Logic dictates that the better a game is, the more copies it should sell. Throw in a positive critical reaction and that can only help to boost sales. Upshot: money rolls in, everyone's happy. The end.
Well, no. That's not how it works. Now and again a fantastic game ends up shifting miniscule amounts of copies, despite everything being in its favour. Sometimes it's down to bad marketing, other times the fact that gamers just weren't ready for what was on offer; sometimes it's just that it's horribly misunderstood. You may not have heard of every game here, but they all have one thing in common: they're brilliant.
Are there any other criminally overlooked classics you hold close to your heart? Tell us about them in the comments below.
THE LAST EXPRESS (1997)
Set on the Orient Express days before the outbreak of World War I, The Last Express was a $6 million Art Nouveau-styled adventure game conceived by Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner. Running in real-time, the story was different on every playthrough due to the player's actions (or inactions) which led to one of over thirty different endings. Despite deserved critical acclaim, the game's publisher, Brøderbund, barely promoted it as their entire marketing team quit just weeks before release - and then the company was sold. Unlike some of the games here, all is not lost: an iOS version was released in 2012.
GRIM FANDANGO (1998)
A dark comedy adventure presented in a film noir style, players guided Manuel "Manny" Calavera through a series of puzzles in the Land of the Dead. Developed by LucasArts and penned by Tim Schafer, it was widely praised on release but sales were slow. Although LucasArts claimed the game had exceeded expectations they cancelled development of several other adventures and laid off many of the staff involved; in fact, industry commentators still believe Grim Fandango's performance was a contributing factor in the demise of the adventure game genre, as well as the much-loved point 'n' click.
NO ONE LIVES FOREVER (2000)
Set in a camp world of 1960s espionage, No One Lives Forever bolted female spy Cate Archer to an ultra-slick first-person shooter which also incorporated ingenious gadgets and elements of stealth. Lauded by critics, and genuinely funny, it mysteriously under-performed and, due to various publisher buy-outs and mergers no one seems to know who owns the rights to it now, making a future appearance on Steam unlikely and original boxed copies a sought after rarity.
BEYOND GOOD & EVIL (2003)
Beyond Good & Evil was the super-ambitious brainchild of Rayman daddy Michel Ancel, combining cinematic storytelling with an innovative mash-up of photography, exploration and puzzle solving. Although it won plenty of awards, sales were poor, with publishers Ubisoft busy touting the new Prince of Persia reboot, and players not really sure what to make of a woman with green lips and a talking pig. The HD remastered version, released in 2011 fared much better, but according to Ubisoft Executive Director Alain Corre it was "too late" to make a difference for the game. The series may yet find some form of redemption, as Ancel has teased a sequel and confirmed it's in development for next gen consoles.
FREEDOM FIGHTERS (2003)
This third-person shooter from Hitman Absolution developers IO was set in an alternative history timeline, where Russian forces had invaded the US and occupied New York City. Progressing from a humble plumber to leader of the American Resistance, the game used intuitive squad-based controls to command recruits in battles, with the size of your posse growing as you carried out heroic acts and your charisma increased. Despite being well received by critics, and loved by those who played it, after the highs of Hitman sales were considered a disappointment and IO never returned to the world.
ODDWORLD: STRANGER'S WRATH (2005)
It's easy to forget just how huge the Oddworld games once were, shifting millions at a time when seven-digit biggies were the exception rather than the rule. But things went south with Stranger's Wrath, a fourth entry in the series which some sources claim sold as little as 60,000 copies in Europe. The recent HD refurbishment helped to get it into more hands, but for years Stranger's Wrath remained lost: a brilliantly-pitched western, that introduced the idea of live ammunition (creatures - with different properties - that you collared from your surroundings), all set against a beautiful, evocative dustbowl. For all its commercial struggles, it was probably the best game in the series.
After leaving LucasArts, Tim Schafer went on to found Double Fine, whose first release was the 'psychic adventure' Psychonauts. Combining platforming with the quirky storytelling he'd built his reputation on, players could enter the minds of various characters they encountered and try to resolve their mental problems by beating unique challenges based on those issues. Critics loved it, the game became an instant cult hit, but very poor initial sales caused huge problems for the publisher Majesco, leading to their CEO quitting and shareholders filing a class-action lawsuit as their stock plummeted.