Although video games are still in their infancy compared to every other medium, there’s still hundreds of titles that have slipped through the cracks over the years. Whether it’s due to mediocre reviews, poor marketing and/or bad timing, some gems undeservedly get buried. The goal of this list is to unearth the treasures of the past and to shine a light on the underrated and overlooked games of today.
Grab your controllers. This is the 100 Greatest Obscure Games.
10. Osman (1996) | Arcade
A Japanese only arcade release with no console ports available, Osman, a MAME (an open source emulator designed to recreate the hardware of arcade games) only title made by the same team that brought us Strider, is the forgotten younger brother to that game. Playing almost identically but doubling down on everything else, Osman has more action, bigger boss battles, better graphics, crazier set pieces, a more diverse set of moves, and a far more memorable story (memorable in the fact that its absolutely insane and nothing about it makes sense). Thank god this was never brought over here or my ass would never have left the 7-11 it inevitably would’ve been set up at.
09. Bahamut Lagoon (1996) | Super Nintendo
As a company, Squaresoft—especially in the mid-1990s—was not unlike Carvel. With only 4 basic shapes, Tom Carvel created 65 years of different ice cream cake designs. You take a triangle and a circle and lay them vertically and you got a balloon, flip ’em upside down and now you have a clown. On their sides you either have Fudgy the whale or a Cookie Puss. Squaresoft did pretty much the same thing with every new RPG they released. They’d create a completely original IP with just minor tweaks to their already preestablished formula. One of those being the completely forgotten about Bahamut Lagoon. While the story feels like a checklist of every other role playing game in existence—a princess that needs saving, a kingdom in trouble, heroic resistance fighters, wise old wizards, etc.—the game succeeds in other ways, such as its memorable cast of characters and a surprisingly deep strategic element. Since each battle takes place on both the overhead map of the entire battlefield and the actual battles between units, party composition, as well as correct dragon placement, is key to victory. Bahamut Lagoon is one of the more accessible and fun tactical RPGs on the system.
See also: Live a Live (1994)
08. Lucky & Wild (1992) | Arcade
Taking inspiration from the buddy cop film Tango and Cash, as well as Starsky and Hutch, Lucky and Wild is a one-of-a-kind racing game/arcade shooter hybrid. With one steering wheel and two guns, one player could both drive and shoot, while the second player handles the second gun or the first player could concentrate on driving while the second player dual-wields both guns ala Chow-Yun Fat. Considering it’s made up of arcades‘ two most popular genres, it’s insane that no game before or since has thought to combine the thrill of racing with the excitement of blasting everything in sight. Since its the only one of its kind in existence, Lucky and Wild is a wonderful anomaly that can never be replicated outside of arcades. Track down a cabinet, grab a friend and prepare to have a hell of a time.
07. Timesplitters: Future Perfect (2005) | GameCube/PlayStation 2/Xbox
If Timesplitters: Future Perfect was weighed by the amount of content it includes, it would take the combined efforts of Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage to lift it off the shelf. And that’s them at peak cocaine strength. Created by the old team that made Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, Timesplitters: Future Perfect is the sequel to the best reviewed shooter on the PS2. Although it failed to garner the same critical acclaim and commercial success, Future Perfect is far superior to its predecessor in every way. With over 100 different challenges in arcade mode, tons of character skins to unlock, a multiplayer that’s as good as Goldeneye, an easy to use map maker, and one of the funniest campaigns in gaming, Future Perfect is an all you can eat buffet of gold. Or whatever its edible equivalent is.
06. Kentucky Route Zero (2013) | PC
Conway, a truck driver, is hired to make the final delivery for the antique company for which he works, but on the way to his destination, he eventually gets lost and is forced to take Route Zero, a long stretch of underground road found in the backwoods of Kentucky, in order to make up for lost time. Kentucky Route Zero is an episodic, point and click adventure game designed around player choice, but unlike other narrative-driven games, KRZ isn’t concerned about multiple branching paths leading to different endings but creating decisions based around the player’s emotions. Take for example this dialogue choice in the role playing game Planescape: Torment: a) [Truth] I love you or b) [Lie] I love you. Neither choice effects the outcome of the story but the decision to either lie or tell the truth is meant to impact the player, not create an alternate ending. Almost every interaction in KRZ is designed with this philosophy in mind. Completely devoid of puzzles but heavy on atmosphere and memorable characters, KRZ is a compelling adventure game you won’t soon forget.
See also: Night in the Woods (2017)
05. Bombastic (2002) | PS2
If you think about it, designing a puzzle game is, in a way, a puzzle in and of itself. Developers have to come up with an idea simple enough that anyone can figure it out but complex enough that there’s a challenge. Bombastic, the sequel to Devil Dice, has, as its predecessor’s name suggests, a devilishly simple concept: string together matching dice in order to get massive combos. Which sounds easy, but (to keep up the devil themed puns) the devil is in the details. You’re presented with a square field populated by standard six-sided dice on top of which sits you, a cute lil creature who must clear all the dice before the area fills up with more dice. To clear out dice, you must place dice of the same face value next to each other but every time you move to a new space, the die flips to a new side, giving that die a different face value. Also, in order to clear out dice, you need at least as many dice as the face value you’re trying to clear. For example, if you wanted to clear out dice with a face value of two, you would need at least two of those dice, and so on. In addition to the base game, there’s also a classic mode, quest mode, unlimited mode, and 4 player competitive multiplayer. Bombastic offers literally hundreds of hours worth of addictive puzzle solving madness.
04. The Last Express (1997) | PC
After his second game Prince of Persia was a smash hit, developer Jordan Mechner cashed in all of his goodwill chips to make The Last Express. Taking place in 1914, right before the outbreak of World War I, players take on the role of an American doctor who accepts an invite by a friend to join them on the last journey of the infamous Orient Express in order to evade the police who suspect him in the murder of another police officer. In true film noir fashion, when he arrives on the train, his friend is dead and now he must pretend to be him in order to solve the mystery. A huge flop, the game didn’t connect with gamers, but critics adored its complex and unpredictable story, which boasts an unheard of at the time 800 page script that has at least 30 different endings, unique setting, stellar voice work, and ambiguous, if somewhat flawed, gameplay that happens in real-time. Which means that if you needed to meet a character for lunch to get information from them, you would have to wait till however long it was until the meeting took place. The Last Express might’ve struck out, but while other players were swinging for the fences, it was aiming for the moon.
03. No One Lives Forever (2000) | PS2/PC
There’s a bit of a hive mind mentality when it comes to critically acclaimed games, in that gamers tend to only acknowledge the more popular game of the time. Everyone knows Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Goldeneye, Half-life 1&2, Counter Strike, Halo and Bioshock changed gaming but only because those are among the small handful that get talked about. Which leaves a ton of games out of the conversation. One title that should get infinitely more love and appreciation is No One Lives Forever. Set in the swinging ’60s, No One Lives Forever follows secret agent Cate Archer on a dangerous mission to eliminate the assassin responsible for murdering over half of UNITY’s (the organization she works for) elite agents. Back when the only shooters being cranked out involved big, hulking silent protagonists that walked down similarly looking hallways, blasting every Nazi or alien they saw, NOLF was a breath of fresh air. Sporting a rare female protagonist (that talked no less), a unique and memorable setting, outstanding voice work and enemy AI, a stellar soundtrack, and the best-written story found in an FPS at the time, NOLF is unrelentingly innovative and absurdly fun.
02. P.T. (2014) | PS4
Not technically a full release game (P.T. stands for playable teaser), this hour long demo still provides an unforgettable experience … for those lucky enough to have played it at the time. Due to the falling out between game creator Hideo Kojima and Konami, the game was cancelled (it was supposed to be a Silent Hill reboot) and the demo was taken off of the PlayStation store. So, unless you downloaded it and saved it to an external drive, it’s impossible to play now. P.T. opens with an unnamed protagonist who awakens to find himself trapped in continuously looping L shaped hallway. After the first sequence, a radio will turn on a news cast reporting a case of familicide, the details of which sound suspiciously like the one that happened in the house you’re in. After a couple more sequences, you’ll encounter an apparition standing in the middle of the hallway. Unmoving and starring at you. Approach it and it disappears. And then shit gets weird. You’ll hear unnerving sounds coming from the bathroom, see a bloody chained up refrigerator hanging from the ceiling, and eventually encounter Lisa, a terrifying ghost that doesn’t seem to like your presence. A collaboration between the creator of the Metal Gear Solid series and Guillermo Del Toro, P.T. is far more than just a demo. It’s the scariest game ever made.
01. Mother 3 (2006) | Game Boy Advance
The lifeblood of the internet (besides cat videos and porn) seems to solely consist of people bitching and moaning about literally anything and everything, with video games being no exception. When it comes to games, the only thing gamers complain about more than Half-Life 3, is the fact that Nintendo has yet to release a proper translation for Mother 3. It’s gone from being a legitimate gripe to an absurd joke like Duke Nukem Forever, the difference being that that game actually got a release. But while that game, much like Chinese Democracy, was no where near worth the wait, Mother 3 is a masterpiece unplayable to most gamers. The sequel to the much beloved Earthbound, Mother 3 follows Lucas, a young boy with psychic abilities, and a party of characters (including a cowboy and a dog) as they attempt to prevent a mysterious army from trying to take over the world. Equally as charming as the previous entry in the series but with a slightly darker tone and heavier emotional stakes, Mother 3 is by far the greatest game you’ve never played.
What do you think of the selections? What are some of your favorite obscure games?