I recently expressed doubts that Resident Evil 6 could be as enjoyable for me as previous entries in the series had been. I still haven’t played it – I’m waiting for the PC version, and that’s still quite a ways off. I’m keeping an open mind about it, however – if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a gamer over the years, it’s that any game has the capacity to surprise you, one way or the other. And Ron here at Leviathyn has gone a long way towards convincing me I could really enjoy RE6 after all.
So, with hopes renewed, I thought I’d talk about those games I’ve played that surprised me in a pleasant way, though I reserve the right to later do a list about surprisingly poor games. As always, this list is subjective, and my experiences will be different from most people. But these are the games I had little to no expectations about, and found surprisingly good, from least to most surprising.
8. MASS EFFECT
This almost got left off the list, as an “honorable mention”, because I don’t think a lot of people were surprised. But when Mass Effect came out, I was ‘out of the loop’, as it were. I’d never heard of Mass Effect prior to a recommendation from a game store manager whose advice had never steered me wrong before. So I bought it, took it home, and fell in love.
For those who don’t know, Mass Effect is a massive space opera trilogy blending the action of third-person squad-based shooters and the story, depth, and character building of an RPG. And Mass Effect is unique in that many, many choices made in the first game will have repercussions throughout the second and even the third game. It is a vast universe, and Mass Effect is very good at making you feel like you’re having an impact on it. And it’s an awful lot of fun besides.
Travel to new star systems! Meet new and interesting alien species! And then kill them!
7. THE GUARDIAN LEGEND
I liked The Legend of Zelda when I was a kid, but not as much as my father liked it. And for a while there, my father would get me any game that looked even a little bit like Zelda for my birthday or Christmas. This led to some complete disasters.
So I really didn’t have high expectations when my dad got me The Guardian Legend. Which proceeded to blow my 8-year-old mind.
This game is one of the first attempts at genre-combining I’ve ever played. Equal parts adventure/exploration and vertical-scrolling shoot-em-up, The Guardian Legend is a lot like The Legend of Zelda if the dungeons were replaced with long corridors with bosses at the end, and Link had access to guns and a futuristic space fighter ship.
I had a lot of fun with the game, the special weapons were great to play with, and I enjoyed upgrading all of them to see how they’d change. Of course, you’d know all of this if you’d seen my video on the subject. And to answer your question, yes, I’m completely shameless.
6. SUPER BOMBERMAN 2
Having never played Bomberman in either of its incarnations on the NES, I didn’t know quite what to think when my friend suggested we play his copy of Super Bomberman 2. I did know that having ‘Super’ in the title did NOT automatically mean the game would be good.
I briefly played the single-player mode, and I thought it was okay. Just a decent action/puzzler, nothing special. And that’s when my buddy said those fateful words, “how about we try the multiplayer?” We played the game every time we hung out from that point forward for about six months.
There’s just something very addicting about it – I haven’t come across many games that, in order to win, require skill, strategy, and luck, all more or less in equal measure. That moment when you know you’ve won, and go running about the arena grabbing all the powerups left behind in celebration is just as awesome as that moment when you know you’ve managed to trap yourself with one of your own bombs. We still dust this one off every once in a while for some four-player insanity.
When I was 19 years old, I remember being at the game store, having a couple of games in hand, but still $10 left to spend. My eyes wandered over the used Playstation section, and they kept resting on Koudelka for some reason. The back of the box looked semi-interesting, and I didn’t see anything else for $10 I wanted, so I snagged it. And I probably wound up playing it more than the other two games combined. I’m not sure, because I don’t even remember what games they were.
Koudelka definitely made an impression as another genre-bender, as it was a tactical-RPG in a survival-horror shell. The player would run around the spooky estate Resident-Evil-style picking up items and keys, but at any moment, the screen could blur out, and the player would find himself moving characters on a grid, selecting attacks, using items, or casting spells. I loved it.
What surprised me the most was the acting and the writing (don’t judge either of those by the first scene between Koudelka and Edward – it gets better). There’s a really good in-game cutscene between the halfway point and the end where Koudelka and Edward get drunk. It does nothing to advance the plot, it just gives the characters some additional depth, but games usually didn’t do that in those days, and I was really impressed with that scene.