critically maligned games that are (or you think might be) actually classics

(is there already a thread for this? if there is, i’m sorry for the duplicate thread).

anyway, this is a subject i think about a lot. one of my favorite films of all-time is Showgirls, which i think is a total classic film, but still is only just being recognized as an actually worthwhile film. it’s actually intentionally about Hollywood and hierarchies between women and US culture’s weird obsession with money filtered through a kind of performative hyper-sexuality, and not “so bad it’s good” or whatever, but maybe a lot of critics and audiences didn’t want to see it for what it was.

anyway i especially think about this when it comes to several indie games recently that seem to get lukewarm scores that i often end up liking a lot more than universally well-received games (i.e. your Edith Finches, your Celestes, etc). it’s gotten to the point where i feel like i can’t really trust even the most basic critical perception or overall popularity of a game at all for random indie stuff i happen to find and be interested in, which in a way is kind of liberating… (who knows what gold is hidden out there?) but it also makes things deeply confusing.

of course as time passes our perception of which games from previous decades hold up as something truly unique vs. which feel like relics of the time and place also changes. off the top of my head the three most well-known examples of critically misunderstood games of the past that are now considered classics are Earthbound, Deadly Premonition, and God Hand, which i’ve seen people on here and elsewhere talk about to death so i don’t really think we need to revisit those particular games (as good as they are).

the best example of a recent game i can think of that fits into this Rain World, which was received fairly mediocre reviews but contains some of the most beautiful art direction of any game i’ve ever seen. i admit to not being near finishing it, but i was pretty blown away by what i did play. and at least a few of my friends who have played it through to completion consider it to be a complete masterpiece. the critical response to it still genuinely confuses me also. i think critics want platformers to control exactly like Mario and will not accept that you can approach that space differently.

Ministry of Broadcast is a fairly unassuming-looking game that feels kind of like Prince of Persia mixed with a LucasArts adventure game, but with more gore. i played through some it of during IGF judging not expecting much because there are a billion dystopian games out there and (with the exception of Anodyne 2) it was my favorite of the 40 or 50 things i played during judging. admittedly i haven’t finished it!! but everything i did see of the game made me feel like it was something pretty special. and so i was kind of bummed to see the release came and went like so many things do these days and it got a relatively lukewarm critical reception.

there are other things i can bring up here that have been panned a lot by various people but actually seem kind of awesome to me (Die Hard for the NES, recent Clock Tower spiritual successor NightCry, a billion others) but i’m kind of curious to see what you all think. especially with games that might be lesser-known and aren’t the usual cult favorite games that we all know and love today.

24 Likes

This is a good thread, I’m sure other ppl will come up with better examples, because I never thought it was a masterpiece or whtaever, but for some reason the first thing that came to mind was Perfect Dark.

I just read a recent retrospective on it talking about like a flawed and ultimately broken game it is despite being ambitious and somewhat interesting in places. It was honestly the first time that it occurred to me that the game wasn’t remembered as a classic. I think if I played it again I would totally understand all of the issues it has, and honestly I think in the back of my head I always knew that it was nowhere near as good as GoldenEye, but the image of it that had formed in my memory was of a really good game that just happened to be released after I had already played like too many hundreds of hours of GoldenEye to really go that deep into, not that the game itself actually had anything wrong with it.

6 Likes

Getting in on the ground floor so Dog Days can be mentioned.

3 Likes

I think this could be really contentious (which may mean it’s a perfect fit), but Dark Souls 2 and/or DS2: Scholar of the First Sin. I know it reviewed well but I know people hated it. Like, most opinions I hear about it these days are very reactionary, either DS2 is the worst or it’s the secret best. I still think more people like to hate it.

1 Like

I do remember it hitting discount levels in gamestores super fast, but that might have been because of where the N64 was in the market at the time, compared to when Goldeneye came out. I remember it and Goldeneye being the baseline MP games to play with friends until Halo came out.

2 Likes

I’ve personally been obsessed with Outward lately, and made a bunch of posts about it in the games played thread last month.

It took a bunch of things I normally hate (survival mechanics, open worlds, crafting) and reconfigured them into a coherent whole designed to engender experiences rather than mastery. It’s a game about exploring the unknown, that unlike roguelikes and survival sims, actually feels like exploring the unknown rather than a bunch of meter management and accounting. Survival sims, despite their promise, are games about controlling your environment; the player is afforded all the tools needed to avoid failure at all costs. Outward, by contrast, encourages failure. Running out of hit points doesn’t end the game, its the real start of the game. Losing equipment is a normal experience. Having to destroy one’s own equipment to bandage oneself up is a basic decision made at every hour of the game.

That and the game’s overt socialist politics makes it a real treat compared to the typical western fantasy frontier-capitalism that is typical of video games.

12 Likes

as someone who got Perfect Dark when it was new and played all aspects of the game to absolute death, i don’t really agree on it being critically maligned (it was very well-received at the time from what i recall) or it being a misunderstood masterpiece (it’s way too much of a mess). it definitely has tanked recently in a lot of people’s critical perception, but the xbox 360/rare replay ports of it also make the game a lot more playable, even if it loses some janky charm… so i think it’s become a game that definitely isn’t bad at all but is just kind of an incoherent maximalist mess.

tl;dr i don’t think it’s a bad game by any means, but i don’t think it’s a great game either. maybe it’s a bit underrated in hindsight though it was definitely not at the time. it’s still is a very interesting game in many ways though! but i still prefer Goldeneye easily.

Yeah your posts about it got me interested in it and I was shocked to see it getting bad reviews on like big time gaming sites. But I should know better by now that they are not to be trusted, it seems better received by youtube game randos.

I didn’t buy it in time though and now it’s no longer on sale :cold_sweat: next time though.

Honestly it seems like Outward is part of a broader phenomenon where any non-AAA game to actually be high profile enough to be reviewed by mainstream gaming sites will get mediocre reviews just because it doesn’t have like performance capture by Daniel Day Lewis or whatever*

re: Perfect Dark - I do remember it being well received on release so it is a bad example. A better example of something that is perceived to have aged poorly that just hadn’t occurred to me until someone else pointed it out, I guess.

*This is a metaphor but I don’t know what it’s a metaphor for. Sorry!

3 Likes

I would take Perfect Dark over Goldeneye any day of the week. But I’m willing to chalk that one up to just personal preference.

2 Likes

Quantum Break is a good one. I don’t really interact with games press but by osmosis I think it was reviewed as mediocre. I know that pretty much everyone here (the only games-critical space I pay much attention to) ignored it. But playing it for the first time recently it is a hyperambitious attempt at multimedia storytelling combined with some really great third-person shooting mechanics that don’t crib from any other game I know, and all its elements have a high level of diegetic integration (one of my most loved things in games). It’s SO Remedy. Anyway I think it’s totally great and almost no one cares about it.

6 Likes

You actually convinced me to try this game out and I loved it. I played it nonstop pretty much as soon as I got it

btw Perfect Dark has a 97 metacritic score, if you want to know where game reviewers were at when the game came out. so yeah i can’t really say i’d call the game critically maligned by any stretch of the imagination - that’s as high a score as Breath of the Wild, for chrissakes. i definitely remember it being extremely popular, it just fell off reasonably quickly and probably didn’t sell like Goldeneye or a lot of the recognizable Nintendo games did.

https://www.twitch.tv/collections/xbs6phYGnBXd2A

Severance: Blade of Darkness!

It’s not so much maligned as it is completely ignored. I linked to the collection of my playthrough on twitch so you can see how my opinion changes from ‘this is a curious novelty’ to ‘this is one of my favorite games’ over the course of the playthrough.

You’ll mostly encounter this game on lists of “games that were like Dark Souls before Dark Souls” and that’s kind of why I was interested in trying it, but beyond that reference point there isn’t much talk about what this game does. It has massive, intricate levels with art direction that still holds up today, tomb raider influenced platforming, a unique combat system, and perfectly tuned difficulty. This game feels as exhilarating to play as my first encounters with Souls type games (before I became used to their formula). It was made by an independent Spanish studio and the narrative is a sort of barbarian fantasy re-imagining of Zoroastrian mythology.

4 Likes

i meant to say i’d love to hear more of these too! especially if the game has mixed reviews on Steam or whatever if it’s not reviewed by many (if any) websites.

1 Like

I do agree there’s a huge signal/noise ratio wrt indie prestige lately and though I’ve seen bennett tweeting about it a bit, it seems like a very difficult problem to solve with the games media as it’s currently constituted.

ironically or not, I find most of what I’d want to enter into consideration here is like 2012-2014 indies: Nimbus, Teleglitch, etc.

1 Like

Sometimes it’s hard for me to parse whether something just hasn’t entered my friend group but is otherwise popular vs. something that is actually just not on anyone’s radar. A great example of this recently was Reventure, which is this goofy…puzzle platformer, I guess. The hook is that there are 100 endings and you can finish the game in like 20 minutes, and that dying often means you start as a different character. It’s one extended joke at the expense of typical game stories, and I really liked it! Very cute game. Kinda thought nobody had heard of it

but it has like 2500 glowing reviews on Steam sooo I guess it’s just my circle of friends who had not played it?? Shows how disconnected I am, I guess.

Anyway, my legit answer is probably Chex Quest 3, which is my favorite DOOM game. It’s bizarrely lush, thoughtful in its design, and features real landmarks from Minneapolis. It’s also a download only semi-unofficial sequel to a download only official sequel to an advergame, so it kinda gets lost in the (chex) mix of the conversation around “lawl chex quest”

5 Likes

yeah this is something i’ve thought about a lot in the context of judging for game festivals where i’m able to see stuff come up that never seems to make a peep anywhere else. i know Bennett is all about INFERNIUM, which is another game that got a totally lukewarm/mostly ignored reception. i haven’t played it so i can’t comment, but it looks real interesting

it’s interesting that you mention 2012-2014 indies here though, because i feel like a lot of that stuff still made much more of a splash somewhere compared to a lot that came out from 2015-now.

1 Like

Oh!
Precursors!

I’ve been playing that again recently. It’s a science fiction first person shooter rpg from the Ukrainian studio Deep Shadows, the studio that made Boiling Point: Road to Hell and White Gold: War in Paradise.

Just about the only writing about it I can remember is RockPaperShotgun who were being very critical and more than a little xenophobic about yet another rough-around-the-edges eastern european game.

It has an excellent aesthetic that feels somewhere between the classic film Kin-Dza-Dza and Morrowind.

image

There’s bits of Gothic in here, there’s bits of STALKER (obviously), and the game benefits from what the developers learned from their first two games.

I honestly think its the best thing they’ve put out; its a game overstuffed with ideas. Most of it is imperfect but it remains one of the most interesting releases from 2009.

9 Likes

Infernium is well liked on selectbutton at least! I know both Felix and I loved it

2 Likes

I played infernium on his recommendation! didn’t finish it though I think I got others to try it, tulpa finished it