PlayStation / PS1 Hidden Gems

Some hidden gems for the classic console that defined the 90's

Hello and welcome to a blog post about a system that I've been wanting to write about for a long time. I grew up on the original PlayStation and have many great memories of the system; playing Crash Bandicoot and Pandemonium for the first time after playing Sonic, as well as being scared to death by Resident Evil to just quickly name two. Many memories, but I'm still having a great time with the original PlayStation even to this day due to the fact that there were just so many games for the system... over 1400. The fact that there are so many games for the system inevitably means that a lot of great games get lost under all the other bigger and better selling games, it is my hope that this little list will inspire you to expand your PlayStation collection and look out for those many gems.

A few quick things to note:

  • This list is simply in alphabetic order and the games are not ranked against one another.

  • I must currently own the games mentioned, so that means the gems I stupidly sold when I was a kid and haven't been able to replace since will not be included! Some gems I used to own that come recommended are: Future Cop: LAPD, Rival Schools, Spider and Vib Ribbon.

  • My definition of 'Hidden Gem' is loose; I am not basing any of my selection on sales numbers, instead I am basing my picks on their relative obscurity in comparison to the system's defining titles.

  • These are not necessarily rare games but more ones that are over looked and under appreciated.

Enjoy and let me know what some of your favourite hidden gems are in the comment box below.

Alien Resurrection
Argonaut Games

Alien Resurrection is a dark and tense FPS by Argonaut Games; the people behind cheery platformer series Croc and the team who helped Nintendo create Starfox and its unreleased sequel for the SNES. The game was originally going to be a 3rd person action game as can be seen here, it would have been released to coincide with the film of the same name that was released in 1997. For whatever reason this build of the game was scrapped and the team went forward with a FPS which was scheduled to be released on PC and PlayStation. In the end the game was only released on PlayStation in 2000 and was almost universally panned, getting an average rating on Game Rankings of 64.12%.

So why is this a hidden gem? Firstly, due to all the bad press the game had a stigma around it which meant it didn't sell very well and didn't really find its audience. The game garnered most of the bad reviews due to its twitchy dual stick controls which were new, unusual and unpolished at the time; the game is incredibly difficult also... not a good combination! Yet the atmosphere is brooding and absorbing and they managed to capture the fear and tension of the films perfectly. After a little while you get used to the slightly primitive controls and can enjoy the atmosphere and tension to the max, or you can bypass all that and just use a PlayStation mouse, eliminating all the control issues almost entirely!

If you're in the mood for a dark and scary FPS which does the Alien series proud look no further than Alien Resurrection. It plays a lot more like a modern shooter than you would imagine and is a far cry from the Doom-esq Alien Trilogy. It can be bought for next to nothing these days so there is no excuse not to give it a try.

Neversoft Entertainment

Apocalypse is a twitchy 3rd person shooter by Neversoft Entertainment, known for making the Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero games as well as the PlayStation version of MDK. This game came out between MDK and the first Tony Hawk game and its interesting to see this as a stop gap between the two. You can see they learnt a lot from working on MDK and brought a lot of the open field action to Apocalypse yet here the main character (played and voiced by Bruce F**king Willis!) is an actual 3D model who just wants to gun down everything. The 3D models really remind me of Tony Hawks and some of the physics also appear to be the same.

The game has a Robotron 2084 style twin control configuration where by you control the direction of your character's shooting independent from movement; so you can run in one direction and shoot in another. You can play the game with the classic PlayStation controller where the face buttons control the direction of your shots or you can plug in a Dual Shock and have full 3D control over your shooting. You can jump and dive to evade shots as well as crouch to take cover but the game encourages constant movement and shooting. The game likes to bombard you with enemies and bullets which can see the already rather slow framerate dip but after a few minutes of play you don't even really notice the slow framerate so it's not too much of an issue.

The game has some great lighting and explosions throughout but all the levels have a similar dark colour palette which tends to make the game feel a little samey, yet do not let this stop you from playing this hidden gem of an action game.

Bushido Blade
Light Weight

Bushido Blade is a weapons based action fighting game that was developed by Light Weight who would go on to make the massively panned Kabuki Warriors for the Xbox which famously got the first 1/10 from Edge magazine. This was the companies first game and was published by Squaresoft which meant it got a lot of attention upon release but it still feels like a hidden gem in the way that it is often forgotten about and doesn't feature heavily in lists of games for the system. The system has such a massive selection of games that sometimes gems such as Bushido Blade feel forgotten.

The best and most unique feature of this game is its fighting system which goes for a realistic feel where by you can kill or be killed by your enemy in one devastating slash; this gives each fight a great amount of tension and gives the game a unique feel. The game also does not feature any HUD to speak of; no time limit, special meters or life bars here.

You select from one of six characters, each of which have a unique sub weapon and special attacks and then you pick one of 8 weapons, all of which handle differently to one another and change your fighting style (among these are a broadsword, rapier, katana and naginata). After picking your character and weapon you will follow the chosen character's story and fight each opponent within an open environment which can be traversed at will, each 'stage' is connected and can be moved between freely (although there are some load times which break the open world feel sadly).

As well as the story mode the game also features a 2 Player Mode, Slash Mode which is basically a survival mode where you are tasked with the long and ultimately tiresome task of killing 100 enemies one by one within a long corridor, Training Mode which neatly features wooden weapons and POV Mode which transforms the game into first person, this is a curious addition which is nice to try out from time to time but will never replace the regular 3rd person view. The game also allows you to link two consoles together in case you want to play POV mode in 2-Player.

Bushido Blade is incredibly unique and interesting to play yet it becomes very easy to rely heavily on a specific small number of one hit kill attacks and spam them to victory against the CPU. The game is best played against a friend in that case. Still there are very few games like Bushido Blade and that alone makes it an essential part of anyone's PlayStation collection. The game would be followed by a sequel a year later that would never make it to Europe but the series lives on in its spiritual successor series Kengo.

Bust A Groove

Bust A Groove is a rhythm action game which was made by Metro who's back catalog of games is almost 100% Japanese exclusive sadly. They don't appear to be making games anymore which is a shame as this game is a classic of the genre. The game's original Japanese name is Bust A Move but this had to be changed due to the Puzzle Bobble series often going under the name Bust-A-Move in regions outside Japan. Growing up I always thought there was some connection between the two series, I thought perhaps they were made by the same company. Obviously I know now that was not the case but as a kid this kind of confused me!

In Bust A Groove you must pick one of many crazy cartoon-like characters in which to dance as in a heated one-on-one dance off! You dance against an opponent in their stage and to their music; these stages range from beach shacks, burger joints, roof tops and factories. You dance along to a mix of Japanese 90's pop, dance, and disco. The gameplay asks you to press directions followed by a timed face button press in time with the music, the camera swings closer and closer to whoever is doing the best and if you are doing particularly well sometimes the environment may change. You can challenge your opponent with an attack which asks them to complete a difficult string of button presses, this can be used to swing the game back in your favour.

The main appeal of this game is the great cast of characters and music, most of which are rather funny. The game can be played with instrumental versions of the music but I'm not sure why you'd do this. My favourite character growing up was Gas-O, he wears a gas mask and has a factory stage, he just seemed so cool and edgy! My favourite songs are basically the ones I find the funniest, so that's Hiro's 'Natural Playboy' which is basically Hiro singing about how he's the coolest guy around and how everybody wants a piece of this natural playboy and Hamm's track 'I Luv Hamburgers' which is just a silly song about burgers!

The game was followed a year later by a sequel but sadly this would never make its way into Europe which is a big shame. Bust A Groove is definitely worth picking up if you're a fan of rhythm games with a heavy Japanese flavour like Parappa The Rapper or Elite Beat Agents.

Gundam Battle Assault

Gundam Battle Assault is a mech based 2D fighting game by Natsume, who are most famous for their Harvest Moon series. It was originally released in Japan as Gundam The Battle Master 2 in 1998 yet the characters were changed on its trip over to the west in order to better fit with the then current Gundam TV series which was showing and so it became Battle Assault. I'm not sure how the two versions compare but they are considered to basically be the same game. The western version was then released in Japan under the Gundam Battle Assault name, so they got the same game twice... almost.

The game plays similar to Street Fighter in that special moves are done through circular motions of the joystick and then an attack button. There are also Mega Special Attacks which are basically the Gundam equivalent of a Super Combo but in general the action is of a much heavier and slower pace than Street Fighter. There are many elements that make it feel more than just a Street Fighter clone; instead of rounds each mech has three armour gauges which must be depleted to win the match, you have guns which have ammo, your mech has armour which can be broken off and each mech has thrusters which allow them to quickly move in one direction or fly for a period of time.

The game has some incredibly large and detailed sprite work which apparently is achieved by having many sprites overlaid and moving in tandem with one another, the effect is distinctive and some may not like it but I do. The game has a rather robust story mode but to be honest I know nothing about the Gundam series and this doesn't exactly inspire me to learn more.

Apparently the sequel improves on this game with more characters etc so if you can find that one I'd go for that but in terms of fighting games on the PS1 you can do much worse than this curious and distinct mech fighter.

Jumping Flash! 2

The first Jumping Flash! game for the PlayStation was a medium sized hit, it showcased the unique 3D graphic capabilities of the PlayStation really well with huge worlds that used a lot of vertical space; something that is rare even to this day. The sequel was, again, a relative hit but feels like it is somewhat forgotten about these days.

Jumping Flash! and Jumping Flash! 2 are unique action platformers that ask you to navigate huge open space in first person. You play as a robot rabbit named Robbit who must hop his/her way around bright colourful levels in search of hidden Muu Muu, once all Muu Muu are retrieved you can exit the level. You have time and many enemies that get in the way of this deceptively easy task, you can shoot at enemies but most of the time you will want to bounce off of them to keep the moment of your jump going. The sense of scale is great in Jumping Flash! 2 and there really isn't anything quite like getting a perfect run on one of the many levels.

The series was made by a small company called Exact who have only released a handful of games including the PlayStation version of Ghost in the Shell - a hidden gem I am on the look out for. Nowadays the company is part of SCE Japan Studio along with Team Ico etc. The series has had many spin-off games that sadly stayed Japan bound. This is one series that demands a reboot, a classic game that is too often forgotten about.

N.GEN Racing
Curly Monsters

N.GEN Racing is a jet based racing game with combat elements. The game was made by the very short lived UK based team Curly Monsters; this was the first of only two games they released. The small team of six left Psygnosis in order to start the company, members of the team had previously worked on WipeOut and the often forgotten FPS Codenam: Tenka. You can tell they took a lot of their experience and expertise with them and tried to capitalise on the companies connection to Psygnosis.

N.GEN Racing feels a lot like WipeOut, the jets have a similar sense of momentum to the craft of WipeOut and this gives the game a feel quite unlike your regular car based racing game. Unlike WipeOut however you now have to contend with height as you move around the varied landscape of each track. The game has two control options, Casual and Pro, although Casual is the way to go here as the Pro control system doesn't appear to have any benefits and the Casual mode feel more intuitive and works very nicely with the PlayStation's Dual Shock controller.

There are many game modes and tournaments; as you move up in ranking your jets will be equipped with guns and will become much much faster. The game has tracks that are set around the world, some of the tracks can be played during the night which is a nice touch. The game is presented very slickly but lacks some personality which could have really made the game stand out. The sound and music is a little boring too, the sound effects almost feel nonexistent as they are buried by the dance soundtrack. The soundtrack is a little too short which can make the game feel a bit repetitive which is a shame... with all this said this is a game that can be picked up for next to nothing and is most definitely a hidden gem, this style of racing game is more common nowadays but for the PlayStation this remains a unique game that is very much worth playing.

Silent Bomber

Silent Bomber is a great action game created by CyberConnect who are most famous for Tail Concerto, SolaToRobo, Asura's Wrath and the .hack series. This was their second game after Tail Concerto and goes for a much much darker tone. The game plays in 3rd person with the camera zoomed far out so that you can get a good feel for your surroundings and the enemies that may be attacking you.

The game is very linear but has a really great feel and a combat system that is unlike much else. If you tap the fire button you will leave a bomb on the floor, to begin with the player can leave up to three bombs in different places before detonation. You explode the bombs through a dedicated detonation button which adds a lot of tactics to play and asks that you time the explosions just right. Bombs can also be attached to enemies by holding the fire button, when holding the button down a holographic cone will appear in front of the character and if an enemy enters this cone they will be planted with a bomb. The feeling of chaining attached bombs together and detonating them all at the same time is a joy to behold and reminds me of the fun you can have with C4 in Metal Gear Solid. The game also has a variety of special bombs although these cannot be attached to enemies.

Each stage feels like it has something new to show off or some extravagant set piece to present which keeps the game feeling frantic and fresh. Why this game didn't become a smash hit is beyond me. The game has a really great feel throughout and keeps you on your toes, the game mostly keeps the action to open playing fields but there are some corridor heavy sections which don't work as well sadly. The game is a must own and holds up really well even to this day, it has more polish and variety than Apocalypse but then again Silent Bomber doesn't have Bruce Willis!

Speed Freaks
Funcom Dublin

Speed Freaks (or Speed Punks in the US) is a kart-based racing game by Funcom Dublin, a division of Funcom that would only yield 2 other games; Championship Motocross 2001 and Impact Racing. Sadly it would appear the staff behind this game would not work together on future projects and would instead splinter across different companies. Speed Freaks is an incredibly well crafted racing game with a unique feel and look that should have been a big hit but sadly faded fairly quickly after launch.

You pick from an array of colourful characters from a great menu that depicts all the characters in-engine all hanging out in a tree house; games like 1080 Snowboarding and Jet Set Radio also use this style of character selection and I think it works really well in making the world feel alive before you've even begun truly start playing. Why more games don't do this I will never know!

The game has a similar feel to Mario Kart or Crash Team Racing although the control can feel a little slippery here in comparison. You can collect weapons to help you get the upper hand in the race as well as collect chips that increase a boost meter, collecting all these chips is the only real way to get way ahead of the competition. The game is very difficult so make sure nothing smashable is within arm's reach when playing!

The game has a very unique feel and look which I find hard to put my finger on, it's as if they're using some unique colour palette that the other kart games aren't which just lends the game a distinct feel. Overall the graphics, physics and sound are all stellar; Speed Freaks is an incredibly well made game and it's a shame the team didn't ever make a sequel or work together after this game. One of the best and overlooked racing games for the PlayStation.

Tobal No. 1
Dream Factory

Tobal No. 1 is a 3D fighting game created by Dream Factory and published by Squaresoft. Dream Factory would go on to make The Bouncer, a launch title for the PS2 as well as Crimson Tears which was also for the PS2. It's hard to tell whether the company is still active as there hasn't been any activity from them since 2011. The game's director, Seiichi Ishii, started Dream Factory after being the main designer and developer at Namco for the first two Tekken games. It's interesting that he went on to make Tobal No. 1, a fighting game with a very different feel to Tekken. In America the game originally came with a demo disc for the highly anticipated Final Fantasy VII which saw the game sell well in the region.

Tobal No. 1 is easily one of the most unique 3D fighting games for the original PlayStation. It plays similar to Virtua Fighter by Sega whereby strategic attack and defence is paramount. Like Vitua Fighter you fight within 3D arenas in which you can win either by draining the opponent's life bar or knocking them out of the ring. The game has a distinctive fighting system that puts a lot of emphasis on defence, chaining moves together and making the most of 3D space. Unlike almost all other fighting games Tobal No. 1 does not have dedicated buttons mapped to punches and kicks; it instead has buttons for low, mid and high attacks as well a button to guard and even a button for jumping. This unusual control set up makes the game feel unlike anything else in the genre.

The action has a fairly slow pace by regular fighting game standards yet it just adds to how tense and precise the fighting is. The slower pace of the game asks you to input attacks deliberately and to fight tactically. The game runs incredibly smooth with amazingly fluid animation for all the moves and although it lacks textures on the character models I feel that it holds up very well today (unlike a game like Battle Arena Toshinden which feels broken by today's standards).

The game has your regular Arcade (here called Tournament), Practice and VS modes but also includes something they call Quest Mode which plays like a bare bones Action RPG. In Quest Mode you must move between rooms, avoid obstacles, jump gaps, enter shops etc. This mode is very basic and although it feels like it could have been better it is an interesting addition that helps break up the regular gameplay.

The game received a Japan only sequel which I am very tempted to import as Tobal No. 1 is easily one of my favourite fighting games of all time and one of the best hidden gems for the original PlayStation. If you are a fan of 3D fighting games then you need to own this.

Posted 5th October 2015

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