Originally Published in 2014, for TAT Games
Five more of the best games you never played during the last generation
Welcome, one and all, to part two of Sleeping Dogs. If you’re tired of the ‘mainstream’ videogames clogging up your time – then do yourself a favour, and give these overlooked classics a spin. Cram ‘em into your disc slot, and enjoy the fact that you’re now on the ‘inside’ of obscure gaming culture. You hipster, you.
Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer: Access Games
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Deadly Premonition is a bad game.
Looking like a forgotten relic of the PS2-era, it was designed by Hidetaka Suehiro – AKA SWERY – and was released to great derision.
Why? Well, there were the awful visuals, with fuzzy objects and muddy textures that made eyes water in disbelief. There were the unintuitive controls that made traversal a chore. The repetitive, plinky-plonky music that sounded like it was ripped straight from a low-budget RPG. The voice overs which reflected how bored-stiff the actors were. The stiff character movements. The useless map which made navigation next to impossible. The repetitive combat scenarios. The cereal-boxes masquerading as cars.
So, then why in the hell is this game included here?
Because, for all of its (many) faults, Deadly Premonition has gained a cult following. For almost every piece of scorn heaped upon it, the game was also showered with praise. Infamously one of the most divisive games ever made, SWERY’s magnum opus was granted review scores from both ends of the spectrum – with verdicts ranging from two to 10 out of 10. It even holds a Guinness World Record for its divisiveness – so it’s official and everything.
Supporters of Deadly Premonition found merits within its open-world (and open-ended) gameplay, which echoed Sega classic Shenmue. Playing as FBI agent Francis York Morgan (but please, just call him York), players find themselves in the enigmatic, Twin Peaks-esque town of Greenvale as they attempt to solve a gruesome murder of a woman. Partnering with the gruff town sheriff George Woodman and token female deputy Emily Wyatt, York gradually uncovers a bunch of gruesome secrets that is emblematic of the murder mystery genre. The plot is infused with a supernatural flair, as York is regularly accosted by murderous ghosts (that can be conveniently shot), suffocating red vines, and a Nemesis-style recurring enemy that wields an axe and sports a stylin’ red raincoat.
But the main ‘appeal’ of Deadly Premonition is Greenvale itself.
Truly, this is a town where one can get lost in (literally, thanks to the crappy map). From dusk ‘till dawn, Greenvale is crammed full of activities that threaten to make York completely forget why he’s there in the first place. Every major character has their own life they attend to; and when they’re not being accosted by the FBI agent, they’re going about their own business – business that even changes depending on the weather.
Although he can sleep in many different places, York has a room at the local hotel. Upon waking every morning, you have the choice of changing outfits (and cleaning dirty ones), shaving, and having breakfast. A coffee aficionado, York can even get his fortune told by his beverage’s swirling milk.
In the town itself, he can drive around in his squad car and search for numerous asides. Side-quests range from the obligatory citizen favour-granting – to things like fishing, racing, collecting rare cards, playing darts at bars, digging-up human bones (yep), and play peeping tom by peeking in windows (double yep). His vehicle can even run out of fuel and break-down – requiring funds to fix the thing up. York even gets hungry and tired, so players must regularly feed him and make sure he gets a nap once in a while.
Get past the slow opening hours, and Deadly Premonition will – at the very least – offer an experience you won’t forget any time soon.
Developer: Next Level Games
You can be forgiven for not even being aware of this game’s existence. Just blame Nintendo. Shamefully, the company decided that the first Punch-Out!! sequel in nearly 15 years wasn’t worth an Australian-wide release (along with the similarly shunned Wii game Excitebots), leaving only one retail chain to stock limited copies of the game.
With Little Mac’s long-overdue inclusion onto the playable roster of Super Smash Bros, now is the perfect time to dive into this sleeper hit, which takes the all-time classic Punch-Out!! gameplay, and successfully transplants it into the 21st century.
Next Level Games have done a sterling job with this title, which boasts some of the best character animations seen on the Wii. Again under the tutelage of chocolate-scoffing trainer Doc Luis, Little Mac must (surprise) battle some of the world’s best boxers in order to make his way up the ranks and become the champion of the ‘World Video Boxing Association’.
In gameplay terms, this means battling tongue-in-cheek racial stereotypes via the traditional view behind Mac himself – just like it has always been. In truth, almost nothing has changed since Super Punch-Out!!, with Nintendo preferring to stick to the tried-and-true formula of scouting an opponent’s chink in their armour, before capitalising via unrelenting fisticuffs.
As anyone who has played any version of Punch-Out!! will tell you, the game is just as much puzzler as it is a fighting simulation – and the difficulty can be unforgiving as a result.
The Wii sequel is no different – which gives a black-eye to anyone who criticises Nintendo’s waggle box as the haven for ‘casual’ gamers only. Indeed, this is one of the hardest games I’ve personally played – but it can be beaten. Truly, for all of the spiffing visuals and cartoony imagery, Next Level has nailed the old school sense of success by perseverance; of learning every intricate offensive and defensive manoeuvre of rival boxers. Words truly can’t express the feeling of satisfaction when Mac just floors his adversary with one well-timed, accurate punch.
And they are truly some colourful adversaries.
Old favourites such as the weedy Glass Joe, the bulbous King Hippo, and the terrifying Mr. Sandman return, as well as newbies like Disco Kid and Donkey Kong (yes). As I mentioned, each (mildly offensive) character is like a living cartoon, with evocative facial expressions and exaggerated movements that really make them pop from the screen. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Super Macho Man flex his buttocks like a madman.
As expected for a Wii game, there are multiple control options available, including the surprisingly playable combo of Wii Remote and Nunchuk, as well as compatibility with the Wii Balance Board. However, purists would ultimately benefit from the traditional ‘NES’ style input (solo Wii Remote held on its side).
If you can find a cheap deal online, I’d say go for it. You’ll be knocked-out by its quality.
2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U eShop!
ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Classics HD
Developer: Team Ico/Bluepoint Games
In the first edition of Sleeping Dogs, I talked about Ōkami, and its seemingly eternal struggle to find the audience it deserved. A continuous cycle of rebirth and negligence, Capcom’s cel-shaded masterpiece was re-released multiple times in an attempt to gain some much-needed attention.
In a way, the same thing has happened to Fumito Ueda.
With not just one – but two – virtually ignored PS2 classics acting as very fluffy feathers in his cap, the Japanese design luminary got a second chance with the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Classics HD – a PS3 port of, well, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
Despite being two different titles, Team Ico’s dual masterworks both share thematically similar aspects. Both are set in a mysterious, unnamed fantasy world. Both are achingly beautiful. And both communicate with the player in a minimalist fashion, where the mantra of ‘show, don’t tell’ reigns supreme.
And what a show.
First; Ico. Released in 2001, this was seen as (arguably) the PlayStation 2’s first killer-app. Set within a dank, gloomy castle, you play as…well, Ico – a young boy with horns, who awakens from a coffin-like prison. As he tries to find his way out, he eventually comes across a ghostly girl named Yorda – who speaks are cryptic language that serves as a communicative barrier between the two. However, this is where the beauty if the game shines through, as Ico and Yorda regardless develops a deep relationship as they manoeuvre their way through the labyrinthine environment. Holding hands in a touching fashion, they scramble, climb and solve puzzles whilst desperately trying to fend-off evil shadows that try to take the girl away. This is done by whacking them with a stick. It’s all so elegantly simple – that even the mere event of escaping in the courtyard and seeing the sunshine is an event in itself.
Now onto Shadow of the Colossus. Unleashed toward the end of the PS2’s life in 2005, this served as a prequel to Ico – but the gameplay itself was really rather different; not just from its forebear, but from anything else at the time. Taking control of a young swordsman named Wander, you find yourself tasked with slaying 16 monolithic colossi in an effort to revive a slain girl named Mono. There are no other enemies in the game besides these roaming giants; and they’re found by – ahem – ‘wandering’ a massive open land on your trusty steed named Agro. Once spotted, each monster must literally be climbed as they try to swat you like a fly, and this is where the main thrill of the game lies. The differing designs of each colossus ensure that every clash is just as much a puzzle as it is a sheer battle of wills, and the feeling of finally slaying each beast is one of euphoria and utter triumph. Shadow of the Colossus is bigger and bolder than Ico – but that feeling of ephemeral ‘otherness’ is still present; and it’s a feeling that is utterly unique to this HD collection.
Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are undisputed works of genius that deserve to be remembered for years to come.
And the story is set to continue with The Last Guardian. Eventually. One day. Maybe before the sun explodes and kills us all.
2017 Edit: Oh my.
2017 Edit 2: It’s being remade for PS4!
That’s a name that just conveys images of an epic adventure. An epic adventure that provides hours upon hours of in-depth gameplay, an involving plot, lush visuals and an intricate battle system.
Right. At first glance, Opoona is a deceptively simple-looking game. One could be forgiven for thinking its bright, bold colours and unassuming character designs are emblematic of a children’s game; one that belongs in the bottom of the Wii bargain bin.
Unfortunately, this untrue perception ultimately became the reality for this charming title by ArtePiazza, as sluggish sales ensured a swift demise for any potential sequel.
Releasing on the same day as Super Mario Galaxy tends to do that to a game. Sigh.
So, what is Opoona?
Described as a “lifestyle RPG” by the developers, the game follows the main protagonist Opoona (surprise!); an alien who possesses a mystical ‘bonbon’ that serves as his weapon.- a characteristic shared by his ‘Tizian’ race that act as guardian warriors throughout the cosmos. The story begins with Opoona on a vacation with his family, as they travel in a spaceship on their way to Landroll – a planet that has stopped rotating after a dark comet struck it centuries earlier. Humans now live on the world under domed cities, which serve as protection from the ‘rogues’ – monsters that have emerged from the gloomy crater.
After an unknown force strikes their ship, Opoona – along with his siblings, Copoona and Poleena – are placed into escape pods by their parents, and are jettisoned to Landroll. It’s a surprisingly sad scene – and one that makes you feel sorry for the kids, especially after what comes next.
Waking in ‘Tokione’ – the biggest city in Landroll, Opoona leans that his parents have been critically injured, and are hospitalised at the ‘healing’ city of Sanctuary. Whilst they recover, Opoona is forced to undertake a profession and contribute to Landrollian society.
With the core vocation of ‘Ranger’ (basically, a soldier), the young lad is tasked with entering the wilderness and offing monsters with his bonbon, as he makes his way up through the ranks.
The battle system is turn-based, with the player required to toss Opoona’s bonbon at a wide variety of colourful enemies. Speed and trajectory can be manipulated via the analogue stick, with curved throws and spirals essential to defeating enemies whilst bypassing dangerous obstacles (such as bombs).
As he makes his way through the game, Opoona eventually teams with his brother Copoona and sister Poleena, whilst undertaking a wide variety of side-jobs. Illustrating the ‘lifestyle’ moniker of the game’s tagline, Opoona can take advantage of many employment opportunities – such as farmer, miner, seamaster, cleaner, attendant, ukulele player and even TV star. Additionally, he can form relationships with many different NPC’s, watch TV shows, buy a pet, and even get an apartment.
With art design by Shintaro Majima of Dragon Quest fame, and a lovely soundtrack by Final Fantasy XII composer Hitoshi Sakimoto, Opoona is well worth tracking down.
3D Dot Game Heroes
Developer: Silicon Studio
Publisher: SouthPeak Games
Ever wanted to play a Zelda game in 3D?
Well, now you can – with 3D Dot Game Heroes! Toss aside that lousy copy of Ocarina of Time, and play Zelda the way it was meant to be played – as if the last 30 years never happened.
Developed by Silicon Studio (the fab folks behind the 3DS game Bravely Default) 3D Dot Game Heroes is a love letter to the action-adventure games of the 8-bit era. Evoking the gameplay and imagery of classic games such as The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy Adventure, and Dragon Quest – 3DDGH takes these digital pioneers, and transplants them on PS3.
Set in the kingdom of Dotnia, you play as a custom created hero, as s/he bravely battles the evil forces of Dark Bishop Fuelle in a quest to rid the land of darkness and to prevent the resurrection of Gan… Er, I mean Dark King Onyx. Obviously, it’s all simple stuff – and that’s exactly the point.
The main appeal is in the 8-bit gameplay that is presented in glorious HD-o-vision. In a nice bit of lore, the King of Dotnia decreed that the land simply looked too tired in 2D – hence its transformation into (you guessed it) 3D. The blocky characters look gorgeous, and the gameplay itself is a smooth as butter.
There are no revelations here. You slay enemies, explore dungeons, gain items, and uncover secrets. But that’s all that’s needed. It’s an awesome nod to times past, and there are a couple of cool new ideas – such as an enormous sword that grows all the way across the screen, and an enemy encyclopaedia that is expanded by literally beating the book on their heads.
Now if that is no reason to buy this game, then I don’t know what is.