An Unexpected Gameplay Change is when the play style of a game is altered in the game itself. More often than not, it's tedious, it's awkward, and it really makes fans scream "Why can't we just platform/run and gun/stealth sneak through this game all the time?!".
Now take that concept to a global scale.
Imagine, if you will, a successful game franchise, where the control scheme and entire play style are completely different for each concurrent installment; the first few games might be your classic platformer, but the games after that go from being a first person shooter, to an RTS, to an MMORPG. Nothing is consistent, gameplay-wise, within the series, and it seems like the creators are desperately spinning the ol' Wheel of Fortune in order to finally land on a genre for the series that'll stick with the fans, instead of hitting the bankrupt space again.
That's Gameplay Roulette, in a nutshell; the unfortunate habit of some franchises to switch up their gameplay as often as a hypochondriac changes their underwear in an attempt to revitalize itself with a gimmick that fans actually tolerate. It might be because the series is suffering from hitting the Polygon Ceiling or Capcom Sequel Stagnation, or because the Unpleasable Fanbase is filibustering their attempts at a fresh new direction by using a Nostalgia Filter to decry it as They Changed It, Now It Sucks...or it could just be for shiggles. The point is, the creators are trying to upgrade the franchise and make it relevant again...but nothing works, no matter how many times they reach into the bowl and pull out genres at random.
Because of the huge inconsistency and inconvenience this causes (having to relearn everything about playing a beloved character in each game surely grates on some nerves, after a while), some franchises give up and go Retraux, returning to their roots and producing future games in the same exact style as the ones from the early days of the franchise's history. That doesn't mean they won't try again in the future; it just means that they've realized the futility of it, and aren't prepared to expend the time, money, and effort into reimagining themselves every game. Others, though...
If a game franchise reaches this stage, prepare to hear cries from most of the fans that it's jumped the shark and needs to be put out to pasture.
Gameplay Roulette can also apply to individual games, if the style of play switches enough times. A rule of thumb for telling the difference between Unexpected Gameplay Change and Gameplay Roulette: If you can point to one game style that's the "main" genre of that particular game, and the rest are all just deviations from the norm, then it's Unexpected Gameplay Change. If you can't say that any style is the main genre, then it's this trope.
- The Digimon World franchise definitely qualifies. First: Raise your digimon at the gym and compete in real-time battles, the story is a young boy trying to piece together what has happened to the denizens of File Island. The second is a dungeon crawler, with turn based battles, the story being a young kid becoming a tamer, then fighting off the Evil Organization. The third plays somewhat like a mix between Pokemon and Final Fantasy, the story reflecting this. And the fourth ditches humans altogether and brings back real-time battling and introduces co-operative playing in teams of up to four players.
- By this point, the only thing you can be certain about any new mainline Final Fantasy game is that it's some form of RPG. And the spinoffs will probably at least have RPG Elements.
- As seen in the AVGN review, the NES/SNES/Game Boy Godzilla games all fall under this trope.
- Jak and Daxter moved from a fairly light platformer to a gun-heavy Darker and Edgier pair of platformer/driving games to an all-out racing game by the time of Jak X.
- The Keroro Gunsou/Sgt Frog games are, appropriately enough, completely random. For instance, Chou Gekijouban Keroro Gunsou Enshuu da Yo! Zenin Shuugou requires playing through ten different training missions before the final boss battle—and every mission is a completely different style of play from the others!
- Appropriate, because the series itself suffers from a comedic form of ADHD in the Keron Platoon's efforts to conquer the Earth.
- Konami's Knightmare (Majou Densetsu) series for the MSX started with a top-down Vertical Scrolling Shooter. The second game, Maze of Galious, was a platform-based Action Adventure. The Japan-only third game, Shalom, was an Eastern RPG.
- Mega Man was a sidescrolling platformer. Legends made an action RPG out of it (moderately lucrative) and Battle Network is an RPG with a special battle mechanic (more successful than Legends, with sequels and a Spin-Off, Star Force).
- Mortal Kombat has attempted three times so far to make action-adventure versions of the games, with less than stellar results. The last two Fighting Games, Mortal Kombat Armageddon and Mortal Kombat Deception, included minigames inspired from chess, Puzzle Fighter and even Mario Kart, not to mention changes in the fighting, combo and fatality systems with almost each game. They even tried making side-story Beat Em Ups starring Sub-Zero and Jax, neither of which was very good.
- The Sly Cooper series began as a platforming game with a focus on stealth. With the second game, the developers gave the other members of the Power Trio playable-character status and shoved more combat into the game, throwing in many, many minigames for good measure. The result was a rather awkward stealth/platforming/actioner hybrid. The third game stretches the mixture even further, with the end result that there's an Unexpected Gameplay Change every ten seconds.
- This is not to say that first game didn't do this to an extent, either; a little under half of the stages were minigames, and one of the bosses was entirely a rhythm minigame.
- The Sonic the Hedgehog series is notorious for this effect. Sonic Adventure was almost a literal roulette wheel, with six playable characters—each of whose levels used different styles of gameplay, from "run/platform to the end of the level" through "fishing minigame". Sonic Adventure 2 dropped this to run/blast things/find stuff, which was reused for Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) with Sonic, Shadow, and Silver's gameplay, respectively.
- All of Space Rangers. Normally a simultaneous turn-based space action-rpg, but then sometimes you shift genre into arcade shooter, or into an RTS which you can also turn it into third-person shooter, or a text adventure which might range from choose your own adventure to economic simulator. If you want to avoid those, be a bit careful on getting quests. Don't worry too much, though, all of them are fun.
- To a certain extent, Space Station Silicon Valley is a game built around this concept. You switch between many different animals with varying gameplay styles over the course of the game. Additionally, the last stage of each of the four environments is effectively a minigame, such as a boxing match or a shooting gallery.
- Star Control is a serviceable action/strategy. Star Control II is an excellent action/adventure. Star Control 3 is a crap version of 2, with some odd colony management stuff thrown in for no discernable reason.
- The Super Mario Bros. games tend to be more successful at most in this. They've successfully spun off into RPG, Driving Game, Party Game, and other franchises. Nintendo as a whole seems to love doing this. The secret to their success at not alienating their fans is that these shifts are always explicit spin-offs; there's never any worry that they'll won't make another "normal" entry in a series as well.
- Super Star Force for the Famicom alternates between Shoot'Em Up space areas and Zelda-style Dungeon Crawling.
- Transformers suffers from this trope somewhat, with its myriad attempts to pump out specialized lines for specialized fans: the Alternators and Titanium lines for collectors, Go-Go-Gobots for preschoolers, etc. It has also not had a consistent genre for its video games, spanning from platformers to Fighting Games to Action/Adventures.
- Practically every other game of the console Yu-Gi-Oh! games attempts to break from the standard card game mechanic of its real-life counterpart by adding various levels of RPG Elements, or Duel Monsters-inspired board games, none of which have been nearly as successful, especially when the former gets bitched out for changing the cards so drastically in order to fit into the new mechanics that veteran duelists can't fathom why they now work the way they do. The handheld games, on the other hand, stick largely to the card game mechanic... and the fans like it that way.
- There's also a few non-video game attempts to branch the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise away from the card game, two of which were featured as popular spin-off games in the anime. None of them caught on.
- Yu-Gi-Oh the Falsebound Kingdom has almost nothing to do with the card game aside from the monsters used being taken from there. The gameplay is a mix of an RTS and an RPG. Long story short, the heroes get sucked into a video game made by
KaibaScott Irvine, where they have to fight their way out using computer programs based off of monsters from the card game.
- The Bit.Trip series goes all over the place; from Pong to something like Missile Command, Canabalt to a Shoot'Em Up, and finally back to Pong to the finale.
- The Army Men series was often criticized by professional reviewers for its schizophrenic gameplay changes. The first two games were isometric strategy/tactic games, most of the other were Third Person Shooters, but there were also a pair of isometric Desert Strike-style flight games (the Air Attack series), a Robotron: 2084-style overhead shooter (Green Rogue), a RTS and even a Tomb Raider ripoff (Portal Runner).
- One of several reasons that the Star Fox series hasn't been as strong as 64 is that the gameplay has been constantly changing from Rail Shooter in the original and 64, Action Adventure in Adventures, Third-Person Shooter in Assault, and Real Time Strategy in Command.
- Warlords is a series of turn-based strategy games. The spin-off series Warlords: Battlecry is a series of real-time strategy games.(Although one could easily say RTS/RPG, as the RPG part isn't just tacked-on like Warcraft, it's actually done better than a lot of RPG's.) Then comes the spin-off Puzzle Quest series of puzzle-RPG's...including Puzzle Kingdoms, which is basically puzzle/RPG/RTS.
- Battletoads has many styles of gameplay: beat-em-up vertical (both ways), horizontal with all 4 directions (iso-3D) or just 2 (2D), high-speed obstacle courses, a racing level against three rats in succession, and even a (kinda) puzzle level that features snakes that move in insane patterns and you gotta stay on top of them. Sometimes the same level features more than one of these! And YES, this all forms a wonderful, cohesive experience. Now, if only the game would have been a bit less obnoxiously difficult...
- The Adventures of Bayou Billy is nominally a side-scrolling beat-em-up, but there are also on-rails shooting sections and driving levels interspersed throughout the game.
- Conkers Bad Fur Day for the N64 starts off as a regular platformer, but throughout the game you'll be racing across lava, flying around picking up villagers for Dracula, third-person shooting at Teddie Nazis, and tearing cavemen apart while riding on a dinosaur. The final boss pits you in a robot suit fighting a Xenomorph. The player almost needs to learn a new control scheme for every level.
- Gunstar Super Heroes, the GBA Remake/Sequel to Gunstar Heroes, has this in spades. Every level is practically a different game.
- Halo does this somewhat, changing from FPS to third-person vehicle shooter, flight-sim(Two Betrayals, The Arbiter, The Great Journey, The Covenant, the space battles in Reach), obstacle-course driving (eg the Maw and Halo escape sequences and the Outskirts tunnel), and stealth(parts of AOTCR and The Arbiter).
- Haven: Call of the King had this as its entire marketing gimmick. "No other game has so many genres - it's like getting everything you like in one game!" The developers were so convinced that they had a new blockbuster franchise that they made Haven a trilogy and made the ending of the first game a Cliff Hanger. The problem was, since the energy of the programmers was spread out over so many different game styles, no single one really excelled and the gameplay was decidedly average as a result. Call of the King tanked, and the remaining two games were canceled.
- The Impossible Quiz. Usually, it's a straight quiz game (accounting for some bizarre logic), but then you have to do things like help Dr. Eggman mutilate Sonic the Hedgehog's corpse, stroke a cat, or clip toenails.
- Kirby Super Star includes multiple platformers containing different elements (Spring Breeze is a short remake of Kirby's Dreamland, DynaBlade has a world map, Gourmet Race is a foot race against King Dedede, The Great Cave Offensive is the closest to a Metroidvania the series got until Kirby and the Amazing Mirror, Revenge of Meta Knight has timed gameplay (which Kirby games generally lack), and Milky Way Wishes forces Kirby to gain abilities using methods other than his trademark inhalation) starring the title character, a Boss Rush, and minigames featuring completely different gameplay. The Nintendo DS remake, Kirby Super Star Ultra, adds even more sub-games (Revenge of the King is a remake of the original Kirby's Dreamland's hard mode, Helper to Hero is a Boss Rush featuring the Player Mooks, Meta Knightmare Ultra has you go through most of the original platformers again as Meta Knight, and The TRUE Arena is a Boss Rush featuring the bosses created for the remake), and adds three new minigames (the original minigames, complete with their original graphics, are unlockable).
- The not-very-well-known Mission Critical, at first glance appears to be your typical first-person adventure game with regular and timed puzzles. However, halfway through the game, the game switches to a space Real Time Strategy, of all things, and back again. While YMMV, most reviewers agree that the blend of adventure and RTS was done very well and makes perfect sense in context (the player is the last surviving crewmember of a starship and is forced to fend off occasional attacks from the rival faction by personally commanding combat drones in RTS mode).
- ROM CHECK FAIL turns this concept Up to Eleven. Well, except that most of the genres are some kind of shoot-em-up.
- Bart's Nightmare for the SNES is another game that focuses on actively inducing this trope. The hub of the game is a standard - if odd - platformer, but entering the levels let you play as a super hero, a godzilla, Indiana Jones, a miscroscopic being in a blood vein and Bart being chased by Itchy and Scratchy. Each one has completely unique controls and gameplay. There was a sequel called Virtual Bart, but its gameplay and systems were more forced and it didn't do as well.
- Interestingly, Bill Williams, the man who designed Bart's Nightmare, created many Gameplay Roulette games for the Atari800. Alley Cat was about a cat who had to jump into the windows of a house and perform various cat-like tasks such as catching mice, knocking a bird cage off a table and chasing the bird, drinking milk out of saucers guarded by sleepy dogs, and other things. Though the core gameplay didn't really change. However, a more drastic change occured in Necromancer. The first level had you planting trees and protecting them from evil spirits and creatures. The second had you navigating a dungeon with the ability to summon the trees you had planted and protected previously. The third had you engaging in a fight against a wizard of some sort.
- Virtual Bart features a literal case of this, as Bart's stages are chosen by virtue of him being strapped to a wheel.
- Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire is a mix of Flight/Space Sim(first and last levels), Rail Shooter(third level and first part of last level), Third-Person Shooter(the majority of the levels), and Racing(Mos Eisley & Beggar's Canyon) gameplay.
- Tondemo Crisis/Incredible Crisis is a sequence of completely different games for each level—except one, which is replayed for three of the four characters. (Arguably, it's the most annoying of all the levels to have to play again.)
- As a very minor example, The Unholy War combines features from a Strategy game, but with combat played out as a 3D Fighting Game with limited moveset.
- The Guardian Legend alternates between vertical Shoot'Em Up and overhead action-RPG gameplay. Interestingly, there is a password that lets you play the game as a pure Shoot'Em Up.
- Rygar NES combines overhead and sidescrolling gameplay, ala Zelda 2.
- Ultimate Stuntman, an obscure unlicensed NES game by Codemasters/Camerica.
- The Rocketeer (the SNES game, not the NES game), goes from airplane/jetpack racing to Third-Person Shooter(the Hangar levels), side scrolling Shoot'Em Up (Chase and Armada), and Beat'Em Up (Zeppelin).
- Ni GHTS: Journey of Dreams goes from flight stages to puzzle bosses to 3-D style platformers all within the same game.
- D2 has a mix of survival-horror style and Myst-style adventure segments, with a controller-based "gun game" combat system, and RPG-like stat advancement.
- Dawn of War is a quite good RTS, with two good expansions and one lesser one that just had to introduce aircraft. The Dawn of War II singleplayer is a decent tactical RPG. Lorewise, it still fits the Warhammer universe, but in gameplay, the difference is massive. Makes you wonder why didn't just make it a completely separate game. Now it feels like they're just trying to leech off Dawn of War's success. It's like having an excellent brand of coffee and then releasing a line of fertilizer, hoping that the name and looks will trick people into buying it. While it might be good fertilizer, I was expecting coffee.
- The multiplayer is an evolution of the first game with similar mechanics, just with less base-building. Since the campaigns in the original and expansions were basically just skirmish maps strung together anyway, this is an added mode more than a change.
- Nightbreed: The Interactive Movie starts with a driving/stealth section, where you have to drive around a map while both keeping an eye on your fuel gauge and avoiding/smashing through road blocks until you get to a cemetery. Once there, you get chased around by one of the eponymous Nightbreeds; you have to click the mouse in time with the character's arms. After that, you end up back at the driving level, going back to the cemetery. And finally, the game switches to a dungeon crawler, where you wander around identical caverns while looking for five characters to rescue. And then there are all the minigames, from fighting off "Sons of the Free" to dodging laser sights, all of which have their own gameplay mechanics. You have to do all this on one life.
- Brutal Legend: The multiplayer is a straight-up Real Time Strategy game. The single player is Hack and Slash, then Wide Open Sandbox Driving Game, with Real Time Strategy thrown into the mix.
- Grand Theft Auto San Andreas does this every couple of missions. While the GTA series are known for shootouts, drivebys, and wild car chases, San Andreas stuffed every possible idea into the game's main storyline and side quests. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Stealth Based Mission
- Dancing mini games (to impress a girl so you can steal her van)
- Learning how to order your homies around (optional mechanic for free-roaming)
- Learning how to fly various planes and helicopters, a VTOL jet, and a jet pack (all of which have entirely different control sets) as well as miniature toy cars and planes (though these at least use similar controls to their full-size counterparts)
- Dating Sim with several potential girlfriends (one of whom is necessary to the plot, although you can choose to just kill her instead.)
- Each subgame of Die Hard Trilogy is a different genre: DH 1 is a Third-Person Shooter, DH 2 is a Light Gun Game, and DHWAV is a Driving Game. The sequel, Viva Las Vegas, also did this, mixing up the gameplay types in its story mode.
- Incoming is pretty consistent about making you blow shit up, but how you do it changes constantly in the Story mode. A mission might make you play as a defense turret, an helicopter ferrying supplies around, a tank, a jet, and then go back to the turret again. This also applies to a lesser extent to its spiritual predecessor, Darklight Conflict.
- Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: Hot Scramble, in alternating stages, goes back and forth between an impressive Rail Shooter and a weak imitation of Thexder.
- The levels of Abobos Big Adventure are each based on specific games -- Double Drabobo, Super Mabobo, Urban Chabobo (Urban Champion), Zeld Abobo, Pro Wrabobo (Pro Wrestling), Mega Mabobo, Contra Abobo, and Punch Abobo. In Pro Wrabobo in particular, the first half of the level is based on Balloon Fight.
- Done deliberately in Asura's Wrath, where the entire gameplay style changes depending on the situation and story.
- Nie R is usually a third person hack'n'slash RPG, but at times it changes to a Zelda knockoff (complete with Item Get fanfare that's one note away from copyright infringement), a 2D sidescroller, a Bullet Hell rail shooter, and, of all things, a text-based adventure game.
- In Minami-ke, the video game of the Show Within a Show Sensei and Ninomiya-kun qualifies.
- Parodied in a Zero Punctuation episode that suggested a Gameplay Roulette for which each new part worked spectacularly would be the only thing to justify the amount of time Duke Nukem Forever has spent in Development Hell.
- This trope is the entire point of the card game Fluxx.