Posted By Robert G. about 2 months ago
About a year ago, I posted an article profiling nine games that, for the most part, many viewers may never have heard of before. There are many games out there that we as a community simply forget about over the likes of blockbuster titles and indie darlings. Games from our past should never be forgotten like that, and even if they only get one more day in the sun, that should be enough to remember them by.
With this in mind, I felt like it was time for another list of video games to feature. Like the last list, compiled here is a crop of relatively obscure games from the past. Some of them were ahead of their time, while others were just completely fun to play. All of which, however, deserve to be remembered in some way. So let’s get down to it, the second annual Games You Never Heard of (But Should Have Played) list.
Clash at Demonhead: First Released in 1990- Nintendo Entertainment System
No, this is not about the band from Scott Pilgrim. This is, however, where the name came from. A relatively obscure game that was given new life as a quasi-geek culture reference in the graphic stories by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Clash at Demonhead is one of those unique NES experiences. Billed as an action platformer, Clash at Demonhead is more than a standard side-scrolling adventure, taking a page out of the Metroid book and expanding on it ten-fold.
Clash at Demonhead is a non-linear game. Featuring forty different routes that you will have to backtrack through, and tons of special powers, from invincibility to flight to shrinking yourself, that open up new areas in the levels to explore. The game also featured a number of “talk modes,” where you converse with the evil beings in short scenes that advance the plot further.
Many of the ideas found in Clash at Demonhead would later be morphed into the “Metroidvania” style of games. The term was coined by combining the two most popular games in the unofficial sub genre, Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It has since spawned its own culture, and many games, from Faxandu to Super Pitfall, have been retroactively included on the list of early free-roaming games by fans and critics alike for being forerunners to the style we know today.
Clash at Demonhead is one of the unsung heroes of the Metroidvania style, and for my money my favorite game in the genre. Even though it predates the genre itself, like many retro-actively labeled games, Clash at Demonhead fits the bill like a glove. The branching paths and plethora of abilities is on par with the experience found in Symphony of the Night, and that alone makes it worthy of a play through for any platforming fans out there.
Crusader of Centy: First Released in 1994- Mega Drive/Genesis
Upon first glance, Crusader of Centy, or Soleli in Europe, looks like a generic Zelda clone. In some ways it actually is, taking its cues from Nintendo’s A Link to the Past in terms of style and presentation. But the Genesis’ answer to Nintendo has something deeper in its midst, something that really makes Crusader of Centy stand out.
That, of course, is its storyline. One of the deeper adventure games in the era, Crusader of Centy’s plot revolves around a teenager named Corona who needs to inherit his fathers legacy by defending his village from monsters that threaten the human race. Like Zelda, it requires you to explore and solve puzzles by using weapons and tools found in the world to advance. The kick, however, is Corona can’t speak to humans for the first half of the game. Instead, he talks to animals, many of which will join him on his quest to protect his homeland.
The animal companion concept was novel at the time, but what really turned things on its head was how the monsters were dealt with in-game. Much like Ultima VI, Crusader of Centy allows the player to question why you are fighting these monsters in the first place, leaving who is considered good and evil completely ambiguous. That alone makes Crusader of Centy worth a play through, offering a deep story experience before storylines were prevalent in gaming.
For gamers like me who appreciate good stories, Crusader of Centy is a jewel in your collection. Showing that even before 3-D graphics and cinematic experiences, deep storylines with great gameplay can be done. It is one of the most underrated titles of its generation. If nothing else, it also offers another game in the Zelda vein of adventures that reward exploring and puzzle solving, a past time that many gamers enjoy.
Legendary Axe: First Released in 1988- TurboGrafx-16
Many of you may have never heard of it before, but the TurboGrafx16 was at one time the third wheel in the console generation. A console developed by the now defunct Hudsonsoft and NEC, it was billed as the first “16 bit” game console, and was marketed to directly compete with the Nintendo Famicom in Japan. Unbeknownst to Hudsonsoft, the TurboGrafx-16 would usher in the fourth generation of game consoles, which would later be popularized with the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo systems.
Sadly, the system would never fully catch on outside of Japan. In North America the system was a distant third behind the big two, the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis. After it was discontinued in 1995, many of the TurboGrafx games fell into relative obscurity, until the Virtual Console revived some of the more popular titles for the Nintendo Wii.
While the TurboGrafx-16 never took off in North America, many of the games on the system became household names for the most hardcore of game players. Bonk from Bonk’s Adventure became the de-facto mascot of the system, but perhaps one of the most important launch titles for the TurboGrafx-16 was Legendary Axe, featuring a muscular barbarian and a giant battle axe named Sting. Legendary Axe’s innovations included a strength meter that allowed for more powerful swings if timed correctly, acting as a choice between weaker, quicker strikes or one shot powerful swings.
Looking at Legendary Axe now, there really is not much to say about it other than another well executed, side-scrolling plat former. At the time, however, reviewers praised it for its graphics and fluid controls, showcasing the capabilities of the TurboGrafx-16 and essentially ushering in the next generation of graphical fidelity and multi-button gameplay. If anything, Legendary Axe can be seen as the apex of action platformers in the era, in the same ballpark as Super Mario Bros, to the point where Electronics Gaming Monthy’s Ed Semrad said Legendary Axe “is how [a platform game] should have been done.”
Nosferatu: First Released in 1994- Super Nintendo
A game with a simple premise, Nosferatu is another platformer providing addicting gameplay with a macabre horror twist. Unlike the ever popular Castlevania series, Nosferatu goes for a more gothic take in terms of its presentation. Through this, the title had a very moody atmosphere that helps in selling the adventure.
What sets Nosferatu apart from other Super Nintendo platformers were its similarities to the PC title Prince of Persia. Movement had weight to it, providing a slight lag that gave the games protagonist Kyle more fluidity on-screen. The technique that provided this was rotoscoping, which traced an actor to copy their body animations. This created more realistic movements in a digitized form, complete with full body pivots and bare-knuckle boxing. Nosferatu also came with a time limit that had to be beaten before the game ends. That made every action crucial, so you don’t waste time through the games labyrinthine levels.
What really sells Nosferatu is the atmosphere. The game was unique at the time as one of the few horror-themed titles on the Super Nintendo, let alone on consoles. For the most part, horror-themed games were regulated to the PC market with a few ports here and there for the consoles, with very few successful forays on home systems, until Resident Evil changed that in 1996. This makes Nosferatu an anomaly, as it is one of the few console horror games to be released before the survival horror boom.
Speaking of survival horror…