In gaming, there are two types of games: those that have their strengths recognized and those that have their weaknesses emphasized to the point of being judged failures. Uncharted, Gears of War, and Super Mario Galaxy are all games whose genius was recognized.
However, the sad reality of gaming is absolute gems are sometimes overlooked amidst the plethora of drivel and, as a result, gamers never even hear about some of the best releases. So, to correct that injustice and offer you some really great choices, here are ten ridiculously underrated games.
Having sold 66,000 copies in its first month (for those of you with a life outside of tracking sales data, that’s bad), this highly stylized action game sees players assuming the role of a lone warrior as he tries to survive a television show about thugs maiming each other in ridiculously creative, gruesome ways.
It’s bloody, crude and offensive, all reasons why it probably didn’t sell as a Nintendo Wii exclusive. However, it is also uniquely designed, deliciously violent and even quite satirical so be sure to check out this tense, deftly crafted ride through hell.
2. Sam and Max: Season One
While it does lose some points for lagging performance issues, Sam and Max is still a hilarious adventure through some of the wackiest worlds ever created. Starring a fast-talking detective canine and a homicidal “rabbit-y thing,” this is one of those rare games that can legitimately make you laugh.
When our heroes decide to face Abraham Lincoln’s statue in an election for the presidency, they trick him into saying he approves of a 100% tax rate, something even the game’s Democrats call “a tad excessive.” Seriously, how can you not love this?
3. Phantasy Star II
While many fans live and die for Final Fantasy, one role-playing gem that often gets overlooked is the wonderful Phantasy Star series, whose second installment ranks as one of the best in history. Haunted by nightmares from his past, our hero creates a team to save his world from unimaginable monsters; to give any more than this cheesy one-liner would be giving too much of a story that you simply have to experience on your own.
Beautifully merging fantasy and science fiction, all set to the backdrop of intricate turn-based strategy gameplay (and even throwing in some poor translations for good measure), this isn’t an experience to be missed.
4. Alpha Protocol
Marketed as gaming’s first “espionage role-playing game,” Alpha Protocol is among the best of its kind. Sure, the fighting and shooting aren’t as exhilarating as we’d want, but that isn’t what this game is about. Instead, the real strength here is how your decisions as international super spy Michael Thorton affect the world and how everything you say changes the plot in this tense political thriller.
Interestingly, your biggest villain will be a GOP hotshot; regardless of your political affiliation, that’s just hilarious and if you take anything away from this list, be sure to play this game.
5. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
This game is a “visual novel,” meaning it consists entirely of reading and puzzle solving. If you are still interested, that means you don’t have an aversion to text and 999 is therefore something you need to play.
The story is so amazing it would be a crime to give even a snippet, but understand that this is one of the most mature, complicated games ever made. As one reviewer wonderfully stated, this game is a “complete and total mindf***.”
6. Red Steel
One of the most hyped games of the Wii’s disappointing launch, Red Steel was a dream come true for all fans of classic Japanese action cinema. Shooting thugs and slicing them Samurai-style was meant to be amazing, and it was.
Unfortunately, fans quickly came to the harsh conclusion that the controls were broken and abandoned a game that really did deserve to be persevered with. This manhunt through Japan beautifully merges feudal drama with modern crime and, with a bit of tinkering with the control setting and a lot of patience, this is a game you need to play.
To be able to distinguish itself as a sharply designed third-person-shooter amidst piles of Call of Duty installments, Vanquish already deserves some kind of award. That it is also one of the fastest, tensest and coolest futuristic action games ever made is all the more impressive.
The story is occasionally absurd but the gameplay in this thrill ride — held aboard a space station overtaken by enemy hoards — is so viscerally satisfying that it simply doesn’t matter.
8. Valkyria Chronicles
Another great case for playing more games from overseas, Valkyria Chronicles is a fantastic game that revolves around world war and is bolstered by traditional strategy gameplay elements that have maintained the greatest strengths of their genre while also been modernized enough to feel fresh all over again.
The Valkyria name has since expanded into a franchise, even netting itself a TV show. However, despite this and considerable critical acclaim, this game simply failed to bring in the consumers and was effectively pushed off consoles, instead moving over to a considerably smaller, less ambitious handheld system.
9. Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown
The story is old: Virtua Fighter earns international accolades and remains king in professional gaming circles while failing to make a splash with the average consumer because it’s “too hardcore.” As a result, a deep but thoroughly approachable game that rewards patience and dedication is overlooked in favor of flashier counterparts such as Tekken, Dead or Alive and Mortal Kombat.
Of course, with this downloadable version of the game, retailing at a fraction of the price, fighting game aficionados should jump in without hesitation. It will surely take some time but you haven’t felt true satisfaction as a gamer until you successfully pull off a move that requires you to press “Back-Down+Forward+Punch-Away-Punch-Punch.”
10. Mirror’s Edge
A game that was immediately hyped up because of its great looks and then immediately discarded because of some ill-received design choices, Mirror’s Edge is still a fantastic experience. As protagonist Faith, players are tasked with using “parkour” (aka needlessly fancy jumping) to deliver messages and somehow achieve world peace.
The game emphasized the first-person view like no other, meaning the constant motion gave gamers seasickness, but this beautifully crafted trek atop metropolis rooftops is just really easy to enjoy. And to top it off, it has a look of cleanliness not seen in the post-apocalyptic nightmares that gaming seems to revel in nowadays. For that reason alone, it deserves a chance.
Of course, this is merely a condensed list and there are many other great games that either didn’t get the attention they earned or got criticism they didn’t, so be sure to sound off in the comments below.