Top-10 Games That Were Almost Great

Castlevania 2 Simon's QuestSometimes a game is so very nearly great, but something about it just doesn’t quite click. Maybe its an annoying game-mechanic, a rushed section or something else that makes it difficult for me to say the game is awesome. The difference between this and the prior 10 Games I’d Want to Like but Can’t list is that these are all games that I do actually like, but I can’t really whole-heartedly say they are great because of some annoying feature about them.

Also, I would like to make slight difference between this and the prior 10 Bad Games which I like anyway, I don’t necessarily think most of these games are bad (although with two I can definitely make that case) but as such I’m also having to leave out Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest which was already on two of these prior lists. I’ve already outlined what would have been needed to make it into a good game, so I don’t want to over-feature it and instead it’ll just get an honourable mention this time around.

There are plenty of other games that I could also give honourable mentions to, but enough blabbering, let’s move on to the list…

ZeldaWindWakerGCNCoverArtUS10. Zelda: Wind Waker

This might seem like a weird pick for this list, since Wind Waker already is my third favourite Zelda game after Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. There are lots of great things in this game. It’s easily the most cinematic Zelda game around and the funniest. The dungeons are memorable and there’s a great cast of characters. It also had the last stand-out soundtrack from the series (I’m not saying Twilight Princess’ soundtrack was bad, just that Wind Waker’s was better).

In fact, this game could have possibly replaced Ocarina of Time as my favourite Zelda game, were it not for one thing.

The Hitch: Triforce Fetch Quest – Possibly the worst design choice Nintendo has ever committed in any of their games, Wind Waker requires a lot of time to be devoted to seemingly arbitrary side-quests, which are never-the-less necessary to find the Triforce pieces scattered across the game world and without which, Link can’t commence the final act and dungeon of the game.

I would have been okay with the collecting part, if it wasn’t hidden under such an annoying layer of cryptic searching with a mechanic which forces you to uncover almost every single part of the game-world. This is the most artificial way I’ve seen Nintendo pro-long the length of the game.

Now yes, Wind Waker HD streamlined the fetch quest aspect but didn’t remove it. It’s still a complete dead-weight and without which, this could be an excellent rather than just a great title. But it’s still pretty fucking awesome which is why I didn’t want to put it too high.

Kotor29. Knights of the Old Republic 2: Sith Lords

Knights of the Old Republic is one of my favourite RPGs, so it goes without saying that I, like many others, was very excited to see the game’s sequel. KOTOR had depth, it had fun characters and an excellent plot-twist. On top of which, it streamlined a lot of the problems I have with RPGs which made it so enjoyable. Knights of the Old Republic 2 could have actually been better than the first game. It had a much darker story and the characters in your party were much more morally ambiguous.

Add this to another excellent plot-twist, where the bad guys weren’t who you thought they were, The Sith Lords really should have been a stand-out title…

The Hitch: Rushed Finale – Obsidian was rushed by LucasArts to complete the game when the company were still in the middle of developing the final act. As a result, lots of finished material was scrapped and instead of an awe-inspiring finale to the game’s story, we got a weird clean sweep where all your party members took a hike and you got your choice of three equally boring final cutscenes depending on your choices throughout the game.

If LucasArts had let Obsidian finish up the game properly, it could be a classic eclipsing its rather straight-forward predecessor. Now, it was doomed to be the biggest industry let-down until Mass Effect 3.

Vice-city-cover8. GTA: Vice City

I’ve made it no secret that I’m not actually a huge fan of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Even though I would want to be. It stands in the middle of GTA3 and GTA: San Andreas, both of which are excellent games that are still super fun to play. Also, Vice City’s ’80s characters, music and aesthetic is the sort of stuff I go ga-ga over. Really if anything, this game should have hit all my pleasure centres.

But it doesn’t…

The Hitch: Locations, controls & structure – I could maybe add the plot too, but it’s not as if GTA3 had a great story either. However, Vice City is a let-down on multiple fronts for me. The controls feel strangely limited. And especially in a place with so much water in the immediate surroundings, not being able to swim is a real bitch. Not only is the map over-all smaller than GTA3, the geography is terrible with sharp alterations in altitude. Given this game predated the camera controls of San Andreas, driving around is just needlessly difficult.

Also, I don’t really have a problem with the linear nature of the stories of the GTA games. I therefore hated the fact that the latter half of the game really just consists of collecting money. With some missions, this could be fairly fun, but eventually it just turns into an annoying grind.

Over-all, if the locations and controls were more forgiving and if the game had just stuck to the linear structure of other GTA games, Vice City would actually be a whole lot more enjoyable.

WarioLand47. Wario Land 4

The original Wario Land for the Game Boy is an excellent platforming title and one that has held up surprisingly well. Wario Land 4 is also an excellent game with vibrant graphics, a neat laid back soundtrack, tight controls and Wario’s typically lovable delivery. Some people may also find it a relief that (much like in the later Wario Land: Shake It/Shake Dimension) you can’t actually die, so you’re not discouraged from exploring and your only real enemy is a time-limit, which only kicks in when you find the key to the stage.

One could say, Wario Land 4 already is an excellent title. So why am I complaining about it?

The Hitch: Collect-a-thon! The most frustrating aspect of this game in my opinion is the fact that you have to collect all the pieces of a four-sided gem before you’re allowed to progress to the boss or the following level. This means you’re inevitably going to have to scour through levels you’ve already beaten for secrets, unless you clear them out thoroughly the first time.

I really hate collect-a-thoning and especially in a 2D platformer where I expect the game to be fairly straight-forward. Now, like I said, the game does give you the leisure of looking without the time-limit hanging over you, but I would have taken a platformer where you can die and progress to the end over one where you have to constantly revisit levels. Even so, a really good game, but not great.

WaveRaceBlueStorm6. Wave Race: Blue Storm

WaveRace 64 and Wave Race: Blue Storm are two of my favourite racing games. I really love quirky race-titles that decide to do something exciting, interesting and different. Indeed, WaveRace 64 is one of the stand out games of the Nintendo 64 and one of my all-time favourite games. Neglecting its dated graphics (which honestly look awesome to me) the gameplay of said instalment is superb.

Blue Storm expanded on the WaveRace format, included many more selectable characters, gave you a character-specific manager and had a high number of beautifully rendered locations. Indeed, it seemed like a massive upgrade on WaveRace 64 and it really should have been the superior title…

The Hitch: The Gameplay – Unfortunately, Blue Storm’s biggest weakness is the gameplay. It’s not really bad, but it’s a lot less responsive than in Wave Race 64 and more-over, you can’t really affect them through setting up your jet-ski like the first game. It seems the developers wanted to make Blue Storm as challenging as possible but this is really the main-thing missing from this game, those smooth as butter controls which still make WaveRace 64 fun to play.

It would really just take this one small change to turn this into an outstanding game.

Zelda2AdventureofLink5. Zelda 2: Adventure of Link

I mentioned this also in my 10 Games I Want to Like list. Of the pre-Ocarina of Time instalments in the Zelda series, there is an over-whelming consensus that Zelda 2 was the worst. It broke the series traditions by using a side-view instead of the typical high-angle and it incorporated an experience system, effectively turning it into an RPG (rather than an action-adventure title like the other Zeldas).

However, Zelda 2 definitely has its redeeming qualities, such as the vast world, great enemy variety, excellent music and the gameplay which is honestly my favourite part of the game. I’m personally more used to the side-view which is one of the reasons I would really want to like this game. Sure, it has its cryptic parts but so does the original and it’s still considered a classic.

The Hitch: The Experience & Save System – Ultimately what kills Adventure of Link is the level-grinding, which is made three times as bad by the fact that not all of Link’s attributes get updated at the same time. The player can choose to upgrade life, magic or attack at every level up, but never two or three attributes at the same time. With the Exp. limit for the next level becoming increasingly higher, it’s understandable why the grinding starts to feel like work after a while. That, however, is the least of the game’s problems.

The real problem is the game’s Save System which levels off all your attributes to the least developed one, rather than keeping the progress you have. And yes, this includes when you die. So one slip-up at the end of a long grind-section and you’ll lose all your stats.

RememberMe4. Remember Me

I only recently reviewed this 2013 game from Dontnod, which caused a bit of a stir when it first came out – but which was then forgotten by most soon thereafter. Controversial as the makings of the game may had been, there were undoubtedly other things holding the game back.

I noted how this game had an excellent story, varied locations and generally a lot of promise. My favourite parts were where you got to go into people’s heads and “remix” their memories to make them think something else had happened. The great atmosphere and the story were what kept me playing the game all the way to the end, though admittedly there was a lot holding the game back from becoming truly excellent.

The Hitch: Gameplay, camera and Bosses – Remember Me reminds me a lot of Batman: Arkham Asylum, except with everything done worse somehow. You spend long parts of the game beating down mindless lackeys with a combo system which only really encourages you to use one type of combo over and over again. Running around, climbing, getting around and using that shooty-thing on your arm all felt really clunky, mostly due to terrible camera which for some reason always presets to looking down on the ground from an angle, rather than looking up (or better yet, not having a preset angle at all) where most of the action would be.

And then there were the boss-fights which felt like they just took forever. Nilin’s arsenal of attacks really don’t make a huge dent on any of them and there’s always some trick you have to pull off to make them vulnerable to attack.

And then of course there was the simple fact that you only really got to use the memory remixing in four parts through the whole game. Because it was easily the part of the game that actually worked the best, it was a shame. Really, if the things that you did for the other 95% of the game worked as well as these sections, Remember Me could have been an awesome game.

MetroidPrimebox3. Metroid Prime

I really only became a fan of the Metroid series through Metroid Prime 3. After that, I really wanted to give the earlier instalments of the series a shot. I eventually grew quite tired of Metroid Prime 2, but the first game definitely has a special kind of charm. Now sure, it lacked a good storyline like all the Metroid games up to Other M, but in favourable comparison to other scavenger hunt-ish titles in the series, completing the game was considerably less work because of being in 3D.

This just gave you a better grasp of your surroundings, but also the scavenger hunt element didn’t luckily kick in until fairly late in the game.

The Hitch: The Scavenger Hunt & Those God Damned Doors – That doesn’t excuse the game’s scavenger hunt segment which has to be completed before the final boss. This really didn’t need to be an issue. The game could have dropped you a hint which of the artifacts were located in which areas and you could have looked for them at the same time while you were making your way to the boss of said area. But like I said, in this game finding them was a lot more straight-forward.

However, the factory-area is where I really got annoyed with the game. The player acquires three kinds of beam weapons as the game progresses and in the factory-level there are specific types of doors for all of them. Whoever designed this section would deserve to get shot in the head. The constant beam-switching was an unnecessary hassle (especially since some enemies aren’t affected by some beams) and it also made it difficult to just run past these sections if you didn’t feel like dealing with the enemies.

BrutalLegendCover2. Brütal Legend

Now, I really did like Brütal Legend although I, like many people, was taken by surprise by the RTS elements within the game. And sure, it was a bummer that in the latter half of the game, you weren’t personally hacking away at enemies so much as sending out troops and flying over the battlefield. However, this aspect of the gameplay was handled well and I really enjoyed the battles.

Also, the comedy was great, as was the voice-acting, the soundtrack was pure metal and the game still had that excellent Tim Schafer writing. Plus, Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy Kilmister appeared as characters in the game and the general heavy metal aesthetic of this game was just awesome.

The Hitch: Rushed finale – What I thought Brütal Legend suffered from the most was the rushed storyline. After an excellent opening and a strong middle act, the game just kind of rushes to the finale when there really should have been room for one more notable plot-movement. This is why this game was also featured on my Good Games That Are Too Short list.

And yeah, maybe one or two more sections where Eddie got to rip up shit solo would have been fun.

TraumaCenterSecondOpinion1. Trauma Center: Second Opinion

Trauma Center was a game that I really loved for the Wii. My biggest complaint about most Wii games was how they didn’t make proper use of the motion-controls. Here Atlus’ surgery-title was a massive break from the norm as it adopted the Wii’s controls perfectly. Added to this, a pretty gripping storyline, cool artwork and fun challenge and you got yourself a really awesome title.

However, people may have noticed that I sort of avoided putting this game on either my Top-10 Wii games list or my further 10 Cool Wii Games list. And that’s because of this game’s one big hitch.

The Hitch: Presentation – Trauma Center was a port of a DS game, Trauma Center: Under the Knife, which partially explains why it translated so well to the Wii. However, for whatever reason, Atlus didn’t make any noted improvements on the game’s presentations. The few 3D graphics there were incredibly low quality, there was a low amount of any real animation (with all of it being character portraits and text) but most criminally of all, the game featured no voice-acting at all.

It’s one thing to port a handheld game, but you surely shouldn’t present it with no improvements, especially when you’re doing it for a home console. Second Opinion is an awesome game solely for its gameplay. It’s presentation though is sorely lacking. And yeah, I realise the sequel, New Blood, fixed a lot of these issues but that game in turn suffers from rather brutal difficulty which kept me from finishing it.

If only Atlus had thought to jazz up the look of this game, it could have possibly gone down as one of the stand-out titles for the Wii.