What is a Stylish Action Game? I’m still working on a solid definition for that myself, but in order for a game to be considered for this, it must have two things. One, a combo system. Self-explanatory. There needs to be a variety of ways to deal damage to your enemies with multiple types of weapons. Two, the game rewards you for playing well. The better you are at the game, the more rewards you’ll obtain. This is usually the game’s form of currency or experience. Also, there’s usually an extra difficulty level after Hard mode that will push your skills to the limit.
Another name for this genre is Character Action Game. I believe Itsuno from Capcom refers to these games with this term. Now, this is a fair niche genre, so I’ll try to limit it to one game per series. However, there is one series that gets two spots on this list. Also, I list the PC versions just because these games run so much better on it. So let’s get started.
#10: SHINOBI (PS2)
Let’s kick this list off with a game that some probably wouldn’t consider a Stylish Action game, Sega’s 2002 reboot/re-imagining of Shinobi (Sega truly is ahead of the trends, if only the could see how popular this trend is now). However, I believe that it meets the basic requirements for the genre. While it doesn’t have much for a combat system, the Tate (pronounced Tah-Tay) system is where this game shines.
From Stage 2-A onward Hotsuma’s sword, Akujiki, awakens and must be stated in blood otherwise it’ll drain the host’s life. Any time Hostuma dispatches an enemy they’re momentarily stunned in place. There’s a hidden timer of how long that enemy is frozen before they truly die. If you managed this take out another enemy before that timer expired, it’ll reset and thus you move on the next enemy. Chaining four or more enemies together initiates the Tate sequence where Hotsuma will do sheathe Akujiki in some anime-style and all enemies will die at once you’ll gain much more energy to ward off the sword’s blood-lust. Another bonus is that Akujiki will glow blue, purple, and red indicating how many enemies are currently in the Tate state. The more enemies in this state, the more damage you’ll do to them. It’s a fairly balanced system and the feeling you get when you take out a boss in one or two hits is incredibly satisfying.
#9: TRANSFORMERS: DEVASTATION (PC)
PlatinumGames first entry on this list. Now usually you would think a licensed game wouldn’t be that great, but the team at PG took it upon themselves to make this THE Transformers game you’ve always wanted. The amount of customization of weapons each Autobot has in their arsenal is just mind-blowing. The game incorporates mechanics from other PG titles and makes use of its own unique combo system that only Transformers would be able to perform. Each of the four Autobots (and one Dinobot) feel unique enough that you don’t feel like you’re just playing a reskinned model of one character.
Everything this game has is a selling point, but what sold me was the cel-shaded graphics and the voice cast. A real treat for someone that grew up with the ’80’s Transformers.
#8: CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW 2 (PC)
Ok, this game is a guilty pleasure of mine. I absolutely love this game despite it’s flaws. Yeah, the plot is whacky, and the modern Castle Town environments are gray and boring. But I have an absolute playing with the combo system in this game. The combo system is mostly intact from the previous entry including the Focus mechanic. The main difference is that in of just having Light and Dark Magic forms and using the Combat Cross in each one, Dracula has Void and Chaos magic. Same concept, but you get an ice sword and flaming gauntlets. And each form has their own variations of Drac’s existing sub-weapons. And even though both Void and Chaos magic has attacks that have the same inputs, they’ll have drastically different attack animations.
Mercury Steam even did the DLC properly this time around. Alucard’s side-story has proper cinematics and he is his own character and not a reskin of Dracula. Though he doesn’t have his own unique weapons for Void and Chaos forms, his sword has a healthy variety of attacks and combo strings.
#7: GOD HAND (PS2)
So I may have jumped the gun when I said Ninja Gaiden Black was the most brutal game in terms of difficulty. This game is Clover Stuido’s swansong. While not received well at first, it has a cult following and IGN even put it in their Top 100 PS2 Games list.
If I could describe God Hand, I’d say its uniquely intimidating. The gameplay is like none other. Having the R-Stick as a dodge/evade option will using the face buttons for attacks and shoulder buttons for special attacks and taunting. However, everything else is absolutely intimidating. The game is based on the Dynamic Difficulty System. In other words you the better you play, the harder everything becomes. Resident Evil 4 featured this, but it wasn’t advertised or mentioned anywhere in the game. Mikami (who directed both games) wanted a game where the player could cancel any move into another move. That’s the other intimidating thing about this game. Gene has so many moves to not only buy from the in game store, but then as the player you naturally want to find the optimal moves for each move slot. And once you beat the game each move then gets the God version of it. I’ve never done a full New Game + run, but I would assume the God version is either more damage or the attack is faster.
While the game is lacking in terms of production value, it more than makes up for it with it’s depth in combat and challenge. In an interview Mikami said that if you want to impress him as a gamer, tell him how you beat God Hand on Hard mode. No small feat at all.
#6: THE WONDERFUL 101 (WIIU)
The Wonderful 101 was the reason I bought a Wii U. I swear, if Kamiya makes an exclusive game, I’ll buy whatever console that game is on.
With it’s unique blend of Sentai vs. Kaiju theme as well as everyone you come across becoming a hero and working together fills this game with a unique charm. What baffles me is that I still don’t understand everything about this game. There’s so much to learn with each of the main heroes as well as utilizing each of the main heroes unique traits to optimize boss weaknesses. As much praise as I give this game, I feel like I could love it even more if I understood it more. Sadly because it wasn’t marketed that well it slipped under radar for most people.
This game (much like Transformers Devastation) feels like it incorporates every mechanic that PG puts into their game prior as well as adding it’s own take on it. The game is called The Wonderful 101 because you as the player control 100 Wonderful Ones and using brush techniques that call back to Okami, use said Wonderful Ones to makes into weapons. The bigger you draw them, the more powerful your attack is, though it’ll drain more power. Its a shame that more people didn’t play the game, but at the same time the game caters to a very specific demographic. If you do pick this game up, it does not hold your hand. There’s a lot of trial and error. Once you learn how the game flows, you’ll really start enjoying the game.
#5: DEVIL MAY CRY (PS2)
This game. This game right here is the Grandfather to the Stylish Action genre. It all started here. I’m sure you all know that Devil May Cry started development as Resident Evil 4. However, Kamiya and Team Little Devils got carried away with the combat system. Producer Shinji Mikami approved of the combat system, but had Kamiya change the name of the game as it wasn’t fitting to call it a Resident Evil game. Even though the game is an entirely new series, you can definitely tell it started as a Resident Evil game. At any rate, I could talk for hours of the backstory of this game, let’s get down to why this game is such a masterpiece and how it formed it’s own genre.
This was the first game I’ve played that has a visual indication of how well you’re playing the game. The style meter gives you a rank D, C, B, A, and S. The idea is that the better you play, the higher the rank. However, as this is the first time a mechanic like this had been used (first one to my knowledge at least) it boils down to constantly dealing damage while not taking damage. Easy concept, but hard to execute.
This was also the first game I played that had a difficulty mode that wasn’t just called Very Hard. Just seeing a mode called Dante Must Die! was intimidating, then I actually played it. Talk about a challenge. Only 10 developers that worked on the game could finish DMD mode. That’s how crazy it is. The reward for beating DMD? Super Dante. You have infinite Devil Trigger. Worth it.
#4: NINJA GAIDEN BLACK (XBOX)
If God of War is the most brutal game in terms of actions displayed on screen, then Ninja Gaiden Black is probably the most brutal when it comes to your first time playing any of the games on this list. I bought an Xbox just for this game back in 2004. And I thought I was awesome at these games. Until it took me two hours just to beat Murai. He’s the first boss, and all he wields are nunchaku. It took me two hours to take him down, but it took me just as long to get through the first level to even face him. And the difficulty only goes up from there. But we can talk all day about how hard this series is.
The reason this game makes the list is not only because the amount of combo strings each weapon has, or how each projectile weapon has it’s use, but the fact that it has every key element a Stylish Action Game needs. Weapon variety, unique and interesting enemy/creature design, iconic locations, rewards for not only playing well, but also for exploring. In the Xbox versions of the game, if you collect all the Golden Scarabs located in the game, there’s an arcade machine in the city that’ll let you play the NES Ninja Gaiden games. This game has it all. If only all the sequels were as solid.
#3: METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE (PS3)
Funny that there are three games on this list that feature Ninjas as the protagonist, yet none of them are stealth games. Just an observation, moving on. This game has had a bumpy development cycle. If I recall correctly, Kojima tweeted out about how the game was almost cancelled because they couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Thankfully, PlatinumGames came to the rescue. Hard to say how different the game would be if PG didn’t step up to develop the game. I always thought the game would bridge the gap between MGS2 and MGS4, but let’s not think about what could have been, but on how awesome this game is and how broken Blade Mode is. Look up any video of someone that knows how to play this game and you’ll see some crazy shenanigans.
My biggest complaint about this game is that the boss weapons you acquire get assigned to the triangle/Y button thus getting rid of quite a few key attacks you normally have. Wish that there was another option PG would’ve implemented for those weapons. Or even if they were their own weapon with a full move list. Sadly, that’s not the case, but there’s nothing quite as thrilling as slicing cyborgs up in the streets of a city I’m more than familiar with (Denver, Colorado).
My favorite moment when you fight Sundowner. Without going into spoilers, when it came to the fight’s climax, I was able to re-enact one of my favorite moments from Dragon Ball Z. Let’s leave it at that.
Also, this is another game that is a perfect example of DLC done right. Two new characters to play as, neither of which feel like a reskin of Raiden, and each DLC is complete with their own fully rendered cinematics. Thank you PlatinumGames and Kojima for making another absolutely unforgettable entry into one of gaming’s most iconic series.
#2: DEVIL MAY CRY 4: SPECIAL EDITION (PC)
Ok, I know I said I’d try to limit entries to one game per series, Devil May Cry 4 cannot be ignored. This game set the groundwork for the best game in this genre (more on that next) and the Special Edition update added three new characters to play as, and added a slew of features that should now be standard for any Stylish Action game.
Also, DMC4 initially released in 2008 and this game still looks better than most games that were coming out five to six years later. In addition to that, Itsuno and his team at Capcom set the standard on how to do a PC port of a console when DMC4 came to PCs in July of 2008.
The biggest advancements DMC4 accomplished was giving Dante access to all his Devil Arms, Firearms, and Styles all at the press of a button, as well as updating the Style meter (well that technically happened in DMC3, but I’ll add it in here). High level Dante play is just majestic to watch. Players are still finding new ways to innovate with Dante almost ten years after the game has launched. That’s how deep the combat system goes. I could go on about Star-Raves, Just Frame Royal Guarding, enemy strategies, and so forth. And that’s just when it comes to Dante. There are four other characters to play as. FOUR! And they are their own characters. There’s so much to this game that you wouldn’t think that there’s a game that could top it. Well, there is.
#1: BAYONETTA (X360)
And here it is. The current pinnacle of the Stylish Action genre. PlatinumGames and Kamiya once again make the list. So much in this game, it’s hard to start. First off you’ll notice I’m recommending the 360 version of the game even though the PC version was just released. However there are a few bugs with it, but Sega is in the process of patching them.
Kamiya has acknowledged that DMC4 laid the groundwork for Bayonetta. But there are key changes. DMC’s signature movement was done away with to players were given total freedom when it comes to movement. Bayonetta has a Punch and Kick button as she has weapons sets instead just one weapon equipped at a time. Though some weapons cannot be assigned to her feet. Also, Bayonetta’s gameplay revolves around triggering Witch Time. When an enemy’s attack is dodged successfully, you’ll engage Witch Time. You’re given a brief window of slo-mo and your attacks do more damage.
The biggest thing that sets Bayonetta apart from all other previous games is the Dodge Offset mechanic. In previous games, if you dodged an enemy attack in the middle of a combo string, you’d be forced to start that string all over. However, in Bayonetta, if you doing a PPPPK string and you were about to be hit on the fourth P, you can hold the P button, dodge, then continue the string from there. Works on any combo string and at any point in the string. Pure genius.
And that’s just grazing the surface of Bayonetta. Seriously, check this game out.
Hope you guys enjoyed the list. And I hope you check out some of these games, even it if is just watching a YouTube video how broken Blade Mode is, or how crazy Dante combos get in DMC4. Most of these games are available on current consoles or as classics on PSN/XBLA.