, Super Paper Mario is the only game in the Paper Mario series that does not employ turn-based combat. Instead, it’s more of an action RPG with an added helping of puzzle platforming. But in one of the game’s later worlds, Underwhere, that disappears.
As Mario and company try to escape the Underworld to enter the Overthere, the gatekeeper opts to drop his defender on them: the terrifying three-headed Underchomp. Suddenly, the game changes to a minimalist turn-based RPG format. No character models, no animations, just you, the Underchomp, and a long list of new mechanics to pick up quickly.
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