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Amazing video games no one bought

Over the decades, the gaming industry has become a juggernaut. It regularly pulls in more money than Hollywood, and the biggest games earn more revenue than any of their counterparts in other media. Franchises like Call of Duty can cross over into mainstream success and even drive pop culture conversations. When network television shows are making "arrow in the knee" jokes, you know the medium has made it to the big time.

Unfortunately, not every game has that kind of luck, even if it deserves to. Sometimes, we come across games that only manage to be critical successes while performing poorly at retail. We lament these games, because not only were they awesome, but we wanted the amazing experiences they offered to spread throughout the industry. Let's pour one out for these games that were awesome, but just didn't sell like their big-name competition in a marketplace that's become all-too crowded.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was a game that was poised to do very well, especially considering the fact that the game's world and lore were crafted by renowned fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore and the art design was courtesy of Todd McFarlane himself. Kingdoms of Amalur boasted a huge world with plenty of quests to undertake, giving players over 200 hours of gameplay. This amount of content might have been a little excessive to some players, but it was there and waiting for them just in case they wanted to traverse Amalur's five regions and play it all as a fantasy adventurer.

Unfortunately, the game suffered on store shelves and only sold 1.2 million copies by the 90-day mark of its release. This might sound like a decent number, but it's considered a failure since it needed to sell three million to break even. And as further bad news, the game's developer, 38 Studios, filed for bankruptcy after creating this game.

Grim Fandango

Grim Fandango is a cult classic that was published by LucasArts, back when LucasArts was, y'know, still a thing. It was the very first adventure game published by the company to use 3D graphics on pre-rendered backgrounds, giving the game a really unique look. With a film noir feel, Grim Fandango made Manny Calavera one of the more unique video game characters in the medium's history.

But even after winning critical acclaim and praise for its design and direction, Grim Fandango met with commercial failure, moving only about half a million copies in worldwide sales. Fortunately it found new life later on. In 2015, it was remastered and rereleased for PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac, Linux, and even Android and iOS.

EarthBound

EarthBound is a legend among gamers, considered by some as one of the best ever made. But most people didn't actually play it when it was released in the '90s. It was known in Japan as Mother 2, and some collectors will pay almost anything to get their hands on a physical copy of the Super Nintendo cartridge. That's crazy, since the game only sold about 140,000 units in the United States, about half of what it sold in Japan in 1994. Some blame its lousy showing on bad marketing. Others point to its cartoony graphics, which gamers at the time didn't see as much of a selling point. But EarthBound became more popular as the years went on and actually spawned a sequel that was released in Japan in 2006, and a Wii Virtual Console port that came out in 2013.

Beyond Good & Evil

Beyond Good & Evil, developed by French gaming auteur Michel Ancel, is the definition of a cult classic. It received great reviews and was critically acclaimed for its excellent graphics, storytelling, and unique cast. But it suffered poor sales during its original release in 2003—a fate some attribute to bad marketing and the fact that it was released at a time when the market was oversaturated with big titles. A remastered version was released in 2011 for the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, bringing the title to a new generation of players. Meanwhile, a sequel was announced in 2008, and some recent E3 demos showcased its unique art design and wild sci-fi imagination. There's nothing else quite like the world of Beyond Good & Evil.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the portable Nintendo DS hearkened back to the Grand Theft Auto games of old. Players controlled Huang Lee in a top-down style adventure in his quest to cause mayhem with the Triads of Liberty City. Despite being part of one of the most successful franchises in gaming, Chinatown Wars sold under 90,000 units in its first two weeks in America, making it a commercial dud despite its amazing gameplay. Maybe it was the fact that, at the time, the Nintendo DS was mainly thought to be a mostly kid-friendly platform. And, really, pretty much any Grand Theft Auto game is anything but "kid-friendly."

Jet Grind Radio

If you had a Sega Dreamcast, you probably played Jet Grind Radio. The big problem? Most people didn't have a Sega Dreamcast. It's too bad; with cel-shaded graphics, the game let players rollerblade through the city while performing tricks and spraying graffiti tags on as many surfaces as possible. With enough practice, you could skate around the city flawlessly, with a level of grace and style that most gamers could only dream of in real life. Despite its low sales, Jet Grind Radio did spawn a sequel and a few HD remakes. At the very least, the Dreamcast classic managed to tag the hearts of players around the world.

Okami

Okami for the PlayStation 2 is a major artistic success to its diehard fans, but its sales figures reveal it to be a definitive commercial flop. Okami followed the adventures of the sun goddess, Amaterasu, in a beautiful, cel-shaded world based on Japanese folklore and mythology. With gameplay inspired by The Legend of Zelda, it was a hit with reviewers. Meanwhile, it sold 200,000 copies in North America in 2006, and only 66,000 units in Japan that same year. Even after being re-released on the Wii and the PlayStation 3, Okami had trouble finding an audience. Its sales were so bad, in fact, that it literally set a world record. It was named "the least commercially successful winner of a game of the year award" by Guinness in 2010. That's probably not a great blurb to put on the front of your game box.

Dark Cloud

Dark Cloud blended role-playing with city-building, a blend of gameplay styles that reviewers loved. Even still, it performed poorly when it was launched on the PlayStation 2 in Japan back in December 2000. Fortunately, the game did much better after being released to Western audiences. And it might still find more fans going forward, since Dark Cloud was released on the PlayStation Network for PlayStation 4 in December 2015.

Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

Why didn't Max Payne 2 sell well? The first game was enough of a hit to warrant a sequel, and the second installment earned great reviews. But whatever the reason, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne sold terribly. It might as well have been called Max Payne 2: The Fall of Take-Two Interactive's Earning Forecasts. The poor performance at retail might have made the process of getting Max Payne 3 a green light more difficult. Fortunately, the third game in the series managed to right the ship, selling four million copies in its first year.

Valkyria Chronicles

There are few games as pretty and as addictive as Valkyria Chronicles for the PlayStation 3. This strategy role-playing game had great visuals, memorable characters, and a wartime backdrop that hooked players. Its sketchbook-style aesthetic brought a classic, old-world feel to the world, which was loosely based on pre-World War II Europe. Despite its positive reviews, Valkyria Chronicles didn't have stellar sales numbers. It saw a sales boost after a price cut, but it was never considered a commercial success. Luckily, its PC port sold very well on Steam, blowing away publisher expectations and setting the franchise up nicely for further sequels.

Shenmue II

Ryo Hazuki continued his search for revenge in Shenmue II, a Sega game released for the Dreamcast in 2001. The game took place in China, meaning players would get to explore a denser, more urban environment. Shenmue II got stellar reviews…but like lots of other Dreamcast games, sales didn't reflect its positive reception. Two years after it was released, it had only moved a paltry 100,000 copies. Then again, nearly 70,000 dedicated fans pledged a record-setting $6.3 million to Kickstarter to make Shenmue III a reality. Will that be enough to help the franchise come back for good? Time will tell.

Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines

You can tell a lot about a game by the kind of fanbase it attracts. A fanbase that creates their own content for a game for ten years after the shutdown of the studio that made it? That speaks to something special, and Vampire: the Masquerade—Bloodlines is certainly a unique game. A horror action-RPG played from both the first- and third-person perspectives, V:tM—B cast players as an unnamed human-turned-vampire negotiating a world of undead clans all competing for nocturnal influence. For fans of immersive RPGs with similar character-building elements such as Deus Ex, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Fallout, or even similarly-engrossing RPGs that played differently, like Planescape: Torment, V:tM—B provided a rare and hard-to-replicate experience. Sharing gameplay elements with so many bona fide classics helped to make it a cult hit in its own era, and makes it a great surprise today for retro gamers looking for an experience they may have missed out on the first time around. And be careful with that messed-up hotel level; to this day, it's cited by many as one of the scariest playthroughs of all time.

Panzer Dragoon Saga

Panzer Dragoon Saga is the strangest entry in an odd series. Premiering for the Sega Saturn in 1998, the game was the third Panzer Dragoon, and the only one in the series not to be a rail-shooter in the vein of Star Fox, but instead an RPG in the tradition of Final Fantasy. Fully in 3D and voice-acted, the ambitious game has been hailed as one of the best ever made, and ranks among the highest-rated releases for the Saturn. Original copies are now rare, but those who can get their hands on a copy are in for a treat, with beautiful art and sound design and turn-based, strategic aerial battles. It was one of the most innovative RPGs of its time, and still stands as an enduring example of what made Sega games so lauded in the '90s. If not for the fact that it came out at the end of the Saturn's life cycle, this gem might be much more well-known today—but it'd be no less well-regarded.

Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy

In this one-and-done adventure from 2004 for the Xbox and PS2, players assume control of an amnesiac with psychic powers and a nefarious paramilitary group on his tail. One of the first games to prominently feature telekinesis, Psi-Ops tapped into an obscure truth in gaming that would eventually be perfected by things like Half-Life 2's gravity gun: throwing objects with your mind is incredibly fun. Facing off against similarly psychic foes in either single-player mode or an inspired co-op that gives two players control over different parts of the character's body, Psi-Ops is the rare game that people wanted a sequel to, but didn't get. Its developer, Midway Games, closed in 2010, and the property was never further developed.

Deadly Premonition

Lots of games get mixed reviews, but not many games have the distinction of holding down Guinness World Records for it. Enter Deadly Premonition, 2010's most polarizing game of all time. The only consensus is that it's either magnificent or it's a massive mess, and no matter which side you fall on, it's certainly unique. A open-world horror game, Deadly Premonition takes a genre more accustomed to tight spaces and controlled environments and brings it into the spacious fictional city of Greenvale, Washington. While on the surface things appear normal, with people going to work at the local diner and lazily running errands in the sleepy hamlet while your player character investigates a murder, after a closer look, the supernatural reigns. Taking many cues from Twin Peaks and Japanese horror, the game is a worthy experience for any gamer who likes a left-of-center experience more inclined toward immersion than strict action. You have to buy gas for your car; without coffee, you'll get sleepy. On top of this, it's an ugly game for 2010, with crappy combat, so it's no wonder it was never a runaway sales success. But it shares traits with many of the genre's classics, and has enough twisted monster designs and messed-up moments to make it a must-play for horror diehards looking for a throwback game they might have missed.

Viking: Battle for Asgard

There's something to be said for a game of mindless destruction spent mowing down enemies like weeds. Unlike some of the titles on this list, no one's going to argue that Viking is one of the best games ever made. But it is an overlooked entry in an underappreciated genre, a hack-and-slash adventure across the frigid Scandinavian north. Like Gauntlet, or Dynasty Warriors, or the EA Lord of the Rings games, this is the sort of game you used to call a "good rental"—back when that was still a thing people did.

The Saboteur

One of the risks with taking a distinctive style is that you risk alienating people if that style's not a hit. The final game from developer Pandemic Studios, The Saboteur is an open-world game in a World War II-era European setting—think of it like Grand Theft Auto for German-occupied France, as unlikely as that sounds. Not many games outside of wartime first-person-shooters really let you play around in this sort of environment, which scores the game points for uniqueness, and the setting informs the gameplay. Just as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had you staging gang wars to claim turf, The Saboteur sees you inspiring rebellion in French districts controlled by the Nazis; pick a fight with a German, and your allies among the citizens will fight beside you. Kicking Nazi ass is a grand gaming tradition at this point, and in that regard, The Saboteur stands with the best of them. It's a really unique setting, and the noir-inspired graphics add an innovative touch.

Vanquish

From developer Platinum Games, the creators of blisteringly fun sword combat games such as Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising, Vanquish is a fast-paced third-person shooter for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 released in 2010. It's awesome. Run and gun, duck and cover, punch giants in the face when you get the opportunity. Skip the excruciating story and shoot everything. You've probably played games like Vanquish before, but rarely has an experience like this been so smoothly executed. It's fun. Maybe the novelty of Platinum Games' swordplay design has made the Bayonetta games move more copies, but just because the guns-and-explosions style on display here looks derivative doesn't mean it actually is. A winning title from the last console generation.

Brütal Legend

Designer Tim Schaefer is one of the few game developers with some degree of name recognition, and his unbridled sense of creativity has earned him a reputation over the years, through well-known hits such as Psychonauts and Grim Fandango. So as one might expect, this entry is a little difficult to describe. A rock and roll love letter featuring the likes of Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead, Lita Ford from the Runaways, and Ozzy Osbourne among its voice cast, Brütal Legend finds your lowly roadie player character and their party roaming across a heavy metal hellscape, securing territory through real-time combat and strategy. The game, while a poor seller, was praised for its wit and charm, and it's enough to keep the game worth playing even when its gameplay can sometimes feel muddled.

Singularity

Singularity is a first-person shooter with a heady time manipulation mechanic that allows you to travel forward and backward through time, affecting gunplay and the convoluted plot. Just shy of a BioShock knockoff, this nonetheless entertaining romp is worth a run-through for some memorable moments and nightmarish monsters, even when the time travel mechanics don't live up to their initial promise. Underrated, and if you can find people still playing, the multiplayer's fun too.