More and more, the video game business is becoming sequel and remake-driven. Hopefully, it’s just part of a cycle like what the movie biz went through, but creativity in the video game industry is a bit lacking right now.
With that in mind, now is a good time to go back in history and pick up some unique, entertaining games you may have missed the first time around.
Every gamer has a similar list of sleeper titles floating around somewhere in their head, and they’re all different. Here are mine. Let’s get started with the PlayStation 2 and work our way back through each of the systems I’ve owned.
Monster Hunter (Playstation 2)
Maybe it was the run-of-the-mill name or the fact that it got almost no press, but this online role-playing/hack-and-slash game slipped through the cracks during a strong era of PS2 releases.
Once gamers caught wind of the addictive stat building, item-collecting and trading, boss-slaying game play, however, Monster Hunter built up a fairly strong roster of online contestants.
Think Phantasy Star Online but simplified, with plenty of customizable weapons and other items to collect. Quests are doled out in the main town and you are instantly transported to each new area to carry out your missions, so you don’t spend much time wandering around looking for clues and wondering where to go.
It’s the simple joy of building up your character (using a solid although unspectacular character creation tool at the beginning of the game) that keeps you going. If you don’t have the time and money to sink into mammoth online RPG’s like World of Warcraft, this game just might be for you.
Tail of the Sun (PlayStation)
This quirky, open-ended adventure game came out near the beginning of the PSX’s life cycle and was a frequent rental for me, especially after the rental price dropped to a buck and people stopped noticing it.
You play as a caveman on a quest to build a tower to the sun, a goal that you accomplish by killing mammoths and taking their tusks. In order to get strong enough to kill them, however, you must eat as often as possible. Fruits and vegetables are strewn about the vast landscape and different ones give you bonus in different areas of your body, so it’s up to you to develop your character. You can also kill several types of wild animals, oftentimes with a well-placed rock to the head.
As you continue to eat and find tusks, your character and your tribe will begin to evolve. When you die, you must choose a new leader and assume control of that character.
The graphics are almost as primitive as the cavemen and women you play control by today’s standards, but they have a certain retro charm to them. So does the moody, atmospheric music that accompanies your long treks across foreign land and escalates at just the right moments.
This game is far from perfect but its originality and open-ended, exploration-based game play are a breath of fresh air.
Guardian Heroes (Sega Saturn)
This game is anything but a hidden gem to those in the know about Sega’s ill-fated 32-bit system, but for the mainstream gaming populace, it’s still not very well known.
The game is a bit tough to describe because it’s so unique, mainly because its style is a blend of so many different genres. Picture a cross between Final Fight, Marvel vs. Cap com 2, Final Fantasy, an anime TV show, and a choose-your-own-adventure book and you’re almost there, and that’s just the story mode.
On top of that, each enemy, character and boss defeated in story mode goes into the pool of selectable characters for the multi-player mode (up to six human players), where crazy melee battles between giant robots, ninjas, and beam-slinging heroes are the norm. Each character can even be assigned a level before the battle and there are plenty of wacky “fringe” characters like wolves, bunny rabbits and old men, so weird combinations like a level 99 old man vs. a level one giant plant are possible and highly entertaining, even as a spectator to two CPU combatants.
Battles take place on three different planes, which you can jump between in order to evade your opponents. Huge special effects fill the screen and slowdown is a bit of a problem, but when a game is this crazy and entertaining, you won’t mind too much.
Ever hear of the phrase “Halo Adaptor” to describe the Xbox? The Saturn might as well be called a Guardian Heroes Adaptor because this game is that good and that far above most of the system’s catalog. It was about the only game I played on the Saturn for two or three years before finally getting a PlayStation and I don’t regret my decision to go with buy a Saturn one bit because of it. The only problem is that the current price on eBay is high and this article probably drove it up a buck or two.
Decap Attack (Sega Genesis)
The 16-bit era was dominated by the 2-d side-scrolling platformer as companies tried to copy the blueprint provided by Mario and Sonic: peppy, kid-friendly mascot runs from side to side collecting items while fighting enemies and trying to save the world and/or a princess.
This early-era Genesis game took the genre in a darker direction with its head-slinging, mummy protagonist Chuck D. Head, who fought his way through bleak, spooky environments to the tune of horror-themed music.
The game play is a lot like your typical platformer, but the controls are solid and the challenge is steep, unlike most Mario and Sonic clones. Power-ups include skulls to place on your head and throw as well as different potions that grant you powers like the ability to freeze time.
The sheer weirdness and creativity of this game makes it a great alternative to your standard flowers-and-sunshine platformer and a copy shouldn’t be too pricey these days, if you can find one.
Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball (Nintendo Entertainment System)
While most other sports titles on the NES simulated (well, at least they tried) what it’s like to play pro sports, this game simulates what it’s like to be back on the schoolyard at recess as you pick your team from among 40+ players.
The only difference is that back in recess, you couldn’t choose from the likes of a witch, a demon, and a son of a construction worker with a pickaxe for a bat. Other players have special characteristics such as the ability to float upward to catch fly balls and the ability to hop for around for added speed.
Overall, most of the players are normal but have different strengths and weaknesses such as speed, power hitting, and strong arms. The differences in these skill levels are very pronounced, making for a surprisingly in-depth game strategy-wise. It’s important to learn about each player and put him or her (well, the witch Zelda is the only girl) in the right positions as well as to pick a well-balanced team. Each player can be placed at any position, and if you get caught with a slow player in center field, for instance, it can make a dramatic difference in the game.
There are six different locales to play ball at, including n field on the side of a cliff with rocks all over the outfield that slow your players down, and the ever-popular school field where a broken window results in an out instead of a home run.
The game play is solid and smooth, similar to the RBI Baseball series but with better animation. Games tend to be very low scoring because there a lot of players that have almost no power, but that style also adds to the strategy. Despite the lack of pro players or a season mode, this is the most entertaining baseball game on the NES. Dig it out of a bargain bin somewhere and you won’t be disappointed.