I'm a funny sort of gamer, I suppose. Growing up, I always had a strange compulsion to seek out games that nobody else was playing – rummaging through bargain bins, pre-owned marketplaces of unknowns. Potential gems, probable muck.
This is an instinct that's stuck with me since childhood and, as I get older, I see little changing. I still have an eye for the obscure and the under-appreciated, but the bargain bins are digital now. This is why I now spend much of my free time playing, and writing about, indie games. I still get that childhood thrill of discovery with them, and for me that's half the fun. Sharing discoveries with others via my writing? Even better.
However, as someone who largely avoids the big-hitters – not out of some lofty, pretentious concept of indie superiority, but merely a preference for the less-hyped – many gamers would have me stripped of my grand title of Guy Who Writes Stuff About Video Games. There seems to be a widely accepted notion that if you haven't played the games deemed 'essential' by industry bods then your perspective is out-of-touch and worthless. It's an attitude I have seen a lot of in the gaming community, and it is a slightly concerning one.
As readers, we should accept – encourage, even – a more diverse range of voices to make for an altogether more wholesome and entertaining gaming press. I don't feel malnourished by my gaming diet; I have probably played as many games as you, just not the same ones. Consider my standpoint not as one of inexperience or naivety, but merely one of difference.
I have fondly-remembered gaming experiences that you probably don't, and I wouldn't swap for anything. If I were playing the blockbuster classics of the day, then I would not have the cherished memories of Largo Winch on PS2, a Ubisoft-published hidden gem that quickly sank into obscurity, and is legitimately one of my favourite games of all time.
Sure, if you're being reductive then it's little more than a hammily-acted point and click with a B-movie script and ill-advised turn-based fisticuffs, but as a console gamer who'd never been exposed to PC point and click storytelling that stuff was mind blowing. Starring the titular Largo Winch, the jet-setting billionaire star of a popular Belgian comic series, this globe-trotting adventure sees you seeking out corruption deep at the heart of your company.
Bizarrely, this hunt for corruption takes you on a Bond-esque whistle-stop tour of exotic locations, including a brilliantly strange section in which you stealthily kill evil monks in Sarajevo. Schlocky yes, but Largo Winch has all the ingredients of a classic pulpy action flick. In spite of its nonsense it was far more narratively engaging than the other games I was playing at the time, and it ignited my love of point and click.
Another PS2 game that I sank a lot of hours into was The Red Star. It was a niche game arriving at a difficult time – delayed from 2004 to 2007 after a troubled development, releasing after PS3 and Xbox 360 were snatching the headlines. I remember happening upon a brand new copy in my local GAME, not long after release, for only £5. Probably not a great sign, I thought. I also recall reading the Eurogamer quotation splashed across the back of the box: 'Ingenious and fresh… a cross between Streets of Rage and Ikaruga.' At the time, this quotation meant literally nothing to me.
I was familiar with neither SoR or Ikaruga, nor what they represented. I was a young gamer, naïve to the rich history of the medium. However, when I actually got home and popped the game in my PS2's drive I was amazed. The Red Star's swirling bullet patterns whet my appetite for bullet hell, and the meaty melee showed me the joys of the scrolling beat-'em-up. The Red Star taught me to love retro gaming.
Needless to say, I now know full well what Ikaruga and Streets of Rage are, and understand the significance of Eurogamer's comparison. High – and deserving – praise indeed. It can be an intimidating thing to delve into games made before you even existed, so without The Red Star's eye-opening impact I may not have the fondness and appreciation of all things retro that I do today.
So what is the point I'm making here, waffling about PS2 games? Well, these are examples that have very much defined and shaped my love of gaming, just as Resident Evil, Half Life, or Mario may have done for you. Just because these games are not on the widely accepted 'canon' of classic video games, it does not necessarily make them any less worthy.
By the same token, the fact that I've chosen to spend my time with games like this rather than the oft-trumpeted gems of the industry does not hamper my critical insight. Encourage, embrace diversity in your games writing. Try something different today.