There’s always a chance that your work will fall on deaf ears. Your beloved piece of art will undersell, or fail to reach wide-audience saturation. Instead, it lives on in the underground channels of pop-culture, whispered about and passed along in secret to a growing, devout fanbase. These are the stuff of cult-legends.
Now, there is already a pretty solid list of beloved cult-favorite video games. Rare and hard-to-find titles like Day of the Tentacle or American McGee’s Alice live on in the memories of the few gamers who’ve played them. But what about recently? What are some of the games that have built solid reputations in the last 10 years? These are the games that have captured the collective imagination despite under-performing in sales, or mass audience appeal.
Despite this, history appears to be righting itself as some of these games are receiving surprise sequels or re-releases in the near future. If this trend continues, there might still be hope for a sequel to Conker’s Bad Fur Day yet.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
The unofficial Twin Peaks video game, Deadly Premonition was such a beloved cult favorite, that despite not selling like gangbusters, Microsoft signed an exclusive deal with the game’s director to develop an exclusive title for its then brand new Xbox One. That game is D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die and it’s looking to be as cultishly beloved as its predecessor. It stars another quirky detective as he attempts to navigate past a colorful cast oddballs to solve a paranormal murder, on-board an airplane.
Hardcore Parkour must have been the motto that guided the design of EA’s Mirror’s Edge. While the game featured a lackluster first-person shooter mechanic, the main appeal was the ability to perform parkour across a dazzling sci-fi city. Jumping from one high-rise skyscraper to another in first-person had to be experienced to appreciate. Unfortunately, the game was inconsistent in the rest of its design and as a result, appreciated at arm’s length by many gamers. The surprise sequel, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, is coming out this year with a stronger focus on cohesive design. Hopefully the sequel will be more widely liked than its pioneering predecessor.
Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment seems to have a knack for making cult video games. First with its neo-noir shooter Max Payne, and then with its supernatural mystery thriller Alan Wake. Fan desire for a sequel to the Xbox exclusive is starting to reach a fever pitch, especially with the release of Remedy’s latest game, Quantum Break. We’ll have to see whether or not a planned sequel to Alan Wake ever makes it out of the paranormal prison it must surely be trapped in.
With Valkyria Chronicles, Sega created a franchise whose sales shrank as its cult popularity soared. The first game, an ambitious real-time strategy RPG about two warring nations was technically ambitious, and mechanically flawless. Unfortunately, dismal sales limited development of the game’s next two entries to the unloved Playstation Portable, where the third game wasn’t even released outside of Japan. The first game recently received a remastered PS4 version in the States however, so there’s hope yet for the series… maybe.
It’s kind of crazy to relegate one of Nintendo’s key franchises to a cult list, but if anyone’s been under appreciated by the Japanese gaming giant, it’s Samus Aran. Her three, near perfect first-person adventures in the Metroid Prime series are ambitious examples of creative gameplay and storytelling. Unfortunately, the games failed to gain traction and after the bleak display that was Metroid: Other M, Samus has been pretty much missing from Nintendo’s recent history. Hopefully we’ll see her again soon.
Sin and Punishment: Star Successor
Treasure is a famous Japanese developer known for its creative and infamously difficult shoot ‘em ups (or Shmups). While Star Successor is itself a sequel to another beloved cult game, the Wii shooter was wildly imaginative, if not straight-up weird. Shmups have always had an underground following in the west, with their primary fanbase located in Japan, but despite the critical consensus that Star Successor is an acquired taste, everyone should still at least play once.
EarthBound never really meshed with the rest of Nintendo’s stable of games. The strange, magical-realist RPG by former ad man turned game designer, Shigesato Itoi, has always been discussed in cult circles. The campaign to get the sequels a proper localization is probably older than most teenagers. Still, the game that started it all in the west recently received a digital release on the Wii U, stirring up fans into believing that the long awaited sequel will finally get a proper U.S. release.
Life is Strange
French developer Dontnod Entertainment set out to make an episodic game that combined the teenage angst of a Lifetime’s Original Movie, and the sleepy paranormal activities of the Pacific Northwest. The result is Life is Strange, a game that is much better than the sum of its parts. Full of a large cast of endearing characters, players who could move past the game’s somewhat awkward handle on teenage vernacular found a game that portrays friendship and time travel better than many of its slice-of-life/sci-fi contemporaries.
Atlus may be known for its famous supernatural school RPG, Persona, but in 2011 the company released a puzzle game unlike any other. Part-telenovela soap opera, part-Tetris, Catherine was a game about relationships, and how an affair could destroy the ideal image of domestic life for its hero, Vincent Brooks. It dealt with themes in a way not seen in other video games since, such as fidelity, marriage, sex, and commitment. Definitely worth a teasing look, if only out of curiosity.
No More Heroes
Suda51 is a punk rocker disguised as a video game developer and his ideas, while great, sometimes fail to make compelling games. No More Heroes was different. It satisfied all the requirements of a good action game, like great combat, compelling enemies, and fun protagonist. Unfortunately this game too failed to make a financial splash, and after its even better sequel failed to become a blockbuster hit, the franchise has been left on indefinite hiatus.