Let's take another look.
Review scores can be a deceptive breed, can they not? While one outlet will praise a game to high heaven, another might damn that same game to the plains of oblivion. It’s an example all too common among reviewers, and it’s fair to say their opinions are valid, no matter how they rate a game. Sometimes, however, I feel some reviews can be borderline unfair, warding people away from genuinely decent (or even great) experiences. So today, we’re paying some justice to ten games far better than what some outlets would have you believe.
Tenchu Z (2006, Xbox 360)
Looking like an upscaled PS2 game and releasing exclusively on the (then) new Xbox 360, Tenchu Z was doomed before From Software even let it out of the gate. Sure enough, critics chomped down hard on the poor graphical quality and occasionally choppy animations, as well as the repetitive nature of the game. Most then proceeded to ignore everything the game did right: the awesome character customisation, stellar level design that held up to the series’ high standards, and a level of depth outshining a lot of today’s releases
As per usual Tenchu customs, the player had to stealthily navigate through each stage, brutally killing any guards that threaten to spot them. You were able to use not only your blade, but also various collected tools, such as caltrops, sticky bombs, a grappling hook, and (but, of course) shurikens. It was no walk in the park, though, as players also had to account for visibility, how much noise they were making (guards could even hear you draw your sword!), where to hide bodies and your enemies’ keen sense of the smell of blood. Tenchu Z was, despite its issues, a tense and richly rewarding game filled with content, and was a ton of fun to boot.
Lollipop Chainsaw (2012, Xbox 360, PS3)
Now, I’ll admit I may be cheating a little bit here, as Lollipop Chainsaw did gain its fair share of positive reviews, as well as a number of scathing ones, including on our very own site. At the risk of falling prey to my editor’s scorn, I’ll come out and say this game did not deserve the one-out-of-five treatment. Don’t get me wrong, Lollipop Chainsaw is no saint of a game, but terrible? No way, not by a long shot. Terrible scores are reserved for games that are broken, buggy, or just plain suck. (All present in Lollipop Chainsaw! – ed)
Lollipop Chainsaw is none of those things, and despite some awful gimmicky parts (the combine harvester segments can eat it) it managed to present an addictive score attack-style of gameplay in a colourful, visually appealing package. Throw in excellent use of both original and licensed music, superb boss battles, tons of unlockables, and an incredible voice cast that bring to life a largely entertaining script, and you have a game that’s certainly not for everyone, but is still plenty worthy of praise.
And with that, my editor dies a little inside.
Dynasty Warriors 6 (2007, Xbox 360, PS3, Windows)
I’m probably fighting a losing battle defending this one. First off, it’s a Dynasty Warriors game, which is a series criminally underrated in itself. More importantly, however, is that the sixth entry is largely disliked by people who actually do like Dynasty Warriors. And for good reason, honestly; many characters lost their signature weapons, and there were very few weapon types, leading to many cloned characters. People also had problems with the game’s Renbu system, which did away with the classic charge-combo combat system fans were accustomed to. The Renbu system had its own meter, and as its rank rose, so too did the number of individual attacks added to your moveset. This sounded cool, but one major problem was the fact that the gauge would reset if the player took enough hits, which was frustrating when fighting the likes of Lu Bu or Zhang Liao.
On the other hand, Renbu rewarded skilled (and yes, this is Dynasty Warriors, so I use that term loosely) players with a mesmerising string of motion-captured martial arts goodness. Some of these movesets rendered my jaw agape, they were so visually stunning! Not to mention, mowing through hundreds of on-screen soldiers (while the game maintained a cool 60fps, might I add) is some of the most fun I’ve had this generation. The game’s wonderful Empires expansion took this a step further, instead tying the Renbu system to your chosen weapon’s level, allowing you to create a killing machine that would have poor old Lu Bu sobbing into his dim sum.
Sonic Unleashed (2008, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
I will concede that half of Sonic Unleashed is a god-awful, indefensible mess. That being the dreadful “werehog” sections that were broken, obnoxious and, above all, downright intrusive. Definitely one of the worst ideas Sonic Team have ever had, just shy of giving Sonic a sword (people seem to forget that Sonic and the Black Knight was a thing. Or rather, they choose to forget!), was turning him into a freakishly disproportionate fictional beast. Oh, wait, he sort of already was that, wasn’t he? Never mind, let’s instead discuss the other half of this game.
The other half being some of the most well-designed 3D Sonic stages ever, and one of the few occasions in which Sonic Team nailed the balance between Sonic’s blistering pace and genuinely decent level design. The game also sported a nice visual style and a beautiful soundtrack encompassing many different cultural styles. Sonic Team would go on to refine the work they did here in later titles like Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations, both of which were fairly well-received. However, they made a solid start with Unleashed, it’s just a shame this was overshadowed by their love of awful decisions.
DmC: Devil May Cry (2013, Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Remember when this game was first revealed way back in 2010, and the internet formed a collective shitstorm the likes of which were never seen before? The sole reason being “New Dante,” with his dreadful emo hair and obnoxious attitude. DMC fans everywhere were up in arms at the loss of their beloved, white-haired demon slayer. But, at this point, nothing had been made of the reboot’s gameplay, and when the game finally came out, I personally found it to be a competent hack-and-slash with superb level design and excellent artistic direction.
Of course, die-hard DMC fans refused to have anything to do with the game, many claiming the new game and its rendition of Dante wasn’t cool, clever or serious enough. My response to that being: when was Dante ever cool, clever or serious? Pretty much never. Even white-haired Dante uttered the cheesiest of lines (let’s not forget Trish’s infamous false death scene, which is just a notch below Tidus’s laughing fit on the cringe scale). While I’m also not a fan of the changes Ninja Theory made to the character, I could easily forget this as DmC: Devil May Cry was so bloody good.
Speaking again of the game’s great level design, each section was themed after a particularly corporate part of our grim reality, and the lack of subtlety only helped the game’s bombastic tone. I’ll just come out and say that Ninja Theory understand Devil May Cry: it’s dumb. Really dumb. They took that approach and pushed it to the very limits, whilst also injecting what made the original games so good in the first place: the second-to-none spectacle fighting. I get why people wouldn’t like the game, for sure, but DMC is a game where you infiltrate an (even more) evil version of FOX News and fight the giant head of Bill O’ Reilly; and of course, that came with all the subtlety Bill O’ Reilly himself is (or rather, isn’t) known for, and it was freaking hilarious.
Oh, and I’ll just add the fact that the soundtrack was crafted by Noisia and Combichrist, and it’s amazing.
Yakuza: Dead Souls (2011, PS3)
So the zombie trope got a bit full of itself this generation, but some of its best games have featured the shambling monstrosities, including Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead and Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. This is also where I cringe at the repetition of the word “Dead” in all of these games; thanks for undermining my point, game devs! Seriously, though, I’d sooner believe Cooking Mama would have a zombie adaptation than the Yakuza series, which prides itself on a celebration of Japan’s cultural tendencies. Yakuza games are not just brilliant, they’re an interesting tour of what makes Japan such a fascinating country. Of course, it would be a crime not to mention the series’ incredible cast of characters, from the stern-but-fair Kiryu to smooth operator Akiyama, and all the way to the delightfully insane Goro Majima – all have contributed dividends to making this series great.
So what happens when you throw these characters into a Kamurocho in the midst of a zombie apocalypse? Lukewarm review scores, that’s what. The reason being one of the main issues with modern game journalism: focusing on one flaw whilst overshadowing everything the game did good. We had this with Tenchu Z, we had it with DmC, and we sure as hell have it here with Dead Souls. The flaw I speak of is how the game controls. Admittedly, it’s not great. This being a zombie game, all of Yakuza’s trademark brawling was replaced with awkward gun handling. Aiming most weapons in the game was much harder than it should be, unless you were using spread weapons such as a shotgun or an assault rifle, it was tough hitting anything that could be deemed a zombie. Then there were the special enemies that somewhat aped Left 4 Dead’s, but unlike in that game, they were cheap, obnoxious and incredibly tough take down.
It’s the story, though, that makes Dead Souls such a fun romp. Tons of series favourites return and team up to take down the new zombie threat, and as you’d expect, the characters hilariously take it at face value; Sega weren’t afraid to let Dead Souls revel in its own stupidity, and were able to craft a genuinely compelling and well-written story. It’s such a shame the publisher is fearful of releasing future games in the series here in the west, as Dead Souls (along with each entry before it) shows how truly creative Sega can be. Now, please, spare a moment while I cry tears of joy all over my Dreamcast collection.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (2012, PS3, PS Vita)
Shunted by many as a half-baked Smash Bros. clone, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was met with the collective scoffing of fans of Nintendo’s powerhouse brawler. This continued even after the game’s release, with a worrying amount of critics dismissing it as the poor man’s Super Smash. However, during the game’s development, it was quite clear that Sony wanted All-Stars to do well, including the likes of former Capcom community manager Seth Killian, among many other fighting game aficionados.
The results were surprisingly inspiring, with many fighting game mechanics employed, such as juggling and combo canceling, layered successfully on top of a competent multiplayer brawler. It’s true that the game could have benefited from a more unified artistic design (especially in regards to the characters, who look all but ripped right out of their respective titles), a few more modes and a reason to play solo. But with four of you huddled on a couch, there’s far worse you can manage than PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, which is more than capable of providing a multiplayer experience close to Nintendo’s high standards.
Red Steel (2006, Wii)
As is the case with ZombiU, Ubisoft seem to have a knack for creating flawed but fun launch titles for Nintendo consoles. Red Steel, in particular, has a special place among my gaming memories. Back when I was subscribed to Official Nintendo Magazine, during the transition period of Gamecube to Wii, they were doing a Wii blowout issue featuring previews of all the launch titles, and reading through those legendary pages was pretty thrilling, to say the least. It was the included DVD that had me palpitating with excitement, however; my 13-year-old brain unable to handle the acute degree of anticipation for a good number of these games.
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Sonic and the Secret Rings (or Sonic Wildfire, as it was known back then), and an intriguing FPS by the name of Red Steel were all but some of the previews featured on the DVD, and every day after school I’d fire it up to remind me of why the Wii was going to be awesome. Back then, Red Steel was the most impressive looking game I’d ever seen. I was totally suckered in by the Wii’s ability to track the motions of the remote. I wanted to hold my gun sideways like a 90’s rapper, and Red Steel, as far as I knew, was the only game that would allow me to do that. Just look at how awesomely cheesy this trailer is:
Sure enough, that wish was fulfilled in the final release. I had an absolute blast with the game, despite the numerous flaws it possessed. The sword fighting was a little choppy (haha) and repetitive, and the occasional AI bugs did their damnedest to break the game’s palpable immersion. But for a launch titles on one of the most mocked consoles in history? I’d say this was a damn fine start, and the excellent single player campaign was backed up by a sweet four-player multiplayer suite, taking cues from GoldenEye 007 in its variety of game modes, characters, map design, and an incredible sense of fun.
Many games scream for a remake, and Red Steel could be a brilliant choice with refined HD graphics, tighter Motion Plus integrated controls, online multiplayer, and a greater level of depth with the swordfighting.
Website Editor’s Picks
Nier (2010, Xbox 360, Ps3)
A spin-off to the Drakenguard series, Nier will probably remembered as one of the most under appreciated and underrated games of all time; sadly few too many people have given it the time of day. Just like Tenchu Z, Nier isn’t a looker in the visual department but what it lacks in visual fidelity it makes up for with its interesting story, charm and out right wackiness.
Is it an action RPG, bullet hell SHMUP or a platformer? All these labels can apply to Nier at some point during the game and the fact that it doesn’t know what type of game it should be becomes part of its overall charm. It takes inspiration from many great games such as The Legend of Zelda, Monster Hunter, Devil May Cry and Shadow of Colossus.
You’ll experience a gripping tale filled with emotion, crass humour and high fantasy. It also contains one of the best game soundtracks ever composed providing a atmospheric feel throughout.
Farewell Cavia, your crazy and uniquely interesting games will be missed!
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (2010, Xbox 360, Ps3 – Now available on PC)
Developed by Ninja Theory, the developers behind Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is based on the classic novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Instead of being set in ancient China, this modern re-imagining takes place in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world; a world visually beautiful to behold and running on the Unreal Engine.
Sadly, Enslaved is let down by texture pop-in, frame rate issues, poor audio levels and occasional screen tear. However, what you’ll find beneath the technical problems is one of the most gripping stories in a video game to date. The motion capture for Monkey features Andy Serkis (Gollum, Lord of the Rings), the solid voice acting continues with Lindsey Shaw as Trip. The characters feel human and emotive, and you genuinely care for their plight.
And what can I say about Pigsy – a charming, loveable, scrap collecting, pig-like man who provides laugh out moments that will place him in my book as one of the funniest game characters ever created.
The game plays similarly to Uncharted, from which the inspiration is clear, but Enslaved offers some magical moments that even outshine Uncharted at times, though too few throughout the entire game. The combat is decent but nothing to write home about.
The music again provides a perfect backdrop to the intriguing story, Nitin Sawhney needs to do more video games soundtracks as I could listen to Enslaved’s over and over. It’s brilliant.
I cannot speak highly enough of this game and if the recent PC release has resolved the technical issues above I suggest that is the version you pick up.
Know of any critically mistreated games we might have missed? Don’t hesitate to leave them in our comments section! We know there are plenty of hidden gems deep in the vast library of this now patriarchal console generation, and for those of us holding on to our systems or building up a collection (like our resident hoarder Illiya!), such suggestions are most welcome indeed. Thanks for reading!