The Most Underrated Games of the ’00s

An introductory note: I forgot to post this several months ago, then I found it again. I guess I’ll post it now, even though it’s pretty late to be posting roundups from 2000–2009. Whatever.

I thought about doing a “best games of 2009 list,” but I realize I didn’t really play that many games this year that actually came out this year. So, instead, I’m going to take advantage of the end of the decade to reach further back. I can’t remember whether we do “Top 10” lists around here or whether they’re more like “Top n” lists, where n = however many we think we’re going to need to include. I’m not sure I can think of 10 games that I thought were way better than everybody else seemed to think from the last decade, so here you get a list of arbitrary length, peppered with games from the last several years that I mostly wanted to rant about. Enjoy!

Chu Chu Rocket (Dreamcast, 2000)

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a bad review of Chu Chu Rocket, but it is underrated by virtue of the fact that it is not universally remembered as one of the greatest multiplayer games of all time. Never mind the fact that it turns friends into bitter enemies, or that it elicited the most vile threats of violence that I have ever uttered. When the race begins to shepherd mice into your rocket ship, you will know the true meaning of joy.

Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Xbox 360 & others, 2007)

I feel bad that I first played this by reloading every time I screwed up, rather than dealing with the consequences of my failures. It excels where other Splinter Cell games have—sneaking around, killing bad men silently, etc.—but also introduces an extra helping of moral ambiguity and new game mechanics to heighten the sense that “doing the right thing” isn’t as easy as it sounds. I hope other games borrow from this game more in the future.

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men (Xbox 360 & others, 2007)

I stand by my review: This game was actually pretty good. Yes, it was not the most original in gameplay mechanics, but as a take on blending cinematic techniques with gameplay, it was pretty cool. I’m looking forward to the sequel, which is supposed to follow up on the “Lynch” part of the title.

Dark Sector (Xbox 360, 2008)

Once again, I stand by my review: This is a game about throwing a spinning blade at guys while shooting them at the same time. It lags in places, but generally, it’s quite good at what it sets out to do, which is to be totally rad. Definitely worth the ten bucks it costs to get it used nowadays.

You Have to Burn the Rope (Web, 2008)

I’m not even sure that You Have to Burn the Rope is best described as a game. It’s an interactive Flash animation that spends more time on the end credits than on the actual gameplay. Ultimately, it’s an amusing commentary on gaming itself (with a charming, catchy tune at the end).

Pac-man Championship Edition (Xbox Live Arcade, 2007)

Ms. Pac-man is one of my favorite games of all time, representing some significant improvements upon the original Pac-man formula, with variation in mazes and bonus items that move. Pac-man Jr., however, is one of the most ridiculously un-fun games of all time, thanks to relentless ghosts and bonus items that slow you down and destroy your power-ups. Pac-man itself can thus be done right or it can be done wrong, and Pac-man Championship Edition does it right for the first time in years, and with some clever adjustments for the fact that we’re not using quarters anymore.

Ultimately, this beat Pac-man Versus to this list because while that game is great, it’s very harder to get set up (with a Game Boy Advance hooked up to a controller port), harder to get optimal playing conditions (with four players who are eager to play it all in one room), and harder to get into for more than one game at a time. Pac Man CE, meanwhile, is straightforward and appropriately addictive, as a Pac-man game should be.

Boom Blox (Wii, 2008)

I think a lot of people dismissed this when they found out that Stephen Spielberg’s gaming debut wasn’t going to be an interactive cinematic masterpiece, but a game about throwing blocks with the Wiimote. Well, I have no idea whether Spielberg even had anything to do with this, but I feel like this is the game that best takes advantage of what the Wii does best. Its game modes include a well-done Jenga ripoff and variations on the theme of knocking over teetering structures by throwing junk, without the hassle of cleanup or putting your friends’ eyes out. It is simple fun.

Alone in the Dark (Xbox 360 & others, 2008)

Still what I’d call one of the “most innovative and worst executed games I have ever played,” I don’t think the “most innovative” part should be forgotten. I really hope they make a sequel (or something along similar lines) and do it properly next time. I wouldn’t complain if every narrative game stole the convention (itself borrowed from TV) of prefacing each new play session with a short montage of cut scenes to remind you what happened “Previously, on Alone in the Dark…”

Too Human (Xbox 360, 2008)

No, just kidding, this game really did suck.