The Top 10 Most Outlandish Hybrid Games That Really Really Work
The process to designing video games can easily be correlated to the making of a good sandwich. Often in sandwiches, you will find that certain ingredients will go well with others; like ham and cheese, while others will not gel as well together; like ham and porcupine. For the same reasons of taste, it is common for many video games of the same genre (FPS, racing, platforming, etc.) to have mechanically similar gameplay and other characteristics shared between them. If a combination has worked well within the genre before, they should be worth repeating, perhaps with a few extra ‘toppings’ along the way.
But then you have the hybrids; perhaps the ‘club sandwiches’ of the gaming world. Whether the result of outward imagination, industry foresight, or wreckless abandonment for common conventions, these games thrive on the combination of multiple genres to create something new. Again, we see that some genres end up going very well together, like Adventures and RPGs, or Real Time Tactics and FPS. However, aside from the occasional identity complex, many of these hybrid games have found success in the most unlikely pairings of genres, that when implemented appropriately, create a wholly unique experience that fans of both genres can ultimately enjoy.
This list will look at a few of the more bizarre genre combinations that have occurred, and how they fit together. An important note, however, is that being a strange hybrid is not necessarily enough, and that each of these 10 games included are also great games in their own right.
#10: Racing Lagoon (PS)
Genre 1: Racing
Genre 2: RPG
Starting out the list is perhaps the most unknown of the bunch, as this game was never released outside of Japan. Without telling you anything at all about the game, I could simply say that Racing Lagoon was a racing game developed by SquareSoft, and you should have an idea of what to expect. Labeled as a “High Speed Driving RPG,” this game featured battle encounters, an engrossing story (if you speak Japanese), experience points, a top down overworld, and class upgrades commonly found in most RPGs, but all of the game’s action unfolded in real time behind the wheel. To initiate a battle from the overworld you would flash your headlights to a nearby car, thereby challenging them to a race. Upon winning, you receive RP (reward points) and Yen, which you can use to upgrade your existing car’s engine, chassis, body, and accessories.
Behind it all, Square had also built a very competent racer, with quality (for the time) graphics, a comfortable HUD, and decent control mechanics. It’s just a shame that this game hadn’t been released elsewhere.
#9: Sakura Wars: So Long My Love (WII/PS2)
Genre 1: Dating Sim
Genre 2: SRPG
Now that the import’s out of the way, let’s look at another hybrid game that actually has made it out of Japan. Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is the fifth main installment to the long running Sakura Taisen series, and the first to be released in Europe and North America with an english translation. The translation is in fact a considerable achievement, as the bulk of the game consists of navigating through a large series of conversation trees, as you get to know the various characters in the game. As Shinjiro Taiga, a young man from Japan who has relocated to New York to work with an all-female crew, your conversations will lead to furthering or impairing your persistent relationship with each crew member; aligning the game at its core to be built around a virtual dating service…to each their own, I suppose, but I’m in it for the robots!
Oh, I’m sorry, did I forget to say that the aforementioned crew was actually a super robot fighting team? Personally, I can’t think of a better way to balance out a visual novel or life simulation than to periodically have everyone hop into a mech suit for some turn-based action. Direct movement, special moves, tag team attacks, this game offers a healthy strategy experience up against some great enemies and bosses. It’s also perhaps worth noting at this point that the game itself was made by the same SEGA team that brought Skies of Arcadia and Valkyria Chronicles to life. Excited yet?
#8: Herzog Zwei (GEN)
Genre 1: RTS
Genre 2: Shmup
While many of the games on this list are niche titles that compliment an existing genre, this next title is one that was way ahead of it’s time. Herzog Zwei is in fact one of the foundational games within the RTS genre, preceeding Dune II (commonly accepted as the first RTS for PC) by about three years. As is common with all RTS games, you could acquire resources, command individual units of troops and vehicles by issuing orders and letting them go, capture zones within the overworld for new bases, and fight to destroy your opponent’s army. All this from a console game, no less!
The game separates itself from the genre, however, in the main unit used to interact with the world. In a way of combining strategy with action, you piloted a transforming mech/airship that enabled you to take on enemies and fight in the battle yourself. If you were in a rush to mow down enemies alongside your troops, or even tired of issuing out commands, you could move your character into the action, turning the game into an all-range shoot-em-up.
While Herzog Zwei may have been a landmark in RTS gaming, it still remains relatively unknown. Fortunately this combination of real time action and strategy has continued on today with such franchises as Battalion Wars for the Gamecube and Wii.
#7: Rez HD (360)
Genre 1: Rail Shooting
Genre 2: Music/Rhythm
With apologies to Vib Ribbon (which I thought of listing, but ultimately decided the term “Hybrid” didn’t apply), there’s only one king of “out-of-the-box” musical games, and that’s Rez. Originally made for the Dreamcast, this game is a rail shooter at it’s core, where you fly around inside a futuristic computer network called the K-project with a mission to reboot the network’s AI called Eden, who has begun to question her own existence. As an on screen avatar, you will fly forward battling viruses, firewalls, and what have you, all the while listening to some catchy electronic tunes.
The sound experience doesn’t stop there though. As you progress, sounds and melodies are created by the player as you target and destroy foes in the game, adding more music to be laid over the existing soundtrack. Suddenly, you’re not just a gunner trying to shoot everything in sight; you’re a mixmaster trying to hit all the notes to get the best listening experience possible. This unique stimulation for your eyes, ears, and hands was an experience unlike any other, and only got better when the game received it’s HD upgrade on X-BOX Live.
#6: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (PSP)
Genre 1: Match 3 puzzler
Genre 2: RPG
A simple fact about puzzle games (while still allowing for countless hours of gameplay) is that they are not known for their depth. Fans of Bejeweled and other match 3 puzzlers, however, should feel right at home when starting into Puzzle Quest, with it’s never ending supply of tiles that can be manipulated to match up and disappear. Players square off head to head or against computer AI, taking turns swapping the position of two tiles on a grid to make a match, which removes the tiles causing more to fall into place, potentially chaining combos with new tiles as they appear. The new spin on the genre here is that the different tiles actually serve different functions and benefits to the players as they proceed, and it’s here where the game’s RPG statistics and strategy come into play.
Matching up coins, stars, or skulls, can net the player additional money, experience, and deal direct damage to their opponent’s HP bar. Matching up colored tiles will net you mana of that color, to eventually unleash different attack and defense spells to aid you. Your character will also start out with various base statistics such as combat ability, morale, and magical affinity, and can be further aided in battles by various equipment, mounts, and companions you can come across. With all these extra pieces to consider, this game goes past it’s “score oriented” foundations and delivers a solid gaming experience any adventure fan should enjoy.
While the Puzzle Quest series has continued with success, it has also experienced some recent competition in its own market. Fans of the mixed genre should also be aware of Gyromancer, which adds many similar RPG aspects to the base game of Bejeweled Twist instead of Bejeweled.
#5: Portal (PC)
Genre 1: Logic Puzzler
Genre 2: FPS
Portal is able to make it’s way onto a lot of top 10 lists, ranging from it’s story and characters, to it’s music and mechanics. This is for two reasons. First, it’s a testament to the game’s quality. Second, the individual components that make up the complete experience are so diverse, that it’s a solid contender in any number of rankable categories one can think of. It’s that anthropomorphic aspect that I hope to address here.
At first glance, the game is easily misinterpreted. You’re in first person mode, you fire a gun, avoid enemy fire (…sometimes), and control your character in advancing from point A to point B just like most any other FPS on the market. The only real difference is that you don’t fire bullets.
That one difference, however, is enough to change the entire structure of the game and how it is conquered. Instead of gunning down enemies to press forward, the game becomes about navigation, and how to use the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device to overcome the terrain in front of you. Calling it a platformer would be a bit vague, however such a term is also not far off. The puzzling aspects of each test chamber are what comes front and center, so labeling it a Logic Puzzler (as opposed to regular puzzle games like match 3′s or tetris clones) may be the closest we can get.
In any case, this game is one of the most fascinating in existence, and it’s sequel has since expanded on the concept, with the addition of tractor beams, laser redirection, and special paint-like gels. The last of which stems from the student project Tag: The Power of Paint, giving us some idea of what we can expect.
#4: ActRaiser (SNES)
Genre 1: Action
Genre 2: Simulation
ActRaiser remains a definitive game for the SNES, both for it’s innovative combination of gameplay, and for it’s fantastic soundtrack. The story casts you as an unspecified deity known as the Master, who is tasked with rebuilding a torn and ravaged land. You accomplish this in two very distinctive ways. Starting off with the action sequences first, the Master inhabits a statue of a knight to wield a sword first-hand against a hord of enemies and bosses in a series of side scrolling stages. This action component, while nice, was fairly common with other games at the time. Those that played past the initial level, however, were witness to how all-powerful the Master really was.
After the first level, you now gain control a silly little cherub who helps you build up the world around the action stage as a city-building sim. You command natural disasters and magic spells, as well as instruct your people to build roads and towns, grow crops, and seal off monsters. You could also listen in on the peoples lives as they tell you their own perspective about recent events. After building your city up, you were tasked with another side scrolling level, then were able to move on to the next area to cleanse, build, and repeat.
Considering how much of a joy the city-building aspects of the game were, it’s a shame that they were disregarded entirely in the sequel ActRaiser 2 for straight action. Fortunately the original is good enough that it can be replayed again and again.
#3: Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure (DS)
Genre 1: Platformer
Genre 2: Match 3 puzzler
With the two active screens on the Nintendo DS, it’s a wonder that the system isn’t drowning in games that take advantage of one’s ability to multitask. Ever the innovative platform for untapped markets, the technology behind the device has produced many instinctual gameplay mechanics that have been assembled into exciting and unique combined game experiences. The most vivid of these, in my opinion, has been Henry Hatsworth.
Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure may have been the victim of it’s high selling competition upon its release (read: Pokemon Platinum, GTA: Chinatown Wars, Valkyrie Profile), but hopefully won’t go unnoticed for much longer. On the top screen, you control the titular Henry, an eccentric adventurer who, along with his trusty machete and laser shotgun (!), roams through a series of well constructed platforming stages with some serious programming homework behind it. You’ll find all the platforming bells and whistles here, with wall jumps, sub-weapons, power-ups, and combo attacks at your disposal, including the super power-up of tea time, which you transform into an all powerful laser shooting, rocket fist firing giant mech! (!!!).
That’s just the top screen. On the bottom screen, you’ll find a classic match 3 puzzler in the vein of Tetris Attack known as the “Puzzle Realm”. When you kill enemies in the top screen, they get sent down to the bottom screen in block form, and if not taken care of, will start to add up against you and respawn on the surface world. Powerups and pickups can also be obtained through the match-3 system below affecting Henry’s stats once you hop back to the top. Between removing enemies, upgrading weaponry, using the puzzle to fill in missing blocks in platforming areas, and acquiring support items, there are lots of reasons to pop into the puzzle realm every now and then (Don’t worry, the platforming action pauses when you go down there to clean house).
#2: Odama (GCN)
Genre 1: Real Time Tactical
Genre 2: Pinball
If there were any initial product meeting I would have liked to sit in on, it would have been developer Vivarium’s talks with Nintendo, to produce and publish the game Odama, if only to find out how this game may have come into existence. Did it start as a simple tactical game that was upended at the last minute? Were they looking for new and exciting ways to use the GCN’s Microphone peripheral? Was Yoot Saito just looking to top the Dreamcast’s Seaman as the craziest thing he’s ever made?
In any case, we have Odama; a game where the player is tasked with deploying troops to fight opposing forces, with the ultimate goal of leading a mystical bell to the top of the screen. While maintaining reserves and keeping troop morale high, you’re tasked with increasing your forces, completing objectives, and building additional structures all by issuing commands vocally through the microphone. This fortunately frees up your hands to master the movements of the titular Odama; an enormous orb that you’ll send to roll over your competition and clear the way.
You’ll be fighting a literal uphill battle throughout, which turns the battlefield into an elaborate pinball table for the Odama, and it’ll be up to you to keep it in play, using the large paddles you’ve constructed on the sides. With clever objectives, unheard of gameplay combinations, and a comical presentation and story (centered around feudal Japan), this is truly a game that needs to be seen in order to even remotely comprehend, and is sadly one we will likely never see again.
#1: The Guardian Legend
Genre 1: Shmup
Genre 2: Action Adventure
Of all the different hybrid games, it seems fitting that the #1 go to the oldest title on the list. Game design in the late 80′s yielded many experimental mashups taking place as clearer guidelines for the genres of today were being established. You had games like Blaster Master which combined a side scrolling platformer with top down adventure portions and boss fights. You also had games like Rampart, which coupled construction puzzles with an arcade-style shooter. My favorite of the bunch however, was a marriage of two of my favorite gaming genres, and would have earned the #1 spot on this list regardless of the decade it came from.
As with ActRaiser mentioned above, you won’t necessarily know what kind of game The Guardian Legend is all about from just playing the first level. A standard for shooters back in the day, the game sends your aircraft rocketing through space in a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up blasting enemies, and finishing off with a boss at the end of the level. After the first level, however, the adventure portion kicks in, and you suddenly realize that your character wasn’t inside that ship, but you were the ship; an interstellar sentient (…female!) transformer who is on a mission to destroy the planet Naju before it collides with Earth.
Gameplay is split between the aforementioned vertical shmup stages called “corridors” and the top down zelda-like action adventure overworld, where you explore the planet on foot to activate the planet’s self destruct sequence. Typical progression of the game will have you proceed through the overworld until you locate the next corridor, then open it based on a specific puzzle criteria (clues can be found as to what is needed). You will then transform back into ship mode and complete the shmup stage, earning a key that will unlock another area in the overworld to continue on. In both sections you will find a great variety of enemies, fun to defeat bosses (some do get pretty hard), and a variety of powerups that will increase your health, attack, ammo, defense, and increase the variety of your weapon types to use both as humanoid and ship. These powerups range from a spinning light saber, to rotating fire wheels, to wide-range and side shots, and more. As in Mega Man, part of the fun here is figuring out which weapons will work the best on which bosses.
With 11 different map areas to explore, 22 different shmup stages, and a wide variety of powerups to obtain in each, this game packs an incredible amount of content into it’s campaign, and the action in both it’s distinctive styles of play are top notch, making it an easy pick for the #1.
Financial success of hybrid games varies greatly, depending on the quality of the final product, the acceptance and understanding from the consumer base, and the willingness of publishers to back a product that falls outside the established genres. Hybrid games are nothing new, in fact, many hybrid games can be seen as first steps in testing the market waters for a genre in itself that has yet to be established. While individual products can vary, it’s important that the industry remain receptive of these hybrid games when they come up, as the content base for videogames continues to grow. Now about that sandwich…