This is part of our ongoing series about games and trends of one of the most longest-lived eras in gaming’s history — the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 generation.
Wow. It’s been one heck of a console generation: games like Mass Effect, Uncharted, Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed.
But for every triple-A hit, we saw plenty of titles that didn’t grab the gaming public’s attention in quite the same way.
With this in mind, GamesBeat reached out to some key game industry figures to ask which PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games they think deserved a wider audience. Presented below are their selections — a mixture of downloadable games and full retail releases — that all have one thing in common: You really ought to check them out.
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Oh, and if you’re worried that we’re neglecting the third pillar of home consoles this generation: We already looked at the Nintendo Wii last year after the launch of the Wii U.
Battlestations: Midway (Eidos: Xbox 360, PC)
Chief executive officer, Frontier Developments (Elite: Dangerous)
David Braben cocreated the seminal space-trading game Elite back in 1984. Frontier Developments has more recently released Kinectimals (Xbox 360) and the critically acclaimed platformer Lost Winds (Wii, iOS). Earlier this year, it raised over $1.5 million via Kickstarter to help fund the development of Elite: Dangerous (PC, Mac).
One game I felt went ‘under the radar’ was the very enjoyable Battlestations: Midway. It is a great game, and one of the few games that I can play and reliably win online against, let’s face it, players that are largely teenagers. These days, so many games rely on ‘twitch response,’ as does this game, but here strategy is also a major factor. By planning ahead, you can give yourself a very good chance of winning, and that makes it a much richer game. Even by standards of the time, the graphics were unremarkable, which I think are part of the reason it didn’t get too much visibility. But it is a great game, especially if your reactions don’t match those of a teenager!
The Darkness (2K Games: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
General manager of content and publishing, Red Robot Labs (Friendly Fire, Global Outbreak)
Following a distinguished career in journalism, including senior positions at Ziff-Davis Media, GamePro, and CBS Interactive, John Davison is now based at Red Robot Labs, home to breakout mobile titles such as Life is Crime and Friendly Fire. He oversees its gaming social network, First for Gamers.
[The Darkness is] a great example of really doing the source material justice, plus it was a really slick game that further proved how great the Starbreeze guys were. Great presentation, good story with some genuinely unexpected and surprising narrative twists, a believable romantic element, and it tried hard to be more than ‘just’ a shooter by introducing new gameplay ideas to the first-person genre. It was all a bit goth, but I loved it. Also, Mike Patton’s indulgently manic voice work was superb.
DmC: Devil May Cry (Capcom: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
Cliff Bleszinski had a hand in some of the biggest game releases of the past 20 years, including the wildly successful Unreal and Gears of War series. The video game designer is, in his own words, currently unemployed.
It had solid reviews, but if I recall correctly the sales were lower than expected for the last Devil May Cry. I was never really that much into that series — I’m more of a shooter guy, obviously. But the pacing, the tight controls, and the writing all were a pleasant, if outrageous, surprise for me. The music was audacious and also fit the style rather well.
Deathsmiles (Aksys: Xbox 360)
President, Mommy’s Best Games (Weapon of Choice, Serious Sam Double D XXL)
Mommy’s Best Games is a boutique developer that industry veteran Nathan Fouts founded in 2007. Mommy’s Best Games is now developing the Lolita-free Pig Eat Ball for PC.
Being a grown man, it was a touch embarrassing going to the counter carrying a game with Gothic Lolitas on the cover. But don’t let that put you off of Deathsmiles. There’s a full range of shooting pleasures to be had that I think many a gamer has passed by solely because of the cover.
Deathsmiles is a side-scrolling shoot-em up — shmup [as these are called in England — Ed.] — bursting with bullets, twitch gameplay, vibrant color, and wild designs. Detailed demonic cow bosses, apple-chucking evil trees, massive two-headed dragons, and more come for your fragile “angel” character.
The great news for me, being only an average shmup-player, but big-time shmup-lover, is the action is customize-able within the games branching levels. As you play each level you decide with what difficulty to tackle things. It’s easy to tune down and enjoy a mindless, scrolling blast-fest, or crank it up and enter the crazy, Halloween-themed world of Deathsmiles looking for serious challenge. Either way, if you desire something to shoot other than zombies or terrorists, it’s a charming bet.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (Starbreeze — PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)
Manager, social media for PlayStation
Previously editor at GamePro magazine, Sid Shuman is now in charge of content creation and strategy for social media at PlayStation. This includes the PlayStation Blog, Facebook site, and Twitter account.
This PlayStation Store gem caught me completely off guard, and it ended up being among the best games I’ve played this console generation. Yes, yes, it’s notable for allowing you to control two characters independently using both analog sticks to solve puzzles and defeat bosses — but that’s only part of the story. Brothers’ greatest triumph is in making you truly care about its titular twosome, and all without a single (intelligible) word being spoken. Its an epic and memorable quest with narrative accomplishments that hint at the true power of the video game medium.
Bullet Witch (Atari — Xbox 360)
President and creative director of Robotoki
Robert Bowling was creative strategist and community manager for Infinity ward, overseeing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and its two direct sequels. He has since established his own game studio, Robotoki, and is working on the multiplatform game Human Element, slated for a 2015 release.
It was easy to overlook Bullet Witch when it released from Japanese developer, Cavia, in 2007, with a plethora of polished and critically praised games hitting the market. Due to it’s over sexualized female character (bonus school girl outfit … ugh … sigh. …) and its seemingly repetitive gameplay and dull A.I., a “pick up and play” gamer or reviewer would easily miss what makes this experience so special. I even nearly missed what was unique about Bullet Witch during my first playthrough with it because the magic of the design doesn’t even occur until the end of your second and beginning of your third playthrough.
What makes Bullet Witch so unique is it’s all about the journey of becoming an unstoppable force, with your skills progressing with each playthrough and difficulty. Therefore, your first time through feels mediocre, but your second picks up, and by your third playthrough, you’re calling in asteroid storms that destroy entire city blocks; and tornadoes that tear through buildings, pick up enemies, and create a path of carnage ahead of you. Each playthrough ups the ante and gives an ultimate feeling of power, each challenging you to play through more aggressive, faster.
Ultimately, I put five or more playthroughs into Bullet Witch, each more intense than the last, and by the end I was fighting 40-foot demons in the streets of a Manhattan-like metropolis, raining asteroids, tornadoes, lightning storms, and more down ont my enemies, each causing total destruction to the skyscrapers, enemies, and environment around me. That was the magic of Bullet Witch: If you invested the time, you were exposed to a journey of ultimate power, to a degree that I’ve never felt in a game before.
Pure (Disney Interactive: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
Community manager, Activision
Following a successful career in journalism, including a three-year stint as senior editor at Official Xbox Magazine (OXM), Dan Amrich joined Activision as social media manager. His title has since changed but his love of gaming has not. Amrich still blogs regularly under the moniker “One of Swords.”
I really liked Pure, the 2008 ATV racing game from Disney Interactive and developed by Black Rock Studio. It wasn’t a revolutionary concept — off-road racing with customizable and upgradeable bikes and an SSX-style freestyle trick and stunt system — but it did that concept so well and was such a polished experience that I found myself returning to it long after I’d reviewed it for OXM. I just popped it in again, and I’m still impressed with the lush visuals, zippy frame rate, and enviable draw distances as well as the overall accessibility — it’s pick-up-and-play fun from a team that had a great racing-game pedigree. It’s still worth playing, as the lengthy single-player campaign makes up for the empty online lobbies five years after launch.
Space Giraffe (Llamasoft; Xbox 360)
Independent video game developer (Braid)
Jonathan Blow released the critically acclaimed cerebral platformer Braid in 2008. He is currently developing the PlayStation 4 exclusive exploration-puzzle title, The Witness.
My favorite game on the entire Xbox 360 console is Space Giraffe by Jeff Minter. Unfortunately, to know why it’s so good, you need to put some effort in, as the tutorial doesn’t do enough to show you why it isn’t just a Tempest clone with mildly different mechanics. But as you progress through the game’s 100 levels, seeing fresh and carefully considered game design, you’re challenged to go beyond what you thought were the limits of your senses.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom (Namco Bandai; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Dan “Shoe” Hsu
Dan “Shoe” Hsu was editor-in-chief of the widely respected gaming publication Electronic Gaming Monthly between 2001 and 2008. He founded the Bitmob website and gaming community in 2009 and is now editor-in-chief of GamesBeat.
I’m still surprised at how few people talked about this beautiful adventure. No, it’s not Game of the Year material — “Month,” maybe — but it was a unique experience that I tried to introduce to as many people as possible.
You know that dreamy, lost-in-this-world feeling you had when you played Ico or Shadow of the Colossus? Yup, Majin had that. The grand, fantastical locales are so wonderful to explore; the creatures are mysterious and frightening; and the bond between you and the titular gentle (but Hulk-smash powerful) giant is magical. I still remember exactly how he looked when he cowered in fear when I threatened to throw a rock at him. I felt legitimately bad, and my girlfriend yelled at me. That’s how real the loveable oaf seemed to us.
If you are a local friend and want to borrow my copy, just let me know!
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Sega: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)
Novelist and cofounder of Naughty Dog
Andy Gavin cofounded the video game company Naughty Dog in 1986, bringing the original PlayStation heroes Crash Bandicoot and Jax and Daxter to the gaming world. Gavin is now a novelist, having published two fantasy fiction books: The Darkening Dream and Untimed. He still finds time to talk about his gaming experiences on his personal blog, “All Things Andy Gavin.”
Classic platformers are few and far between, having mostly faded away as a major genre. So when searching for games with my 5-year-old, I came across the PS3 Mickey Mouse Castle of Illusion remake and ponied up immediately. The original, despite its kitchy Disney style, was one of the best Genesis games, and the new version does a nice job of updating the tech while maintaining the original flavor and basic gameplay. My only gripe is the sometimes lethargic framerate, but the art looks great, adding 3D that, for the most part, doesn’t distract from the old-school gameplay.
The challenge level is about right, but the mechanic of setting you back to the beginning of the level after a few deaths, reminiscent of my own Crash Bandicoot, can be frustrating. But the best part was watching my son orbit the room yelling, “We have to get Misrebella!”
Civilization: Revolution (2K Games: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Cofounder, Silver Dollar Games (One Finger Death Punch)
Independent studio Silver Dollar Games has a long history of producing unique Xbox Live Indie Games titles. Its most recent release, One Finger Death Punch, won Microsoft’s Dream.Build.Play award and is currently submitted for Greenlight approval on the Steam gaming network.
Civilization: Revolution is the best strategy game I’ve ever played on a console. Originally released in 2008 on Xbox 360, PS3, and Nintendo DS, it stands as one of my most-played Xbox games. My friends and I still talk about the epic matches we had online. A huge selling feature for me is the fact that you can finish a game in less than three hours, and for a Civ game that’s a major feat. I’ve played every Call of Duty on Xbox 360 and I have probably shot a million bad guys and counting. If you know Civilization, you’ll know it’s not all about fighting. Out of all the rounds, I played I only had a handful of domination victories. Playing for a cultural, economic, and technological victory is in my opinion what Civ is all about and was my favorite part about all of the Civilization games. For me this rings truer on the Xbox 360 because the majority of my Xbox games involve shooting someone in the head.
Civilization: Revolution brought a game typically played with a mouse and made it work with a controller. More importantly, it brought Civ from my computer desk to my couch. There’s one last thing Civ: Rev did for me. It welcomed newcomers like my sister and my wife by providing easy-to-learn, very visual, very intuitive gameplay, so much so that Civilization: Revolution was the first Xbox game my sister played and the first and only strategy game my wife has ever played. It was the perfect pace for them. It’s been five years since its release, and there’s virtually no online community left. But it’s a great single-player game, and I’m sure you can still find a copy used if you look hard enough. It’s an old classic that has had its day in the sun, but it’s worth a second look. You can find a great tablet version on the app store, but if you’re considering a console classic, I would seriously consider Civilization: Revolution.
Life of Pixel (Sony Computer Entertainment: PlayStation Vita)
Game director/supernatural detective, The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency
David Jaffe was director of the original the God of War and the Twisted Metal series. He is currently creating a mystery game for his newly formed studio, The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency. David picked a PlayStation Vita game, as he thought it had also been released on PS3. It hadn’t, but we appreciated his pick so much that it stayed.
From the hilarious and deep Blood Dragon to the brilliant precision and level design of Volgarr, to the ground-breaking writing-via-set-design of Gone Home and the deliciously fluid and fun DMC, there were a host of brilliant games in 2013 that failed to make a significant blip on the collective consciousness of the gaming community. But out of all of these missed gems, the one I choose to point out to readers is a game on PSN called Life Of Pixel.
I loved the theme — you play a Pixel going through 2D side-scrolling levels inspired by game consoles dating all the way back to the Atari 2600! — and I loved the superchallenging gameplay. Is it a “hard” game? You bet it is! But it’s always fair, and the controls are — ahem! — pixel perfect! So when you fail, that’s all on you, sir. It’s a great game that I feel all gamers who dig a fair, fun, creative challenge should track down (it’s on Vita and maybe on PS3 by now [it isn’t — Ed.]) — especially those gamers old enough — like me — to appreciate Life Of Pixel’s video-game-inspired walk down memory lane.
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