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Each year, thousands of games are released across PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC. While bigger franchises like Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, and Resident Evil always get their fair share of attention, there are always a few games that don't get the recognition they deserve.
Here are ten of the best games you may have missed this console generation, and there's no better time to revisit these overlooked gems.
Salt and Sanctuary
Release Date: March 15, 2016
Platforms: PS4, PC, Mac
Ska Studios has made a name for itself in the independent space with 2D action beat em’ ups such as Charlie Murder and The Dishwasher series. Heavily inspired by From Software's Dark Souls series, Ska Studios’ RPG Salt and Sanctuary took the Souls' dark fantasy aesthetic and unforgiving combat, and married them with the studio's expertise in 2D action games. Just like the Souls series, combat is a meticulous affair relying on well-timed attacks and character builds. Even the lore took some influences from the obtuse storytelling of the Souls series, but managed to tell an original story that was entertaining in its own right.
Release Date: February 11, 2014
Platforms: PS4, Vita, PC
The Danganronpa series has earned plenty of critical acclaim with its bizarre storytelling and sense of humor, but the visual novel series has lived most of its life on the PlayStation Vita, reducing its potential audience. A deceptively bright art style masks some of the darkest storytelling in gaming, as players in the first game are cast in the role of a student who must survive a series of life or death ordeals at the hands of a villainous sentient teddy bear. There are even trials where players must investigate scenes to prove other students innocent or guilty, either absolving them or condemning them to death. The two main entries in the series are hitting PS4 later this year in a bundle.
Skullgirls: 2nd Encore
Release Date: July 7, 2015
Platforms: PS4, Vita
Fighting games can be a daunting genre for newcomers to approach. The best fighters are able strike a fine balance between being accessible to newcomers who just want to have fun, and having enough depth to satisfy veterans. Skullgirls 2nd Encore is the rare kind of fighter that can do both. A colorful 2D brawler with gorgeous hand-drawn animation, Skullgirls channels classic Capcom series like Darkstalkers and the Versus games in its gameplay, but stands apart with its distinct personality and quirky characters. With a plethora of modes, including a fully voiced story mode, Skullgirls 2nd encore has something for all players to enjoy.
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Platforms: PS4, PC
Frictional Games reinvigorated the horror genre with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, relying less on inventory and health management and more on atmosphere and environmental storytelling. With SOMA, they took this expertise a step further, creating one of the best game narratives of 2015. A haunting adventure through an underwater facility run amok with disturbing half-human creatures, it’s an especially appealing trip for fans of sci-fi existentialism.
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Platform: Xbox One
Sunset Overdrive felt like a roaring return to form for Insomniac Games when it came out in 2014. Taking the studio’s trademark humor and crazy weapon designs and setting them loose in a colorful, stylish open world made for one of the Xbox One’s best exclusives to date. More than anything, the game nails a sense of cohesion in its gameplay, offering bonuses to players who can stay on the move while stylishly juggling traversal and combat as they make their way across its colorful playground, similar to Jet Set Radio or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
Release Date: May 30, 2013
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, Vita, PC
Telling the tale of a lone scavenger searching for a way to escape a dilapidated space station, The Swapper revolves around the main character’s ability to create clones of herself and transfer her consciousness into the new bodies. It’s an interesting premise that makes for innovative 2D puzzle solving, with depth that emerges as the player’s progress. The writing is minimal but effective, and the 2D world is reminiscent of games like Metroid with its pervasive feelings of isolation. The Swapper manages to coalesce all of its various elements into a highly memorable ending that players ponder long after the credits roll.
The Talos Principle
Release Date: December 11, 2014
Platforms: PS4, PC, Android
The Talos Principle is a game that doles out philosophical storytelling alongside stimulating puzzle solving to create an unforgettable experience. Telling the story of an AI that solves puzzles amongst the ruins of humanity’s first civilizations, The Talos Principle is an intellectual game that asks questions about consciousness and the human condition. Played in a first-person perspective, players navigate a mysterious environment, solving puzzles centered on manipulating laser beams and force fields to progress.
Release Date: November 20, 2013
Platforms: PS4, Vita
Media Molecule may be best known for its innovative Little Big Planet series, but that’s not the only creative platformer they’ve made. Originally a Vita exclusive, Tearaway is a delightful 3D platformer with a papercraft aesthetic that was meant to take full advantage of the handheld’s unique features. It received positive reviews upon release, but being isolated on the Vita severely cut its potential audience. Thankfully, a PS4 remaster is available for anybody who wants to play it on the big screen. Although much of the original Vita functionality was removed for the PS4 version, such as the use of the back touchpad or the camera, it remains an engaging and charming adventure that anyone can enjoy.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Plaforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a rich narrative experience that took the UbiArt style of games like Child of Light and Rayman: Origins in a new direction. Inspired by real letters written during World War I, it’s a rare example of a AAA publisher successfully making a smaller, indie-size title. Switching perspectives between multiple characters as the story progresses, players make their way through the 2D adventure game by solving puzzles. It tells a story that manages to be both dark and heartfelt, accompanied by a charming art style that reimagines the Great War in a new light.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Release Date: September 26, 2014
Platforms: PC, PS4
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a narratively accomplished first-person adventure game. With tones reminiscent of Twin Peaks or The X-Files, players are put in the role of a paranormal investigator searching for a child missing under strange circumstances. A highlight of the game is its investigative sequences, which see players investigating locations for clues as to what happened there, and piecing the evidence together to progress the narrative. It’s one of the better adventure games of the last few years and deserves to be appreciated by more players.
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We all know the drill: Valentine’s Day is when you do something special for your loved one or celebrate being single with chocolate, friends… and video games.
But love isn’t always about young starry-eyed couples giving each other gifts. In fact, Aristotle, Plato, and other philosophers identified multiple kinds of love that we experience throughout our lives. This year, put away your dating sims and spend Valentine’s Day playing games from a variety of genres that explore different kinds of love as defined by the Ancient Greeks.
Storge – parental love
What is it? The love parents feel for their children is the theme of many tales. A special connection ensures that a parent will protect their offspring from harm no matter the cost. However, sometimes this affection can grow between strangers, making it even more inspiring.
Game to play: The Last of Us breaks your heart from the moment you pick up your controller. Set in a bleak, devastated world where an infectious spore turns humans into zombie-like creatures, the constant threats of death and violence leave little room for love and hope to blossom. Joel has survived these dark conditions for 20 years and works as a smuggler with his partner, Tess. When he is asked to escort Ellie, a teenager immune to the virus, to Boston, Tess forces him to take the job despite his reluctance. Watching Joel come to care for Ellie as a daughter during their cross-country adventure is even more powerful knowing what he’s been through in the past. The strength of their adoptive father-daughter bond is at the heart of the story and makes their journey truly moving.
Philia – sibling love
What is it? Hidden beneath the hair pulling, name calling, and petty rivalries of childhood lies the power of the sibling connection. For some, having a brother or sister means having a built-in best friend: even when you disagree, argue, or get mad, you’ll still look out for each other when it matters most.
Game to play: Siblings abound in many video games, but one story that truly captures the idea of brotherly love is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. United by their desire to save their dying father, the two brothers brave a journey through dark, unknown territory to find a cure for his illness. Even without dialogue, it is obvious during their adventures that the elder brother is fiercely protective of his younger brother and the younger brother looks up to his elder brother in turn. The two learn to work as a team as they encounter friendly villages, shadowy mountains, and a fantastical cliff-side laboratory. Faced by hardship that forces them to adapt and grow in unexpected ways, Brothers is an emotional example of the power of sibling love.
Philautia – selfish love
What is it? Selfish love doesn’t necessarily mean narcissism and isn’t always negative. Rather, it can refer to self-acceptance, knowing what you want, and pushing through adversity to achieve happiness. This might lead to hurting others, but caring for ourselves is a necessary step for finding love outside ourselves.
Game to play: In Gone Home, Katie, the protagonist, returns from a year abroad to find a note from her younger sister Sam taped to the front door. Through a series of journal entries Katie finds scattered throughout the family’s new home, Sam talks about events in her life she would usually have shared with her sister. In addition to missing Katie, Sam mentions the frustrations of attending a new high school, her fear of applying to a creative writing program, and her love of Street Fighter. Eventually, she begins a relationship that requires her to make a difficult choice between what her family wants for her and what she wants for herself. Whether you agree with her decision or not, Sam chooses what she believes will make her happiest regardless of the consequences, demonstrating the complicated nature of selfish love.
Agape – selfless love
What is it? On the opposite end of the spectrum, selfless love involves putting the needs of others before your own. Though this can refer to doing something kind for a partner, it’s typically interpreted as goodwill and generosity toward all living beings. This altruistic love can range from random acts of kindness to making the ultimate sacrifice to protect others.
Game to play: Commander Shepard’s entire journey to save the galaxy from the Reapers is characterized by selfless love, but it is shown best in Mass Effect 3. Even with the danger they now face, many of Shepard’s potential allies continue to focus on their individual problems rather than banding together against their common enemy. Despite the frustration of years of ignored warnings, thankless work, and political in-fighting, Shepard never loses sight of what’s really at stake. Whatever the means and the end, the commander stands against a seemingly insurmountable foe out of selfless love for all life, accepting the risks so the rest of the galaxy has a chance to live on.
Eros – sexual love
What is it? Sexual love refers not only to a love of intimacy, but of beauty and truth. Rather than expressing romantic interest and passion, some use their sexuality as a form of self-exploration. This multi-faceted love uses lust and desire to address sensuality, spirituality, and the subconscious without the need for romantic attachment.
Games to play: Themes of sexual love are explored in the nightmarish puzzle game Catherine. Vincent Brooks and Katherine McBride, his girlfriend of five years, have been discussing marriage, but Vincent is hesitant to give up his life as a bachelor. While Katherine puts more pressure on Vincent to make a decision, he meets Catherine, a free-spirited young woman who sees sex as a natural way for two people to enjoy each other’s company without the need for further commitment. In contrast to the marriage-oriented Katherine, Catherine embraces freedom to express her sensuality as a part of her identity and pursues Vincent for her own reasons. Vincent’s response to her advances and the ensuing relationship offer a unique perspective on sexual love.
Platonic – friend love
What is it? Different than the so-called “friend zone,” the strength of a friend’s love lies in its simplicity. Friends can confide in, care for, or hang out with each other without the expectations of a romantic relationship. Though it may grow into something more, it is more than enough for most friends to know they have found a best bud who will stick with them through thick and thin.
Game to play: If there was ever a character who learned the value of friend love, it is Neku Sakuraba from The World Ends With You. Starting solidly in selfish love territory, the headphone-sporting misanthrope is thrust into a deadly game where relying on your partner is key to survival. Much to his chagrin, his bubbly partner Shiki, friendly rivals Beat and Rhyme, and the mysterious Mr. H force Neku out of his self-imposed isolation and teach him the value of interacting with others. The game quickly progresses and the challenges become increasingly difficult, leading Neku to realize how lucky he is to have made a tight-knit group of friends who are willing to support him no matter what.
Pragma – wise love
What is it? During any relationship, love goes through phases and changes along with the people in it. Throughout the events of their romance, their affection evolves as their lives together stretch into the future. Eventually, they know each other so well and have been together so long that their love becomes a core part of who they are. Wise love is born from years of the give and take of living with someone you love.
Game to play: To The Moon has players traverse the memories of Johnny Wyles, an elderly man whose final wish is to go to the moon. As memory specialists Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts travel further into Johnny’s past, they find that all of his important memories include his wife River. From the time they meet to the years after her death, River’s influence and importance in Johnny’s life are clear for all to see. Neil and Eva witness the ups and downs of Johnny and River’s relationship as they accept each other’s flaws and attempt to push past misunderstandings out of their deep love for each other. The feelings they share are beautiful yet mellow, a bittersweet love that is as moving as it is wise.
From friends to family, people to giant chimerical beasts, video games continually explore themes of trust and affection in new and meaningful ways. The fact that this list contains RPGs, survival horror, and shooters shows that the old axiom is just as true for games as for anything else: sometimes, you can find love in the most unexpected of places. Happy Valentine’s Day!