Hidden Gems on PS1

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By Josh Nichols on August 30th, 2021

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The PlayStation’s biggest legacy is absolutely the quality and variety of the system’s software library. Nearly 1,500 games were released for the PlayStation in North America and almost 5,000 games were released for the system in Japan. The console’s pack-in titles emphasized the plans for an all-inclusive future that would appeal to everyone. Things were almost much different for Sony and Nintendo. Originally the two companies were going to be working together on hardware but Nintendo eventually backed out and went a different direction.

Sony decided to enter the video game industry with its own console, without Nintendo — and it changed everything. Not only has PlayStation been a key player in the industry in the years since but the company’s continued success and future plans even pushed Microsoft to enter the video game industry. The Sega Dreamcast may not have made it (RIP) but many of the console’s ideas and Sega’s technology-focused innovations would be carried forward by Xbox and PlayStation.

The industry could have been much different if the partnership between Nintendo and Sony was successful, but it’s hard to say. At the very least, there would have been fewer games released during the PlayStation/N64 era. The PlayStation was easier and cheaper to develop for; Compact discs (CDs) changed everything. Not only could the CDs hold much more space than Nintendo’s clunky cartridges (700 megabytes versus 64 megabytes!) but they were also much cheaper to produce. The N64 has some captivating classics but there were also less than 400 games released during the console’s lifespan.

Variety and quality provide a solid foundation for a console. It helped Sony sell over 100 million systems worldwide, which is only a few million less than the PS4 sold. It was also clear that PlayStation was here to stay. Nintendo’s N64 sold about 33 million units. That was down from the Super Nintendo too, which sold about 50 million units. No one thought Nintendo was going anywhere but it was very clear that PlayStation was here to stay.

It’s easy to lose sight of all the games worth playing on the PS1. Not only did the PS1 have a lot of games but there are also dozens of must-play titles that are easier to recommend than other titles. There are countless flawed titles that still have special qualities and moments that are worth experiencing. Play these games if you’re looking for something special, weird, or different the next time you boot up your Sony PlayStation. (Besides Gex, obviously).

Note: Links to full playthroughs will be included with each game in case you’d like to experience the game without tracking down discs or dealing with emulation.

The Mummy

This list isn’t ranked or anything but Brendan Fraser is intentionally at the top of the list. The Mummy was a fantastic adventure film and while the video game adaptation has flaws, it’s still a good time. It’s an action-adventure game with some light puzzles and platforming. Think Tomb Raider but not quite as good. Still, Rick O’Connell, Brendan Fraser, and mummies!

Exploring ancient tombs, shooting mummies, and jumping past spikes and pits is a thrill, especially if you’re a fan of the film. The game differs from the film plenty (which was common for licensed games at the time) but it’s still a fun time with characters and segments from the film. You can always watch a playthrough to skip the issues common with early 3D games. (Link to full playthrough)

LSD: Dream Emulator

LSD: Dream Emulator is an exploration-based game where players explore surreal areas without any goals. It was conceived by Osamu Sato, a Japanese artist who rejected the standard concept of video games. He instead wanted to use the PlayStation to create a different kind of art.

LSD: Dream Emulator was exclusively released in Japan. It included a book filled with excerpts from the actual dream diary that inspired the game’s concept. There’s a patched version of LSD: Dream Emulator available on Internet Archive that’s been translated into English. It was part of a fan translation project and isn’t an official release so there may be some stability issues. It’s popular among streamers and YouTubers too so there are plenty of gameplay videos online. Just make sure to take the trip however you choose to explore this surreal and strange world.

Pac-Man World

My first memories with Pac-Man are with Ms. Pac-Man on the Sega Genesis but Pac-Man World on the PlayStation is where most of my memories are. Pac-Man World functioned as a celebration of the character and franchise but it also opened up some new kinds of gameplay that worked really well.

Players maneuver through 3D environments while collecting fruit and pellets and avoiding enemies. Power Pellets give Pac-Man the power to eat ghosts just like in the original game. The feelings from the original game are translated into a different genre and world entirely — and it works really well. Pac-Man World could have been an easy cash-grab but chose greatness instead. Mmmmm, those sound effects and songs are still baked into my memory. (Link to full playthrough)

Broken Helix

Broken Helix is such a strange game. It deserves to be remembered if not for Bruce Campbell alone. It’s a third-person shooter starring Jake Burton (voiced by Campbell), an explosives expert, and he has a mission inside Area 51. Tasked with defusing bombs and dealing with an evil scientist, Broken Helix takes an interesting approach and lets players choose their own unique path.

Broken Helix has some set objectives that must be completed but it eventually branches out and opens up more. Players have four different choices on how to complete the game. Each direction has different story elements and outcomes, all based on the player’s actions. Developed and published by Konami before they decided gambling was cooler than storytelling, Broken Helix remains interesting to this day. Its ambition is often interrupted by the technology of 1997 but it’s still worth exploring and experiencing at least once. (Link to gameplay)

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos has been a gem since it was first released in 1997 but it isn’t discussed nearly enough in my opinion. I can’t imagine someone missing Croc. It’s an early 3D platformer, which is very clear from the in-game camera, but the game’s soundtrack and colorful environments are captivating and exciting. This world is so warm and there’s just enough hope to press on. I legitimately listen to the soundtrack weekly. (‘Volcano Island 1‘ is mysterious, playful, and emotionally stirring all at once!) Play or watch Croc: Legend of the Gobbos if you haven’t experienced it yet. Skip the sequel but please do join me in wishing for a remake of the first game on the same scale as Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy.

Parasite Eve

Parasite Eve is an action role-playing game with survivor horror elements wrapped in a cinematic tale that wouldn’t have been possible on anything but the PS1. Players follow the story of New York City police officer Aya Brea over a six-day period in 1997 as she fights to save the human race. The game’s antagonist, Eve, is planning on destroying the entire human race via spontaneous human combustion. It’s a strange time and an essential game.

Outside of a digital re-release on PlayStation Network in 2010, nothing has happened with the game, despite the interesting blend of gameplay and story elements. Square Enix should really consider reviving the game on modern platforms, even if it’s just the PS1 version. Play or watch Parasite Eve as soon as possible.

Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness is incredibly hard. It’s intentional. It’s an extremely difficult 2D sidescroller that’s very much like Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. The story and setting couldn’t be more different though. A lost boy looking for his dog in a strange and dangerous land, filled with danger, monsters, and more.

Heart of Darkness is different than the other games on this list. It was difficult to play when it was new— and that was back in 1998. Play this if you grew up around the time or if you have the patience for older game design, but otherwise, just experience it through a playthrough. It’s a really special game. Some of the cutscenes have been seared into my mind for the last twenty-three years. Heart of Darkness isn’t revolutionary or groundbreaking anymore but it still has a lot of heart.

Wild 9

Wild 9 is a weird game. It’s a 2.5D run-and-gun sidescroller with a really unique vibe. Kevin Munroe, designer and lead animator, said the team aimed for a feeling that would feel like “George Lucas co-wrote Star Wars with Lewis Carroll.” The team succeeded in hitting that feeling. Wild 9 is something fans of Earthworm Jim and similar games should experience when possible. (Link to playthrough).

Nightmare Creatures

Nightmare Creatures feels like this de-mastered Bloodborne mashed with MediEvil. It’s scary, creepy, weird, and frightfully fun. I went into greater detail in a full retro review. Don’t miss Nightmare Creatures, especially if you dig horror or Souls games. It doesn’t play like one but the atmosphere is undeniably just as flavorful for the time.

Shadow Man

Shadow Man makes me feel so alone and empty. Just staring at this screenshot gives me the same feeling as losing my balance in the woods at night. Jack the Ripper, prophetic dreams, and an apocalypse that’s closing in, Shadow Man follows Michael LeRoi as he protects the world of the living from something distant and sinister. (Link to playthrough).

Small Soldiers

Yes, the video game adaptation of the Dreamworks movie. Small Soldiers isn’t a perfect game but it does some really interesting things, especially with its premise. I’ll spare you an essay on the film but it takes place in this doomed world. The Gorgonites and Commandos are two unrelated toys that end up becoming sworn enemies because of capitalism and the need to sell toys. The toys have their own universes and stories, which is all the characters know in the film when they start talking and fighting each other. Big Toy Story meets The Indian in the Cupboard energy, but from the studio that brought you Shrek.

What makes the Small Soldiers video game adaptation so interesting is it takes place in the worlds the characters come from. It doesn’t take place in this dumb one we live in. Instead, you’re involved in the struggle between the Commandos and the Gorgonites. I’d really like to see more licensed games take this approach. (Link to playthrough).

MediEvil 2

MediEvil II builds on so many things the first game did well and introduced some new gameplay mechanics as well. The action-adventure hack-and-slash gameplay from the first game is back but there are a few more puzzles this time around, new weapons, and another surprise.

Sir Daniel Fortesque can now remove his head and hand to create Sir Dan the Hand. It’s brilliant. Players can then move Sir Dan’s head around on his hand like a little spider. Sir Dan the Hand can access other areas, including switches, to unlock routes for the rest of Sir Dan’s body. It’s amazing. It’s one of my favorite gameplay mechanics and it needs to return, especially in a spooky skeleton aesthetic.

The first game is great but the 2019 remake helped re-introduce Sir Daniel Fortesque to a new generation. Sir Dan also cleaned up really well in the new graphics. The sequel remains an essential game for fans of the many genres blended together, especially until a remake happens. MediEvil II is a humorously haunting experience that shouldn’t be lost to time. Used copies are a bit expensive these days so emulation will probably be your best option. (Link to playthrough).

Herc’s Adventures

Herc’s Adventures is a unique blend of gameplay that’s reminiscent of Zombies Ate My Neighbors in some ways. Developed and published by LucasArts, Herc’s Adventures uses a lovely art style that only occasionally causes perspective issues. Herc’s Adventures almost had a rogue-lite vibe with the way death works.

When players die they’re sent to the underworld and need to fight their way out to exit and continue on their quest. Each death pushes the player further into the underworld and it’s Game Over after five deaths. This mechanic could be leaned into even more if Disney ever throws some money at a remake. Hack, slash, and laugh your way through this silly action-adventure epic from LucasArts. It’s worth checking out for the art style alone! (Link to playthrough).

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver follows Raziel, a ghostly vampire looking for answers in a dead and dying world. Set in the fictional world of Nosgoth, Soul Reaver is a tale of jealously, loss, and death. It’s a more mature story. Crystal Dynamics created a great game but it also helped show the possibilities of video game storytelling. This was during a time when technology was still more limited than developers were willing to admit. I guess some things don’t change though. (Link to playthrough).

Josh really likes video games. Horror is their favorite but they also like other stuff.

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