At one stage I was going to have Saints Row 2 in this list, mainly because people fawn over the Grant Theft Auto series, even though most people I come across feel last game was dire. Devoid of any character or – crucially – fun, it just seemed to me to be one of the most overrated games of all time. Saints Row 2 on the other hand was like a fun version of it; it was what the last GTA should have been.
But in all fairness, I think it is a popular enough game without my help. And it’s made by THQ.
So here are the next six (not the ‘top’ six as I haven’t listed them in any sort of order) underrated or underappreciated games you need to play.
6. Picross DS (Nintendo DS)
This is the game I’ve chosen to replace Saints Row 2 in the list, but it deserves to be here on its own merit.
Picross is a version of a Nonogram – a picture logic puzzle of Japanese origin. The premise is simple; cells in a grid have to be either coloured or left blank (according to the numbers shown on the side of the grid) to reveal a picture. So for example, in a 10 x 10 grid, you might be given 1&8, which logically mean you would fill in the first one, leave a blank and then fill in the remaining 8. Every single cell on the X & Y axes (as in plural of axis rather than…no wait, that’s too condescending) has a number combination to work with.
Even though it is nothing like Sudoku, you can’t help but draw a comparison. If you like Sudoku, you’ll love this. And if you don’t like Sudoku, you’ll still love this.
The game comes with a few choices of games mode, including…
- Normal Mode: The player solves increasingly difficult Picross puzzles where time penalties are awarded for mistakes being made
- Free mode: Players are not informed of mistakes making the game more of a challenge.
- Try it Out Mode: Like free mode, but the player is given an overlay to test various solutions
- Catch: 1×1 squares float around the screen. The player must touch the squares with the stylus before the time runs out
- Sketch: The top screen displays a picture, which must be copied into the grid on the bottom screen.
- Hit: Many squares appear and disappear quickly. Once a certain number are tapped, this mode is cleared.
So all in all you get plenty of bang for your buck.
This – along with the next game on the list – is the sort of game the DS is made for in my opinion. Perfect to give your brain a bit of a workout and to kill some time on your travels.
5. 42 All Time Classics (Nintendo DS)
So you’re stuck on a plane, the TV screen is broken or the films they are showing are pish. There is no better way to pass the time than to play 42 All Time Classics. So what is it?
Well quite simply, game developer Agenda decided to release 42 well known card games, board games and other well known past-times on one DS cartridge. It includes…
- Card Games: Old Maid, Spit, I Doubt It, Sevens, Memory, Pig, Blackjack, Hearts, President, Rummy, Seven Bridge, Last Card, Last Card Plus, Five Card Draw, Texas hold ’em, Nap, Spades, and Contract Bridge.
- Board Games: Backgammon, Draughts, Dots & Boxes, Hasami shogi, Othello, Connect Five, Battleships, Chinese Checkers , Chess, Shogi, Stratego, and Ludo.
- Variety games: Soda Shake, Dominoes, Koi-Koi, and Word Balloon.
- Action games: Bowling, Darts, Billiards, Balance, and Takeover.
- Single player games: Solitaire, Klotski, and Mahjong solitaire.
I’m sure you’ll agree that is quite the collection of games.
Of course, the game would fall down pretty quickly if they didn’t explain how to play them. Before I played this for the first time I had no idea what half of those card games were, let alone how they were played, but each
game comes with reasonably easy to digest instructions and tutorials, so it also works as a learning experience.
Everyone will have a favourite game from the collection, and obviously some won’t be as good as others. Personally I enjoy some of the more well known board games like Chess and Draughts, but I was left a little bit disappointed by bowling and billiards – they just didn’t work too well.
While Picross DS is the sort of game that you can invest plenty of time into as a single player, this game comes into its own in multiplayer. Even though I’m led to believe that a lot of people acquire their DS games through not-exactly-legal-or-expensive means (not me; I’ve proudly got my boxed copy of this sitting on my shelf) you don’t all have to have a copy of the game to play together thanks to the game-sharing wi-fi connectivity the DS comes with. So it works really well.
My top pick for multiplayer connectivity is Ludo. If you’re planning on going on a long-haul flight somewhere, one game of Ludo will cut the time in half.
Chances are you’ll be reading this and thinking “So wait, he’s recommending fucking Ludo?!” I know that’s what my brother and my friend thought when I suggested it, but having nagged them enough to give it a go, they both thoroughly enjoyed it.
And that’s the point; it’s underappreciated until you try it.
4. Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (Xbox 360)
A few years ago, Banjo Kazooie and its sequel Banjo Tooie were re-released on Xbox Live Arcade. And they got average reviews at best by the likes of Eurogamer on the basis that they had aged. Well, that’s crap in my opinion. But those two games don’t go in because they were heralded as classics and were very popular when they were first released on the N64.
No, instead I’m going to put in the third instalment of the series that came out on the Xbox 360. With a few exceptions this actually got quite good reviews, but it just didn’t seem to sell well because people didn’t think it was the same type of game as the first two. Within a few weeks the game was appearing in bargain buckets in supermarkets and game shops. After I completed it I even offered to lend it to some of my mates who actually liked the first two games, but nobody took me up on the offer.
Why? I don’t know.
The game is slightly different because the game – while keeping within the genre of free-roaming 3D platformers – relies heavily upon building vehicles to travel around in.
In all fairness, that it probably what puts people off. Building Vehicles? That doesn’t sound like the sort of thing the average Banjo Kazooie fan would find entertaining. To be honest even I – an unashamed fan-boy of the series – was a bit sceptical. But I really enjoyed it.
You have to build vehicles of all shapes and sizes to complete different types of challenge? Need to win a race? Then you have to make a sleek, fast car or motorbike. What about collecting stuff from underwater? Then you would have to find something to attach to the vehicle to keep it under water. A plane? Check. What about a truck with a forklift wide enough to transport a giant egg across a map without it rolling away? You can do that too.
Like most games, you only start off being able to do the most basic of things (i.e. you can only build crappy vehicles to begin with), but as you progress through the game more parts become available to you. And the beauty of it is that there is no set way of doing things. You can be as creative as you like when making the vehicles, and really, you have to be. Trial and error is a major component of your success. You’ll build a vehicle, think “Right, this will do what I need it to”, then you’ll test it out and realise its crap, so you go back to the drawing board.
The game has a good amount of play-time as well. I’m fairly sure that I was still playing it a couple of months after I started, which is a far cry from some of the 6-hour-long campaign modes that are becoming more and more fashionable among developers.
What appeals to me most about the game though is the colour. As I may have mentioned in a previous gaming review, I love colour when I play games. Drab colourless worlds – the like of which you see in games like Fallout 3 or Borderlands – just don’t grab my attention. This game is wildly bright and colourful with nice variety in each of the different worlds. It’s a pleasure to watch the game, let alone play it.
So give this game a try. You’ll probably be able to pick it up for a tenner!
3. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (Gamecube – but playable on Wii)
This game isn’t underrated. The critics loved it. And rightly so.
But if you asked 100 people what their favourite Mario game was, very few people would say this. It’s not what you come to expect from a Mario game. Mario is the star of platform games, not RPGs. People want to see Mario jumping on top of Goombas and Koopas. They want to see him move from right to left (or around a 3d environment) collecting mushrooms, riding Yoshi and smashing his head off the underside of brick platforms.
RPGs are the domain of the Final Fantasy series. A niche product. Not something for the average person. It’s an understandable viewpoint.
But Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door is inclusive and brings this genre to a wider audience. And it has a story to it too, which is more than can be said for the likes of New Super Mario Bros for the Wii. Yes, it involves bloody Peach being kidnapped again, but they almost make fun of that happening again, and you also get to control things from her end at various points of the game.
Unlike other Mario games as well, there are other characters to control. As you go along through the game, you pick up characters to join your party, each bringing with them their own special abilities. As I’m sure you’ll know, the way you fight enemies in games like this is through turn-based fighting. You have your own health and moves and you have a turn to attack your opponent, then once your turn is over it’s their turn to attack. It’s pretty standard.
What makes this game a true classic is the aforementioned story. It’s funny, it’s charming and it’s self aware. It plays out as if it was a novel and each chapter is notably different from the last. And when I say different, I don’t just mean in terms of the environment, like is the case with a lot of games. Instead, each level has its own objectives and style.
I’ve got to be honest though and say that it isn’t the best game at the start. I found it a little bit hard to get into, and I think I may have left it for a couple of months before giving it another go. But from Chapter 3 onwards you’ll find yourself playing it non stop.
This game isn’t that easy to find anymore – buying it new will set you back £80 – but you can probably find it second hand, and of course even though it’s a Gamecube game you can play it on your Wii.
I’m not alone in my praise of this game, as my oft-mentioned gaming rival Kevin also agrees this game is one of the best.
2. Fire Pro Wrestling Returns (Playstation 2)
In 1992, wrestling games weren’t very good in all fairness. WWF Super Wrestlemania was the best you could get on your SNES or Megadrive in the Western World. Each wrestler had 4 moves and no finishers. Meh!
But over in Japan, a small games develop called Human was making the Super Fire Pro Wrestling series. Like Super Wrestlemania it was 2d, but from a different angle that allowed extra movement. And each wrestler had about 40 moves. Oh, and there were about 64 wrestlers in the game – (mainly Japanese wrestlers – some of which I knew from the TV like Jushin Liger and the Great Muta – but also some American ones) And all of this on the SNES.
For a young wrestling fan this was absolutely amazing. Best thing ever.
Sure, the graphics were shit, but the game play was tremendous.
The first one I got was Fire Pro 3, then Fire Pro Special, then X, then X Premium. The graphics improved with each game, and with X came the best option of all – Edit Mode.
It’s standard now of course, but in the mid 90s being able to make your own wrestlers for the game was like someone had invented sliced bread. And the irony is, the edit mode back then was still better than the Create-A-Wrestler mode on Smackdown vs. Raw today. These days you spend more time trying to give someone the correct nose shape and chin cleft, but that sort of thing doesn’t matter. You want a face that looks a bit like the guy you are trying to make, but most of all you want a costume that looks like his, and you want to give them the right moves. Even now, that is something that modern wrestling games just can’t grasp. Sure, you can make the guys they have the pre-set costumes to make, but those are few and far between.
Fast forward to today and Fire Pro Wrestling is the sleeper underground hit of wrestling games. No, it still isn’t out in the UK. It did get a release for the Gameboy Advanced at one point, but a console version was never released in the UK. Fire Pro Wrestling Returns – the most recent incarnation of the game – did receive a PAL release in Italy of all places so you can get it for your PS2 (and therefore your PS3 as well), but it’s not exactly in the public eye. Only the other day someone on a non-wrestling forum was saying that they’ve heard that Fire Pro is the game to get. And it is.
But you’re probably wondering how I can be praising it so highly when in Part 1 of this article I declared King of Colosseum the best wrestling game? Well, what I said was that KOC has the best wrestling game engine. And it does. But Fire Pro is probably the better game overall. And I’ll explain why.
If all you are interested in is singles or tag team matches, then KOC is your best best. Similarly, if graphics are your thing, then KOC is the superior of the two. Fire Pro excels because of its variety of wrestlers, game modes and edit mode.
This week, WWE All-Stars is released. And it has about 20 wrestlers in it.
Fire Pro Wrestling Returns was released in 2005. It has 327 (yes, three hundred and twenty seven) wrestlers in it from the start. Each with 4 different costumes and a lot more moves than they had back in Fire Pro 3.
Oh, and you can create an extra 500 (that’s Five Hundred) wrestlers to add to it, all of whom can have their own unique logic to depict how they will react in certain environments.
No, it doesn’t look as nice as WWE All Stars. Yes, it’s still in 2d. But who cares! The game play is better, the wrestlers have more moves and there are over 800 more wrestlers in it.
To put that into perspective, you can add pretty much every wrestler who has ever wrestled for WWE, WCW and ECW and still have room to spare. Yesterday I was playing my brother in a match for the Six Man Tag Team titles. His team? Aldo Montoya, The Brooklyn Brawler and Jack Swagger vs. my team of Super Strong Machine, Skinner and Uncle Elmer. Class. Non wrestling fans won’t appreciate that though I suppose.
If you don’t want to edit 500 guys yourself, you can download other people’s wrestlers. You can change design of the ring/canvas and even design the colour and shape of the title belts you compete for.
There are more modes as well. No other game in history has been able to have a proper Survivor Series match. That is 4 men on each team, all on screen together, with elimination rules. There are also UFC rules matches, Hardcore matches, Cage Matches, Battle Royals – most of what you’d expect.
Of course, it’s only fair that I am critical of it as well. I know the graphics will put some people off, even though 2D has had a bit of a renaissance in recent years, and the control scheme (moves are executed by timing when you press the button, so if you have no sense of timing and play against someone who does, you’re screwed) requires a bit of understanding. So it doesn’t have a ‘pick up & play’ nature to it – you have to learn how to play it.
But if you can get passed that then you’ll find it brilliant. And deep. You won’t get tired of it.
1. Little King’s Story (Wii)
As I’ve said a few times, this list isn’t ranked in any sort of order, but if it was, then Little King’s Story would be number 1. No question about it.
Just to make sure that I wasn’t wrong about this, I just googled the term ‘Best Games of 2009’ to see if it showed up, and it didn’t. Naturally, each list was full of big name games like Drake’s Fortune: Among Thieves, Street Fighter IV, GTA: Chinatown Wars, Call of Duty, Arkham Asylum. Some had XBLA arcade titles like Peggle, Braid, ‘splosion Man, Trails and Shadow Complex. Hell, some even had Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, which was a pleasant surprise.
The games listed do deserve to be there, but one thing stood out as being wrong…
None of them had Little King’s Story.
That’s the same Little King’s Story that was given scores of 9/10, 87/100, 4.5/5 and 92% across the board. A terrific game that rightly got a lot of praise from objective reviewers.
But it didn’t make any of these lists.
Well there are two reasons as far as I’m concerned. The first one – the main one – is that it’s a game made by a small games developer and published by a small publisher. While a game like Medal of Honor or Kane & Lynch will get a mountain of press coverage, big displays & multitudes of copies in shops, TV advertising, product placement on well known TV shows, magazine articles and everything else – despite not being particularly good – a game like Little King’s Story will be released with no fanfare, no attention and – in some cases – no copies of the games in the shops.
So it doesn’t sell anywhere near as well.
The second reason is because of the platform it’s on. Yes, the Wii is a massive seller. Most people who played games in 2009 had a Wii. But it’s a gimmick machine – a secondary console for most of us. Sure, the First Party games like Mario, Donkey Kong, Metroid and Zelda are great on the Wii, but if you want to play a third party game then you’ll do it on the 360 or PS3 because of the shonky Wii controls. The games just aren’t taken all that seriously.
So here you have a game, competing with scores of other, far more well-known and well-marketed alternatives on a console that ‘proper gamers’ don’t have the same amount of respect for.
Yet in 2009, by a mile – by a hundred miles – Little King’s Story was the best game of the year.
So what is it?
The creator of the game describes it as a ‘Single Player Life Simulator set in Europe’. What, not a platformer? What, not a Sports Game? What, not a first person shooter? What, not a third person shooter? What, not a music game?
To be more accurate, think 2d Zelda meets Sim City.
You take control of the King – a young boy who has just taken the throne and is able to persuade people to do his bidding. At first your kingdom is pretty pathetic, but as your population increases you can assign your subjects jobs to do, including Hunter, Carpenter, Soldier, Farmer, Magician, Archer and many more. You bring them along with you as you try and conquer the other kingdoms run by tyrannical, mad-despot kings. There is an element of strategy in how many subjects you take with you and what ones (i.e. what job-types) best suit each journey.
You also don’t want any of your subjects to die, because if they do, their funeral is held in the town square the next day. It makes you feel quite guilty.
The main thrust of the game is the boss fights, and – like all good games – these boss fights vary massively, mainly because each boss is totally different from the last. One boss fight involves running up the side of a mountain
– Donkey Kong style – while trying to avoid stuff being chucked at you, another sees you having to roll things at a massively obese king who uses his weight as a weapon and one of the Boss Fights is based around your knowledge of geography. I won’t say any more than that, but believe me, it’s clever.
Away from conquering other kingdoms you also have a huge amount of side quests to do that will help you grow your population.
And just when you think it can’t get any better, there’s a terrific twist at the end which I won’t spoil for you.
Game play aside, Little King’s Story looks great for a Wii game. It is very artistic in its presentation and I think the word that best suits it is charming.
Best of all though is the Soundtrack. The composer has taken well known classical music like Pomp & Circumstance, Rhapsody in Blue and much, much more, and put her own slant onto them. Each piece works incredibly well to suit the scene. If you want to hear some of the music, it’s all available on YouTube. The ‘Kingdom Complete’ theme, available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX67ZHBisFQ is one of the most pleasant and relaxing scores I’ve ever heard.
Like Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, this game is not over in the blink of an eye as there’s definitely a good 20 hours plus – probably more – to go through.
Oh, and the controls aren’t wanky like a lot of other Wii titles (that wasn’t meant to be a pun, but considering some of the hand movements you have to do with the Wiimote in some games, it really could be). You don’t have to do any of the incongruous ‘pointing at the screen’ crap or any of the other nonsense associated with Wii games. You just play it as if it were a game on any other console.
I just can’t speak highly enough about it – as memory serves there aren’t really any noticeable flaws with it. It’s a quality game.
And you can get it from Amazon for £11. You can’t pass that opportunity up.
So there’s the list. de Blob 2, The Bigs 2, Street Racer, King of Colosseum, Mario Strikers, Rick Dangerous, Picross DS, 42 All Time Classics, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, Fire Pro Wrestling Returns and Little King’s Story.
All of them underappreciated or underrated; few of them in the average gamer’s collection. What I hope is that you give some of these games a try.
If you do give them a try, or if you have any of these games already and agree or disagree with their inclusion on the list, let me know.