The Best Surprise Gaming Spin-Offs

Today’s reveal of Hooked on You: A Dead by Daylight Dating Sim has unsurprisingly and understandably elicited a mixture of surprise, confusion, and flat-out ridicule. I won’t tell anyone that either emotion is invalid, but I do take exception to the sentiment that established franchises should stay in their lane and aren’t allowed to stretch their wings to other genres. After all, several of the best games and even series were spawned when their creators flexed an IP’s versatility. So before you write off a Dead by Daylight visual novel, here are just a few examples – not a definitive list or ranking – of other wild spin-offs that became big success stories in their own right.

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo

Street Fighter built its reputation by mastering the simple joy of pounding opponents with flaming punches and hurricane kicks. Thus, a puzzle game is about as far opposite as you can get. However, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo proved that throwing down in a tile-matching competition could be as intense and entertaining as any martial arts contest. It also gave players who stunk at fighting games but liked Street Fighter’s cast another fun avenue to enjoy them. Funny to think that a game conceived as a parody of Street Fighter II Turbo wound up becoming a serious contender, one that players can reacquaint themselves within this summer’s Capcom Fighting Collection.

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks

The third time proved to be the charm when adapting Mortal Kombat to a third-person action game. Previous attempts like MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero and Special Forces dropped the ball, but Shaolin Monks picked it up and sprinted to the finish line of success thanks to its wildly entertaining co-op gameplay. As Liu Kang and Kung Lao, two players battle through Mortal Kombat II’s story in a 3D brawler that features flashy tag team moves and plenty of gore, including Fatalities. Shaolin Monks established an exciting new template for the legendary fighter – a direction that, unfortunately, has yet to be revisited.

Gears Tactics

To the surprise of many, the Gears series’ cover-based shooting translated remarkably well to a cover-based strategy game. Gears Tactics serves as a prequel to the original Gears of War and freshens things up by letting players command and tactically maneuver a squad of Gears across grid-based battlefields to eradicate the Locust. Franchise hallmarks remain intact, from familiar weapons like Lancers to brutal executions, but are smartly reworked to fit a turn-based format. Gears Tactics does right by the series, but it would be a quality strategy game even without the IP. Here’s hoping the same reinvention pays off for the upcoming Metal Slug Tactics.

Persona 4 Arena

Crossing over the casts of Persona 3 and 4, two fantastic JRPGs, is an awesome idea. Doing it in a fighting game? That wound up being wacky enough to work, thanks in no small part to developer Arc Systems Works applying their fighting game mojo to Persona 4 Arena. The game is a wonderfully entertaining and well-crafted fighter boasting the depth of Guilty Gear and a gorgeous anime presentation. Versus bouts are thrilling, but Persona enthusiasts get a bonus treat in a fun story mode that provides plenty of fan service. The game’s follow-up, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, isn’t too shabby either and was re-released on modern platforms earlier this year.

Halo Wars

The Halo Wars series accomplished two significant feats. First, it successfully morphed one of the biggest first-person shooter franchises into an RTS. Second, it made it play well on consoles. Halo Wars likely turned a portion of the franchise’s audience into RTS fans thanks to its well-designed gameplay and narrative world-building. Halo Wars 2, in particular, has become more significant, laying the critical narrative groundwork that Halo Infinite builds upon.

Mario Kart

Mario has spawned a litany of popular spin-offs from sports to puzzle games, but none hold a candle to the mammoth success of Mario Kart. From its first iteration on Super Nintendo to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch, putting Mario and his friends in the driver seat of go-karts ranks has continually proven to be among Nintendo’s greatest gambles. Mario Kart utilizes and celebrates the worlds, power-ups, and characters from the main platforming games in its inventive courses, weapons, and roster. Given its staggering sales numbers and universal popularity, Mario Kart may well be the greatest spin-off series of all time.