Unappreciated games are not exactly hard to come by. Frequently cited examples include Okami, Psychonauts, Beyond Good and Evil, among others. These are all fantastic games that didn’t really sell to the masses, instead losing in sales to yet another Imagine Babyz game.
But what about the unappreciated games from series that, in some way, are very much appreciated, or at least well known? The forgotten entries that deserved much more recognition than they received. While this list is nowhere near complete, it gives a taster of some of these games time forgot. Call this part one of The Game Reviews’ underappreciated games from well-known series.
Sonic Chaos – Sega Game Gear/Master System
During the heyday of Sonic, Sega was milking the series for all it could get. This meant releases on the older 8-bit consoles, and there were a lot of them — more than on the 16-bit Genesis/Mega Drive. Four side-scrolling platformers of varying quality, two racing games which weren’t so great, a sort of puzzle game that sucked, and ports of Mean Bean Machine, 3D, and Spinball.
Much like the Sonic games of today though, the better entries were the side-scrollers. Sonic the Hedgehog 8-bit was even playable on later Master Systems without a cartridge in… although only in Europe where the Master System sold pretty well. However, one of the better entries in the four, which also included Sonic 2 8-bit and Sonic Triple Trouble, is a little known 1993 release called Sonic Chaos.
Sonic Chaos was great. This was the third 8-bit Sonic platformer, and it decided to take some lessons from it’s grown up siblings. Tails was made an available character, and for the first time in a Sonic game, you could make him fly wherever you want. Sonic was given the now standard spin dash, and the super peel out from Sonic CD (where he charges up by running on the spot). While the objectives of the game are very familiar, collect the Chaos Emeralds and defeat Doctor Robotnik blah blah, it was genuinely a fun game to play with well designed levels, great music, and rocket boots.
The game has seen recent rereleases as an unlockable in Sonic Adventure DX on GameCube and PC, as one of the ‘remaining’ Game Gear titles on Sonic Gems Collection, and on Wii Virtual Console.
Mario Tennis – Game Boy Color
The Mario sports games are highly regarded in some circles; some even say that Mario Golf is the best golfing game ever made. While the games on the N64 and GameCube are generally praised, the Tennis and Golf entries both had a handheld counterpart that largely went unplayed. Mario Tennis on the Game Boy Color is one of the unfortunate titles to get this treatment, which was wholly undeserved.
In essence, the game was a JRPG involving tennis. Yes, you’re eyes do not deceive you. A tennis RPG. Surely such a combination would be madness, much like a farming sim or a Lego game based on Star Wars. Like Harvest Moon and Lego Star Wars though, this game worked. Experience was gained from winning matches, and you placed skill points in areas you wanted to improve. The story wasn’t fantastic, but it was compelling enough to keep you going through the story, moving up the ranks of the tennis school you enrolled in, until you became so well renowned Mario himself challenged you to a match. All of this using the intuitive and easy-to-pick up controls of its big N64 brother.
This was also a game that supported the Transfer Pak, allowing you to use your character in the N64 tournaments to gain more experience and unlock features on both versions. Oh, and did I mention it had the same kick ass soundtrack?
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons – Game Boy Color
The Legend of Zelda series is a legend in itself, if you don’t count the CDi titles (and we don’t), the series has barely made a misstep outside of Zelda 2. In the early part of the decade, Flagship, a developer funded by Capcom, was tasked with making a version for the Game Boy Color. The result was a pair of awesome, relatively unknown Zelda games inspired by the superb Link’s Awakening.
The games could even link up somewhat; playing through one game gave you a code to start the second game with, carrying over some equipment and allowing you access to even more powerful items than you could obtain normally. There was also a "True Ending," involving a final dungeon and a fight against Ganon to save Princess Zelda, a first for a handheld Zelda game.
Each game had a completely different world, and completely different dungeons and core mechanic. Seasons was more puzzle heavy, and changing the seasons changed the world around you. Ages was more of an adventure game, involving time travel elements to affect the past and future. Keeping the simple sprites and gameplay of Link’s Awakening worked very well in its favor; crafting the games around those aspects resulted in a pair of excellent additions to the Zelda franchise.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit – Game Boy Advance
The Mario Kart series is one of the few video game series where every iteration is fantastic. Whether you prefer one over the other, it’s basically like choosing a cake at a bakery. They’re all good, just depends on you’re personally tastes.
Super Circuit was released fairly early in the GBA life cycle, and was a mixture of the original Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64. The coin collecting of SMK returned, mixing it with the driving style of MK64 on a new batch of tracks — some of the best in the MK series to date — along with all the tracks from SMK. You may know some of its original tracks from MK DS and MK Wii, like Shy Guy Beach, Sky Garden, and a couple of the Bowser’s Castle tracks.
Some features from the game have made it into other games in the series. The star rank system in later MK games originated here, as did the secret turbo activated by drifting for a period of time rather then wiggling the stick.
Although a very good game, it did not penetrate the GBA install base very well, only selling 3 millions copies for such a big-name game. Its legacy still lives on though, with the retro tracks in new MK games.
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer – Nintendo 64
Some people argue that the best part of Phantom Menace was the pod racing. While it’s definitely one of the highlights if nothing else, the game based on it was the best video game adaptation to do with the film bar none.
The game took what little was mentioned or shown in the movie (Anakin being the only human pilot, racing on Malastare, the racers themselves, etc.), and made it into a fully fledged racing game in its own right. A huge variety of levels, each with numerous secrets, complimented the upgrade and damage systems. For the time, the graphics were fantastic, and even without the expansion pak the tracks were full of background detail, something F-Zero X couldn’t manage.
It was, however, pretty hard. And being released in a period where the N64 was all but dead didn’t help its sales either. However, it is definitely one of the better Star Wars games around, up there with the X-Wing series, Battlefront, and Lego Star Wars.