Some lie, dusty and forgotten, at the bottom of a bargain bin. Others are hard to find outside of an eBay auction. Some received rave reviews, but sold next to nothing. Others sold well, but received almost no attention or love from the hardcore audience. Some you’ve heard about. Others you probably haven’t.
All fifty games, however, are criminally overlooked. More importantly, all fifty were released for this generation of consoles and PCs, meaning you can still track down a copy and still play that copy on your current setup.
If you’ve finished all the blockbusters, or just want to give the underdogs a second shot, here’s where to start.
Does the name Hironobu Sakaguchi mean nothing to you people? The man created Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy! He helped bring Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, Xenogears and Parasite Eve to life. He is a videogaming legend. He is making new adventures to this very day.
For some damn reason, however, no one’s playing them anymore. While Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey have both sold well under a million copies, it’s the failure of the former that really bothers us. Look past the cutesy bobble-headed characters and you’ll find a meaty old-school epic with lovable heroes, despicable villains, addictive leveling, memorable music and gorgeous Pixar-like visuals. What’s not to love?
Current availability? $20 new.
Kirby: Canvas Curse
How is the best Kirby adventure on Nintendo’s handheld also the worst selling? Canvas Curse boasts captivating music, sparkling visuals and addictive replay value. More importantly, the gameplay is some of the most innovative we’ve ever witnessed on the DS, taking the pink puff out of your control and asking you to guide his ceaseless roller-coaster momentum with the tracing of your stylus instead.
But thanks to an early release – less than a year after the system’s launch – not nearly as many people have played Canvas Curse as they have its inferior (though still fun) follow-ups, Squeak Squad and Super Star Ultra. Comment section, take note: being “first” isn’t always a good thing.
Current availability? $20-$25 used.
The House of the Dead: Overkill
Of course you haven’t played The House of the Dead: Overkill – it’s a blood-soaked, curse-laden, tongue-in-cheek zombie shooting thrill ride. Unfortunately, it’s also on the Wii.
But if you’re avoiding the sequel for that reason alone, you’re missing out on so much greatness! Agent Washington’s potty mouth, Varla Guns’ impossibly sexy shotgun reload, an impeccably executed send-up of grindhouse horror and one of the most disgusting endings in gaming history. If this really is ‘New Sega,” we want more. Much more.
Current availability? $30 new.
Earth Defense Force 2017
A lot of folks took one look at the publisher on this one – D3, known for budget titles rather than AAA hits – and said “No thanks.” Big mistake. What Earth Defense Force 2017 lacks in polish, it makes up for in campy exuberance. This is a third-person shooter composed of every cheesy sci-fi movie you’ve ever seen.
UFOs are invading! Shoot ‘em down. Now it’s giant ants by the dozens! Fire away and watch ‘em splatter. Now it’s giant robots, and cyborg mutant dinosaur monsters, and another giant robot so big that it literally craps out the earlier giant robots. Every time you think it can’t possibly get more outrageous, it does. You’ll want to keep playing just to see how the game manages to one-up itself next. And then you’ll want to blow up it all up and push on to the next ridiculous level. It’s great fun.
Current availability? $17 new.
Dead Head Fred
The PlayStation Portable’s biggest problem is a lack of creativity. Developers often treat Sony’s handheld system like a dumping ground, an afterthought depository for watered down ports and half-baked prequels.
Dead Head Fred bucks that frustrating trend. Your hero, a decapitated detective in search of his stolen head, is merely the start of the game's off-the-wall originality. Your arch rival is a crime boss. Your mentor is a mad scientist. You brawl hand-to-hand with zombies, usurping strange superpowers by screwing on their heads. In your spare time, you play pinball, learn the saxophone and raise mutant chickens.
The reward for such refreshing inventiveness? Some of the saddest sales numbers for any game on any console.
Current availability? $10 new.
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
The world can be a cruel and mysterious place. Four years ago, a pampered multi-millionaire rapper lent his voice, likeness and ego to the shitty videogame companion of his even shittier movie. It sold roughly two million copies.
Cut to today. The same artist, possibly humbled by his declining music sales, appears in a self-parodying sequel that – against all odds – doesn’t suck. The hilariously over-the-top combat is pure arcade, and pure popcorn fun. The story, featuring terrorists and diamond encrusted skulls, is too ridiculous not to enjoy. The co-op system works. The replay potential is high.
In other words, 50 Cent starred in something other than a money-grabbing promotional tie-in. The result? A measly 160,000 in sales.
Current availability? $30 used.
Linger in Shadows
The problem with a game like Linger in Shadows is it’s nearly impossible to describe. To wit: it’s not really a game. It’s more like an interactive movie, rendered in full 3D, that is also a puzzle – when you hit a stopping point, you need to look around the environment, turning this thing or shaking that one, or just finding something, in order to unlock the next piece of the movie.
It’s not too tough to solve (though the first puzzles are the toughest, so don’t be discouraged) and the graphics have to be seen to be believed – it looks like an oil painting that just happens to move. And although it’s wicked short, it’s also an experience you owe it to yourself to have. Plus, the price is right.
Current availability? $3 download from the Playstation Network.
First person shooters have emerged as the dominant genre of this generation, with heavy hitters like Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 racking up approximately 10 million sales each. With so many competitors and copycats fighting over that lucrative market, however, a few masterpieces are guaranteed to go unnoticed.
The Darkness, for example. The game sold a little over half a million copies, but deserves to be bought, played, discussed and adored as much as Gears of War or Killzone 2. What other shooter gives you heart-chomping dragons and dynamite-strapped kamikaze minions in addition to the usual arsenal? What other shooter lets you sit on the couch and watch old movies with your virtual girlfriend before heading out the door for more killing? How many other shooters are this dripping in atmosphere and gore… this confident in storytelling and voice acting?
None, obviously. Don’t miss your chance.
Current availability? $20 new.
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros Treasure
Forget the cutesy swashbuckling box art - Zack & Wiki is a hardcore puzzler at the core. In fact, the game plays more like LucasArts’ old point-and-click adventures, without all the downtime. You’ll face dozens of brain bending riddles, but with the right tools already in hand, you won’t need to pixel hunt for any other leads.
The best part? This is a great example of what can be done with the Wii’s motion controls – the remote stands in for everything from keys and cranks to saws and flutes. The worst part? Finding a copy is hard.
Current availability? $30 new from the Capcom store. $15 used elsewhere.
Xbox Live Arcade has grown into an untamed wilderness of hit-or-miss gaming. With literally hundreds of titles to rummage through, finding treasure beyond the obvious hits like Castle Crashers, Braid and Peggle is becoming increasingly difficult.
Do yourself a favor, then, and add Switchball to that list. Marbles and mazes are already familiar to puzzle enthusiasts, but learning when to morph into a magnetized orb, an accelerated bullet or a light-as-air bubble provides plenty of extra challenge. Plus, the sight of shimmering reflective silver and the sound of gently rolling metal are easily as soothing as any elevator music Uno has to offer.
Current availability? $10 download.