The Bluffer's Guide to Xbox Cult Classics

Top of the Flops, if you like. [updated!]

'Cult Classic' is such a dirty term. People's association with them normally extends to something really obscure that a few beardy hardcore followers insist is the Best Thing Ever, but is usually a bit too quirky, too left-field and simply not accessible to the mainstream for very solid reasons.

What it should mean is 'here's a bunch of stuff that didn't sell for one reason or another, but, trust us, it's really really good.' And you know what? The Xbox software graveyard is absolutely littered with great games that didn't sell. For one reason or another.

What reasons might they be then, hmm? Well, sometimes the games were released with very little promotion or marketing. For a long while, you might recall, no-one was really sure if the Xbox was going to succeed or not, and as a result some of its very best games got released into shops with no big PR push, or in limited quantities. Other games got saddled with small publishers, or released at a busy time and got pushed aside by the inevitable FIFA, Bond, Need For Speed and Medal of Honor bulldozer.

And of course, some of the games were just plain weird and yet still great.

So now the Xbox is five years old, we thought it was about time we compiled a 'Top of the Flops' rundown to assist you completists with building up the ultimate Xbox games collection. The great thing is, most of these are now available in second hand stores the world over at pocket money prices. The main issue, right now, is that most of them don't yet work on the 360, but hopefully Microsoft will do the decent thing soon...

Psychonauts

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Psychonauts is the kind of game that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning.

Released earlier this year in Europe, and already regarded as one of the finest, wittiest, most memorable games of the entire generation. Originally intended to be a Microsoft-published Xbox exclusive, it was dumped for reasons that would probably hurt our brain. But Majesco picked it up and funded the game's development - largely in vain thanks to the game's disastrous commercial failure. Originally released in April 2005, an apathetic US audience ignored it, and it was hardly a great shock when the exact same thing happened in Europe - despite it scooping the Eurogamer Game of the Year award last year. The reasons for its failure are sure to rage for years to come, but it certainly didn't help that its European PR and marketing push was literally non-existent, and that its presence at retail was minimal. It perhaps didn't help that it was a platformer, either - a genre littered with commericial flops in recent years - but those that did see beyond its rather quirky first impressions found probably the most charming, well written, and above all hilarious games around. Pick this one up and feel proud that you did.

What did we think? 9/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? Sadly not.
You'll like it if: You have a sense of humour.
A word of warning: The circus level near the very end is ridiculously hard.

Beyond Good & Evil

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BG&E - Worthy of Miyamoto.

A true overlooked classic on Xbox that deserved a very different fate. Released on Xbox (largely identical to the original, but that's no bad thing) about five months after the game had already flopped disastrously on PS2, there was hope that the game would somehow get a second wind, but it fared even worse second time around. Bizarrely pigeonholed by some as "too niche", it was nothing of the sort, and was a game that's beautiful on so many levels that even the most hardened Nintendophile was left gasping in admiration. So what kind of game is it? Well, it's basically a third-person action-adventure where you take pictures of weird wildlife. Sounds rubbish on paper, and the box art didn't help either - but the storytelling is so brilliantly emotive that anyone with a soul will struggle not to love everything about the game. Quite brilliant.

What did we think? 9/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? Not yet.
You'll like it if: You want great storytelling, compelling gameplay, well crafted puzzles and supreme characterisation. It's here in spades. The art style is charming too.
A word of warning: It's not the most 'macho' game ever. If it's instant action you're after, steer clear.

Panzer Dragoon Orta

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PDO - Just a gorgeous looking shooter.

Let's face it. No matter how beautiful the game looked at the time, this was always destined to be a cult classic - it's practically the dictionary definition of one. Saddled with a somewhat inaccessible control system and quirky Rez-style shooting mechanics, this on-rails shooter was one of those games that was notoriously difficult to do something as simple as pick up and play - but with a bit of patience it grew into an intense, beautiful experience that showcased the kind of jaw droppingly gorgeous visuals that were all-too rare. It gave a mere glimpse of what talented Japanese developers could have done with the system if the machine had succeeded over there, but, frankly, this is still a good enough tribute.

What did we think? 8/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? Nope.
You'll like it if: You're a fan of old school scrolling shooters and glorious visuals.
A word of warning: It's a tough nut to crack with a steep learning curve.

Kung Fu Chaos

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Kung Fu Chaos - a true lost treasure.

If we told you that Ninja Theory (formerly Just Add Monsters), the guys and gals that are making Heavenly Sword, also made this, would that pique your interest any more? Well, it should do, because this Powerstone-inspired slapstick beat 'em up was an absolutely superb game that was "miles better than it has any right to be". Published by Microsoft, it was the classic example of a game that the publisher seemed to lose interest in, and as such it limped into stores with barely a flicker of interest, and sold dismally on the back of half-hearted promotion. You can hardly blame Microsoft, though. On paper, a comedy beat 'em up sounds like a rubbish idea, but the execution could hardly be better, tasking you with trying to perform the perfect 'take' on various movie sets. With cracking insults and simple, refined controls backed up by brilliant visuals that had a style of their own. Definitely one to track down.

What did we think? 8/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? Sorry...
You'll like it if: You warm to well designed, amusing concepts executed with care and attention. Brilliant in multiplayer, too.
A word of warning: Hardcore beat 'em up fans might find it a little simple for their tastes.

MechAssault

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MechAssault - The first online title on Xbox.

It's not often Tom's moved to chuck 9/10s at Xbox games as long-term readers will ruefully testify, but the release of Day 1 Studios' superb Mech shooter in late 2002 had the then-teenage Bramwell all afroth with delight, celebrating all facets of the game - especially the novelty value of Xbox Live support, which this title showcased for the very first time and impressed immensely. Even lone players can look forward to a lengthy and challenging solo campaign, so it's no surprise that people still refer to this with great fondness. Sadly neither this, nor its accomplished sequel sold - failing to drag the PC audience over to the Xbox as Microsoft had hoped. Will we ever see another MechAssault title? Doubtful.

What did we think? 9/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? Nope.
You'll like it if: Mech shooters with great online modes sound appealing.
A word of warning: The visuals weren't that special then, and four years on are even less appealing.

Quantum Redshift

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Quantum Redshift - the best WipeOut style game around.

Another first party Microsoft title that was strangely overlooked considering how good it was. Microsoft had done the hard part by securing the talented Curly Monsters team (comprised of the original talent behind WipEout) and getting them to produce the most incredible looking futuristic racer ever, but the genre's star had long since fallen. Emerging at a time of public indifference to the tired notion of 'futuristic' racing, it wasn't alone in its failure to sell - WipeOut Fusion, F-Zero and Xtreme G3 also flopped around this time. But looking back, it was possibly best of that bunch (though F-Zero is an amazing game too), and certainly a great showcase for what the Xbox was capable of back in the dim distant past of 2002.

What did we think? 8/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? Yes (and still looks great).
You'll like it if: You're looking for the natural successor to WipEout and the best looking game of its type, with smooth widescreen visuals.
A word of warning: It's futuristic racing, and as such it's not exactly groundbreaking. For diehard fans of the genre.

The House Of The Dead III

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HOTD3 - One of the only lightgun shooters on the Xbox.

One of many SEGA exclusives for the Xbox, and one of many that failed to sell in any significant quantities. Much like Quantum Redshift, the timing of the release of the Xbox's first lightgun shooter was all off - by early 2003, the public just weren't all that interested in lightgun titles, and they especially didn't see the point of investing in a lightgun just to play this - essentially a direct port of an arcade title that was already getting stale. The case for the defence, though, was strong - here was an arcade perfect port of the best looking light gun shooter ever seen, and a great uncomplicated blast at that. With HotD 2 also included as an unlockable, it's definitely worth hunting down if you're a big fan of these - and plays really well on the joypad, so don't worry too much about the lack of gun.

What did we think? 3/10 - or 8/10
Compatible with Xbox 360? Yes. Hurrah!
You'll like it if: You're a fan of good old fashioned on-rails zombie shooters with buckets of gore and unintentionally amusing dialogue.
A word of warning: It's not a particularly long game, and incredibly unsophisticated - but isn't that the point?

The publishers of The Bluffer's Guides have granted permission for our use of the trade mark 'bluffer's guide' and would encourage readers to visit their site: http://www.ovalbooks.com

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