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Sometimes we’re let down by big, blockbuster games failing to live up to their potential. In fact, it happens at least a few times a year, and we’re sure to see a few of 2011’s big holiday releases fall flat on their faces.Other times, however, the exact opposite occurs; that rarest of occasions where a game that looks absolutely, positively dreadful ends up being good… or great. It’s less frequent, that’s to be sure, but it’s exciting when we go in with low hopes and leave with a smile on our faces. In 2007 we took a list of games with strange, seemingly uninteresting concepts and got together a list that succeeded our wildest dreams, and now we’re taking another look—this time at a different list of games that rose above the rest and proved us all wrong.
Why it should have sucked: Where do we start? Blood on the Sand had seemingly nothing going for it when we first heard about it. It was developed by a relatively unknown studio and looked like a poor-man’s Gears of War—a game style often mimicked by uninspired cash-ins. It wasn’t even 50 Cent’s first foray into gaming, and the wound was still fresh from the travesty that was 50 Cent: Bulletproof. Oh, and its story might have been the most insane thing we’d ever heard: after being stiffed on the bill during a tour of the Middle East, 50 Cent goes on a rampage in search of a diamond-encrusted skull. Seriously.
Why it didn’t: Yet, somehow, it worked. The gameplay was surprisingly strong, taking after Gears of War but layering on its own mechanics by putting an emphasis on gaining points through skillful kills and tossing in online cooperative play. The story, which sounded like absurdly awful, ended up being just absurd—a work of satirical brilliance that we’re not 100% sure Fiddy knew was meant to be a joke. It’s ludicrous in the best way possible, and a game we’re happy to have played. There’s even the option to buy new swear words to yell! How awesome is that?
Why it should have sucked: It’s based on a Disney Channel show about Miley Cyrus (Billy Ray Cyrus’s daughter) traveling the world as pop star Hannah Montana. It’s also one in a long line of games based on the absurdly popular franchise, none of which have broken away from the bottom level of crippling mediocrity. To make things worse, whereas most of the other games tried to mimic the trite affairs of the television show, Music Jam was entering Rock band and Guitar Hero territory—land not often tread on handhelds.
Why it didn’t: It ended up being a mishmash of ideas and concepts that didn’t flow together all too well… but worked just enough to be a huge surprise. The story was just as awful as anyone could have imagined (shopping, yay!), but we couldn’t believe how much we enjoyed making music on the well thought-out music creation system. You can record four instruments separately and play them together, composing your own musical melodies. It’s not as complex as Rock Band or anything like that, but it ended up being much more interesting than we expected, and is still better than Wii Music ever was (despite pre-dating Nintendo’s game by over a year).
Why it should have sucked: Even back as far as E.T. for the original Atari, movie tie-ins have been absurdly disappointing. 90 times out of a hundred they’re nearly unplayable, and the other ten times usually aren’t anything to be excited for. Super hero games, too, have always struggled, making X-Men Origins: Wolverine look like it was going to be an absolute unmitigated disaster. Dropping players into the shoes of Wolverine sounded extremely fun, but we didn’t have high hopes that the developers would really be able to convey the feeling of tearing apart bad guys as one of comics’ biggest bad-asses.
Why it didn’t: But they actually did. Raven Software didn’t pull a single punch when making the M-rated X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a game that shattered our expectations completely. It wasn’t amazing, but it accomplished the most important goal it could: making us feel like Wolverine. Later levels were definitely weaker than the earlier ones, but the combat was strong enough to allow us to look past that, and to enjoy the impressive visuals, fantastic regenerative effects (Wolverine’s wounds would heal in real-time, no matter how grievous), and downright badassery that playing as Wolverine allowed.