Link. Mega Man. Gordon Freeman. They're some of gaming's most stalwart icons - and yet they've still been employed in games and sub-series that faded into non-existence without so much as a sad beep of protest.
Though not necessarily unloved, these games from famous franchises are elusive, shadowy, or simply forgotten. And as the industry gets bigger, brighter, and noisier, they're doomed to be buried under ever-thickening layers of digital sediment. Let's give them at least one more thought.
Link's Crossbow Training (Wii)
When Nintendo showed off the Wii remote, astute people said, "Man, this needs a Zapper attachment." Nintendo subsequently delivered and paired it up with a suitable game: Link's Crossbow Training.
Link's Crossbow Training is essentially a glorified shooting gallery game (something the Wii had none of by the time it was a year old -- ha ha, lies, lies lies), and it's a decent way to pop off a few hours. There just isn't a whole lot to it, however. In fact, if you bring it up, your audience will likely shrug and say "Oh yeah, that thing."
Remember about how Nintendo re-used the assets from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to give us The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask? Meanwhile, poor Twilight Link's repeat journey involves shooting pots off stumps.
Maximo: Ghosts to Glory/Maximo vs Army of Zin (PlayStation 2)
The Ghosts 'n' Goblins series is fondly remembered by hardcore 2D platforming lovers the world over. However, discussion about the games rarely seems to extend past the sprite-based titles that feature Arthur skittering around in his underwear. We tend to forget that the series branched out into many spin-offs, including Gargoyle's Quest, Demon's Crest, and the Maximo games.
Maximo in particular gets very little recognition for his deeds. His 3D hack-and-slash titles are fun, funny, creative, and of course they offer a teeth-gnashing level of challenge. Both games are on the PlayStation Network, so consider making friends with this long-haired warrior.
Oh, and just in case it's a personal gateway of some kind: Yes, Maximo does wind up in his skivvies after getting hit by a foe. The old traditions must be honored, after all.
Mega Man Star Force Series (Nintendo DS)
Despite three entries (with multiple versions of each title), and despite the fact the games closely resemble the popular Mega Man Battle Network games, the Mega Man Star Force series rarely comes up when Mega Man fans discuss their favorite adventures with the Blue Bomber.
Maybe Star Force is ignored because of its battle system, which puts an awkward 3D angle on Battle Network's intuitive grid-based fights. Maybe players have a hard time connecting to the games' perpetually whiny hero, Geo Stelar.
Maybe fans just can't get behind the idea of Mega Man as an alien. Sure, he was technically a dead baby in Battle Network, but come on, an alien? That's crazy stuff!
Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter (PlayStation 2)
Like some kind of weird Icarus-dragon, Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter flew too close to the sun and came back down to earth as a flaming wreck. This ambitious JRPG turned Capcom's highly traditional Breath of Fire series on its horned head by adding elements of strategy and action to a sci-fi story about dragons and politics. Unfortunately, the series' fans weren't too hot on the shift.
Breath of Fire V's failure caused the series to go dormant for a while, but Breath of Fire VI is finally being released…
…As a free-to-play mobile game.
It's enough to make you want to lie on your back in the rain and ask Myria where it all went wrong.
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey (N-Gage)
Bethesda's Elder Scrolls saga is one of gaming's most respected action-RPG romps, but there's no mystery why The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey is nearly unheard of: It's an N-Gage exclusive.
Remember the N-Gage? That weird half-potato/taco/banana phone that everyone made fun of for a portion of the early Aughts until it slunk under a rock somewhere and died? Even if you do, chances are you don't remember Shadowkey.
The events of Shadowkey take place primarily in Hammerfell and involve some interesting plot twists and dangers, but it's safe to assume that controlling an Argonian rogue isn't much fun using a keypad. Go play some more Skyrim and dwell not on lost dreams, child.
Mario Kart Arcade GP Series (Arcade)
If there's a single franchise with the potential to thrive in arcades, it's Super Mario Kart. But while there are three arcade-exclusive Mario Kart games from Namco, you should probably pack a lunch and write a note to your loved ones before you go searching for them. They're hard to find, even though the only living being that'd turn down the chance to play a Mario Kart arcade game is an angry shaved bear with hemorrhoids.
You may get lucky, so always be on the lookout for these three lost children of the Mario Kart series: Mario Kart Arcade GP, Mario Kart Arcade GP 2, and Mario Kart GP DX. If you spy a cabinet in the wilderness, push over any old ladies in your way to play it before it poofs out of existence.
Half-Life 2: Survivor (Arcade)
Though not nearly as elusive as Half-Life 3, Half-Life 2: Survivor isn't easily found. It's essentially a compact and efficient Half-Life 2 experience engineered to appeal to Japan, which was still A-OK with the arcade scene when the game dropped in 2006.
Survivor's "Story" mode presents highlights of the game's story through key battles. The "Mission" mode challenges players to team up and work towards a common goal. "Battle" is, of course, a death match.
Even if you find a Half-Life 2: Survivor cabinet out in the wild somewhere (check for any headcrabs rooming in the hardware before engaging), it won't do you much good. The servers running the game shut down in 2010.
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (GameCube)
Nintendo's hocked a lot of accessories over the years, ranging from revolutionary to cockamamie. The GameCube's bongo drums are in the latter category, though you sure could make a lot of fun noise with those percussive little beasts.
But the bongos can be used for more than just banging along to All the Small Things in the Donkey Konga rhythm game. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat actually uses them in place of a traditional controller. If you want DK to run, jump, or slam his foes, you need to drum up a little beat to get him moving.
Funky though it is, Donkey's song is an afterthought next to his exploits in the Donkey Kong Country series. The team behind Jungle Beat eventually moved on to make another game: Super Mario Galaxy. Man, who even played that?
Sonic Blast (Game Gear)
Released in 1996, this handheld outing with Sonic the Hedgehog can be considered one of the Game Gear's last hurrahs. At any rate, Sonic Blast doesn't make too many "Best Of" lists when it's time to recall Mr Needlemouse's coolest adventures. In fact, it's often confused with Sonic 3D Blast, an isometric Sonic game for the Sega Genesis. This is an interesting fact, since Sonic Blast has much more in common with a traditional Sonic game than 3D Blast.
Sonic Blast is adorned with pre-rendered graphics, which were very much in style at the time thanks to the Donkey Kong Country games. Unfortunately, the visuals are a blurred mess on the Game Gear screen. Maybe people just want to forget the game because it's a real headache-inducer.
Phantasy Star Online III: C.A.R.D. Revolution
Card-based fantasy battling games are more common than scales on a dragon these days, especially on mobile platforms. But they were an oddity in 2004, which is when Phantasy Star Online III: C.A.R.D. Revolution hit the GameCube.
C.A.R.D. Revolution let you engage computer-controlled enemies or other players via turn-based battles that were carried out with a deck of 30 cards. It was a pretty unique experience at the time, arguably a bit too weird for some players. Even traditional online console games were still a bit of a hard sell at that point in time.
Sega shut down the servers for C.A.R.D. Revolution in 2007, but fan-run servers still exist. No subscription fee necessary!
Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword (Game Boy Color)
Like many Game Boy Color titles, 2001's Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword slipped through the cracks. It's a side-scrolling platforming game with some minor Metroidvania elements and impressively smooth animation. Lara's, uh, assets are particularly bouncy. Not bad for a cluster of five pixels.
Curse of the Sword never received a Virtual Console release, but you can grab it off eBay if you want to experience this lost chapter of Lara's life. It generally clocks in at a few bucks. Shantae it is not.