When I think of the PlayStation One’s library, I think of a massive collection of innovative games that sparked new conversations about the entire medium. While that collection includes quite a few true classics like Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Final Fantasy 7, it also features a number of truly weird games that perhaps tried to push the limits of our perception just a bit too far.
After all, you don’t make an innovative omelet without breaking a few weird eggs, and that’s basically what most of the developer’s behind some of the PS1’s weirdest games were trying to do. While some weird PS1 games were weird for the sake of weirdness, many more acquired their weirdness as the result of someone’s attempt to answer the question, “How does new video game technology allow us to try something truly different?”
Before we dive into this list, though, here are a few rules and pieces of selection criteria to keep in mind:
- Any game that was officially released for any model of the original PlayStation was eligible for this list. That rule includes titles that were only released in specific regions but doesn’t include games that were never commercially released or are just elaborate fan projects/ROM hacks.
- Any game that featured something unusual or untraditional (whether it be that title’s gameplay, story, premise, or the circumstances of its release) was considered to be “weird” enough to at least be worthy of initial consideration.
- Strange PS1 games that were also very popular were eligible for this list, though I tried to focus more on some obscure selections that feel truly odd.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some truly strange PS1 games.
15. Rogue Trip: Vacation 2012
Rogue Trip takes place in an alternate version of 2012 in which the United States has become a post-apocalyptic wasteland (which, to be fair, was only a few years off from the truth). Despite the wasteland conditions, the tourism scene is apparently still booming. As such, it’s your job as a mercenary driver to not only compete against other mercenaries on the open road but to pick up tourists and take them to popular destinations for photo opportunities.
That bizarre premise basically makes Rogue Trip a combination of Crazy Taxi and Twisted Metal. Actually, Rogue Trip was developed by the team behind the first two Twisted Metal games. Due to some strange disputes, though, the team seemingly couldn’t use the Twisted Metal name in any way. As such, some of Rogue Trip‘s slipcovers state that it’s from the “million selling developer of Car Combat.”
14. Rising Zan – The Samurai Gunman
Taken on its own, the idea of a wild west game with samurai elements isn’t that unusual. That combo was a little more uncommon at the time of Rising Zan’s release in 1999, but those two genres obviously share a lot of spiritual links. No, what makes this game truly weird is…well, everything else about it.
From its all-time great opening song (“Johnny No More,” which was written for the NA and PAL versions of the game), to its indescribable enemies and overwhelming amount of highly-sexualized polygonal content, Rising Zan is an overwhelming experience. It’s the kind of game where you work to achieve the rank of “Ultra Sexy Hero” and fight naked monstrosities in mine shafts. It’s honestly all incredible.
13. Kowloon’s Gate
The easiest way I can describe this game is to call it a survival-horror version of Myst that takes place in the walled city of Kowloon. However, that description doesn’t come anywhere close to telling you just how strange this absolute gem really is.
First off, this game is filled with nightmarish imagery the likes of which I can barely describe and certainly can’t directly share on this site without potentially ruining someone’s workday and life. What’s even stranger is that all of this game’s weirdest ideas were designed to address one of this title’s many deep philosophical musings on everything from the works of Dante and Carl Jung to modern religion. You really have to see this one for yourself.
12. Power Shovel
At first, Power Shovel presents itself as a kind of construction simulator that asks you to use some common pieces of heavy machinery to complete seemingly mundane tasks. However, you will soon come to realize that this game is so much more than that.
Power Shovel may initially ask you to use pieces of heavy equipment for their indeed purposes, but you’ll soon be using those same machines to destroy cars, serve curry, navigate strange sci-fi puzzles, and free turtles from a swimming pool. All the while, a way-too-awesome soundtrack is blaring in the background and a cartoon foreman is judging your progress. It’s wild.
11. No One Can Stop Mr. Domino!
While the strangest thing about this game may be the fact that developer Artdink insisted on that long title rather than the far more marketing-friendly “Mr. Domino,” it must also be said that this is a pretty weird game all-around.
No One Can Stop Mr. Domino! is an action-puzzle platformer that sees you control Mr. Domino himself. It’s basically an auto-runner where you’re required to lay down domino pieces as you navigate a course’s many dangers. If you manage to lay down the right pieces in the right paths, you’ll eventually trigger a combo-fuelled Rube Goldberg mechanism that ends each stage. Add some lighthearted (but truly bizarre) humor to the mix, and you’ve got a fantastic slice of weirdness.
10. Tecmo’s Deception: Invitation to Darkness
Tecmo’s Deception casts you in the role of a soon-to-be executed man who makes a deal with the Devil to spare his life. The always-reliable Prince of Darkness agrees to the deal but tells the man that he must watch over the trap-filled Castle of the Damned. It’s now up to the player to defend that castle against a number of visitors.
Tecmo’s Deception is basically built around the idea that you are in charge of the dungeon in a medieval fantasy game and must find ways to halt the progress of a series of adventurers. That’s obviously an unusual set-up on its own, but what makes the game truly weird is its double-cross fuelled narrative that can end one of six ways depending on how you navigate its web of moral quandaries and plot twists. For a PS1 game released in 1996, it tries to do quite a lot.
9. Tobal 2
Tobal 2 offers a rare blend of 3D fighting action and traditional RPG adventuring. Imagine a dungeon crawler where the combat sequences take the form of a Tekken-like fighting game and you’re able to capture various monsters in order to add them to the game’s ever-growing roster of fighters. Oh, and the whole thing is supported by a soundtrack that features the strangest blend of music genres you could ever imagine.
While similar to its predecessor in many ways, the thing that gives Tobal 2 the edge is its all-time large roster of over 200 available fighters. Granted, some of those fighters are separated by little more than a palette swap, but the whole package is certainly strange enough to be worthy of a spot on this list.
Look, it’s not unusual for a company to decide to produce a game in order to promote their products. It happens all the time. Gameplay-wise, there’s also really nothing unusual about Pepsiman’s Crash Bandicoot meets Paperboy action. Honestly, between its simple gameplay and shameless cash grabs, Pepsiman would feel right at home on the modern mobile scene.
No, what really elevates this game into the upper echelons of weirdness is its Pepsi-fuelled superhero protagonist and its strange live-action cutscenes that just show a normal guy drinking Pepsi. If this game wasn’t so strange in some of the absolute most entertaining ways possible, I’d go so far as to call it the most shameless piece of corporate-funded game design I’ve ever seen.
Made by the team behind PaRappa the Rapper (another game that could have made this list), Vib-Ribbon is a minimalist rhythm game that sees you navigate various levels filled with obstacles that are generated by the beat of the song you’re listening to. So, a heavy bass note may create a platform you need to jump over, while a screeching solo may send you around a loop.
All of that is certainly odd, but the weirdest thing about this game is its soundtrack. Not only are most of the songs included in this game’s official soundtrack some truly strange selections that don’t easily fit into any genre, but Vib-Ribbon actually lets you pull songs from pretty much whatever CD you put into your PlayStation and generate custom levels based on those tracks. For a game that looks hopelessly generic, Vib-Ribbon proves to be ambitious, wonderful, and most certainly weird.
I’ll tell you right now that whatever image the name “Swagman” forces your mind to conjure is in no way representative of what this game actually is: a Nightmare on Elm Street-inspired puzzle-adventure-horror game where you have to stop a boogeyman named Swagman from trapping people in their worst dreams.
I don’t know where to begin with this one. The game is seemingly going for a lighter style of children’s horror that was clearly inspired by the works of Tim Burton, but it soon proves to be surprisingly dark. Its gameplay forces you to bounce between the real world and dream world where you’ll need to battle monsters, solve puzzles, and occasionally transform into a hideous hell beast. While elements of this title’s top-down gameplay are similar to The Legend of Zelda, I can tell you right now that there’s nothing out there quite like this.
5. Boku no Natsuyasumi
Boku no Natsuyasumi is, in many ways, the most “normal” game you’ll find on this list. Actually, it’s the fact that this game is so normal that makes it truly bizarre.
This PS1 game sees you control a 9-year-old boy name Boku who is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle for a month during the summer. Essentially, it asks you to control a young child on their summer vacation. Mind you, his vacation isn’t secretly some wacky adventure; it’s a pretty standard vacation filled with lazy days and optional mundane activities like flying kites, catching bugs, and sneaking cookies. While a summer vacation simulator is about as far as you get from a typical video game premise, I must say that there is something wonderfully nostalgic about the way this game lets you recreate those lazy summer days you only really get to enjoy when you’re a child.
4. Screaming Mad George’s ParanoiaScape
To get right to the point, Screaming Mad George’s ParanoiaScape is a first-person 3D pinball adventure inspired by the works of Screaming Mad George: a special effects designer that crafted some of the weirdest visuals in horror history. I’ll give you a moment to take all of that in.
I genuinely don’t know if the strangest thing about this game is its body horror visuals or the fact that it’s basically a dungeon crawler pinball game with FPS action. Actually, the strangest thing about this game might be that it’s remarkably fun to play. It probably would have been better off as a more traditional pinball game with horror visuals, but I certainly can’t sit here and fault a game that is truly unlike anything else.
3. Incredible Crisis
Essentially a collection of minigames, Incredible Crisis sees you control a family of everyday people as they endure the most unusual day of their lives. While Incredible Crisis button-mashing gameplay button-mashing gameplay makes it one of the PS1’s most challenging titles, it’s the “absolutely everything else” about this project that makes it one of the console’s weirdest experiences.
By the time you (hopefully) beat Incredible Crisis, you will have participated in office-mandated exercises delivered via a DDR-style rhythm sequence, given someone an erotic massage on a Ferris wheel, escaped UFOs, fought a giant teddy bear, survived a bank robbery, and piloted a jet fighter. Oh, and a lot of those escapades are set to Ska music. This game is just…so great.
2. LSD: Dream Emulator
If you’re trying to keep this entry as sane and simple as possible, you should probably try to think of LSD as an early walking simulator designed to mimic what it’s like to experience a particularly vivid dream. There are almost no traditional gameplay objectives to speak of in this one. The appeal of the entire experience is based on seeing what is going to happen next.
Simply put, this might be the strangest “experimental” video game ever made. There are times when LSD is a deeply unsettling horror game, there are times when it’s basically an interactive screensaver, and there are times when it’s an oddly serene voyage through the minds of its creators. Above all else, this game achieves its goal of recreating the sensation of wandering through a dream or hallucinogenic-fuelled trip. Honestly, it’d be an incredible VR game.
1. Germs: Nerawareta Machi
I understand if you assume the strangest thing about this game is its text-free cover filled with images of what you’ll soon realize are actually naked, twisted, and deformed human bodies. However, I want to assure you that even that cover image can’t prepare you for what this title really is.
Germs is a 3D open-world game that sees you play as a reporter who has returned to their hometown to do a story on some mysterious incidents. Said incidents turn out to be the result of a deadly infection spread by mutants. Indeed, the biggest risk in this game is the possibility of becoming infected during one of its rare combat sequences. If you are infected, you’ll need to run to this hospital for a cure.
As a proper open-world game on the PS1, Germs is arguably deserving of a spot on this list for the novelty of its technical ambitions alone. What makes this game truly weird, though, is its genuinely effective horror atmosphere that was inspired by the works of David Lynch, David Cronenberg, and other masters of surreal horror. This game feels like it was plucked from the mind of some insane creature that inhabits a distant world we’ll never visit and can’t imagine. It’s truly shocking that this thing exists.