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10 Rad Video Game Franchises You (and the Industry) Forgot About

What keeps us adult gamers playing today? Why do we stick with this hobby, playing sequel after sequel of games we grew up with in elementary school? Childhood might be the main reason. We experienced that rush of making Mario jump and Samus shoot. That liberating feeling of moving around and affecting the environment in those magical worlds that existed outside the realm of chores and gym class. We’ve been chasing it ever since. I mean, seasoned gamers…we discovered what it was like to actually participate in a narrative unfolding before us on the TV. This was at a time when the bar for what was considered engaging programming was at an alltime low. It was like crack for the imagination. The ultimate cure for boredom. Some of our favorite franchises – Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, Metal Gear – have stayed with us as we aged, a nostalgic reminder of those simpler times, forever-lost, that we’ll always miss.

Games, over time, gained more challenging stories and lavish production values to either compliment or compensate for gameplay. Some of our childhood classics, however, never made the jump to a next gen console. They exist in the museums that are our shelves or in memory alone for us to revisit again and again. We here at the BMB have compiled a ten-piece exhibit to help increase awareness of abandoned game franchises that, if not rejuvenated by a remake or sequel, sadly risk being remembered more for their use as drink coasters and landfilling than how much they entertained us.

 

ATV Offroad Fury

The realization that this quaint little racing game also doubled as a sudden-death crash simulator resulted in friends inviting themselves over to see who could rack-up the nastiest wipeout in a game filled with nasty wipeouts. For a PS2 game, ATVOFs physics engine was surprisingly entertaining –  a tad floaty, sure, but somehow that prolonged time your avatars spent flying awkwardly in the air made that inevitable crash (often ending with them being run over by their own ATV) even funnier. Not to mention the bizarre sound effects, like those half-hearted groans of annoyance your character makes once hitting the ground after being launched over a canyon. Overall, the campiness of the game made it much more fun than anyone expected it to be and it could’ve made a great PS3 franchise with some of the zaniest multiplayer ever seen.

 

Primal Rage

Showcasing exquisitely detailed hand-made models and gorgeous matte painted backdrops, Atari’s Primal Rage (1993) emulated what it would feel like to interact with a Ray Harryhausen creature-feature. The only thing that kind of sucked, (aside from having to wait a decade to play the arcade-perfect port for free in your home) was the difficulty of mastering those finishing moves. Like fatalities, most of them were gory and morbidly amusing, which enticed our impressionable, curious, younger selves into spending our valuable cursive-practicing time on figuring them out. Who in their right mind could pass up an opportunity to command a mohawk-donning King Kong-esque beast to piss a stream of acid urine that instantly melts your prehistoric opponents into fossils? But figuring out and nailing those moves required lots of patience and time that could be better spent battling it out with friends.

With such a winning concept – dinosaurs beating each other into petroleum – it’s downright bizarre there’s never been a sequel, especially in a world where the list of other decent dinosaur games pretty much begins with the original Turok and ends with the second Dino Crisis.

Okay, a sequel DID made it to arcades, but Atari snatched the cabinets back up ASAP, presumably after seeing the above character designs.

Fear Effect

Fear Effect, also known as “that game you thought Capcom made”, is noteworthy for several reasons:

1) The voice acting, while still bad, was a sure step forward compared to the voices in those other action/adventure games with static camera angles that made you feel sad for the mildly brain-damaged characters that were not intentionally designed to have mild brain damage.

2) The gorgeous 3D, cell-shaded art was the first of its kind in video games. Pressing the pause button at just about any time would result in a still image up to par with a graphic novel panel.  And all before Jet Set Radio and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

3) It was also one of the first – maybe first? – games to feature an LGBT protagonist, and yet another LGBT character was added to the cast of Fear Effect 2.  Admittedly, they were both hot lesbians designed to help straight, teenage males meet their fapping quota, but, nevertheless, a step forward for the video game industry at the time. That last sentence probably says more about the gaming industry than anything else.

 

Ah, progress.  Sweet, addictive, toe curling progress.

While Fear Effect’s controls were similar to the ones in those capcom action/adventure games on the Playstation, it differentiated itself in how it was actually fun to play.  Fun, because it focused more on allowing gamers to obliterate anything in their path instead of forcing them to develop deeply-ingrained phobias of animals they used to love.

Hey, I hate dogs now.

Overall, the art direction and creative setting of these games made them unique interactive experiences worth playing, so how about getting on that Fear Effect 3, video game industry?

 

Nightmare Creatures

Nightmare Creatures, a hack n’ slash developed by Kalisto Entertainment, was quite good for what it was and featured some of the goriest gameplay of its time – at the press of a button you could disembowel your beastly foes or chop them up into small chunks of meat using your sword and – uh – staff?  No, the combat didn’t always make sense, but it was consistently fun and often challenging.

In addition to the wickedly cool (and underused in gaming) Gothic England setting and fun violence, you might also remember this game for Frédéric Motte’s music. More specifically, the way it had the tendency to take you from zero to “Hey, I’m a metalhead now” in six seconds. The creepy, ambient synths that played during the stages were more than appropriate, but the downtuned rock that kicked-in during boss fights gave the player a boost of adrenaline that worked wonders when fighting the gruesome bastards.

Nightmare Creatures was a decent action/adventure game made more interesting, again, by the great art team, which begs the question: why wasn’t a sequel with updated gameplay ever made?

 

Oh yeah, there was a sequel. But it kind of sucked. And it might have single-handedly caused the series’ downfall. After playing through the first half of NC2 it was clear that most of what made the first game unique and fun was either toned down or replaced by something else that didn’t quite work. The graphics seemed more polished and the creature designs were inspired, I admit.  And, sure, the presentation was more cinematic overall – but the gore was far less satisfying, the story moved further away from Gothic English history, and the music…?

Hi, I’m Rob. and I’ll be in charge of rawking in this game. That will be ten thousand dollars plus royalties.

A third game in the series was once in development for the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube, but Kalisto had to cancel it due to poor sales from NC2 and possibly owing large sums of money to a man who drives a goddamn Dragula through traffic.

 

The Hive

Also known as “the first and last computer game you bought a PC joystick for”, The Hive is a 1995 Star Wars-inspired rail shooter released by Trimark Interactive with some cutting-edge and tasteful presentation . Had the graphics been a bit more detailed and scrubbed-free of aliasing and pixilation, its widescreen art direction might have matched that of some TV shows at the time (think SeaQuest or Star Trek:TNG with the CG graphics of Reboot). But, more than anything, the music was uncommonly great and sounded primed and ready for scoring Hollywood blockbusters. You think that’s hyperbole?

I mean, DAMN. And look at it – It’s amazing how it’s interactive at all. The gameplay, although limited, was even kind of fun at times in a “this might be the closest I get to piloting an X-wing” kind of way. Granted, The Hive – uh, franchise – being a lost artifact is kind of understandable, especially now that gorgeous sci-fi games with shooting-based gameplay and the ability to pilot vehicles take up more shelf-space at gamestop than the new games their employees have generously pre-played for you. Overall, The Hive was, and in many ways still is, a thing of beauty, so it’s strange how it apparently never generated enough buzz to warrant a sequel.

 

Grim Fandango

In 1998, Grim Fandango wowed everyone who expected an extra dose of creativity from their interactive entertainment and it holds up today for at least a few reasons:

1) It still has a clever and memorable concept: You play as a sleazy travel agent named Manny Calavera – a grim reaper working in the land of the dead who sells afterlife travel packages to newly reaped souls which, depending on their credit (good deeds in life), range from premium resort train rides to walking sticks with a compass embedded on the handle. The gameplay is your basic point-and-click adventure stuff, but the story elevates it to being what many credible folk working professionally in creative fields outside of gaming tend to call “art”.  Not to mention its beautiful visual style, directly inspired by 40’s Noir films and the famous art seen in Mexico’s Dias de los Muertos fiestas.

What starts out as a bizarre and clever interactive animated comedy turns into a Noir thriller that still remains poignant and genuinely, unrelentingly funny. I’ll let this walkthrough on YouTube speak for itself:

2)  The voice acting, as you probably just realized after watching an hour’s worth of Grim Fandango walkthrough, is handled by professionals.  The dialogue isn’t just  “great for the time” –  it’s solid enough that you probably wouldn’t think twice if you saw a TV show or film adaptation that employed the same cast. For the sake of perspective, I’ll add that Grim Fandango was released the same year as House of the Dead 2.

3)  Insightful and spiked with enough quirk to inspire Wes Anderson, Grim Fandango’s dialogue-heavy script was written by a team of folks who might easily make a decent living working in the film industry (and some of them do).

Because of the rare talent involved with its production, Lucasart’s classic adventure game is more than just a fun game – it is often remembered as classy entertainment.

Unfortunately, the sales were poor. There was no sequel to Grim Fandango. No port. No remake. Lucasarts refuse to acknowledge its existence because they’re busy creating a type of product the entertainment industry is in short supply of – Star Wars spin-offs.  As of now, unless you happen to own a working PC from the mid 90’s, the only way to play Grim is to use your imagination really hard while watching those video walkthroughs you just plowed through. And watching it as a movie might still be more entertaining than playing the majority of the games Lucasarts publishes today.

 

Another World

AKA Out of This World AKA the-game-that-made-you-see-the-potential-of-video games-as-a-serious entertainment-medium, AKA that-side-scrolling-adventure-title-for-the-PC-with-gameplay-not-too-different-from Prince of Persia-or- Flashback.

The controls were simple and helped pull your attention into that already spacious and visually striking other world. Aside from spending the first ten minutes desperately trying to survive encounters with a huge beast and the most poisonous leeches in the universe, you never had to think much about making your character do stuff. Run, jump, shoot, shoot harder. That was basically it. And yet, due to fantastic art direction, innovative set pieces, and a graphics style which, to this day, is hard to describe without using the words “unique” and “atmospheric”, it remains a fun experience that has aged gracefully.

Did I mention the first true examples of cut scenes in video games can be traced back to this? And that they somehow remained intact in the Genesis and SNES ports? Out of this world indeed.

Some fans of the game might have forgotten about the sequel, Heart of the Alien. This could be due to AW creator Eric Chahi disowning the game after Interplay failed to create graphics that met his standards, resulting in a product that technically wasn’t an official sequel. Or maybe because the final product just wasn’t quite as memorable. Either way, we still have the original and for those of us with the desire to play it again or for the first time, it now exists in HD form on Android and iOS.

 

Vectorman

AKA that-game-you-played-because-you-didn’t-own-a-Super-Nintendo-with-a-copy-of-Super-Metroid.

Vectorman and its sequel were actually kind of popular back in the day. Many of us gamers with a Sega Genesis/Mega Drive probably owned or rented it at some point, perhaps for months at a time if one subscribed to the Sega Channel. It sold well, and a marketing campaign that promised $25,000 to the first person to reach the ending credits without cheating probably helped a bit. Just sayin’.

But all things considered, both Vectorman and its sequel were great at being shooter/platformer hybrids and we probably should have seen a 3D entry in the series at some point. And thankfully not that potentially mediocre one currently residing in a lower sphere of development hell.

At any rate, the label of “a poor man’s Metroid” that stuck with the Vectorman brand is kind of unfair considering that shooting, jumping, and a sci-fi concept were pretty much the only similarities between the two franchises. Sometimes Sega’s shooter even shamed Nintendo’s classic adventure game, at least as far as graphics and sound quality are concerned.

Maybe it’s not quite a classic, but surely thinking about it as a grown-ass seasoned gamer should bring up positive memories (assuming you’re not one of the folks who bought it for the $25,000 prize and didn’t win).

 

D

D was popular around the time video game advertising hit a creative peak and thankfully long before the phrase, “she wants the D” was embedded into the West’s cultural lexicon.  It owed most of its popularity to the ad campaign and that style of vague, ominous cover art seen on its box and the boxes of many similar niche 90’s playstation horror games.

A huge red letter D with a woman crying blood inside? Count me in!

And just what did the “D” stand for? Here’s a refresher.

The game was developed by reclusive designer Kenji Eno, a man who doesn’t like being told to tone down the violence in his games.  A guy who secretly makes two versions of a major game and intentionally submits the one his development team knows about late, knowing the penalty (one that requires him to deliver said game in person to the manufacturers) is actually the perfect opportunity to switch it out for a secretly developed director’s cut version containing enough gore to make George Romero nauseous. In the end, his plan of completely bypassing censorship worked because nobody he worked for (or with) realized the final product was so insanely bloody until after journalists and gamers already bought retail copies and were a few hours into the experience.  Pwned.

Several years later, the creatively-titled sequel, D2, was released for the Dreamcast but was met with little interest from consumers, possibly due to everyone already knowing what the “D” stood for.

And perhaps also because gameplay was, to say the least, schizophrenic. Controls were the same as the original D for indoor environments (point and click exploration), but outdoors the view would shift to third person. That is, until random battles with bizarre-looking creatures suddenly turned the game into an arcadey first person shooter not too unlike The House of the Dead. The result was one game that felt like a Frankenstein monster of various other games stitched together.  The video game equivalent of a Human Centipede, if you will.

Like the original DD2 was more disturbing than other games at the time (with the possible exception of this one). More than anything, though, it’s probably remembered for having some nifty graphics for a console game in 1999, showcasing an atmospheric, snowy Canadian wilderness with a surprisingly long draw distance.

“If only this snow covered the suck.”

Unlike most of the games on this list, it’s easy to see why there is no need for new D games – neither have aged well at all and – after being exposed to the newer wave of horror that is Devil May Cry, Onimusha, Fatal Frame, Silent Hill 2 and Resident Evil 4 – it’s doubtful that many gamers would’ve ever returned to the cheesier story and gameplay that made playing both titles (and the spin off, Enemy Zero) an often frustrating experience.  However, it did contribute to some growth in what games were allowed to show, and what it showed us still lives on in our nightmares.

 

Road Rash

AKA the game you use as a litmus test for fun when riding motorcycles in every other game that has motorcycles.

While being the owner of Vectorman and Eternal Champions wasn’t exactly the essence of Sega fanboy bragging rights (even though both games were not bad by any stretch of the imagination), there actually were some Sega exclusives in the 16-bit era that managed to stir up some envy in many SNES owners. A list including some or most of the following titles probably entered your mind just now: Sonic, Streets of Rage, Monster League, Virtua Racing (until it was played), and, of course, the Road Rash series.

Essentially, Road Rash is about racing motorcycles. Unlike most racing games, however, it featured gameplay that allowed things like this to happen:

And this:

And, depending on how angry you made those motor cops after punching them in the arrogant sunglasses, this:

Yes, Road Rash was all at once a racing game, a beat-em-up, an interactive version of Jackass: The Movie, and a fuck you to the man, all scored to the tune of some of 16-bit’s finest butt rock.  Try listening to that song without letting it become an endlessly-looping soundtrack to your next road trip.  It can’t be done.

Were there next gen sequels? Admittedly, yes. Were some of them decent? Well, in the case of Road Rash 3D, the effort to increase the scope of the gameplay by transforming single stretches of road into huge maps of road was admirable. But, in the end, something hard to pin down was lost in the translation from 16-bit to 32 and 64-bit, and the final verdict among critics and gamers alike was that Road Rashing works best in 2.5D. However, with tech that now offers realistic physics (ragdoll anyone?) and demolishable vehicles, it might be interesting to see what the developers of a modern ‘Rash game can cook up. Until then, this song shall forever remain my bike-riding theme of destruction, and I’m fine with that.

______________________________________________________________________

Nick is currently pursuing an Advertising degree at the University of North Texas.  He is passionate about videogames, movies and cheeseburgers and feels naked without a pair of headphones on.  Follow/tweet him @NickTaylorGFX

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4 Comments on 10 Rad Video Game Franchises You (and the Industry) Forgot About

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