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.
60. Violent Storm (1993) | Arcade
In spite of the fact that Capcom was synonymous with the genre, Konami might’ve produced better beat-em-ups. They both had their pros (Konami, licensed properties; Capcom, better gaming engines) and cons (Konami, lack of innovation; Capcom, over saturation) and while it’s definitely a toss up, my money goes to Konami simply because it released Violent Storm and Capcom didn’t. The last brawler Konami would release for years, the game plays like a meth addicted Final Fight. Each level is fast paced and gorgeous and although the game throws tons of enemies at you, it never suffers from any slow down or lag. Beat-em-ups may all look and play indistinguishable from one another but Violent Storm might be the most purely entertaining brawler around.
Not including Alien Vs Predator because c’mon.
59. The Guardian Legend (1988) | NES
There have been many Gradius clones and many Legend of Zelda clones but The Guardian Legend was the first game that decided to mash ’em together. Half shmup, half action RPG, the Guardian Legend is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of gaming—two great tastes that taste great together. You control a humanoid robot known as the Guardian, who has been tasked with stopping a planet named Naju from colliding with Earth. The game alternates between shooting and exploration depending on where you are on the planet. On the surface, the game is closer to Zelda, there’s mazes and dungeons to navigate and items to collect and traversing the corridors that lead to the center of the planet are more like traditional shooters. There are better standalone action-RPGs and shoot-em-ups, but even after 30 years, there’s absolutely nothing else out there that mashes them both together. Its one of a kind.
58. Skullmonkeys (1998) | PS1
Developed by The Neverhood, Inc., Skullmonkeys is a sequel to The Neverhood, a point-and-click adventure game for the PC. Skullmonkeys, unlike like it’s predecessor, is a 2D platformer with character models and backgrounds fully rendered in claymation. On a technical level, the game is identical to every other platformer on the console, with the level design and gameplay being pretty lackluster and derivative. But the game’s unique art style and humorous story is where it really shines. It might be painfully old school (you have to use passwords, there is no save feature) but there are few games as singularly unique as this one.
57. Majyuuou: King of Demons (1995) | Super Famicom
Majyuuou: King of Demons may sound like a hilarious mistranslation on a shitty Chinese buffet menu but it’s actually a super dark Altered Beast clone. Or more accurately “Castlevania with a gun” as its usually described. Released only in Japan, King of Demons is a side scrolling action game that focuses on a young man named Abel who, after getting betrayed by his best friend who sacrifices his family to turn into a demon, must travel to the underworld to rescue his daughter and murder the man who ruined his life. It’s a dark story and the graphics aren’t much nicer. Landing somewhere between Splatterhouse and Castlevania, the game alternates between Gothic horror and bloody grindhouse to deliver an unforgettable tale of (16 bit) revenge.
56. Spec Ops: the Line (2012) | Xbox 360/PlayStation 3
Dubai, one of the most opulent cities in the world is now its most expensive graveyard. Ravaged by cataclysmic sandstorms, the city has become the Atlantis of the desert, a no-man’s-land inhabited by outlaws and dangerous refugees. While most of the world has turned its back to the now barren wasteland, Joseph Konrad—a U.S. Army colonel, along with the 33rd infantry, has stayed behind to help rescue any survivors incapable of escape. It’s been six months since the desert reclaimed the city and six months without word from Konrad or his team. With all forms of communication down, a small team lead by Captain Walker has been deployed to infiltrate the lawless hellscape in order to find out what happened to Konrad and the 33rd infantry. Heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now, Spec Ops: the Line is a slow decent into madness and ultimately hell. With some of the most punishing decisions ever put in a video game, the game is designed to push the player to near insanity and, while it doesn’t succeed, it gets closer than H.P. Lovecraft ever did–and he created the cosmic horror Cthulhu for crissakes.
55. Hellnight (1998) | PS1
For horror fans, the PS1 was a veritable smorgasbord of spooky delights. There was the big guns like Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Clock Tower; the lesser classics like Parasite Eve and Nightmare Creatures; numerous clones and knock offs (the less said about Countdown Vampires the better); and then there’s the weird ass shit like Silverload and D that everyone pretends don’t exist. Due to the overabundance of horror games on the console, many games got ignored, with Hellnight being one of the unfortunate victims of a crowded marketplace. Perhaps gamers couldn’t get past its terribly bland cover or generic title but for those that did, found an undiscovered gem that had some interesting ideas that were pretty uncommon for the time. For starters, it’s an FPS, which immediately separates it from everything else. It’s also not an action game, which means there’s no way to defend yourself against the monster that’s constantly chasing you. It’s essentially a stripped down version of Alien Isolation but set in a labyrinthian sewer instead of a space ship. Which is arguably scarier because ew, gross sewers.
See also: Martian Gothic: Unification (2000)
54. Felix the Cat (1992) | NES
Although it was released during the height of Saturday morning cartoon adaptations for the NES (Darkwing Duck, Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, Duck Tales, Tailspin), for some reason, Felix the Cat was the only one to fade into obscurity. Which is somewhat baffling considering it’s the only one of the bunch to do anything even remotely original. Acting as a forerunner to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, Felix the Cat is notable for having a vast assortment of power ups that let the titular cat transform into vehicles including cars, tanks, helicopters, and submarines. The transformations don’t alter the game-play too drastically, but they are a welcome addition to the standard walk and jump game-play of every other platformer.
53. Super Turrican (1993) | Super Nintendo
When it comes to run-and-gun shooters, the Contra series set the gold standard. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the originator but it did popularize and perfect the genre with its first entry. There have been plenty of challengers to the throne, most notably Metal Slug, Gunstar Heroes and the recent Cuphead, the vast majority fail to recapture its fast paced, kinetic energy. One of the few successes, is the unjustly neglected Super Turrican. A cross between Super Metroid and Contra III: The Alien Wars, Super Turrican may not win any points for originality (or subtlety for that matter), but when the end product is this fun, who gives a shit.
52. Night Slashers (1993) | Arcade
The selling point of Night Slashers is barely one sentence, let alone an elevator pitch, but there really is no better way to describe it than Double Dragon but with monsters. Replace all the ninjas, thugs, and street toughs of Double Dragon with zombies, werewolves, and draculas and you have the exact same game. Or rather, a game that plays the exact same. Because when it comes to beat-em-ups, Capcom proved that all you had to do was change the setting and the character models, not the gameplay and you had a hit. And they were right. It might be identical to a million other arcade fighters, but not a single one of those games let you pile drive a Frankenstein.
51. Soma (2015) | PlayStation 4/Xbox One
Trying to top what has been frequently listed as the “the scariest game ever made” and the “greatest horror game of all time” is certainly an impossible task, but developers Frictional Games decided to outdo the monumental success of their previous game Amnesia: the Dark Descent by creating a game that doesn’t just want to make you jump out of your skin—it wants to get under it. Taking place in an underwater station overrun by freakish robots, Soma tasks the player with uncovering the mystery of what happened to the station and how they arrived there in the first place. The plot synopsis sounds identical to Bioshock but I assure you, the game tells a completely different story that’s far more Lovecraftian than Ayn Randian (is that a thing?) Raising moral questions such as What does it mean to be human? and Is terminating a machine that thinks it’s alive, the same as murder?, Soma confronts you with some hard moral dilemmas and makes you live with every action you make. It’s also pants shittingly terrifying but that goes without saying.
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!