Previously, we tallied up 2008's top disappointments and downloadable titles. Next, we'll cover this year's top five overlooked games (with ten other honorable mentions), calling attention to high quality releases that went mostly ignored by mainstream consumers, the gaming press, and video game communities.
The games picked are the editor's choice, and are chosen from the titles released in North America during 2008's calendar year to date, with eligible titles spanning home consoles, handhelds, and PC.
5. Roogoo (SpiderMonk Entertainment, XBLA/PC)
Though its simple design and cartoonish presentation invited comparisons to Fisher Price's "Baby's First Blocks" toy, Roogoo was praised by reviewers for its fast-paced gameplay, challenging stages, and online multiplayer mode.
The casual title didn't generate as much buzz as some of the other innovative puzzle games released this year, like Electronic Arts' Boom Blox and Void Star Creations' Poker Smash, but Roogoo will have another chance to attract open-minded gamers in 2009 with Nintendo DS and Wii releases.
4. Culdcept Saga (OmiyaSoft/Jamsworks, Xbox 360)
Initially released in Japan in 2006, Culdcept Saga didn't make it stateside until February of this year. This strategy board game series -- often described as a mix of Monopoly and Magic the Gathering -- has never been popular in the U.S., but with its dated visuals and card-based gameplay, this was a particularly hard sell as a disc release to Xbox 360 gamers, even with its budget price.
Those who were able to look past Culdcept Saga's eccentric premise and dowdy 3D cutscenes, however, found an addictive and unique strategy experience with lots of replay value and beautiful card art.
3. Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection (FarSight Studios, Wii/PS2/PSP)
While many gamers marked 2008 as a blue-ribbon year for revivals of retro franchises -- MegaMan, Bionic Commando, and Space Invaders -- most quickly dismissed Crave Entertainment's collection of arcade classics, Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection.
The game offers ten (mostly) faithful virtual reproductions of Williams pinball tables from the 70s to 90s. Anyone who longs to hear the sound of a small steel ball rolling up an entry lane but doesn't have the time or money to purchase and refurbish a pinball machine, should definitely look into this anthology.
2. Pure (Black Rock Studio, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)
Without the name recognition that other racing titles enjoyed with their sequels this year, Pure's debut (and Black Rock Studio's debut under Disney's banner) went unnoticed by anyone who wasn't paying attention to reviews. Created by the same studio behind ATV Offroad Fury 3 and 4, naturally, this offroad racing title garnered a slew of top-end ratings.
Pure received near universal acclaim from critics, with many lauding its detailed graphics, exaggerated trick system, and reckless sense of speed. Unfortunately, not many gamers picked this up to enjoy those highlights themselves.
1. Soul Bubbles (Mekensleep, DS)
Soul Bubbles' goofy cover design and limited marketing budget didn't do the game any favors, but its Toys R' Us-exclusive release ensured that almost everyone missed out on this clever, polished title fitted for both casual and core players.
Gamers looking for an original and creative Nintendo DS title that takes advantage of the system's touchscreen would do well to try out Soul Bubbles. If you're specifically looking for something nonviolent or even more soothing than the typical game, even better!
Finally, honorable mentions for some of our favorite overlooked games in 2008 that didn't quite reach the top five go to: Shiren the Wanderer, Multiwinia, Yakuza 2, Civilization 4: Colonization, Blast Works, Princess Debut, Spin (iPhone), MLB Power Pros 2008, Sega Superstars Tennis, and Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (DS).
[Do you agree or disagree with these picks? Feel free to comment below. We'll pick the best reader comments on each list for our final retrospective, to debut on Gamasutra close to the holidays.]