Totally NOT sequels!
I’ve recently talked about video game remasters and it got me thinking of another kind of revival—the spiritual successor. A spiritual successor is a video game that is made to be almost like a sequel to an older game BUT it can’t officially be called a sequel for various reasons. Maybe the original developers no longer work in the industry anymore or it could be the company that owns the name of the game doesn’t want to make another game. That doesn’t stop some people from wanting to make a new version of an old game though and with all the remakes and remasters going on right now, spiritual successors are in just as much demand from gamers. Knowing where your favourite games come from can make you appreciate them more too.
What Makes a Great Spiritual Successor
Copying What’s Good & Leaving Behind The Bad
A video game spiritual successor is a game that’s made years or decades after the original game it’s based on. Game development, gamers, and ideas have changed in that time and not everything a game did in the past should be used just for the sake of it. Many spiritual successors try to copy an old game exactly, warts and all, and bring a lot of bad gameplay into a new game or they don’t copy some of the best things. Doing that can very easily lead to a boring or unsatisfying spiritual successor. A great spiritual successor should take all the good things that an old game did and copy them into the new game, while at the same time identifying all the bad things that made the game less fun, annoying, or frustrating and leave them behind.
Maintaining The ‘Feeling’
Like playing a sequel, the new game needs to feel like it’s the same game but better. This can be difficult to define as the feeling you get from playing a video game isn’t exactly scientific facts. However, there are things you can do in game design to recreate the original feeling. You could use an updated but similar art style, some games use the same voice actors that were in the original game, or it could even be the kind of humour and jokes told that are the same kind of jokes as the first time around. Including things like those are clear homages to the original game and fans would recognise them immediately, making them feel like they are playing a ‘proper’ sequel.
10 of the Best Video Game Spiritual Successors
1. Cities Skylines (2015)
Inspired by SimCity (2013)
The original SimCity literally invented the concept of the city-building game in 1989. Fast forward to 2013 and SimCity (5) released and everyone hated it. It had tiny maps, always online restrictions, and just wasn’t all that great to play. It’s gotten better since but it’s too late. Soon after, Cities Skylines was released and it was everything SimCity (5) was supposed to be. Bigger, better, and more fun to play, Cities Skylines is basically the new SimCity, making it one of the most successful and popular spiritual successors of all time.
2. War for the Overworld (2015)
Inspired by Dungeon Keeper (1997)
The original Dungeon Keeper was made by Bullfrog, a development company responsible for games like Theme Hospital, Populous, and Theme Park. Dungeon Keeper has in recent years become a shell of its former self with a pretty bad mobile game, but fret not, War for the Overworld is one of the best spiritual successors to a game ever. Not only does it feel and play the same as its inspiration, the voice actor is the same guy too. It truly feels like a proper sequel, despite not being called ‘Dungeon Keeper’.
3. Two Point Hospital (2018)
Inspired by Theme Hospital (1997)
Speaking of Bullfrog and Theme Hospital, Two Point Hospital is now a thing and this game is so much of a sequel that the people who made it actually made the original. The developers from Bullfrog Productions are now working at Two Point Studios and making simulation games again starting with Two Point Hospital. It plays like an updated Theme Hospital, taking what made the original great and changing what was frustrating and bad. It’s hard to imagine a better sequel to Theme Hospital two decades later than this.
4. Parkasaurus (2018)
Inspired by DinoPark Tycoon (1993)
There was an old game that I played growing up called DinoPark Tycoon that you can actually play in browser for free now HERE. When I saw Parkasaurus, I immediately recognised it. The art style has gone from pixels to cartoony, but the layout of the park, the shops you can visit, and the overall gameplay is exactly what DinoPark Tycoon was like except Parkasaurus has a ton of improvements and gameplay in it. It’s always great seeing a small game from the past get revived into something new and although not many would remember DinoPark Tycoon this is still a great spiritual successor.
5. Obduction (2016)
Inspired by Myst (1993)
Myst was the best selling PC game of the 90s until The Sims came along and the massively popular puzzle series unfortunately came to a slow death in the early-2000s where Uru: Ages Beyond Myst (2003) and Myst V: End of Ages (2005) just were not all that great. A decade later in 2016, the same developers were inspired to make a new game and Obduction came to be. It’s the same kind of game, first-person puzzle solving in lonely and mysterious worlds that you teleport between. It feels almost like a Myst game when it comes to the theme, the characters, the worlds, and even the art style, making Obduction a pretty good spiritual successor to Myst.
6. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (2019)
Inspired by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
Although not released at the time of writing, Castlevania is an absolute classic series, even helping establish the whole Metroidvania genre. Bloodstained has been in production for a while and a playable demo was also made available and it feels very much like Castlevania. Makes sense since it’s made by the same producer of the original.
7. Perfect Dark (2000)
Inspired by GoldenEye 007 (1997)
GoldenEye 007 was one of the first multiplayer first-person shooters to really take off before the days of Counter-Strike and the like. This is a situation where both games were developed by the same developers, Rare, and they wanted to make a new and upgraded version of GoldenEye but Electronic Arts got permission to make the next James Bond game (007: Tomorrow Never Dies). As with many spiritual successors, the solution is to lose the name and make the game anyway, which led to Perfect Dark that turned out to be a critical success despite not having anything to do with 007.
8. Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
Inspired by ICO (2001)
Originally kind of intended to be a sequel to ICO, the same development team set out to make a new game after the release of ICO. A new story with new characters but with similar gameplay and aesthetic, Shadow of the Colossus is very nearly a sequel to ICO, which makes it a spiritual successor as those who enjoyed the first game will love this one too.
9. Bioshock (2007)
Inspired by System Shock (1994)
The original System Shock was the first ‘intelligent FPS’. Before it, first-person shooters were just go around and shoot things. Not much story, no real thinking, just shoot the monsters. System Shock changed all that and what followed was a bunch of other ‘intelligent FPS’ games like Half-Life, Deus Ex, Thief, Dishonored, and quite notably Bioshock. All these games mentioned are basically spiritual successors to System Shock but the first Bioshock really took its inspiration to heart and created a worthy successor.
10. Dark Souls (2011)
Inspired by Demon’s Souls (2009)
The beloved Dark Souls series isn’t where it all started. Before Dark Souls there was Demon’s Souls, which itself is a spiritual successor to a game called King’s Field that goes all the way back to 1994. Much like the world of Dark Souls itself, the game’s real life existence is built upon layers of history and a lot has been forgotten by most. Not to mention that Bloodborne that came after could be considered a spiritual successor to Dark Souls itself, it seems that the developers (From Software) have no intention on stopping when it comes to continue the ‘series’ with more spiritual successors. The next game on the way is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which very well could be considered a continuation in the line of spiritual successors.
Example of an Unsatisfying Spiritual Successor
Inspired by Populous: The Beginning (1998)
Why is this not a great example of a spiritual successor? At first glance, you can clearly see the inspirations. You play a kind of god, you look after a small village using your god powers, and the levels are set on small worlds. However, what made Populous: The Beginning unique and fun was missing. It’s a case of taking the wrong things from an old game and missing the good stuff. Populous was a full-blown RTS strategy game with base building, resource collection, and multiplayer whereas From Dust is kind of just a simple god-game simulation. So although the inspiration is clear, the games are different on a fundamental level, which means anyone who is a fan of Populous: The Beginning would not really enjoy From Dust because of their love of Populous. They might like From Dust for other reasons but that still makes it unsatisfying as a spiritual successor.