I’ve often said that I love buying games that are bizarre and obscure. Usually, they’re crap – which often explains why they’re pretty obscure. Sometimes, though, they’re great.
By obscure I mean they’re pretty much unheard of to the general gaming public. This is either because they’re for a machine never released in whatever region of the world they’re in, or the game bombed so nobody bought it (these games aren’t always bad, surprisingly), or even just that nobody forgot to report on it’s release. Whatever the reason, most people haven’t heard of some or all of these:
10 2DO Arukotowa Sandoahru (Saturn)
I don’t know if this has another name, but what I do know is it’s a follow-up to the almost as unknown Megadrive game Puzzle & Action: Tant-R, and stars Mobo and Robo from Bonanza Bros. These days it would seem pretty unremarkable, as a two player party game the likes of which the Wii runneth over with, but then it was unusual. And funny. And nuts. You simply walk from left to right, bumping into baddies who you must defeat by winning a set of minigames. Things like blowing up a bubble, or counting the number of cubes in a pattern, or the I-have-no-idea-at-all thing you have to do with some fish. Yeah, it’s all in Japanese.
9 Engacho! (WonderSwan)
The Japanese clearly love toilet humour. There’s no reason for it in Engacho!, yet it’s there anyway. It does add a certain, something, to what would otherwise be a clever but ordinary puzzle game. The aim is to move around a series of tiles, avoiding being, er, accosted by a snotty nose, a sweaty armpit, a licky tongue, and an actual bottom. The baddies move as you do, one tile at a time, only each in a different 90 degree direction. It starts off easy with just one type of baddie, but with all four, and multiples of some, on the board at once – branemelts.
8 Nodame Cantabile (DS)
The rhythm action game Osu Tatakae Ouendan! was a revelation. Not only was it amazing with a fantastic soundtrack, but it spawned a brilliant sequel and a (different) Westernised version (Elite Beat Agents). There hasn’t been a rhythm game better since. Not even your Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands. Nodame Canabile comes close though. It’s very similar to Ouendan, only instead of nitrous J-Pop and guitar band covers, it’s all classical music. There are also a few different level types, with some drumming and stuff that isn’t in Ouendan, but it’s all good. Based on an anime, it seems, and all in Japanese so totally unreadable to most of us, but like in Ouendan – it doesn’t matter.
7 Orbital (Game Boy Advance)
The “Bit Generations” games for the GBA are pretty much all amazing. Simple games, with simple graphics and short on features – but original and stylish and limitlessly playable. The best of these is Orbital. The aim is very Katamari Damacy: You’re a small planet, orbiting other larger planets, and must use thier orbits to swing you into other planets of similar or smaller size to yourself. You then absorb these planets and grow bigger, letting you swallow larger and larger planets, all the while still in orbit around those remaining. It’s even simpler than it sounds, and fantastic for it.
6 Miner Dig Deep (Xbox 360 Indie)
There’s a game for the Amiga (and the Acorn Archimedies, which is where I know it from originally) called Diggers. I used to play it a lot at school. The idea was to dig down a lot with some creatures, find valuables, sell them, and buy more digging equipment. It was great, but you only had Lemming-like indirect control over your Diggers, and there were things to kill you. Then along came Miner Dig Deep on Xbox Live’s Indie downloadable games. It’s Diggers, without baddies and direct control of your miner! Hurrah! Nice and relaxing, danger-free (even falling to your doom is merely a setback) take-at-your-own-pace gaming, with that OCD kick of collecting everything you see. Just a few more metres!
5 Gregory Horror Show (Playstation 2)
Supposedly this is based on a cartoon series I’ve never seen. Or that many people have ever even heard of, I suspect. I presume the cartoon also features strange cube-headed characters and a host of bizarre visitors to the Gregory House hotel, from which the aim is to escape. Part hide-and-seek game, part graphical adventure, part horror, part psychiatric bad dream – there are twists and revelations in the plot that keep you hooked to play further and venture deeper into Gregory House, paying attention to the clock and the inhabitants routines to secure success. Don’t have nightmares!
4 Ribbit King (Gamecube)
Frog golf. It’s golf, only you use a mallet instead of a club, and a frog instead of a ball. And each level is cuckoomentals. It’s not just a case of getting the frog in the hole, either – each turn you need to hit your frog through as many score and score multiplier obstacles and gimmicks as possible to really rack up your points. Just finishing first isn’t enough! Well worth playing just for the campest referee ever too.
3 Starfighter 3000 (Archimedies)
Although later rehashed and released as a different-looking game for the 3DO and Sega Saturn (the graphics in those were rubbish with zero draw distance), Starfighter 3000 is still pretty much unknown outside of the world’s seven Acorn gamers. It was the probably first game to really show what the ARM processor in the Acorn machine could do, with fancy texture-mapped ground features and impressive 3D fighters and buildings. Missions were mainly search-and-destroy based, but everything moved at such a pace and the control of your (upgradable and manoeuvrable) ship was nailed perfectly. Climbing into the upper atmosphere and then into space for the first time – for no reason other than you can – was a lasting memory for me.
2 Earth Defense Force 2017 (Xbox 360)
A sequel to a PS2 game, EDF2017 looks barely better than the original. Its cheap price point and awful production belies the great – if simple – game underneath: Fight off hordes of giant insect aliens and their spaceships with (or without) a friend. Massive ants crawl over tower blocks. Whole cities are levelled by humongous laser robots. Spiders the size of planes scuttle through dark caves. And you, as part of the ever dwindling Earth Defense Force have to beat them all back with a great range of upgradable weaponry. It’s stupid, hard, simple, great. Giant ants! What’s not to love?
1 Puggsy (Mega CD)
The character Puggsy originated in an Amiga demo, but was brought into his own puzzle/platform game for the Megadrive. It was reasonably well received in reviews, but didn’t sell well and aside from a reciprocated Easter Egg reference in another Psygnosis title from the same era (Wiz ‘n’ Liz) the character was quickly killed off, in a manner of speaking.
However, there was also a Mega CD version. Most Mega CD versions of Megadrive games were little more than the same game with some FMV, but Puggsy CD was so much more. CD specific bosses with Mega CD hardware effects were one addition, but the fact the already huge game was made even bigger with around a third more levels was just fantastic. Varied, clever puzzles requiring brains, skill, timing and a little luck combined to produce a pretty unique experience and quite a challenge. A challenge you could make a little easier with an amazing cheat system – there’s a hidden level in the game with lettered blocks in it. Carry 5 blocks (in one go) that spell out words to the exit for cheats!