There are lots of commercially successful games that are, to put it mildly, not very good. Whether they launch broken, or they’re just a cookie-cutter version of another title, some games just hit the jackpot when it comes to sales numbers.
But, what about those games that are well worth playing but don’t sell well? It can be too easy to miss a great gaming experience just because it wasn’t a commercial smash hit, despite having a strong story or interesting gameplay mechanics. This can be due to poor marketing, the timing not being right in the market or dozens of other reasons.
Here are ten games that flopped commercially but are well worth checking out:
Retro game collectors covet Earthbound, which may in part be due to its scarcity as a result of its poor sales when it was first released in the West. I won’t lie, this one surprised me as Earthbound is one of the best Super Nintendo games ever made, regularly featuring on top 10/20/pick-a-number lists for the platform.
Following a relatively successful launch in Japan, where it sold 518,000 copies under its original name Mother 2, Earthbound only went on to sell 140,000 units in America despite Nintendo backing it with a decent marketing budget. Games may not have sold as well back then generally, but Nintendo viewed Earthbound’s release as a flop all the same.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
With the franchise’s roots going back to a Kickstarter campaign, I picked up the original Pillars of Eternity a while after the full game had released. And I was hooked.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire felt like more of the same – in a good way. It had an engrossing story set in an interesting world and had similar gameplay mechanics to the original. And yet, it flopped.
I feel like this was all down to the timing of its release. Pillars of Eternity 2 released sandwiched between Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Divinity: Original Sin 2, which may have split the potential player base.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is one of those timeless feeling games. Yes, the visuals may not be able to hold a candle to Baldur’s Gate 3, but Pillars of Eternity 2 remains just as much fun to play today as it did back in 2018.
The Evil Within 2
The Evil Within 2 followed the original Evil Within, which attracted a strong audience and sold over 800,000 units in a week. For whatever reason, The Evil Within 2 just didn’t get the same level of attention, selling only 200,000 units, excluding digital sales.
It goes without saying that the significantly lower sales numbers were a huge disappointment. This is especially true when you consider that while The Evil Within 2 perhaps wasn’t as scary as the original, it was an improvement over the first game in the series in every other way.
The Evil Within 2 remains one of the best survival horror games. If you’re a fan of games from this genre, it is definitely worth a play through in between the Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Alan Wake games you’re no doubt already playing.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
I played Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West a long time ago on my Xbox 360 and, I’ll be honest, I had no idea that it wasn’t a successful game. I’d seen a couple of adverts for it in the magazines and picked it up second hand sometime later. Wait…maybe I am part of the problem here?
I really enjoyed my time with Enslaved, so much so that I’ve rebought it on Steam (and added it to the pile of shame). Its robot-infected, post-apocalyptic setting was fun to traverse as Monkey and his sidekick, Trip. The combination of puzzles, combat and platforming meant it didn’t get stale before the credits rolled.
Unfortunately, it sold less than 460,000 copies, though the subsequent Steam sales may have bulked that number up somewhat.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day
The fact that I owned a Nintendo 64 and didn’t play Conker’s Bad Fur Day back in the day is a crime. 3D platformers were in vogue and Bungie did something a little bit different with the foulmouthed squirrel, Conker, offering a more mature and humorous experience than the best game in the genre at the time: Super Mario 64.
Of course, part of Conker’s Bad Fur Day’s commercial failure could be attributed to that more adult-orientated focus, as the N64 largely had a younger audience compared to the PlayStation. The adults that did own it for titles like Goldeneye and Perfect Dark may have overlooked it due to its colourful graphics. Nintendo also refused to advertise the game, due to its adult content, which would certainly have hurt its sales numbers, which were pretty pathetic at the time.
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope
Following the massive success that was Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, which sold over 10 million units, hopes were high for Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope. Unfortunately, Ubisoft were “surprised” with how poorly it performed.
And that’s a shame, because Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is fantastic.
The original, on paper, sounded like it shouldn’t have worked, but it felt fresh and fun to play, hence its strong sales. Sparks of Hope built on this, adding a fast combat system and an open world to explore. It is everything that fans of the original title could have hoped for – yet, most of them will never know, as it only achieved a fraction of the sales enjoyed by Kingdom Battle.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is an action role-playing game set in a dark and atmospheric urban fantasy world, based on the tabletop role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. Players take control of a vampire in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, navigating a complex society of supernatural creatures, each with its own politics, factions, and power struggles. It features a deep narrative with branching storylines, rich character development, and the freedom to approach challenges in various ways based on your chosen vampire clan and abilities.
Bloodlines initial release was a certified flop, selling less than 75,000 copies, perhaps in part because it launched on the same day as Half-Life 2. Not the best decision, it has to be said.
Bloodlines isn’t without its flaws, but those interested in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 and similar immersive sim games could do a lot worse than checking out where it all began.
Blur was more successful than many other games that feature on this list, selling “only” 500,000 copies. Unfortunately, Activision were perhaps anticipating similar sales numbers to Bizarre Creation’s Project Gotham Racing games, which sold over 6 million copies. The lower-than-expected sales figures were such a disappointment that they lead to Activision putting Bizarre Creations up for sale, before closing it in 2011.
But here’s the thing: Blur was actually good.
Blur combined arcade racing action with vehicular combat and decent visuals, wrapped up in a package that is a lot of fun to play alone or with friends. This was reflected in the decent reviews and the fact that half a million people decided that it was worth their money. It’s just a shame that Activision didn’t see things the same way.
Sunset Overdrive is a vibrant and fast-paced action-adventure game developed by Insomniac Games, originally released as an exclusive for the Xbox One. It throws the player into a chaotic city gone mad, thanks to a contaminated energy drink turning people into mutants. The main character is not your everyday hero—they’re a parkour master, effortlessly grinding on rails, wall-running, and pulling off gravity-defying stunts while using an arsenal of outlandish weapons. Sunset Overdrive’s unique art style and offbeat humor add a refreshing twist to the typical apocalypse setting that has been done in so many other games.
I didn’t play Sunset Overdrive upon release, but it was one of the first games I downloaded when I got my Xbox Series S and Xbox Game Pass. Playing it, it reminded me of the original two Saints Row games mixed with a dose of Jet Set Radio, plus some zombies. Not that that is a bad thing – it is a fun game that is easy to pick up and play.
Compared to some other games on this list, Sunset Overdrive’s sales numbers were decent, moving over one million units at the time. But they were not the numbers expected from a Microsoft-exclusive title, and Sunset Overdrive was certainly not a game that would encourage fans of other consoles to pick up an Xbox One.
Yes, I’ve saved the best for last here: Prey is a stellar game that you really, really, really should play.
If you’ve been playing video games over the past 5+ years, you’ll no doubt have heard of Prey. It is a mind-bending sci-fi thriller where you wake up on a space station infested with shape-shifting aliens. As Morgan Yu, players unravel a gripping narrative as they discover their mysterious past and battle the relentless Typhon enemies. It expertly blends horror elements with exploration and intense action, while giving players the choice to play the game their way, customising their abilities as they go.
Unfortunately for Arkane, Prey performed significantly worse than their previous game, Dishonored 2, which itself wasn’t nearly as successful as their hit Dishonored title.
Which is a shame, because Prey is undoubtedly one of the best immersive sims ever made and a must-play for fans of similar games.