by John Rogers & various contributors
As any browser of eShops, news sites and game stores (people still do that, right?) will know, new games are released at a staggering rate. They appear in such multitudes that it’s even a challenge for large media organisations to stay abreast of what’s coming out, never mind individual gamers. Some outlets estimate that from 2018 to 2020, around 8,000-10,000 games were released per year. That’s between 21-27 releases every single day (and that probably doesn’t include the experimental Itch scene)
Major releases are hard to miss but for indie studios, it’s a big challenge to cut through the noise. Taking into account that the indie game environment is teeming with innovation and fresh ideas, this means that many games – even those that sell well and garner some critical recognition – don’t quite reach the mass audience they deserve.
With that in mind, I reached out to our games writers and asked them a simple question: what games did you fall in love with that didn’t reach a mass audience? And why should we play them? We hope the results give you some inspiration on something new to try.
Podcaster, reviewer, RAR games editor | Twitter
I love a good hidden gem. There’s something especially satisfying finding a game that has flown somewhat under the radar and sharing it with fellow gamers. What “under the radar” means exactly is, of course, up for debate. None of my picks are exactly debut solo dev efforts unearthed from the depths of Itch. Some of them did find an audience, and even picked up awards in their home countries – but when it comes to the popular conversation, GOTY lists etc., there are more players who would love these games.
I’ll start with the game that prompted this article: FAR: Lone Sails. It’s the debut game by Okomotive, a small Zurich-based studio, and it is, to my mind, unique. As a small silent protagonist, you enter a huge, hulking vehicle with giant wheels (let’s call it Maggie) and roll from left to right though an unpopulated, broken landscape. Maggie needs fuel which can be hoovered up, or you can stop, hop, and grab it. The engine overheats unless you vent the pressure; if you fail to do so in time, it will burst into flames, and needs to be extinguished with a hose.
But at the most satisfying moments, a small windsock will billow, indicating that the wind is behind you. This is when you can unfurl the sails atop Maggie. At these moments, the camera zooms out, and you whizz along for a minute. You can stop the resource management mini-game of keeping your momentum going, and just contemplate the game.
All of this is aided by a stunning original instrumental soundtrack of lyrical folk-tinged music, and an arresting 3D-rendered world in which imposing bridges, buildings and pipelines swing past as you continue your journey. There’s dynamic weather that affects your progress and gameplay that evolves throughout, with environmental puzzles to solve to continue on your way. The ending – reached after 3-4 hours – is perfect.
I’d also like to advocate for Mutazione, a slow-paced, tropical adventure game about befriending the citizens of a mutant island community, finding various seeds, fixing up gardens, growing plants (and singing to them), and navigating an intriguing plot. If you want something incredibly short and incredibly weird, try to Robert Crumb-esque The Good Time Garden on Steam. If you’re a listener of the Gaming In The Wild podcast, you’ll already know about my love for the intelligently designed marine xenobiologist adventure In Other Waters.
Finally, a game I hope gets the recognition it reserves is Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, which came out to no fanfare on Apple Arcade, and is due a Switch release. It’s a beautifully created 3D exploration game in which you play a little girl who explores an island, documents birds and animals, picks up trash, gets into adventures and... takes on capitalism, kinda. It’s in the realm of A Short Hike in its relaxed atmosphere, which is high praise indeed.
Full time gamer, Part time poet, would-be novelist | Twitter
There are a LOT of games. With so many in existence, there’ll be at least one or two that fall through the cracks. With that in mind I would like to present you with my own personal ‘Hidden Gem’ game that I think more of you should be playing!
Littlewood was created by developer Sean Young and published by SmashGames. It's a highly charming ‘life sim’ game where you play as a legendary hero who, after saving the kingdom from a terrible foe, awakens in the ruins of a town with no memory of who you are or were. Your task? Work closely with your past companions to rebuild the town and live the easy life!