This is the sequel to my first article about games that are improperly labeled as underrated. Behold:
Rez (Dreamcast, Playstation 2, Xbox 360, 2001)
Whenever someone reviews Rez, they invariably write some nonsense about synesthesia, a disorder of the senses typically induced by LSD and also something that has nothing to do with Rez itself, which is merely a passable on-rails shooter with some vector graphics and boring thump music. Frequently showing up on “underrated” lists with people clamoring for a sequel, Rez nevertheless fails to offer anything noteworthy that you couldn’t get from even basic on-rails shooters like House of the Dead or Time Crisis, or even Panzer Dragoon Orta. (Update: A kind fellow on the internet informed me that Panzer Dragoon Orta was not actually made by the same people as Rez, contrary to my mistaken belief. It’s my fault for not researching things better.) It eventually got a prequel for the Sony Move and Microsoft Kinect, ensuring that I will never ever want to play it. But… you can taste the colors, man! (Actually, no, no you can’t.) Bonus fun: Some versions of the game come with a bona-fide vibrator, which excited boring people’s prurient imaginations.
Shenmue (Dreamcast, 1999)
A highly ambitious and highly flawed game created by Yu Suzuki, the man more famous for the Virtua Fighter series. Shenmue mixes mediocre combat, mediocre exploration, mediocre plot, and heaps of pointless sidequests and trophy collecting into one flavorless mush. It deserves credit for being a pre-Grand Theft Auto III open-world kind of game. It also deserves your wrath for helping popularize lazy Quick-Time Event “press X to not die” sequences, a vile trend that has continued to this day. Frequently appears on “best games ever” lists despite being a confusing mess. It’s like a demo for a much greater game that we never got. It got an Xbox sequel that failed to improve on it in any way. Shenmue is also notable for some lousy internet memes.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (Gamecube, 2002)
A rather generic horror game with poor Silent Hill-esque controls spiced up by some clever interface screws. Eternal Darkness simulates insanity by giving you reversed controls, fake game over screens, and most fiendish of all, one event that pretends to have deleted all of your saved game files. Unfortunately, the game itself isn’t really worth playing, especially since I’ve spoiled all the good parts already. Yet the internet keeps talking about how brilliant it is to throw crap on the screen and block your view and how no one appreciates this game. I would have liked to see these ideas incorporated into a better-designed game, but it’s too late now.
Comix Zone (Genesis, Game Boy Advance, Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, 1995)
Combat consists walking in one dimension, pressing one attack button repeatedly, with even less variety than Final Fight. You have to punch walls to go through the game. Punching walls lowers your health. Skill is pretty much irrelevant. A kind of cool aesthetic about traveling through comic book panels does not save this otherwise uninteresting game with its poor combat and various bad design decisions. Comix Zone has a strong cult following, even moreso than the other games on this list. Not that it’s really earned it. The only buzz it got when it was first released was about how it’s a video game about comic books and therefore it transcends its medium or some such nonsense. Comix Zone was noteworthy for its creative use of comic panels, but that–as a single visual flourish–is not nearly enough to carry a game.
The Bouncer (Playstation 2, 2000)
No matter how terrible a Square/Square-Enix game is, no matter how well it sells, there will always be some moron to put it on their “Top 10 Underrated Games Lists”. Square has one of the biggest, most naïve, most uncritical, and most abused fanbases this side of Nintendo. The Bouncer is a crappy 3D beat-em-up designed to show off the new Playstation 2 hardware, particularly the stupid pressure-sensitive buttons. (Capcom tried and abandoned the same stupid design in the first Street Fighter, by the way.) Leveling up skills is a nice touch, but doesn’t make up for brainless combat and irritating AI companions. I have a high tolerance for beat-em-ups, but not this high. Also, Tetsuya Nomura’s art sucks and everybody knows it.
Vagrant Story (Playstation, 2000)
Vagrant Story is probably the worst game to come out of Square’s late-90s experimental period. A game so frustrating, so overly complicated, and so counter-intuitive, that it should have been a roguelike. Gape in wonder at the ingenuity of being forced to switch through dozens of weapons to deal any damage higher than zero to that bat in the screenshot up there. Marvel at the dumb story that vaguely ties into Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII but which Square has mercifully forgotten about, sparing us more crappy crossovers and direct sequels. Strain your eyes at the grainiest game I’ve ever seen, and that includes the first Metal Gear Solid. 90s 3D graphics were typically awful. This game hurts your vision as well as your brain.
Ëïn̈ḧän̈ḏëṝ (Playstation, 1997)
A decent shmup made during Square’s aforementioned creative period. Much like Planescape: Torment from my previous list, I actually enjoyed this game, but it’s simply not as good as it’s made out to be. Ëïn̈ḧän̈ḏëṝ has a nice variety of ships and weapons to choose from, but levels are bland tunnels of enemies with no variety, bosses are uninteresting, and the art design is generic. I had more fun with Gradius III for the SNES, not to mention Radiant Silvergun (Also released in 1998) and Ikaruga, the indisputable king of shmups. Not a bad game, but one overshadowed by many others of its genre. I’d like to see the sequel fans are clamoring for, one that makes it live up to its full potential. And at least it’s not plastered with repulsive loli imagery like most shmups from the past 15 years.
The World Ends With You (Nintendo DS, 2007)
Yes, this list has four Square games in a row. They’ve earned it. While playing this on the DS, you are required to use both screens at once to fight enemies, which frankly gave me motion sickness, something that not even the most ridiculous flashy MUGEN characters could do. You also have to put up with obnoxious clothing collection nonsense. The right gang colors change your stats in battle depending on your location, and you are expected to know all the details in preparation for battle. I don’t even care about fashion in the real world, so why should I tolerate such foolishness in my vidyagaems, especially from that hack Tetsuya Nomura? This impossible-to-control anime turd shot up in price due to excessive demand, something that rarely happens with games anymore. Word-of-mouth has convinced gamers (Who apparently have the segmented eyes and four hands required to play the game properly) that The World Ends With You is some amazing hidden gem. This game sucks, but at least it tried. It’s not a generic Final Fantasy clone.
Giants: Citizen Kabuto (Windows, Mac OS X, Playstation 2, 2000)
Lifeless 3D platformer with some RTS elements that most people only know about because of its hideous polygonal nudity. The game itself is rather boring with its large-but-dull environments, irritating mission requirements, and oh-so-zany plot that failed to find a place in my heart. The most interesting part was that at one point I noticed the voice of Rob Paulsen, the go-to wacky guy for voiceovers. I do like it when genres get mish-mashed; I enjoy experimentation. But the result is rarely a good game. Giants: Citizen Kabuto got lost in the pile of platformers and shooters released early in the Playstation 2’s run, and deservedly so. The game’s only saving grace is a pretty cool soundtrack by industry veteran Jeremy Soule.
Ōkami (Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Wii, 2006)
Capcom wanted to make 3D Zelda with the serial numbers filed off. Since I’m one of the few people on the internet with the courage to point out that the 3D Zeldas are generally terrible, it makes sense that the imitators thereof would have many of the same flaws, much like how Coldplay sucks in all the same ways Radiohead does. All the crappy controls, poorly-written dialogue, pointless fetch quests, and “condescending handholding” that the 3D Zeldas are famous for are present and accounted for. If you enjoy that particular flavor of compost, then have I got a treat for you! The supposedly beautiful ukiyo-e art of Okami ends up looking like one of ugly cel-shaded Dragonball Z PS2 games rather than the ethereal look they were obviously trying for. Even the oft-maligned The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker had a better aesthetic. How did this overrated trash come from the same studio as the brilliant God Hand?