The Anatomy of a Hidden Gem

Game collecting can be complicated. Sometimes a game becomes hard to find, only for it to be re-released later on in it’s life, thus making it readily available. Sometimes a collector’s edition seems to be more common than the standard. Sometimes there are even games that seem to be destined to become hidden gems, only to fall to obscurity without anyone batting an eye.

What makes a game rare? What makes a game worth money well after its initial release? What makes that random DS game about Little Red Riding Hood so much more sought after than the arguably better Mario game on the same console?

While it’s near impossible to pinpoint a “hidden gem” during the current generation of games, there are some tactics I employ when hunting. Below are a few strategies and tips I think will be useful for someone seeking the next non-A list video game for the current generation.

A Hidden Gem Treads Familiar Territory While Still Taking Risks

The best games are the ones that do one or two specific things really well. Mario for example is profoundly proficient is platforming. A hidden gem is a game that executes its core gameplay mechanic well, while also exploring something the inspiring game/genre hasn’t tried. Psychonauts on the PS2 blends platforming with a very unique take on psyche, creating a world unlike any other.

When looking for current gen hidden gems, look for a game with a standard formula, but a bizarre premise. (Tearaway Unfolded – PS4)

A Hidden Gem Falls Through the Cracks of the Console’s Life

An easy one to start with but not always guaranteed. Oftentimes a console’s earliest and latest entries are difficult to find due to the availability of other consoles. Other times a game releases against another, much more popular title. The GameCube’s Odama for example came out a few months prior to the release of the Wii console. Cubivore, also on GameCube, released in the same window as Metroid Prime, Resident Evil 0, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Ratchet and Clank, all much better selling games.

Current hidden gems will likely be the ones released alongside big budget games, or at the very end of a system’s lifecycle. (The Wonderful 101 – Wii U)

A Hidden Gem May Have Connections To Other Games

This one is the most fun for me to look for. Every now and then a game will pop up from a seemingly random studio, but the developers are actually former members of a well regarded team. Hironobu Sakaguchi of Final Fantasy fame created Mistwalker Studio, who made the popular Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon RPGs. They also made the less known Away: Shuffle Dungeon for the Nintendo DS. Doing some research and seeing who makes games might lead to some unexpected quality finds!

If you can recognize a connection to something a collector might want, like a semi-hidden crossover, you might want to pick that game up (Alliance Alive – 3DS (Composed by Masashi Hamauzu, previously worked with Square Enix on Final Fantasy series))

A Hidden Gem May Come From Specific Developers or Publishers

Though far more prevalent on previous console generations, sometimes there are just developers and publishers who seem to specialize in the hidden gem. Way back in the PS1 era it was Atlus, who have gone on to fame the current generation. Almost anything published by Xseed would be a collector’s item or hidden gem. If we’re getting super old, look at Working Designs and Treasure’s relationship. A good rule of thumb to remember: if it’s a wildly different game targeted at a very niche market, there’s a good chance it’s crap. But there’s an equally good one it’s amazing!

Unknown publishers could put out garbage, but sometimes a gem sneaks through. It’s also worth nothing most shops like GameStop will have these used for a much cheaper price since they aren’t as well known. Take a risk and maybe you’ll find a winner! (The Sexy Brutale – PS4)

A Hidden Gem Is Sometimes Just Plain Odd

My favorite example of this is when I found Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ for the Nintendo DS. The title alone justified the purchase, and the game itself was a solid shooter that used the two DS screens in a very interesting way. Think of this as the opposite of our very first tip: these types of games don’t tread the same ground as others. Instead, they take something wholly unique and run with it. Wacky shooting game about zombie K Pop stars? Count me in!

The Nintendo Switch seems to be a haven for oddball indie games. There are bullet hells with witches, games about raising cats, and more! (Owlboy – Switch, PS4, XB1)

A Hidden Gem is Perpetuated by the Community

The interesting thing about a hidden gem is that, unless there’s a discussion about it, the hidden gem will stay, well, hidden! Because of this, many times a game’s status in the community will rise or fall based on the discussion’s surrounding it. This is a really great way to learn about new games, and to get a feel for what a game might be like. Also, this is what I like to do to discover new games to keep an eye out for! If you arm yourself with knowledge of what to look for, glancing at shelves of games may become easier when you know what to look for.

Reddit is a really great resource for finding hidden gems. There are also plenty of blogs (like this one!) and YouTuber’s who specialize in game collecting. Learn from them about more hidden gems! (The entire SteamWorld seriesPS4, XB1, Switch, 3DS, Vita)

A Hidden Gem Might Be None of These At All

As if that wasn’t hard enough, a hidden gem might be none of these things at all! Though it’s hard to determine, sometimes what makes a hidden gem isn’t discovered until well after its initial release. Or even after the end of the console’s generation. These are the games that you tend to pick up on the fly and are genuinely surprised are decent. Oftentimes, I have the most fun with these types of games on a current console generation, and only years later do I realize they are hidden gems for other players too!

No real tip here for finding these types of games other than have some fun! For me, if a game looks interesting enough, and the price is right, I usually dive in and give it a go! (Pac-Man Party – Wii)

Though not an exhaustive list, these general tips should give you a fresh starting point on looking for your new favorite game. For me, the joys of game collecting come from finding an amazing game I can share with my friends at an excellent price. Sometimes a game just sits on a shelf for us to laugh at (I’m looking at you M&M’s Kart Racing), but other times it becomes a game we play time and again (Thanks for the fun times, Final Fantasy Explorers).

What are you favorite hidden gems? Any games you think I should look out for? Let me know, and happy hunting!


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