Hidden Gems of Game Design Volume 18

Unearthing gems with Final Profit, Half-Minute Hero and Sunset Riders

Hidden Gems of Game Design Volume 18

There are plenty of amazing games that go unnoticed and are not played widely, for one reason or another. Maybe it's a diamond in the rough, or the marketing wasn't there, or it could be a game ahead of its time. For this monthly series, I've asked my fellow writers on SUPERJUMP to pick a game they think is deserving of a chance in the spotlight. Let us know your favorite hidden gems in the comments.

Josh Bycer

Final Profit: A Shop RPG (2023)

Source: itch.io (Developer's page)

2023 will be remembered as the year of Baldur’s Gate 3 taking home as many RPG-related awards as one game can get. But my favorite RPG is the exact opposite – with the RPG Maker-built Final Profit. In a world where fantasy and magical creatures now have to deal with capitalism, it is up to the former queen of the Faes to fight capitalism with capitalism. To take on the Bureau of Business,  Madam Biz must take over the land, one property at a time.

The game combines elements of shop-sims, JRPG, and idle games into a surprisingly effective loop. From your first shop, you’ll need to spend money and mana to acquire products that you will then sell to some hapless villagers who are addicted to them. Get enough money and you can buy the deed to the shop and expand into the big city.

As the game goes on, how you earn money (and how much) grows and escalates, from earning dollars at a time, to thousands, to tens of thousands, and eventually millions of dollars. The entire MO here is “spend money to make money” as the cost to acquire goods and properties gets ever-higher. Along the way, multiple side quests can unlock new customers, new products, and even enhance the products you already have.

And while you’re doing this, the story of the game is very good, as Biz will have to struggle with the allure of money and progress if it means stepping on the backs of her people. There are multiple endings, a lot of funny situations (one of your best customers is a talking chicken), and the game just keeps escalating in terms of mechanics. By the end, you will be committing tax fraud, stock manipulation, and buying up all the properties to raise your passive income ever higher.

Source: Steam

Currently, the developer is working on more content and updates to be released, including New Game+ and end-game challenges. The main thing that holds Final Profit back is the very niche experience it offers, which limits its audience. If you’re someone who loved the property-buying minigame of Yakuza 0, or the shop sim of Reccetear, then you are going to love this game. If you’re looking for massive scope, tons of RPG progression, and very active systems, then this is not the game for you. So while all the normies out there are getting a kick out of romancing everyone in Baldur’s Gate 3, I’m here with over 2 million dollars in unpaid taxes, trying to buy up every property in the big city, so I can then splurge on some McMansions in the Elven capital. It's time to get back to feeding the battlepass addiction of my chicken. 

Andrew Johnston

Half-Minute Hero (2009)

Source: Steam

Two things happened to RPGs during the mid-to late-2000s: they all but disappeared from the consoles, and everyone decided it was a good time to "deconstruct" (read: smugly mock) them and the people who liked them. Most of these deconstructions were sneering satires based on ancient email forwards and aren't worthy of discussion but there's one very clever JRPG deconstruction that slipped beneath notice, that being the 2009 PSP title Half-Minute Hero.

The world of Half-Minute Hero is on the brink of doom thanks to the dissemination of an extremely potent spell of destruction. This magic can end the world in 30 seconds, yet is simple enough for any evil lord to master. Suddenly, every monster and misanthrope has the tools of annihilation in their hands. One lone hero has stepped up to defeat these evil lords, aided by a Time Goddess who can rewind time and make that 30 seconds last longer...for a price. Not a dark price, mind you - she just wants your money.

Half-Minute Hero features all the elements you'd expect from a JRPG - random encounters, experience, shops, allies of varying degrees of usefulness, sidequests, and bosses - but all of these are stripped down to the nuts and bolts. The protagonist fights by smashing into enemies, ending fights quickly without ever seeing the typical JRPG menus. Doing this builds the hero up until he's strong enough to take on the boss and finish the stage.

source: steam

But there's an additional enemy - the clock, which is always ticking except in towns. After 30 seconds, the boss casts the spell and it's game over. Lasting long enough to finish each stage means watching the clock and doubling back to town every so often to pay the Time Goddess to reset the timer, something which gets steadily more expensive.

Each level has some theme or gimmick to break up the gameplay loop. This might be a sidequest that grants a boss-killing power, some obstacle blocking the boss's lair that the player needs to overcome or even an alternate solution to the stage. Most of the gimmicks are optional, and beating a level without resorting to its gimmick can even unlock a new path. The result is a game that, even for its simplicity, gives the player a lot of leeway in how to approach it.

Building a game as a series of themed gimmick levels is a risky move, as it means that the quality of the game comes down to the balance of those levels. There are definitely some filler stages in Half-Minute Hero (usually hinted at by the presence of palette-swapped bosses), but the interesting areas outnumber these and even the boring ones have a tongue-in-cheek charm to them.

This is only the main gameplay mode, mind you. Clearing the campaign unlocks other modes with very different gameplay styles, including a shoot-em-up and even a pseudo-RTS. These are just bonuses, though - perhaps put in so that the game can make fun of as many other titles as possible.

So why haven't more people heard of Half-Minute Hero? Mainly, it was a game that suffered for being a PSP game that wasn't tied into a pre-existing franchise. There were a lot of really creative games released on the 2000s handhelds, but these quirky little titles were quickly forgotten after the release of a new handheld GTA, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, or God of War game. Half-Minute Hero did get a rerelease on the Xbox 360 in 2011 and Steam in 2012, so if you missed the original release, you still have a chance to turn back time and amend that error.

Antony Terence

Sunset Riders (1991)

Arcade Archives SUNSETRIDERS
Source: PlayStation Store

Developed for arcades in 1991 and ported over to the Sega Genesis in 1992 by Konami, Sunset Riders is a scrolling run-and-gun action title that struts about in retro territory. That goes for both its Contra-like gameplay mechanics and the way it portrays the American Old West. It’s bright, it’s colorful, and it escalates into a gunfight real quick. You play as a cowboy who runs across lawless towns, Indian villages, and even a train. Entering bars and getting comfy with saloon dancers didn’t ring any warning bells as a kid. 

There’s not much of a narrative in Sunset Riders. You’re a brave old cowboy who’s on the hunt for four outlaws, split across four stages. The stages set in a lawless town and a moving train are particularly memorable. There’s a decent amount of verticality in the game as it lets you climb ledges and jump to higher platforms. The sprite animations get the job done and the gunshot effects don’t overshadow the Western-style music. Jumping, sliding, and raining bullets on foes all feel responsive. 

Sunset Riders’ bullet-hell-like approach to combat means that the game isn’t necessarily easier with a co-op friend. You get to pick from two characters: Billy with his revolver pistols and Cormano packing a double-barreled shotgun. You can find power-ups like rapid fire and double shot along the way. Returning explosive dynamite to lady bandits never got old. As you move from left to right across stages, you’ll clear them as you save a damsel in distress and beat the stage boss. But one bullet is all it takes to knock you out. Dying to rampaging cattle or a signpost on a moving train can get the better of you too.

While bullets line up the screen like ants on a sugar cube, a decent number of extra lives scattered across the game should get you through it in an hour or two. There’s also a bonus horseback mission where you chase a convoy as it drops bonus coins and lives. You can tweak the difficulty for replay value or even face off against a friend in a 1v1 all Clint Eastwood-like. While it’s no masterpiece, Sunset Riders is a fun romp that gets enough right to spice up a lazy afternoon.

Thanks for reading, come back next month for another entry and more great hidden gems to check out! You'll find all previous Hidden Gems stories here.


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