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.
70. Pulseman (1994) | Sega Genesis
If you could create the perfect forgotten game stew, the two most important ingredients would be poor timing and a limited production run. Pulseman was not only released at the end of a console’s life cycle and had a limited production run but also had the misfortune of never being released outside of Japan. Although released in 1994, American gamers had to wait till it hit the Wii’s Virtual Console in 2009. That’s a long time to wait for what’s essentially a Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man hybrid but I maintain that if it had a proper release, Sega might’ve had a new mascot on their hands. The game had vibrant graphics, fun gameplay (you bounce all over the place with electricity powers in order to kill enemies, find secrets and solve flip switch puzzles), and catchy as hell music. We’ll never know if it could’ve spawned a new gaming icon but it’s sure as shit better than all the other games that tried and failed.
*cough* Awesome Possum *cough*
69. The Flame in the Flood (2017) | Xbox One/PlayStation 4/Nintendo Switch
Back in my day, one of the only options to offset the boringness of book reading and math learning in school, was going to the library to play Oregon Trail. Before every child in the world had everything ever made on their phone, playing on old ass computer game who’s goal was to keep a family of settlers alive by hunting for food, keeping everyone from freezing to death, making sure nobody got dysentery (Which was a fool’s errand. Everyone always got dysentery.) and then wading down a dangerous river in a tore up wagon, was the closest a game came to a non-stop thrill ride. The past was sad and terrible. Now, take that game, remove all of the family members save for one, replace the wagon for a raft and dysentery with snake bites and far more bears to contend with and that’s The Flame in the Flood. A punishing but never frustrating survival game that fans of Oregon Trail will love.
68. Alisia Dragoon (1992) | Sega Genesis
You’d think a game that has some of the best graphics, music, and gameplay on the Genesis would be a household name like Sonic or Toejam & Earl but for whatever reason, Alisia Dragoon slipped through the cracks. Alisia Dragoon is a side-scrolling action game (there’s a lot of these on the list; old school games didn’t have a lot of design options) that looks like a 70’s fantasy van mural brought to life and plays like Ninja Gaiden but with far less throwing stars and way more zappy electrical magic. There’s wizards and goblins and barbarians and even an evil overlord bent on world domination—plenty of cliched Dungeons & Dragons inspired creatures to zap with your lightning attacks. It’s a pity this was forgotten, because this is the closest Sega (or anyone for that matter) came to Actraiser.
67. Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure (2009) | Nintendo DS
Two games in one—Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure is half platformer and half puzzle game. Taking full advantage of the DS’s duel screens, the player must constantly switch between the top, which has the platforming segments, and the bottom that has a match three/Tetris Attack-esque puzzle game that you have complete in order to get power- ups and health in order to succeed. While the set up sounds overly complicated, it’s surprisingly easy to get the hang of once you start playing. So much so, that once you start, you’ll find it hard to put down.
66. Elemental Master (1990) | Sega Genesis
Similar to how Capcom would constantly add minor tweaks to each of their fighting games, in order to stay ahead of the pack, Technosoft added just enough changes to their shoot em ups, that each of them felt distinct. When arcades were littered with R-Type and 1942 clones, they were experimenting outside the genre’s supposed limitations. Thunder Force II and Herzog Zwei implemented top-down, non-linear exploration and Elemental Master did away with flying altogether. The game has you blasting your way through seven fantasy inspired levels, each more amazing(-ly cliched) than the last. The graphics might be a bit bland, but the soundtrack slaps something fierce. Seriously, it’s pretty much on this list for the music alone.
65. Folklore (2007) | PS3
Set in the small Irish village of Doolin, the game follows two protagonists, a young woman named Ellen and a journalist named Keats, who must decipher the memories of the dead who inhabit the Netherworld in order to solve a murder mystery. With its Tim Burton-esque setting, Irish mythology infused storyline, and Blue Dragon-like (another underrated RPG) gameplay, Folklore is an idiosyncratic stir fry unlike anything else on the PS3.
64. Where the Water Tastes like Wine (2018) | PC
In Where the Water Tastes Like Wine you play as a skeleton (complete with a straw hat and hobo stick) who, after losing a game of cards to a wolf man (voiced by Sting in an all time great video game performance), is bound to travel across the US collecting stories. You must talk with vagrants, train hops, and various other wanderers of the country and learn of their stories. It’s a bizarre pact with the Devil, but the set up is far from the craziest thing about the game. Set during the tail end of the depression, WTWTLW is kind of like Pokémon but the monsters in this are stories and you don’t battle so much as retell tales to different people who then shape the story until it evolves into a folk tale. It’s an interactive collection of short stories that offers a one-of-a-kind experience that’s impossible to duplicate.
63. Rapid Reload (1995) | PS1
Rapid Reload, also known as Gunner’s Heaven, is a game that wears its influences on its sleeves. Clearly inspired by games like Gunstar Heroes, Contra and Metal Slug, Rapid Reload is a fast paced run and gun action game that isn’t on the same level as the aforesaid games (there’s no co-op for one) but it does enough right to keep you entertained. Not every game needs to reinvent the wheel: some just need to offer enough shit to blow up. Which this game has and then some.
62. Little King’s Story (2009) | Wii
From the creative minds behind two of the biggest RPG series’—Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, Little King’s Story uses the cutesy animation style of Animal Crossing and the gameplay of Pikmin to create a deceptively deep RPG. On the surface, it looks like a game about an adorable lil monarch slowly trying to build an empire, one person at a time, but the game deals with topics such as: building infrastructure, polygamy, genocide, religion, urban expansion, and ultimately global conquest. For a game that bears child pleasing graphics and game-play similarities to kiddie games, Little King’s Story is a shockingly complex game.
61. Rule of Rose (2006) | PS2
Set in England in 1930, the game centers on Jennifer, a nineteen-year-old woman who gets kidnapped and imprisoned by a group of young girls who have established a class hierarchy called the Red Crayon Aristocrats. Trapped in a world who’s rules were made by a ménage of deranged children, Jennifer must endure insane tasks if she hopes to survive. A lightning rod of controversy, the game was attacked by the British media for scenes involving “children being buried alive, in-game sadomasochism, and underage eroticism” and was quickly buried due to the publishers freaking out. Which made its rarity a cult hit among horror fans but made it nigh impossible for the casual gamer to find a copy. But everyone who has played it agrees on two things: the controversy surrounding it is ridiculous, and that it’s one of the creepiest games ever made.
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!