Thursday, 13 October 2011

30-ish Criminally underrated games

Here we have a short list of video games that far too many people have never heard of, and even fewer actually care about...but I adore them none the less.

I feel a certain sadness when genuinely good games miss out on commercial success, it seems a crime that all the love and effort the developers put into it is wasted. What makes me even more irate is that these gamers are often over looked because some generic piece of turd has just been released and given a massive advertising campaign to the convince the hordes that they must buy it.

Anyways, listed below are 30 games that I feel deserved more recognition from Joe Public, so without further ado...

Lost in Shadow/A Shadow's Tale - Nintendo Wii


Whilst ICO has (rightly) taken the plaudits as the critic's moody and artistic game of choice, this little gem has had to be content with watching (aptly) from the shadows...which is a shame because it's a cracking game.

The game is played from the unique perspective of a shadow and so, the majority of the action takes place in the background. The graphics and ambient soundtrack are wonderful and you actually feel empathy for your poor character's plight.

Unusually for a Wii title, this has depth and character in abundance...which shows what the little white machine can do in the right hands.

Earthbound - Super Nintendo

When I first laid eyes on Earthbound as a kid, I remember thinking that compared with Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana et al, it looked pretty shoddy. Years later, when I realised what a blind little whelp I had been, I finally got to play the game and was totally blown away.

There are few RPGs I've ever played which can match Earthbound's humour, sentiment and sense of morality. It is a wonderful journey that any RPG fan should experience, and shows that the Japanese can do 'American' better than even the Americans themselves!!

It's quirky, basic and looks a bit old fashioned...and I just don't care.

Terranigma - Super Nintendo

I'll come clean now...Terranigma is my favourite RPG of all time, and my thoughts are probably best summed up in this blog rambling about it.

This game is cruelly unknown to many SNES and RPG fans alike, it suffered the terrible fate of never receiving a north American release, and as such has never gained the reputation it deserves. In my eyes the world missed out a piece of unadulterated majesty because of this, it's literally nigh on perfect.

Please, I beg of you, do anything you can to play it.

Ico - Playstation 2

ICO is the game that probably best defines this entire list, when it was originally released back in 2001 it was largely ignore by a public that was more interested in the likes of FIFA and Grand Theft Auto.

The importance of the game simply cannot be understated, it really kicked off the whole "games as art" movement with it's stunning vistas, minimalist dialogue and huge emphasis on the intense relationship between it's two main characters.

Mercifully, thanks to a HD re-release ICO is now starting to garner some of the success it deserves.

Shenmue II - XBox


After the hype, furor and commercial disaster that was Sega's incredible Shenmue, many eyebrows were raised when Microsoft ploughed yet more dollar bills into releasing Shenmue II for the XBox, complete with brilliantly comedic voice actors.

Although it too never sold well enough to even begin paying back the investment, I personally couldn't care less because it gave me the chance to experience more of one of gaming's finest works of art.

Shenmue II carries on where the original left off and thrusts the player into the bustling world of Hong Kong. Words don't really do this one justice, so just try your best to play it...please?!

Rez - Dreamcast


Being released on the Dreamcast meant Rez was never going to have much of a life in the public eye, and even though Sega's wonder machine was years ahead of it's time, the fact it didn't say Playstation on the lid meant it was doomed.

Still, Rez is one of those games that when you eventually play it you wonder how you've only just heard of it. It's a kind of on the rails shooter with mesmerising visuals and a barn storming techno inspired soundtrack. Probably one of those games that you have to play to realise just how amazing it is...so go on!!

Also, playing Rez on a massive TV with a good pair of headphones on really is one of life's little pleasures.

Beyond Good and Evil - Playstation 2


Another game that was released into the fickle world of the PS2 with no hope of grabbing the attention of the public.

Time has at least been kind to Beyond Good and Evil though, and over the years it's reputation has only grown. A recent HD remake should also ensure that it experienced by many who missed it first time round.

Combining (with great skill) adventure, stealth, fighting and driving along with a wonderful story and high class soundtrack, Beyond Good and Evil is definitely worth the meager few pounds it can be picked up for these days.

Paladin's Quest - Super Nintendo


A bit of a strange one this, if you like your console JRPG's then it's definitely worth a portion of your time...if you don't, then steer well clear.

Asmik's attempt at a SNES Dragon Quest clone wasn't very well received back in 1994 but being a pointy hat fan, I loved it. It's got really bizarre visuals and an innovative battle system that really help it to be different, don't get me wrong, it's a bit basic and it'll never rock the boat of Chrono Trigger et al...but it's a blinder in my book.

Bahamut Lagoon - Super Famicom


Underrated probably because it never received an official translation or release outside of Japan, but these days, thanks to the efforts of ROM hackers, this genre defining tactical RPG can now be sampled by those of us who can't read Kanji.

Boasting a story and graphics that rival any of Square's other legendary SNES offerings, Bahamut Lagoon is an absolute must for anyone interested in RPGs. It's easily 60 hours long and has such an intense battle system, that you can find yourself losing hours in it.

A marvelous fan translation also keeps the plot riveting.

Jet Set Radio - Dreamcast


Another of the Dreamcast's pioneer titles that shone briefly before being forgotten.

Jet Set Radio is possibly (still) one of the greatest looking games I've ever played, making perfect use of the then revolutionary cel shading technique. Add in lovable characters, a stomping soundtrack and gameplay that aims to get you spraying graffiti tags all over Tokyo...you can soon see why this was a special game.

It's amazing that a game so old can still have that wow factor, and I can never help but be amazed every time I fire this thing up.

Shadowrun - Super Nintendo


A unique RPG for the SNES which was based around the world of cyber-punk...which is cool as we all know.

Shadowrun took a radically different approach to the majority of other role playing games of the era by being gritty, violent and very dystopian in appearance.

You start the game on a slab in the morgue(!) and after coming to, you have to find out who fried your head and basically seek revenge.

For being so original, this game deserves a portion of any gamer's time, be warned though, it's hard as nails to beat.

Front Mission - Nintendo DS


Another game that was deemed unworthy of an official release in the west back in the 90's. It's hard to see why though, it's got big robots, awesome characters, and looks stunning...and that's before you even get to the brilliant combat system.

Square realised their error (finally) when they re-released Front Mission on the DS many years later. Now there's no excuse not to play this mecha masterpiece.

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom - XBox 360


A fairly new offering from Namco here, and one that's suffered greatly from the influx of FPS games into the console markets...this is a particular shame because it's a glorious action adventure title that has lots to offer any gamer.

It's a bit like a cross between Shadow of the Colossus, the new Prince of Persia games and Metroid Prime. You must help Tepeu restore peace to the kingdom by enlisting the help of the Giant Majin...much graphical finery ensues and a thoroughly enjoyable adventure unfolds.

As a result of consumer indifference, you can pick Majin up on Amazon for buttons these days.

Astonishia Story - PSP


This game really is a personal pick on my part and even I won't try and pretend it's not riddled with faults (which have made it the butt of many a joke).

However, for anyone who is a fan of traditional 16bit RPGs, you can do far worse than Astonishia Story. It looks like an uprated SNES game and has beautifully drawn and animated characters, a decent grid based battle system and a fairly lengthy story...that is let down terribly by a ropey translation.

Definitely not for everyone, but those willing to part with a few pounds and put in the effort will surely see the rewards.

Magical Hat Flying Turbo Adventure

A platformer from the glorious 16bit era, when I first laid eyes on it's wacky appearance I was hooked, but luckily there's also a really tidy game underneath the insanity. I get the feeling it's based on an anime of some sorts but I'm not sure, what I am sure about is that it's one of the most imaginative games I ever played on the MegaDrive

Magical Hat was boringly re-branded as 'Decap Attack' for it's western release and consequently lost 90% of it's charm. So if Japanese games are your thing, then this game is a must.

It also remains to this day, the perfect excuse for taking a file to your Megadrive and performing some home modification to the cartridge slot!

Legend of Mana - Playstation


When Legend of Mana was released for the PSX back in 2000, the entire industry expected a proper sequel to Secret of Mana (to make up for the Secret of Mana 2 debacle). What we got instead was a game that rather than spinning a long epic story, took the path of scores of smaller intertwining tales.

This direction was met with much apathy and as a result, Legend of Mana was consigned to the missed opportunity bin.

In my eyes though, it needs to be looked at as it's own game rather than any sequel, if you do this, you soon realise that it has boat loads going for it.

Stunning water-colour style visuals, epic soundtrack and a solid battle system...without doubt one of the best ARPGs on the PSX. No it's not as good as Secret of Mana, but then what is??

Wild Arms - Playstation


When the PSX was first released, the world was infatuated with the likes of Ridge Racer and Tekken, so much so that Wild Arms with it's 16 bit roots kind of went unnoticed to all but the keener eyed gamer.

Those who did take a punt on it though were rewarded with what must be one of the generation's greatest RPGs. Taking the direction of wild west meets cybernetics, Wild Arms shied away from Final Fantasy VII style cut scenes and instead relied on brilliant story telling and well crafted characters.

I've yet to meet anyone who played this game and didn't enjoy it. Being rare these days it can get pricey, it remains however, a worthwhile investment.

Vandal Hearts - Playstation


Another of the first wave of PSX RPGs, and another to go largely unloved. Konami's first tactical RPG offering stylishly combined classic story telling with an addictive battle system and lashings of violence.

Although probably largely overshadowed by the (superior) Suikoden duo, it still remains one of the PSX's unknown gems and provides a stiff challenge in comparison with many of today's games.

Xandra's Big Adventure - Super Famicom


A classic platformer from the early days of the SNES featuring what looks like a green jelly baby wielding a pitch fork as it's lead character (although he's actually from another Namco series).

Xandra's Big Adventure combines great controls with a ball breaking learning curve, it can get pad smashingly hard, but it's worth the effort.

Xandra himself remains one of the best obscure lead characters I've ever seen. His animations are top notch for the time and his facial expressions are hilarious.

Neo Geo Battle Coliseum - Playstation 2


For a fighting game fan like myself, I was astonished to see this game languishing in the bargain bin so soon after it was released.

Neo Geo Battle Coliseum pits some of SNK's most famous (and some not so) fighters against one another in classic 2D arcade style. A massive roster with tag team play, loads of team combination attacks and some sweet unlockables make this game one of my all time favourite PS2 fighters.

Perhaps not as good as Capcom vs SNK, but a very close second.

Fighters Megamix - Sega Saturn


Fighters Megamix came on the scene around the time that Tekken ruled the fighting game kingdom with an iron fist, and while it probably never matched Namco's behemoth, it was a corking game in it's own right and really appealed to fans of Sega's AM division fighters.

Bringing together characters from Virtua Fighter, Fighting Vipers and some of Sega's less predictable series (Virtua Cop anyone?), Fighters Megamix proved the misunderstood Saturn could indeed handle a fantastic 3D brawler.

It's also got a fighting palm tree...what more can you ask for?!

Einhänder - Playstation


Square's first (and only I think) foray into SHMUP territory was something of a graphical and sonic tour de force. Einhander came along when Square were at the peak of their powers and it really shows just how much they were able wring out of the PSX.

Anyone familiar with the shoot 'em up genre will be instantly at home with this game. It's usual mix of legions of enemies topped off with a huge over the top boss at the end of the level.

It's not particularly revolutionary and doesn't last forever, but it's certainly a stand out PSX title for me and will keep you coming back for more if you enjoy beating high scores.

Muramasa: The Demon Blade - Nintendo Wii


Probably one of the prettiest games to have graced the Wii, Muramasa is a glorious hark back to the old school values of vivid 2D graphics and addictive gameplay.

As the name and box art probably suggest, Muramasa is very Japanese in appearance and is essentially an action RPG with platform elements thrown into the mix. It really goes against the now accepted grain of "realistic is best"...and for this I salute it.

There is no doubt that there are games out there with deeper plots, but as a package Muramasa is one of the Wii's best offerings for real gamers and fans of quality hand drawn visuals.

Body Harvest - Nintendo 64


Before they were famous worldwide for the GTA series, DMA (now known as Rockstar North) were busy making brilliant but unknown games like Body Harvest for the N64.

The objective of Body Harvest is to travel through time to various periods of human history and fight off an invasion of aliens looking to harvest humanity for their own evil gains. Perhaps a blueprint for the future GTA games could be seen here with it's liberal approach to violence and open world feel.

Graphically, it lacks the panache of the likes of Goldeneye and Ocarina Of Time but it's still very much worth a bash, and takes it takes an age to beat.

Body Harvest went against Nintendo's then stringent anti violence policy and showed the world that the N64 could quite happily produce a "grown up" title full of gore.

Mischief Makers - Nintendo 64


Another throw back to simpler times, Mischeif Makers was a rare beast indeed...one of the N64's few 2D games, and a true platform classic. Developed by Treasure, long time purveyors of the gaming world's most uniquely obscure (and usually rare) games.

Mischief Makers was no different from the the Treasure norm, with bizarre and colourful graphics and a cast that could have only been dreamed up by a Japanese studio...it was a gentle reminder that 3D and polygons were not the be all and end all.

If you retain any interest in platform games, then this is definitely worth some of your time. It's insane, funny and really well put together.

Final Fantasy Adventure - Gameboy


One of the very first RPGs available in the west for the Gameboy and one never got anywhere near the amount of attention that it warranted (thanks to a certain Link getting stranded on Koholint Island).

Final Fantasy Adventure is actually the first game in the legendary Mana series, Square thought a little name change would help get it noticed outside Japan.

It's easy to see the Mana lineage at work here, Square crammed a great little story into this little cart along with a large, interesting world that was ready to be explored. The gameplay is basic compared with it's SNES brother but it's solid and for a Gameboy title is pretty amazing.

The GBA remake of this game is also glorious, but the original has the innocent charm that you just can't capture in a remake.

Opoona - Nintendo Wii


Opoona has often been (unfairly) referred to as an introduction to RPGs for the younger gamer, but this really unfair in my eyes. Sure, it is nowhere near as complex as Xenoblade or as good looking as Twilight Princess but it's got a certain magic to it...almost like an old Enix game.

This may be because many of the heavies responsible for the Dragon Quest games were involved in it's conception and development.

Opoona offers a light hearted and novel approach to battles and the ability to take on a number of jobs which helps to open up the world...classic RPG stuff.

Graphically it's a little bland but crisp, and some brilliant character design from Akira Toriyama saves the day, musically it's pretty good too, with tunes that you soon start humming to yourself.

It's certainly not a genre defining title or anything but Opoona is really surprisingly deep RPG.

Tobal No.1 - Playstation


Tobal was Square's first attempt at breaking into the fighting game market, and recognising that they had no chance of dethroning the likes of Tekken and Soul Edge, Square decided to take a different route.

Tobal combines traditional fighting game mechanics with RPG style adventuring. Whilst in adventure mode, the player can engage in battles against other characters from the game. Tobal also gave us a fairly comprehensive counter attack system, which heavily influenced a lot of games released after it.

it's a little obscure and probably lacks the overall quality of something like Street Fighter EX, but it has a certain charm to it that makes it worth a look.

Monster Max - Gameboy


Anyone familiar with Rare's classic Head Over Heels from the C64/Spectrum days will be instantly at home with Monster Max. For those not familiar, it's an isometric puzzle platform game that was released for the Gameboy in the early 90's.

If you like this sort of game then it's genuinely addictive with devious traps and puzzles waiting to do you in at all times. It also happens to have what is probably the greatest soundtrack of any Gameboy title.

If you want to know what Rare were upto before the likes of Perfect Dark and Donkey Kong Country the here it is.

Hanna Barbera's Turbo Toons - Super Nintendo


On the face of it, this game is appalling. It's got not very good graphics, and the gameplay is so basic that I could have programmed it myself. However, it remains one of the most addictive games I've ever come across.

All you need is a multi-tap and 5 players and this unassuming game becomes of the funniest things you're ever likely to play.

The basic premise is to race one of your Hanna Barbera characters (Yogi, Top Cat etc) around a static track against 4 opponents. I know it doesn't sound much like fun, but it's really one of those games that needs to be played rather than talked about.

In my eyes, this is even better than Micro Machines V3 for multi-player madness.

So there we are, for anyone bored of the likes of FIFA and Call of Duty, you could do much worse than give one or two of these runts a look in. They're not all triple A admittedly, and won't appeal to all tastes but there should be something there that everyone will enjoy.

This list can also be found in it's original form over at Listal.

2 comments:

  1. Nice list my good fellow! I haven't played any of the ones on the current generation or most of the ones on the previous generation but I've got many of the older ones including two of my faves - Magical Hat and Body Harvest! :)

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  2. Cool man, it's always great to find people who appreciate the unloved!! You know I still can't believe how good Body Harvest was, it looked a bit rough but there was nothing else like it on the N64...made a nice change from Mario 64 clones too.

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