It’s time for Ask Kotaku, the weekly feature in which Kotaku-ites deliberate on a single burning question. Then, we ask your take.
This week we Ask Kotaku: What’s a game you like that doesn’t get enough love?
It’s Bionic Commando (2009). The game famously bombed and sure enough, there’s plenty wrong with it. First and foremost (spoilers incoming), you can’t talk about this sequel/reboot without lamenting how boneheaded it was to go full grimdark with the story. Nathan “Rad” Spencer, your hero from the colourful, 1988 NES game? He’s on death row (lol), and likes to shout vulgar one-liners. Super Joe, the old ally whom you rescued? He’s the secret antagonist, pulling the strings all along. And I swear I’m not making this up, Spencer’s bionic arm is infused with the soul of his murdered wife, because that’s how bionics work now? It’s unclear. Anyway, his arm is his wife. Cool.
I know, I know. So bad. The game also gets dinged for being linear instead of open world (fine by me), the annoying collectibles (badly done, but safe to ignore), and your hero’s unlikely redesign (I favour the bonus retro skin).
But! But but but. The swinging! Oh my god, the swinging is transcendent. The developers at Grin somehow managed to solve the enormously complex problem of translating the 2D Bionic Commando’s fairly unique wire-grapple (wife-grapple?) action into a full 3D action game, and it feels both glorious and utterly natural to zip around the ruins of Ascension City on a wing, a prayer, and your, uh, former marriage partner.
The combat’s good too! Headshots feel snappy and lethal and your shooty arsenal is small but effective. Different enemies make you augment weapon use with various bionic arm techniques — grabbing, throwing, and whatnot — and the game does a great job of making your wife-arm, bless its literal soul (so fucked up), feel like an essential part of your arse-kicking toolbox. Great traversal plus good combat equals a real solid action game.
Bionic Commando (2009) cloaks a bona fide achievement in 3D world traversal in laughably stupid storytelling and enough little gameplay annoyances to drive away the less committed. But let it get its hooks in you, so to speak, and you might end up liking that arm so much you’ll wanna marry it. In which case you’re in luck.
While I’ve seen a lot of positive stuff surrounding it lately, I’m going to take this opportunity to put my love for the Mad Max game out there.
I bought 2015’s Mad Max on a whim years ago. I liked the original movies alright and really loved Fury Road, so why not? What I found was a game completely invested in its vision of itself. Sure, the hand-to-hand combat is basically lifted wholesale from the Arkham series and the gameplay loop can get a little repetitive at times, but its core build-a-car-and-smash-other-cars-with-it conceit fires on all cylinders with a momentum most games only wish they could achieve.
I enjoyed my time with the Mad Max game so much that it’s the first one I really devoted time to completing 100%. I wanted that Platinum more than anything, and for a few weeks, I spent most of my free time hunting down the game’s treasure chests and vehicle upgrades for my digital reward. Sadly, a common bug kept me from doing so, and I gave up on the mission entirely. That said, I still look back on my time with the game fondly. Maybe I should try for that Platinum again.
If you need something mindless and flashy to fill your time between games, think about giving Mad Max a shot. Oh, and tell Chumbucket that Ian Walker said, “What’s up!” if you do.
Pokémon Colosseum is completely overlooked, especially when comparing it to other side games in the franchise. Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Stadium get all the love. And while they’re great in their own right, Colosseum brought something really unique. The GameCube side game starts out with a bombastic scene in which the game’s protagonist, Wes, causes a building to explode. We quickly learn that not only was this the hideout of Colosseum’s version of Team Rocket, but also that Wes himself was a member. He is soon joined by Rui, whom he meets after she was literally kidnapped.
Colosseum took us on a wild ride through the Orre region, which we see again in Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness. Shadow organisations run amok, allows you to steal pokémon from their trainers, and includes evil “shadow” pokémon. But it wasn’t just the story that set Colosseum apart. The gameplay offers an extra challenge as the only catchable pokémon are shadow pokémon in need of rescuing. If you miss your chance, you don’t get another one. All of the battles are doubles, and your starters are Umbreon and Espeon.
I was captivated by Colosseum when I played as a kid, but I’m longing for a similar experience even more now. The unusual catching and battling system made this tougher than some of the core games I’ve played. Meanwhile, The Pokémon Company continues to toe the line between its older and younger audiences. A Colosseum remake is exactly what I’ve been missing.
It’s just a shame that Colosseum has largely been forgotten, and it’s even more disappointing looking back at old reviews that couldn’t see how great this game really is.
Manhunt might look like a stealth-action game with a lot of gore, but it’s also one of the creepiest, nastiest horror games for the PS2. Play that game in a dark room, on higher difficulty settings, alone in the middle of the night and you’ll see.
Agents of Mayhem is like if Crackdown, Overwatch, and Saint’s Row got together and had a weird game-baby. I know some folks found the smaller city disappointing and the lack of co-op strange, but I still enjoy this game. I recently played it on Xbox Series X and had a blast. Great characters and some tight action and shooting. If it only had more mission variety it would be a genuine classic in my book.
I just want to provide a warning at this point in the article that Ari’s going to list Mass Effect: Andromeda as an example of this category immediately below, and there’s no good reason anyone should be subjected to that sort of effrontery. On behalf of all good-thinking people, I apologise.
So I instead shall defend Gex: Enter The Gecko.
I’ve never really understood why that game’s so historically shat on. It got middling reviews on release but has been sneered at since. I loved Enter The Gecko! And not just because its name sounds like some horrendous lizard porn.
There’s a chance I love it more because it arrived during a really shitty year of my life. I’d just failed the exams we Brits take to get into university, and all my friends were off and I was stuck at home, a big faily failure. At the same time I’d discovered The Divine Comedy’s early-’90s albums Promenade and Casanova, and remember many thankfully distracted hours playing through the third-person platformer on my PS1 while swapping between the two albums on my CD player. Crystal Dynamics was a team that knew what it was doing (damn you Avengers for forcing the past tense on that sentence), and I’m really grateful for the silly, bombastic tone that took me out of my misery for little chunks of time.
There are many other games I should likely have picked. The woefully unknown Project Eden, the utterly unfairly maligned Deus Ex: Invisible War, the miserably ignored In Memoria. But I pick Gex, so as to soften the blow when, just in passing, Ari says….
There are a gazillion obvious answers to this one — Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Super Mario Sunshine, The Order 1886, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, among others — but none compare to the most needlessly pilloried video game in history. I’m talking, of course, about Fuse, Insomniac’s 2013 basket of comfort food.
Upon release, Fuse got absolutely rocked. At the time, Kotaku’s reviewer deemed it a “NO” out of 10 (back when we still did that sort of thing). One reviewer described it “as dry as a dead tree,” full of “prostrated busywork” and “sequences of narcoleptic banality.” Another called it “dull,” “depressingly generic,” and “inexplicably bland,” lifting discarded adverbs from the front jacket of a Jonathan Safran Foer novel. Even those certain outlets who tend to be a bit lenient with reviews (you know who you are) slammed it.
Look: I won’t get on a pulpit and say that Fuse is some undiscovered gem, an unsung terrific game that everyone needs to play, stat. It’s not. But did it really deserve to get run through like that?
At its core, Fuse is a thoroughly competent third-person shooter — nothing more, nothing less. Some of the weapons were genuinely novel-feeling. (Each of the four playable characters had a unique weapon. One could deploy a shield that absorbed and reflected bullets. Another carried a rifle that could create singularities.) But even those that weren’t creative at least felt solid, as you’d expect from any game with an Insomniac splash screen. I think there was a story? Who knows. Who cares! That’s what the horde mode was for. (Fine, the campaign was basically one long horde mode.)
Where Fuse really stood out for me, though, was with its co-op, though my fondness might be a result of personal circumstance. See, in August, Boston gets really disgusting — a humid, muggy film over everything that makes you want to do nothing but sit inside. My then-roommate and I, anxious about an impending fall semester, wanted to pick up a fun co-op game that demanded exactly zero mental exertion. Fuse fit the bill. And playing through was a total blast! We weren’t wowed, but we weren’t let down in the slightest. Talk about meeting expectations.
Fuse didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it didn’t break it, either. Fuse was the textbook definition of “middle of the road,” and definitely didn’t deserve the hate it got. It arguably even deserved some love. But if the game’s face-plant ultimately drove Insomniac to Sunset Overdrive, hey, that’s a worthy tradeoff.
Let’s just get right into it: Batman: Arkham Origins rocks. The game’s defenders have been more vocal in recent years, but back when it first came out it was greeted by a not insignificant number of players with a heavy sigh and a “so what?” Understandably so considering how understated Origins is compared to its loud, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink of a game predecessor, Arkham City. The premise in Origins is simple enough: It’s Christmas Eve and a bunch of recently escaped villains are trying to kill Batman.
Rather than a threat to the entire city, there’s a threat to Batman, and a mystery of the caped crusader to unravel. The whole thing feels a lot more like a Batman: The Animated Series episode than the previous games in the Arkham-verse, and is better for it. Origins might not be a better game than Arkham Asylum, but it is a decidedly better Batman game, complete with detailed crime scene investigations, quiet roof-top sleuthing, and some unique boss battles. Rather than hide from Death Stroke inside of vents or pretend he can’t see you up in the rafters, Origins has you duel the assassin in a button combo press-off. Part quick-time event, part rhythm mini-game, it’s a simple but effective way of highlighting the encounter without getting bogged down in dumb one-off boss mechanics. Arkham Knight, for everything it does well, learned almost none of these lessons, which is why time and again Origins is the only game adjacent to the Arkham trilogy I still find myself going back to. Too bad they left it out of the definitive collection.
How About You?
Kotaku’s weighed in, but what games do you feel get a bum rap? Deserve a second shake? Please elaborate below on why the conventional wisdom is full of crap. We’ll be back next week to deliberate and debate on another nerdy issue. See you in the comments!