In video game discussions, you’ll hear all sorts of terms being tossed around to describe a game’s social standing. “Overrated” someone will say, as they describe the latest Call of Duty and make the claim that it doesn’t deserve all its praise. “Underrated” someone will say, as they describe the latest Animal Crossing title and claim that people should appreciate it more, or that they simply just “don’t get it”. Then there’s a lesser-used term: “Under the radar”.
What exactly does this term mean? “Under the radar” (when used with gaming) I believe refers to a video game that goes mostly unnoticed by a large majority of gamers. Whether this ends up being due to a lack of advertising, an overabundance of competitive titles around the game’s initial release, a large lack of interest in the genre, or whatever, this unfortunately tends to happen to some pretty notable entries.
This list of games isn’t ordered due to any particular favoritism on my part, and I’m not saying that these are necessarily the best games ever, but in my opinion they do tend to go rather unnoticed today. Each of the entries is from this current generation of gaming, and my experiences with them are based off the Xbox 360 versions. If any of them looks interesting to you, try renting one of them sometime!
Originally released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles during late April 2010, this was Cavia’s last official development project before their untimely demise as a video game company. Although Cavia tended to develop video games for many pre-existing franchises such as Dragon Ball Z, they also created some very unique story-focused titles of their own, such as the impressive Drakengard series. This final game of theirs went incredibly unnoticed, and this was largely due to a severe lack of advertising.
So what is this mystery game like? It’s an action role-playing title which tries to incorporate a lot of different gameplay mechanics together with a very compelling and emotionally moving story. Sure the graphics aren’t outstanding in comparison to other current-generation games, but the environments have variety in their scenery, detail in the atmospheric lighting, and lots of color (and I’m not talking about the different shades of brown you would find in Gears of War).
I heavily respect the variety of gameplay in this title. Combat controls like your typical hack ‘n slash title only with a large amount of unique magic attacks at your disposal, but something that especially stands out about the game is the surprising amount of different genres it explores. In many fights, you face enemies that attack with patterned orbs that are structured like something you would see from a bullet-hell shooter, emphasizing careful evasion as opposed to blind attacks. A desert dungeon involves several navigation puzzles that temporarily forbid you to use certain controls. A forest is presented to you almost entirely as a well-written visual novel with player interaction. A mystery at a mansion is presented with a visual style similar to Resident Evil. And best of all, you can fight a massive boar, where victory allows you to mount future boars and have some fast-paced racing controls (boar drifting, hell yeah).
What really stands out about this title though is its fascinating story. Characters are placed in post-apocalyptic settings, where underdeveloped societies are stable but in unsettling future danger. The main character, a father who you get to name, struggles to protect his town from an unknown species of enemy while desperately searching for a cure to his young daughter’s mysterious illness. A support character, a talking grimoire named Weiss, possesses an incredible amount of knowledge and magical power but has temporary limits on his memory, and as the story goes on, he starts to find out more about a disturbing purpose he was created for. Kainé, a female lead, is an aggressive and foul-mouthed woman whose appearance contrasts with her outcast-by-society behavior, although we begin to find out about her tragic and discriminatory past as the story unfolds. Emil, a young boy, initially serves as an inhuman child cursed with the ability to petrify those he looks towards, and later begins to discover a more destructive backstory of his own. All of the characters in the game are complimented with terrific voice acting, and their realistic presentations allow you to directly relate with them at times.
2. Ninja Blade
Ninja Blade was released for the Xbox 360 and Steam during early 2009. Developed by From Software, this lesser-known title features action hack ‘n slash gameplay and a smooth integration with interactive cinematic scenes. The relatively interesting story of the game is presented in the style of an extended action film.
In terms of combat, you have three different types of swords to attack with: a katana, a heavy broad sword, and light dual blades. Each of these has their own advantages and disadvantages: Heavy weapons penetrate armored enemies and clear hordes of enemies, but significantly slows down your ability to attack. Light dual blades, in contrast, are more mobile and let you attack more rapidly, plus you can use them to swing between certain places. In addition to learning to manage and later upgrade your weapons, you have a chi ability which lets you slow down the gameplay (or increase your movement speed) with ninja vision. It’s also responsible for allowing you to use several types of ninjitsu such as fire. These types of weapons can also affect the environments depending on how they’re used; using a lightning based attack for examples can instantly kill certain enemies if they’re stepping in water.
While combat and ninja platforming takes up about half of the game, the other half focuses on a large amount of action-styled cutscenes. These do feature a lot of quick time events, but the game warns you when these events are coming, and they’re smoothly integrated into the gameplay. Regarding the scenes themselves, they’re deliberately set up like an over-the-top action film, and they’re amusing to watch. The actual story of the game revolves around a parasitic outbreak, and naturally the answer is to contain the situation with a ninja squad. Although the idea seems silly, some of the infected hosts start to develop unique personalities of their own, and the theme of morality is cleverly dealt with several times throughout the story.
3. Castlevania: Lord of Shadows
If you go into this game expecting something similar to the other entries in the series, you’re going to be a little disappointed. Unlike most of the previous entries of the Castlevania franchise, this game uses a 3D action-adventure style of gameplay similar to that of the God of War games. Developed and published largely by Konami, this game was released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 during October 2010.
As mentioned before, the gameplay takes a distant step away from the classic side-scrolling action that most people come to expect of Castlevania titles. This certainly isn’t a bad thing however. Combat is very deep and features a continually expanding system of item types and combos. The environments are gorgeous and thankfully feature a lot of variety, ranging from toxic swamps to disturbing ice settings to grandiose castles. A story that contains lots of detailed backstories and sympathetic characters is also welcome and well-presented.
In addition, this game has some of the more interesting puzzles I have seen in a game; there are some clever brain-teasers hidden in here. These for the most part are optional, but they do give you some helpful rewards if you complete them. There’s also a fair bit of replayability with the game’s levels, as you’re able to redo past sections of the game to access new areas and challenges with more recent gear. And I haven’t even mentioned the music yet, which is continuously intense and appropriate to the situation at hand. One of my favorite tracks is a reoccurring theme provided for several colossus fights (which happen to be fought in a style similar to Shadow of the Colossus).
Did I mention that in addition to the game being fun, it’s also incredibly large in length? There’s a reason the Xbox 360 version has two discs, and it isn’t due to full motion video. The main adventure itself takes at least 20 hours to complete, and you definitely will be satisfied with the time you put into it.
4. Splatterhouse (2010)
This reimagining of the classic arcade games was developed mostly by Namco Bandai Games. It was released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 during late November 2010. Since the original arcade games were admittedly simple horizontal beat ‘em up titles that lacked in combat controls but were instead noteworthy for their themes of extreme violence), this entry is actually an entirely different game almost. In case you do happen to like the arcade titles though, you’ll be happy to know that all three of them are included with this remake. There are a large amount of cameos, and of course, an over-the-top amount of violence for diehard fans of the classic entries though. But is it worth trying?
Well, yes, to put it shortly. Even though the premise may seem a bit ridiculous, the gameplay is actually pretty developed. There’s a blood system which allows you to level up different skills and abilities, such as attacks that allow you to drain health from enemies to replenish your own. Blood is also used to access “berserk mode”, where you mutate physically, temporarily become invincible, and are able to perform stronger “splatter” attacks. Combat animation is usually smooth, and a large amount of combos can be mixed together to add a lot of variety to the fighting. You can also perform finishing moves, which are pretty crazy to watch despite being somewhat repetitive, including one which lets you rip off an enemy’s arm or head to use as a weapon! The only bad things I have to say about the game are regarding several irritating platforming sections and some long load times that occur upon death, but other than that, it’s a pretty decent title.
While the combat is pretty fun despite being somewhat repetitive at times, one thing that personally surprised me was the story presentation. Specifically, the dialogue that continuously occurred between the mask and the playable character Rick I found to be really amusing. The mask has a voice in this game (thanks to a good performance by Jim Cummings), and the conversations contain excellent examples of dark comedy. It’s dark and inappropriate, but it’s worded in a way that really fits with the intentionally over-the-top presentation that the game seems to be going for. I laughed many times throughout the game, and whoever put the script together is a writing genius.
5. Kung Fu Panda
Okay, take a minute if you need to. You done laughing? Yes, this is a video game adaptation of a movie, and yes, the game is probably primarily intended for children. But would you believe me if I told you that this game was published by Activision, and that it’s actually pretty good?
The story is pretty accurate and well-presented, although it differs from the film some. Graphics and sound are okay, but the gameplay is what stands out the most.
While the game is predictably easy, the combat is fluent and expansive. Although you do get to play as several of the movie support characters at a few moments during the game, most of the adventure is spent playing as the panda character Po. During panda combat, you can combine fast and charged attacks to create combos, use shields and evade, perform ground pounds (panda belly slams for the win), pick up and utilize a variety of melee weapons, and my personal favorite, the freaking panda stumble.
What’s so awesome about the panda stumble? You can roll around really quickly in a ball (a panda ball) and knock over all sorts of enemies. In fact, several parts of the game put you into a forced panda stumble, where you have to race down large hills and collect goodies while moving at a fast pace, and these sections are really fun.
Alright, so there you go. There are five under the radar titles that you might want to try out sometime. Just because a game isn’t well heard of doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad game. It simply means that for whatever reason, it hasn’t been given enough exposure to the world. If people could spend some more time searching outside their conventional genres or popular annual franchises, then they would be able to discover some unique titles which they would never have known about otherwise.
William worked backwards with gaming consoles. Initially starting out with computer games, he explored different retro consoles ranging from the Nintendo 64 all the way down to the Atari 7800, although he currently enjoys Xbox 360 the most. He really likes games that have a strong narrative presentation, and in his free time he likes to blog about gaming topics. He’s also a big fan of film.
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In video game discussions, you’ll hear all sorts of terms being tossed around to describe a game’s social standing. “Overrated” someone will say, as they describe the latest Call of Duty and make the claim that it doesn’t deserve all its praise. “Underrated” someone will say, as they describe the latest Animal Crossing