Mario Party. Assassin’s Creed. Telltale’s The Walking Dead. When we hear these names, mental images of zany minigames, open worlds, and difficult decisions instantly spring to mind. In this way, many long-running game series tend to create a gameplay formula and stick to it to give fans more of what they like, simply changing the characters and setting to keep things new. Unfortunately, this pattern can become all-too familiar, causing games to feel repetitive and series to grow stale.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard are both recent entries in well-established franchises that broke from the conventions of their predecessors, bringing new life to the gameplay. This list picks other series that we think could use a fresh take on what makes them great by breaking the mold and trying something different.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead
What’s getting old: Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead grabbed players’ heartstrings with its well-written characters, bleak setting, and gut-wrenching ultimatums. Featuring emotional decisions that altered the story, action sequences with quick-time events, and easier puzzle-solving segments, the formula took off and laid the foundation for every other series the studio has since developed. Though characters come and go, The Walking Dead’s themes and mechanics stay the same, making the pattern tired and predictable.
How to make it new: The Walking Dead shocked us with the unintended, usually gruesome consequences of our decisions. Now that the main gameplay element has grown stale, Telltale needs to beef it back up. Being broken up into separate episodes requires certain events and sequences to happen, meaning decisions feel too linear and take away players’ sense of agency. Stretching out the journey into a stand-alone experience would keep the gameplay consistent and create new possibilities for more diverging paths to follow. Whether players choose to camp in the woods or in an abandoned supermarket wouldn’t simply affect one character’s survival or death, but would open entirely different outcomes. In addition to engaging players with immediate and unique consequences for their decisions, this would encourage them to go back and replay the game to see how the story unfolds in the other branches.
Along those lines, cliffhangers could be rehashed to flow more naturally in this longer format. When things are getting intense, cut to a different character’s perspective. More narratives give more chances for players to connect with the story and would make cliffhangers feel less artificial. Emotionally-charged decisions may be what set Telltale’s The Walking Dead apart from other zombie titles, but the studio needs to mix up the gameplay to put some heart back into the series.
What’s getting old: Riddles, brain teasers, and number games are only part of Professor Hershel Layton’s puzzle palette. In the point-and-click-style series of six games, players also talk to NPCs to advance the plot and search the environment. The problem with this format is that, while engaging at first, the hundreds of riddles spanning the series become recognizable, making them easier as the games go on. Even within one game, the rinse-and-repeat formula of tap something, transition to a screen describing the teaser, and solve it offers little variation.
How to make it new: Professor Layton has the unique opportunity to design puzzles that rely on video game conventions, so it’s disappointing that the majority of the riddles are based on wordplay or visual tricks that work just as well on paper as they do on an interactive screen. Why not introduce puzzles that take advantage of video games’ 3D capabilities? Players could solve a problem about how to untangle an impossible knot by trying to pull the threads apart instead of tracing lines on a screen. The smartphone and 3DS platforms offer chances for all kinds of spatial, tactile solutions like this, including tricks like flipping your DS or snapping pics on your phone. There could also be gameplay hooks that tie into the story, such as adding a time limit for riddles found during a chase scene or solving a puzzle in the dark while trapped in a dungeon.
The hands-on feel could be increased by another huge fix: changing the navigation system. Allowing players to physically interact with the environment and solve the puzzles they find would be far more engaging while simultaneously cutting down on the boring transition screens. New approaches like these would reinvigorate Professor Layton’s riddles and stump players anew while keeping the core appeal of the series unchanged.
What’s getting old: Toting a cyberpunk aesthetic and gritty themes, Deus Ex is known for the large amount of freedom it gives players to approach each scenario however they wish. Side quests can be completed or ignored, factions can be joined and later betrayed, and skilled players can make their way through an entire game without killing a single foe. But despite the flexibility players have, combat encounters play out nearly identically to each other, making fights boring.
How to make it new: The freedom found in the rest of Deus Ex tends to break down during combat sequences. Blasting through battles is usually a bad idea, since enemies outnumber the protagonist and powerful defensive turrets and mechs abound. This forces players to creep through combat taking out one foe at a time, moving bodies to avoid detection and sometimes hacking turrets along the way. For action-focused players, why not provide the option to bring allies along to even the odds? Could new combat and stealth powers be introduced to change up the standard “hide in cover, pop out, hide again” tactics? What if there were crazy gadgets for walking on the ceiling or directing lasers back at opponents? Throwing more tools into the mix lets players experiment with new approaches to battle, making each mission compelling and unique.
The environments where fights occur also need to be more engaging. Constantly sneaking through apartments and fighting in factory buildings gets bland once players figure out the general layout of where to take cover and where to attack from. Fights suddenly breaking out on the street would encourage improvising tactics, which could serve as a counter to a meticulously planned attack on a research facility. Maybe even vehicle assaults could make their way into certain missions. Giving players more freedom is a tall order for a series like Deus Ex, but it would make combat gameplay fresh again.
Up next: Changes we'd like to see in Ace Attorney, Assassin's Creed, and Mario Party.