Your 2019 Hidden Gem

As the Game of the Year discourse descends upon us, what’s a game you’ve played this year that you feel like has not gotten it’s due time in the sun? Whether it’s with game of the year stuff specifically, or just a release without much fanfare that hasn’t picked up steam. It could be something that’s been brought up, but maybe just in passing and you feel people should look more closely. What’s a hidden gem you’ve found that you want to tell folks about?

For me it’s a tactics-story game called Rain of Reflections on PC. It had a quiet release in early October and currently only has 33 user reviews on Steam. I heard about it through a turn-based tactics group, but it’s actually a compelling mix between point-and-click adventure storytelling and tactics portions. The setting takes it’s cyberpunk cues from Blade Runner most heavily, and does a goodjob of world building as well as interesting locations. The tactics portion is solid and has some cool iterations on the modern XCOM formula. There’s more of an emphasis on stealth, and there’s a hacking mini-game system that was fun.

Where it shines are the moments that it let’s you take the story into your own hands. It’s similar to a Walking Dead or even Banner Saga where the main story will proceed mostly along the same path, you can make some fun choices as to how it plays out and how you interact with other characters. There are some bigger choices along the way too, including how you approach combat. One of my memorable delights with it was being able to bypass encounters through stealth, even after enemies had been alerted.

Overall the game is short and sweet (around 3 hours long), which is good. It also is setup to be the first chapter in a set of stories, and it feels like it with how much of a cliffhanger it ends on. This makes the lack of attention worrisome, but I’m glad I tried it out and hope they’re able to create a conclusion to it.

So that’s my hidden gem from 2019. It will probably even crack my top ten list for the year.
What about you? What’s yours?

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I bought Membrane on Switch for 9 cents ($0.09 yep) and it was one of the most creative puzzle games I’ve ever played. Short, sweet, and honestly pretty challenging. Really enjoyed playing it when I only had a few minutes here and there, or as a background-ish activity. Felt like there was never a de-facto “right” solution, and I really liked that.

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Probably Eliza for me. It got some press here and there, but I feel as though I still need to extol just how good the writing is (endings not necessarily included). So many games try to be philosophical™, but rarely do they ever put in the real work to demonstrate how messy the discipline actually is. Here though, Eliza goes way out of its way to show how convoluted its subject matter is, including:

  • Capitalism’s perennial march toward automation, efficiency, and “progress”

  • The amount of power and Bourdieuian capital we give to tech companies

  • Whether or not pain is necessary to the human experience

  • Praxis in combating established structures

  • The role of the individual in promoting grand societal change (and whether or not the individual can truly affect such changes alone)

  • The medicalization of stress under late capitalism

  • Access to mental health services, and the necessary limits of said access when compounded with de facto financial barriers

  • The role of the therapist (in the symbolic interactionist sense)

  • Burnout

  • Grief

  • Good Solitaire

  • Queer Sexualities

  • The ever-evolving role of technology in general within our society

And this game is somehow only 5-6 hours long. So many other games like to tout how morally gray their choices are, but Eliza was one of the only games to make me buy into that beyond the typical “three discrete options, each with their own caveats” structure you’re more likely to come across.

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Manifold Garden would be my pick. I only heard about it through this website so maybe it doesn’t count, but it’s a pretty damn awesome puzzle game with a freaky vibe. I wish it had one or two more mechanics towards the end, but otherwise it was incredible.

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I feel like River City Girls got enough attention pre release, but then no one seemed to play it. A shame because its one of my favorites from this year, a fun beat em up with a great soundtrack.
They might have shot themselves in the foot with that (relatively) high pricepoint.

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Feel very weird calling Outer Wilds a hidden gem because it was a full fledged game that got a review on most sites and people are definitely ~aware~ of it, but I have been unable to shake the feeling that it’s still not gotten the attention it deserves.

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It’s disappointing to me that Anodyne 2 still seems so thoroughly overlooked, maybe because the two-person Analgesic team doesn’t have the promotional resources of a larger studio and Marina Kittaka’s art direction does something more adventurous than the kind of twee pixel art that’s readily saleable in indie circles, but it’s wildly creative, heartfelt, and both formally and thematically queer. It fully delivers on the promise of the original game (which was already one of the oddest and most atmospheric indie Zeldalikes), and I can only hope it finds its audience over the next several years.

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Absolutely Spark the Electric Jester 2, a Sonic Adventure styled sequel to the OG Sonic styled first game. It pulls from a legacy of a very particular Sonic fangame scene called BlitzSonic, and spins it off with an identity all of it’s own. The story isn’t particularly good, but it goes hard enough with the complete self self seriousness of the adventure games that it kind of brute forces it’s way into working. It kicks ass. (P.S. I wrote about it this year also)

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I came here to scream at the top of my lungs: PATHOLOGIC 2!!!

It’s not only one of my favorite games of the year, but near the top of my games of all time. I don’t know if I’ve ever played a game that feels so cohesive from its story to its writing to its mechanics. Everything fits together so well! Hopefully more people will get a chance to play it now that it’s on Xbox game pass.

Anodyne 2, Outer Wilds and Eliza are great pulls as well.

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Neocab is a tightly paced Visual Novel thriller that’s about emotions, class, service work, relationships healthy and not, and is one of the more modern cyberpunk media I’ve experienced in a long while. I got the bad end the first time through and it legitimately made me sick to my heart it was so brutal. The game is so good

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Woah, Rain of Reflections looks right up my alley and I hadn’t even heard of it. I’ll keep that in mind for sure.

Haven’t really bought many new games myself. Though my favorite of them all hasn’t gotten at all enough recognition: Heaven’s Vault. Don’t sleep on this amazing adventure game. It’s not just fun to step-by-step figure out ancient writing, it’s also a really good, funny and often sad story about connecting to our past. It’s out on Switch next year so hopefully it’ll catch some more attention then.

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I came here to say the same thing. In game press circles it has received a lot of praise (although never enough in this dork’s opinion) but whenever I talk to normies who don’t guzzle games coverage they’re largely unaware of it.

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INDIVISIBLE!

I dont know how much buzz outside mainstream circles its getting but like literally every site ive seen just… stopped talking about it.

I have some very serious problems with the storytelling mostly in terms of pacing and how it treats Ajna’s decisions. How Long To Beat pins the game around 18 hours, and im at 13 and she has yet to face any consequences for every bad decision she makes, which is every decision she makes. I’m fine with a character making bad decisions but its getting frustrating how little this game cares about it. I hit a point of no return last night and it feels like the story is wrapping up so I hope it pays that stuff off, but I’m not hopeful.

THAT SAID the combat in this game fucking rules and every time I get a new character im excited to shuffle my party and try out new combos and that’s seriously going to hold me through to the end.

EDIT: Also: CROSSNIQ+. That game gives me extreme anxiety but its a really amazing frenetic puzzle game that I feel hasnt broken like it should.

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Shit, I absolutely need to play that game before I do my Top 10. The only reason I didn’t play it was because it was $30.

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I feel like a lot of people have forgotten about Ape Out because it came out so early in the year, and that sucks because it is absolutely best “animal chaos simulator” of the year.
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Sorry Goose, but revolutionary jazz gorilla is my praxis

@sputnik I had a lot of fun with River City Girls, but that ending is real rough

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Not nearly enough sites that have their GOTY lists up (or nominees up, for people’s choice polls) have given Hypnospace Outlaw the love it deserves. The gameplay is so ingenious, and the online drama is both nostalgic and easy to get invested in. I felt more about DarkTwilightTiff than most other characters this year. At the very least, it deserves a nod for Best Music.

Also, not underrated at all, but I am a bit surprised how few sites so far have put the goose on their GOTY list. SMDH, we spend all of January and February loving the phrase ‘it sparks joy’ but we’ll still put Death Stranding on a list before the honk.

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Yo yeah I was so excited for this but reading spoilers for the ending on twitter was like “are you FUCKING kidding me?” but in a bad way

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FUTUREGRIND! Seriously it’s probably my game of the year still even after all these amazing games coming out.

I’ve heard it described as “Ikaruga meets Uniracers” and that’s kinda true. It’s basically a high score focused game where you’re spinning this weird motorcycle and grinding on rails. It’s incredibly fun and feels amazing.

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It probably says… something about me that every single game on my current list fits into this category and that a couple of them have already gotten a mention in this thread by someone else.

@ClairvoyantVibes I also had some similar feelings around that part of the game and let me tell you, the game very much cares about Ajna’s Very Bad Decisions and does address them. To be more specific (spoiler ahead, of course): there’s still a sizable chunk of the game past the point I think you’re at where Ajna realizes how much worse she’s made everything and then goes around trying to make things right, but for real this time.

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Okay this is very good to hear. I was worried I had like, one big dungeon and a final boss left because everything seems to be coming to a head. Happy I have more than I thought left!