Next week will see the monstrously proportioned Big Black Box hit the all-too-tempting £99.99 price point. With an installed base of around 1.2 million in the UK, and upwards of four million across Europe there's a lot of people out there without one. It's only taken two and a half years to get to that magic price point, but in that time a whole load of games have been released. Hundreds of the bloody things. But while happy and jolly Microsoft execs feel all warm inside that their machine has a massive catalogue of games, retailers up and down the land have one hell of a job knowing what to stock. So what do they do? Take the easy option, that's what, and in most cases that involves piling the shelves high with games that they know will sell, and - in particular - the ones that they've been given a good 'marketing contribution' for. You know, gondola ends, window displays, FSDUs.
The games that merely get released are usually ordered in such small quantities that you'd probably need store assistance to track them down. And once they're gone, mate, they're usually gone for good, destined to find themselves gaining cult status. Games the enthusiasts bang on about, but the sort that you'd have to look hard to find. It's possibly too young a format to have too many true cult classics, but they're there. You just have to know where to look...
Money to burn?
Panzer Dragoon Orta
Microsoft knew it had scored a big one when it persuaded Sega to produce this sublime and gorgeous shooter exclusively for the Xbox. No other console could make a game look quite so spectacular, and its success seemed assured. Somehow, though, not everyone involved in its marketing and distribution seemed to agree. For a start, an exceptionally small number of units were produced for European distribution, and as a result once the initial allocation sold through, that was pretty much it. Around two per cent of UK Xbox owners have so far picked up this game. That leaves a pretty phenomenal number of people still to experience what is - without question - the best shoot 'em up on the platform, and possibly one of the greatest of all time. Loads of people are willing to let it go for around a tenner - don't think twice at that price.
Kung Fu Chaos
Another Xbox exclusive, this comedy beat 'em up is another largely unsellable concept on paper that really is miles better than it has any right to be. Coded by Cambridge-based Just Add Monsters, it scooped universal acclaim and proceeded to sell like a hot dogshit sandwich despite featuring feel good gameplay, superb technical grace, hilarious voiceovers and general madcap melee combat that hit the mark as much in single player as four player. Current sales estimates suggest that less than two out of every hundred Xbox owners went out and bought this, but not many people want to sell it. It's not going to be too hard to track down in stores, but for around a tenner you'll be laughing.
Beyond Good & Evil
To miss out on a game this good is to commit the gaming equivalent of Hari Kari. Okay, the box art isn't inspiring, and the premise of taking snaps of weird wildlife may not seem much of a hook. Yes, the concept on paper sounds awful, but Michel Ancel's masterpiece is worthy of Miyamoto, and it cannot be overstated how masterfully designed this Ubisoft published game really is. You'll find it cheap in the high street (most likely for under twenty quid), but people are practically giving it away online. For under a tenner you'll be the most grateful gamer there ever was. Also available on PC, PS2 and GameCube.
RalliSport Challenge 1 & 2
DICE must be really baffled as to how it can merrily produce the world's best Rally games, but fail to sell to the gazillion driving game fans out there. Even the retail and marketing might of Microsoft couldn't seem to persuade many people to get excited about either, even with the superb online play of the sequel and the world beating graphics. The first RSC, even at budget, couldn't tempt more than about three per cent of Xbox owners to go out and buy it, while the depressing chart performance of version 2 gives us every reason to suspect that it has fared even worse - relatively speaking. The best thing is, it won't be hard to find, and both will be cheap as chips. Go shopping.
Metal Arms: A Glitch In The System
Swingin' Ape's badly timed release at the end of last year sold so poorly that we can't even track down its sales figures as they were outside the Top 100 Full Price Xbox games for the year. But, my god, what a travesty that this Vivendi-published effort tanked so badly, as it's actually a really polished Ratchet & Clank-inspired action romp, with even a touch of Halo in there. Pretty full on platforming combat ensues, but technically its top drawer, and for the right money no one can complain that it doesn't offer decent entertainment. A little derivative, yes, but polished to a sheen and well worth inspecting. Also available on PS2 and GameCube, almost identical, we're told.
The House Of The Dead III
Another Sega console exclusive found its way to the Xbox last year, and failed to spark at all, selling to just over one per cent of Xbox owners to date. As far as light gun shooters go, this was ace, although bear in mind you can blast through it in about half an hour. We tried it on easy and finished it on our second go; so, um best not spoil it for you like we did. Also includes the legendary House Of The Dead II as an unlockable, so well worth tracking down, if you can find a compatible gun to go with it - but the cheap availability of the game these days should offset your gun outlay...
Poor Curly Monsters. The Liverpool team - responsible for the original Wipeout, no less - managed to knock out the best futuristic racer the world had ever seen, and sod all of you went out and bought it. Only just more than ICO in fact, although eventual discounting ensured that at least three per cent of Xbox owners now have it in the UK. The game itself is technically brilliant - even two years on - and has a glorious array of tracks, a superb learning curve and deserves a better fate than it currently endures - unloved, unsold, and unwelcome. Look it up, it's less than a tenner.
It's a recurring theme on Xbox. Some of the best games, with efforts like this proving to be the best in their genre on any platform, yet the buying public doesn't give a damn. This Power And Magic-developed Tennis game somehow manages to top even the mighty Virtua Tennis in almost every department, and has the deal clincher of being playable over Xbox Live. Anyone for Tennis? For just over a tenner you'll be laughing.
Secret Weapons Over Normandy
Totally Games revived an old classic for LucasArts, and no-one cared. Just over one per cent of Xbox owners signed up for World War II aerial duty, and not only was it flight combat at its absolute best, there's now a ton of free content available for download over Live. Lacks the online component of Crimson Skies, but the single player campaign is so damned good, you really won't care. Pip pip and chocks away! Also available on PC and PS2, but the latter doesn't have the extra content, and technically isn't as polished.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
A wonderful action-adventure from The Collective that was strangely exclusive to the Xbox and vastly better than Chaos Bleeds, its Eurocom-developed sequel that came out last year. Tom swears it's one of his all-time favourite Xbox games, but it still resides in its shrink wrap on mine. Damn. Writing this makes me want to go and play it right now. Sales wise, it didn't do appallingly badly, but still sold to just four per cent of the current installed base of 1.2 million, which to us means that way too many of you have overlooked this one. Pick it up for a tenner or less and feel pleased with yourself.
Indiana Jones & The Emperor's Tomb
Speaking of The Collective, this largely ignored action packed romp is among the best in its genre on Xbox, and is vastly better than the rather ugly PS2 conversion that followed. LucasArts may shy away from adventure games these days, but when it can make the license work the way it did here, you're more than happy to crack the whip and fisty cuff your way through what stacks up to a hugely enjoyable romp. Not the most original game, but for Tomb Raider fans wanting their next fix, this does the trick just fine. Sold relatively poorly upon its release early last year, so shouldn't be hard to track down for a decent price.
Grabbed By The Ghoulies
Ill-conceived in terms of its commercial value, as was Microsoft's decision to release it during the Christmas rush, but in the cold light of day, Rare's oddball beat em up is one of the most stylish, loveable games on the Xbox, full of charm, simple but fiendish gameplay, and a progression system that really ramps up once you get into it. Never was worth paying full price for, but as a quirky, charming piece of entertainment, it's well worth the sub 20 quid you'll pick it up for these days.
Bill Gates said it was his favourite game, so therefore everyone else had an instant reason not to buy it. Had a fairly tough time impressing many critics on its release, but this 100 mini-game compendium is actually the Xbox's best party game by a mile, and probably one of the more enduring on any system. There are too many stand-out moments to mention, but Tom reckons it's worth it for the Sumo game, the one where you're strapped inside a ball while the floor's dropping away around you, alone. Personally I liked the Water Rafting one. Honestly, this is a real gem for a few quid - just remember the 'z' in, er, 'Fuzion' when you ask for it on auction sites.
Two years ago, Tom reckoned this "fantasy adventure game is easily the best of its ilk on Xbox." and "the beautiful, seamless world set before you is enough to capture your attention for hours", but the fact that Starbreeze's publisher was Swing, its chances of getting anywhere were slim to nil, so yet again it's our duty to report that less than one per cent of Xbox owners sought this out. Not many people are selling it, so this could be one of the more collectable Xbox titles now that Riddick is helping to gain Starbreeze a lofty reputation for awesome looking games. Expect to nab it for under a tenner, though, in which case you'll be more than happy.
Jet Set Radio Future
As with the Dreamcast original, the Xbox-exclusive sequel sold sod all as well. Smilebit might be able to please the critics, but just over one per cent of Xbox owners actually went out and bought this cel shaded graffiti spraying skate game. Plenty more will have picked it up as part of a value pack, harming its chances of ever being considered a cult classic, but a flop's a flop, however you dress it up, right? Lots of people are selling their freebie disc for a quid or so, but the real deal will cost you a fair bit more.
Even Microsoft gave up on this one, and its zero presence at retail and lack of press coverage ensured it only ever got noticed by hardcore platforming enthusiasts. Sales figures are hard to track, but we estimate that about one in 200 Xbox owners own this currently, making it one of the worst selling Xbox games ever, and certainly one of Microsoft's biggest flops in the UK. Those that bothered to play it found it to be infinitely better than Microsoft's much-hyped Blinx (which sold reasonably well in comparison, selling over ten times more than this did), and up there with the best that the PS2 has to offer. Shame no one knew how to market a cloth-faced doll to the masses. Should cost you around a tenner, which is a bargain.
What other footy game lets you play as Dolphins, Apes or Penguins? Midway's brutally intense take on 'Soccer' (if you can stomach that abuse of the English language) was a massive flop to an audience far more interested in the likes of FIFA to bother with some extreme version of the beautiful game. But seek and you shall find an exceptionally playable game in its own right, full of insane tricks and cartwheels that make your players push the goalie right into the net with stupendously powerful shots. Sold exceptionally poorly, managing just over four figures on the Xbox. Did about 20 times better on the PS2, and is virtually identical. Either version is worth picking up, and is also available on Cube, all versions seemingly under a tenner, which is great value.
This KOEI-published title is among the worst selling in the history of the Xbox, with sales that would embarrass even the least ambitious publisher - but you'd have to wonder quite how such a polished, technically impressive title managed that feat. Tom noted, during his review in April 2003, that "if a historian looks back in 100 years and wants a good example of the third-person action title, this one has everything in abundance", but also pointed out it wasn't doing much new. It's also better than Unreal 2, if that's anything to gauge it by. Still, it's a curiosity on a format with precious few of those, and although it did eventually arrive on PS2, this is the better version.
Crimson Skies: High Road To Revenge
Red, Crimson, what is it about these bloody colours? Another slice (geddit?) of chocks away aerial combat that Microsoft had huge problems getting anyone remotely excited about. In fact, it's managed to join the heady throng of titles that has that magic one in a hundred attach ratio, meaning sod all of you appear to care about what is actually a damned good title if you can find it cheap enough. And with Live multiplayer dogfights and downloadable stuff, there's even more reason to care. It may not have that Japanese cool of many of the PS2 titles we featured yesterday, but we know a decent title when we see one. Should cost you less than half the original asking price these days.
This IO-developed squad-based shooter appeared to do reasonably well in the charts last summer, but actual sales figures tell a different story (games sell very poorly in general during July and August). Another quality game where less than one per cent of the audience took any notice, and on that basis we feel compelled to flag this one up again. Tom felt moved enough to rave about its squad-based shooter antics at the time, and still has a fondness for it now to keep his copy on his bulging shelves. Also available on PC, GameCube and PS2, and well worth a look for the sub £10 price you'll find it for now.
Otogi: Myth Of Demons
Although it wasn't the most complicated hackandslash game ever made, its spectacular visual style made this a firm favourite with many gamers fond of swiping endless enemies to their doom. Sega once again took full advantage of the Xbox with this exclusive title and purely on a technical level it's hard to think of too many games that look better. Very Japanese, and on a format bereft of too much input from the Orient that can only be considered a good thing. One of Sega's all-time bad selling games, with around one in 250 Xbox owners bothering to seek it out. Very tough to find, so grab it while you can.
It may be the world's most popular online game, but if you're not into PC gaming, the only place you can get to play it is on the Xbox. Only trouble with that is that precious few people bought it upon its release late last year, and who can blame them? Cheeky Microsoft wanted full whack for a game that's been available for free for years on the PC, and didn't even bother to include a proper single-player mode, putting dumb bots in instead. Still, if you want a cracking online shooter for Live, this has more than enough maps to keep you occupied, and with most people happy to let it go for between ten and twenty quid, it won't break the bank either. Either that, or just play the PC version!
Battle Engine Aquila
A gloriously chaotic mech warfare game on the Xbox (superior to the PS2 version) that Atari elected to release with a paltry marketing budget and then wondered why it failed to reach five figure sales. Rob was certainly a big fan of this one, and reviews were generally very positive. Should be tough to track down in stores. Barely anyone's even heard of it, so shouldn't be hard to pick up for a few quid, which frankly is a steal. Lost Toys went bust shortly after. Game development sucks sometimes.
Another gem that Atari couldn't work out how to sell to the masses (one in 200 Xbox owners bought it), this Xbox racer from Milestone (makers of Screamer) picked up great reviews from those who could be bothered. In fact, our Tom gave it a whopping score, bemoaning its lack of Xbox Live support but loving its technical excellence. He also noted: "somewhere between pure arcade racers like Burnout 2 and out and out simulation titles like Gran Turismo 3 lurks a little niche of half-breeds - and nearly all of these titles are exceptional. Ridge Racer Type 4 and Project Gotham Racing are our favourites, and Racing Evoluzione's efforts also fit into this category". Again, very few people seem to even know this game exists. Steal it from under their noses before they realise how good it is.
You'd imagine an online golfing game would have been a huge hit with Xbox gamers, but not so. This sold so badly when it went on sale at the end of last year it barely made the Xbox Top 20. UK sales to date haven't improved much since, despite languishing in the bargain racks, and thus Microsoft's first console golf title appears destined to jostle for position with the cult classics. Tom was pretty impressed with it, although preferred Tiger Wood's control system. Still, at a fraction of Tiger Wood's cost later this year you can have online golfing with your mates. Why wait?
That Ought To Do It
Check back next week for our Bluffer's Guide to GameCube titles. It may not have been discounted this week, but we seem to recall it's bloody cheap already. And none of you buy any of the games either! More Bluffer's Guides coming soon...
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