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Gamasutra's Best Of 2010: Top 5 Underrated Games
Gamasutra's Best Of 2010: Top 5 Underrated Games
December 30, 2010 | By Simon Parkin

December 30, 2010 | By Simon Parkin
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[Gamasutra's retrospective of 2010 finishes with a look at the Top 5 underrated titles of the year, celebrating overlooked gems such as music puzzler Chime and Treasure's on-rails Wii shooter, Sin & Punishment: Successor to the Skies. ]

That blockbusters such as Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops top many of the end of year game lists is of no surprise.

Not to belittle their great accomplishments, but these titles have been praised with such predicable enthusiasm over the past month that their celebration can seem a little rote and dry (Gamasutra’s perspicacious praise notwithstanding).

Far more interesting are those titles that have been overlooked by the bulk of the gaming populace, games without the marketing budget equal to the GDP of a developing country who, by failing to match prevailing fashions or by choosing the wrong moment in the release schedules to make their appearance, fell by the wayside in 2010.

Here are five such games, experiences that offer something different and fascinating, games that you won’t find on many of the Top 10 Game lists of the year but who, by rights, should feature on each.

An alternative Top 5 list, these underrated games of 2010 deserve your attention, if only to encourage their makers to keep swimming against the tide in order to keep this medium both diverse and stimulating.

5. Chime (Zoe Mode/OneBigGame, XBLA/PSN)

Zoe Mode’s music puzzle game may seem derivative of Lumines in style and approach, but in mechanical terms it’s by far the more interesting proposition. With an inverse goal to that of most block-clearing games, Chime has you attempting to fill a grid with pentomino shapes.

The musical aspect to the game is then overlaid on top of this, each shape triggering a sample whose pitch is dictated by its position in the grid, generating a composition that's at once unique and familiar.

With pieces of music licensed from artists who rarely feature in video games, including avant-garde composer Philip Glass, Chime would be one of the most interesting downloable titles of the year even if it hadn’t been created for charity.

As it is, this, the first release from OneBigGame demonstrated that the philanthropic initiative is just as interested in creating interesting, innovative games as it is making the world a better place. The result is anything but a charity case.

4. Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip (Clap Hanz/ Sony, PSP)

The RPG-ification of games has continued apace in 2010, with games in a huge range of diverse genres doling out experience points for the most unlikely of virtual accomplishments.

But none has committed to the design approach with such forcefulness or success as Sony’s Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip (known as Everybody’s Tennis everywhere outside of the U.S.) on PSP, a game that awards Exp. on a per-shot basis.

The endorphin micropayments for every ace served and on-the-baseline lob successfully landed work wonders on the handheld. It may be a cheap trick, designed to artificially heighten the sense of accomplishment for otherwise routine actions, but it’s done with such flair and abandon here that it’s difficult to begrudge the designers for it.

With the leveling and doll-dressing couched in a J-Rocky-esque narrative with heroes and villains and pacts and rivalries you have one of the most exciting tennis games of the decade, albeit one that owes as much to Pokemon as it does the sport it riffs upon.

3. Resonance of Fate (Tri Ace/ Sega, Xbox 360, PS3)

Tri-Ace has long been the Japanese RPG developer most willing to take risks with what has always been video gaming’s most conservative genre. Released mere weeks after Final Fantasy XIII, the developer’s latest effort, Resonance of Fate is by far the more exciting game.

Not every one of its innovations could be considered a success and certainly the convoluted battle system reveals its complexities over the course of hours of play, not minutes but nevertheless, this unusual mixture of Victorian weaponry, John Woo-esque acrobatics and board game metagame is fascinating in its creativity.

Even the world in which the game is set subverts convention, turning the traditional hero's journey from pastoral village out to the ends of a troubled earth on its head into a vertical climb up a decaying steampunk tower of Babel.

The story may be transient and esoteric, but with pared back cut-scenes, and a reassuring turn from voice actor-du-jour Nolan North, it’s palatable. The result is a game that transcends its frustrations with creativity, bristling with quirky charm and ideas ripe for plucking by the JRPG’s less daring artisans.

2. Just Cause 2 (Avalanche Studios/ Square Enix, Xbox 360/ PS3/ PC)

The Achilles heel of so many sandbox worlds is the distance between missions. No matter how exciting the assignments placed before you, so often the sense of pace and excitement to a sandbox world is nullified as every journey between targets is turned into a commute. The trick then is to make the journey as exciting as the destination, and it’s one that Just Cause 2 excels at.

Of course there’s still the opportunity to hijack a car or plane to traverse the terrain, but the combination of parachute and grappling hook makes launching into the sky a two-button sequence, allowing you to shift your view into the beautiful island of Panau in an instant, making the ground around as important a factor in negotiating space as the vehicle between your legs.

As a result Just Cause 2 may have the opposite problem to many sandbox titles, its thrills front-loaded and the somewhat lackluster mission structure in the latter stages dulling what has gone before. But nonetheless, few 3D spaces have been such a joy to navigate.

Moreover, developer Avalanche Studios nails that other, impromptu appeal of the sandbox game, offering a playpen in which you can tether enemies to gas canisters and watch the resulting rag-doll spectacle, or attach two jumbo jets with a wire and see them spiral out of control across a blemish-less sky. No other game in 2010 offered a world filled with such explosive joy.

1. Sin and Punishment: Star Successor (Treasure/ Nintendo, Nintendo Wii)

The sequel to one of the Nintendo 64’s strongest titles exhibits a great many of those traits that has maintained developer Treasure’s position as Japan’s leading boutique developer. This on-rails shooter, like so many other games in the company’s oeuvre, offers a relentless conveyor belt of inspired ideas, distinct, discrete moments of brilliance that dizzy the mind with their intensity and inventiveness.

It’s un-sustainably expensive game-making, the fixed positions of enemies and immovable set-pieces leaving no room for padding with procedural battles. Rather, every moment in this rollercoaster ride of twitch shooting has been meticulously orchestrated with a brand of care and creative attention rarely seen today.

As with its forebear, your character exists only on a 2D plane, firing into the screen as per Space Harrier. But the camera wheels and dives around, shifting perspective in ways that thrill and changing the language of interaction from side-scroller to top-down to vertical shoot-'em-up and back again.

Being a Treasure game, the spectacle is buoyed by score attack mechanics that inspire repeat play long after the visual treats and surprises have grown cold. Despite the level of craftsmanship and inspiration, the game is perhaps something of an anachronism, its workmanlike graphical assets failing to draw the attention of the Wii audience.

Nevertheless, Sin and Punishment: Star Successor is one of the strongest titles of the year, bold evidence that Japanese developers on many counts still produce the most thrilling and inventive video games for those with eyes to see.

Honorable Mentions

Darksiders (Vigil Games/THQ, Xbox 360/PS3)
Army of Two: The 40th Day (EA Montreal, Xbox 360/PS3)
Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions (Beenox/Activision, PC, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360)
Split/Second (Black Rock/Disney, PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Singularity (Raven/Activision, Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
Patchwork Heroes (PlayStation C.A.M.P./Sony, PSP)
Blur (Bizarre Creations/Activision, Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
R.U.S.E (Eugen Systems/Ubisoft, PS3, Xbox 360, PC)


[As the final year-end 'Top 5' post, the entire set of 16 sets of diverse charts and countdowns, including the Top 10 Games of the year, have been compiled into a single Gamasutra feature.]


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Comments


Eric Geer
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Sin and Punishment is probably one of my favorite games for the Wii. Truly is a masterpiece--even though the cutscenes are a bit rough and the story is absolutely wacky--just a great game.

Michiel Hendriks
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Just Cause 2 is one of my favorite games this year. It's not really GOTY material, but just a whole lot of fun. I've spend hours just driving/flying across the islands. The only thing missing from his game are actual safe-houses.

Abraham Tatester
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Agreed. Some of the best "dumb fun" I've ever had in a game.

Mike Rose
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Most under-rated game of 2010 for me was Kane and Lynch 2. Such an incredible visual style, wonderful setting and the multiplayer is an absolute blast. Very overlooked and well worth the measly prices it's going for now

Eric Geer
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Agree. I can't believe all the heat that Kane and Lynch 2. People complained more about the camera than anything else in the game---and that was one thing that really drew me in--the disorientation of running and gunning that is never included in any game--though you could turn it off if you wanted. It was one of those odd games this year that either got really good reviews or really terrible ones. leaving it to score on metacritic as a mediocre game.

Chris Remo
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Chime is a great entry here. (It's also available on PC, and the option of mouse or keyboard control makes it a pretty different game.) It doesn't have the immediate intuitiveness that most great puzzle games do, but there's a really great feeling of synchronicity you get when you understand how everything fits together.



A friend of mine and I (who aggressively competed for Steam leaderboard high scores on the Philip Glass level) also found that we approached the game entirely differently. He focused heavily on achieving a high level of board coverage, so his percentage would be extremely high by the end; meanwhile, I went for racking up incredibly high combo chains, so I'd often only end up filling the board once.



Despite such different approaches, we both ended up being able to perfect our strategies enough that we ended up in the top echelons of the Glass leaderboard and were still trading places between the two of us. That's a well-tuned game.





I'd also consider Alpha Protocol for an honorary mention. The game had a LOT of problems, but it also got very little credit for actually taking player choice--both in between missions and within them--in an action RPG to a pretty meaningful level. I was surprised how deep it got, and how many player-specific possibilities there actually were at various points throughout, and how many of them weren't of the common "Kill the puppy or save the child" variety.





Kane and Lynch 2 also deserves a nod for really pushing its unusual visual style and unorthodox main characters to the absolute maximum. I was very surprised as I started playing the game how much the developers brought out the character of the degraded urban environment in a way that doesn't just look like every single other game set in the same kind of place. It's not just the architecture, it's the lighting, the camera treatment, the soundscape, and everything else. There's a real devotion there, and it shows.



I also really loved the novelty of traipsing through this shithole with four dumpy, balding, tackily-dressed, middle-aged guys. Io Interactive has some real balls to saddle players with those assholes in the age of buzz cut space marine muscle men--and I mean that in a complimentary way. I'm so sick of perfectly toned generic guys (or their customizable female counterparts) that playing as and with a bunch of total schlubs was more than welcome.

Eric Geer
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"I also really loved the novelty of traipsing through this shithole with four dumpy, balding, tackily-dressed, middle-aged guys. Io Interactive has some real balls to saddle players with those assholes in the age of buzz cut space marine muscle men--and I mean that in a complimentary way. I'm so sick of perfectly toned generic guys (or their customizable female counterparts) that playing as and with a bunch of total schlubs was more than welcome."



Well said--we need more games with dumpy assholes as main character roles---



Pigsy from Enslaved "Pigsy's Perfect 10 DLC" is the only other dumpy asshole I think that I played as this year--besides myself in real life.

Fiore Iantosca
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I'm surprised people mention K&L2 but fail to mention the vast amount of problems in that game. Are you guys playing the same game I am? The 360 version was PLAGUED with problems. I told everyone to stay away from that garbage. Great visual style? All they did was add grain and adjust some coloring.

Chris Remo
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I played the PC version, so I can't speak to any Xbox 360 problems. I didn't have any big technical problems when I played it.



And yes, there's plenty wrong with the game. That's why I wouldn't recommend it to be one of the unqualified best games of 2010; same goes for Alpha Protocol and Chime. However, I feel all three games were underrated.

Mike Rose
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This is the main thing with all the complains - you say 'plagued with problems', but then simply mention a grainy visual style. What problems did you have exactly? It was a straight-out bloody shooter, just like the majority of shooters are at the moment. And the visuals were far more than grain and adjusted colouring.

raigan burns
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@Chris: I had a similar score battle happening with two friends, and we converged on the same strategy: make as many 3x3 blocks as possible (trying for coverage if possible, but speed is more important) to get your combo multiplier up around x20, then make the biggest rectangle possible, and repeat. On the first level I could see coverage being a good strategy, but in later levels it's very difficult.



Unfortunately this "best" strategy sort of ruined the game because it's very intense and high-stress, which is great in small bursts but can be quite draining and exhausting after 10 minutes of solid as-fast-as-possible 3x3 building. Still, a great game :)



3D Dot Game Heroes and ClaDun deserve a mention too!

Chris Remo
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Yeah, I find that past a certain point, any such contest will become draining and rote--naturally you'll whittle your strategy down to the most effective and efficient method possible, and the possibility space becomes incredibly constrained. But the awesome Glass music made me stick with it a lot longer than I otherwise would have!

Chris Kaminari
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Personally, I found Bayonetta to be one of my most favorite, and greatest, titles of 2010.

I cant even describe how much I loved it, I just loved the fast paced style. Didnt really ever use the guns that the game was sorta based around, mostly used the sword, and then later used Pillowtalk after I unlocked it, but I just found it really fun. Also the panther transformation thing was bad ass I think.

It did lack, I am not gonna lie, but for a single player fast paced hack n' slash, I found it very entertaining, and even 1000G it on my Xbox, one of two games to do that to for me.



It probably didnt deserve a honorable mention, but I think it was definately a hidden gem among the game world, and should have done better then what it did. Hope they come out with a Bayonetta 2.

Chris Remo
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I don't think Bayonetta was underrated. It wasn't interesting to me, but I saw people talking about it EVERYWHERE. It was pretty highly acclaimed and received a ton of attention.

Chris Kaminari
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Yeah, but it sucks that it didnt sell all that high, considering just how awesome it was.

I hear alot of people though havent played it because it wasnt interesting to them either. But they had never played many third persons or action games for that matter...so idk what to really believe. I just thing it was very under rated and didnt get the 15 mins of fame under the spot light that it really should have had.

Supposed rumors of Bayonetta 2, so I guess it really didnt do that bad. Just seemed more crowd specific...yeah, that works.

Lo Pan
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Enslaved and Spider-Man Total Mayhem for me.

Abraham Tatester
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Yes—was surprised to not see Enslaved listed in the "Honorable Mentions". While the movement controls and camera were both flawed, the gameplay was still fun and satisfying. Most striking for me, though, was the development of the relationship between Trip and Monkey. And I don't think I've ever seen facial animation in a game that communicated so much.

Adam Bishop
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I'm playing through Enslaved right now, and I'd say it has some pretty major issues, like an awful camera and really bland level design, not to mention a number of ways in which the story and the gameplay are constantly at odds with each other. I'm still waiting for the story to get interesting since that's what everyone was on about, but I'm only on Chapter 5 or so, so it's got some time to pick up yet.

Lo Pan
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I agree there are problems, but for me the story, setting and characters...along with the superb graphics made it a fun and satisfying adventure when compared to majority of 'dark' games. I think that game would have been a sounder proposition at the $49.99 price point.

Abraham Tatester
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Don't get your hopes up too much for the story in itself. It was okay, but even the ending didn't strike me as crossing that "epic" line. It didn't really wow me.



But I'd like to hear more about the ways you think the gameplay and story were at odds with each other. Not to argue, but I often enjoy your posts and would like to know exactly what you're talking about.



I'd like to add that stylistically I found the mix of real-life photography and video to grate with the game's own art style. To be honest, I would have liked to see the game have an even more stylized art-direction—even cartoony. Maybe somewhere between where it is now and something like Mini Ninjas. (Yeah, seriously—I loved Mini Ninja's art style!)



Regardless, I do agree with Lo Pan that the game was underrated.

Adam Bishop
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The real-life images that you mention are one of the places where the game and narrative are at odds. Maybe there's a plot twist later on that explains them, but right now they break my suspension of disbelief. Another is the orbs that you collect . . . why are they there, what are they, and why am I collecting them? The game goes to great lengths to explain some of its other mechanics in narrative terms, but the orbs basically just show up out of the blue because . . . I'm not really sure why. Partly they're there as an excuse to make you explore, but exploration is at odds with the narrative too, because Trip is constantly telling you to hurry up and not leave her alone. The game seems to want it both ways - it's a serious, emotional narrative in the real world when it wants to be, but it's just a collection of cliched game conventions when it wants that instead.

Abraham Tatester
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Ha—yeah, now that you mention it, I was also annoyed by being told by Trip to hurry up when looking around for orbs. Surely, she must know what I'm doing. In fact, why isn't she also picking them up!?! (At least when walking right over them.)



The addition of a couple lines of dialogue where she makes references to the orbs could have helped: "C'mon—find those orbs and let's go!"

B Reg
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Since PixelJunk Shooter is missing from any so-called 'best of 2010' lists, I want to mention this game right now. The elemental puzzles are brilliant, great game!

Mike Rose
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It's probably because the game was released in 2009 :)

B Reg
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Haha you're right, my bad!

Michael Jungbluth
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Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Made me eat crow on everything bad I've ever said about motion controls. They really immerse you in the experience, be it trying to shake off creatures or using it as a cell phone. I actually ENJOYED their use as opposed to other games when I just wish I could use a GameCube controller. On top of that, the experience would have been ruined on the 360 or PS3 with achievements and trophies affecting and altering gameplay choices. So Bravo to Climax! It is a shame this game isn't on any lists this year.

George Blott
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I know that Silent Hill: SM made a few top 10 lists last year as it came out December 2009, Which is probably why you aren't seeing it listed.



Funny to think of the games industry picking release dates to make their games contenders for awards/lists, much like the film industry does with 'oscar season'.

Michael Jungbluth
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hmm, metacritic is telling me it released Jan 19, 2010. Having just played it recently, and seeing anyone who talked about it happened this year, I assumed that was the right date.



More good press for it can't hurt though ;)

Jeffrey Touchstone
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I have to agree Shattered Memories was one of my favorite games this year. Controls were spot on, and the story had me hooked. Awesome UFO ending too.



Other games that were high on my list was Stalker: Call of Pripyat and Recettear

Charles Forbin
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Will people throw dirt clods at me if I say Alpha Protocol? Well, I'll say it anyway: Alpha Protocol. Once you accept the combat is heavily stat based and not aiming skill, it all sort of falls into place. Go for stealth and assault weapons as your main skills and it's like Mass Effect 1 with stealth added.



Re: open worlds travel. That's why the better open world games have fast travel to previously visited locations. I sometimes stare in wonder at message board posts on RPG forums where people *complain* about a game having fast travel. So don't use it. Let those of us with lives and careers get to the next quest/mission.



The next Fallout should have an uber-hardcore mode where you have to brush your teeth, take dumps and clip your fingernails just to see who raves about it. Long fingernails could mess up pulling the trigger or something. ;-) Having to go to the bathroom can mess up your aim. Smelly breath hurts your speech challenges. :-D

Chris Remo
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Agreed on Alpha Protocol; I too mentioned it.

Aaron Casillas
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Yup Just Cause 2, anyone making an fps or 3rd person shooter should look at the world. This is the world I want to fps in! I would add Bad Company 2 mp, some excellent map and game designs!

Adam Bishop
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I think Castlevania: Lords of Shadow flew under a lot of peoples' radars, but I thought it was excellent. Great level design, lots of interesting enemy variety, deep/complex combat mechanics that were still pretty easy to learn, gorgeous graphics, impressive attention to detail . . . I had fun with it from the opening battle right up to the final boss fight.

Trenton Ng
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-Chime: I’m going to buy it now that I’ve read your opinion

-Resonance of Fate: I will buy this one day, it looks really fun.

-Just Cause 2: This is underrated? This was such a big deal in the gaming community. I’d buy it if I had a better graphics card and was not running primarily on Windows XP.

-Sin and Punishment – Star Successor: I heard nothing but great things about this game. I will definitely buy it one day.

-Darksiders: Mature version of Zelda I heard.

-Army of Two - The 40th Day: The story made no sense at all, but gameplay was fun.

-Blur: Amazing game, I'm surprised there aren't more people playing it



This was a interesting post, thank you for sharing!

Trenton Ng
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Would Global Agenda count as a UnderRated Game? It was amazing to see it evolve and go through the drastic patches the developers put so much time into working. I'll admit I don't play it as much as I thought I would, but it is an enjoyable game nonetheless.

Gisow Tseng
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+1 with GA.



It's a pack of Devs that actually listen and catter the needs to the fan base.

They really do create content based on player suggestions.

That's not innovative or new in anyway, but its something worth highlighting.

Adam Bishop
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Apparently I'm the only one, but I thought Darksiders was incredibly boring. It had a really great look to it, but after that it was a bunch of mediocre versions of mechanics that have been done better in a lot of other games.

Jamie Mann
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I enjoyed it - it certainly didn't do anything new or original, but it was entertaining enough (except for the bits in the desert). It was certainly better than the cliched mess of Dante's Inferno...

Chris Kaminari
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I agree that Darksiders was boring as hell. and yeah, the mechanics are just borrowed from others games that do it better...kinda sucked. Wish they had spent some more time, was a great concept and pretty cool story, but the game play was just not there for me. I like a tighter game.

And yeah, Dantes Inferno I thought sucked terribly. That game was just flawed to me, and I just didnt enjoy it at all. I got up to the part where you had to juggle 11 enemys or something, but I never juggled ever alllll the way up to that point, and I said screw it, and traded it in.

Ruslan Shestopalyuk
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Just Cause 2 holds 85-ish at Metacritics, so it's not that underrated.

I do agree that it deserved more public attention, though.



The game is deeply intelligent in its dumbness.

Leonardo Ferreira
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Hey, I think this is the longest thread I ever read that didn´t evolved into some disgruntled intellecto-flamewar; this can only be good!



Sin and Punishment is amazing; a game in which every single moment had deep design thought behind it; there is passion and unbounded creativity in it, and that is becoming so rare in these days of by-the-numbers design in all fronts. Nice to see Spiderman: Shattered Dimension in there too; depite being a big-name, big-brand game, and beign rough around some gameplay-related edges, there is a lot of surprises and great moments in there.

David Lightman
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Good call on Singularity. It stole from other much better titles but execution was very good and it was great fun to play. Cool futuristic Cold-War popcorn story too!



Questions as to how much 'game' is in it, but The Undergargen has had me glued to my 360 recently. How often do you smile continously whilst playing a game?!

Bisse Mayrakoira
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Sin and Punishment: Star Successor got a 89 Metacritic rating. How on Earth is that "under-rated" compared to Deathsmiles which got a 76 rating? All arcade ports (which DS is, and SP:SS is not) are consistently under-rated because the reviewers do not understand them and aren't strong enough to play them. So you get all these "reviews" where incompetents do not beat the game, and yet complain it is "too short".

Alexander Bruce
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I bought Chime as a result of the mention here (and after watching a youtube video) and I must say... it's quite enjoyable.

Tont Voles
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There's been a Nier miss here.

Michael Kolb
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I grabbed most of these games when they were on sale during Black Friday and then Steam's Holiday Sale. Chime is neat for the price I payed for it but I like Lumines better. I've enjoyed Enslaved, Blur, Split/Second and Darksiders. Still need to pick up Just Cause 2 but I'm waiting until I have time to just d*ck around haha. I still need to start Bayonetta as I just started FF13.


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