Most gamers today know of Naughty Dog as the acclaimed video game developer of Uncharted and The Last of Us. Insomniac Games has become all but synonymous with Ratchet & Clank, and you couldn’t talk about Rockstar without a mention of Grand Theft Auto following closely behind. But for each of today’s famous video game studios, there are the humble beginnings and lesser known games that helped get them off the ground. Who knows, you might have even played a few of them back in the day without even realizing it!
Because when you really think about it, there might have never been an Uncharted without a Crash Bandicoot or Jak and Daxter, and before the intergalactic Lombax hero Ratchet and his robot pal Clank came along, there was a little purple dragon by the name of Spyro ruling the clouds. So here are a few of our favorite lesser known releases by some of today’s big-name game developers: and much like their current work in the games industry, these oldies are all pretty great in their own right. Be sure to chime in on the comments if you have any other cool but forgotten games that we should know about!
Sucker Punch Entertainment – Rocket: Robot on Wheels
Right about now, gamers all over the world are dying to get their hands on Infamous: Second Son, the explosive superhero PS4 exclusive from Sucker Punch Entertainment. But before the world of Infamous, and hell, even before the world of Sly Cooper and its handful of sequels, Sucker Punch released a little known platform-adventure with Ubisoft on N64 called Rocket: Robot on Wheels. The colorful 3D platformer played out like a Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie experience, and had gamers taking control of a heroic little robot as he rolled across several vibrant areas in a wacky amusement park. While it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Sucker Punch, there’s no doubt that Rocket: Robot on Wheels still had a few shining moments in its time (the game’s N64 cartridge was even bright red!).
Bungie – Oni
In the video game world, Bungie, best known as the developer of the original Halo trilogy and the upcoming Destiny, needs no introduction. But in between their cult classic Marathon games and the start of the Halo franchise, there was another little game that quietly slipped into Bungie’s universe called Oni. Developed by Bungie West in conjunction with Rockstar Toronto, Oni was a futuristic third-person action game in a dystopian society. With a heavy anime influence, Oni was not only cool because of all the frantic shooting you could do in the game, but also because each large area offered tons of exploration in between reloading your weapons for the next inevitable onslaught. I remember randomly buying this one years ago as part of a 5-pack of PC games, and finding it to be a really unexpected surprise.
Rockstar North – Space Station: Silicon Valley
Back in the day there used to be a game studio called DMA Design, who started working on a little game called Grand Theft Auto III around the same time they underwent a name change to become the iconic Rockstar North. But before going on to make the chaotic vigilante series that has become a staple in the games industry today, the same studio first released a lesser known title on N64 called Space Station: Silicon Valley. The game was actually incredibly cool, and revolved around a tiny microchip that players controlled, which could be used to inhabit other animals and creatures found within the different game worlds. Each animal had their own ability which would need to be utilized in order to complete each zany mission. Sure, it’s no Grand Theft Auto V or anything, but it’s still a great way to kick off a day of old-school gaming.
From Software – The Adventures of Cookies & Cream
Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are probably two of my favorite games from the last generation, but without even knowing it, I had already dabbled in the world of From Software long before those games made me pull my hair out in frustration. The developer behind the hardcore RPG franchise also released a unique sidescrolling platformer on the PS2 called The Adventures of Cookies & Cream. The game screen was split vertically down the center, with players moving Cookies and Cream separately using the right and left sides of the controller: the two rabbits would also have to work in harmony to allow the other one to progress. While the colorful and adorable graphics of Cookies & Cream couldn’t be farther from the dark and dreary world of the Souls series, there’s still one very important thing the two games have in common: you’re going to be dying a lot.
Crystal Dynamics – Whiplash
We already know that Crystal Dynamics is hard at work right now developing a next-gen sequel to their Tomb Raider reboot (I sure hope her hair is as “realistic” again as it was in the Definitive Edition). But before they fully immersed themselves in the world of Lara Croft, the team at Crystal Dynamics was actually making another kind of platform adventure: one about a rabid weasel who was chained to a sarcastic bunny and forced to escape from an animal testing facility. No, I’m not making this up. Whiplash was an incredibly cool platform game for 2003 with plenty of dark and humorous overtones, and it’s just a shame that more people didn’t play it. Hey, maybe the new Tomb Raider sequel will find Ms. Croft chained together with a violent weasel for a majority of the journey? Wishful thinking, but it’s always nice to see a series try a wild new direction!