Hidden Gems of Game Design Volume 21

Digging up those gems

Hidden Gems of Game Design Volume 21

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

Shadowhand: RPG Card Game (2017)

Source: Steam.

Grey Alien Games with Jake Birkett is one of my favorite developers to talk to, as he has been making indie games in the industry for a long time and understands the process and challenges of game development. While he is known for making casual games, and a lot of solitaire, he did branch out into something more challenging with Shadowhand.

Shadowhand was the idea of combining solitaire with RPG combat and progression. Like their other games, you still have levels that are built on clearing cards using solitaire rules, with a few powers to make things easier. Where the game differentiates is when the player must get into a duel and fight enemies one-on-one. The rules are that the gear you wear will determine your available attacks, defense, and any consumable items you can bring into combat. Making matches will charge your attack cards - the stronger the card, the more charges are needed to use it. Planning your build before a fight is vital, as you can see exactly what the enemy is strong or weak against, and any special modifiers they can bring to the fight.

Combat is turn-based with either side continuing to pull cards until they either attack or they can’t make a match anymore; the first one to lose all their health loses. Despite Grey Alien’s penchant for casual games, Shadowhand can be on the difficult side… especially if you play on the higher difficulties.

Solitaire is still at the heart of the experience. Source: Steam.

To stand a chance against the boss fights, you need to buy every weapon, armor, and item so that you are prepared for any encounter. But getting the money to do so will require you to clear as many solitaire levels as you can; on hard difficulty, you must also meet chapter conditions for clearing and money earned to win. RNG is a factor even though you have a variety of ways of manipulating the board and cards.

What kept it under the radar for many people is that it’s both casual and hardcore at the same time. The solitaire levels should be familiar to anyone who has played their previous games, but the combat sections can be on the difficult side if you don’t pay attention to the rules and abilities.

Shadowhand is further proof that you can take any design and gameplay loop and make it for casual or hardcore players. For an easier take on this gameplay, you can check out Grey Alien Game’s Ancient Enemy as a follow-up and refinement of this concept. And if you want just Solitaire with a lot of story and atmosphere, Regency Solitaire 2 was just released. While it’s not quite as casual as their other games, nor is it super hardcore, Shadowhand offers a unique stab at gameplay we normally don’t see.

Antony Terence

Farm Frenzy (2007)

Farm Frenzy 3. Source: Steam.

Before FarmVille took farm management sims by storm, there was Farm Frenzy. Instead of waiting real-world days for crops and animals, Farm Frenzy adopted a point-and-click approach. Its economy chains were managed in seconds, not days, making its objectives a test of your time management and min-max optimization skills. While Farm Frenzy is lenient as it shows you the ropes, later missions and expansions can turn merciless in their time limits. 

While fast clicks will get you through the first couple of levels, later stages demand changes in strategy and adapting to circumstances. As you obtain materials and check off your objective list, you can sell them at a nearby market for a tidy profit to sustain your farm. Finishing levels nets you stars that can be used to unlock upgrades. These are crucial as they increase the capacity and refill times/costs of your processing facilities. Space management across your storehouse and truck will keep you on your toes as you figure out how to collect resources effectively.

As you grow grass for animals to eat and get resources, bears can swoop in to lay waste to your plans. Tap them repeatedly and you’ll cage them, but you’ll need enough space in your dingy warehouse to store and sell them at the local market. These circumstances change with each level, forcing you to adapt as you work towards those precious silver and gold medals. Outside rare trophies and bragging rights over scores in its Endless mode, there’s not much to do once you clear all the stages.

Source: Steam.

With 12 games that go from the Ice Age to Madagascar and even a fish farm, Farm Frenzy refined its identity over the years. Each title brought new animals and mechanics that respected the original’s time management routine. Some of them even had storylines like Farm Frenzy 3’s Scarlett helping farmers all over the world. 

Farm Frenzy’s cartoony visuals and sound effects don’t quite stand the test of time but it’s an interesting glimpse into the past. The game’s clickfest nature helped validate the clicker game genre, common in mobile games even today. Farm Frenzy is worth revisiting for nostalgia’s sake, especially if you want to zone out and take care of animals for a change. 

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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