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Well it’s official. After months of anticipation the models, release dates and prices have all been set in stone and in a few short weeks the future of gaming becomes ‘current gen’ as the newest generation of PlayStation and Xbox consoles hit the stores.
So as the eight generation’s time in the limelight slips away and the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018) and Ghost of Tsushima (2020) begin the slow transition to ‘retro gaming’, we’re here to honour the latest generation in gaming with a series of top five lists highlighting the best, worst and most noteworthy of the console generation gone by.
It’s only fitting that we begin this series with a look at the top five most underappreciated things in gaming. Why? Well, we do this a lot.
We’ve recently covered ‘great games with unfair reputations‘, ‘the best hidden gems on PS Now‘, ‘the best hidden gems on Xbox Game Pass‘, ‘the best hidden gems given away on PS Plus‘. Highlighting the underrated and underappreciated is well…kind of our thing.
However, this list is a little different. We’re not strictly speaking games here, this could be companies, consoles, anything in the gaming world that we think deserves a little more attention and celebration. So without further ado, let’s kick things off with:
This one very nearly didn't make the list as it can be a bit of a pain at times and would only really benefit a relatively small section of the gaming community, but hey, by the skin of its teeth, here it is. So if you mostly play your games through Xbox Game Pass, have a great internet connection with unlimited downloads and don't mind jumping through hoops to save a little money, listen up.
Microsoft Rewards is a loyalty program much like you'd get from many high street shops – you buy things, you get a few points and after gathering so many points you can get money off your next purchase. You can trade in your points for memberships, entry into competitions or money off vouchers for the Microsoft Store or a handful of other outlets.
However, you don't just earn points by making purchases. You can also link your account to Bing and earn for using the search engine and more to the point you can earn points by playing Game Pass. The rewards app on Xbox One is updated with daily, weekly and monthly challenges as well as other challenges linked to earning achievements or using the mobile app, all of which will earn you points
If you use this app a lot and aim to complete as many challenges as you can, these points add up and within a year, you could accrue around £50 worth of vouchers. Transferred into Microsoft Store credit that's - until recently - one AAA release a year (or the opportunity for a small spree in the end of year sale). This may seem like a lot effort for too little reward for some, but for us spectacular cheapskates, it's not half bad.
This generation has seen some publishers and developers rise to a level of previously unimagined acclaim while others have tarnished reputations built over previous years and plummeted from grace. Then there are some companies that have quietly produced a gold mine of quality content but have received far less attention simply because they were already held in high acclaim and have really just continued to do what's expected of them.
We're using Square-Enix as a representative for all those stalwart creators who act as the grinding cogs that keep the games industry running, because well, let's just take a look at just some of the things Square-Enix has done this last generation:
- With the release of Final Fantasy XV (2016) the company showed it's not afraid to take risks and try something completely different with its biggest properties. The result was one of the best games of the generation and top three Final Fantasy titles ever released (yeah, I stand by it). This game also showed that Square-Enix games had finally nailed action-RPG combat – something we'd see again in Kingdom Hearts 3 (2018) and NieR: Automata (2017) – another two of the best games this generation.
- While innovating and re-shaping the genre with some of its biggest titles, the company also showed reverence to the games of the past and the classic JRPG fans that got them where they are today with releases like Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (2017) and Octopath Traveller (2018) and by establishing Tokyo RPG Factory, a studio tasked specifically with creating old-school JRPGs.
- Square-Enix reinvented and rejuvenated two of gaming's biggest franchises – Tomb Raider and Hitman, resulting in both producing their best entries to date.
- By partnering with and assisting smaller studios, Square-Enix helped bring a number of unexpected gems to life, most notably ingenious narrative adventure Life is Strange (2015).
Yes, we concede that Square-Enix isn't exactly in the highest regard with a lot of gamers right now after the messy Marvel's Avengers (2020), but hey, nobody's perfect, right?
Alright fine, with the exception of CD Projekt Red, nobody's perfect.
PlayStation Now is Sony's gaming on-demand service; it's “Netflix for games” much like Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass. We're not saying that either PS Now or Xbox Game Pass is better than the other, each has its advantages (although PS Now currently has more wins in our monthly comparisons between the two). It's just that when you look at the numbers, you can see why PS Now makes this list:
- PS Now has a library of around 800 games to stream or download at any time. Xbox Game Pass has a library of 100-200 games to download at any time.
- PS Now's library gets bigger every month. Xbox Game Pass often loses as many (or more) games as it gains, meaning the library stays around the same size.
- A one year PS Now subscription costs £49.99. Xbox Game Pass doesn't have annual subscriptions, the longest subscription you can purchase is for three months at the price of £23.99 meaning that if you want a year's subscription it will cost £95.96.
- At last count PS Now has around 2.2 million subscribers. Xbox Game Pass has over 10 million subscribers.
Guitar Hero Live
The fact that Guitar Hero Live (2015) was a flop is proof that the peripheral-based rhythm genre is dead. The presentation as you rocked out in front a sea of screaming fans was top notch and utterly hilarious when you miss too many notes and see those fans quickly turn into an angry mob, and the new guitar design put a new spin on the hit formula making the game feel both fresh and familiar.
Most importantly the titular online mode Guitar Hero Live gave players insane value. On top of the songs on disc, the online facet of the game presented two channels playing a diverse catalogue of hundreds of songs 24 hours a day that players could play along with at any time, or they could use in-game tokens put their own playlist together from that vast catalogue.
The game received criticism for allowing players to use real money to purchase these in-game tokens but this was unfair as the game was so generous with rewards for completing the songs that you could play the online mode regularly from the day it launched to the day the servers shut down and never have to spend a penny.
This was a game that was fresh, fun, nostalgic, had incredible replayability and should have been the shot in the arm the genre desperately needed, instead its disappointing sales figures will leave it remembered as one last rattling breath from a dying genre.
Where to even begin with this one? If you own a PlayStation Vita then you're probably already nodding in agreement and if you know someone who owns one then there's a good chance you've already heard all this before.
For one thing, they weren't all that expensive. By the time the PS4 released you could pick up a Vita on sale for about £100 and assuming you were a PS Plus subscriber, you never really had to buy any games for it. As well as the two PS4 games that PS Plus subscribers receive each month, they also received two Vita games. So if you already owned a PS4 with PS Plus you'd just be getting more value from your subscription; building up your Vita library without spending any extra cash.
Then there's the features – as well as all the usual bells and whistles you might expect, you could also use the Vita as an additional PS4 controller or play your PS4 games on the Vita with the Second Screen function as long as they were on the same Wi-Fi connection. Additionally, many PS4 games at this time were also released on Vita with Cross-play and Cross-save, which essentially carried out the same 'pick up and go' functionality as a Nintendo Switch, but years before the Nintendo Switch.
Then there's the games! Few will argue that PlayStation 4 has trampled Xbox One in terms of quality console exclusives, but the Vita alone could give Microsoft's machine a run for its money. Gravity Rush (2012) was one of the most fun and creative games of its period, Uncharted: Golden Abyss (2012) can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the first three Uncharted titles, then there was Freedom Wars (2014), Soul Sacrifice (2013), Persona 4: Golden (2013), Tearaway (2013), the list goes on - and if you're a big fan of JRPGs then it's not even a competition.
I could prattle on about this for a long, long time, but let's just leave it by saying that by a considerable margin, the PlayStation Vita is the most underappreciated thing in the eighth generation of console gaming.
Do you agree with our list? Join the conversation below and let us know what you think.