In the ever-expanding universe of Xbox exclusives, some games shine brilliantly, earning accolades and immense popularity. However, not all titles garner the recognition they deserve, fading quietly into obscurity. This article embarks on an intriguing journey to unearth 15 of these underrated gems that, despite their remarkable qualities, have slipped under the radar of the gaming community.
From the cooperative puzzler ‘Kalimba’ to the gripping narrative experience ‘As Dusk Falls’, we will traverse the exciting terrain of these overlooked masterpieces. So, dust off your controllers and prepare to discover the hidden treasures of the Xbox library.
Table of Contents
Kalimba – The Overlooked Gem
Picture this: an undiscovered treasure of a game, tucked away in the myriad of digital entertainment. Enter “Kalimba”, an obscure title that has largely slipped under the radar of the vast gaming community. Developed by the Danish company Press Play, once under the wing of tech titan Microsoft, this game is a unique experience that unfortunately got lost amidst the shuffle of gaming studios, particularly around the time when Lionhead Studios closed its doors.
Despite its relative obscurity, Kalimba’s gameplay is delightfully straightforward. Essentially, it’s a cooperative affair where two players must manipulate various totem figures to navigate an array of hurdles and challenges. It’s a quiet contender that packs a punch; Metacritic ratings stood at a high average of 81 percent. Regrettably, its existence outside of mainstream gaming circles led to its unheralded status, which consequently meant that Press Play didn’t have the opportunity to deliver a sequel or even a different game. This unfortunate series of events led to the untimely shuttering of the studio that also brought us the acclaimed Max: The Curse of Brotherhood.
Dead Rising 3 – An Underappreciated Zombie Apocalypse
Transitioning to the zombie apocalypse genre, “Dead Rising 3” was another game that suffered due to the negative press surrounding the Xbox One at its inception. Its exclusive release on Microsoft’s platform was no surprise as the Dead Rising franchise has always shared a strong connection with the Redmond-based tech behemoth. In my perspective, the third installment was the peak of the series.
What set Dead Rising 3 apart was the audacious decision to abandon the divisive timed-missions mechanic. Instead, players were set loose in an expansive open-world, armed with makeshift weaponry and faced with countless undead enemies to annihilate. Navigating through the zombie swarms provided an exhilarating experience. However, much like Ryse: Son of Rome and Sunset Overdrive, sales didn’t reflect the game’s quality. Although a follow-up, Dead Rising 4, did come to fruition, it couldn’t match the success of its predecessor. The franchise subsequently went into decline, leading Capcom to close down the studio in charge.
Voodoo Vince – The Forgotten Mascot
Segueing into another lesser-known title, we find “Voodoo Vince”. This game made its debut during the reign of the original Xbox, gathering a niche following who appreciated the lovable, patchwork protagonist and its rich, engaging gameplay. Despite its unique charm, a sequel never saw the light of day, leaving Xbox on a years-long quest for a new mascot.
In a surprising turn of events, Voodoo Vince made a triumphant return in 2017 with a remastered version. This was not a full-blown remake; visuals and gameplay were largely untouched. Surprisingly, the remaster proved to be an enjoyable experience. The fact that a 3D platformer from the era of the first Xbox could still deliver fun and excitement two console generations later was an unexpected revelation. This experience has left me certain that, given the right circumstances, there’s a niche where the Voodoo Vince brand could thrive in the modern gaming landscape.
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Ryse: Son of Rome – A Misjudged Endeavor
Ryse: Son of Rome falls into the unfortunate category of games that suffered due to the policies of Don Mattrick. As one of the launch titles for Xbox One, Ryse had a peculiar development journey. Initially announced as a Kinect game for Xbox 360, its concept was swiftly reimagined, leading to a new generation release. The final product was a commendable piece of work, boasting stellar graphics that still hold their ground and a captivating narrative.
Nevertheless, the game fell under harsh scrutiny upon release, criticized for its linear level design. One can’t help but question what critics anticipated from it. Personally, I believe Ryse: Son of Rome deserved far better reception. This favorable critique, if shared by others, might have spurred Microsoft to greenlight a sequel, which was rumored to be in negotiations with Crytek. Sadly, this never came to fruition, leaving us with an underappreciated standalone title.
Sunset Overdrive – The Overshadowed Gem
Few games exemplify the term ‘underrated Xbox exclusive’ better than Sunset Overdrive. The brainchild of Insomniac Games, this title was teeming with engaging gameplay, thrilling action, and pure fun. At the time of its release, it was a beacon of hope for Xbox One enthusiasts, serving as a worthy exclusive title.
Regrettably, the limited audience and subsequent muted buzz around its quality led to underwhelming sales and a seeming lack of interest in a sequel. Ironically, the IP rights now lie with Sony, who theoretically could revive the series. However, I highly doubt this would happen, leading to the grim prospect that Sunset Overdrive may forever remain a standalone title, despite its deserving merits for recognition and a follow-up.
Titanfall – An Under-Appreciated Phenomenon
Is it possible for a game as renowned as Titanfall to be underrated? Let’s explore. Respawn Entertainment’s debut game garnered well-deserved acclaim upon release. No surprise there, as even a multiplayer skeptic like myself was hooked enough to reach the highest level. However, the game’s release during the early days of the Xbox One, and the console’s lukewarm popularity, meant that Titanfall’s potential wasn’t fully realized by a wider audience.
Its sequel, despite not being a smashing commercial hit, succeeded in elevating the franchise’s popularity. In my eyes, the original Titanfall still outshines its successor in terms of gameplay, even with the lack of a single-player mode. Without a doubt, Titanfall deserved more buzz at its release than it received, leaving it as another underrated gem in the vast gaming landscape.
Phantom Dust – A Forgotten Relic
Taking a trip down memory lane, we find ourselves back in the early days of the Xbox brand. Released in 2005, “Phantom Dust” carved a unique niche for itself as a hybrid of action and card games. It garnered positive reviews, currently holding an average score just over 80%. To this day, it holds a special place in the hearts of many players.
Several years later, Microsoft made an attempt to capitalize on this lingering nostalgia by announcing a remake or a reboot – the exact definition was somewhat unclear. The end result was a remastered version of the original game, which actually received decent reviews, underscoring the enduring appeal of Phantom Dust. Regrettably, the release flew under the radar, largely due to the subpar marketing efforts, making it a known title primarily among die-hard Xbox enthusiasts. It’s a missed opportunity, especially considering the need for impactful Japanese titles on the Microsoft console.
Somerville – A Unique Indie Adventure
“Somerville” offers a breath of fresh air in the indie gaming scene with its distinct narrative experience. It’s a perfect match for fans of the iconic “War of the Worlds,” featuring a man fighting to survive amidst an invasion of bizarre structures and creatures. As you navigate the perilous quest to find his family, you’ll be forced to adapt, unfolding the mystery along the way.
The journey will lead you to encounter odd characters and harness otherworldly abilities. With its compelling narrative and unique gameplay, Somerville is a must-play. The fact that it’s readily available on Game Pass makes it an easy game to jump into and get lost in its intriguing world.
High On Life – An Absurd Sci-Fi Comedy
For those with a taste for offbeat humor akin to the “Rick and Morty” TV show, the sci-fi FPS “High On Life” is the game to explore. This adventure, filled with crude comedy, chatty firearms, and a multitude of extraterrestrials to defeat, offers an entertaining gaming experience.
Developed by Squanch Games, a studio co-founded by one of the minds behind “Rick and Morty,” the game employs many of the same comedic elements and tropes that made the show a cultural phenomenon. This gives “High On Life” a unique, colorful twist on the first-person shooter genre, offering players a hearty dose of laughter with their action-packed gameplay.
Crackdown 3 – A Tale of Missed Potential
“Crackdown” is a prime example of a game that found itself wrestling with public perception issues from the get-go. The first installment gained notoriety as a free add-on to the beta of “Halo 3”, a situation that inadvertently downgraded the game’s reputation, despite it being the other way round. The second sequel, sadly, couldn’t live up to expectations, adding to the series’ woes.
The release of “Crackdown 3” held promise to turn things around. However, the development journey was far from smooth, riddled with hurdles like developer changes, multiple delays, and eventually, a total studio switch. This series of unfortunate events marred the game’s reputation even before it hit the market, leading many to prematurely label it as a failure.
Despite the flak it received, I believe “Crackdown 3” is a well-executed game. While it might not be a standout in the industry, it certainly serves as a pleasant change of pace. Sadly, the game did not receive the recognition it deserved due to these unwarranted perceptions.
Battletoads – A Revival Worth Noticing
The latest addition to the list is the reboot of the former Rare brand, “Battletoads.” Entrusted to the Dlala studio, the young team infused the game with a blend of creative concepts and humor. Instead of adhering to the classic beat-em-up formula, the studio expanded the gameplay to include diverse elements, making it more exciting and engaging.
Despite these efforts, the game had to settle with a modest 72% rating. It’s a decent score but does little justice to the quality of the game. Initially, I pondered if the old-school genre was losing its appeal. However, the popularity of “Streets of Rage 4” and last year’s “Teenage Mutants Ninja Turtles” tells a different story. Thus, I believe “Battletoads” deserved better.
Gears Tactics – A Hidden Gem in the Strategy Genre
“Gears of War,” one of Xbox’s flagship franchises, branched out in 2020, releasing “Gears Tactics,” a turn-based strategic spin-off for PC and Xbox. Despite its strong ties with a popular series, it didn’t reach the same heights of fame. Yet, it stands as a noteworthy entrant in the strategy game genre.
Released alongside Xbox Series X, the game was in the limelight for a brief period, before the initial buzz simmered down and it faded into relative obscurity. But for players who appreciate the depth and strategic thinking of such games, “Gears Tactics” deserves a closer look. It’s an underappreciated gem that strategy game enthusiasts should certainly consider exploring.
Hi-Fi RUSH – A Rhythm-Infused Adventure
If rhythm games strike a chord with you, then the whimsical, music-packed “Hi-Fi RUSH” is a game that would have you tapping your feet along. This action-adventure game ingeniously merges rhythm-based mechanics into its narrative, where you play as a hopeful rockstar. Joined by a motley crew, you face off against a villainous robotics conglomerate using the power of music.
The initial release of “Hi-Fi RUSH” earlier this year was met with critical acclaim; however, the initial wave of enthusiasm waned quickly, in spite of the game’s well-executed gameplay mechanics and captivating soundtrack. It’s a unique spin on the rhythm genre that definitely deserves a second look.
As Dusk Falls – A Narrative Masterpiece
“As Dusk Falls” is a beautifully crafted adventure game where the narrative takes center stage. Its interactive drama-style gameplay requires you to make quick, crucial decisions that profoundly affect the game’s characters and overarching plot. This game invites multiple playthroughs as it offers a variety of different outcomes based on the choices you make.
Despite its compelling storytelling and unique gameplay, it didn’t gain the traction it deserved, perhaps due to its relatively passive gameplay nature. This is unfortunate, as beneath its tranquil surface lies a rich, cinematic narrative waiting to be uncovered. With a striking art style and its boundary-pushing concept, “As Dusk Falls” raises the bar for what video games can aspire to be.
Quantum Break – An Underappreciated Cinematic Experience
The last entry in our list of victims of Don Mattrick’s tenure is “Quantum Break.” After the success of “Alan Wake,” Remedy was handed another chance by Microsoft to showcase their talent. Regrettably, the game faced harsh criticism for its lengthy cutscenes, with some critics even reducing it to the level of an add-on. In reality, “Quantum Break” is a thrilling action game with a gripping plot and compelling narrative, all wrapped up in visually stunning graphics and adrenaline-pumping action sequences.
With all the elements in place to be a smash hit, “Quantum Break” may not have achieved perfection, but it was certainly deserving of more recognition. Playing the game myself, some time after the initial hype had died down, I was genuinely surprised that such a well-crafted game failed to receive the acclaim it merited.