The top 5 hidden gems in gaming

Matt Dallas
6 min readSep 6, 2019

Fall is almost here, and apart from football season, the best part of fall is the slew of major releases we get in gaming. Games like Borderlands, Pokemon, and Call of Duty all getting new entries, and new games like Jedi: Fallen Order are set to release within the next few months. It’s the time magical time of year where your wallet takes the beating of a lifetime, but you couldn’t be happier for it.

But we’re not here to talk about that.

Because today we’re here to talk about the underdogs. Games that were unheralded upon release, maybe even releasing to negative reviews, or games that for whatever reason never quite caught on. Whatever the reason, these hidden gems didn’t get the love or recognition that they deserved. Some have become “cult classics” some are forgotten completely. Either way, ALL of these games are excellent and deserve a play through if you’ve never gotten the chance.

This list has 2 rules. I have to have played the game and only one game per franchise (sorry Mother fans). So without further ado, here is my list of the top 5 hidden gems in gaming

#5: EarthBound

This is a tough one. EarthBound is one of my absolute favorite games of all time, and might be the finest game on this list. However, its status as a “hidden gem” has dwindled. Simply put, EarthBound has become famous for being a hidden gem, which is why it isn’t higher on this list.

But don’t let that distract you, if you haven’t played this game you are missing out on one of the finest RPG experiences that the SNES has to offer. Released late in the life cycle of the console alongside graphically superior games like Donkey Kong Country and Final Fantasy VI (or III outside Japan), Earthbound was written off and sent to the bargain bin. But those who didn’t pick it up missed out on one of the most charming, entertaining, and downright fun games of all time.

It doesn’t do anything revolutionary, it’s not a spectacle. Its beauty is in its simplicity. A traditional RPG set in a modern world where instead of rune blades and talismans you equip your characters with baseball bats and bottle rockets. It’s sheer genius, and an absolute must play for any fans of the RPG genre.

#4: Dragon Quest VIII -Journey of the Cursed King

Dragon Quest is one of the most popular best selling series of all time, and the 8th entry is no exception. In Japan. Let’s put it this way, this single entry in Japan nearly outsold every other entry combined over here. In fact most of the people who bought this game in the U.S. bought it for the enclosed demo disc for Final Fantasy XII.

Dragon Quest is a criminally under appreciated series in the U.S. and the 8th game might be the finest in the series. Dragon Quest is another series where the beauty is in the simplicity. Where other RPG’s introduce complicated mechanics, party structures, combat systems and what-not, DQ keeps going back to the genre’s roots with simple story, grind heavy gameplay, and basic mechanics. But it works.

There’s always been something oddly soothing to me about

See Monster → Kill Monster → Gain XP → Level Up → Buy Next Weapon → Repeat

And that’s what Dragon Quest VIII brings to the table, a wonderful, classic RPG with the most beautiful cel-shaded graphics I’ve ever seen.

#3: Act Raiser

Have you, like me, ever sat around playing Sim City and thought to yourself “you know what this game needs? some good 2D side scrolling action gameplay?”

Have you ever, like me, played a game like Castlevania or Metroid and thought to yourself “yeah this is great and all, but what I really want is to do this, and then go build a civilization after the fight?”

Well if you answered yes to either of those questions, or even if your response was “ummm, what?” then you need to play Act Raiser.

The precursor to games like Dark Cloud or Dragon Quest Builders, Act Raiser was somewhat overshadowed in its day by some of the other amazing games in the SNES catalog. Although it is certainly a classic, it usually doesn’t come up when you get into a discussion about the best SNES games ever made. But believe me, it deserves to be in that discussion.

The soundtrack, the action, all of it. This game is an absolute masterpiece and is woefully under appreciated for the innovation it brought to the gaming world with its unique concept. A less than stellar sequel certainly didn’t help, but, we’re going to ignore that.

Simply put, play this game, you won’t regret it.

#2: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 — The Sith Lords

How can the follow up to 2003’s Game of the Year be a hidden gem? Especially with the backing of a mega franchise like Star Wars. Well, that’s exactly it, KOTOR 1 was such a resounding success, such a smash hit that there was almost nothing KOTOR 2 could do to live up to it.

KOTOR 2 sold only a third of the copies that the original did, and it’s a damn shame.

If I were making a list of just my top 5 favorite games of all time, this one would be tough to leave off because I truly love it that much. I still prefer the original, but this one is that close.

The overarching narrative isn’t quite as compelling as the original, and as with any sequel, the newness and charm wears off some. But beyond that, this game took everything that the original did and ratcheted it up a notch.

More force powers, the introduction of lightsaber forms, more customizations and lightsaber colors, more advanced classes, more animations, all of it.

But most importantly, this game brought true nuance into the Star Wars world. Kreia is one of the most fascinating characters in any story telling medium that I have ever seen, she brings a level of depth to this game that I previously hadn’t seen before in a video game.

Beyond that, this game truly lets you tailor your own experience, and your decisions truly feel like they impact the world around you. Whereas in KOTOR 1 your “choose your own adventure” really came down to a binary choice before the final boss. But in KOTOR 2 your decisions reverberate, they impact your relationships, and leave you with a completely different experience based on the choices you made.

For only a few bucks on steam, this game is a thousand percent worth the investment. Trust me.

#1: SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom

Fans of this game have been coming out of the woodwork ever since the remastered version was announced. Now, I’m usually not a fan of licensed games, and many people wrote this game off entirely because “it’s a SpongeBob game, there’s no way it’s any good!” But those people missed out. Big time.

Battle for Bikini Bottom might be the finest 3D action platformer I’ve played. Ever. No I’m not joking.

It’s set up as your run-of-the-mill collectathon where you have X amount of Golden Spatulas to collect, and various worlds/stages to do it in, all the while collecting the coins, or as the game calls them, shiny objects, in each level. Each level is beautifully designed, the challenge level is perfect, and dare I say, the game is actually pretty funny as well.

You can pick up this game for around $10-$15, however I don’t believe it’s backwards compatible on Xbox One, only Xbox 360. If you are able to get your hands on a copy of this game, DO IT, it’s an absolute must play, and I will be playing the remastered version the second it comes out.

Well, that’s my list, but I want to know your thoughts. Did I miss one of your favorites? Is there a game on here you think shouldn’t be? Let me know on Twitter @Mdallas27

See you next time!