We all do it: we see a game that’s by a company with a bad reputation, or that’s a sequel to something we didn’t like, and we assume it’s a piece of garbage. We mock it or ignore it, and never actually play it. Sometimes this is justified, but sometimes these assumptions cause us to miss out on a game that is actually genuinely good.
It’s hard to not get jaded about games these days: Nintendo systems have been flooded with shovelware, and the Xbox 360 and PS3 release lists are filled with hordes of generic me-too FPS’s all trying to be the next Call of Duty. I know plenty of so-called “hardcore” gamers who have refused to play genuinely good games because of their preconceived assumptions, and that’s really regrettable.
I’m guilty of that brand of gaming prejudice too; while I like to think that I have a pretty open mind when it comes to games, there have been a few times when I’ve passed up on opportunity to play a game because I assumed it’d be terrible. I skipped playing the original Crash Bandicoot, for instance, because I simply assumed he was another shameless Sonic clone in the vein of Bubsy the Bobcat or Punky Skunk, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I finally gave Naughty Dog’s excellent platformer a fair chance.
And that’s why this list exists: I want to both highlight a few contemporary games that have been overlooked and unfairly prejudged by the gaming community, as well as list a few examples of older games that nobody was excited about initially, but have since gone on to become regarded as classics.
God Hand was doomed from the start: Clover Studio’s attempt to modernize the old beat’em up genre got very little in the way of marketing support from publisher Capcom, so most gamers first exposure to the game came from reviews from the press, who were all strangely unkind to the game. Popular website IGN infamously gave the game a 3.0 (out of 10) score in a very dismissive review, and many other publications, including EGM, Game Informer, and the UK’s highly reputable Edge magazine, all gave the game fairly middling reviews as well. Unsurprisingly, the negative press and the lack of advertising resulted in God Hand completely bombing at retail.
Gamers who ignored the reviews and actually tried God Hand themselves were pleasantly surprised: God Hand won gamers over with its surprisingly deep and customizable combat system and its hilarious, irreverent story and cast of characters. The game has since gone on to become a cult-classic, and gamers around the world now wonder if they had played the same game that was so unjustly panned by the critics. If you missed out on God Hand when it was originally released for PS2, you should be happy to learn that the game is available as a download over PSN for the paltry price of $9.99.
Deadly Premonition had even worse chances God Hand: like Clover’s masterpiece, this survival horror/adventure game hybrid received another terrible review from IGN, and unlike God Hand, which at least had Clover Studio’s pedigree to back it up, DP was developed by a relatively unknown team at Access Games.
Thankfully, not everyone in the press hated the game — the guys over at Destructoid were very enthusiastic in their love for the game, and while other sites were divided in their opinions (Guiness even named the game the “Most Critically Polarizing Survival Horror Game,”) people eventually began to take notice of the weird little adventure game that was previously dismissed as shovelware. The game’s bizarre, Twin Peaks inspired story line and strange dialogue instantly gained the game an audience with nerdy hipsters who liked the game ironically, but while some posit that Deadly Premonition is “so bad it’s good,” I think that DP is a genuinely good game that’s just a little rough around the edges. Sure, the combat is kind of awkward and the game’s graphics look like they were ported over from a Wii or a PS2 game, but despite all that, I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent exploring Deadly Premonition’s bizarre little world.
The game quickly established itself as a sleeper hit on the Xbox 360, and the game’s developers recently announced that a new Director’s Cut version of the game would hit the PS3 sometime soon.
Activision churns out sequels the way McDonald’s churns out burgers, and by 2009, Activision had thoroughly run the Guitar Hero brand into the ground after years of samey sequels and spin-offs. People simply didn’t want to buy another “Hero” music game, or another plastic toy instrument, and many industry analysts promptly declared that the music game genre was dead. The market was grossly over-saturated, and DJ Hero, developed in the UK by FreeStyle Games, had the unfortunate timing to come out in the middle of all this, and despite being a really good game, the game was lumped in with all the other Guitar Hero clones and was ignored by an indifferent populace.
It’s a real shame, because DJ Hero and it’s sequel are two of the best rhythm games to come out this generation. I have absolutely zero interest in DJ’ing or “turntablism,” but despite that, I still had an amazing amount of fun with these games. Let’s face it: broken down to their basest aspects, most music games simply revolve around pressing a button when the game tells you to, but DJ Hero and especially it’s sequel actually managed to make you feel like you were genuinely making music and (no pun intended) putting your own spin on each track.
The franchise never quite achieved the success that Guitar Hero had during its prime, and Activision promptly killed any future titles in the series when they announced that they were quitting the music genre after the last Guitar Hero flopped. I have to admit, I was one of the many people who initially dismissed DJ Hero as “just another half-assed music game with Hero slapped on the title,” and I didn’t buy the game until I found it and it’s turntable controller gathering dust in a Target clearance aisle… and while I’ll always regret not giving the game the initial support it deserved, I’m really glad I did eventually buy it. Prices for DJ Hero, DJ Hero 2, and the controller have gone up a little bit since the games went out of print, but you can still generally pick them up for a fraction of what they originally retailed for. If you ever had any fun with a rhythm game, pick up DJ Hero. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I think everyone who didn’t spend their summer attending Furry conventions will agree with me when I say that the last ten years have not been a good period for Sonic the Hedgehog. Sega’s once proud mascot has had his reputation flushed down the toilet following a series of increasingly bad, high profile releases like the barely playable 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog reboot for Xbox 360 and PS3, and it’s misguided sequel, Sonic Unleashed. The character that once propelled Sega to stardom was now the biggest example of how far they had fallen, and when Sonic Colors for the Wii was unveiled in 2010, most people, gamers and press alike, simply openly mocked and dismissed the game before they knew anything about it.
And I don’t blame them. Like I said, Sonic had spent most of the previous decade appearing in terrible games, and likewise, being a third party game on a system synonymous with third party shovelware certainly didn’t help Sonic Colors’ reputation. I used to a be a pretty huge Sonic fan: I loved all of the Genesis games when I was a kid, and to this day I still maintain that Sonic’s two Dreamcast adventures are decent, worthwhile games… but even with my fandom, I skipped Sonic Colors when it was initally released; I had been burned too many times before by Sonic branded shovelware, and I thought I was done with Sega’s blue blur. I know a lot of other people who felt the same way.
But then a strange thing happened after Colors was released: gradually, I began to hear from more and more people that Colors was actually good. I was skeptical at first, but I finally took the plunge when the game’s price dropped to $20 a few months later, and now I really wish I had bought the game from day one. Sonic Colors is the pure Sonic platformer that everyone had spent the better part of a decade waiting for, and it was the game that finally broke the fabled Sonic Cycle. While a lot of people seem to prefer the game’s HD sequel, Sonic Generations, I think Colors is objectively the better game: with its far lengthier quest and more polished level design, Colors has a definite edge over its prettier, nostalgia dependent successor. Like the other games on this list, you can probably pick up Sonic Colors for a discounted price, and it’s definitely worth the cost (and the time it’ll take to dust off your Wii,) to play.
Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
The Chronicles of Riddick (the movie) was panned by critics and bombed at the box office: it only made $57 million during its theatrical run, less than half of the supposed $120 million that the movie cost to make. Vin Diesel, god bless his ethnically ambigious soul, loves the Riddick franchise and character, but personally, I have attempted to watch The Chronicles of Riddick on several occasions and have never been able to sit through the entire thing once.
A lot of people (myself included,) figured that the Chronicles of Riddick game would be just as bad as the movie; after all, most movie-to-game adaptations are pretty terrible, so common sense would dictate that a game based on a terrible movie would be twice as bad. Thankfully, Starbreeze Studio’s take on Riddick managed to pull off a rare feat that only Goldeneye managed to do before it: despite being linked to that atrocity of a movie, Escape from Butcher Bay is one of the few licensed games that’s better than the source material that inspired it.
The Chronicles of Riddick on Xbox is a first person action-adventure that manages to blend a lot of disparate elements together into one cohesive and entirely enjoyable adventure. It’s probably the only game since Thief to make first-person stealth fun, and the game’s fist fighting mechanics are satisfying and deep. Even by today’s standards, the game is still technically impressive: despite being an Xbox 1 game, Escape from Butcher Bay is prettier than most launch-window Xbox 360 games.
Overwhelming positive reviews and word of mouth helped The Chronicles of Riddick game overcome any negative associations people had from The Chronicles of Riddick movie, and the game was successful enough to keep Starbreeze in business. Escape from Butcher Bay definitely earned its place on this list for 2 very good reasons: 1. it’s a great game and 2. it proves that a good game can come out of a mediocre franchise.
Well, those are my picks for good games that everyone initially assumed would be terrible. As always, these are just my personal picks based on my own experience, so you shouldn’t take this list as a comprehensive attempt to name every underrated game ever made. If you have any surprisingly good games or related anecdotes of your own that you’d like to share, please feel free to post them in the comments. Or, more likely, if I’ve said something that has offended you in some way and you want to tell me how I’m worse than Hitler, feel free to spew your nerd rage in the comments as well. The internet could always use more examples of what full blown Asperger’s looks like. God knows the comments section for all my other articles and list are filled with them.
Anyway, hopefully you’ll all give the games on this list a fair chance, because I honestly believe that they’re all great games, and as we head into another Fall deluge of games, let’s all remember to keep an open mind and give every game a fair shake before we decide to rip them apart. Nobody likes a fanboy, and blindly hating something makes you just as much of a fanboy as people who blindly adore it.