Whether you’re talking about movies, books, or video games, cult classics are special. What makes cult classic games special, and why a group of dedicated fans stick by them, is because they offer something popular games don’t. What that something is varies by game, but generally has to do with taking risks popular games can’t take.
The games below are all unique in one way or another. They offer experiences you can’t find in other games, popular or not. If you get a chance to play them, do it. You may not love every one, but you probably won’t regret seeing what all the fuss is about.
Rockstar Games may be best known for Grand Theft Auto, but it’s made a lot more games than that over the years. One of the stand-outs is a GTA-like game that takes place at a boarding school. It’s an open-world game that has you complete missions to rise through the ranks of the numerous social groups at the school, from nerds to preppies and, yes, bullies. Even today Bully feels like a fresh take on an open-world game thanks to its unique setting and the activities that go along with it: wooing girls, getting jobs like delivering papers and mowing lawns, engaging in the occasional fist fight. It’s good stuff.
You don’t even need to dust off your old consoles to play this cult classic; it’s available digitally on PS4 right now and there’s even a smartphone version.
Three-dimensional platformers like Psychonauts have gone out of fashion in recent years, but this cult classic proves there’s no good reason they can’t come back. You play as a kid at a summer camp training to become a psychic secret agent. You use your ability to enter the minds of various people at the camp. In their minds is where the levels take place, and it turns out minds are strange places to explore. With endlessly creative levels, tons of humor, and about a million collectibles, Psychonauts is a well-deserved cult classic.
3. Shadow of the Colossus
The reason the long wait for The Last Guardian was so excruciating was because of how good developer Team Ico’s previous game was. While their first game Ico could also go on this list, it’s Shadow of the Colossus that really put the developer on the map. And for good reason: This game is incredible.
Unlike just about every other game out there, Shadow of the Colossus has no use for small enemies. Your job is to wander the open world, tracking down 16 enormous beasts and taking them down one by one. It’s not easy, particularly since each colossus is brilliantly conceived, with unique designs and moves aimed at thwarting your attempts.
The best way to play it now is to buy the remastered version on PS3, either as a stand-alone download or in the collection along with Ico.
Most puzzle games on consoles come in the form of cheap downloadable titles. Catherine may be a puzzle game, but it’s a big game full of big emotions. You play as Vincent, a regular dude whose romantic life is in shambles. He has a stable, reliable girlfriend who wants to get married, and also a much more adventurous woman on the side.
He’s clearly in over his head, so each night he has nightmares of climbing complex towers that you have to help him navigate. The story sections come in the form of gorgeous anime, while the puzzle sections test your mental abilities to ever greater extents as the game progresses. There’s nothing else out there quite like Catherine.
It’s safe to say that Shenmue was ahead of its time. Launching on Dreamcast in 2000, it was one of the first big open-world games ever made. It was dedicated to the task of recreating the real world, with its day and night cycle, weather effects, and cast of characters who went about their daily lives. In it, you can actually follow around any of the characters and watch how they spend their days.
It might not sound as special today, but its laid-back gameplay — dotted with enjoyable street brawls — and its revenge-based story make Shenmue a game well worth going back to, whether you’re one of its cult fans or not.
6. Spec Ops: The Line
Your average war game these days is about as serious as a Fast and the Furious movie, with big action set pieces that come off as more awe-inspiring than emotionally draining. Spec Ops: The Line isn’t your average war game. The whole point of this game is to illustrate just how awful and destructive war really is, and to give lie to the over-the-top military shooters we take for granted. Spoiler alert: It works, and that’s why it’s become a cult classic.