A Cartoon for Grownups.
Unless I am mistaken, Rau and Tati, the brother and sister duo in Kasai are Polynesian, and perhaps the only time in gaming when this culture is ever showcased. For fans of the Hitman or Tenchu series, used to pulling off surgically clean hits undetected after careful surveillance and thought, Kasai and Kri do a very decent job, but just a little too clumsily at times. It is fairly easy to be spotted and somewhat difficult to know when you will be (or in Kasai when your AI partner will be), when that happens, combat changes to one of the most original layouts I have yet seen. Flicking the right stick targets enemies and paints them with a face button over their head. That face button is used to attack that enemy, successive presses mean combos. Distance and direction factor in to decide attacks and their effectiveness. When it works it looks brilliant, and you feel elated, when not, well...you get dead and retry. You also have access to a ranged weapon which is passable, but not great, and the ability to see parts of an area from above and at a distance to help plan your progress. For Rau this is done with a black bird, for Tati it is done with ESP-like abilities. I don't want to spoil the story but it does tie directly into the first game, though it is not necessary to play that one to enjoy this one, and Kasai is told as a primarily as a flashback leading up to the events at the beginning. There is also another pair of characters working as a team the way Rau and Tati do, but I don't want to give that away any further. This game is really mostly about the story, which is using India ink paintings, and with a great narrator voice, being as stealthy as possible, the simplistic but challenging original combat engine when the stealth fails, and the extremely gory violence of it all. It's like watching something like Conan made into a cartoon.
Of special note to our International gamers, this one only came out in North America, I believe.
So you've played Jak, Ratchet, Tak, and Maximo, now what? For the platform fan or the younger gamer, Brave could be what you missed.
Brave is one of only a handful of Native Americans in gaming, Turok and Tommy from Prey come to mind, but they may not be for every type of gamer. Brave is a somewhat standard jump and hop, but the twist is he can communicate with animals and even shape-shift into a few, and a constant mix-up of varied things to do besides jump all in the search for the Spirit Dancer. Brave can climb ice walls with picks, canoe through rapids, ride an eagle, and do some tracking. While the character design could either be seen as cute, or clunky, some of the levels are very nicely detailed and surprisingly well laid out. If I had to compare this game to another, I would say it reminded me of Brave Fencer Musashi, there are flaws, but there are interesting and enjoyable elements as well. As the game debuted at $20 US, I wouldn't recommend paying too much for it though, and if you go in ready to just enjoy it, you likely will.
Absurdly cool or Coolly absurd.
Samurai Western is one of those rare games like Rising Zan the Samurai Gunman that will certainly not appeal to everyone, but fans of certain types of movies like Sukiyaki Western Django or Kill Bill (maybe), could really fall for it in a big way. The player character comes West to find his brother to fulfill familial obligations. Along the way he meets the classic bar girl with a heart of gold, a friendly cowboy, and about ten thousand no good varmints out to fill him full of lead. Luckily, our hero is a master swordsman and is so good in fact, that he can not only deflect bullets as if his katana is a lightsaber, but he can also cut them cleanly in half...lengthways. A second player can also join in as that same gun-slinging cowboy, who plays entirely differently (don't want to give too much away). If anything about that sentence sounded awful to you, then skip to the next entry on the list. More sword styles, accoutrements like ten gallon hats or spectacles adding bonuses, and powerful special moves abound for everyone who read that sentence and said "awesome". This game is a stylish, somewhat repetitive, and occasionally ugly (bland environments, lo-res enemy textures) mess of deliciousness, sort of like God Hand but with 100% more desperadoes and swordplay. I would suggest checking this game out if you managed to read to the end. There are also ties between this game and another on this list and its series, Way of the Samurai, and items fans will recognize.
If you like this game, and have the fortune of getting PAL or Japan region games to play, give 10,000 Bullets a look.
A dungeon crawling hack and slash with a sci-fi anime coating.
Crimson Tears is not out to remake the mold of dungeon based grinders, it is out to be a fun, cell-shaded romp epitomizing what makes this type of game fun despite the lack of exploration found on games featuring world-maps. There are three playable characters each with their own strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and personalities. While it is best to pick and stick with one, it is also a good idea to keep the other two in good gear, as you switch to them when you die. This is a refreshing change of pace for me, as many of the more hardcore games than this take all your loot, money, and experience when you go down. Crimson Tears mixes special moves, melee, and weapons to great effect. But the best way to think of it is what if you could level up, upgrade, and equip those characters from the side scrolling fight fests of yore like Final Fight, Captain Commando, or Double Dragon, and what if it was in 3D? While the story will be as familiar to anime fans as any other machines contemplating their own humanity, and the environments can get repetitive, this is the kind of game certain gamers have been asking for a long time. Even if it doesn't have the benefit of a classic name, Crimson Tears wears its inspiration proudly.
#6: Lifeline (PS2)
Do as I say, not as I do, if I can enunciate it properly.
Maybe an experiment in voice-recognition, maybe a new take on survival horror, or maybe just an unusual but exciting game, Lifeline draws its players in by making their choices not only real-time, but vital. Story short is you are on a space station which is overrun by mutant/aliens and cut-off from any outside assistance. You are trapped in an operations room, and the only person who knows you are alive is a lone waitress (voiced by Kristen Miller) named Rio. This game lives and dies by the voice, and so it is great that Rio is so well portrayed vocally, it is easy to form an attachment to her. The gameplay comes down to Rio asking for advice, tips, and directions as the situation warrants, and in combat relying on you to effectively for strategy in real-time to keep her alive with commands like jump or dodge left, shoot the chest, and reload or retreat. Sometimes the recognition doesn't work well, especially with heavy accents, and it can become frustrating to guess at what the game calls an object in the environment, is that a flyer, a memo, a piece or paper? But for the most part it is more than competent and interactions with Rio can be both charming and funny. Try asking her to take a shower. At first it may seem like Rio is your pawn, but after a while it really feels like she is your partner, and this twist on the survival horror genre really makes for some very tense, white-knuckled moments.
Maybe not as unknown after the popular Redemption, but a gem just the same.
Revolver stars a young gunslinger named Red who watches his family die at the hands of raiders working for someone else, who then steal his father's gun and gold and leave Red for dead. Red tries to grab his father's gun out of a fire and is branded on his palm by the emblem on the handle. So, Red the main character, left for Dead, and on a quest of vengeance all tied to a Revolver.
Not an open-world game like Redemption or Gun which released on the PS2 as well, Revolver presents the players with a series of stages following a linear narrative and interrupted by a few trips into town to stock up, upgrade, and start the next mission. However, it offers opportunity to play as four other characters besides Red. An English, duel-wielding sharpshooter associated with a circus, a lady rancher out to protect her family's land from thieves, a freed slave working as a buffalo soldier (unfortunately Buffalo Soldier is his name, sort of a missed opportunity), and a Native American warrior protecting his people from a rival tribe and other killers. Red Dead Revolver introduced both the quick draw, and the time-slowing Deadeye mode in which targets are painted for as many shots in the weapon and then rapidly shot in real-time (maybe not quite as cool as Bullet Time from Max Payne, but incredibly fun too). Also, the amount of bounty earned in each level is determined by the location of your shots, head being worth the most money, and combos chaining say leg, arm, head. There are levels with stealth, levels with horse-riding, levels on mounted guns, and showdowns with noted criminals to see who is quickest on the draw, all in all a lot of variety. Buying items in town improves not only your abilities and equipment, but also unlocks more characters for use in multiplayer (perhaps not up to today's standards but a good time with friends).
This game starts with the main character flying through space like a comet. Also, he is Gackt for all intents and purposes for those who know who that is.
Distinct, original, flamboyant, and somewhat alien could describe Bujingai a game about a powerful sword master's attempt to confront his demon-possessed best friend intent on destroying a satellite keeping the Earth going, replete with Kanji overlays and over-the-top cinematic action. Almost like an Asian-themed God of War (minus the puzzles), or a feudal Castlevania Lament of Innocence. Bujingai is set in the 22nd century, making for some very interesting settings and character designs as the post-apocalyptic high-technology collides with the Eastern demonic fantasy character designs. The focus of Bujingai rests solely on combat with style. It has seamless, nearly endless combos, a counter system, and actually useful magic attacks. Lau can also wall-run, that may not be such a big deal now, but it was still mostly fresh at the time, and the acrobatics involved are some of the most well-done on the PS2. My one complaint is it may be a bit short with eight stages, but then there is a lot of pick-up and play to this game, and so it could be played many times.
As a side note, this game was made by the same folks responsible for Gungrave, and they learned how to fix their mistakes before making it. If you like Bujingai, check out Nanobreaker.
An underrated platformer that should have been bad, but ended up fantastic.
Kay lives in a village of cats, and one day a tyrannical gorilla and his army (including some dastardly rats) make the village cease teaching the "Way". Kay then proceeds steal a magic sword from his drunken Master's home and he and his friend begin their quest. Kay is an action-platform game hiding a lot of depth behind a kid-friendly facade of anthropomorphized animal occupants. As Kay learns new skills he can access new areas, and there is enough variety in each and in game play to be entertaining for those who appreciate a refined platform game. Graphics are good (for the time) and colorful, never detracting from the experience or causing cheap death from the confusion associated with figuring out what is what found in some games. While I can't go too far into the story without ruining it, I will say that martial art film fans will feel at home. Lastly, while I am in no way trying to imply this is on par with Zelda, PS2 owners might find this game to be as close as their system gets to that type of feel.
Not Metal Gear, Syphon Filter, Splinter Cell, or Mission Impossible.
Spy Fiction was criticized at the time for not implementing some of its unique elements as well as could have been. It was judged primarily by comparing it to other titles in the genre and not on its own merits. The story is fairly predictable spy drama and suspenseful action, but it works. It is one of the rare games in its genre to allow the player to play as either male (Billy) or female (Sheila) and have slight differences in the game to match the choice. For instance, Billy can't disguise himself as a woman. Disguises work in that you take a photo of the intended person and then try to get a clear shot of their face as well, otherwise you will only wear their clothing and the disguise isn't as effective. Also, NPCs notice out-of-character behavior or whether or not that disguise has clearance for a particular area. If noticed, simply do not move the controller or press any buttons and they will go, though maybe on slightly higher alert. Fights come down to a mix of melee, gun, and gadget and should be avoided though they rarely end in a Game Over screen. Aside from the disguises, there are the Spider Grips with allows a character to jump up and then attach to the joint between ceiling and wall and hide there, containers can be hidden in (or used to hide bodies), other gadgets can distract or incapacitate, and aside from the high probability of dying during the first skydive until it clicks, the entire game is a blast. I would really like to have seen more of this series, and I think any stealth action/spy lover will enjoy this one too.
I picked the this game more to represent the series, you can't really go wrong with any of the four Way of the Samurai games as they all have their own merits, but 2 is my personal favorite to this day.
No other games to my knowledge give you choices that effect how the story goes to the same degree as this series, it is literally like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. And even more amazing, the choices truly dictate the ending. Every action could be the thing that turns you from a savior of the people to an enemy of everyone, from a wanderer merely passing through to a hero of renown. I WotS2 it all begins with your arrival in the region, a little girl, and a group of bullies. Do you help her? Help them? Walk on by? It all matters. Every time you draw your sword it elicits a response, guards may attack, cowards may flee, Ronin may seek to regain their honor by ending you, and the law will likely attempt to intercede. Sleeping may cause you to miss an event that alters the course of everything. Killing the blacksmith (if you can) will mean no more upgrading or repairing your weapons. With at least six different story arcs besides being an uninvolved observer, and a dozen or so endings, this is the definition of choice, consequence, and re-playability. Killing an opponent nets you gold, items, and their weapon with major characters carrying specialty weapons more rare than others. Each weapon brings several different fighting styles, animations, attacks, and feels. More attacks open up as you use a weapon, but using it wears it out and it must be repaired or upgraded to gain more durability. Attacking a blocking enemy, blocking a powerful enemy, or striking a more durable weapon will cause yours to break faster, Breaking UN-equips that weapon, leaving you temporarily vulnerable. And playing on harder difficulties comes with the advantage of the weapons dropped being of better quality. Buying items in shops serves mainly to heal you or cosmetic purposes as there are a variety of things like hats, masks, instruments, and so on. And playing the game through unlocks more outfits for your warrior and more heads as well (it is even possible to play as a female). Fans of samurai films may even see some familiar faces and attire. In later games, like WotS3 it becomes possible to actually craft your own weapons out of things like blades and hilts for different effects. Combat itself boils down to timing and awareness. If you can determine what type of attack your enemy is going with, then pick the proper counter to knock him off balance, follow that up with an attack and watch him fall in a spray of blood (bosses are harder to one-hit as it usually just does more damage). Attacks also vary in damage based on your position relative to your opponent. You can also block attacks from your front, and kick enemies to knock them off balance. Careful, you can be tripped up on treacherous surfaces or by limbs of corpses and fall. For anyone who ever wanted to play a samurai movie, this is it. And for those less interested in the samurai content, this is still a great game made by Acquire, and worthy of a look if only to see things done here and nowhere else. There are a lot of other game series out there that could learn a thing or two from this one.
Pro tip: Kick dropped items rather than bending down to pick them up, it is almost instant, doesn't leave you vulnerable as long, and is the only way to grab the weapon from the boss before the game ends.
And that's it. Hopefully, some who might be looking for a fun time can look at this list and pick up a few ideas. As with every list, preferences vary, but I think it is a fairly unique and varied list. I couldn't list 60 games or I would have.
Nearly Made It:
1. Skygunner - aircraft shooter with fanciful pastel cel-shading
2. Enthusia Professional Racing - Konami's take on racing, penalties for collisions
3. Ghosthunter - a great game alternative for Ghostbusters fans, or anyone really
4. The Getaway (Series) - sort of a Guy Ritchie vibe, heal by cover, blind fire, etc.
5. The Legend of Alon D'ar - RPGs that allows for two players, a rarity
6. Tourist Trophy - bike racing from the makers of Gran Turismo
7. Magna Carta Tears of Blood - an RPG known for its character designs
8. Ar Tonelico (Series) - an anime-style RPG, fighters act as shields for mages
9. Cold Winter - 007-like FPS, but grittier, gorier, and full of cursing
10. Crimson Sea 2 - Dynasty Warriors meets Syfy channel, only two characters
List by Sohogojo (05/23/2014)
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