By: Chris Hodges (and others)
How do we define a “hidden gem?” For purposes of this article and the lists therein, I left that distinction up to each individual who was participating. Some took it to mean games that few people know about, others took it to mean games that were under-appreciated in their opinion, and others interpreted it as good games that simply didn’t sell well enough. Or, people did a little bit of all three of those things. The “why” isn’t really important–what matters is that we are calling attention to games that we felt deserved having attention called to them.
This article is essentially in two parts. First, myself and a few friends of the Chi-Scroller have each compiled our own personal top five lists, which you can see below. The second part is the results of the reader poll I put up last week, asking people to list their hidden gems of last gen. So, between the spotlighted top fives and the compiled list, I’d like to think that this article is a pretty good representation of the best hidden gems/sleeper hits/underrated games for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and the Wii.
And of course, this is by no means meant to serve as a moratorium on this topic. Feel free to add more games and keep the discussion going in the comments!
Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
The Saboteur (PS3, X360)
I wanted to get this one out of the way first, since anyone who has been reading this site for awhile has seen my multiple thinly-veiled excuses to bring this game up. My appreciation of The Saboteur shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone. In the generation where “open world game” actually managed to become a crowded and overdone genre, The Saboteur stands out from the large pack with its unique setting, gorgeous and innovative visuals, well-paced story, original characters, and “mature” content that is actually mature. Also, it stars one of the only Irish characters in video game history who isn’t an embarrassing, over-the-top cliche, which is always a good thing.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (PS3, X360)
Video games generally steer clear of religious themes (other than Greek mythology and the like), so to play a game that is about seeking fallen angels in order to prevent a great flood and doesn’t hide the fact that its source material is an apocryphal book of the Bible is quite refreshing. Of course, it also takes a lot of liberties, such as the blue jeans your character wears and the fact that your guide talks to God on a cell phone. But the real star of El Shaddai and what makes the game special is the visual style, which is striking at every turn and has just about every level looking completely different from the last. The gameplay is familiar–it is directed by the design lead on Devil May Cry, and it shows–but the world is anything but. Easily one of the most aesthetically interesting games ever made.
Sin & Punishment: Star Successor (Wii)
The North American Wii library doesn’t get enough credit for how many games it has that had no right coming to America (and certainly weren’t going to be coming to PS3 or X360): Tatsunoko vs Capcom, Sky Crawlers, all of those JRPGs, and of course, the Star of this entry, the sequel to a Japan-only N64 game of all things. Say what you will about the Wii-mote’s motion capabilities for use in most types of games; for light gun games and on-rails shooters, it is amazing and really makes a case for its existence. And Sin & Punishment is one of the best rail shooters of all time, with only Panzer Dragoon Orta giving it any real competition for games of the genre released in this millennium.
Red Faction: Guerilla (PS3, X360)
Poor Red Faction. The first installment was a great game (and one of the first great PS2 games) with a really innovative destruction engine, then it was followed by a disappointing sequel that buried the series for seven years. Then there was Guerilla, a great game (and one of the best third-person shooters of the gen not called Gears of War), which was followed by a disappointing sequel that promptly re-buried the embattled franchise–and also helped to bury publisher THQ. Inconsistent history aside, Guerilla is a really fun shooter with one of the best environmental destruction engines ever seen in a game, and proves that a game world can be fully destructible without looking like blurry LEGOs.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Wii)
After the strong initial Silent Hill trilogy, the series began to lose its way a bit with the divisive The Room, lackluster PSP prequel Origins, and disappointing attempt to bring the franchise into the 7th gen by way of Homecoming. The SH brand had already been so damaged that when the next game hit–and it was Wii game, no less–people were rightfully skeptical. Unfortunately, what they missed with Shattered Memories was a return to form for the series, and for “survival horror” in general, taking combat out of the equation completely and making that term actually mean something again. Re-imagining the series almost as an adventure game was a masterstroke, and one that they’ll probably never try again given this game’s poor sales (if they try a SH again at all).
Steve MacDougall, contributor
I went more “underrated” for my list. Underrated is a simple concept to understand but incredibly difficult to define. What constitutes underrated? Is it score-based? Can a game that got an 85 on Metacritic be underrated? I think it can if nobody played it. I had a couple of loose rules I followed when putting my list together. No first parties. I think Infamous 2 and Resistance 2 are under appreciated, but as first party games, they have received a lot of attention. If the game was ever on the cover of Game Informer, it didn’t make my list. (Bye bye Bulletstorm). If the game got a sequel, then I didn’t consider it either (sorry Ni No Kuni) However, the game itself could be a sequel or the latest entry in a franchise.
So here is my list:
5) Bionic Commando (PS3, X360)
This is not ReArmed, the Live Acade remake of the original game, but the full 3D reimagining that was a full priced retail release in 2009. I remember this not reviewing well, and so I stayed away from it originally, but a year later I picked it up at Gamestop for $10 and I was surprised by how much I liked it! The only negatives as far as I can see are a tacked on crappy multiplayer (but really what franchise hasn’t done that at least once?) and a specific plot point involving the arm that is just shockingly and embarrassingly stupid. But the gameplay itself was awesome. I loved the arm mechanic and using it for traversal and combat. It utilized the swinging mechanic better than any modern day Spiderman has in my opinion.
4) Wet (PS3, X360)
Another 2009 title starring a female character named Rubi Malone (voiced by the gorgeous Eliza Dushku) in a third person action title. Rubi can slow down time by jumping and sliding while shooting, and gets style points for kills. The game adopts a pretty awesome noir graphical style. It’s bloody and violent, but the action is satisfying.
3) Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Wii version)
A quick point of clarity, this is not the same as the Forgotten Sands game that released on PS3 and 360. This is a completely different game that actually uses the assets from the sequel to the 2008 cell-shaded Prince of Persia game that was cancelled. The work on that sequel was turned into this game, so if you ever wanted a sequel to PoP 2008, this is it. In this game, the Prince follows a genie to a cursed castle and attempts to lift the curse. The Prince has three unique powers he can use in combat and to solve puzzles, and the fighting is done by swinging the Wii-mote. I actually really liked the PS3 and 360 game with the same name, but the Wii version deserves the mention here because of how unusual and original it is, and for those of us who yearn for a PoP 2008 sequel.
2) Vanquish (PS3, X360)
Vanquish is a 2010 third person shooter by Platinum games. Yes that’s right, Platinum games. Nowadays platinum is known almost exclusively for beat em ups, but Vanquish is a very different kind of Platinum game. It still has the polish and fun that Platinum is known for, as well as some of the traversal mechanics. In Vanquish you push the left bumper to do a power slide boost all around the map until you have to cool off. Like Wet and many other games of the 7th gen, this game features a billet time mechanic that can be triggered intentionally by the player, or automatically when the player receives too much damage. This is a mustfor anyone with a PS3 or 360.
1) Outland (PS3, X360)
I first became aware of Outland when I got it for free on PS Plus. Prior to that I hadn’t really heard of it. When I actually tried it I was blown away. This game is basically what you would get if an Igavania and Ikaruga had a baby. It’s a side scrolling game where you unlock new abilities that let you go back to revisit prior parts of the map, and on top of that has a white/dark element. You can change the polarity of your character that lets you get through certain areas unscathed or deal more damage to enemies of the opposite polarity. I’m always surprised that this game doesn’t get mentioned along with games like Shadow Complex and Guacamelee. It’s one of the best of it’s kind.
Todd Tracy, contributor
I didn’t really play many PS3 or Wii games last generation, and what games I did play were all generally very popular titles, so my list is entirely 360.
5. Fuel (360/PS3)
This game plays like your average off-road racing game. From what I recall of the original advertising from this game, you live in a world where the US has become an uninhabitable wasteland with extreme weather conditions caused by the fallout of global warming. You along with other racers are dropped in to race in various locales in this expanse and open world environment. This game was given a world record for having the largest playable area in a video game. There is a video out there on YouTube and many articles that encapsulate just how large this world is in terms of how long it would take to drive from one corner to the opposite corner. The world is 5,560 square miles. I believe I read it can take 2 hours to reach corner to corner of the map. With a world this large there are plenty of places for the developers to hide collectibles and the “Vistas” in the game, which are areas where you park and see beautiful views.
4. Duke Nukem Forever (360/PS3)
I’ll probably get shit for this one, but I stand by it. I actually bought this game day one, even bought the special edition. If I could use hindsight and go back and tell myself not to buy it and wait for it to drop like crazy in price like it did, I would have done that. But alas, I can’t. Objectively speaking, completely ignoring all of the hype and anti-hype surrounding this game, it’s a fairly solid Duke Nukem game. All of that aged Duke Nukem humor is there, though we as people have aged and mostly find the humor disgusting and childish, it very much matches the Duke Nukem character. Some of the aspects of the game are very aged gameplay-wise, but you can’t play a Duke Nukem game expecting Call of Duty seriousness, you have to take it tongue in cheek, just like Bulletstorm.
3. Wet (360/PS3)
When folks talk about wanting a fierce, dominating leading lady in a video game who isn’t hindered by her gender, I always think of this game… though I rarely mention it because the game is super dependent on her gymnastic abilities. This game has you playing as a badass mercenary, playing through various levels in very grindhouse settings. Each level is scored, giving the ability to replay over and over arcade style trying to beat your best score. But you can always upgrade your character to have better stats, skills, and weapons. I can’t honestly recall the story from this game, but for me, this game sold me for the wacky grindhouse setting and the fun run and gun gameplay.
2. Naughty Bear (360/PS3)
You play an angry Teddy Bear who is so upset that he wasn’t invited to have any fun that he decides to murder everyone. I really shouldn’t have to say more than that, but I will. Each level has different requirements, but it’s generally all the same, kill everyone. Tons of environmental ways to kill folks, you can make people so paranoid that they start killing each other, and you can sneak around and pick them off one by one. Kind of Metal Gear meets Hitman, with teddy bears. Honestly, I think this game deserves to be higher up my list… so I will.
1. Bulletstorm (360/PS3)
I won’t even pretend this game had a good story or even a unique art style (Looking at you Gears), but what this game lacked in that department it made up in sheer awesome gameplay and dialogue. The gameplay in Bulletstorm has you run through a level absolutely destroying enemies, I wanna say the tagline for this game was “Kill with Skill”. Not only do you have the usual badass weaponry that comes from usual Epic games (like Unreal Tournament and Gears of War), but you have the ability to kick enemies with a badass spartan kick and use a wicked whip. You combine all of these things, along with environmental objects, to kill your enemies in different ways to obtain a higher score. The dialogue has a lot of bro jokes, hetero-homo jokes, dick jokes, and my favorite… Waggleton P. Tallylicker. Lots of profanities, but I would definitely say that this is a game for Deadpool fans, the sense of humor and gameplay will probably tickle you in ways that only Wade would consider.
Gary Hyde, contributor
Sonic and the Black Knight was a game that I found to be overall enjoyable and rather unappreciated. The controls were greatly improved since Sonic and the Secret Rings and the music remained on par with most of the series being as great as ever. Seeing Sonic using a sword was an interesting twist and great gimmick.
Pokémon Battle Revolution was a very nice take on the traditional Pokémon Battle formula put onto the big screen yet again. It featured Trainer customization long before X and Y came about and sadly not much else. I enjoyed the game for what it was as a Battle Simulator, but I can’t help feel like there was an adventure to be had around Pokétopia…
Halo 3: ODST is personally something I feel that helped define Halo’s necessity for teamwork both online and offline. It provided a unique story whilst simultaneously taking a step away from the Master Chief’s significance as the flagship character for the series. It helped prove that you don’t have to be a genetically augmented supersoldier to make a difference. And you even had special equipment that he doesn’t either.
Sonic 4 (both episodes). Just hear me out. I loved the Classic Sonic games a large amount and I still do, but I also think that they failed to some degree. When it came to Sonic 4, I loved it a lot and there’s still some love in there for it. I personally enjoyed having the ability to play a Sonic game with my friends online for the first time ever when Episode 2 rolled around (at the speed of sound), whereas Episode 1 was just dedicated to nostalgia (which is great once in a while). It was fun in the moment, and it provided some nice new ideas which’ll probably never see light again, sadly.
Dynasty Warriors Gundam (1, 2, and 3). Finding a 5th entry for this list was a toughie, since I’d covered everything I wanted to talk about initially, but then I remembered that I haven’t listed a great game that I’m sure not many people have heard of. Dynasty Warriors is an astounding franchise with great characters, but something that Tecmo Koei do even better than Dynasty Warriors games, is games using other franchises as the core with the same game engine. The Dynasty Warriors Gundam games were probably where I invested the most time in a Warriors game ever. Seeing how simple features and such a limited character and Mobile Suit roster started and expanded to include other important characters from the Gundam franchise just works. Seriously, I recommend playing one of these games. My only real gripe with them is that you can’t create a character and Mobile Suit design of your own imagination.
THE READER LIST
All games that received multiple submissions are marked with an asterisk.
- 3D Dot Game Heroes*
- Atelier series
- Binary Domain
- Blast Works
- Deadly Creatures
- Demon Souls
- Double Dragon Neon*
- Dragon’s Dogma*
- Eiyuu Senki: The World Conquest
- Initial D
- Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
- The Last Story
- Okami HD
- Papa & Yo
- Rayman Origins
- Shadows of the Damned*
- Sin & Punishment: Star Successor*
- Tokyo Jungle*
- The Unfinished Swan
- Valkyria Chronicles
- World of Goo
- Xenoblade Chronicles
- Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure