Hidden Gems of Game Design Volume 22

Unearthing the good stuff

Hidden Gems of Game Design Volume 22

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

House (2021)

Source: Steam.

Indie horror has become a very wide genre with just about every possible concept having been used to some scary effect. While time loops have been done before, one of the more criminally overlooked horror games to feature this conceit is 2021's House from developer Bark Bark Games. We play as a young girl who has moved into a new house with her mother, father, sister, and pet dog. Unfortunately, the house is exceptionally cursed. By the end of the night, her mother, sister, and even the dog, will be murdered and brought back as monsters, and her father will come home at dawn to stick a knife through her head.

Unfortunately for her that doesn’t end the story, as she is trapped reliving the same day again and again, trying to figure out how to break free. House is a very dark game, and you’re going to see all kinds of ways of killing someone in gruesome fashion, despite the pixel art. Your mission is to figure out what to do within the loop to survive the night. While it is possible to save your family, there are other “things” waiting in the house to do you in and you only have one hit before you die.

The entire night is on a loop, with family members and events all repeating. By performing certain tasks, you'll gather a collection of items that can be used to either fight back or uncover more about what’s happening. While surviving until dawn is the basic goal, getting the true ending will require you to uncover all the endings and figure out how to strike back at the heart of the house itself.

House can be on the difficult side when you are trying to achieve specific endings or go for the true one. The girl can run with limited stamina, but many enemies can easily track you and will also move from room to room. Given the one-hit nature, it can be a little cheap to have a run end because you were just a few pixels off or a little too slow in spots

it is really hard to find screenshots to show this game off without the more brutal imagery. Source: Steam.

For the longest time, House was very overlooked by gamers and you couldn’t even find the game’s store page by typing in the name. It took a long time and a lot of notable YouTubers and streamers playing it for word of mouth to spread. While you may have eventually heard about it, you may not know that there is a sequel in the works shifting the art style away from pixel, but not downgrading the violence as evidenced by the first trailer.

House is a great combination of theme, story, and aesthetics. A more realistic art style would have made this too graphic for most people to handle, and the story provides enough interesting elements to keep someone coming back night after night. This is a solid horror entry for someone looking to be puzzled while they are being killed.

Antony Terence

BC Kings (2008)

Source: Steam.

BC Kings is by no means a polished strategy title. 15 years later, I know why - it was made by two brothers. Others helped with its development but it was largely the effort of the Baranyai brothers. Its Stone Age setting and dinosaur army needed no marketing pitch. The game even had mutant aliens as a villain and a playable race. While BC Kings largely sticks to the explore-build-conquer loop of the genre, WarCraft-like hero progression and side quests paired with unique sublevels give it an identity well beyond its Neanderthal theme.

Level design is BC Kings’ greatest strength as the developers did their best to keep things fresh. While objectives like handling waves of foes, saving an ally, or simply eliminating an enemy are standard RTS fare, side quests give you multiple goals to handle. You can upgrade hero Mradin’s core stats with shell coins, rewards earned from side quests, and exploration. 

With four resources to collect (food/acid, bone, stone, wood), there’s a satisfying but confusing tech tree to unlock throughout BC King’s campaign. And while BC Kings has unit weaknesses like Age of Empires, this largely fell flat. Sure, dino riders can take out archers due to their speed and attack bonus against them. And there are magic spells at your shamans’ disposal. But in most fights, expect numbers to triumph over strategy. Ship combat and flying units are present but their limited unit variety follows number superiority too.

While the game’s isometric visuals are vibrant, the models and artwork aren’t as good as the RTS titles of its time. The pixelated spearmen on the mammoths and catapults on triceratops are neat ideas but they didn’t look great back in 2008, let alone now. It’s my biggest complaint, one that’s palatable now that I know two people made it. I can even excuse the poor voice acting and humor that seldom lands. Fortunately, the game’s drum-beat soundtrack is more than serviceable.

Source: Steam.

While the current experience on Steam is less than ideal, the game ran fairly bug-free back when I played it. I’m surprised a small team managed to get physical copies distributed across the world all those years ago. BC Kings frequently drops to 50 cents during sales and is well worth a look for strategy fans searching for a new setting.

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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