One-Hit Wonders: One Game Per Series That's Completely Worth Playing

Like movies and books, successful games that were once an original IP have a knack for getting sequels and spawning entire series in their wake. What this list seeks to do is simple: Take a series of games and boil them down to one entry that I personally believe is the best/most worthwhile to play. For the most part, this list will consider games from series that have at least three or more entries and can also be enjoyed in isolation without playing the rest of games, since otherwise you probably have a serious time commitment on your hand. Exceptions will naturally be made, but by and large, that's the predominant criteria when choosing who gets on the list.

List items

  • Advance Wars 2 is, in a lot of people's book, the high point in what's already a pretty seminal series of handheld turn-based strategies, a sentiment with which I completely agree. Accessible gameplay that isn't condescendingly hard like more conventional SRPGs, coupled with a fun story and interesting commander powers (but just play Sami), Advance Wars 2 is arguably the tightest and most addicting iteration in the series. While later installments added a few features and new units here and there, this game remains the most refined Advance Wars entry to date and is still worth picking up today. I know I still start new runs of it every few years.

  • The Picross formula in general is pretty addicting, despite the modest presentation and interface. It's an artistic numbers game of sorts, where the results of your problem solving isn't just some abstract grid, but an honest-to-god picture. Picross 3D takes that philosophy and revolutionizes it. While there is a bit of a learning curve to it with an additional axis, HAL Laboratory eases you into the mechanics quite nicely and ultimately makes the process of unearthing cubic statues highly satisfying and addicting.

  • The manic nature of WarioWare games tends to make them all pretty enjoyable in their own right, but Twisted takes a simple gimmick, turning your GBA left or right to complete the microgrames, and covers a surprising amount of ground with it gameplay-wise. It's really charming and fun to play a lot of standard gameplay tropes with that specific twist. Also, the inclusion of Mewtroid, an homage to Metroid that stars a cat with Samus' arm cannon, makes the game an automatic winner.

  • Although a lot of the Metal Slug games play extremely similarly to each other, 5 probably does the formula best, in part due to its flamboyantly bombastic level designs and gameplay mechanics, as well as SNK's desire to see off its flagship arcade hardware with style. The results are just extremely fun to play, even if your time with it is likely going to be really short. The first time you upgrade from the iconic Metal Slug tank to the gigantic spider walker is just a blast. If you have to pick one game out of a bunch that are otherwise thoroughly the same gameplay-wise, this one is probably the way to go. It ends the Neo-Geo lineage with a bang.

  • Soul Calibur as a series has had a bit of a bumpy ride here and there, with the gameplay in later installments remaining solid, but not outstanding. Depending on who you ask, the series plateaued in quality around the first or second game. Naturally, I'm inclined to think the second game is the peak, if its presence on the list is any indicator. A decently-sized roster full of characters that largely play uniquely and have accessible movesets that coupled with a surprisingly lengthy campaign and arena fighting mechanics that have stayed engaging even years later, Soul Calibur II is a highly enjoyable 3D fighter all around and makes for a good introduction to the genre, to boot.

  • Despite operating more or less exactly the same, the metagames and scoring mechanics between 1 and 2 are different enough that either game could really belong on this list, each being a superbly crafted game in their own right. 2 just barely edges out 1 as being the superior game to me personally due to a mixture of better integrated score-boosting minigames and an even better soundtrack. Both games on the DS make a great argument for how games like Space Invaders can still be so compelling in the modern day, but when it comes down to it, 2 is, to me, the slightly better heir to an already grand throne.