5. UmJammer Lammy
Parappa the Rapper was a pretty big hit, almost surprisingly so given how quirky and unorthodox the game actually is. So a lot of people were excited for a sequel, and then it was announced…starring a different character. Who played guitar instead of rapping. And she was a lamb, who…UmJams? And Parappa was absolutely nowhere to be found. A sequel to such a character-driven game that doesn’t feature the original character is certainly a gamble, and a lot of people don’t initially take that bet. However, as gamers eventually got over the lack of Parappa in the game and gave it a chance, they found that the songs were excellent, the gameplay was even tighter than the original, Lammy is actually a deeper and better-developed character than Parappa who was motivated by more than just a crush on a girl who finds him more manly when he has to take a dump (true story), and–surprise!–Parappa is in the game. And not just a cameo, either–when you finish the story mode, you unlock the ability to replay the entire game as Parappa, complete with songs that are completely remixed to fit the call-and-response rap style of the first game. Maybe it would’ve been a smarter marketing move to advertise that fact rather than leave it as a hidden surprise, but at least word eventually got around from those of us who had discovered it and drove more people to check the game out and see just how great it really is. Plus, Lammy retroactively got a lot more respect automatically when the “real” Parappa the Rapper 2 finally came out, and it truly was a disappointment.
4. NiGHTS into Dreams…
I don’t need to go into all of the reasons why the Sega Saturn was struggling in 1996, only a year after its launch. However, the lack of a Sonic the Hedgehog game certainly wasn’t doing the embattled console any favors, and given what a huge impact the spiky blue rodent had on turning the Genesis into a force to be reckoned with–even against the mighty Super NES–it stood to reason that any day now he would do it again for the Saturn. So what were the creative team behind the franchise doing all that time? As it turned out, they were working on NiGHTS. The gaming public of the time wasn’t sure what to make of the game: Is it 2D or 3D? Is it a platform game or a flying game? What’s with this strict time limit? Why am I being graded at the end of each level, and why are my grades always so bad? And why is the title so awkwardly capitalized and punctuated? Unfortunately, many gamers played a few minutes of it at a kiosk in a store, didn’t know what the hell was going on, and wrote the game off. Which was unfair as NiGHTS is a game that requires time to learn and master and playing it in an explanation-free, five-minute session was not the way to demonstrate a game like that. Plus, again, it wasn’t Sonic. Those that gave it a chance eventually learned what it actually was, how its performance-based gameplay worked, what a “2.5D” game is, and how rewarding and addictive it was to replay levels, learn the best routes and shortcuts, try to get the best scores, and actually unlock additional levels. Whether it was a good enough game to make up for a complete lack of a true Sonic game ever appearing on Saturn is up for debate, but NiGHTS was still a fun and creative title and one that far too few people played and appreciated when it mattered.
3. Luigi’s Mansion
The reason for people’s disappointment in Luigi’s Mansion was not unlike their disappointment in NiGHTS: It wasn’t the Mario game they wanted for their shiny new console. Only this time, that fact was even more significant because, unlike Sega with Sonic, Nintendo had already firmly established a tradition (in the U.S. anyway) of launching their newest consoles alongside of a brand spanking new Super Mario game. Super Mario Bros. Super Mario Land. Super Mario World. Super Mario 64. Each new console launched day-and-date with its own Mario game, and people expected as much from the GameCube, especially given Nintendo teasing us with its infamous “Super Mario 128” footage at every turn. The GameCube not only didn’t launch with a Super Mario game–and there was no promise of one coming any time in the immediate future–but what we got instead was a strange little game called Luigi’s Mansion. The anger over a lack of a new Mario game was such that gamers weren’t willing to give the game a fair shake, especially when they saw it wasn’t even a platformer. Which is too bad, of course, because Luigi’s Mansion is a terrific and original game, and people eventually saw that as they got over it not being “a Mario game” and sat down and actually played the damn thing. I still to this day am convinced that if the GameCube had launched with Super Mario Sunshine, and Luigi’s Mansion came a year or so later, that it would’ve been a much more highly-praised game and been a bigger hit–well, as big as hits got on the GameCube, anyway–and that people probably would’ve also been kinder to Mario Sunshine, though that’s a different issue entirely.
2. Street Fighter III: New Generation
Take it easy, fighting game fanatics. Hear me out on this one. I realize that SFIII is a fantastic game that a lot of you loved from the start, and is considered one of the best 2D fighting games of all time, but you have to keep in mind that predecessor Street Fighter II wasn’t just a game for the hardcore fighting fan. Everyone played and loved SFII. It was its accessibility that made it the genre-defining, industry-dominating, arcade-revitalizing game that it was. So when Capcom decided that its follow-up would be fairly deep and complex and cater primarily to the smaller subset of hardcore fighting fans rather than being more streamlined and accessible to all like SFII was, the average gamer felt left behind by a game that they didn’t really get and was way too hard for them. Did that make for a “better” game? Probably. But it’s easy to see why it was viewed as a disappointment to a lot of people upon its release. The small, mostly-new, and rather odd cast of characters didn’t help to endear people to it, either. However, as people took the time to learn the game’s systems, and coupled with the refinements made in 2nd Impact and 3rd Strike–including gradually bringing more classic characters into the fold–SFIII did eventually find a wider audience and more people began to appreciate it. It still never quite set the gaming world on fire, and Street Fighter IV definitely did a better job of being the sequel to SFII that the overall gaming public wanted to begin with, but at least SFIII has since become a much more universally praised game than it once was and is often the standard by which other 2D fighters are compared.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
In light of the 3DS remake, the accompanying Majora-themed 3DS system, and how over-the-moon (har har har) excited people were about both, it’s easy to forget how Majora’s Mask was originally taken at the time of its release. Up to that point, Zelda games were getting bigger and more epic with each installment, culminating in the series’ jump to 3D with the Ocarina of Time, hailed by pretty much everyone as pretty much the greatest thing ever put into polygons up to that point. So what did Nintendo follow that up with, only two years later? A strange, uncharacteristically gloomy Zelda game that used most of the same environments and characters from Ocarina and was built around the dark concept of having to repeat the same 72-hour cycle over and over again, at the end of which the moon crashes into the planet and kills everyone. Yikes. Also, the game came out pretty late in the N64’s lifespan (arguably after it was already over), a year into the Dreamcast’s, and on the very day the PlayStation 2 launched. So given the timing of its release, just as many people outright missed it as were disappointed or confused by it. But it’s a Nintendo game, and more specifically, a Zelda game, so those that missed it eventually came back to it, and those that initially didn’t “get” it gave it another shot, and it is now a lot of people’s personal favorite Zelda precisely because of how different and dark it is.