Over the past few months alone we’ve seen the release of two new consoles, revamps of both the PS Vita and 3DS, plus some much needed big-name titles for the Wii U. That’s before we’ve even taken into account the release of GTA V, a game proclaimed to be not just the best game of the year, but the best game of all-time.
Unsurprisingly, some smaller titles have become lost amidst the hype of the big hitters out there. Although it’s fair to say that following ten games may not be outright classics, they did at least deserve to have performed better at retail.
Consequently, most can now be found cheaply. If they aren’t already available for around £10, then they probably will be by the time the January sales start.
Anarchy Reigns – Xbox 360, PS3
It makes sense to begin this feature with Platinum Games’ free-roaming brawler as it was the first notable release of 2013. Even as far back as January though it wasn’t exactly a new game, first launching in Japan as Max Anarchy during July 2012.
During the six month wait Sega had seemingly lost all faith in the title, eventually choosing to shove it out the door with a £19.99 price tag. Most UK retailers were offering it to pre-order for significantly less than that, making it quite the bargain for those still feeling the pinch after Christmas.
Starring the hero of Wii uberflop Mad World, Anarchy Reigns sees Jack Cayman and newcomer Leo – a cyborg who could easily pass off as a stunt double for Metal Gear Solid’s Raiden – battling in large-scale dystopian environments to capture a cybernetically enhanced agent gone berserk.
Repetition is kept at bay by random events, such as airplane bombing runs and tornadoes, while missions remain varied throughout. As pleasing as it is to pummel hordes of enemies and battle outlandish bosses, Anarchy Reigns does have its fair share of faults. Shortness is the major issue, and many reviewers also found it odd that there are additional special moves to unlock beyond the ones Jack and Leo start with.
Still, it’s well worth a look, and it comes especially recommended to those who wish Sega would make a new Streets of Rage.
Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death – Xbox 360, PC
It’s near impossible to talk about this downloadable hack ‘n’ slasher without mentioning God of War, so here it comes – Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is very much like God of War.
Unlike Kratos’ story of sorrow though, there’s a light-hearted vibe present. This can be attributed to the titular mask itself. It’s a talking mask, no less, and one that’s content to taunt protagonist Marlow Briggs in an amusingly childish manner.
The plot sees ex-fireman Marlow left for dead after a heated argument at an artefact dig site. Slain by an ancient weapon, Marlow is soon awakened by the spirit of a Mayan God. Together they seek revenge, hacking and slashing hired goons and taking down helicopters, colossal bosses and more with chained blades and sizeable swords.
Puzzles help to break up the combat, in addition to a few unexpected moments such as top-down shooting sections resembling retro “shmups” of yore. Marlow is also able to stomp around on the back of giant scorpions, jabbing away with their giant pincers.
As we said in our review, pleasingly bold and brash execution makes it a very hard game to dislike. Give the demo on Xbox Live a go next time you’re looking for something to play.
Thunder Wolves – Xbox 360, PS3, PC
This Hungarian-developed helicopter shooter arrived like a bolt of lightening. Although we saw it appear on XBLA, and thus gave it a quick mention during one of our weekly new release round-ups, it wasn’t until spotting a glowing review in the Official Xbox Magazine that we learned of its greatness. It was awarded 8/10, if memory serves.
Cerebral Thunder Wolves certainly isn’t. It’s a single-minded shooter that achieves exactly what it sets out to do – couple copious amounts of pretty explosions with the sensibilities of the shooters from yesteryear. Barely a second passes without something on screen being blown to smithereens. The dialogue meanwhile so is pleasingly daft that it’s bound to raise a grin.
It’s a little short and many will likely find it on the easy side, but the £6.75 price tag accommodates for this. Had it been released in the arcade during the ‘90s, chances are you would have thrown way more than £7 into the coin slot.
Stick It To The Man – PS3, PS Vita
The newest game on our list of hidden gems is this abstract PSN-only platformer, released just a few weeks ago. Penned by Ryan North, the writer of the Adventure Time comics, the story sees paper-thin hero Ray wake up from an unfortunate accident with newly found mind-reading abilities.
Not only this, but Ray is now able to tear and distort the papercraft world in which he inhabits. Ray’s new talents also allow him to grab hold of stickers and slap them onto things – a mechanic that’s integral to puzzle solving.
He doesn’t get long to enjoy these new powers, however – he’s wanted by ‘The Man’ for a crime he didn’t commit, and with his face plastered on all over TV he’s then forced to go on the run. This leads to numerous amusing encounters with the locals, with Ray doing whatever it takes to escape the long arm of the law.
If you believe that there aren’t enough games out there with a sense of humour, then buy Stick It To The Man or forever hold your silence.
SteamWorld Dig – 3DS, PC
Now here’s a game that’s so impeccably designed that it’s hard fault. We suppose if you really wanted to be pedantic about it though, then it’s fair to say that’s originality doesn’t rank highly.
Inspiration comes from the likes of Lode Runner, Mr. Driller, Spelunky and other games with a focus on digging in dirt for riches. There are a few shades of Metroid present too, in the sense that robotic hero Rusty uncovers numerous upgrades while exploring which then must be used to access new areas.
Exploration, experimentation and a sense of progression – SteamWorld Dig nails all of these things and more.
Small but perfectly formed, it’s an utter joy to play from start to finish.
Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi – 3DS
There are very few publishers out there who would go to the effort of localising and releasing an interactive romance novel outside of Japan, but that’s exactly what Rising Star did back in September.
What they didn’t do is tell people about it. Out of all the games featured in this article, Hakuoki has had the least press coverage.
Quality certainly wasn’t an issue – the Metacritic stands at a respectable 76% from six sources. Reviewers praised the excellent translation of its fascinating story, which tells the tale of Chizuru Yukimura – a young woman who disguises herself as a man while searching the dangerous streets of Kyoto for her missing father.
We wouldn’t dally in picking this one up if you’re curious, as all signs point to it being hard to find in the future.
Dragon’s Crown – PS3, PS Vita
In Japan this gorgeous side-scroller shifted an impressive 300k copies within a week.
It was never going to perform that well outside of its home country, but entering the UK chart at #19 wasn’t something to be sniffed it. The following week? Nowhere to be seen. At all.
So here we are, reminding you that Dragon’s Crown exists. The PlayStation 3 version has a slight advantage over the PS Vita rendition as the action is best suited to a large screen TV. And action-packed it certainly is, likened by many as an all-new Golden Axe that combines reassuringly old-skool hack ‘n’ slashing with the depth of a typical RPG.
Like Odin Sphere, GrimGrimoire and Muramasa: The Demon Blade before it, Dragon’s Crown is destined to become a cult classic.
Killer is Dead – Xbox 360, PS3
It was only four months ago that we were introduced to Mondo Zappa – a gigolo assassin with a metal arm – but Killer is Dead’s main protagonist already appears to be confined to obscurity. Perhaps this was always going to be the case – the likes of Garcia Hotspur, Travis Touchdown and Juliet Starling are only well remembered by those who played the games in which they starred.
Whether Mondo Zappa deserved to be remembered is hard to say. Visually, Killer is Dead is impressive – no other game released during 2013 comes close to resembling its bold, nay eccentric, colour palette. Bosses are likewise impressive and for most part combat is enjoyable, but the padding between battles is what drags it down. A good example is the mini-game that involves starring at a girl’s chest until a meter fills up. Why? So you can give her a present, of course.
But answer us this – would this have been a SUDA 51 game without a pervse sense of humour? Now that’s something up for debate.
SUDA 51 may have slipped up slightly with his latest ludicrous offering of cel-shaded ultra violence, but the creator’s desire to make something more mainstream should be applauded.
The Wonderful 101 – Wii U
It’s fair to say that releasing a playable demo of this colourful Pikmin-alike did more harm than good. Due to a slight learning curve it’s not the easiest game to get to grips with, requiring patience as you master the intricacies of the touch-screen controls.
Once acquainted though it shines just as bright as Platinum Games’ other titles. Well, maybe not as bright as Bayonetta but it’s pretty darn close. It looks the part too, showing off what the Wii U can do via some screen-filling special attacks – the squad of superheroes can be morphed into giant swords, huge flaming fists and more as they battle the brilliantly named GEATHJERK.
Hideki Kamiya put his heart and soul into The Wonderful 101, so it see it flop following harsh criticism – a lot of which stemmed from the demo alone – was disheartening.
With the price starting to fall towards the magical £20 mark, we’re hoping that a few more people will discover its quirky delights.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – PS3, Xbox 360, PC
It was a close call between The Bureau and EA’s Fuse, but 2K Marin’s vastly delayed shooter managed to pip it thanks to its stylish 1960’s setting. As we said during our review, FBI agents dressed in smart suits and fedoras make a welcome change to burly space marines.
Curiously, both The Bureau and Fuse were first envisioned very differently. This was originally a FPS known simply as XCOM before being transformed into a third-person shooter. Fuse on the other hand was once a class-based affair known as Overstrike before getting a sci-fi makeover.
The Bureau starts off in a somewhat hackneyed fashion, featuring a plot similar to Independence Day: steal an alien spacecraft and pilot it back to their homeland with a special message – don’t mess with America. Well, something like that anyway.
After around the seven hour mark the story looks set to draw to a conclusion, only for an unexpected twist to emerge that prompts you to make a vital decision. The outcome affects the final few hours quite dramatically, although by this point we did start to grow tired of the cover-based combat system. It may demand more brainpower than, let’s say, Gears of War, but it’s never anywhere near as tactical as 2012’s brilliant XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Then again, that was never the intention – this was always meant to be a more casual offering.
After a long period in development limbo, The Bureau eventually emerged as a stylish shooter that doesn’t do anything fatally wrong apart from finding itself walking down a very well-trodden path. We don’t think much more could have been expected from it.