Welcome to the revival of CHUD.com’s video game presence, Master
Control Program
. Since it’s an exciting [and expensive] time to be a video
game aficionado, what better time to bring back the column that almost was, a
look at all things console and handheld? That is what they call in the business
a rhetorical question.

Today’s Roundtable: The Sleepers

Nick Nunziata (‘CHUDcom’ on XBOX LIVE and Mii ‘7629 0050 6369
6322’): So you’re at the video game shop and all the big titles are taken care
of but you have a gift certificate for $25 from Amos at the office and want to
find an older title to fill your already tapped free time. You know Amos. The
guy with the comb-over and the Dilbert calendar who inexplicably shouts out
“fuck the disenfranchised” around lunchtime. Amos wouldn’t spring for a $50
certificate in the Secret Santa Sweepstakes. He needs that money for pole
dancing lessons.

So, you have to think outside
the box. No Gears of War for you, Mister. No Rainbow Six. Something smaller.
Something quirkier. Something that’ll stick to your ribs like the tips at
Famous Dave’s BBQ.

Allow the Bit Players to help
you out.

I’m going to assume that
everyone knows about the popular sleepers like Psychonauts, Shadow of the
, and Oddworld Stranger.

First I’ll toss out Age of
Empires for the Nintendo DS. Everyone knows and loves Advance Wars and the many
‘Tactics’ games populating the world. Most of them are pretty good and there’s
a D&D one in the pipeline that should be fantastic. As far as intelligent
and depth-laden portable strategy games go, there is nothing as solid as Age of
. The fact it works so well on the DS is a tribute to both the control
scheme and the little machine’s flexibility. I’m a PSP guy, but this game rocks
the socks on the DS and it didn’t get nearly the fanfare it deserved. Alex?

Alex Riviello (Wii Number ‘3609 2823 5748 1076’): Age of Empires really is a
great game. I might like it even better than Advance Wars for DS, and I’ve sunk
probably 30 hours into that thing.

I was going to plug Indigo
here, but I just talked about it in the last Bit Players Column, so
I’ll move on to another little-known Xbox title. Metal Arms.

Yeah, Metal Arms. It’s a
goofy, robot filled game that’s probably one of the most frantic shooters for
the system. It’s a really funny game with a lot of variety, awesome weapons,
and lots of things to blow up. The fact that you can pick it up for 10 bucks
everywhere doesn’t hurt things either. Give it a shot if you like 3rd
person shooters, you won’t be disappointed.

Brian Condry (XBOX Live and Chud Boards "Medium Dave";
Wii Friend "7547 7303 2381 1883")
I agree with Age of Empires.
While I like Advance Wars just a little bit more, AoE is
pretty damn cool. All the little
historical things really put it over the top.
And I must mention that Metal Arms is damn hard and has damn fun

In hopes of stealing some
thunder from someone else’s choice, because I’m an asshole like that, I’m going
to suggest a game that came out in October.
Okami for the PS2. It’s
good. REAL good. Incredibly gorgeous graphics, fun gameplay,
and a quest that is around 30 hours.
And, of course, the studio that released it, Clover, was shut down about
a month later. Yeah, it’s got a few
minor problems, but it’s the closest any non-Nintendo system is going to get to
a Zelda until the aliens come back to see how their "earth" experiment
is going. And I’m sure, by now, you can
get it for less than $30.

Jon Cassady (Wii Number: 2746 5742 8835 9278; Chud Boards:

Speaking of Zelda-esque
games, I’ll go with Beyond Good & Evil for the Gamecube and PS2.

Beyond Good & Evil, from Rayman designer Michel
Ancel, was released in 2003 to critical acclaim and horrific sales. Sales were
so poor that by March 2004 you could find the game pretty much anywhere for
$10. Due to Ancel’s following, and endorsement from Peter Jackson, Beyond
Good & Evil
has found a small devoted audience.

Part Zelda, part Lara
Croft and part Bob Woodward (seriously), Beyond Good & Evil is a
fantastic mix of action-adventure, stealth and puzzle solving. It,
additionally, features some of the best visuals you’ll ever witness in a
discount game.

The only major complaint is
that the game is about 12 hours long, but for $10 – $15, you’ll get a good bang
for your buck and if you are looking for something to fill the time, you won’t
be disappointed.

Kurt Miller (Chud boards ‘Egg’) (XBOX Live ‘Barnaby Fist’): With
nostalgia titles going for $8 or more on next-gen download services, consider
that Sega Genesis Collection for the PS2 has 28 Genesis titles for $20.
That means you can use Amos’ gift certificate and still have enough to pick up
a Master Chief Pez dispenser or something.

Granted, not every title will
appeal to everyone, but they packed it with well-known properties (
, Sonic, Shinobi, Phantasy Star) as well as some
sleepers from its own time (
Comix Zone, Vectorman). And if you’re
itching to drop some
Columns on the toilet, you can pay an extra $10 and
grab it for the PSP instead. They look and play just as they did back in the
day, but like all nostalgia collections, some fondly remembered games are best
left in the past (
Altered Beast). Keep that in mind.

Nick Nunziata (‘CHUDcom’ on XBOX LIVE and Mii ‘7629 0050 6369
6322’): Some good calls there. Here’s a few more, and none of them are Sneak
, which is a freakily funny title, but one that may result in your
unwilling sleeprape. If you own a PS3 or PS2, you really ought to try and snag a
copy of Trapt, the latest (and probably last) game in the Deception series. Any
game where you play a little girl is hot, especially if your job is to set
traps and spring them on approaching villains. Or good guys. Something tells me
that you’re the asshole in those games, dropping flaming balls on people and
shooting arrows out of holes in the wall towards their person. I love them,
though they’re rough around the edges and very poorly translated. Heck, if
you’re really lucky you’ll find X-COM and the PS1 mouse for the PS1 and have
yourself a really good time. For the PSP I’ve gotten some really good mileage
out of Killzone: Liberation, primarily because its isometric camera angle
brings out the old-schooler in me. Literally. He exited through my colon in the
night. For the XBOX 360, despite massive love and advertising heaped on Gears
of War
, Rainbow 6 Vegas, and Splinter Cell – Double Agent, I still find myself
gravitating towards Battlefield: Modern Combat both online and off, though I
wish people would quite selecting fucking Backstab as the multiplayer level of

It’s sad, in the old days
you’d see a lot more frivolous titles released. Nowadays there aren’t as many
risks. You wouldn’t see Shaq-Fu today, and that makes me sad.

(Wii Number ‘3609 2823 5748 1076’):
Well, now that games cost millions and millions of bucks to make,
you’re not going to have people taking a chance like they used to. That’s why
almost every friggin’ game is a first person shooter, a sports game, or a

But man, Deception. I haven’t
thought of that series in a long time. Going back to the PS1 games, I’m a huge
fan of the first few Clock Tower games. Sure, the controls were busted, the
graphics are ugly, but there’s nothing creepier than trying to escape from a
scissors-wielding psychopath by hiding in a closet. I used to have a heart
attack while he walked by, bringing those enormous scissors together with a

If you’re in the mood for an
older system though I’d say you should pick up a Dreamcast. It’s got so many
classic games that you won’t find anywhere else, like
Seaman, Shenmue, Toy
, Zombie Revenge, Cannon Spike, Samba de Amigo, Blue Stinger, Chu Chu
, Bangai-O, Resident Evil: Code Veronica… I could go on and on. Forget
what everyone says. The Dreamcast should have been a serious contender in the
last generation of console wars (especially with their amazing lineup) but
people don’t seem to like to give new kinds of games and old school-styled
shooter/fighting games.

Brian Condry (XBOX Live and Chud Boards "Medium Dave";
Wii Friend "7547 7303 2381 1883") Good call on the Deception titles,
guys. I loved them back on the PS1. Setting up deliciously evil combos to thwart
do gooders coming to steal your shit?
Loved it. I should give Trapt a
shot. And I really should dust off my Dreamcast. It’s been sitting there, looking at me all
despondent like for 3 years. I may fire
up Soul Caliber when I get home.

Anyway. Phantom Dust on the Xbox. Still not backwards compatible, but some of
you have Xboxes lying around still.
Pretty cool little online/offline arena battle game. Or something.
Basically, you got all sorts of abilities (300 plus, I think) and you’re
landed in completely destructible environments and you ran around slinging
magicy shit at your opponents until someone lost. Chunking an explosive fireball up at someone
which then causes the section of freeway they were standing on to crumble,
sending them crashing to the ground to put a huge dent into the concrete…it was
damn cool. Weird and a reasonably steep
learning curve, coupled with the fact that it wasn’t
Halo 2, meant sales
weren’t high, but if you could find some good buddies to play it with, it was
pretty goddamn neat.

Jon Cassady (Wii Number: 2746 5742 8835 9278; Chud Boards:

Anyone who says that the Dreamcast
sucked just doesn’t get it. By
themselves, Virtua Tennis and Soul Calibur were worth the
purchase. One of the great, “what ifs” in video game history.

One game that really never
got the pub it deserved was The Mark of Kri for PS2. Kri was a beat ‘em up game that had pretty
amazing graphics for its time (2002), especially for its genre. Adding to the
gameplay was a unique 360 fighting system and the difficult to perform, but
worthwhile, combos. What put the game over the top was the enemy AI. Enemies
actually fought with some strategy and defended attacks. Button mashing could
only take you so far. Yeah, there are parts of the game that weren’t the best,
but regardless, The Mark of Kri is a great entry for PS2.

And while I’m going to get
hit for this, for those who want to recreate the feel
Goldeneye 007 for
N64, and play with Bond characters, pick up Nightfire. The game itself
it pretty blah, but it’s by far the best of the EA Bond titles and the only one
which comes close to recapturing the pure joy of

Kurt Miller (Chud boards ‘Egg’) (XBOX Live ‘Barnaby Fist’): If
we’re digging beyond 2006, then I’ll revive
Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy:
The Shitty Title
. It’s not a game that people were unaware of back in 2004,
they just didn’t give a rip. Who could blame them? There were fourteen games
released the same day as Psi-Ops that all had “Ops” somewhere in the title. On
the outside, it seemed like another me-too third-person military wank-a-thon.
On the inside, there was actually a zesty mix of psychic powers. Most notable
was the use of telekinesis to either hurl the environment at your enemy or vice
versa. It takes a long time to get tired of the different ways you can torment
the game’s generic bad guys. Set them on fire, make them jump off a bridge, go
Scanners on their heads…it’s hard not to at least get a solid weekend out of
this one. I mean, when was the last time you used a flaming corpse as a weapon?
In a game.

Nick Nunziata (‘CHUDcom’ on XBOX LIVE and Mii ‘7629 0050 6369
6322’): Anyone who hates on the Dreamcast has their head up their ass. It took
the Dreamcast for me to approach a skating game. You have no idea how much I
hated skating until Tony Hawk 2 and the perfect controller for it. Now I’m a
hypocrite. If we’re old going school, you Wii owners will be in for a treat if
their Virtual Console makes Turbo-Grafx greats like Dungeon Explorer. Another really
cheap and long-lasting way to stretch your dollar is with X-BOX Live Arcade.
Everyone knows that Geometry Wars is better than jerking off, but I have logged
more hours of Zuma than I care to mention. Actually, I’ve fallen in heavy
petting with Luxor: Wrath of Set, a game that is a blend of Zuma and Arkanoid.
That sucker’s on the PSP and I’m really enjoying it. I’m always a gameplay guy.
I could give a fuck about graphics at the end of the day. I’m the guy who
played Yar’s Revenge for hours on end. Simple and elegant is all I need, which
is why the boon in refurbished and retro games is cool with me. Heck, the main
reason I dig Halo so much is that you don’t have to be a genius to function in
it compared to some of the more intricate first-person games. My last sleeper
is one for the PS2 that sadly got really kind of swept under the rug in the
grand scheme of things, a game that, in a perfect world, would have a PS3
version on the way. War of the Monsters. The guys that did my beloved Twisted
games (the good ones at least, Incognito) did it and it was a pure joy to
play. Picture that great Hulk game from a year ago mixed with Twisted Metal
with old-school sci-fi giant monsters. Brilliant stuff. Alex?

Alex Riviello (Wii Number ‘3609 2823 5748 1076’): War of the
is everything Rampage wished it could be. Fun stuff. As is the amazing
Twisted Metal 2 before the series fell into shit. There’s nothing like setting
a charge on the Eiffel Tower and driving off as it explodes behind you.

I just thought of another
incredibly underrated game.
Deathrow. It’s a futuristic sports game for the
Xbox, sorta a Rollerball-type deal. It’s fun, violent, and the teams are all
memorable in their wacky futureness. Great multiplayer game, too. Nothing like
a game where you can win by scoring the most points or by stomping the
opponents till they can’t move anymore. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to
Mutant League game.

Brian Condry (XBOX Live and Chud Boards "Medium Dave";
Wii Friend "7547 7303 2381 1883")
Dammit, Alex. That was my next
one. The cover for Deathrow makes it
look generic as fuck, but it’s a blast.
All it needed was Live play…

I’m going to run over to the
PC for just a moment, then.
. It’s X-com during World War
2. And EVERY building is destructible. Think a bunch of Nazis are hiding in that
farmhouse? Sneak your demo guy over,
slap some explosives to the four corners and watch the building collapse. Turn based strategy and ragdoll physics and
shooting through walls and floors and giant armored Nazi rocket launching jet
pack guys…oh, it was cool. The only
thing it lacked was multiplayer, but hey,
X-Com didn’t need that shit, and it’s
one of the greats.

Jon Cassady (Wii Number: 2746 5742 8835 9278; Chud Boards:

What a list! Nick mentioned
the Virtual Console so I’ll wish for one of my all-time favorites to appear
soon, ActRaiser. An unique mix of 2D side scrolling action and civilization
building, ActRaiser is one of my all time favorites. I was always pissed
how the sequel was absolute shit.

Beyond that you have more
“knowns” like Rez and Jet Grind Radio, but I mention them
because, they are fun and unique, and if you are looking for some variety, you
should check them out.

Finally, I hope someone
revives the venerable
Double Switch franchise that originated on Sega
CD. Nothing like a game staring Corey Haim. Talk about a sleeper!

Kurt Miller (Chud boards ‘Egg’) (XBOX Live ‘Barnaby Fist’): And a
high-profile supporting cast as well. R. Lee Ermey and Taylor Negron? I wish it
had been a Mortal Kombat-style fighter. I guess the high-gloss sheen of
Hollywood star power wasn’t enough to carry that one.

The last sleeper I’m going to
toss out there is Exit for the PSP. I’m surprised more people didn’t
pick it up because it came out right between jack and shit in the PSP’s release
calendar early this year. While everyone else was trying to cram dumbed-down
versions of PS2 games into this device, someone actually designed a game that played
to the strengths of the PSP.

If the idea of a
puzzle/platformer that’s reminiscent of The Lost Vikings and Elevator
appeals to you, then go looking for this one. It’s simple to
control, so you’ve got the pick-up-and play angle. It’s got a bold, unique art
style, so it looks great on the PSP’s bright display. And it actually takes
some brains, so you’re working more with your mind than your thumbs. It’s
really more like what I was expecting to see on a handheld platform. I doubt
we’ll see many more like it considering how little impact it had. Maybe if they
put the Burger King in the sequel and sell it with some chicken nuggets or some

Bit Player Jacob Singer will be back in our next installment.