The launch of the Xbox 360, to use a timeless cliché phrase, marked the beginning of the end for this generation. In less than a year, Nintendo and Sony will have replaced their consoles for a 3rd PlayStation and a supposed Revolution. When people look back at this generation, gamers will remember Halo, Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft, and 1,001 Mario titles.
What about the games that did not have a built-in audience? How about the titles that tried something different, and for the most part succeeded - at leastartistically? (Financial success is a bit harder to achieve.) Here are Joystiq's picks for the top 10 (well, 11 – we failed math in high school) games you may have passed over this generation, but really need to pick up – think of it as "Game Appreciation 101." So, without further ado...
10a. (TIE) Stubbs the Zombie in "Rebel Without a Pulse" (PC, Mac, Xbox)
These 2 games tie for the bottom of the list, as games that are too new to really be hidden gems, but seem destined for that category. Based on the Halo engine (and developed by many of the same people who worked on Halo), Stubbs is the story of a zombie as he seeks out his next meal of human brains. Armed with only his body, Stubbs can use his detachable hand to control his enemies (and whatever weapons they may have equipped). The game has everything that makes the original Halo fun (even vehicles) and adds humor to the title.
Stubbs the Zombie also has a great soundtrack, featuring such artists as The Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie, and Cake performing classic tracks ("Strangers in the Night," for example). Even if you have no interest in this game (or video games in general), you might want to consider picking up the soundtrack on CD.
10b. (TIE) Indigo Prophecy
(PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox)
The adventure game-equivalent to 24, Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy follows Lucas Kane as he tries to solve the mystery of why he unwillingly killed a man in the diner. The game is called a reinvention of the adventure genre, as most everything moves in constant time - even the dialogues are timed so that you have to be very quick to choose what you want to say. As many reviews have stated, the game is nowhere near perfect, but very few adventure games have come out lately, so this was indeed a breath of fresh air.
Metacritic Average: 83 (out of 100)
Price: $40 at GameStop
Best described as a sensual acid trip, Rez is a rail shooter known for its visceral wireframe visuals and lush techno soundtrack. The game is not too hard - choose a direction every so often, point and shoot - but its presentation is so unique that you could not help but stare at the screen in awe. Tetsuya Mizuguchi, who would later wow the world with Lumines and Meteos, designed this game as a sort of synaesthesia, or mixing of the senses (seeing sounds, hearing colors, etc.). It is a trip of a gem.
did not become a mega-seller, but no one could have expected a game like this to
appeal to mainstream audiences. Rez has received some rather
"interesting" news for its limited packaging (Japan only) of a trance vibrator. Game Girl Advance has a very famous
article on the various
uses for the device.
Metacritic Average: 78 (out of 100)
Price: You can find it on eBay for highly inflated prices - we can only pray for a re-release (or an even crazier successor next generation)
8. Killer 7
(GameCube, PlayStation 2)
Say what you will about the game, but there is nothing quite like Killer 7. The game drips originality and audacity. It is ultra-violent, profane, and mature in every sense of the word. This is a game that takes adult themes and gives them a reason. You play Harman Smith, a wheelchair-bound assassin who uses his 7 multiple personalities (which can actually manifest themselves into physical beings) to obliterate anyone in their path (in this case, a group of suicide bombers known affectionately as the Heaven's Smile).
The game took quite a bit of flak for its control scheme - it only allows you to run on set paths, switching to first person only to shoot. It takes some getting used to, but this control scheme allows for the developers (Grasshopper, now working on Contact for the Nintendo DS) to use cinematic camera angles. The game is first and foremost a storyteller, but once you learn to handle the railway controls (which takes little more than an understanding of cardinal directions), you will thoroughly enjoy the ride.
7. Alien Hominid
(GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox)
Alien Hominid is quite possibly the biggest success story of this feature - it rose from online obscurity, created as a flash game by the guys who run Newgrounds, into a published console title. Creators Tom Fulp and Dan Paladin have made a colorful throwback to shooting games like Metal Slug and Contra.
Games like these are very hard to come by on current generation consoles, especially considering this is a pure-2D outing. This is a game, however, that proves technology is not everything.
Quite possibly the oldest game on the list, Ikaruga (which translates as Spotted Dove in English) was originally released as an Arcade game in 2000, then Dreamcast in 2002, and finally released on the GameCube in 2003. It is an insanely challenging top-down shooter with one unique twist: at any point in the game you can press a button to change the "polarity" of your ship (from black/red to white/blue). The polarity causes you to absorb enemy blasts of the same color, which is essential to get through the game, as laser blasts fill up the screen pretty fast. People who can beat this game are practically worshipped online.
As a genre, top-down shooters are not generally popular in
the United States. It is a shame, too, because this is a game everyone (even old-school gamers) can
5. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
Nintendo's response to Resident Evil, all but forgotten when Resident Evil 4 completely reinvented the franchise, Silicon Knights' Eternal Darkness was unique for its epic plot (which starts in 26 BC and concludes in 2000 AD), clever story (just beat the game 3 times to see) and its ingenious sanity meter. As monsters appeared the character's sanity slowly decreased, and only by slaying the monsters in a dramatic pose could you retain your sanity. If the meter dropped too low, crazy effects happened to both the character and the screen as well - false game resets, sound muting, random decapitations of main character (and recitations of Hamlet once the head is picked up), etc.
The game sold horribly, probably due in large part to
Nintendo's "kiddy" image. Silicon Knights has gone from a 2nd-party Nintendo-exclusive partner to working on
an exclusive Nordic-inspired action trilogy for Microsoft's Xbox 360, entitled Too Human.
For $9.99, this game is a must-buy.
Average: 92 (out of 100)
Price: $10 used at GameStop
4. Ico (PlayStation 2)
Created by Fumuto Ueda, Ico tells the story of a young horned boy (Ico) who must help a young princess escape a castle overpopulated by creepy shadows and dangerous environmental traps. The game is a puzzler at heart, and has an atmosphere like no other. Despite critical reviews, the game has only sold around 650,000 units - a marginal number by today's standards.
Fortunately, there is justice in the world - Ueda's latest
epic, Shadow of the Colossus, has been a success, both critically
(we loved it) and financially. The game, while not
directly related to Ico, definitely shares in the same style, as
well as including many references and allusions to the world of Ico.
This February, Sony plans to
in Europe, as copies of the game are currently going for over $100 US on
Metacritic Average: 90 (out of 100)
Price: $20 used at GameStop
3. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
There are so many great things to say about a game featuring a character named "Mid-Boss." Atlus, a company known for its Tactics Ogre and Ogre Battle franchises, decided to publish this game in limited supplies to North America. Disgaea follows the young and ambitious demon prince Laharl as he fights his way through competition to remain the baddest guy in the land. The game was a breath of fresh air for tactical games, with its enjoyable combo system and hilarious dialogue. This is one of the few games where we always looked forward to the between-battle cut scenes.
Disgaea's sales were not dismal, but the title was
hard to come by due to limited quantities. In fact, it was one of GameFly's top 10 rentals for September 2003. Atlus
decided to re-release the game on May 25, 2004. Developer
Nippon Ichi has since gone on to self-publish many of its own games, including Phantom Brave
and La Pucelle. Even
better, Nippon Ichi has announced a sequel for
Disgaea, set for release on February 23, 2006 in
2. Beyond Good & Evil
(GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox)
An adventure game with social commentary, Michel Ancel's game was a solid statement against censorship. The story, while short, was very polished and featured some fine voice acting - not to mention, you actually cared for the characters and their well-being. The game was a true cult classic, as it commercially flopped.
The game must not have been that bad, though, as it
attracted gamers as high-profile as Peter Jackson. In fact, Jackson has been quoted quite a few times as saying he
personally chose Ancel to make the King
Kong video game because of his love for Beyond Good &
Metacritic Average: 87 (out of 100)
Price: $10-$15 used at GameStop; also available on GameTap
(PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox)
Tim Schafer has a long, celebrated history in computer gaming. Working with LucasArts for over a decade, Schafer is responsible (at least in some small way) for Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and the Monkey Island series - all stylized adventure games known for their humor. Psychonauts was Schafer's first game after he left LucasArts to form Double Fine production. The game was absolutely hilarious, with dozens of hours of hilarious dialogue and a very solid adventure involving a cast of characters an ingenious as Nightmare Before Christmas. In the game, you play as Raz, a novice Psychonaut who must venture into various minds (each with its own unique environment and gameplay style) to solve the mysteries and unfold a sinister plot.
Unfortunately, the game (published by Majesco after Microsoft shied away) did not sell as well as hoped, and Majesco faced quite a few financial woes after the dismal reception to both this game and Advent Rising.
Conclusion: Where is my Katamari
This list is by no means perfect - some games did not make the cut simply because they had already garnered moderate success and/or media exposure (Katamari Damacy, Shadow of the Colossus) or for other various reasons, but we feel these are the 10 or so games that deserve your immediate attention. Did we miss anything? Let us know and we will compile your picks for a reader's choice feature in the upcoming days.