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.
30. Waku Waku 7 (1996) | Arcade
A fighting game unfortunately released exclusively in Japan, Waku Waku 7 pits seven outlandish fighters (each based on cliched anime archetypes) against each other to obtain all seven WakuWaku balls in order to grant them their greatest wish. The story, much like the gameplay, doesn’t break the mold in terms of originality but the charming peculiarity of its characters and vibrant graphics help differentiate it from the literal thousands of other fighting games out there.
29. Boogie Wings (1992) | Arcade
Boogie Wings (or as it’s known in Japan-The Great Ragtime Show) is the closest a game can get to disappearing off the face of the earth. The game was never ported to game consoles and since all of its arcade cabinets have all been decommissioned and/or been destroyed, the only way to play it is through emulators. The fact that so many formulaic shooters still exist, while this one languishes in obscurity, is downright ridiculous considering it blows the majority of them out of the water. Set around the time of World War I, the player must contend with enemy bi-planes, zeppelins, mech wielding scientists, steam powered Frankensteins and other fantastical turn of the century baddies in order to save the day. Unique to this game, your plane comes with a grappling hook that you can use to grab any object that you can then use as either a powerful projectile or a devastating wrecking ball. It’s uncommon setting along with its insanely fun grappling hook mechanic, make Boogie Wings a must play shoot em up.
28. The Outfoxies (1994) | Arcade
A group of seven hitmen are coerced by a mysterious figure to fight each other to the death in one-on-one combat. The set up and characters (which include a duo of inseparable children, a hooked hand assassin, a wheelchair bound scientist, a deadly femme fatale, an ex movie star and her pet iguana, a guy wearing a leather jacket and a top hat wearing chimpanzee) are both amazing enough to recommend this game alone but it’s the gameplay that’s the real clincher. Predating Super Smash Bros by years, the Outfoxies is the first fighting game to ditch the typical flat fighting surface for a multi-tiered, obstacle laden stage that uses scaling, as the screen zooms out as the fighters get farther away from each other, and zooms back in when the closer they get and rotation effects, as the stage is constantly in motion. It’s a forgotten pioneer that’s as fun as everything it inspired.
27. Darkwatch (2005) | PlayStation 2, Xbox
Taking place in the late 19th-century wild west, Darkwatch is about a outlaw gunfighter cum vampire named Jericho Cross who’s recruited by a monster-hunting secret organization named— you guessed it—Darkwatch to fight against supernatural forces. Much like every FPS released at the time, Darkwatch was heavily inspired by Halo, but it’s uncommon mixture of western, horror and steampunk genres, as well as a mortality system, are enough to separate it from the clone crowd. It’s also unique in that, depending on what console you owned, you’d have a completely different multiplayer experience. Xbox came with competitive multiplayer for up to 16 players online, while the PS2 had 2 player co-op. The Xbox version was clearly the way to go but since those servers went down years and years ago, it seems like PS2 owners got the last laugh.
26. Gorogoa (2017) | Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
The debate over whether or not video games should be considered art, has been going on since its inception, with many detractors dismissing the medium due to there being no example worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets. Furthermore, they argue a game, by its very definition, can’t be art because games are designed to be won. Which would then make it a virtual sport, if anything. If Gorogoa can’t end the debate, nothing can. Created using thousands of hand drawn illustrations, the game is a four panel puzzle game in which you drag, zoom in or out or overlay panels on top of each other to manipulate a piece of environment the panel depicts, in order to help guide a young boy through a war torn landscape that’s home to a giant monster. Through the course of the adventure, you will come to find out whether the monster is the cause of the destruction, if it’s trying to help rebuild and how the boy connects to everything. It’s an absolutely stunning work of art that should finally put an end to the discussion, once and for all.
25. Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil (2001) | PS2
Sequel to the equally underrated 1997’s Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil is a 2.5D (2D characters in a 3D-rendered environment) platformer about a koala cat looking thing-y named Klonoa who, along with his anthropomorphic friends, have found themselves on another adventure, this time to save the dream kingdom of Lunatea from the diabolical pirate queen Leorina. Admittedly, the premise is ridiculous but platformers aren’t known for their complex plots (how exactly does a plumber end up in the Mushroom Kingdom anyway?) The story is just a string to connect all the games pearls and when you have nothing but pearls, nobody notices the 2¢ string. With airtight gameplay, awesome visuals, and a great soundtrack, Klonoa 2 is far and away the best platformer on the PS2.
24. Gregory Horror Show (2003) | PS2
The only thing more rare than a good horror game, is a good horror game aimed at kids. Even though youngsters play spooky stuff all the time, it’s very rare that whatever they’re playing is actually made for them. While I’m not 100% sure Gregory Horror Show was designed for children, it’s art style and wacky cast of characters would certainly suggest so. After stumbling onto a creepy hotel in the middle of the woods, the protagonist quickly realizes that the only way to escape is to collect 12 souls from the other residents. Walking a fine line between survival horror elements and a light-hearted puzzle solving/narrative-filled adventure, Gregory Horror Show is an offbeat gem fans of horror should definitely check out.
23. Shadows of the Damned (2011) | PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
The word auteur is a pretentious title awarded to filmmakers who’s artistic style act as a personal stamp on every film they do. Even though it’s only used to describe film directors, I believe there’s a small handful of video game directors who’ve earned the distinction, with Suda51 being one of them. Although he didn’t direct Shadows of the Damned, his fingerprints are all over it. A collaboration between himself and Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, Shadows of the Damned is a horror/action game that follows Garcia Hotspur, a Mexican demon hunter who travels to the underworld in order to rescue his lady love who was kidnapped by demon. Leaning closer to action than horror, the game has far more violence than any actual scares. Take the last act of From Dusk till Dawn, stretch it to 15 hours, replace the vampires with demons, set it in hell and add in way more boner jokes and that’s Shadows of the Damned.
22. Actraiser (1990) | Super Nintendo
Combining traditional side-scrolling platforming with urban planning god game sections, few games mash as many unlikely elements together as skillfully as Actraiser. An allegory for Christian monotheism, Nintendo changed the main characters names for the American release but the Japanese version explicitly states that the game is about God fighting demons and rebuilding temples in order to wrestle back power from Satan. Which makes the game sound like a lame attempt from a “hip” youth pastor to try and connect with teens but since most of us don’t speak Japanese, religion is an inconsequential aspect of the game. For us yanks, it’s just a stellar action game with a kick ass soundtrack and city building sections that were way ahead of their time.
21. XIII (2003) | PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube
Based on the Belgian comic book of the same name, XIII is a espionage thriller about an amnesiac (a comatose David Duchovny) trying to piece together who he is and how he lost his identity while on the run from the government who thinks he assassinated the President. One of the few games to incorporate cell-shaded graphics, everything in XIII is deliberately comic book inspired, from illustrated inserts that pop up every time the player performs a headshot, to onomatopoeic words contained in bubbles for sound effects. The gameplay leaves much to be desired but the unique graphics (most satisfying headshots ever) are enough to recommend it.
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!