24th Sep2021

The weirdest video games and recent surprise hits

by James Smith

Some games you just know are going to be a big success. They might be the latest installment in an already-popular franchise or turned out by a major studio to conform with a proven formula and/or a currently fashionable trend. Other games can come out of the left field and unexpectedly win over a large audience. They might strike an immediate chord or take years to build a cult following before going mainstream. In some cases, they can be virtually ignored for years before suddenly finding their moment.

Spotting these games in advance isn’t always easy because the very thing that makes them stand out from the crowd could also mark them as too quirky, too different, or too downright weird for a mass audience. There’s a fine line between originality and being too far out, yet some games hit big with a concept that seems bizarre on paper but somehow works well.

Join the cult

Not all these games achieve Call Of Duty levels of success, of course. But often, a title earns a passionate and dedicated cult following because it’s perceived as being too strange for the masses. Fans of these games love them because they aren’t for everyone, and when you find another player who can’t get enough of The Stanley Parable, you know you’ve found a friend for life.

Sometimes a cult following can sustain a game way beyond the lifespan of a fashionable flash-in-the-pan, an over-hyped blockbuster that is dead in the water when the sequel, reboot, or next big thing comes along. The more original and intriguing a game is, the longer it can hold your attention, after all. Novelty is the lifeblood of gaming genres like online slots, and those wanting to sample the full range can play NetEnt games with a no deposit bonus.

Let’s evolve

When creator Will Wright first came up with the idea for The Sims in the late nineties, everyone thought it was far too wacky to be a hit. Who would be interested in a video game about normal life stuff? As we now know, The Sims quickly became one of the best-selling franchises of all time, and in 2008 Wright followed it up with an even weirder idea: Spore.

Spore took the basic idea of The Sims to the extreme limit: rather than trying to build a life as a human being, Spore was about building life, literally. Starting with a single-celled organism, you gradually evolve into a multi-celled creature, develop a social structure and eventually reach a level of technology where you’re able to start exploring other planets. The 2008 game may not have achieved the success of The Sims, but it sold over two million copies on release and is still popular today.

2011: Year of the weird

2011 seems to have been something of a bumper year for off-the-wall gaming successes. That was when Catherine was first released for the PS3, a gothic horror romance involving dating conundrums by day and attacks by bizarre apparitions by night. The aforementioned The Stanley Parable also appeared, with its mysterious narrator, open-ended humdrum office setting, and the possibility of going insane. Also of note was the first Hatoful Boyfriend game, or rather a visual novel. Who knew the love lives of pigeons could be so complex and fascinating?

I’ll get my goat

A few years later, one of the great weird games landed: Goat Simulator. The joke title that became a runaway hit, Goat Simulator, did what it said on the tin, though admittedly, this was not your average goat, what with all the high jumps and a remarkably long, agile, and sticky tongue. Initially released by Coffee Stain Studios in 2014, it made it to the Xbox and PlayStation a year later and in 2019 was developed for the Nintendo Switch. Not bad longevity for a game many thought was a one-note gag perpetuated through social media.

2020 visions

2020 was a strange year in many ways, and lockdown proved an unexpected boon for the video games industry. Equally surprising was which games became hits in unprecedented circumstances. Among Us had been around since 2018, but the spaceship-set whodunnit captured the mood of the year’s first lockdown perfectly, with its themes of isolation, fear, and paranoia.

Another oddball success was Phasmaphobia, an indie game about solving hauntings that was genuinely scary and won several awards. The exciting thing about this game was that despite its relatively slow pace, you never quite knew what was going to happen next, a perfect escape for those long evenings at home. At the other extreme, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout was the equivalent of a brightly colored comfort blanket, a battle royale without any battles or serious violence, just a bunch of racing jellybean guys who struggle to stay upright most of the time.

It just goes to show that you never know what’s going to catch on, and in an overcrowded marketplace, sometimes weird is what you need to be to get noticed. The strangest ideas can become a success, and if you’re doing something different, you might just be doing something right.

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