Doing my post-mortem of Obscure yesterday has got me thinking. It's a game that got receptions from review sites that ranged from lukewarm to downright insulting, and yet it's without a doubt thoroughly unique in both its genre (teen horror) and gameplay (co-op survival horror). It escapes me why such a competent and memorable game hasn't picked up a cult audience. Certainly developer Hydravision has faith in the brand as a sequel is now on the way.
So in the spirit of games which deserve more attention, I'm happy to bring you 10 underappreciated games which you can play on consoles you own today.
1) Sprung (Nintendo DS)
In the rash of DS launch games, somehow the world failed to notice Sprung, a dating game from the studios of Ubisoft. Rather than treading the path of Japanese hentai games, with cheap vicarious thrills motivating the player to slug through repetetive gameplay, Sprung instead opts for an engaging character-driven art style and genuinely witty dialogue. The majority of gameplay consists of working your way through branching conversation trees reminiscent of The Secret of Monkey Island in an attempt to accomplish a variety of goals, most of which are tangentially related to dating. Although packed with adult references, the game stays tasteful and non-explicit and is a genuine joy even for those not normally inclined to the genre.
2) Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophecy) (PlayStation 2)
I can't talk enough about how good Fahrenheit is, and yet it seems barely anyone has played it. No other game has blended narrative, gameplay and cinematic direction as seamlessly as Fahrenheit, and although the plot takes something of a left turn near the end it still stands out as one of the most memorable games you're ever likely to play. You still have time to get in on the ground floor before developer Quantic Dream releases their follow-up, Heavy Rain, on the PS3.
3) Azure Dreams (PlayStation)
Don't confuse the PlayStation version of Azure Dreams with its inferior GameBoy port. Konami mixes the best elements of Rogue, Pokemon and Harvest Moon in this fantastic RPG. Trawl through a massive randomly generated tower full of monsters and mayhem, seeking out monster eggs which hatch into minions who'll fight for you and level up, and then use the treasure you'll find to expand your home town, decorate your house, and woo the fine ladies you'll encounter. Fanastically addictive and unfortunately all too hard to find copies of. If you see one in a PAL format I'll pay you good money.
4) DefJam: Fight for NY (PlayStation 2)
Don't be put off by the DefJam branding; this is a solid and unique wrestling-slash-brawling game. The mechanics behind the satisfyingly brutal pitfights are only enhanced by the fact you'll be using a surprisingly large array of real-life hip-hop artists and celebrities to fight them. Trust me, nothing beats throwing Snoop Dogg in front of a subway train, or beating Ice T senseless with a metal pipe. A decent create-a-fighter mode is the icing on the cake.
5) Zone of the Enders (PlayStation 2)
In all the Metal Gear fan-stampede that goes on, it's easy to forget that Hideo Kojima made another series about giant mechs. Zone of the Enders features a tight character-driven plot, an absolutely stellar soundtrack, and more importantly it's one of the few mech-based games ever released which is remotely playable. It's short enough that you can finish it in a single day, but you'll regard that day as exceptionally well spent.
6) Loco Roco (PSP)
I've spoken in depth about Loco Roco previously, but it's worth pointing out again how absolutely unique this little gem is. It doesn't seem to have flown off the shelves with quite the celerity I'd hoped for, so the chances are there's a copy sitting in a bargain bin near you. Do yourself a favour and play what's probably the squishiest platformer ever to come out for a portable system.
7) ActRaiser (Super Nintendo)
It's available on the Virtual Console right now, people - you have no excuse. This is Squaresoft's once and only foray into the madness of crossing hardcore platforming action with a god sim. Trust me that the levels where you play as an arrow-shooting angel watching over the development of a small civilisation more than make up for the absolutely brutal side-scrolling interludes. If you can't hack the difficulty on your Wii, then try it on your PC with an emulator to make the going easier.
8) Clock Tower (PlayStation)
No one has ever claimed the Clock Tower series was perfect. In fact, a number of people have gone to considerable length to convince the world of the exact opposite. But there's no question it's absolutely unique. It's survival horror where you won't find a single weapon - when serial killer Scissorman shows up, the best you can hope for is to hide or to temporarily stun him with such handy nearby objects as fire extinguishers. It's absolutely criminal that this basic concept was never developed into something that reached beyond Clock Tower's small cult following.
9) Star Control 2 (PC)
It's like some sort of demonic injustice that there are still people in this world who haven't played Star Control 2. It somehow fell mostly under the radar when it was originally released, and to this day there are unenlightened cave-dwellers who haven't heard its name. This is possibly the greatest game ever made, and I don't use that phrase lightly. Absolutely first class non-linear plot, fantastic dialogue ranging from side-splittingly funny through to deeply creepy, scads of alien races, dynamic spheres of political influence, real-time 2D ship-to-ship combat, resource management, exploration, and a soundtrack that will make you want to punch people who haven't played the game right in the face. With all sorts of remakes and emulations floating around on the net, if you can't be bothered to go and play Star Control 2 right this minute then you, sir, are worse than Hitler.
10) ToeJam and Earl (Sega Megadrive/Genesis)
Another Virtual Console option, if you fire up ToeJam and Earl on your Wii I think you'll find it's one of the cleverest two-player co-operative games ever envisioned. Despite (or perhaps because of) its garishly loud graphics, it creates the perfect mix of cooperation and competition as two aliens attempt to reconstruct their damaged space ship and escape this crazy planet called "Earth". Isometric exploration-based gameplay has never looked so good.
And lastly I'm giving the honourable mention to Metal Gear Ghost Babel for the GameBoy Colour, also known as just Metal Gear. Though not really something you can play on a current generation system, it's just a terrible shame that this game was dismissed as an inferior port of the Metal Gear Solid titles. Packing in all of the deep plot, memorable boss fights, and surprise twists that made the PlayStation titles stand out, it manages to render an exciting and engaging Metal Gear experience on a portable platform, which I hasten to add is something that Metal Gear Acid never managed to achieve.