Blinx The Time Sweeper, Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter, Eternal Sonata, Death Jr., Fusion Frenzy, MadWorld, Fracture, Dark Void, The Saboteur, Blood Wake, Brute Force, Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, Lost Odyssey, Infinite Undiscovery, Lair.
That was a list of games that you barely remember. Maybe they spark a lost corner of your brain, the place you filter failed IPs and 7/10s. They’re not all bad, not in the slightest, but they all represent failed great hopes for the future. Bold studios stepping out strong with their best ideas, only to get beaten down by the money and critics. Some of them had potential, some of them were doomed from the start, but they’re all dead now. For those of us that remember seeing these in stores, or better yet, as part of a press conference keynote, it may be a little melancholy. Is there an alternate universe where Mace Griffin is Master Chief? The thought gives me shivers.
But this list isn’t about those games. Instead we’re focusing on the ambitious commercial failures that actually maintain some level of fan support and following years after hope has faded. These games are 10, 12 years old and forgotten in most mainstream lexicons, but they’re still some people’s favorite games of all time. Unfortunately you can’t say that about Brute Force. I went ahead and wrote about these games and their cults, and whether or not you should believe the niche hype or write it off as the ravings of a bunch of weirdoes unable to let the good times go. Man, I really hope we’re not including D4 on this list in 2025.
What is it? A colorful, twisted 2005 Double Fine joint that helped usher in a new era of Tim Schafer loyalty. You know, the guy who made Monkey Island and Grim Fandango and a bunch of Kinect games you’ve never played.
How culty is it? Super, super culty. Psychonauts is in rarefied air as far as rated-T-for-teen mascot platformers go. Schafer is on record saying that whenever Psychonauts is featured on a Steam sale it generates a ton of money for his studio. I’m pretty sure that’s not happening for, like, Voodoo Vince.
Is it really all that? Sorta, yeah. It’s super funny and creative. The central concept is that you, some kid named Raz, is able to hop into the latent subconscious of the people around you. There’s this one super paranoid guy who has dreams of black-sunglasses FBI agents masquerading as housewives in a hilariously deranged suburbia. It’s like Banjo Kazooie on peyote.
But then again, the platforming was never great, there’s a bunch of mindless collect-a-thon nonsense in the hubworld—you know, all the stuff that we burned out on post-N64. I guess it makes sense considering this was Schafer’s first attempt at a non-adventure game in a non-adventure game industry. We’re lucky it wasn’t as broken as Brutal Legend. So definitely play it, but expect some baggage.
NOTE: We goofed. There was a sequel to Okami, a 2010/2011 DS game called Okamiden. Still, there hasn’t been a major console sequel to Okami.—Ed.
What is it? The swansong of the loved, lost Clover Studios, the men and women who brought you Viewtiful Joe and (sigh) God Hand. Okami was a Zelda-esque action-adventure odyssey with a one-of-a-kind art style. Unfortunately it was released at the tail end of the PS2 lifespan, shuttering sales and breaking the company.
How culty is it? Less than it used to be. I don’t hear many people talking about Okami anymore, but there’s still enough demand to merit an HD version that came out on PS3 back in 2012. Right now the property is caught up in Capcom’s sprawl, and with the primary character showing up in games like Marvel vs. Capcom it doesn’t seem out of the question that the franchise isn’t completely dormant.
Is it really all that? The art is truly unbelievable. It’s still one of the best looking games of all time, especially if you’re into ancient East Asian ink-wash paintings. It’s the only game that I can recall that let you pause the action and summon a “celestial brush” to paint things on the screen, which is an idea that should’ve been borrowed a million times by now.
In terms of action you’re still looking at a standard rigmarole of “solve eight temples to quell the angry spirits” or whatever, and that mostly works because you’re supposed to be playing through an old Shinto legend. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but it doesn’t have to be when the game is such a joy to look at. There’s no doubt in my mind that Okami holds up, and it’s truly a bummer it wasn’t popular enough to make its way into modern processing power.
3. Mirror’s Edge
What is it? A first-person platformer in a bright-white cyberpunk dystopia. You hop across skylines, dodge bullets, and happily cash-in on the parkour renaissance of 2008.
How culty is it? It might be the most culty of all the titles on this list. People adore Mirror’s Edge. It feels like there’s an anti-Mirror’s Edge slander task force constantly monitoring every corner of the internet. EA claims they’re going to make a sequel, and we got a super basic proof-of-concept at this last E3, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Is it really all that? The people who love Mirror’s Edge fell in deep before it even came out. There was this amazing trailer at an E3 that unintentionally established a permanent niche of the community.
I like Mirror’s Edge, too. It’s one of the only games in the history of the industry that successfully made my feet tingle, and if the whole design concept is based around jumps you can just barely make, I think that’s a pretty big compliment.
But I also remember wandering around hallways with no clear idea where I was supposed to go next. I remember the god-awful shooting mechanics that seemed to be actively resented by the entire studio as a reluctant concord with the EA overlords. I remember how I finished the game in about four hours.
So I think the people who love Mirror’s Edge are more in love with the promise of Mirror’s Edge. Maybe that’s why there’s been such a permanent thirst for the sequel, because it doesn’t need a lot of fixing. Of the games on this list, Mirror’s Edge is the only one to have a sequel announced; it’s supposedly still in development.
4. Advent Rising
What is it? Part one of an epic space trilogy penned by Orson Scott Card. They spent a ton of money on advertising and hired Eric from Boy Meets World to voice the main guy. Then it came out as an awkward looking shooter and nobody bought it.
How culty is it? Fading, flailing, but still there. Advent Rising heads still throw around the possibility that someday, somewhere, Advent Rising 2 and 3 will finally materialize.
Is it really all that? If you play Advent Rising now you will realize that there was once a horrifying time in videogame history where developers would make third-person shooters without cover systems. Then you’ll realize just how far we’ve come in terms of storytelling and the uncanny valley since Unreal Engine 2. Basically my advice to people who still want Advent Rising 2 is to play Advent Rising. It might be painful, but it’s an enlightening hurt.
What is it? Is it weird to think that the teenagers of today have probably never played a game like Ikaruga? That vertical-screen space shooter replete with slow-moving bullets and 12-phase boss fights? Is this resonating with anyone born after 1995?
How culty is it? There are a million games like Ikaruga, but Ikaruga is still our one and only. It’s been released on every console known to man, and it feels more and more like a stone-cold classic every day.
Is it really all that? I mean, probably? Unlike the other games on this list there isn’t a central, definable hook to Ikaruga. It’s just an arcade shooter with a fun light/dark mechanic. I don’t think it’ll change your life, but if you somehow haven’t played it you’re missing out on one of the most polished designs ever.
Luke Winkie is a writer living in Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter at @luke_winkie.