The Sony PlayStation launched in Japan in 1994 and within just a few short years would become one of the most successful, groundbreaking video game consoles of all time. Much of the PlayStation’s success can be attributed primarily to one important factor: the games. With over 1,200 games released worldwide, the PS1 certainly had a ton of different software to offer consumers and as is usually the case, the best games rose to the top of the pile. Games like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII, and Resident Evil 2 would to go on to influence game design for years to come but there were many other games that, while also very good, never reached the same level of critical mass or popularity.
As such, there is a plethora of underappreciated games on the PS1, many of which you may have never even heard of. If you’ve already played through and beaten the best PS1 games but are looking to see what else Sony’s first home console has to offer, the following 15 hidden gems should be the ones you seek out first.
One of the most exciting experiences when you buy a new console or piece of gaming hardware is showing it off to your friends and yelling “Look at those graphics!” Of course, no one is going to be impressed by the original PlayStation anymore but back when it was the hottest console on the market, there were few games better able to show off the console’s capabilities than G-Police.
Developed by Psygnosis, the Liverpool-based studio behind the Wipeout series, G-Police is a shooter that puts players in control of a gunship as they dogfight with other aircraft and bomb enemies on the ground. G-Police is a technical powerhouse but it’s not for the faint of heart and has earned a reputation for being one of the PS1’s most difficult games. Overall, G-Police is something of a diamond in the rough but has managed to become an underrated classic all the same.
When it comes to the original PlayStation, Insomniac Games is best known for its Spyro the Dragon trilogy but before creating an unofficial purple dragon mascot for Sony, there was Disruptor. Released in 1996, Disruptor predated GoldenEye 64 and proved that the Nintendo 64 wasn’t the only console that could pull off a competent first-person shooter at the time. While it did little to set itself apart from other corridor shooters of the era in terms of shooting mechanics, Disruptor did give players access to a variety of “Psionic” powers to help give them an edge in combat, such as healing and a blast attack.
One can see the genesis of Insomniac’s later Ratchet & Clank games in Disruptor’s design fundamentals, as the game featured impressive visuals (at least for a console FPS in 1996) and a wide array of unique weaponry. Still, despite its reputation as one of the PS1’s best shooters, Disruptor tends to get overlooked because of Insomniac’s success with the Spyro games. Even though it’s hard to go back and play it today due to how far FPS design has come in the last twenty years, Disruptor is a gem worth seeking out, especially for fans of Insomniac’s later work.
13. Motor Toon Grand Prix
Before redefining the racing genre with Gran Turismo, game designer Kazunori Yamauchi worked on a very different kind of racing game — the early PlayStation release Motor Toon Grand Prix. A cartoony racer in the vein of Mario Kart, Motor Toon has the expected speed boost and weapon power-ups you’d expect but was also a surprisingly technical for a game featuring characters with names like Billy the Tough and the Penguin Bros.
In a 1995 interview with Next Generation magazine, Yamauchi explained that team’s goal was to create a realistic driving simulation that wouldn’t get in the way of the game’s enjoyment. “Basically we’re not trying to fake reality,” Yamauchi said. “I’d rather create the sensation of handling a remote control car but with the kind of dynamics that you’d expect from a real car.”
In fact, Motor Toon’s vehicles actually have realistic suspensions, which comes as a bit of a surprise given that many of them are anthropomorphized cars that look like early mock-ups for Pixar’s Cars franchise. Whether you’re a fan of kart racers or Yamauchi’s work on the Gran Turismo series, Motor Toon Grand Prix is an early PlayStation curiosity that is well worth taking for a spin.
12. Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness suffered numerous delays during its long and troubled production cycle and also had to contend with some pretty high expectations once it finally came out in 1998, six years after it was first announced. In retrospect, it’s not hard to see why, as Heart of Darkness was a pretty impressive technical showcase by 1998 standards, with an orchestral score, FMV cutscenes, and some stellar graphics all adding up to one impressive-looking game.
But while it looked and played great, Heart of Darkness was unable to live up to its lofty expectations and was viewed as a disappointment, with its short length and trial-and-error gameplay hurting its appeal. The game ended up being a sales disappointment but any fan of 2D platformers owes it to themselves to go back and give Heart of Darkness a chance, as it stands alongside the incredible Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as a PS1 game that has managed to age gracefully from a visual standpoint.
11. Klonoa: Door to Phantomile
The Crash Bandicoot games were easily the most popular 2.5D platformers on the original PlayStation but the console was home to quite a few good ones, including the criminally-underrated Klonoa: Door to Phantomile. Featuring a beautiful and vibrant art style, Klonoa was praised by critics for its balanced difficulty curve, imaginative platforming challenges, and overall pacing.
Though several sequels have been produced over the years, the Klonoa series has never achieved the popularity of similarly-themed platformers such as Banjo-Kazooie and the aforementioned Crash games. Part of the reason may be Klonoa’s overly cutesy aesthetic, which even by 1998 standards came off as a bit childish. That being said, gameplay is king and in that department, Klonoa excels.
A few years before revolutionizing cinematic storytelling in gaming with Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima released a game called Policenauts. A point-and-click adventure that plays like an interactive comic (but with some shooting segments sprinkled in), Policenauts tells an engrossing sci-fi tale involving the protagonist, Jonathan Ingram, and his investigation into his wife’s death.
While Policenauts was also released on the 3DO and Sega Saturn, it made use of the PlayStation hardware and CD-ROM format to deliver high quality voice acting and FMV cutscenes, one of the earliest PS1 games to feature either. Unfortunately, Policenauts was never released outside of Japan, which probably has a lot to do with its “hidden gem” status but there is a fan-made English translation available online if you’d like to track down a copy.
9. Jumping Flash!
A PlayStation launch title and a truly unique one at that, Jumping Flash! has become a cult classic thanks to its innovative platforming design. Featuring full 3D design, Jumping Flash! changed things up by being one of the first attempts at a first-person platformer. As implied by the title, jumping is a major component of Jumping Flash’s design, so it’s fitting that the playable character is a robotic rabbit named Robit who is capable of leaping to ridiculous heights.
Though two sequels were spawned, Jumping Flash! never seemed to get its due, as it’s arguably almost as important as Super Mario 64 in terms of pioneering 3D game design. If you’re a fan of the genre or are just curious to see what one of the earliest examples of 3D platforming looks like, you owe it to yourself to give one of the Jumping Flash! games a look.
While mascots like Crash and Spyro tend to get all the attention, many forget that the PlayStation was home to all kinds of colorful platformers, including the two Tomba! games put out by the now defunct Whoopee Camp studio. Unlike either of those aforementioned games, both Tomba! and its sequel Tomba! 2: The Evil Swine Returns, were strictly side-scrolling platformers, but ones that got quite creative with gameplay on a 2D plane. At certain points in a level, you could alternate between different planes, which helped make the games feel less linear than they actually were.
You really can’t go wrong with either Tomba! game but while the sequel introduces some fun new gameplay additions and has a more impressive visual design, the original gets the edge based on its charming originality, which is lost somewhat in the sequel thanks to much of it copying ideas from the first game.
7. Brave Fencer Musashi
An action role-playing game developed and published by Square, Brave Fencer Musashi earned positive reviews overall from critics and is considered one of the PS1’s better action RPGs, but it never reached the heights of some of the publisher’s other major releases such as Final Fantasy VII and Xenogears. Really though, once can see why Brave Fencer Musashi didn’t get the attention it deserved at the time of its release because Square released it at a time when pretty much every one of their games was an instant classic, so the fact that Musashi wasn’t a masterpiece made it almost seem like a lesser release from the storied publisher. However, that shouldn’t diminish all the things the game gets right.
Brave Fencer Musashi is one of the best action adventure games on the PS1, with fun combat, clever puzzles, and impressive visual design one would expect from a Square title. Sure, the voice acting is pretty atrocious and the performance issues are even more noticeable today, but Brave Fencer Musashi is still one of the best PS1 games released in 1998 and considering what a stacked year that was for gaming, it’s one that needs to be experienced by every PlayStation fan.
6. Ghost in the Shell
If you’ve ever thought to yourself “why are there so many Dragon Ball Z games but none based on Ghost in the Shell?” you’re in luck because the PS1 was home to a pretty good one. Based on the popular anime series, Ghost in the Shell is a third-person shooter that puts players right in the cockpit of a powerful ‘Fuchikoma’ tank capable of climbing walls, jumping around and just generally putting the beat down on enemies.
Ghost in the Shell was recognized at the time of its release for being one of the best anime tie-in games ever made but it didn’t sell well enough to spawn a line of successful follow-ups. If the 2017 live action movie got you down and you just want to experience a piece of media that actually honors the Ghost in the Shell series, you need to check this game out.
5. Future Cop LAPD
Developed by EA Redwood Shores, the studio that would later create Dead Space under the name Visceral Games before sadly being closed down in 2017, Future Cop: LAPD is fun third-person shooter set in the late 21st century. Players assume the role of a powerful law enforcement mech capable of transforming into a car for quick movements and take on a series of mission across two main modes.
Crime War is a more traditional story mode, but the real meat of the game is found in Precinct Assault, a strategy mode that involves building and defending a base. If you’re a fan of MOBA games like League of Legends and DotA 2, you’ll probably recognize some early concepts behind the genre in Precinct Assault. The best part is that the entirety of Future Cop LAPD can be played in split-screen co-op, making it one of the PS1’s most underrated multiplayer experiences.
4. Colony Wars
Another PlayStation title from Psygnosis, the same studio behind G-Police, Colony Wars may not pack the same visual punch as the former but it is arguably the superior game and one of the PS1’s finest hidden gems. A space combat sim focused heavily on ship-to-ship dog-fighting, Colony Wars features an outstanding branching story structure featuring multiple outcomes that change based on the player’s performance.
With a variety of story endings, Colony Wars has a ton of replay value and even though it’s been called a derivative 3D Asteroids clone, this is simply one of the PlayStation’s best action games.
3. Tobal No. 1
The PS1 had no shortage of great 3D fighting games, with Tekken 3 in particular still widely considered one of the best ever made, but one that many console owners likely overlooked is Square’s Tobal No. 1. Released a year before Final Fantasy VII changed RPGs forever (fun fact: Tobal No. 1 shipped with a FFVII demo), Tobal No. 1 may not have have been a traditional Square game but the publisher’s usual attention to detail is on full display in this underappreciated fighter. One key reason for this is that Square enlisted the help of Seiichi Ishii, who had previously worked on both the Tekken and Virtua Fighter franchises, and having an experience fighting game designer on board shows in the finished product.
Running at 60 frames per second, Tobal No. 1 may be the best-looking PS1 fighter but it’s certainly one of the best performing, with everything from the controls to animation being smooth and responsive. Square’s RPG roots also shows up in the form of Quest Mode, a decent story mode that also unlocks many of the game’s hidden characters. Tobal No. 1 isn’t the deepest fighting game on the original PlayStation but it’s surprisingly good entry in a genre that was still finding its footing back in 1996. If you can track down a copy, don’t pass this one up!
2. Team Buddies
A tactical shooter with a heavy emphasis on strategic play and multiplayer, Team Buddies is secretly one of the best party games on the PS1. Featuring a seemingly kid-friendly visual style, Team Buddies is actually a mature-themed game, to the point where its vulgar language actually had to be toned down for the North American release. In addition to the single player content, Team Buddies has split-screen support for up to four players and this is where the game truly shines, with addictive modes like Domination and Capture the Animal providing all sorts of multiplayer hi-jinks.
Team Buddies should have been a go-to party game on the PS1 but has become a highly-sought-after title among collectors due to its rarity, as only a small number of copies were ever produced. In other words, if you come across a copy, pick it up immediately because this is a gem not to be missed.
1. Legend of Legaia
As previously mentioned, the PlayStation 1 was a treasure trove for Japanese role-playing games but even though many of them were very popular, there were some outstanding ones that never got the recognition they deserved. Case in point: Legend of Legaia, a game published by Sony that was released at a time when the PS1 seemingly had a new must-have RPG every month. Featuring a nuanced turn-based combat system that allowed players to select between left and right, and high and low attacks, Legend of Legaia has built a following over the years but never managed to catch on at the time of its release.
Part of the reason for this is that Legend of Legaia didn’t really do anything people hadn’t seen before; it was simply a well-made RPG. If you’ve already played through PS1 masterpieces like Final Fantasy IX and Xenogears and are looking for another JRPG to get lost in, Legend of Legaia should be at the top of your list of underappreciated PS1 games to seek out.