Starved for Attention - Overlooked Games
Today I'm going to look at some titles that slipped under the radar, were forgotten before their time, or sunk by overly critical reviews. Later in the week, I will return with some examples of over-rated games, that were lifted above their station and, in my opinion, given far more credit than they deserved.
Some games just don't get the attention they should, and the reasons for these oversights are as varied as the games themselves. The examples below include lower profile entries in bigger series, games that were released at the very beginning or tail-end of a console/generation, titles with a limited release and others that were overshadowed by similar, more visible games. What they all have in common, however, is that they are well worth your time, despite what you may have heard to the contrary.
Lost Planet 2
Lost Planet 2 was the victim of its own hype and pre-release success. Tantalizing details and impressive co-op demos had consumers eager to get their hands on Capcom's second shot at the third person shooter franchise, and it made the lukewarm critical reception all the more disappointing. I first stumbled upon Lost Planet 2 at Tokyo Game Show 2009 and it was the only game that I was willing to queue-up for multiple times. It quickly shot to the top of my gaming wish list, but my lofty expectations were dashed when the average review scores hit and my intended co-op buddies decided to give it a miss.
Thanks to a number of bugs (no pun-intended) and strange design choices, my first few weeks with LP2 were extremely frustrating, as I dwelled on the flaws of the single player campaign and suffered through a handful of multiplayer competitive matches, which are not its strongest suit. However, as I invested more time and increasingly played alongside other players, it became a far more rewarding experience; aided by an early patch which fixed some of the more glaring issues. Taking down oversized grubs and towering insects is a blast with other gamers, and a ridiculously deep set of rewards makes for a game that you can revisit for months on end.
While it may have fallen short of expectations, Capcom got a lot of things right with LP2 which they didn't get credit for - creating a hugely enjoyable co-op experience that you can pick-up for a pittance.
Kessen was a PlayStation 2 launch title. As with most early games it was soon forgotten and replaced by shinier, more impressive looking offerings. It was my lone title when I got my PS2 in 2001 and I poured hours into its detailed and colourful recreations of some of the most famous battles of feudal era Japan. The real-time strategy action saw an impressive number of units on screen at once and was a commendable attempt at making the most of brand new hardware.
The cut scenes, featuring historical figures wearing massive helmets and sporting impeccably kept facial hair, told an engaging story and perfectly framed the battles that meant little to the majority of Western gamers. Although it strays on occasion into romanticized accounts and what-if situations, it largely stays true to historical events. Two subsequent sequels introduced mythological and magical elements, which is where the series lost my interest and, unfortunately, it hasn't been heard of since.
Prince of Persia (2008)
The 2008 Prince of Perisa didn't review badly, and it performed reasonably well at retail, yet for some reason it didn't generate any significant hype and is rarely cited as being a standout of the genre, which I consider it to be. Once you get past the initial hurdle of Nathan Drake voicing the titular Prince, there is a vast and wonderful environment for you to explore, bolstered by the warming relationship shared by the prince and Princess Elika. Their constant nattering and developing fondness for one another is almost as charming as the distinctive watercolour visuals, and will keep you engaged throughout.
The elements that came to define the PoP series: platforming, puzzling and combat, are all intact, though they are considerably different in style to their predecessors. Combat is a secondary concern, as the Prince is only occasionally thrust into battle, and when he is it's only ever one enemy at a time. Traversing the non-linear levels is the order of the day, and while the platforming may be simplified, it is also strangely satisfying and made all the better for Elika's inclusion. Your AI controlled character helps you reach ledges where you would otherwise fall short and you come to greatly rely upon her, strengthening the bond between the two and setting up an ending that is one of the more memorable, and divisive, of the current generation.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Don't let the atrocious Cartel fool you; Call of Juarez Bound in Blood was a very good game. Unfortunately, all the good work and gradual improvements made by the first two entries have been sullied by the generic tripe that is CoJ: The Cartel, which looks certain to murder a series that wasn't afraid to try something a bit different with the FPS genre.
The combat is very gratifying, and although it borrows many aspects from the Call of Duty series, it plays out in a rather unique way. During most missions you are free to select which brother you wish to use, with each offering different skills that add a degree of replayability missing from most FPS. The guns feel suitably antique, lacking the power and accuracy of modern day weapons but still packing enough punch to get the job done - a welcome change from the high-tech gadgetry found in modern shooters. The “Showdown” mode captures the gun-slinging duels of spaghetti westerns, and once you get the hang of it you will be dropping fools at a rate that would make Clint Eastwood envious.
As solid as the FPS mechanics are, Bound in Blood's real charm is to be found in its setting and characters. Developer Techland milked the western era for all its worth, as you battle your way through corn fields, saloons, a ghost town, an Apache village, and even a Comanche ambush, which brilliantly conveys the sense of fear within your group as they venture deeper into uncharted territory. The McCall brothers are the degenerate stars, and we follow them from Civil War ravaged Georgia to the vast landscapes of Mexico and Arizona, embarking upon an enjoyable journey fuelled by greed and lust.
Sonic Team were late to the party with Burning Rangers. By the time they released their futuristic fire fighting adventure, the Saturn already had one foot firmly in the grave. It was a crying shame, as Burning Rangers was one of the most technically and visually impressive games to appear on the short-lived console. With a user base in steep decline and critics already looking forward to the Dreamcast, Burning Rangers was released to limited fanfare and was dead on arrival.
Playing much like a third person shooter, you are a member of an elite fire fighting crew who must douse flames and rescue survivors. It is as fast paced and exciting as Sonic Team’s better known classics, and at times it even feels a bit like their most famous: Sonic the Hedgehog. Playing on a familiar theme, fire-fighters collect crystals which, like golden rings, protect you from a one hit death and may be lost and recollected. An impressive random level generation system adds to its replayability, offering infinite challenges and reasons to revisit this lost, Sonic Team classic.
The distinctly Japanese Trash Panic is perhaps best known for its punishing difficulty, but there is much more to this Tetris-like puzzler than smashed controllers and 0% trophy counts. The aim of the game is to compact and break down as much trash as possible into an oversized rubbish bin, without overflowing. Points are rewarded for being as environmentally sound as possible, and not relying upon fire or explosions to clear the load.
Being a smaller, PSN only release, it received limited attention, but it remains as much fun now as it was two years ago when it first enraged me. To succeed, you must be patient and acquire an encyclopaedic knowledge of what items of trash break which, and what can be burnt, decomposed or smashed. Persevering with TP, you will see a real improvement in your abilities and there are few trophies more satisfying than a TP one.