No noobs allowed
Most of the time, gaming is a very welcoming hobby. "Come in, play, have a warm beverage," it usually says. However, on occasions, it can be deliberately obtuse and confusing. Even if you're familiar with every Call of Duty class or collected every Pokemon gym badge, there are still so many types of games that can appear completely impenetrable. These niche genres are ignored by so many gamers due to their complex rules and systems, but don't worry: you don't need to be scared any more.
As a public service to readers interested in expanding their gaming horizons, I've gathered together titles that will unlock whole new worlds for you. These games have all the features and action that make their genres (in)famous, but many of the barriers to understanding them are removed for a much more inviting feel. Let me introduce you to a whole new world of gaming, one noob-friendly title at a time.
Ace Attorney will get you into visual novels
The genre: These games reinterpret prose as an interactive experience, so most of the gameplay focuses on pressing "next" over and over during dialogue. A few may decry these titles as "not a game," but the focus on storytelling and character development often makes players even more invested in the plot. These normally PC-centric visual novels do favor melodrama and anime cliches, but that's not always a bad thing.
The right game: The original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy is a great for newcomers to visual novels. The epic tale of Phoenix's judiciary adventures with his oddball clients is told through digestible chapters, with snappy dialogue, a sense of fun, and some surprisingly mature themes. The first three games are available on DS, Wii, and iOS (3DS coming in December), and these comical attorney-on-attorney battles show how reading a verdict can be as fulfilling as a perfectly timed headshot.
The next step: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Steins;Gate, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
Binding of Isaac will get you into roguelikes
The genre: These adventure games make Dark Souls look easy. They send you into increasingly harrowing, monster-filled pits with the promise of increasingly good loot. Every time you advance, your enemies do too, so the game never gets any easier (no matter how tooled-up you get). Careless play will always leave you cornered and overwhelmed. Fall, and you'll be sent back to your last save (likely over an hour ago), or you'll just face outright permadeath. So, yeah, fun!
The right game: There are many mega-hardcore Japanese titles I could point you towards, but indie title The Binding of Isaac is a safer bet. It's still very challenging, but the cycle from death to rebirth is much faster, dumping all the unneeded bits and placing you on the kill-or-be-killed treadmill immediately. It's a bit like the original Legend of Zelda, only with the difficulty turned up several notches and covered in distressing (yet cute) imagery. It's currently only on PC, but will be heading to PS4 / Vita / Wii U very soon.
The next step: Pokemon: Mystery Dungeon, Shiren the Wanderer, Dungeons of Dreadmor
Advance Wars will get you into tactics
The genre: Like RPGs but wish the cities and character development were replaced by more battles and statistics? That's the audience tactics (or strategy) games are for, but the high difficulty and heavy use of numbers can be offputting to some. Some tactics games promise 80 hours of battles and dense job systems that depend on a lot of memorization, but there's beauty to be found amongst the math.
The right game: Advance Wars is the simplified cousin of Fire Emblem, but it's brand of combat is no less engrossing. Sure, you take part in some intense turn-based warfare, using a number of individual unit types, but all the game's systems are explained perfectly in the opening hour. With clever writing and an underrated soundtrack, the GBA original Advance Wars (now on Wii U) is an inviting introduction to tactical gaming basics, all without patronizing the player.
The next step: XCOM: Enemy Within, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Skulls of the Shogun
Civilization Revolution will get you into 4X
The genre: This sub genre of strategy games was coined decades ago because each tasks players to "eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate." The genre isn't as prominent as it once was, but the addictive gameplay is enough to pull devotees back again and again. But the high difficulty, complicated commands, and lengthy campaigns are also what scare many away from 4X.
The right game: Suggesting Civilization Revolution will no doubt upset some Sid Meier diehards, but this spin-off does a great job of easing players into an accelerated journey through human history. You have the same selection of famous world leaders--meaning the same potential for nuclear warfare between Cleopatra and Ghandi--only now you get a good deal more direction, and clearer goals when building your societies. This entry skipped PC by heading to 360, PS3, DS, and iOS, with the "just one more turn" appeal intact. And once you've grown accustomed to 4X's rhythm, you'll be ready to move on to Rev's bigger brothers on PC.
The next step: The Total War games, Sins of the Solar Empire, Civilization 5
Radiant Silvergun will get you into bullet hell
The genre: Maybe you're a fan of retro shoot 'em ups like Gradius and R-Type, but then you turned away from the genre because they got far too difficult. Instead of throwing a few enemies at a time, you instead spend each stage surrounded by killer projectiles that cover the screen in potential ruination. These are the bullet hell games that have pushed many players away from auto-scrolling shooters, but more than just the ultra hardcore can enjoy these titles.
The right game: Radiant Silvergun may be obscure, but this late '90s title works as a bridge into the realm of bullet hell. Developed by genre experts Treasure, the vertical shooter takes its time easing you into the demanding combat before ultimately surrounding your craft with dozens of killer items. And your ship has a fighting chance thanks against projectiles thanks to an attached sword that can take out bullets, meaning avoidance isn't your only option in battle. This once demanded a high price on eBay, but now you can find it on XBLA for $15 / 9.99.
The next step: DoDonPachi, Geometry Wars, Ikaruga
Broken Age will get you into point 'n click adventure
The genre: Point 'n click adventures were king in the late '80s and early '90s, featuring some of the best writing the young medium of games had ever seen. But the genre became increasingly niche, thanks to a shrinking audience and ridiculously illogical puzzles. Developer Telltale has contemporized the genre in hits like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, but what if you're looking for a more classic interpretation of searching every last pixel for answers.
The right game: Broken Age exists because of a massive Kickstarter success that saw Monkey Island and Grim Fandango writer Tim Schafer return to old school point 'n click. The inventory interface and exploration feel like they're ripped straight out of the '90s, but now there are sharp graphics to match the stingingly sharp wit of the writing. It gives retro-minded players the best of both worlds. And I can promise you that the puzzles are clever, and have none of the "cat moustache (opens in new tab)" logic that later point n click games made infamous.
The next step: The Tesla Effect, Sam & Max Save The World, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Gone Home will get you into first-person exploration
The genre: When you play first-person shooters, do you wish you could take a closer look at an area before dozens of faceless goons run in, begging to be shot? That's where first-person exploration comes in, where you're tasked with experiencing the world around you, searching for the story instead of being led to it. Some may find the genre aimless, but it's about letting the player make the connections themselves, finding the story at their own pace, no cutscenes required. You just need to open your mind, dude...
The right game: This genre is more mainstream than ever at the moment, thanks in part to the critical reception Gone Home got in 2013. Made by the team behind some of BioShock 2's best moments, Gone Home forgoes fantastical settings, instead dropping players into a middle class American home in 1995. You search the house for answers to your sister's disappearance, with more and more shocking, humanistic moments being revealed as you search through the well-realized suburban domicile. This game shows the storytelling possibilities for a genre that takes immersion to a whole new level. Currently PC only, it's coming soon to consoles.
The next step: The Stanley Parable, Dear Esther, Unfinished Swan
Hakuouki will get you into otoge
The genre: Otoge, or otome games, are a popular Japanese genre that's seeing increasing exposure in the west. These are a mix of dating games and visual novels that are aimed primarily at women. Normally, players control a young girl as she gets to know group of (a dozen or so) handsome guys and must pick her favorite. There are a number of stock suitors to choose from and you've already stopped reading, haven't you?
The right game: Hakuouki: Memories of the Shinsengumi takes place hundreds of years ago in Japan, as Chizuru Yukimura is placed under the protection of a collection of samurai. Each sword-wielding protector has a unique personality meant to appeal to different types of players. Will you go for the impetuous Heisuke Toudou or the mysterious Chikage Kazuma? Then again, Hajime Saitou is also pretty dreamy. If I haven't lost you completely by this point, you'll find this game on 3DS, Vita, and PS3.
The next step: Sweet Fuse, Avalon Code, Princess Debut
Welcome to the club
Now that you've read all my suggestions, you're ready to expand your gaming horizons, exploring titles you once saw as impossibly obtuse. But did I miss any of your favorite, little loved titles? If so, I'm ready to read comments about them, so long as theyre at least as informative as this feature.
Want to get even more hardcore? Check out 29 obscure fighters that deserve an HD remake (opens in new tab) and why the racing genre needs to be MORE hardcore (opens in new tab).