Right out of the gate I would put it out there that I actually really like hidden gem videos and lists. YouTube channels like MetalJesusRocks and Game Sack are great for finding really worthwhile games that go beyond the typical Contras, Marios, and Uncharteds you can hear about anywhere. If you think of each console as having an upper tier of quality games, the internet provides a lot of information on games that fall just a notch or two below that but are still worth your time.
Lately though I wonder a lot about the saturation of this topic. Of course the sources I mentioned above, as thorough as they are, still can’t cover everything but for every popular YT channel that does this sort of thing there are dozens of other videos, articles, and message board discussions to compliment them. Eventually, purported hidden gems are pretty much known to anyone that gives a crap about old games. It wasn’t so long ago where hardly anyone outside of the hardcore NES collecting community had even heard of The Guardian Legend. Now it’s hard not to if you follow the hobby at all.
Even still, with literally thousands of games being at least passable it’s nice to have resources to turn to when figuring out what not-so-obvious title might strike your fancy. My thing is: at what point do these hidden gem lists go from overlooked to oversold? By that I mean that there are certainly games on every console that were just never given due credit, but on the other hand you also get to a point where you’re not uncovering hidden gems, you’re just recommending mediocre-to-average games because there’s nothing left to say about the good ones.
Let’s take the Sega Genesis for example. I could rattle off a lot of underappreciated games for the system. I could do a three part series on the subject if I wanted to really, really stretch it out. At some point though (and likely before the series was even finished) I’d begin to cheat a little. First it would start with me being very liberal with the criteria of what constitutes a “hidden gem”. What I would do is start to include games like Dynamite Headdy, Kid Chameleon, or Splatterhouse 2. These are good games you average schmoe on the street probably hasn’t heard of, but if you’re at all interested in 16-bit games you probably have. It’s a bit of a letdown when you’re expecting to hear about games that fly under your radar, only to be told to “not miss out” on Golden Axe II.
The other thing you can do when beating a topic like this to death is to start trickling in games that aren’t terrible, but aren’t going to be worth most people’s time. But you MIGHT like it! Better throw it in there just in case right? Games like Eternal Champions, Chakan: The Forever Man, Toxic Crusaders, or Desert Strike. Games that haven’t aged well or that only fit a very specific taste. Hell, it’s often both.
More modern consoles also fall victim to this oversaturation of the hidden gem label but for a different reason. As the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii currently reside in that sweet spot between new and retro (i.e., still cheap) you often see hidden gem topics for these systems too. After all they each had hundreds and hundreds of games. Something was bound to be missed. Just like older systems though the subject has a limit and it’s actually muddied even further by how easily these games can be had. I think Dante’s Inferno on the PS3/Xbox 360 kind of kicks ass. It’s got pretty good action and the visuals are phenomenal. Like better than almost anything I can remember. It’s absolutely a hidden gem for this last generation. Of course it is though. It’s not $60 anymore, when people rightfully labeled it as a game with cool graphics but ultimately a God of War/Devil May Cry ripoff. Now that it’s $8 all day? Hell yeah it’s worth a look. Mirror’s Edge has experienced a similar trajectory. Most thought it was okay. Now that it’s $10-15 people love it enough that EA made a sequel, and surprise surprise: most people thought that game was “okay” too. Maybe Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst will appear on someone’s hidden gem list in the year 2023.At the start I mentioned how I really do like these lists on the whole though, and it’s true. They’re great for systems you don’t know a lot about but you own them and you don’t want to miss out on anything. They’re also invaluable to me personally based on the simple fact that they give me a snowball’s chance in hell of learning about the Game Boy, GB Color, and GB Advance libraries, which are so huge that I’d never be able to really find what I wanted without some guidance. What they are not good for however is diving deep, then deeper, then even deeper than that for one particular console. There’s only so far down you can dig before you get burnt. Unless you’re a pure collector, nobody needs a copy of fucking Star Wars Jedi Power Battles. Don’t confuse something with unfound treasure just because it’s somewhat playable. My advice? Find all, and I mean ALL of the games you actually know you like. After that watch or read some of these lists. They’re helpful. Just don’t expect everything to be what you’d hoped. Most of them are lost in time for a reason.