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.
50. Trio the Punch: Never Forget Me (1990) | Arcade
Sui generis is a Latin phrase that means of its (his, her, their) own kind; in a class by itself; unique. Most commonly used in biology to refer to unique entities that do not fit into a genus that includes other species, it can also be used in the creative arts for artistic works that go beyond conventional genre boundaries. Although used exclusively by scientists and/or art critics who desperately try to wedge it into any conversation in an attempt to look smart/get laid, it’s the only phrase accurate enough to describe this game due to the fact that the Romans had no term for WTF. Weirdness oozes from every pore of this game. It has zombies. It has ninjas. You want clowns and robots? It’s got that too. There’s even a boss fight against an evil Colonel Sanders. Technically, it’s a mess, with poor hit detection and glitches galore, but if you’re looking for an experience like no other, Trio the Punch delivers and then some.
49. Vanquish (2010) | Xbox 360/PlayStation 3
It can not be overstated how important fun is to the success of a game. It can have the greatest graphics and the tightest controls, but if it’s not a blast to play, who gives a shit. And the inverse is also true. Gamers will overlook a lot of problems, as long as they’re having fun. Vanquish didn’t have the best graphics, nor did it have a memorable story, but it offered an addition packed thrill ride that was a ton fun to play. Created by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, the game combines the cover mechanics of Gears of War, the high octane energy of Bulletstorm and the time manipulation of Superhot, to create a balls to the walls shooter that is nothing but one awesome set piece after another.
48. Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (2003) | Xbox
Set in an alternate history of the 1930s, in which increasing sectionalism within the United States of America has caused the country to splinter into numerous sovereignties. Due to the constant state of war between these nation-states, an interstate highway system never developed, which in turn caused the primary means of transportation to shift from the car and train to the plane and zeppelin. A fractured country coupled with a lawless airspace inevitably leads to the rise of sky pirates. In Crimson Skies you play as Nathan Zachary, leader of the Fortune Hunters air pirate gang, who, after a bad night of gambling, loses his plane and zeppelin to a rival gang. On a quest to retrieve his lost shit, he soon finds himself on a world saving adventure. Closer to Star Wars: Rogue Squadron than Ace Combat, the game sacrifices realism for fun and is all the better for it.
47. Vagrant Story (2000) | PS1
Even though the game takes place within the same world of Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII, Vagrant Story couldn’t be further from that series if it tried. With stylized graphics that helped it stand apart from its contemporaries, an engrossing storyline, and an in depth battle system that perfectly walks the line between being challenging for pros but not too demanding on newcomers, Vagrant Story has all the depth of a typical Square JRPG but brings so many new things to the table that it feels remarkably original even to this day.
46. Beyond Oasis (1994) | Sega Genesis
Even though it’s mostly remembered for its Mario inspired platformers, the Genesis had a handful of amazing JRPGs. Phantasy Star IV and Shining Force were as good as anything coming out of Square at the time (which means they’re amongst the upper echelon of 16 bit RPGs), and Lunar and Landstalker, although not as good, would eventually become classics in their own right. One that never got its due is the tragically overlooked Beyond Oasis. One of the few criticisms leveled against The Legend of Zelda franchise, especially the older games in the series, is the lackluster action. Every encounter is predictable because every character can be defeated by whacking them enough times with your sword. Beyond Oasis solves this problem by giving the player a wide selection of moves, as well as elemental spirits, that work as magic attacks but can only be equipped one at a time, which creates a small degree of variety to the fights. If this game was longer and was released on the SNES, there’s no doubt in my mind that it would’ve spawned a highly successful franchise which might’ve eventually eclipsed Zelda in popularity. The world missed out.
45. Alan Wake (2010) | Xbox 360
Frequently listed among the best games to never get a sequel, Alan Wake is a horror game heavily inspired by the work of Stephen King. In the game, you play as (you guessed it) Alan Wake, a successful thriller novelist who, along with his wife, travel to the small town of Bright Falls in an effort to fix a terrible case of writer’s block. After a long night of writing, Wake is awakened to find his wife missing, and, while trying to uncover the mystery of her sudden disappearance, he slowly starts to realize everything happening to him is taken directly from his latest novel that he doesn’t remember writing. Structured like a television series with episodes that contain plot twists and cliffhangers, the game is more psychological thriller than outright horror. It slowly cultivates dread until every sound, every shadow makes you jump out of your skin.
See also: Alan Wake: American Nightmare (2010)
44. The Punisher (1993) | Arcade
Before Spider-Man 2 for the PS2 nailed what it would feel like to swing through the city like Peter Parker and long before Rocksteady perfected the comic book game with their Arkham series, Capcom perfectly captured the essence of the one man army known as the Punisher. While there have been a few notable games based on the character over the years (the first person shooter on the NES is ok, the third person action game on the PS2 is amazing), the arcade beat em up has yet to be topped for one specific reason—it’s two player. The only thing better than cleaning up the filth of the city with big ass guns, is doing it with a buddy. With tons of easter eggs for comic book fans and the addition of a playable Nick Fury for player 2, this is arguably the most fun and most faithful comic book adaptation ever.
See also: Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (1992)
43. Demon’s Crest (1994) | Super Nintendo
One of the oddest spin-offs in video game history, Demon’s Crest took a minor background baddie from the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series and centers a game around him. To put it into context, it would be like if the producers of Back to the Future wanted to milk a little more out of the franchise after III, so they decide to make a movie about Billy Zane‘s character. It’s bizarre but somehow it works. Ditching the cartoony graphics the series is known for for a darker, more gothic aesthetic and the familiar gameplay for something more similar to Super Metroid, Demon’s Crest is like a combination of all the best elements from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Super Metroid, Castlevania IV, and Mega Man X. If it wasn’t for its relatively short length (about 3 hours), it would be a strong contender for the best action platformer on the console. It’s that good.
42. War of the Monsters (2003) | PlayStation 2
I think every child is born with an innate love of watching giant monsters destroy cities. Whether it’s due to King Kong rampaging through New York back in the 20’s, the cheesy B movies of the 50’s, the Godzilla films of the 70’s, or the Power Ranger-esque shows of the 90’s, kids have been inundated with stop motion or rubber suited Goliaths for literally a century now, their popularity never waning. Because the second it gets stale, a producer will have the bright idea to scrap the city destroying angle and go with the versus angle—pit a couple of monsters against one another instead of them just doing shit by themselves, and it works every time. War of the Monsters perfectly replicates the joy of watching two titans duke it out by having the player be the one in charge of the destruction. With an adventure mode, mini games, and addictive multiplayer, WotM takes the building demolishing fun of Rampage and mixes it with the multiplayer action of Smash Bros to create the ultimate monster mash.
41. Hagane: The Final Conflict (1994) | Super Nintendo
Borrowing from classics such as Ninja Spirit, Strider, and Shinobi III, the developers of Hagane cherry picked what they liked from various platformers to produce a one-of-a-kind action game that became rare due to its Blockbuster rental exclusivity. Although it suffers from haphazard level design, poor enemy placement, and tricky platforming, Hagane is easily as inventive as its spiritual predecessors when it comes to memorable set pieces and more than makes up for any shortcomings with its abundance of boss fights. It’s not a perfect game but if you can weather the storm, it offers an unforgettable trip.
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!