Last week we brought you five of the best games you may have missed out on since Y2K. Thanks to us you can never again claim that you never had the pleasure of being a grafitti spraying sky pirate squirrel with horns in your head battling the world with music. This week we push further ahead to give you five more of the 21st Century’s best buried gaming treasure.
Platform: Nintendo Gamecube
Developer: Silicon Knights
Original Release Date: June 24, 2002
Current Metacritic Score: 92
Dare I say the best survival horror game of all time, Eternal Darkness managed to innovate in a genre that truly needed it. Giving you no less than 12 playable characters spanning time and territory to beat back some very Lovecraft-esque ancient Gods in Nintendo’s first ever Mature rated publishing. While the gameplay was action-adventure at it’s best and the plot was fantastic, the real story here was Eternal Darkness’ sanity meter. Each time you encounter an enemy, your character’s sanity diminishes. If the meter gets low enough you’re greeted to haunting audio effects such as rattling chains, sharpening blades, footsteps, and women and children screaming. You also get visual effects such as skewed camera angles, monsters that aren’t really there, walls bleeding, and my personal favorite, your character exploding. However, it was simply not enough for Silicon Knights to mess with your on-screen character, they simply had to break down the fourth wall and mess with you too by showing on screen messages of your data being corrupted or an error with your television that could lead to unnecessary resets should you believe what’s happening.
Platforms: Nintendo Gamecube, Playstation 2
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4 (aka Clover Studio)
Original Release Date: October 7, 2003
Current Metacritic Score: 93
At a time when Cel-Shaded graphics were all the rage, Viewtiful Joe was a beautiful example. Using 3d graphics in a 2d plane, VJ combined elements of two nearly extinct genres, 2d platformer and 2d brawler, to create a challenging yet simple experience. Joe, an avid movie goer, finds himself thrust into the big screen after his girlfriend Silvia is captured by an on-screen monster. Through the help of his idol, Captain Blue, Joe becomes a superhero with Viewtiful Effects Powers, or VFX, to emulate camera tricks you see in the movies. He can use Slow, to slow time and get a bead on his enemies, Mach Speed to unleash a flurry of attacks from multiple Joes, and Zoom In to, well, zoom in and power up his attacks. All in all, Viewtiful Joe is a must play for players looking for a little something new in a genre that went away before its’ time.
BEYOND GOOD & EVIL
Platforms: PC, Playstation 2, XBOX, and Gamecube
Developers: UbiSoft Montpellier, UbiSoft Milan
Original Release Date: November 11, 2003
Current Metacritic Score: 87
So criminally underrated was this title that for a while UbiSoft packaged in a free copy of Splinter Cell for buying it. From the mind of Michel Ancel of Rayman fame, came an action-adventure game on par with the brilliance of any Zelda title. You play as Jade, who starts out innocently enough as a sort of foster parent caring for children who were orphaned due to violence and abductions from an alien force known as the DomZ. Soon you take as a job as a photographer, snapping shots of the many indigenous species, anthropomorphic animals, aliens, and robots that populate your home planet of Hillys. This job leads to a story of betrayal, political intrigue and corruption that Tom Clancy would be jealous of. Gameplay is a superb blend of platforming, combat, stealth, and minigames that make sure the game never gets boring or repetitive. In maybe the surprise news of the century in the gaming world, this buried treasure is getting a sequel! Judging from the still unconfirmed trailer that leaked (below), you’ll definitely want to play it, so grab a copy of the original BG&E to be up on the brilliant story.
ODDWORLD: STRANGER’S WRATH
Developer: Oddworld Inabitants
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Original Release Date: January 25, 2005
Current Metacritic Score: 88
A game that got buried so badly that it’s legendary director Lorne Lanning quit making games altogether after Stranger’s Wrath. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the game was amazing and easily the best in the Oddworld series. You play as Stranger a bounty hunter, capturing fugitives dead or alive for enough moolah to pay for a life-saving operation. The gameplay is a mix of third and first person. You handle stealthy stalking, melee combat, and platforming in third person, while ranged shooting with Stranger’s crossbow is handled with a first person view. It is in this view that this game earns it’s title. With your crossbow you use live ammo. That is to say ammo…. that is alive. You literally shoot crazy live animals and insects at your foes to kill or subdue them. Odd, indeed.
Platforms: XBOX, Playstation 2, PC
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Original Release Date: April 19, 2005
“A psychic adventure from the mind of Tim Schafer.” When a game has that on the front of the box, you know its a must play and the fine folks here at PNG are going to take notice. Unfortunately, not too many others did and that is why we have decreed that this be the Year of the Schafer. Psychonauts, the game we’ll all be playing come September, has you playing as the psychically gifted Raz, who runs away from the circus to join a camp for those with similar abilities. In the process of becoming a “Psychonaut,” or psychic soldier, you uncover a diabolical plot and must use your mental abilities to both attack foes and solve puzzles. Easily the most entertaining portion of the game comes when you’re attempting to gain the help of those around you by qualming their fears, paranoia, or any other emotion that may be haunting them. How you ask? By entering their brain and platforming your way to an end boss that represents their screwed up noodle. Make sure to play this game any way you can before picking up Schafer’s newest masterpiece “Brutal Legend” come October. It is available as XBOX Original to download straight to your hard drive on XBOX Live as well as on Steam if, like me, you’re having a hard time finding console hard copies.
Well, five more gems for you to sink your teeth into. I’ll be bringing you even more lost gaming goodness in the coming weeks.