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Question of the Week Responses: Underrated Games?
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Question of the Week Responses: Underrated Games?

November 14, 2005 Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next

For the latest Question Of The Week, we asked the simple question: "What videogame or games do you think have been the most underrated in terms of providing innovation or pure enjoyment, and why?" This gave our audience of game professionals a chance to discuss those video games that perhaps didn't get the attention they deserved when they first debuted.

Very few of the responses from industry professionals cited the same game, but by reading through the multitude of choices, it becomes pretty clear that quite a few otherwise great games i were swept under the rug. Some reasons cited by our respondents included poor release timing, lack of marketing support, and niche genres, but we're happy to present these replies to help our readers rediscover the titles.

Blade of Darkness

The Adventures of Cookie & Cream is the most underrated co-op experience. This game is about true cooperative game mechanics. Forget about other co-op games that allow the leading player to drag the other player along through checkpoints - this game requires both players to complete puzzles and challenges together, itherwise neither player can progress. It is presented in a clear and intuitive fashion so that I can play it with casual gamer friends. It is also challenging enough that my hardcore gamer friends enjoy it as well. I believe that it is underrated because it's too cute for its own good. The main characters are two bunnies in a cartoon world, and the graphics are only average, but they blend well with the artistic direction of the game. More importantly, the game pretty much requires two player co-op to enjoy it. There is a single player mode, but it is awkward. The average and hardcore gamer expects competitive multi-player games. There currently isn't a large enough gaming audience that desires a purely cooperative experience to afford this game its due accolades.
-Michael Cheng, SCEA

The game that came to mind first when reading this week's question was Io Interactive's Freedom Fighter. It received very good reviews but nonetheless went more or less completely unnoticed. The game was buried by titles like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes and got lost in the stampede of big titles released for Christmas (supported by the fact that EA seemed to release it quite quietly and with little - if any - marketing buzz). What lets this game shine is its innovative squad-based gameplay. While there're other games offering a similar experience, Freedom Fighter introduced an interesting concept that - based on a well-thought-through charisma system and how well you perform throughout the game - lets you recruit more and more members/allies into your squad. The squad-command controls are very simple yet highly effective and work flawlessly. I once read somewhere that Freedom Fighter has brought squad games "to the masses" because of the simplicity of its squad control mechanism and can only agree. Other game elements worth mentioning include the soundtrack by Jesper Kyd (not only the actual musical score but also its implementation and the way it is linked to the gameplay), the level design (encouraging exploration a lot which perfectly ties into the squad-gameplay) and the game's mission-structure (including the inter-dependency between missions and objectives).
-Markus Friedl, Ubisoft

Loom by Brian Moriarty (released by LucasArts), hands down. It is simply an education in fusing storytelling, games design and GUI into one single elegant and flawless entity. Can a game make you cry? Loom made me teary-eyed (real men don't cry of course!), and I have lost count of the number of times I have replayed it, just simply to experience it again. Every so often we have a perfect game (Super Mario Bros 3, Half Life 2, etc.), and Loom is one of the unsung ones. And for the hours you play it, the whole discussion of whether games are art, will be silenced.
-Marque Pierre Sondergaard, Heroes Team

My personal all-time favorite, Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen for the SNES, has received its fair share of blank stares when mentioned in conversations with fellow gamers. The game was a hybrid real time strategy/turn-based RPG that let you build up an army of up to 100 characters. The game constantly threw unique NPCs at the player, and half the fun was just setting up different combinations of units to see how they would react in gameplay and change the outcome of the game's 12 possible endings. I think the game fell short in popularity partly because of the length of levels (some battles could last an hour easily), and partly because of its small original retail release. If there was one game I could recommend to other developers to checkout as an example of near flawless game balancing and design, it would be Ogre Battle .
-Scott Brodie, Spartasoft

I would be inclined to say Little Big Adventure and its sequel - the strong yet simple gameplay, wonderful atmosphere and charm of these two games seem mostly forgotten today... In some ways, Michel Ancel's Beyond Good & Evil could be considered the spiritual successor to LBA ... a strange yet familiar world to explore, an eclectic mix of gameplay styles, characters with “character”, and an involving story of totalitarian despots, rebels and conspiracies, of strange creatures and stranger places. Much lauded by critics, BG&E was sadly ignored by the public at large.
-Christiaan Moleman, Streamline Studios

Silicon Knights' Eternal Darkness, and Ubisoft's Beyond Good And Evil and The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time - these are terrific games and yes, they all have their issues, but for the most part, at the time of their release, these games represented high quality and production values when most other games on the market were either re-hashes of other successful games or just plain awful. I am a very big Nintendo fan (although it is getting more and more difficult to continue being faithful) and have always found it strange that while some of my fellow Nintendo fanatics cry foul when the opposition gets "adult-themed" games, when Eternal Darkness was released, that it was not supported by better sales.
-Joseph L. Blackwell, Jr.

Outlaw Golf has to be one of the most underrated golfing games ever made. I bought it at Blockbuster used for $6.99, and it has been one of the most entertaining, time consuming games I've ever played. At first, I scoffed at the idea of buying this game. I don't play golf, I don't watch golf... Caddyshack is about as close as I get to any admiration for the game. Second, the box art gave the impression that the game was just a parody of golf. Why would I possibly want to play "putt the ball into the beer can? But, the price was right, and I was very surprised at the amount of depth the game has. It's a fun game! The graphics were decent, the animations were realistic, and the physics "felt right." The commentating is never annoying, and each time I play it I want to try to improve my score by one stroke, or hit the ball just a yard further. The “Outlaw” part of the game isn't really much of a factor in the gameplay. It might just be used as a mechanism to create a game brand, to set the franchise apart from other sport brands. It's a great alternative to EA's umpteenth sequels, and I wish the developers the best of luck.
-J Kelly, Sea Cow Games

Metal Gear Solid for the Game Boy Color (also known as Metal Gear: Ghost Babel) is my first pick for underrated game. Released in-between Metal Gear Solid on PSX and Metal Gear Solid 2 on the PS2, the GBC version offers great gameplay, a revealing story, impressive artwork and an amazing audio track. This is a must for every MGS fan.
Next up is a game that received much praise, but I still believe it is largely regarded as a lesser title compared to the rest of the series due to it being on a Game Boy / Game Boy Color game - The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (DX). It was developed after the successful SNES title ( The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past), and as such, benefits from the team's experience and accomplishments with that title. Much in the same way that I believe the GBC version of MGS benefited from the team's previous development experience, I believe The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening also provides a very focused gameplay experience that builds upon the foundation of the SNES title.
And last, but not least, Ninja Five-0 for the Game Boy Advance is an underrated handheld title that slipped under the radar. Released in 2003, Ninja Five-0 received some favorable reviews, but, all in all, did not make much of an impact on most gamers. This may be due to its dated visual style, or perhaps the lack of a brand; the limited supply of retail copies, and non-existent marketing campaign didn't help much either. However, Ninja Five-0 provides a very enjoyable and challenging gameplay experience – probably more so than 90% of other titles on the shelf today, including the PS2 and Xbox shelves. Well worth a look, if you can find it!
Jools Watsham, KingsIsle Entertainment, Inc.

Before Guitar Hero, there was Gitaroo Man, a nice departure from the push-button/stomp-feet mechanics because it felt more like a fighting game rather than a rhythm game. It's probably this reason that the game sold less than it deserved. The path that you had to guide your cursor was like a rolling and twisting music sheet which makes it more challenging than most rhythm games that came before but at the same time makes it more of an involved experience because there was little or no downtime. The game has more personality than other titles in the same genre because they took the time to craft a really light-hearted story around a central character. Last but not least the game's soundtrack was (and still is) amazing. The acoustic ballad in Gitaroo Man deserves to be in the videogame music hall of fame.
-Carlo Delallana, Ubisoft

One of my all-time favorite games is Herzog Zwei on the Sega Genesis. Combining elements of real-time strategy and resource management into an arcade shooter was a brilliant and bold move. Unfortunately, the game never caught on in the main stream, probably due to a lack of marketing muscle. The gameplay has never been duplicated, to my knowledge. Game developers these days tend to stick to a single genre, rather than combining elements from several. That's what I loved about this game. I could stay near my base and build up a massive army, or I could spread out my forces for defense, or I could fly over to the enemy and blow him up myself (just for kicks - you can't win this way). As an added bonus, you get to transform into a giant robot. What a great game.

In my mind, without a doubt the most underrated game I've played is Severance: Blade of Darkness (just Blade of Darkness in the U.S.). Released in 2001, this game was ahead of its time in terms of lighting, atmosphere and AI. It is the only game where I have literally jumped at my own shadow. The computer opponents have interesting mannerisms and perform complex strategies in their attempts to chop off your head. I have still yet to play a game with as fun a combat system for melee weapons (although I have some hopes for Conan Online). The complex maneuvers, weapon styles, and class abilities made the combat an endless source of fun. In addition, the game came with a sophisticated scripting language that allowed the development of a number of interesting mods. The game is not without its flaws, but considering its almost total lack of commercial success and the enormous amount of enjoyment I received playing the game, I would say that underrated is an understatement for this game.
-Michael Low, IGT

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