Games that become â??cultâ?? have usually missed out on massive mainstream success, instead earning themselves an ardent following that grows more slowly over the years.
They can sometimes be hard to spot when Call of Duty and FIFA make so much noise: here are 10 of the best from the past decade or so.
1. Beyond Good and Evil (2003)
Journalist, Jade explores an exotic world in an effort to discover the truth about an alien invasion. She uses stealth, martial arts, a nifty hovercraft and photography combined in a unique, high-quality game that also manages to be deeply moving. A classic example of a game that offered so much yet â?? bafflingly â?? failed to become a big hit. By popular demand, an HD revamp was released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2011.
2. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (2002)
This rather special survival horror title is a tale of ancient gods and freaky forces that’s steeped in all things HP Lovecraft. It has a novel feature that involves your character losing his or her grip on sanity, and you losing your grip on your character (you play twelve in total, from different points in history). Eternal Darkness is genuinely scary and far, far more inventive than some bestselling horror games we could mention.
3. Ico (2001)
A beautiful, emotionally involving experience, Ico isnâ??t just a game, it’s a work of art and an unequivocal high point in the history of video games. In a mysterious world, a young boy, Ico, is entombed in an eerie fortress. Escaping, he meets a girl, Yorda, and together they try to escape, all the while harried by shadow monsters who try to seize Yorda. It’s spare, haunting and gorgeous â?? a story played out with puzzles that rely on a remarkable bond between Ico and Yorda. Simply wonderful.
4. LocoRocoÂ (2006)
This is a borderline cult game as it actually sold reasonably well, spawning sequels and spin-offs, as well as influencing iPhone hit, Rolando. However, it’s just so quirky and cute it needed to be included here. In a world of cartoony visuals, you navigate a jelly-like creature past dangers by rolling, bouncing, splitting and reforming. Straightforward concept, memorable game.
5. Okami (2006)
Another beautiful game with unusual graphics, resembling Japanese woodcuts and watercolours. Hand drawing plays a key role in the game, too â?? you can call up a canvas and use a “Celestial Brush” for puzzle-solving and combat. Gorgeous, award-winning and not played by nearly enough people.
6. Psychonauts (2006)
Here you explore not just the game’s “real” world, but also get to dive into the minds of its characters. This allowed legendary designer of eccentric games Tim Schafer and his team to let rip with colourful environments, weird creatures and plenty of dubious puns. Fun and very funny.
7. Rez (2002)
Originally released on the Dreamcast then the PlayStation 2, but later revamped for Xbox 360, Rez is a game that truly stimulates the mind and the senses. It’s essentially an on-rails shooter but what makes it distinct is its techno-psychedelic environment and how your targeting and destruction of enemies shapes the game’s groovy electronic soundtrack. It’s like Tron, played out in your own private rave.
8. Shenmue (1999)
Way ahead of its time for the seriousness of its storytelling and the detailed expanse of its open world, Shenmue has you playing a young man on the trail of the killers of his father in Yokosuka, Japan. You explore the neighbourhoods, talk to people, practise your martial arts, and even play classic arcade games within the game. Remarkable – and costly. Too costly in fact. The planned trilogy of games was never finished, leaving the 2001 sequel open-ended.
9. Vib Ribbon (1999)
A rhythm-based game, wherein you can utilise your own music collection to generate the levels, realised in distinctive white vectors on a black background. You guide a rabbit, ri, along a line, or , generated by the music. Failure to navigate the obstacles successfully will devolve ri. A string of successes will evolve her again â?? to the point, eventually of becoming a fairy princess. Aww.
10. We Love Katamari (2006)
The year 2004 saw the emergence of a brand new cult gaming phenomenon: Katamari Damacy. Except it was never released in Europe. Hmph. At least we got the sequels, starting with We Love Katamari (or indeed We Y Katamari). The Katamari games simply involve rolling up stuff â?? from paperclips to mountains â?? to the accompaniment of compellingly irritating music. Joyous.
Daniel Etherington is co-founder ofÂ The Truth About Games. He also wrote a weekly games column for BBC Collective for several years and has contributed to the estimable Eurogamer. He’s currently working on a novel called ‘Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Saving the World I Learned From Videogames’.