Smashed: Gaming's most memorable crossovers

Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney finally reaches our shores this week, after a lengthy period of availability in Japan. The English gentleman and fumbling lawyer got us thinking about some of the other notable crossovers that have graced gaming history.


Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney finally reaches our shores this week, after a lengthy period of availability in Japan. Our review is forthcoming, but in the meantime, the English gentleman and fumbling lawyer got us thinking about some of the other notable crossovers that have graced gaming history.

Battletoads & Double Dragon (1993)

Perhaps the first notable video game crossover came from two well-known beat-em-up franchises. Double Dragon had been retrieving kidnapped girlfriends for years by this point, and Battletoads capitalized on the "anthropomorphic martial arts animals" craze kicked off by the Ninja Turtles. Joining them up was a little odd--Double Dragon was always slightly more grounded--but the mechanics were so similar the crossover potential was hard to argue.

The game was based more on Rare's Battletoads, as it was the more recent hit, and that focus is reflected in the plot. The Dark Queen is the main antagonist, and the titular Toads ask Billy and Jimmy for a hand dealing with her. Its late release means it was also an early example of a cross-gen game, having first appeared on NES and Gameboy and then coming later the same year to Super NES and Genesis.

Marvel vs Capcom Series (1995-Current)

One of the earliest fighting game crossovers, Marvel vs Capcom has turned into a juggernaut (har!) in the gaming industry. At the time of its release, Capcom was riding high with the success of Street Fighter and its many iterations, and Marvel was in the midst of a comic renaissance with an explosion of popularity for the X-Men led by Wolverine. Capcom essentially brought together the mechanics from 1994's X-Men: Children of the Atom and mixed some Street Fighter characters in, and the two worked beautifully together.

Not just a success in its own right, MvC has been the blueprint for similar crossovers with other video game series, like SNK vs. Capcom, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, and Street Fighter X Tekken. The latter crossover was meant to come with its own sister game with Tekken at the helm, but given the recent silence it's uncertain if that will ever happen.

Super Smash Bros Series (1999-Current)

Super Smash Bros was Nintendo's opportunity to bring in many of its disparate franchises under one roof. The first game featured characters from Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong, F-Zero, Pokemon, Kirby, and Earthbound. The roster has expanded with every iteration, bringing in characters from series like Pikmin and more obscure bits of Nintendo history like the Ice Climbers or swordsmen from Fire Emblem.

Super Smash Bros Brawl was the first to welcome characters from outside the Nintendo canon, like Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake. That's a trend Nintendo is preparing to continue with this year's release, which will include Mega Man along with even more Nintendo characters like the Wii Fit Trainer.

Kingdom Hearts Series (2002-Current)

It's hard to imagine the inspiration for this idea. The cute and cuddly Disney cast juxtaposed against the dour and self-serious Final Fantasy canon? At the pitch meeting, the phrase "hear us out" had to have been uttered at least once. But through some combination of Disney magic and an art and dialogue style that let the Final Fantasy characters blend in, it just worked. Thanks to the strength of both properties, high production values, and an engaging and simple story, the first game was a runaway success. 

Later titles in the Kingdom Hearts series have strayed more from the original, still using Disney as a backdrop but focusing much more on the original characters and the world's own internal mythology. Still, Aladin and Jasmine are still hanging around next to Cloud and Sephiroth, which hasn't gotten any less strange for its success.

Soul Calibur Series (2005-Current)

Though Soulcalibur began in 1999, its notability for crossovers began six years later. Soulcalibur 3 began the trend, with playable guest characters from other series available as console exclusives. PlayStation 2 received Heihachi from Tekken, GameCube got Link from The Legend of Zelda, and Xbox got Spawn from the popular comic series. The sequel, Soulcalibur 4, continued the trend with console-exclusive Star Wars characters: Yoda on Xbox 360, and Darth Vader on PlayStation 3. Both characters were later made available as paid DLC. Soulcalibur 5 pared it down to just one guest character, Ezio from the Assassin's Creed Series.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (2007)

Proving once and for all that the Olympics are a unifying celebration, even classic arch-rivals Mario and Sonic partnered up in preparation for the 2008 Summer Games. Nintendo and Sega co-published the game, marking a partnership that would go on to put Sonic in Smash Bros and lead new Sonic games to be exclusive on Nintendo's platforms. The line-up included characters from across Mario's universe, and several of Sonic's rogue's gallery of animal pals.

It was essentially a party game, a popular choice on Wii. That led to complaints of a shallow experience with lots of "waggle" events, but it was at least successful enough to lead to sequels. Mario and Sonic tested their Olympic mettle again in 2010 for the Winter Olympic games, and then in 2012's Summer games again, and most recently for the 2014 Winter games. It's a fairly safe bet that we'll see them again in 2016.

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (2008)

If this idea strikes you as remarkably similar to Marvel vs. Capcom, you're not alone. Mortal Kombat publisher Midway Games received license to use DC's roster of iconic comic superheroes for its own fighting game crossover. The idea was slightly bizarre from the start. DC's fairly sterile image meant some of the Mortal Kombat's standard violence had to be toned down, and the heroes couldn't be seen performing the trademark Fatalities. Instead, they had to settle for "Brutalities," in which they roughed up the opposition more than usual.

Despite that, the license vaulted it to the most pre-ordered Mortal Kombat game at the time, and it met with both a critical and sales success. Perhaps most significantly, it revived the flagging Mortal Kombat brand and set the stage for two highly-regarded fighting games: the Mortal Kombat reboot, and the DC-focused Injustice: Gods Among Us. 

Dissidia Final Fantasy (2009)

As evidenced by other entries, Square Enix hasn't shied away from capitalizing on its Final Fantasy legacy. Dissidia was a strange concept, but compared to a Disney crossover it was downright normal. In fact, the idea came out of Kingdom Hearts, as Square Enix was throwing around ideas about how to further the mash-up.

Final Fantasy games are meant to stand alone. Each is its own new story and world, so they don't often meet up or even reference each other. Dissidia got around that with a story about gods drawing in characters from various universes. It was well-received enough to warrant a sequel with the truly awful name "Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy," but we haven't heard from the series since.

Pokemon Conquest (2012)

Nintendo doesn't often lend out its characters, much less to a fairly obscure Japanese role-playing game series. The combination of Pokemon and Nobunaga's Ambition was one of the most unique Pokemon projects in recent years, though, so of course Nintendo had to bring it stateside. Conquest borrowed its core tactical RPG gameplay from Nobunaga's Ambition, but filled the roster with Pokemon.

The result was a deep strategy game almost as technically satisfying as the Final Fantasy Tactics series, but filled with adorable creatures. It's also based loosely on real figures from Japanese history, making it educational as long as you don't explain to your teacher that Pikachu was involved in the Warring States period.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (2012)

Anything Nintendo can do, Sony can do better. At least, that seemed to be the attitude behind this franchise mash-up that rather blatantly lifted from the Smash Bros concept. Sony wanted to showcase its roster of first-party characters, but the truth was that Sony's franchises simply didn't have the same iconic qualities as characters like Mario and Link. Instead, the line-up was composed mostly of newer characters like Sackboy, Jak, and Ratchet, along with lots of third-party characters including Big Daddy, Raiden, and Dante. 

It was fairly well-received and even differentiated itself decently from its obvious inspiration, but apparently failed to find a foothold. Shortly after release, Seth Killian left the studio, just after layoffs were reported to have canceled a new IP. We haven't heard from All-Stars since.

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    August 25, 2014 2:00 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Smashed: Gaming's most memorable crossovers.

    Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney finally reaches our shores this week, after a lengthy period of availability in Japan. The English gentleman and fumbling lawyer got us thinking about some of the other notable crossovers that have graced gaming history.

    • reply
      August 26, 2014 7:10 AM

      Nice write-up, Steve. (You meant to type Soulcalibur 2 instead of 3, btw.)

      Ugh, I forgot how awkward and embarrassing most of the heroic brutalities were in MKvDC. The worst was how the defeated character had to keep squirming around afterwards, just to dispel any doubt that a super hero might have killed someone. I'm glad the DC heroes got their own solid fighting game, because they did not belong in the MK-verse.