It seems like I'm always more passionate about a game when it's a hidden gem. It's like finding buried treasure; you've found this amazing thing and no one knows about it but you. But when it comes to videogames, instead of keeping that treasure to myself, I share it with the world and tell anyone who will listen about this awesome, unknown game that I've found.
I feel like a lot of people mistake a hidden gem for a "cult classic." To clarify, a hidden gem, in a very short description, is a well-made game that didn't get the recognition that it deserved for one reason or another. A cult classic, on the other hand, is a game that is technically flawed, sometimes extremely so, but still manages to bring a certain amount of fun to those who play it. That's why you won't find Deadly Premonition on this list. Yes, I played it, and yes, I really enjoyed it, but I can't sit here in good conscience and tell you that it's a well made game. It's poorly put together, but still incredibly fun.
Another one people may expect on here is Alan Wake. Let me start my saying that Alan Wake is one of my favorite games of the entire generation, and I'm glad to see that people finally seem to be giving it the credit it deserves. But it was in no way hidden, it was a very prominent release.
No, the games I'm talking about are the ones you could walk into a game store, see on the shelf, have never heard of before, overlook, never give a second thought, and be wrong for doing so. With that said, as always, let's begin with an honorable mention.
If there's one genre I wish would have a renaissance, it's the 2D platformer. There have been some really good ones in recent years, stuff like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Rayman Origins/Legends, and Donkey Kong Country Returns/Tropical Freeze. Everyone is familiar with the Playstation exclusive LittleBigPlanet, but another PS only platformer that gets sorely overlooked is Puppeteer.
The story is presented as a stage play, complete with audience "oohs and aahs," giving it a very unique premise. While it has your standard platforming action consisting of jumping to new heights and depths, as well as on top of enemies in order to dispose of them, what sets it apart is the use of scissors to cut your way to new areas and to, quite literally, cut down your enemies. The character you control is a puppet. Get it? You're the puppeteer. The puppet gets new heads that can be used to find different secrets through each heads unique abilities.
The only drawback is that if you're going for 100% completion, you'll need a walkthrough, as there's no way to know which head will be needed at the start of each level. It's a really solid game, and worth playing if you're looking for a game that does something new with an old standard.
Last generation was to the first-person shooter what the PS2 was to survival horror, they were just everywhere. After the monumental success of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, there was a boom of FPS games. It seemed like every week there was a new one hitting the shelves. While some were satisfied to be a status quo military shooter, there were some that tried to do something new. They ranged from awesome (BioShock) to average (TimeShift) to terrible (Darkest of Days) to forgettable (Homefront). The ones that turned out awesome usually wound up getting a significant amount of praise and exposure, but occasionally one of those games wound up getting lost in the shuffle. Enter, Singularity.
This game apparently had a marketing budget of $0. It was published by Activision, a company whose entire marketing budget for the year was spent on the Call of Duty and, at the time, Guitar Hero franchises, so a lesser known title like Singularity was basically sent out to die. It was developed by Raven Software, who were primarily PC developers who had only ventured into the console arena with a handful of games prior, the most notable being the X-Men Legends games and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, though they did have some experience with shooters. I would suggest that Singularity was their best game before being relegated to assisting the "big boys" with their Call of Duty games every year.
It combined things like time travel, world and time manipulation, alternate timelines, and some survival horror for good measure. Cap it off with solid controls and you have a winner. It's too bad Singularity wasn't more of a hit, I would love to see what Raven could make if they were given the keys to the castle again. Some of the powers you receive via the Time Manipulation Device were really fun to play around with, my personal favorite being the ability to envelope an enemy in a cloud where time is stopped, shooting several dozen bullets into it, and seeing them all hit them at once when the cloud disappeared. Singularity is the best unknown shooter you can find on the Xbox 360/PS3.
By 2010, the combat racing genre had grown pretty stale for me. Games that were well received by critics like Blur and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing just didn't interest me. Even the old standby of Mario Kart Wii had grown tiresome, which is why it was so strange for me to be as interested in Split/Second as I was. Normally on a title like this I would have waited for it to be in the $20 range, but luckily for me, I was able to get it for that price the week after it was released. Amazon had it on sale for $40 and I had a $20 credit from purchasing Super Mario Galaxy 2, so I figured "Why not?" By the way, Amazon, you should go back to the $20 credit program. Just saying.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when it arrived at my door. I had read a few reviews and they were mostly positive, and the game looked beautiful from the trailers I had taken the time to watch. What really hooked me was the way the combat was done. Instead of getting pickups and using those against your rivals, you instead filled up a meter, which was done by drifting and drafting behind another vehicle. Your meter had three bars, and each bar could be used to trigger a different environmental hazard when you approached it. For instance, you could trigger a warehouse door to shut and cut off a shortcut just before another car tried going through, causing them to crash. If you managed to build your meter all the way up, you could literally trigger world-changing events like an airplane crashing into the track, which would altar the course on subsequent laps.
My personal favorite part about the game is that you have several game modes outside of regular races that you'll need to play in order to progress. You had things like "Elimination" where you're given intervals of time, and whoever is in last place when time runs out is eliminated. My personal favorite--and the most challenging--is "Helicopter Attack" where you have to dodge missiles from a chopper, hoping to reach the new top distance. Unfortunately, developer Black Rock Studios was shut down back in 2011, which is a shame because the game's reality show premise ended on a cliffhanger, and I was really hoping to see a sequel.
The original A Boy and His Blob on the NES is a game I still have very fond memories of despite its many flaws. The game was really opaque, and I would spend hours just running around the beginning areas, feeding the Blob random jelly beans hoping that something would help me progress. I was about five years old at that time, so my comprehension of how to play what is essentially a PC adventure game on the NES was more or less non existent. But it was one of those games that I always remembered and would think about from time to time.
When it was announced and the first images were revealed of the 2009 remake on the Wii, I was practically giddy. The original NES game always reminded me of my childhood, and when I first saw screenshots and art of this one, it made me feel like a kid again. I wasn't as familiar with WayForward then as I am now (they're easily one of my favorite developers today), but I had played a few of their titles on the Nintendo DS, so I knew that they made quality stuff. I knew this game was in capable hands, and boy, they completely hit it out of the park. The changes they made from the original like having levels instead of one continuous world, showing you what each jelly bean did, giving you an infinite amount of them, and only giving you the type of beans that you needed for each level, were all things that would have made the NES more playable.
It doesn't hurt that the game's art style is gorgeous and looks like something straight from the mind of a ten year old in art class. It's a pretty simplistic platformer with hints of puzzles throughout your journey, as well as some neat secrets to find, which will show up back at your tree house between levels. There was also a designated button just to give the Blob a hug, and I couldn't help but spam that button every time Blob helped me out.
Before I bested The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, I used to tell people that the only Zelda game that I had finished was 3D Dot Game Heroes. Much like Split/Second, I'm not sure why I was so drawn to this game, as I was never much of a Zelda fan before then. I'm pretty sure I bought it solely based on how in love I was (and am) with the art style. Since it was published by Atlus in America, and by all accounts looked like it was going to be a very niche title, I knew that I had to pick it up on day one if I planned on playing it. That turned out not to be as true as I thought, though only my local GameStop had it in stock when I went in early that morning.
It wasn't until I played A Link Between Worlds that I realized just how much of an homage 3D Dot Game Heroes is to the legendary franchise. It's pretty blatant, but as the the old saying goes: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." What's even more interesting is that this was the first full game from Silicon Studio, who would later go on to develop last year's 3DS hit, Bravely Default. Much like the original Legend of Zelda, the game doesn't hold your hand at all, and I did find myself occasionally needing to resort to the internet. But one of the coolest things about that is that they did not produce a strategy guide to the game, which resulted in the community banding together in order to find every last secret. It was like a modern day version of the playground discussions I had in elementary school.
Great retro-styled music, creative dungeons, a fun world, and a multitude of videogame "in jokes" makes 3D Dot Game Heroes one of the unsung--ahem, hereos--on the PlayStation 3. When it comes to PlayStation exclusives, we're all familiar with the Uncharteds and the God of Wars, but 3D Dot Game Heroes is one that should not be overlooked if you're trying to find something new and interesting to play, it's fun for both retro and modern gamers alike.
I was such a huge fan of the Sands of Time trilogy of the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era that it really didn't matter what Ubisoft did with this game. It said "Prince of Persia" on the front of the box, therefore, I was already committed to purchasing it without a lot of prior knowledge. I even went as far as purchasing the limited edition of both the game and the strategy guide (because I have a thing for strategy guides). Luckily, the game turned out to be one of my favorites of the generation. It was released in 2008, so it was an early title in the generation's lifespan, and even though there were games that were graphically more impressive from a technological standpoint, this is still my favorite looking game of the generation outside of Super Mario Galaxy. It just goes to show that a game with great art direction will continue to look good long after the console becomes obsolete (see Wind Waker).
This game was a departure from the Sands trilogy, as it features a different protagonist and doesn't deal with time manipulation, opting rather for a non-intrusive companion character who can save you should you happen to fall to what would normally be your death. And that may perhaps be the game's main flaw, you literally can not die. If you fall, your companion, Elika, saves you. If you're low on health, Elika saves you. I personally didn't mind this, but I know some prefer a more challenging experience. The game is also less combat focused than previous games. While you do have the ability to dole out some pretty flashy combos, the main appeal of this game is the world traversal. Each new area was a big puzzle, and every little section therein a mini-puzzle. It sometimes became a game of trial and error, but there was something so satisfying about finally nailing a difficult platforming section after repeated failed attempts.
The game also features one of my favorite ending sequences in all of gaming. When the game was over, I had a blast going back in and collecting every single light seed, even if it was just for a few extra achievement points. I was clamoring for more content, but unfortunately, the extra content that was eventually released negated the awesome ending. So, I would suggest playing through the game and then stopping, completely forgoing the epilogue. I was glad to see that the game sold fairly well, and perhaps some wouldn't consider this a hidden gem. You may be right, it may actually be less "hidden" and more "forgotten." Either way, I suggest the game to anyone who will listen, and it's pretty cheap now, so there's no excuse.