Why the Number 3 Isn’t Taboo in Video Games

I probably don’t need to tell you, as there is a good chance most of you have seen it at least once already, but the third installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, “The Dark Knight Rises,” hit theaters this weekend, and is attempting to bring the series full circle by pulling off the rare cinematic feat of releasing a third movie that equals, or even surpasses, the quality of the two that came before it.

The history of movies is plagued with bad third installments (“The Godfather Part 3,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Spider-Man 3” to name a few) and very few successes. While this can be attributed to a number of factors, the fact remains that a complete movie trilogy usually falls apart at number three. What’s odd is that video games do not share this problem. In fact, the history of video games has shown that the third installment can sometimes yield a truly great game, if not the greatest of the series.

Don’t believe me? Then take a look at some of the greatest third games of all time.

“Tekken 3”

 

The “Tekken” series hasn’t quite disappeared off the face of the earth, but the series’ heyday has long passed. “Tekken 3” was the pinnacle of the series’ excellence, and to this day remains one of the most perfectly designed fighting games of all time. “Tekken’s” established gameplay style reached absolute excellence, and did so with one of the greatest roster of fighters ever assembled. “Tekken 3” also added a couple of very fun game modes in Ball Mode (a competitive beach ball contest) and Force Mode (a “Final Fight“style brawler), that were so entertaining in their own rights, it seemed like Namco had finally resorted to rubbing it in other fighting game developers faces.

“Tekken 3” remains the 8th highest rated video game of all time on Game Rankings.com, and more importantly is still fun to play today. The first two “Tekken” games were good, but thanks to “Tekken 3” they are also largely irrelevant.

“Grand Theft Auto 3”

I dreaded writing this list, because I knew I’d have to include this game. The truth is that I have nothing more to say about “Grand Theft Auto 3.” Over the years I’ve exhausted every single combination of words to describe how “GTA III” is one of the greatest and most revolutionary games of all time, and how its overnight release changed the entire video game industry. I simply can’t go on anymore about its amazing gameplay that is bested only by its mature storytelling, which is further overshadowed by the incredible little design decisions that permeate the entire game. I’m also sick of mentioning “GTA III’s” classic line up of characters, and those unforgettable radio stations that lent “GTA III” one of the greatest game soundtracks of all time.

And of course, I can’t fathom bringing up one more time how this, the third release in an otherwise previously non-noteworthy series, completely stunned everyone who never saw it coming and changed this franchise from cult hit at best to worldwide phenomenon considered both the most popular in its field at the time, and the most artistically sound as well essentially making it “The Beatles” of video game series.

Yup, I’ve just got nothing more to say about “GTA III.”

“Fallout 3”

The “Fallout” series may host the greatest world ever created for a video game. Exactly how a world that comes off like a 50’s sci-fi dime novel mixed with a radiation filled “Mad Max” apocalypse came to be is a story that’s way too long to get into. What’s impressive, though, is that the entire history is there to discover, if you want to take the time to do so.

Of course, many of “Fallout 3’s” best elements, including the aforementioned world, were carried over from the original titles in the series, but “Fallout 3” made its own mark by perfecting those elements. Developer Bethesda took everything great about the series, and used every technological advancement at their disposal to bring it into the modern gaming world with extreme care and proficiency. Then you have the innovative V.A.T.S. combat system, which is on par with “Ocarina of Time’s” Z-Targeting system for revolutionary combat upgrades, and helped eliminate any of the tedium this game might have suffered from.

I could write an essay on “Fallout’s” brilliance, but I’ll spare you of that now. Just know that putting this game on a list of greatest 3’s almost makes me ashamed, because it feels like I’m limiting the scope of everything that is so incredible about it.

“Super Mario Brothers 3”

This may just be the “Citizen Kane” of video games. I don’t just mean that’s its design decisions and techniques revolutionized the industry, but rather that “Super Mario Bros. 3” can be tossed into any greatest game of all time discussion without drawing too much ire.

Much like “GTA III”, there’s really only so much to still say about this one. I will note that the one aspect of the game’s greatness that cannot be overstated enough is the incredible level design. There are a ton of levels in this game, and few of them feel like repeats, helping to supply most of the game’s now infamous fun factor. As a sequel, it’s almost impossible to fathom how “SMB 3” was able to follow up on of the most important games of all time (not talking about “Mario 2” obviously), and make it virtually unplayable by today’s standards. Developer Shigeru Miyamoto has always toed that genius/insane line pretty closely. With “Super Mario 3,” the line seizes to exist, and the two mentalities were combined to form a wonderful experience that has been often duplicated, and never equaled.

“Resident Evil 3: Nemesis”

In many ways, “Resident Evil 3” is the odd ball of the main “Resident Evil” games. It’s not near as innovative as “Resident Evil,” lacks the depth and total improvements of “Resident Evil 2,” cannot compete with “Resident Evil: Code Veronica,” and is insulting to compare to “Resident Evil 4.” Yet, it’s still one of the greatest survival horror games of all time, and a highlight of the series.

Obviously, the biggest (no pun intended) thing the game has going for it is the Nemesis enemy itself. The constant fear of not knowing when the game’s toughest enemy is going to appear, lends “RE: 3” a feel that is unique to just about every other survival horror game, much less just releases in this series. Beyond that, “RE: 3” provided a welcome change of pace from the series up until that point by providing a more active gameplay style, that’s aided by the game’s rudimentary choice system, ammo creation feature, and overall greater emphasis on action. “RE: 3” manages to employ every great feature of the “Resident Evil” series, while still feeling like its own experience, and for that is a more than noteworthy third entry.

“Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening”

“Devil May Cry 2” sucked.

To this day, it’s still mind boggling how a game that copies so much of its incredibly awesome predecessor could manage to ignore everything that made the first “Devil May Cry” so great. It’s almost as if Capcom wanted to change the series, but didn’t feel like putting the effort forward to actually do it, and instead we got a travesty.

Which is why they made a great decision for “DMC 3” by literally going back to the game’s roots. “DMC 3” served as a prequel to the first game, but gameplay wise was the true sequel to the original everyone wanted. There’s really not much to “DMC 3” than the words more and better. More and better weapons, music, enemies, and moves all make the roll call. What really makes the game stand the test of time, though, is its legendary difficulty. Even masters of the action genre will die like its “Dark Souls”, but love every second of it. “DMC 3” is both an apology and an appropriate middle finger to series fans who hated the second game, and serves as a perfect example of how to recover from a bad franchise installment.

“Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater”

“Metal Gear Solid 2” sucked.

Okay, okay, I won’t go that route again. Still, to call MGS 2 a hari-kari inducing disappointment is selling my feelings towards that game short. It was a title without identity, which is appropriate since its biggest flaw was taking gamers out of the well-established awesome shoes of series mainstay Solid Snake, and into the quivering, whiny boots of some dude that looks like a lady called Raiden.

“Metal Gear Solid 3” had no such problem. You were Big Boss (Snake’s scientifically genetic father) himself, and there was no doubt about it. “MGS 3” took us back to the cold war era of the 60’s, and dropped Boss into the wild, allowing for Konami to really get creative and provide excellent new gameplay concepts like eating and camouflage. Not to mention, the setting variety that changes from jungle to indoors, kept the game constantly fresh and the player on their toes. What I like best about “MGS 3,” though, is that it let its freak flag fly. The game was just intensely weird in a way that the first two titles only hinted at. And go figure, the moment this series went back to lightening up, is when it became fun again. It’s still not in the greatness pantheon of the original “Metal Gear Solid,” but gameplay wise may just be the king of the series.

“Mega Man 3”

Pie or Cake? Ninjas or Pirates? “Mega Man 2” or “Mega Man 3”?

These are some of the greatest debated topics of all time, due in large part because there is no right answer. While I’ll always be a “Mega Man 2” guy, there’s no denying “Mega Man 3’s” significant contributions to the series. Besides the introduction of franchise mainstays like Mega Man’s sidekick Rush, nemesis Proto Man, and the awesome slide technique, this was the game that provided us with another array of great bosses (Snake Man, Flash Man, Gemini Man) and weapons (Search Snake, Magnet Missle, Top Spin).

There’s really nothing special to “Mega Man 3.” Instead it takes the peanut butter that was “Mega Man 2,” throws in a little chocolate, and manages to yield something that is so incredibly awesome, no one has ever bothered to point out some nagging minor aspect like originality, and dare try to give this game a flaw.

“Jak 3”

The original “Jak and Daxter” was a much hyped release from developer Naughty Dog, who was trying to get away from the series that made them famous, “Crash Bandicoot.” It went over well, but in the end was just another generic 3D platformer, released in the dying days of the genre.  “Jak II” (Daxter lost his billing) realized this, and changed the series into an action/platformer hybrid that boasted some great dialogue, and incredibly entertaining scenarios.However, the mass gameplay overhaul meant that “Jak II’s” moments of brilliance, were still built around some largely repetitive gameplay aspects.

Leave it to the final installment of the series then to finally get everything right. “Jak 3” exhibited almost none of the previous two title’s flaws, and instead managed to perfect everything the series had done right until that point. If you’re looking for how Naughty Dog was able to suddenly create something as cinematic and amazing as “Uncharted 2,” you need only look back to “Jak 3.” On a system that played home to a host of classic titles, “Jak 3” still managed to stand out as one of the most cinematic and complete experiences on the system.

“Burnout 3: Takedown”

The original “Burnout” was a fun little arcade racer that flew under the radar, and into discount bins fairly quickly. “Burnout 2” was more of the same, but introduced a side mode that allowed you to construct the perfect crash for points. It proved to be more entertaining than the main game, and lent “Burnout 2” an identity that the first didn’t have. For all its improvements, though, “Burnout” was still an underwhelming series.

Then “Burnout 3” came out and made grown men weep tears of joy. A series that was once just another obscure racer in an oversaturated genre, became a viable game of the year candidate in its third installment. It was here the series acquired its takedown feature that allowed you to destroy your competition in route to victory. Of course, your opponents are able to do the same, as were the random cars on the street, and the levels themselves. It created a dangerous, fast paced playground of destruction that never let you stop for a second. The adrenaline rush was incomparable in gaming, and the variety of modes and options assured, that you were never in danger of adapting to the drug that was “Burnout 3’s” gameplay. The series would be milked for all it was worth after “Burnout 3,” but that should take nothing away from the brilliant leap in quality this series showed in its third outing.

  

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