Game Eaters

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Generation's Most Underrated Games

With the Xbox 360 arriving soon, home console game developers are starting to wrap up their work on the current-generation and are beginning new projects for the so-called "next-gen" consoles. Next Christmas, it's possible that you'll see Xbox, Playstation 2 and GameCube games all squashed into a single "retro" shelf in most game stores. Or you might have to go to speciality stores where you'll find them alongside SNES and Genesis cartridges. This is already the fate of Dreamcast games.

For the gift-giving season, Game Eaters have voted on and put together a list of the games of the current console generation that we felt were underrated by both the public and the hardcore. They're not million-sellers like Grand Theft Auto, neither are they Critically Acclaimed Megabucks-on-Ebay games like Rez. This is straight-to-the-bargain-bin stuff, and while there's probably a good reason why they ended up in there, but in the end, they're still good games.

In case you're wondering, we've not included PC or handheld games because they don't work on the same generational cycles. The following list is presented in alphabetical order.

Top Cumulative Votes
Aqua Aqua (PS2)
Previously released as Wetrix for the Dreamcast and N64, this is a 3D falling-block puzzle game that combines fluid dynamics, frantic gameplay and deep strategy into a single package. Once you get a hang of it, it's easy to get stuck in the "just one more game" trap, and good multiplayer modes just make it easier to ignore the low texture quality of the graphics.

Chu Chu Rocket (DC, GBA)
We debated whether Chu Chu Rocket was really "underrated" and concluded that Chu Chu Rocket was extremely popular and recognized by most gamers who had actually played it and virtually unknown otherwise. The concept is simple: point mice into your rocket, keep cats away from your rocket. Put four players on the same board and the trash-talking quickly escalates. Reversals of fortune, spontaneous alliances and blistering speed and deep strategy easily make up for its rudimentary graphics.

Illbleed (DC)
In Illbleed, you play a fear-proof high school student trying to survive a horror theme park. It’s like Westworld but with horror movies. We guess it bombed because the premise was too goofy and the controls bizarre (you have use a special “horror
measurement device” to analyze situations.) However, its humor was witty and its gameplay innovative. It’s real camp that knows it’s silly, with surprises in both gameplay and story from beginning to end.

Ribbit King (PS2, GC)
It's basically miniature golf with the balls replaced with frogs. They're self-propelled, they're hungry, they hop along the course in a deterministic, yet always surprising manner as you try to bump them a little closer to the hole. Unlike other miniature golf games, missing the hole is often more amusing than nailing the stroke. Appreciating the original art design of Ribbit King is a matter of personal taste and the cutscenes are rife with videogame in-jokes and offbeat humor.

Technic Beat (PS2)
A rapid-fire rhythm-action game that successfully blends strategy with muscle memory, you move a cute character over a playing field filled with circles, each of which correspond to a different note or group of notes. Like all good music games, you'll need to pay attention to your ears as well as your eyes if you want to succeed in hearing the library of classic Namco videogame remixes in all their glory. Surprisingly, the game is not actually published by Namco in the US, but by Mastiff instead. The graphics aren't technically bad but its extensive use of particle effects just didn't make for great back-of-the-box screenshots.

Way of the Samurai (PS2)
Way of the Samurai (and its successor) was not much of a hit with the critics, possibly due to its seemingly short play time and odd mix of action and conversation. For some, though, it is perhaps one of the best samurai games to come along since Bushido Blade. The core of the game relies on innovative swordfighting mechanics and a complex multilinear narrative that lets you take one of the many sides in the game's small town. The richness of Way of the Samurai is only revealed with a second (or third) run through the game. If you've ever wondered what it's like to be a drifting rounin, this is a must play.

Game Eaters' Personal Favorites
Bust-A-Move 4 (DC)
Clara: There are about 30 games in this series, all with the same mechanics: you have to clear the bubbles on the screen before they get to the bottom. What makes this one different from the others? The DC version boasts the best controls, so that you can aim to the pixel by using the triggers of your controller. It also includes puzzles that use pulleys, which you have to balance, to bring a new layer of strategy to the games. You can edit your own levels. It also has great colourful graphics and catchy music and sound (these are a trademark of the series). Plus the most interesting collection of characters to play, from Bub and Bob, to the amazing Monsta, which is like a white jumping blob. Depending on how you're doing, they'll clap in joy, or jump in desperation (some of them get annoyingly wimpy...). All in all, this is the optimized, and most engaging version of all the Puzzle Bobble games.

Robot Alchemic Drive (PS2)
Philip: Few giant robot games manage to convey the scale of Robot Alchemic Drive. This game hands your character the remote controls of a Voltron-like machine and you'll have to command every discrete limb into motion, albeit in a surprisingly intuitive way. The catch is that you're still looking through the eyes of your teenaged protagonist, somewhere on the ground of the city-turned-warzone and while you're entering the combo for a double-fisted rocket punch you need to make sure you're not in the path of said attack as buildings are collapsing all around you. Add the so-bad-it's-good voice acting and a couple of dumb giant aliens and you have a great homage to classic Japanese Kaiju movies of the 70's and 80's.

Pac-Man Vs (GC)
Philip: This GameCube-GBA link-cable game was never released as a separate title but instead came bundled with a couple of other Namco GameCube titles. The Pac-Man World 2/Pac-Man Vs. bundle is probably the easiest to find in stores.

Nick: Have you ever wondered what it would be like if ghosts were real? Well in Pacman Vs., they are! The major difference between Vs. and the original is real people control the ghosts. When a ghost eats Pacman, the two players switch roles. The beauty of it all is that the player controlling Pacman uses a GBA to see the entire map and the ghosts are limited to viewing a small area around themselves. So even though the rules of the game haven't really changed, the experience is profoundly different than the original.

Sky Odyssey (PS2)
Matt: Sky Odyssey is, I dare say, a poetic videogame. It manages to take a simple concept, aviation, and strip away all the “realistic” aspects until you are left with the mythic weight of Man’s struggle against Nature. This game isn’t about looking at dials. It’s about the feeling, the emotion of flying. Why players didn’t connect with it I have no idea. Lack of marketing on the publisher’s side, or perhaps lack of a soul on the players’. No other game will make you want to quit your day job and become a pilot.

Philip: Being a PS2 launch title, going up against Tekken Tag Tournament and Ridge Racer V probably had something to do with this title's sales invisibility. The visual details may seem crude but Sky Odyssey really delivered on incredibly long sightlines, showing off the PS2's relative beefiness when compared to its predecessor.

That's it! Hope you enjoyed our list. Let us know if you'd like to see more of our favorite games!


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