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.
40. Blood (1997) | PC
Much like how there was immediately twenty holiday themed horror films in production after the success of Halloween, game companies flooded the market with Doom clones, each with their own distinct theme and setting, after that game’s massive success. Very few games offered more than just a reskinned, inferior clone of Doom and while Blood certainly wouldn’t win any points for originality, it made up for this in a number of ways. Firstly, it’s one of the first games to include alternate firing modes, with each weapon having a secondary attack. Secondly, it’s littered with pop culture references such as the cabin from Evil Dead and the hedge maze from the Shining and lastly, it’s fucking bloody as hell. There’s entrails and viscera thrown about everywhere, corpses of varying degrees of mutilation hanging on almost every wall or ceiling and every enemy erupts into a geyser of blood when you kill them. It’s a heavy metal addicted twelve year olds dream.
39. Mutant League Football (1993) | Sega Genesis
Madden, not unlike a boy who just discovered the joys of masturbating, has had its hands on the same property for an uncomfortably long time. Literally the only name in video game football, the Madden series has had a stranglehold on the sport for over twenty years. Which means anything not sporting the Tinactin mascot’s name on it, is quickly buried. An ironic fate for Mutant League Football, on account of the players being undead and all. A much different take on football, each game resembles a war as much as a sporting competition. Since the teams are made up of monsters and ghouls and each stage has various traps spread across the field, death is an inevitability. Not only do you have to win, you have to make sure you survive long enough to do it.
38. Demon Front (2002) | Arcade
Trying to find a side scrolling shooter that wasn’t heavily inspired by Metal Slug, is like finding a mare’s nest or the g spot—it’s impossible because it doesn’t exist. To one degree or another, they’re all borrowing (or in some cases, straight up stealing) the blueprint of Metal Slug with little deviation. Demon Front is no different. Apart from the addition of a unique flying pet that can be used to perform a special attack or turn into a shield, basically everything else is identical. The gameplay, the similar looking bosses, the power ups, it’s all the same. But you know what? I’m fine with that because who doesn’t want more Metal Slug?
37. To the Moon (2011) | PC
Although built using the RPG Maker XP engine, which is used to create 16-bit 2.5D role-playing games, in the style of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, To the Moon forgoes the turn based battle system and dungeon crawling mechanics of typical RPGs and focuses on a story driven narrative. Set in the future, the story follows two doctors who offer to fulfill a dying man’s last wish using artificial memories. Featuring relatively few gameplay mechanics, the game is more of an interactive story with the occasional puzzle to solve. Like the inverse of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, To the Moon is an emotion journey you will never forget.
36. ChuChu Rocket! (1999) | Dreamcast
Created to demonstrate the online capabilities of the Dreamcast, ChuChu Rocket! was an instant hit and became the first popular online video game released on consoles. The objective of the game is to guide the ChuChus (space mice) to the goal while avoiding the KapuKapus (alien cats). A more sophisticated and complex version of snake, the player has to not only avoid hitting obstacles or fall into holes, they have to strategically use various directional arrows to outrun the KapuKapus. It’s chaotic madness but like the best puzzle games, is brilliantly executed.
35. Ninja Baseball Bat Man (1993) | Arcade
Video games have a long history of releasing insane tie-ins based on everything from food mascots (anyone remember Cool Spot or the Noid?) to movie and TV shows that shouldn’t be adapted—the Home Improvement game involves Tim “The Tool/Man” Taylor fighting dinosaurs and mummies because of course it did—so you’d be forgiven for mistaking Ninja Baseball Batman for an officially licensed game ala Shaq-Fu but nope. The Japanese are just fucking weird, man. Like the title suggests, the game involves ninja ballplayers that fight an odd assortment of baseball and WTF themed characters on a quest to retrieve a golden statue of Babe Ruth that was stolen by the evil commissioner of baseball. It’s a surprisingly deep beat em up with a ton of moves and combos but it could play like shit and i’d still recommend it because of the weird.
See also: Monster Maulers (1993)
34. Wild Guns (1994) | Super Nintendo
One of the few games in which every aspect of its design, from the unique steampunk western setting, to the one of a kind gameplay, was completely original and ahead of its time. When it comes to shooters, there’s either the FPS type where you control the cursor or the third person run and guns like Contra in which you can see the character you’re playing as, but Wild Guns combined the two to make a gamestyle that has yet to be duplicated. It’s so unique, it’s not easy to properly explain. You control a cursor to direct the aim of your weapon, but your character is also on-screen and must be commanded to dodge incoming fire at the same time. The screen scrolls automatically, so you’re only moving your character to avoid bullets and missiles while your cursor is blasting baddies. It’s peculiar but with two players, it’s a hell of a good time.
33. Split/Second (2010) | PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
On paper, this should’ve been an astronomical success leading to multiple entries and becoming the new name in fast paced insane racing but sometimes the video game gods are cruel and let amazing games die. It has the greatest combination of design elements but bad timing or lack of interest lead to an unfortunate demise. In Split/Second, players take part in a fictional reality TV program where participants race for money and glory. By performing stunts or overtaking opponents, the player can build up a “power play” meter that’s used to create obstacles for other players, open up shortcuts, or alter an entire section of the race course. It’s Death Race with the speed of Burnout but with Mario Kart weapons that all basically function as godlike blue turtle shells. It’s an adrenaline junkies dream.
32. Little Samson (1992) | NES
Notoriously hard to find in the wild, Little Samson is infamous amongst gamers for being one of the rarest and most expensive games for the NES. For whatever reason, the game sold very poorly, which resulted in it becoming a collector’s item but unlike say, Stadium Events or Birthday Mania, Little Samson actually has value outside of its price tag. With 4 playable characters that all have distinct abilities and play styles that the player can switch between at any point in a level, Little Samson may play like a gimmicky Mega Man but it’s emphasize on refinement over innovation and fun over originality, made it one of the best games on the NES.
31. Valkyrie Profile (1999) | PS1
Since there’s an overabundance of amazing RPGs out there, to stand out from the pack requires a little something extra. That certain je ne sais quoi that really makes it special. Eartbound had its charming setting, Chrono Trigger had time travel and Valkyrie Profile has Norse mythology. Tasked by Odin to retrieve souls to fight during the last battle of Ragnarok, the player must locate and strategically level up warriors to ensure they survive the war. Imagine a Pokemon game in which the goal isn’t to collect as many Pokemon as possible, but to level up the right ones in order to fight alongside them during a massive battle at the end. That’s Valkyrie Profile. Pokemon but with Norse gods. If that doesn’t sell you, nothing will.
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!