Some games do not get the love they deserve. Whether due to a limited marketing budget, minimal press coverage, poor fan reception, or even just not making as big of a splash as their peers, several wonderful titles are looked over by many when they are truthfully hidden treasures just waiting to be discovered! I’ve rounded up a list of titles that could use a little bit more appreciation in the gaming world. I guarantee these are names you’ve mostly heard before, but probably not as much as their brethren. Some might come out of nowhere for you. But nevertheless, it’s time to give a bit of credit where it is due! A few entries contain more than one game in a series as they all share the same…uh… underrated-ness-ship? Any who, onward!
In no particular order:
1. Dragon Age II
Let’s start this list with a very minor apology: I previously riffed on Dragon Age 2 a bit in a list I did of disappointing games. While the game is a bit underwhelming to me when compared to the first and third Dragon Age adventures, it is still a thoroughly enjoyable game! While many get held up entirely on recycled environments, dry characters, and a limited area available for exploration, the game shines when looked at from a narrative perspective. The ever-present struggle for mage equality serves as a backdrop to a tale that examines the true meaning and role of family ties. Tragedy and loss abound in this intimate epic that takes place across several years. An added bonus is the ability to carry over information from the very first Dragon Age: lending to minor plot changes that even result in certain characters making brief appearances.
2. Super Mario Bros. 2
The official sequel for those of us on U.S. soil, SMB 2 carried on the Mario name in a very unconventional way: by stemming from another game entirely (Doki Doki Panic). Rather than simply playing as Mario or Luigi as they venture through the new land of Subcon, players were allowed the opportunity to select from either of the brothers PLUS Princess Peach and Toad. Each character controlled differently and allowed for different approaches to exploring the game, whether from floaty jumps or ridiculous running speeds. Enemies now had to be picked up and thrown rather than being stomped on. This new rule also applied to inanimate objects, which could often be stacked or utilized in some manner to progress forward through each level. SMB 2 makes for a slightly slower-paced game when compared to the plumbers’ original outing, but it is no less enthralling!
3. Dark Souls II
What is it with these second entries getting so much flak in the gaming community? Dark Souls II received near-universal acclaim from critics when it was released, yet it is often snubbed by series fans when brought up in the same sentence as its predecessor and successor. Common gripes range from your total health decreasing after each death and the various game paths being too linear. I would argue both of these points. The player’s health total can be restored to its full potential by utilizing a single Humanity item- the likes of which become EXTREMELY common even by the mid-game- while the far-branching critical paths cut down on backtracking and put the focus solely on progression. Every player has preferences about the games they play, but neither of these facets stole any of my enjoyment for a second. Dark Souls II was actually my first Souls game and it only strengthened my desire to experience the rest of the series, so there is that too!
4. Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age
RPGs are my bread and butter when it comes to video games. While I didn’t experience the same flood of these titles on the PS1/PS2 that many got to enjoy, I encountered my fair share of fun on Nintendo systems: two of which were the Golden Sun duology on the Game Boy Advance. These little-talked-about adventures drop players in the world of Weyard, where they are tasked with saving the world from its inevitable destruction. The plot is fairly standard at first glance, but it aims to be emotionally-driven and contains many tragedies and deaths throughout the storyline. Each of the playable characters is aligned with one of the four elements and can use Psynergy (magic) of that nature: both in battle for fighting and out of battle for solving puzzles/learning about the world. One of my favorite twists is that you actually play as the band of antagonists in the The Lost Age, turning the entire world around and viewing it from a different perspective. While dialogue-heavy, these games are golden (teehee!) and shouldn’t be missed by any JRPG fan! I feel like I still have a lot more to say about these games… Retrospective foreshadowing??? Perhaps 😉
5. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm series
Anime and fighting games are a match made in heaven, but somehow the Ultimate Ninja Storm series never seemed to make much of a splash. The games take an approach similar to Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi and move battles to a 3D field for an increased range of motion and potential for spectacle. Combat controls simply, with buttons for attacking, blocking, Substitution dodges, and preparing Jutsu attacks using your Chakra energy bar. While not overly-complex, the system is still a challenge to master- especially at higher difficulties of play! Players can choose their fighter from a staggering amount of characters across the series’ first and second halves, each person having their own unique fighting style and Jutsu attacks. The epic battles from the ninja world unfold seamlessly with visuals that pop of the screen as if they were straight from the anime itself! Any fan of the Naruto series would be remiss in not taking the time to experience at least one of these thrilling throw-downs, but the Ultimate Ninja Storm series could be enjoyed by anyone looking for a straightforward action game!
6. Mario Party
Long ago, when the gaming landscape was still untamed and the Nintendo 64 ran rampant with oddities, there birthed an entity. This being would give rise to an entire dynasty of party games: each new member just as feared by civilians as the last. This creature’s dark name…was Mario Party. Truthfully, I unironically adore this chaotic and infuriating series. It is essentially a digital board game, but with countless other little games packed inside! Like a secret present! But while the mini games are at least somewhat skill-based, what happens on the board is almost entirely random. I understand why this would turn many players away, as it makes you want to tear your hair out in frustration when you lose all of your hard-earned coins and stars to random chance. This is a game best played with a lighthearted mindset. HOWEVER… if you really want to get your money’s worth out of the game, I’ve prepared a list of things to help augment the experience.
1. Invite a competitive friend to play
2. Prepare popcorn
3. Play the game
This recipe is guaranteed to see controllers fly, swears shoot like ballista bolts, drywall break, and possibly even a few friendships end. On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t take my advice…
7. Mega Man 3, 4, 5, and 6
As is common in gaming, one particular entry of a series typically outshines its brethren due to its multitude of improvements over predecessors to help cement the franchise’s identity. Mega Man 2 is one such game with its finely polished approach following a rocky first entry. But what about Mega Man 3, 4, 5, and 6? The Mega Man series wouldn’t be what it is today without these oft-neglected treasures: 3 gave us the slide ability, 4 introduced the chargeable Mega Buster, 5 brought us Beat the Bird, while 6 changed up the formula by turning the canine Rush into wearable armors: Jet for limited flight and Power for increased destructive capabilities. While none of these altered the base chemistry of Mega Man, their contributions helped pave the way for the series’ future entries and spin-offs!
8. Genji: Dawn of the Samurai
Perhaps one of the least-known titles on this list, Genji was an action game on the PS2 that gave players the ability to slow down time during combat to improve their lethality. Rather than hacking away at enemies, Yoshitsune could parry enemy blows with a simple button press and simultaneously slay them instantly. Genji’s combat wasn’t overly complex, but that was part of its charm. The slower, more durable Benkei unlocks partway through the game and can be switched to at certain save points, giving players the option of choosing between faster sword fighting or heavy beam-swinging. It might not have made the same splash as Devil May Cry, but Genji was a solid hack and slash for its time!
Another PS2 classic, Okami took The Legend of Zelda formula and drowned it in the aesthetic of an ancient Japanese painting. Players accompany the wolf Amaterasu as she fights her way through colorful scenery using swords, whip beads, and a plethora of magic ink brush powers. Need to get rid of some plants? Slice with a line. Giant rock in your way? Circle with a small slash for a bomb. Ink opens the door for some truly awesome boss battles, especially the finale against Orochi itself! With a cute cast of characters based on Japanese legend and a vibrant, charming world, Okami is a must-play for even the slightest fans of the Zelda series!
10. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Knights of the Old Republic. Battlefront. Republic Commando. These revered titles oft grace the lips of diehard Star Wars fans when discussing the best Star Wars video games, but one is usually left to the side that I feel deserves more recognition. The Force Unleashed brought us to a point that had hardly been touched in the Expanded Universe lore: the dark times between the original trilogy of the movies and the prequels. Players took on the role of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, Starkiller, as the masked marauder masterminds a plan to overthrow the Emperor and become the true master of the Sith. The game focused around Force abilities, letting players blast, grab, electrocute, and Lightsaber-slice their way through each level in exciting combat. It also featured a fun twist on the origins of the Rebellion (which was unfortunately done away with prior to the Sequel trilogy’s release). It might not be THE greatest Star Wars game ever created, but it is a powerfully-fun adventure!
That ends my own list, but what are some games that you feel are drastically underrated? Let me know with a comment below! Thanks for reading, and game on!