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 forgotten games of today.
Grab your controllers. This is the 100 Greatest Obscure Games.
20. Arm Joe (1998) | PC
Not an official release, Arm Joe makes it on this list on pure WTFery alone. A Street Fighter clone that’s based on the musical Les Miserables, Arm Joe takes Victor Hugo’s beloved characters, throws them into a blender with mind melting craziness, and then force feeds it to you, whether you want it or not. With the most diverse cast of characters in the history of gaming (A bread thief! A dick punching rabbit! A prostitute dying of tuberculosis!) and some of the craziest special moves in any fighting game, Arm Joe sets the bar for batshit insanity.
19. Power Stone (1999) | Dreamcast
Seeing as how the Dreamcast was an abysmal failure, even it’s best and most well known games are considered underrated gems. A perfect translation of the arcade hit Power Stone revitalized the fighting game genre with fully functional 3-D interactive combat environments. Everything in a stage is a weapon. The player can turn giant parasols into harpoons, use broken lampposts like baseball bats and pick up chairs and tables and launch them like projectiles, but the most power items are the power stones. Collect 3 and your character unlocks new devastating attacks. You basically transform into super saiyan John Wick, an unstoppable beast who can deal crazy amounts of damage to other players. Packed with all the energy and over-the-top action of a Jackie Chan movie, Power Stone is a frantic, no holds barred actioner fans of Smash Bros will love.
18. Alundra (1997) | PS1
Alundra, a silent elf (What’s up with silent protagonists in games? It’s dumb. Stop it.) who uses his power to enter people’s dreams to help a village who’s locals have been suffering from nightmares that occasionally result in death. Heavily inspired by the Legend of Zelda and Landstalker, Alundra is an action-adventure game in which the player explores various dungeons, solves challenging puzzles and engages in thrilling combat all while traversing the dream worlds of the island’s inhabitants. A bit darker than typical games of its ilk, the story deals with everything from death, fate, depression, loneliness, and religion to heavier philosophical themes such as Sartre’s belief that existence precedes essence. It’s a lot deeper than just a Zelda doppelgänger.
17. The Cliffhanger: Edward Randy (1990) | Arcade
Video games have a long history of trying to mimic Hollywood blockbusters. First came interactive movies like Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, then cutscenes were created to help progress the story, voice acting was eventually added to flesh out the characters, and some even went as far as hiring legit stars like Mark Hamill, Tim Curry, and Malcolm McDowell to act in them. Within the last decade or so, games have evolved into a multi-billion dollar business, with each game trying to one up the other with bigger set pieces and bigger celebrity cameos. It’s gone from imitation to competition in a few short years. But twenty years ago, if a game wanted to recreate a movie, all it had to do was be as shameless as humanly possible. The Cliffhanger: Edward Randy doesn’t even try to pretend it’s anything other than an Indiana Jones clone. From the whip wielding protagonist, to the Nazi inspired baddies, to the levels that feel ripped straight out of the movies, Edward Randy is the closest games have come to recreating the thrill of being Indiana Jones, which is ironic considering how many games there are based on that series.
16. Disney’s Guilty Party (2010) | Wii
Party games suck. They either involve partygoers making asses out of themselves ala Charades or Pictionary or ruin friendships like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. There’s almost no in-between. And that goes double for virtual party games. Add in all of the frustrations that go part-and-parcel with party games, with the kill-me-now aggravation that comes from trying to teach a group of drunken, technologically illiterate dumbasses how a controller works and you have the perfect recipe for hell. That’s literally hell. One of the few games to get it right however, is Disney’s Guilty Party. The perfect marriage of accessibility and entertainment, Disney’s Guilty Party is a 4 player interactive whodunit-style mystery, where players take turns moving through the board game-like setting searching for clues in order to identify the guilty party. Littered with tons of “A-ha!” moments, legitimately clever and humorous dialogue, and a multiplayer that doesn’t make you want to rip your hair out, Disney’s Guilty Party is the best available version of Clue.
15. No One Can Stop Mr. Domino! (1998) | PS1
Through no fault of their own, some games are unfortunately destined to become cult classics. There are two kinds of cult classic—the underrated and the obscure. The underrated are games that came out at the wrong time and failed to connect to audiences or were ambitious failures that had enough positives that their fans can overlook the negatives and the obscure, games that nobody has ever heard of due to any number of reasons. Right in the middle of that venn diagram lives No One Can Stop Mr. Domino! A ridiculously simple yet devilishly addicting puzzle game, the rules are basic: set up the dominoes and knock em down. But herein lies the rub—you only have a set number of tiles, so in order to achieve your goal, you have to hit trick tiles which act as a crude Rube Goldberg-esque environmental effect that knock over a series of things that, if you lined up your dominoes correctly, will continue the domino effect. And so on and so forth. Once you get the hang of it, you, too, will become a devotee of the church of Mr. Domino.
14. Terranigma (1995) | Super Nintendo
Considered by many to be the golden age of RPGs, the SNES era had so many good role playing games, that some, even though they’re some of the best ever made, get sidelined or completely forgotten altogether. It’s like naming all of Charlie Sheen’s venereal diseases: since he’s a walking Petri dish of every STD imaginable, even the big ones get overlooked. Some believe that if Terranigma had gotten a proper US release, it would would’ve been as big as Final Fantasy III or Chrono Trigger and while that might’ve been the case, I think that’s wishful thinking on the part of the diehard fans. It’s certainly as good, and in some cases, better than those games, but it was localized and it’s not a hard game to track down, so there’s really no reason outside of its own obscurity that it’s not more popular. If Terranigma was an album, it would be a greatest hits compilation of the best bands of the 90’s. It has a complex story that rivals any RPG released at the time, an action packed combat system that never gets dull or repetitive, a haunting, unforgettable score, and has, unlike most games of its ilk, a protagonist with personality. The only thing this game is lacking is popularity.
13. Monday Night Combat (2010) | Xbox 360
Pop quiz: what do The Simpsons (Arcade game), Gotham City Imposters, Evolve, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Snoopy Flying Ace, Lawbreakers, and every Telltale game (the Waking Dead, the Wolf Among Us, Etc.) have in common (besides being great titles hardly anybody played)? The answer: they’ve all been delisted. What that means is, they were taken off of either Steam and/or are no longer available to download on consoles. It usually happens due to licensing agreements running out or general lack of sales. For most games, that just means their physical copies just became valuable but for download only games, getting delisted is a death sentence. Monday Night Combat was one such game. In addition to only being available digitally, it was multiplayer, which means that even if you bought it before it was delisted, It’s literally impossible to play now. Which is a bummer because it was every bit as fun as the game it took inspiration from—Team Fortress 2. The game was a class-based third-person shooter in which two teams are pitted against each other with the goal of destroying the other team’s Moneyball while trying to protect their own. It was pure unadulterated fun while it lasted.
12. Blur (2010) | PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
It’s easy to bemoan that amazing games flop while Unoriginal Shooter #27 or Generic Football Game #75 are massive successes, but just like Hollywood, everyone says they want less sequels and more original shit, but the numbers don’t lie. Blur is a racing game that melds arcade style handling with vehicular combat to great effect. With tracks based on real-world environments, such as parts of Los Angeles and London, and including licensed cars such as Dodge Vipers, Lotus Exiges, and Ford Transit (just to name a few), but with power ups and weapons, the game is like Midnight Club and Mario Kart French pressed together to make the most delicious Pan Bagnat. It was unlike anything else on the market, which of course meant it was a terrible failure. It might not have done well financially, but it’s gained a cult following that maintains its one of the most under-appreciated racing games of its era.
See also: Onrush (2018)
11. deSpiria (2000) | Dreamcast
deSpiria is a first person RPG adventure that takes place in the futuristic Japan of 2070. Twenty-two years after World War III, an organization known as Church has taken power. You play as Allure Valentine, a girl who was recruited by the Church as an undercover agent who’s tasked with eradicating heretics that want to spread chaos to the world. Released only in Japan, the game is as bizarre as it is grotesque. An amalgamation of point and click exploration in games like Mist, the random encounters and character progression of a typical JRPG, and the collecting/fusing of monsters found in the Shin Megami Tensei series but with the added bonus of some of the most profoundly unsettling character models in gaming, deSpiria is what would happen if a nightmare and a mind trip had a gross baby together.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite obscure games? Maybe they will show up in further in the list!