Nine of the best Xbox Game Pass hidden gems

Luke Albigés - July 7th 2022

With big-name titles joining Xbox Game Pass pretty much every single month, it's all too easy for some of the smaller games to slip through the cracks. Here, we'll shine a light on some low-key greats you should check out.

Most Xbox Game Pass members won't realistically have time to try out every new game that joins the service, and the less time you have, the more likely you are to simply gravitate towards the bigger games and the known quantities. Tucked away between all those big names, though, are some genuinely fantastic little surprises, and we've got a few such treats to share with you today.

Archvale

Imagine, if you will, a 16-bit Zelda-style adventure, only with the combat swapped out to be bullet hell craziness. That's Archvale in a nutshell, with the added benefit for achievement hunters and shmup haters that difficulty levels don't interfere with any Archvale achievements — if some of the patterns are proving too much, you can always drop the difficulty to make matters more manageable, or if you're a Cave veteran and are blasting through it without breaking a sweat, crank it up a notch so you can really show off your skills. There's a bunch of different gear to craft and upgrade, and you can carry around plenty of different weapons and be prepared for just about anything the game throws at you... which is just as well, as Archvale revels in throwing things at you. It's not a game that outstays its welcome, with a 6-8-hour completion estimate, but it's a fun time while it lasts, so I definitely recommend you give Archvale a shot.
Archvale

Take up your weapon in this RPG bullet-hell world and embark on a journey to right wrongs from long ago. Only you can defeat the evil forces of the Undying guardians and reunite the world with the fabled Archvale.

Beacon Pines

'Charm' is the word of the day here — Beacon Pines has it in spades, and Charms are also the core mechanic that helps drive the story forward, altering events based on which you choose to use. This takes the form of filling in a blank space in a key sentence with one of your Charm words, each of which will branch the narrative in a different way. Since each path will hide even more Charms, you're encouraged to try out different options then rewind the tale to use new Charms in previous gaps to open up even more possible routes. There's not a lot more to the gameplay than that, in truth, but the great cast and intriguing narrative web carries it just just fine for its short run time. It's a quick completion too, which just sweetens the deal and gives even more reason to try out this wonderful little game.
Beacon Pines

Beacon Pines is a cute and creepy adventure game. Sneak out late, make new friends, uncover hidden truths, and collect words that will change the course of fate!

Kraken Academy!!

I'm a sucker for a good time loop, so Kraken Academy hooked me from the moment it revealed its core mechanic — a three-day time limit before your new school succumbs to a great calamity, but with a magical relic that lets you relive those 72 hours over and over until you can find a way to put things right. Majora's Mask fans will likely find that setup to be rather familiar, and just like the N64 classic (and more recently, the shorter loop of Twelve Minutes), Kraken Academy is all about gaining knowledge and experience on each loop that will help you glean more from the next. With a weird and wonderful cast, some fantastic dialogue, and a crazy plot that only gets weirder the closer you get to breaking the loop, this is a crazy little game that you really shouldn't sleep on — the Kraken Academy achievements are pretty simple too, especially if you fall back on a guide to help you.
Kraken Academy!!

Make friends, free spirits and make sure that the world doesn’t end! Welcome to Kraken Academy, a technicolor fever dream that for legal reasons can only be described as "technically a school." Join forces with a magical kraken to save the world!

Little Witch in the Woods

Little Witch in the Woods may be in Game Preview, but it’s still an absolute gem. It’s a pixel adventure game where we play as Ellie Blueriver, an apprentice witch hoping to hone her skills and finish learning her craft. Right out of the gates, the game is gorgeous to look at, with a variety of plants and creatures for Ellie to carefully detail in her encyclopaedia. Little Witch in the Woods is all about helping others, and even though Ellie might be reluctant to do some chores — such as tidying up the Witch’s house she’s staying in — she’s soon volunteering to help everyone she meets. While investigating the bizarre prickly vines that have destroyed the nearby village and obstructed parts of the forest, Ellie will also be busy filling out the encyclopaedia, chatting to the inhabitants of the woods, gathering ingredients, distilling them as needed, brewing them into potions, and selling and delivering those potions where she can. There are a few translation hiccups and issues with repetitious dialogue, and minor complaints with things like Ellie’s walking speed and inventory space, but there's plenty of time for those to be smoothed out before the game launches in full — and Little Witch in the Woods is so packed with charm that it'd be a shame to miss it.
Little Witch in the Woods (Game Preview)

This game is a work in progress. It may or may not change over time or release as a final product. Purchase only if you are comfortable with the current state of the unfinished game.

Fuga: Melodies of Steel

As a prequel to PS1 hidden gem Tail Concerto and DS hidden gem Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, Fuga: Melodies of Steel kinda had to make it onto a Game Pass hidden gems list, right? Like CyberConnect2's other Little Tail Bronx games, it stars a bunch of cute anthropomorphic creatures doing the unexpected, in this case a group of children riding their gigantic tank across a war-torn wasteland on a mission to rescue their families. Some of them might not make it, though, since the tank's ultimate weapon — the ominiously named Soul Cannon — offers immense destructive power, but at a steep cost of one of the crew. It plays out as a tactics RPG primarily, but there's all sorts of other stuff like working on team bonds and going out on dungeoneering adventures to keep you busy when you're not in battle, too. As announced at the 2022 Tokyo Games Show, there's a sequel on the way next year, though we'll have to wait and see whether than might end up coming to Game Pass as well...
Fuga: Melodies of Steel

"We have to fight! If we don't, everyone we love will be taken away!"

One fateful night, a peaceful village is thrown into the flames of war. Determined to save their families, a group of children boards a giant tank and begins an offensive charge!

Fuga: Melodies of Steel is an RPG where you place children, each with their own unique characteristics and skills, at different gun turrets in a tank to fight against the enemy.

Living inside the tank, the children show emotion and gain affinity amongst each other. Manage these both to change the outcome of their journey!

Mind Scanners

The TA community seems pretty down on Mind Scanners, but I've been enjoying this retro-futuristic oddity and reckon it's something you should at least try for yourself — it's not for everyone, sure, but it's certainly an interesting experience once you get past the immediate Papers, Please comparisons. Much like Lucas Pope's cult indie favourite, Mind Scanners will have you balancing morality against your own personal needs and those of the people as you take on the role of a titular mind scanner looking to identify and treat those who could be deemed a threat to themselves and others. It's somewhat lighter than Papers, Please in the way all of the 'treatments' take the form of daft mini-games, but there's still a lot of time management and moral tug-of-war here — your unscrupulous employer is unlikely to mind if a wanted lunatic gets their mind erased by a botched treatment (intentionally or otherwise), but you can be sure that there will be others who don't take so kindly to that kind of dereliction of duty. Getting all of the Mind Scanners achievements requires multiple playthroughs that hit specific story beats as well as some pretty tricky one-offs, so it could take a bit of effort, but it's a list that ensures you'll see pretty much everything the game has to offer if you do end up enjoying it.
Mind Scanners

Greetings. Your Mind Scanner request has been approved. Your duty is to diagnose and treat the citizens of The Structure. The patient list is long so don't waste your time. We’ll let you see your daughter soon...

Paradise Killer

The bizarre and beautiful Paradise Killer only joined Xbox Game Pass back in March, but it's still quite unusual to see the TA player base barely scrape past the 2,000 mark — almost unheard of for a Game Pass inclusion, even one this odd. Paradise Killer is a stylish detective game that goes above and beyond what this kind of murder-mystery gameplay often entails to actually feel like you're solving a case, not just putting video game puzzle pieces together. With a killer art style and sublime soundtrack backing it up, it's the complete package and absolutely deserves to be played and enjoyed by more people, especially around these parts as those Paradise Killer achievements shouldn't prove too taxing, with an estimate of 12-15 hours for the full completion. There's nothing else quite like in on Game Pass — or perhaps even on Xbox — so check it out if it looks like your kind of crazy.
Paradise Killer

Paradise Island, a world outside reality. There’s been a murder that only "investigation freak" Lady Love Dies can solve. You can accuse anyone, but you’ll have to prove your case in trial to convict. It’s up to you to decide who’s guilty.

Floppy Knights

Tactical strategy games can often be quite overwhelming, but Floppy Knights is anything but. A deck-building backbone lets you deploy new units and power up or heal existing ones each turn based on the cards you draw, which removes a lot of the pressure of keeping key units alive you see in similar strategy games like Wargroove or the classic Famicom/Advance Wars series. It keeps things pretty simple for the most part, though you'll still want to put a little time into fleshing out your deck to be able to deal with all manner of threats. Colourful, cheery, and thoroughly entertaining, Floppy Knights is a delight of a game, and mixes deck-building and tactics really well without baffling newcomers with the common complexities of either, though that does mean that veterans of either genre (or indeed both) may find it a little on the basic side.
Floppy Knights

Meet the Floppy Knights: tangible projections summoned from floppy disks! Tactics fuse with card game mechanics as Phoebe and Carlton, a brilliant young inventor & her robot-arm bestie, square off in turn-based battles. Select your Knights, hone your deck, and execute your strategy for victory!

Infernax

What, you didn't think we'd make it through the entire list without a Metroidvania-style game, did you? No chance. Infernax is a fantastic homage to the 8-bit classics in terms of gameplay and presentation, with all that retro love crammed into a familiar, more modern-feeling structure as seen in so many other great indie games. It channels the early Castlevania games brilliantly while also celebrating the vintage era itself with things like an in-game cheat code device called the Game Wizard to make yourself stupidly overpowered, secrets unlocked through certain character names, and it even uses the Konami code. Infernax can certainly put up a fight, too, but in a good way — not like some of the brutally unfair games to which it is a beautifully-penned love letter, let's put it that way.
Infernax

Infernax is the adventures of a great knight who returns to his homeland only to find it plagued with unholy magic. Uncover the mysteries of the curse and face the consequences of your actions.

Planning on giving any of these a try? Got any Xbox Game Pass hidden gems of your own to suggest? Let us know!