10 Hidden Video Game Gems Throughout History

There are hundreds upon hundreds of different games that release each year and choosing where to make your investment can be daunting as a consumer. So it comes as no surprise that some excellent games get overlooked each console generation. This list seeks to shine the spotlight on 10 excellent games that many consumers haven't heard of.

I am aware that not every game on the list is system exclusive, but that just makes it even more tragic that they have undersold. Get out there and buy some little known games, you could always find a gem of your own. (And if you do, add it to the comments so we can all partake in the gem you found).

NES - Little Samson

Arriving at the end of the lifespan for the NES, Little Samson was a brilliant little platformer. Within the game, the player could choose from 4 playable characters (which at the time of its release was nearly unheard of); a dragon, a mouse, a ‘golem’ (which I always felt looked like a robot), and a human. And these characters were more than mere palette swaps of each other. Each character had unique abilities and characteristics. The mouse had low health, but could climb walls and fit through small passages the other characters could not access. The dragon could fly and shoot fire. Samson could throw bells (what?!) and jump high. And the trusty golem was invulnerable to spikes and had the strongest attack. Beyond these excellent features, the game also looked beautiful. The animations were superb and the graphics are (arguably) the best on the NES. The game was not perfect however, it suffered from being just another platformer on a system with more than enough running and jumping to go around. It is a shame really, since the game might be the best platformer this side of Mario 3.

SNES - Sunset Riders

I am a sucker for a good cowboy story. I love the 6-shooters, the standoffs, the horses, the devil-may-care attitudes, and the saloons. Everything about the ol’ west fascinates me. So it should come as little surprise that the arcade cabinet for Sunset Riders at my local arcade set my heart ablaze with passion. The characters were vibrant and the enemies plentiful and it was all set in ‘Contra-Style’ gameplay with a Wild West theme.

What the game boiled down to was the choice between 4 lawmen and hunting down 8 outlaws working your way up to the biggest fish of them all, Sir Richard Rose. However, the character you chose at the games outset often would determine how successful your venture into the world of Sunset Riders would ultimately be. You see, 2 characters (Billy and Steve) shared similar weapons with one another which were basically a single bullet that you aimed toward your enemies, standard shooter faire. However, if you chose either of these characters, it meant you lost the game. The better choice was to choose either Carmano or Bob. This was mostly due to the fact that they started with a SPREAD GUN! There are bosses that are nigh unbeatable if someone is not playing as one of these 2 characters. This is unfortunate because the 2 ‘cowboy’ characters are the 2 characters that suck.

But despite this, it is one of the best games of its genre. There is another curiosity with the game though was that the Genesis version of the game differed wildly from the arcade version (and subsequently the SNES version). It removed 2 characters and 4 bosses, but improved on the animations greatly. Either version is great, but the SNES version does hold a slight edge over its Genesis counterpart.

Genesis – General Chaos

This is a bit of an oddball game. The purpose is to choose from a set team of 4 soldiers and then duke it out with an opposing set of 4 soldiers. The gameplay revolved around a small field of play and switching between the soldiers in order to best your foe. Each game was frantic and action packed. The game wasn’t perfect (The dynamite soldier seemed a bit…unbalanced) but it still offered an experience unlike any other on the Genesis. Even better though was the game included 2 player co-op and given the goofy art style of the game, most of the time you won’t finish the game hating your teammate due to the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

N64 – Iggy’s Reckin’ Balls

You’re a Wrecking Ball. You’re racing against other Wrecking Balls for the privilege of destroying the track you just raced on. Iggy’s Reckin’ Balls was…different. But, it hosted a roster of hidden characters, hundreds of tracks, and a variety of powerups. The controls were sometimes spotty, but usually would get the job done. It was strange to play a ‘vertical’ racer. Your goal was to reach the top first, not the end.

The game had two faults. First, it required a memory card to record your progress. At the time, memory cards were not an ‘expected’ problem when trying to enjoy a game. As a result, I played the first series of tracks about 100 times. Little did I know this was a blessing in disguise; which leads to the second problem; the tracks were too long. In some of the later circuits, it could take upwards of an hour to finish the entire series of races, and if you lost? You had to restart the entire series. It could, at times, get exhausting. But aside from these issues and the grievous spelling errors in the title, the game still manages to be charming and engaging and well worth the time it takes to play it.

PS2 - Radiata Stories

This game, on the surface, seems like a typical JRPG. You recruit a party and save the world, but with 2 major differences.

First of which, the story is fantastic. The tale revolves around the journey of a young boy, Jack Russell (worst name ever?), whose father is the only person to ever play a dragon. In an effort to make his now deceased father proud, Jack attends the Try-Outs for the Radiata Knights. However, upon failing the entrance exam, he is placed on the ‘shit-list’ brigade. From there, the conflict between humans and non-humans begins to come to a head and Jack must eventually make a series of choices that drastically affect the rest of the game. I won’t divulge any more in a effort to not spoil the narrative, which is a slow burn, but once it gets going the game has one of the strongest narratives I have played through in a game.

Secondly, every single character in the game can be recruited for your party. If they have a name, they can join you. It creates a whole new interest in the random NPC character when you realize that they could potentially be a powerful ally. Sure, some of the characters are useless, but still are fun to try and recruit. To this day, I am missing one character I have never been able to recruit, and I wont rest until I finally fill out my entire character roster.

Dreamcast – Skies of Arcadia

A system that never stood a chance, just about any game on this system could be a hidden gem. However, Skies of Arcadia has always held a special place in the world of unique aesthetics. Skies of Arcadia is the tale of air pirates and their quest for adventure. Pirate RPG’s were a rare breed to begin with, but put those pirates in the sky and you have a game unlike any other. While the game had far fewer characters to recruit than Radiata Stories, the game still had its fair share of crew members you could bring aboard your vessel. In the end, the game was still mostly standard JRPG faire. People stand in a line, take turns in battle, and keep going until one side had no one left standing. However, if the standard fantasy setting for RPG’s is getting tired, give this game or the remake on the Gamecube a shot. I promise the experience will be unique and an excellent time investment.

Gamecube – Mystic Heroes

Dynasty Warriors for kids; that is all the explanation one may need to completely write off this little gem. I was never a major proponent of the ‘kill-all-generic-dudes-yeah’ genre, but for whatever reason this game kept me compelled from beginning to end. The 4 selectable characters, while cookie-cutter, were different from one another. The stages, again standard, were also different from one another. The biggest draw for me however was trying to find the 70 magical runes scattered throughout the world that allowed your character to cast a wide variety of magic. The game also featured a 4-player game mode (which was separate from the story); so if you could drum up enough friends the game could be a great way to kill an hour or two.

X360 – Culdcept SAGA

Culdcept is a series of games that, for all intent and purpose, plays out like Monopoly. Instead of hotels and houses, you get monsters in the form of playing cards (imagine the design of Magic: The Gathering cards and your on the right track). I have always been a sucker for a good collectable card game. I love playing through a game multiple times in order to unlock that perfect card to put into my deck.

Culdcept SAGA (the sequel to the original Culdcept on the PS2) is based around 4 elements; wind, water, earth, and fire. Each creature card is given an element (with some cards being ‘grey’, meaning they don’t have an element) and if that creature is placed on the same color land it gets a health bonus. This bonus is important because if someone lands on your space they will be forced to pay a ‘toll’ unless they invade your space with their own creature card and defeat your monster. In addition, during battle both players can secretly choose an item card to use; each of which can have a variety of effects from raising strength to negating the opposing monsters attack. To add another layer of complexity beyond the battles, during your turn you can also play a variety of magic cards. These can boost your monsters health; give you money, or a multitude of other effects. And that is just the surface; the game can easily absorb players in its complexity when trying to create the perfect deck.

In addition to the deck building, the game also features a lengthy story mode. The narrative itself blows, but it is the only way to unlock AI opponents to compete against outside of the story mode. The game is far from perfect however. The graphics are miserable, especially for a next generation console. And with so many cards in the game, it is easy to find some unbalanced ones. But beyond the bland graphics and occasional unbalanced card, the game is complex and absorbing (and cheap! It costs about one money; give or take).

PS3 – 3D Dot Game Heroes

Raise your hand if you like 8-Bit Zelda games. I will assume that every person raised their hands or at least thought about raising their hand. If so, buy this game immediately. The game is about the world of Dotnia where the King degreed the world change from 2D to 3D in an effort to keep up with the times. Immediately, the first thing that will grab you is the graphics of the game, they are simply gorgeous. You can even customize your player character in any way or load up one of the pre-rendered character models to play as.

The gameplay is spot on, but then again, how can anyone foul up a Zelda-clone? (Don’t answer that, I know there are poor Zelda clones out there). The controls are a little wonky at times. The most egregious example is that it can be semi-difficult to kill monsters standing diagonally from your player character. The game makes up for this by allowing you to create a massive sword (compensating for something) and a variety of magic attacks. The story is, minimal. To be honest, I have played through about 75% of the game and I don’t recall what the game is about. But given the excellent gameplay and unique graphical style, I always come back for more.

Wii – No More Heroes

I just wanted a Suda51 game on here. That man might be my hero. I wish I could crawl inside his brain for one day just to see how he thinks. Killer 7 was an under appreciated gem and No More Heroes is the same way. You play as Travis Touchdown (who might have the only name worse than Jack Russell of Radiata Stories) who buys a light saber assassin sword off the internet. In doing so, he becomes an underground assassin trying to work his way to the top of the assassin list. Travis, as a character, is relatable, charismatic, and likeable. In short, Travis is the perfect protagonist. The game itself, like Killer 7, has some flaws to go alongside its charming characters and aesthetic. The ‘open world’ was completely devoid of life. As you speed around on an (admittedly badass) motorcycle, you will not see anyone on the streets of Santa Destroy. Within the game, the way you earn assassin jobs is by performing community service tasks, which get repetitive in a hurry.

But despite its faults, there is no game quite like No More Heroes. Plus, you recharge your sword by stroking it lovingly…which is maybe the only time a gameplay mechanic like that has been in a mainstream game.

MarioDragon's picture

Kinda surprised Tales of Symphonia isn't on here, thought for sure I would have seen that in place of 3D dot game heroes...

ButtonClickerExtrordinare's picture

Everyone go download Spelunky right now! It's one of the best freeware games I have played.

It is a 2D, 8-bit style, platformer about searching caves as not-Indian Jones. This game hasn't had enough exposure.

SoFuLL's picture

I would love it if they put out a new skies of arcadia!!!

mtank's picture

Love these games.  Sunset Riders ...go Carmano!

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