As borrowed from hart704, the idea behind this list is a group of games not designed with blockbuster sales and massive budgets in mind. And yet they still provide a solid and entertaining time that often rivals, if not surpasses their blockbuster counterparts.
All links provided lead to my own reviews of the games, also, this list is by no means scientific. So don't freak out if you think a game on here has too high of a budget. You'll survive, I promise.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
El Shaddai is one of the most surreal and beautiful games ever created. It's really easy to see why the visuals are so wonderful when you consider the game's director was the art director for none other than Okami! Even that game's battle system carries over for El Shaddai, and while it isn't the greatest combat, it still manages to keep you entertained long enough to see all the zany sights, characters and liberties taken with an ancient biblical story. It's really damn cool!
Tales of Vesperia
The Tales series has never been anywhere near the level of Square-Enix's blockbusters. Usually going for far simpler animated graphics than their monolothic competition. But Namco-Bandai have found a way to carve a niche for themselves as one of the more well-known RPG series out there, and Vesperia is one of the best examples in the long-running franchise.
Both Lost Odyssey and Tales of Vesperia might draw some curious looks from folks as Mystwalker's game is likely one of the more big-budget releases on this list. But creating a throwback to the JRPG glory days on a console with a fanbase not particularly interested in that is like expecting Serious Sam to outsell Call of Duty. The game screams vintage 90's with the good and the bad, but that's what makes it such a great nostalgia trip.
Easily the most low-budget of the three JRPGs mentioned in a row here, Eternal Sonata was tri-Crescendo's first game and released early into the 360's life. Animation was stilted, voice acting was wooden and yet the game has a battle system that's absolutely my favorite in the JRPG genre, a setting with beautiful graphics that make it even more inviting and one of the coolest final bosses in history.
A remake of a PS1 platformer that sold at almost half the cost of a new Wii game. What more do you need to know about Klonoa and its sales expectations? But I'll be darned if it isn't one of the greatest platformers ever created.
In between all of the Battlefield games and their Bad Company spin-offs, DICE went and created one of the single greatest platformers of all time. A game that was designed for replays where you would become faster and more efficient in how you understood the game's mechanics. Most people just whined about the shooting mechanics. Protip: you aren't supposed to shoot anyone.
No More Heroes
Suda 51's most mainstream title of the time (until he got involved in crap like NMH2: Desperate Struggle, Lollipop Chainsaw and Shadows of the Damned), No More Heroes is a total low-budget, C-quality experience that screams of an old 70's action thriller that has a beat up film reel intentionally peppering your vision with scratches and cuts while making a statement on how we view life and videogames and the thrill of seeking out excitement in the mundane. And it remains one of the single most badass experiences of this gen. It's premise, characters and narrative take you for a ride that no videogame came close to replicating until Hotline Miami hit last year, and even that game went in a different, zany direction of its own.
Another Wii brawler, MadWorld was Platinum's first release and you can tell it was just a small, low budget beat em up that they did for fun and little else. It was meant to pave the way for the eventual heavyhitters Bayonetta and Vanquish, but MadWorld, despite being a budget experience features one of the coolest narratives of this generation and a surprising amount of irreverent style that just makes it a cool game to play when you want to feel as cool as you think you are.
Ys: Origin and Ys: The Oath in Felghana
The Ys series is absolutely stellar. One of the greatest, more hardcore action RPG experiences on the market. They are total budget games, Ys Origin releasing for $20, and Oath in Felghana for $15 (and the move to PlayStation Portable and Vita) should say enough about the niche audience the series gathers. But it's one of the greatest series I have ever played and can't wait until September when Memories of Celceta releases and I purchase a Vita for that game alone.
Spec Ops: The Line
You've got Call of Duty and Battlefield. Then you have their copycats. Then you have Spec Ops: The Line, which channels Heart of Darkness on the outside, but on the inside provides one of the most scathing criticisms of the military shooter genre and one of the most important experiences videogaming has ever produced.
The Witcher: Enhanced Edition
We look at CD Projekt Red now and they are the golden child of RPG game development. They hate DRM, they managed to create one of the most beautiful, deep and involving RPGs in The Witcher 2 and have massive games in development in Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (and a few smaller, unannounced games they've made mention of). But before they managed to take the PC gaming world by storm they were a little, unassuming development team using BioWare's Aurora engine, and under their watchful eyes in Canada, produced a dated looking RPG that provided tactical depth, an involving story and one of the most compelling game worlds ever made. AND THEN they got big. Like, WAY BIG.
The Walking Dead
Did anyone expect The Walking Dead to be anything at all like it turned out to be? We're talking Telltale Games here, we're talking Sam and Max, Wallace and Gromit, goofy stuff you know. Even their licensed games that came before were considered duds (Jurassic Park, anyone?). And here we have one of the greatest pieces of interactive fiction ever made. And you know you love it. You know you love these guys beating out the big guns for Game of the Year honors at many places. It's a testament to well-written stories, fully developed characters and the emotional impact videogames can have on you.
This game looks fantastic. It also has like a quarter of the budget of the competition (Apparently it's even bigger and better looking sequel has a small budget too). It's a very guided experience, similar to Call of Duty's campaigns but with the ability to play stealthily as well. Metro 2033 isn't one of the elite level shooters of this generation, but it manages to impress from a technical standpoint moreso than the majority of games on the market, and it manages to tell an interesting story on top of it all.
Torchlight and Torchlight II
What do you do after creating the Diablo series in one of the world's largest development teams? Stick it to the man, strike out indie and dedicate your time to creating an MMO. What do you do when Blizzard creates the world's most important and biggest MMO? Stick it to the man by going back to your Diablo roots and making it better than Blizzard's version. I've put hours and hours into the Torchlight games. Well over 50 with both games combined and I didn't even beat the second one. It's got a much smaller budget than Diablo, sold at a third of the price and yet Runic games mention that they make just as much profit either way. God damn, Runic. God damn.
Nintendo's Punch-Out!! sequel of sorts is one of the most entertaining games on the platform when played with motion controls and a true test of skills when played with a regular controller. But those motion controls make it a genuine blast to stand in front of a group of people and swing like a mad man at the air. It's clear that Nintendo never expected the game to be in the same league as their Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Xenoblade games, but for such a smaller-scale game, Punch-Out!! provides one of the coolest experiences on the Wii!
From the developers of Yakuza, Binary Domain doesn't strive to be anything more than your typical cover-based shooter in a post Gears of War world. But with insane boss battles, a healthy dose of dudebro writing and a beautiful, neo-Tokyo setting, Binary Domain ends up as one of the most fun and entertaining third person shooters of this gen!