Thursday, November 6th, 2008
Underrated or overlooked games, by their very nature are only played by a small minority and slip under the radar of even hardcore gamers. Having said that, my list is not meant to be a definitive list and is no doubt different from most other people’s lists. Being a game designer by profession, I naturally put more weight on gameplay mechanics than other people. If you read my other article “Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know” and are looking for some games to research, I would highly recommend any of the games on this list. With that I give you my list in no particular order.
Guilty Gear XX Accent Core (PS2/Wii) 2007
The most balanced 2D fighter in existence. Nearly every character can be played at a tournament level and has a chance of winning.
Let’s run through this game’s new and creative mechanics that developer Arc System Works has introduced. The gameplay is incredibly fast. Most of the characters can, double jump, dash in the air or run along the ground. Low air dash attacking is a common strategy. This makes for lots of action and a frantic pace.
Custom Combos: An endless variety of custom combos can be created by a mechanic called the Roman Cancel, which ends the animation frame of an attack as soon as you press the button, allowing you to chain any move you wish.
A Tension Gauge limits the use of Roman Cancels. This bar fills up as you move towards the enemy, inflict damage or receive damage. A Roman Cancel would take 50% of the Tension bar and an exactly timed False Roman Cancels on specific attacks take 25% of the tension bar.
Fortress Defense: An impenetrable defense that uses up the Tension Gauge to block both high and low attacks and nullifies special move blocking damage.
Burst Gauge: This bar fills up as you receive or inflict damage and serves two uses. If being attacked, it can be used to break out of any combo or it can be used offensively to refill the Tension Gauge.
Guard Gauge: Another common problem with fighting games is the turtle (ultra-defensive) strategy, which leads to boredom and little action. Guilty Gear has largely alleviated this issue and keeps the game’s frantic pace by introducing a penalty for employing this strategy in the form of the Guard Gauge. The Guard Gauge begins a fight half-filled. As the player blocks, the Guard Gauge increases and as you takes damage the gauge empties. If the player neither blocks nor takes damage, the gauge returns to the middle. The emptier the gauge is, the less damage you take. Therefore, if you continue to turtle you will take more damage when you do get hit. Also if the player refuses to attack, they are warned and then hit with a complete reduction of their tension gauge, a 20 percent fill-rate of tension for 10 seconds and suffer an increased likelihood of becoming dizzy when hit.
Since the number of hits received drains your Guard Gauge, attacks had a built in diminishing damage return. So the subsequent hits in a combo do less damage than the previous hit. This forces combo creators to frontload the heaviest damaging attacks at the beginning of the combo string for maximum efficiency.
When you look at all the innovative fighting systems in place coupled with really crazy character design and finely balanced characters, Guilty Gear is the pinnacle of all 2D fighting.
Sword of the Berserk: Gut’s Rage (Dreamcast) 1999
Berserk’s brand of cutting people and mutants in half and blowing their heads up with your giant sword and seeing fountains of blood spray everywhere action never gets old. Sword of the Berserk had multiple paths that were determined by whether the player successfully completed specific Quicktime events. Decent variety and design of enemies and huge bosses kept the gameplay from getting stale.
What really set the game apart from others was that Guts had two complete sets of melee moves; one with his giant sword and the other was hand-to-hand melee. Gut’s massive sword did the most damage, but could not be swung in tight places or if the character was close to a wall. In tight places, Gut’s had to switch to hand-to-hand which was not as damaging. This caused the player to have to be careful of where their player was in the environment and allowed the designers to ramp up the difficulty in areas by bringing in the walls for short periods of time. In addition to his giant sword and fists, Guts has a huge arsenal of weapons including throwing knives, bombs, a hand-cannon and a rapid-fire crossbow. All of them useful, balanced and more importantly satisfying to use.
The story was compelling and told through a number of well-directed cinema scenes. All in all it was a very fun game that did not deserve to be overlooked.
Oni (PC/PS2) 2001
Oni is heavily influenced by Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell anime series. Oni is set in the year 2032. As Konoko, a police agent in the Technological Crimes Task Force, you will use any of 10 different guns and numerous different martial-arts techniques to eliminate foes. As the player progressed through the game, new melee attack moves would be introduced to make Konoko more effective.
While everybody praises the “Halo” control scheme as revolutionizing shooters on consoles, this Bungie game invented that control scheme that Halo gets all the credit for. As a result of this revolutionary control scheme, Oni controlled amazingly well on the PS2.
This game was universally reviewed low, and I am still not quite sure why. Oni’s unique blend of hand-to-hand melee combat and third-person shooting had never been pulled off as successfully before or since the game’s release in 2001. What really would have pushed this title over the top is the inclusion of Multiplayer, which I had heard from inside sources was working and insanely fun, but sadly never saw the light of day.
System Shock (PC) 1994
System Shock is one of those titles that was overlooked simply because it came out at the wrong time. It attempted to go head-to-head against Doom II and obviously lost. Looking at the two games side-by-side System Shock seemed to come out way ahead. System Shock was way ahead of its time. Unlike Doom II, System Shock had a true 3D environment that allowed the player to look up, down, climb, duck, jump and lean to the side. Its story about a murderous sentient AI was deep and engrossing, it had interactive environments with actual physics, first-person action and RPG elements all in one title. The player could even enter into a gravity-free wire frame 3D Cyberspace through computer terminals littered throughout the game to open doors.
System Shock holds up even going back and playing it today. If you are interested in playing this game, the DOS emulator DosBox is a good way to do it.
I am glad that the remnants of the team at 2K Boston that created System Shock finally got their hit in the spiritual successor to System Shock, BioShock.
Kill.Switch (Xbox/PS2/PC) 2003
This 2003 third-person shooter developed by Namco was one of the first Japanese developed games to use the “Halo” control scheme. This overlooked gem introduced the cover mechanic and blind fire mode later made famous by Gears of War.
Instead of a single “A Button” press of Gears of War, Kill.Switch used a hold down button not unlike Time Crisis’ step peddle mechanic. If you were out in the open the player would duck, if you were close to a wall or other piece of cover the player would latch himself onto these pieces of cover. The cover mechanic was very innovative and well implemented.
Body Harvest (N64) 1998
Many people credit GTAIII as the first free-roaming sandbox game, but in reality Body Harvest owns that title. Body Harvest was developed by DMA Design who later developed GTAIII and was bought by Take-Two games and renamed Rockstar North. You played as Adam Drake, a human in power armor, thwarting an alien invasion of Earth.
Body Harvest’s world is populated by numerous civilians whom you were supposed to save, but could just as easily kill. Civilians react realistically and throw their arms up and try to flee when shot at. With over 60 drivable vehicles, including, cars, tanks, planes, boats and planes and 1000 virtual square miles Body Harvest was huge. Random mission objectives would pop up as you traveled around the world.
Body Harvest received mediocre reviews at release mostly because of poor graphics when compared to its more linear contemporaries. This is not surprising considering even modern open-world games have to sacrifice graphical fidelity to fit a huge world in memory. Body Harvest was an overlooked title that today’s open-world games owe much to.
Shadowrun (SNES) 1993
Shadowrun was great game that had a futuristic adult setting that broke the mold. Shadowrun came out in a time when its contemporaries were little more than Dungeons and Dragons clones. Based on a gritty near future Seattle, where Megacorporations ruled the world, the game is a revenge story that opens with the player waking up in a morgue with no memory of how he got there. Thus begins the player’s search for vengeance against those that killed him.
Shadowrun combines both the statistical numbers of traditional RPGs with a mix of real-time gameplay. You would place the cursor over the enemy and fire at them. By killing enemies you gain karma that is used to raise different attributes, skills and magical powers.
Other innovative aspects of this game include the ability to hire mercenaries to help you in your quest, hacking into the matrix to gain information and cash, and a dialogue system that would highlight specific words that you could later ask other NPCs.
Syndicate (PC/Amiga) 1993
Syndicate came out in 1993 and blew my mind. It is by far my favorite Peter Molyneux game. The Blade Runner inspired game put you in control of four juiced up and upgradable Syndicate agents from an isometric camera view. The cities you played in were teeming with civilians, cops, vehicles and enemy agents. The buildings can be entered and most of the environment, from skyscrapers to vehicles could be destroyed.
You could also steal and take command of vehicles like cars, trucks, APCs, fire and trash trucks and use them as transportation. Not only that, you could use the vehicles to run over people and watch them splatter.
The items in the game were one of the highlights. While using a flamethrower to set cars on fire had its own charm, the best item in the game by far was the Persuadertron. The Persuadertron let the player take over the minds of the civilians, cops and eventually enemy agents. You could go around the city and gather up a force of dozens of civilians that would throw their bodies in front of enemy fire to protect your agents. If you happened to kill a cop or an enemy agent they would drop their weapons and your new loyal civilian shields would run up and pick the weapon up to defend you.
Simply, one of my favorite games of all time.
Other honorable mentions:
Jet Grind Radio (DreamCast)
Bushido Blade (PSX)
Herzog Zwei (Genesis)
Beyond Good & Evil (Xbox/PS2/GC)
Viva Pinata (Xbox360)
Wings of Fury (Apple II)
See my other related articles also:
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 2
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 2
Pimps at Sea err I mean Age of Booty & Gen 13 Cosplay
My Student Films 2: EverQuest Documentary and Guilty Gear Isuka Trailer
Best MMA Fights & Genki Sudo: Real Life Video Game Character
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