In every generation of video games, there are some that gain the love of both critics and fans, going down in history as classics. But there are others that, for whatever reason, never achieve the popularity or the critical acclaim they've never heard of. If you're not familiar with these classics, you're missing out -- but you might have the opportunity to catch up.
King of Dragon Pass (PC / iOS)
Released in 1999 by independent developer A Sharp, King of Dragon Pass is a strange hybrid of a game. Part adventure game and part strategy game, it puts the player in charge of a clan of barbarian warriors and herders in the fantasy world of Glorantha; victory depends on understanding the society's culture and myths as much as practical decision-making. Beautiful hand-painted art and rich gameplay and setting earned the game critical applause in its initial PC and Mac release, but it never reached a wide audience. A recent re-release for iOS has brought the game to new audiences.
Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Skies (Wii)
Most Wii fans rely on classic franchises like Mario, Zelda and Metroid to provide the console's A-list titles. But one lesser-known game that no Wii owner should be without is Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Skies (also called Star Successor), a rail shooter that combines frantic, fast-paced light-gun gameplay with deliriously strange graphic design.
Suikoden and Suikoden II (PlayStation)
Although they never became a mainstream hit, the Suikoden games (released in 1995 and 1998, respectively) are regarded as classics within the JRPG community. Unlike most RPGs, where the hero assembles a small party for his or her quest, Suikoden focuses on recruiting a mass rebel movement to oppose evil, with over a hundred characters available in the first title. The European release was limited, and copies of Suikoden II in particular fetch very high prices on the collectors' market.
SpaceChem (PC / mobile)
A simple and yet maddeningly difficult puzzle game, SpaceChem was released in 2011 by indie developer Zachtronics Industries. Instead of interacting directly with the game environment, the player programs a set of mechanical arms, or "waldoes," to manipulate elements. Positive critical response led to increased sales and the release of iOS and Android versions, but this simple yet challenging science puzzle still remains sadly overlooked.
The World Ends With You (DS)
2007's The World Ends With You is probably the greatest afterlife pin-trading shopping-based action RPG for a portable system ever created. Although it sold relatively well, the game failed to find a foothold, possibly because of its complex battle system and highly unusual setting. It's well worth a look, though, both for its rich gameplay and for the fact that -- like many other titles on this list -- it isn't quite like any other game.
War of the Monsters (PS2)
Battles between giant monsters are an obvious subject for fighting games, but early attempts, such as SNK's King of the Monsters, never seemed to thrive on home consoles. The release of War of the Monsters for the PS2 in 2003 brought the concept to the most popular console of all. War of the Monsters was neither a huge hit nor a huge failure, and as a result is mostly forgotten today. That's a shame, because its 3D, free-roaming battles, especially in multiplayer mode, are good, clean, building-stomping, monster-punching fun.
Toejam and Earl (Sega Mega Drive)
Sega's rival to the Super Nintendo really only launched one star character, the ubiquitous Sonic the Hedgehog. But even if Toejam and Earl, a pair of cartoon aliens, never achieved hit status, their game is still enjoyable, particularly in co-operative mode. Armed with a series of ever more ridiculous weapons, the title characters bumble around a bizarre landscape collecting the parts of their crashed spaceship. This game was released in 1991 and looks like it -- from the absurd slang to the boom-bap soundtrack, it's a huge slice of 90s nostalgia. Avoid the subpar sequels.
The Club (Xbox 360)
The console shooter market is competitive, with demanding audiences, so it's no surprise that Sega's off-beat 2008 offering The Club didn't make much of an impact. For all that, it's not a bad game -- it concentrates on run-and-gun action, with scores based on how quickly the player completes a level. The only downside is the game's bland graphic design: the usual factories filled with the usual thugs. While it may be a little different for players used to more tactical shooters, a level of The Club is like a two-minute punk song: a fast-paced rush of danger and deadly purpose.