Assassin's Creed II was much more strongly received than the original game as an almost-entirely across-the-board improvement on the original in game terms, plus introducing a beloved protagonist in Ezio Auditore da Firenze.
The first game in the Web Game series Ball Revamped is the least popular and least known. The rest of the games have automatic respawningnote the first one annoyingly forces you to press G or click the screen every time you die, and then press space to start the level, background music, boss battles, better atmosphere and better physics. They got rid of randomly appearing powerups that could render a level trivial or impossible.note Fortunately, the powerups are randomly generated again if you die, so you don't have to restart the entire game.
Borderlands, despite being a mechanically sound fusion of FPS and RPG elements, was rather bland and repetitive until the DLCs. One of the major complaints about the base game was that it took itself too seriously, unlike the expansions, which had far more humor. Now that it has found its true voice, Borderlands 2 took the style and ran with it to great acclaim.
The Burnout series started out poor, with the initial game being not very well received. Its second installment was better, though it was really the third title that could be considered the beard-growing moment, with the games addition of the Takedown maneuver.
City of Heroes. Initially a passable MMO whose main strength was the amazing costume editor, the addition of a mission creation tool to allow players to create their own instances for other players to enjoy took the game to the next level.
The mission creator came later, but many players will also attest that the game has steadily and massively improved since launch due to major rebalancing that actually worked (despite copping some rage at the time), addition of many costume parts, improved writing, and a general dev focus on player-friendliness. While it's hard to place a particular turning point, the release of City of Villains could be considered a major game changer.
There are a number of changes which qualify, but the most marked turning point is probably the sale of the franchise from Cryptic to NCSoft, the creation of Paragon Studios, and the departure of much-loathed original lead developer Statesman. Several changes prior to this change were pretty good (particularly the City of Villains expansion and the addition of an an economy in Issue 9), but most of the real solid improvements came afterward (including weapon customization and the ability to play arcs you've outleveled through time travel in I11, I14's aforementioned Architect system, power customization in I16, and the Going Rogue expansion).
The Dark Forces Saga started off as a standard FPS clone of Doom with a Star Wars theme, but its sequel Jedi Knight introduced Force powers and lightsabers. It eclipsed its predecessor and set the flavor of the series from there, to the point that "Dark Forces" isn't even used in the title anymore (and creating one of best known cases of Colon Cancer ever).
Diablo III, while not a bad game, had a rocky launch and problems later on - loot was deemed lackluster due to the presence of the Auction House and the difficulty levels being fairly imbalanced, with Normal being incredibly boring and Inferno borderline unplayable. Blizzard started rolling out stuff to counter it by introducing Paragon levels and Monster levels, but the game really hit its stride once Loot 2.0 hit, which amped up loot strength and made the drops much more sensible, to the point where people who hadn't received a Legendary item over 40 hours now were swimming in them after 30 minutes. It was further amped once Reaper of Souls was released and introduced new modes coupled with complete removal of the Auction House.
In 2008, Korean game developer Pentavision took their DJMAX series of Rhythm Game s to the arcade environment under the name DJMAX Technika. Drastically different in gameplay from its predecessors, the game was already well received, although hints of Fake Difficulty, Obvious Beta and general needless complications were present. Come 2010, the sequel, DJMAX Technika 2 improves on the previous game by being more streamlined in every way, adding new songs (half of which are revivals of classic songs in the franchise) and new modes such as the every popular Crew Race.
The first two Duke Nukem games were fairly unremarkable 2D side-scrollers. With Duke Nukem 3D the genre changed to first person shooter complete with innovate weapons, impressive (for the time) level design, and a raunchy sense of humor. As a result Duke Nukem has become one of the most famous video game heroes of all time.
Dungeons and Dragons Online This game grew a beard in September 2009 when the game went to a Free to Play model and Turbine sued Atari (the digital rights manager of D&D). All the updates since Update 9 have featured much better quest designs.
The Elder Scrolls series' first two installments were quite competent and well received, but the series didn't make a true commercial blockbuster until Morrowind came around. And the fourth installment, Oblivion, raised the bar even higher. Skyrim was succesful as well, becoming more universally better received on release by fans and critics.
Whilst there may never be a consensus as to what point this happened in the Final Fantasy series from a gameplay perspective, the fourth entry is widely seen as a major turning point in terms of storyline. Whereas only one of the first three games even had characters with names and personalities (and that game relegated much of its story to Japan-onlyside materials), FFIV's cast had distinct personalities, backstories, and character development, and devoted far more time to the story than previous entries. Although successor FFV put the story in the backseat, FFVI would follow FFIV's lead by giving more time than ever to the plot and characterization. Now, is isn't uncommon to hear people cite the stories as being as or even more important to a Final Fantasy entry as the gameplay.
Fire Emblem grew the beard with Genealogy of the Holy War, the fourth game. It featured a much darker story than the past games, along with larger maps, more character interaction (to the point of being able to pair people up), and tons more drama.
The first two Grand Theft Auto games were reasonably popular due to their unique gameplay and controversy, but once the change to 3D went full in Grand Theft Auto III, it was an immense hit, and essentially one of the first well-done open-world sandbox games. Of course, most players were already thinking "This would be even better in 3D."
The first Guild Wars campaign, Prophecies, is generally considered to have long, monotonous levels compared to the other games. It also had very little max-level content and was almost completely serious, when reaching max level early on in the game and having a slightly dry sense of humor would later become part of the games signature style. Factions, the second, solidified many ideas that would be re-used in the next installments, including henchmen with distinct stories who talked to the player, a "starter island" that the character generally leaves around max level, and several pacing adjustments. It doesn't hurt that the Factions era is still widely regarded as the most balanced Pv P environment in Guild Wars history.
Heroes Of Might And Magic V started out as a 3D-remake of the third game with awkward translation and mostly lazy cutscenes (using the existing animations of heroes and units instead of moving the mouth). It grew its beard over the course of the two expansions, particularly the second.
Hitman: Codename 47, while praised for it's originality, is often criticized for being incredibly unforgiving, with missions that can take over 20 minutes to finish without any save points as well as Agent 47's small health bar which often meant you were dead the second you were detected. Then Hitman 2: Silent Assassin came out with the brilliant idea of giving the player a limited amount of saves they could use in each level wherever they want. This encouraged more experimentation since you knew if your plan didn't work out you could go back to a previous save which you placed just where you needed it, but also prevents save-scumming by giving you a finite amount of saves, helping the series find a more balanced difficulty level that still challenged it's player but was never quite as punishing. The game was significantly more well received than it's predecessor.
The original Kid Icarus and it's sequel are not bad games, but they were far from major hits. They were mostly cited as Metroid clones for having been made in the same engine. Kid Icarus: Uprising is were the franchise develops its own personality, fleshed out Pit and Palutena as characters, and gave the world its own supporting cast and feel.
It's generally seen that The King of Fighters '96, the third game in the series, was when KOF started to take off. '96 added running and dodge-rolling in place of dashing and spot-dodging, two mechanics that helped set KOF apart from other fighting games, as well as making the overall gameplay smoother and more accessible. The theme tune to '98 even acknowledges it; the pieces were in place in '96 (though in context, that's actually referring to the game bringing the "Orochi" aspect of the Orochi Saga to the fore).
Mario Kart revolutionized mascot racing during its time by having 8 characters in a race and having tracks with complex designs and obstacles. Mario Kart 64 took it a step further when the series made the leap to 3D by having better designed tracks, more items, and up to 4 people could play the game on the same console. Mario Kart DS led the way for online play for the series. Mario Kart Wii led the way for global-wide battles. Mario Kart 8 allowed players to upload their races to Youtube directly via Mario Kart TV.
Marvel Heroes was roundly criticised on various fronts upon release, including: lacklustre character models and VFX, uninspired powers and hero mechanics, broken game math, difficulty in obtaining new characters (they could only be obtained for free via random in-game loot drops), lack of good loot (for a game built around it), no endgame, not enough lore flavor and the general deficit of customisation options. All of these issues have since been addressed to varying extents, and more importantly the dev team's transparency and active communication with fans have won past detractors over.
Though critics loved it unconditionally, the gameplay of the Mass Effect franchise was pretty rocky. 1 was a straightforward third-person run-&-gun somewhere between Halo and Doom, hampered by unnecessary Take Cover elements. 2 put cover-based shooting center stage, but adjusted all the game's other elements (gun damage, special abilities, HP totals) a bit too far, resulting in fragile and unbalanced gameplay. The trilogy's final entry managed to mix everything just right, to the point that 3's multiplayer mode, at first derided as a cash-in mechanic, is now enjoyed unironically by franchise fans.
This is mirrored in the driving segments. In the first game you operated the M-35 Mako, an Awesome Personnel Carrier with extremely unintuitive physics and wonky controls. The second game replaced the Mako with the Hammerhead hovertank and made driving sequences optional. III found the best solution: removed 'em entirely.
Mega Man Battle Network was received rather warmly, but is an Obvious Beta to even the most biased of critics. Its sequel introduces the Style system, a wealth of replay value in the sidequests and expanded chip library, the much appreciated ability to flee from battle without the need for a specific Battle Chip and a more varied soundtrack, among other things, creating an overall more polished experience.
Neverwinter Nights started out with a rather boring story, full of Plot Holes, with about 2 three-dimensional characters in the entire game. It started growing its beard with the expansions, but the real potential of the engine didn't really emerge until the greatest works of toolset manipulation (A Dance with Rogues, Sanctum of the Archmage, The Bastard Of Kosigan, the Shadowlords series, and more) started to show up.
Neverwinter Nights 2 (developed by Obsidian Entertainment) was accused of doing much the same thing, via another hackneyed and cliched plotline, linear maps, tons of bugs and one of the most infamous uses of Rocks Fall Everybody Dies. The first expansion, Mask of the Betrayer (also developed by Obsidian), improved on just about everything in the base game. In addition to retconning the ending, it had many well-written companions, a shorter and more focused storyline and less linear areas, to the point that it's one of the most critically-revered expansions of all time and is often mentioned in the same breath as Planescape: Torment! It even had people who hated the game at a loss for words how a company could go one polar extreme to the other.
While there is still some hard core dislike for it, EA's Origin service has gained more acceptance in the mainstream as of 2014, even pressuring Valve to keep up with some features. Some highlights include:
You can add most EA published games that are available to the service if you have a CD key for it. Even some third party games can be added this way as well. No strings are attached, even if you have the game in your Steam library. While Steam will accept CD keys as well, it's hit and miss what can be used to add to your library.
You can refund the games within a certain amount of time. This was one of the more high profile features the service offered that Steam didn't (Steam would eventually add it, though not as flexible as Origin's)
EA occasionally gifts games to its users. And it's not shovelware, as classics like Sim City 2000 and Theme Hospital were given away.
Persona 3 was this for the Persona series. While the others were certainly good games, this was the installment that made the series famous. It was the first to come to the US without having been butchered by borderline racist translators and also introduced the social link system.
Not just Persona. This is considered to be the game that made the entire Shin Megami Tensei series big in the west, and Persona 4 proceeded to make it even more well known.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: The first two cases of the first game are relatively simple, designed with fairly over-the-top characters while the player learns basics of gameplay. In the third case, the HSQ shoots up, along with Character Development, and, suddenly, the game switches from "non-stop wackiness" to one with real stakes. The next game in the series doubles down on both the Rule of Funny and Earn Your Happy Ending elements that made the first game so successful.
Pikmin 1 and 2 were considered cute classics for Nintendo GameCube. Pikmin 3, meanwhile, was highly publicized by Nintendo and regarded as one of the Wii U's best games.
Resident Evil 4 was far, far less of a joke than the previous few games of the series due to the massive changes in controls, camera, setting, everything, and wound up winning Game of the Year at quite a few websites and magazines. The gameplay and puzzles were more acclaimed than in the PlayStation titles (which themselves weren't too bad)
Resident Evil 2, rather than having a B-Movie story like the first game, ended up having one of the most engaging plots in the series. Later, the first game was remade in 2002, doing a few Retcons and trying to connect it to the later installments which made it seem a lot less cheesy.
Season One grew the beard with Abraham Lincoln Must Die. It's no coincidence that this is the episode that's given out for free (for good reasons).
Season Two is widely considered to be much, much better than Season One, due to having harder puzzles, more variation in locations, more unique episodes, a much more coherent story arc involving most of the supporting cast and killing off the Soda Poppers.
The Devil's Playhouse (Season Three) is also this. A darker, much tighter storyline spoofing the works of H.P. Lovecraft and The Twilight Zone, with top-notch writing, acting and humor. Max gaining some rather fun psychic powers and The Soda Poppers staying dead certainly helped too.
The Sega Superstars games only started to pick up praise from the critics with the third installment, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.
There is widespread agreement among Silent Hill fans that the beard for the series was grown during Silent Hill 2. Given that the first game tends to be listed as a favorite even after eight games, this is a testament to how revered the second game is within the fandom.
The series has long suffered from Broken Base Syndrome, with later games being generally less well-regarded. There are some dedicated purists who refuse to ever acknowledge any game after the fourth, but among the more open-minded fans, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories has achieved a cult following and some think of it as when the series grew its second beard. That latest game has been quite better received critically and among fans than several games previous speaks of some truth to the idea.
The 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games. In the mind of critics and many if not most fans, Sonic Unleashed finally introduced a successful 3D formula in the form of its daytime stages, though its night stageswere poorly received. Then came Sonic Colors, which was a critical and commercial success for keeping the formula of the day stages (albeit with less emphasis on speed and action) and adding a twist to it in the form of Wisps. And then Sonic Generations came out, which stuck closer to the more fast-paced Unleashed version of the formula, while adding an alternate mode that mimics the gameplay of the classic 2D games.
Sound Voltex Booth featured a lot of so-so remixes of BEMANI songs, many of which make odd use of Vocaloids, and some very old Touhou remxies like "Cirno's Perfect Math Class" and "Bad Apple!! feat. nomico". However, Sound Voltex II -infinite infection- is where many fans felt that the series started to get very good, featuring higher song quality, more original songs, and new chart elements along with much better charting styles.
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus was an episodic, linear game where you played through level after level until you faced a boss and moved on to the next episode. In the sequel you instead perform "jobs" which can be anything from sabotaging the weapons of the Big Bad to recon to setting up an escape route, all building up to one final heist where you stick it to the bad guy. Plans can go awry and force you to improvise, there is plenty of World Building and exploration, and much more emphasis is put on the Gray and Gray Morality of a storyline where the protagonists and antagonists are both criminals.
Star Control was a relatively popular turn-based strategy game including a spaceship melee mode a la Spacewar!. The sequel, Star Control 2 increased the scope of the original with a story-driven adventure mode and various other elements. Star Control 2 went on to become widely considered one of the best video games of all time. Alas, there was noStar Control 3.
While the first Super Smash Bros. is far from a bad game, it suffered from a limited budget and hardware limitations. After becoming a sleeper hit, its sequel, Melee, had a much bigger budget and was created to flex the graphical muscle of the then-new GameCube. A lot of the staples of the Smash series were introduced in Melee, such as the popular trophy collection.
Tekken was a direct arcade port with a versus mode, some remixed music, and Galaga. It was a decent fighter, and an impressive one at that, but it left a little to be desired. Then came it's sequel. New characters, tons of new modes, better emphasis on story, better music, better graphics, the works! And the series would only continue to improve with the third game in the series.
While fans of the Thief series of games generally hold the first game (The Dark Project) in high regard, it's generally agreed among fans that its Thief II: The Metal Age was a massive improvement, featuring a heavier emphasis on level exploration with multiple paths to finish a level, smarter guard AI, a compelling plot with a genuinely disturbing villain, and a significantly lowered focus on one-on-one encounters with enemies, and more stealth and thievery.
For most Wario Land fans, Wario Land II (the second Game Boy title, not the Virtual Boy one) did this, as the series gameplay diverged significantly from that of the Mario series and actually started developing its own identity with things like the transformations. Which of the next two games is better on the other hand, seems to be dependent on the player.
The MOTHER trilogy. EarthBound Beginnings was a good game in its own right, but had issues such as excessively frequent battles and overpowered enemies. EarthBound not only fixed that all up, but spruced things up in other ways, such as adding battle backgrounds and providing more creative enemies (both in name and design).
In a hardware example, the PlayStation 3 started out as a laughing stock with a ridiculous price point, very few quality exclusive titles for well over a year after launch, and a fair amount of meme-generating idiocy (Real Time Weapon Change, Giant Enemy Crab, Attack Its Weak Point and For Massive Damage) by Sony's PR department. It was also notoriously difficult to make games for, keeping away third-party support. Things began improving in 2008 with the release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, which demonstrated what the system was capable of. By holiday 2009, they had launch a new slimmer model, dropped the price in half, and started a new campaign of genuinely funny advertisements featuring Sony's fake Vice President of Whatever-The-Hell-He-Wants-To-Be-VP-Of Kevin Butler. The fact that the PS3 had finally developed a very respectable game lineup didn't hurt either. By the end of the generation, Sony managed to close the gap with Microsoft's Xbox 360, each with around 80 million units sold.
The PlayStation 4 is this for the brand overall. After the past two generations with increasingly frustrating-to-code hardware and inflating ego that was finally crashed down like the Hindenburg , Sony finally decides "hey, let's ask what the developers want". Not only did they win the developers over again, but Microsoft's less-than-stellar reveal of the Xbox One was heavily taken advantage of by Sony to win the gamers at E3. And it shows. The PlayStation 4 is the fastest selling console in history.
Giants added voice acting to the Skylanders... and added some well-known actors to the list.
With every series (as early as Giants), the figures started to become more detailed and better sculpted.
Around swap Force, the levels started to become less linear and opened more up for exploration, hiding some of the hidden unlockables in much less obvious locations.
Swap Force also started to vary the playstyle of the Skylanders. While still in rather simplistic and approachable for a younger audience, the Trap Team skylanders added Stance Systems, Status Buffers, and minion masters, further rewarding others who try and play certain Skylanders.
Trap Team also updates the graphics for the new gen, while still making sure it's aesthetically gorgeous for people playing the game on previous gen systems.
The original Xbox is pretty much a PC in a box, and despite having graphical prowess and a decent lineup of games throughout its lifespan, its sales paled in comparison to Sony's PS2 juggernaut, which dominated the generation. Its successor, the Xbox 360, improved upon its predecessor by by upping its user friendliness, which includes embracing the Xbox Live online gaming hub, adding an achievement system for rewarding certain in game tasks, and redesigning the Xbox's controller to make it more ergonomic. And that's not mentioning taking advantage of Sony's disastrous E3 2006 with its lower pricepoint and lineup of games. Although the console suffered from the dreaded red ring of death early in its lifespan, it ended the generation with around 80 millions units sold, quadrupling the sales of its predecessor.
When the Xbox One was first revealed in early 2013, it was ridiculed by gamers and media alike for its restrictive DRM policies and a focus on Kinect and digital TV instead of gaming, which resulted in its competitor Sony taking the ball and running with it. In the next two years, MS managed to somewhat regain the goodwill of gamers by reversing its DRM policies, removing the mandatory Kinect requirement, dropping the price by $100, and reintroducing backward compatibility with its predecessor. A return to its core franchises such as Forza and Halo, as well as new IPs such as Sunset Overdrive and Ori And The Blind Forest, doesn't hurt either.