If there’s one thing you have to admire about team Xbox in recent years, it’s their tenacity. Rather than writing off this generation as a loss after being massively outsold by both PS4 and Nintendo Switch, Microsoft has kept gaining ground with worthwhile releases on Xbox One and the biggest weapon in its arsenal – Xbox Game Pass.
The Netflix-style games subscription service has garnered a strong following due to its library of over 200 games accessible on demand, the inclusion of first party titles on the day of launch and an advertising campaign so relentless that it makes competitor PlayStation Now seem like a dirty secret not meant to leave Sony HQ in comparison.
We’ve delved into depths of Xbox Game Pass and come out bearing a handful of hidden gems that we’d like to share today. That doesn’t mean this list will be made up entirely of little-known indie titles, there may even be some AAAs included, but we will be avoiding major franchises like Gears of War and Metal Gear Solid and we also won’t be including anything that you’re likely to find the most popular lists of Xbox One’s best games.
So for anyone looking to get the most out of their subscription, here are the eight best hidden gems on Xbox Game Pass.
ReCore: Definitive Edition (2017)
Let's start with complete honesty – we absolutely begrudge including this game on this list. It's glitched like you wouldn't believe, it has shocking spikes in both difficulty and the requirements to enter the game's final area, but for every frustration that makes you want to abandon the game, there's something brilliant that keeps drawing you back in.
The addictive and novel gunplay at the game's core is an enduring thrill and the intriguing premise about a young woman and her robot dog traversing a harsh desert planet to try to find out what happened to the last remnants of humanity that fled Earth before her makes it hard to abandon the game before finding some answers.
The best part of it all is the team of robotic companions you pick up along the way, which includes a cowardly octopus that can hurtle across air rails while dragging you along for the ride or a mini-tank that you can ride through the desert, mowing down enemies as you go.
It's an enjoyable game, no doubt, but we begrudge recommending it because it's almost the epitome of wasted potential. With more care and post-release fixes, this could have been one of the console's best, but even as things stand, it's still worth a try.
The Gardens Between (2018)
The Gardens Between is not your next big project. As a title that can be finished in two to three hours, this ephemeral indie puzzle game is best suited for a quiet evening when you're looking for something pleasant and simple.
In this game, players take control of two childhood friends who must reach the end of a series of small, winding islands by moving time either forward or backwards, with certain differences made in the environment changing how the friends act as they pass, potentially opening new pathways and overcoming obstacles. It's short and sweet, but it's undoubtedly enchanting.
When we reviewed Indivisible in October 2019, we awarded it three and a half stars, citing its biggest failing as the infestation of bugs still present in the software upon release. However, developer Lab Zero Games wasted little time setting things right and within a few weeks of launch, Indivisible became pretty much everything that was promised.
A genre hybrid unlike anything else available this generation, with an often hilarious cast of characters, beautiful animation and innovative boss encounters to name just a few of its strengths. It's not perfect, but after plunging a few hours into Ajna's story, it's unlikely you'll want to walk away from the game until everything's said and done.
A Plague Tale: Innocence (2019)
Set in a plague infested France during the middle ages, this game follows the story of siblings Amicia and Hugo who are forced to flee their home following the destruction of their town by invading forces. Amicia must travel the troubled land evading hordes of rats and deadly enemy soldiers to find help for her ailing brother.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a game that constantly defies expectations. It's an indie game with AAA graphics, it's largely a stealth game, which is a tricky genre to pull off well, yet the level design is so good and the mechanics so unique that it's never boring or frustrating. As for the story, we'll avoid any spoilers and just say that it continues this theme.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but even if you have little interest in this title, it's really worth a try - you might be surprised.
Guacamelee! 2 (2018)
The next time someone tells you that “the sequel is never as good as the original”... well, you'll probably point out what a silly statement that is. But while you're listing dozens of good examples that prove them wrong, be sure to throw Guacamelee! 2 in the mix.
Granted, the original Guacamelee! (2014) is a tough act to follow, but this game takes everything the original did and improves on it. Perhaps the biggest improvement of all is in the comedy. As protagonist Juan travels through multiverses to save his reality, he'll encounter more easter eggs, parodies and self aware jabs than you can count.
If you enjoyed Guacamelee, then this should be a no-brainer. If you haven't tried the original, it should still be no more than a some-brainer: A colourful, silly metroidvania world, smooth combat and consistent laughs – what are you waiting for?
Darksiders III (2018)
To say that Darksiders III takes inspiration from the Souls series is like saying that Kane takes inspiration from The Undertaker - apologies to any non-wrestling fans wondering what the heck that means – suffice to say that the influence is plain to see.
Anyone who's read our recently published list of 'great' games that... aren't so great may be surprised to find us singing the praises of a Souls-like game, but the difference is that Darksiders III makes small but important changes to the formula that actually makes the game fun to play.
The souls you collect are plentiful, so there's no need for repetitive grinding to level up, combat is more fluid, save points are close to bosses which cuts out more of the tedious repetition inherent in the Souls series and if you find early on that the standard difficulty is too hard, you can always start again on an easier one.
These basic changes improve the experience vastly, showing that these games can be accessible and enjoyed by everyone, not just the most hardcore section of the gaming community, so if you've ever wanted the Soulsborne experience but didn't actually like the games, this one is for you.
Yoku's Island Express (2018)
“A platform game where you can't jump”. It sounds like a silly gimmick but it's essentially the basis of one of the most brilliant, inventive and endearing 2D platformers in recent years. How do you get around in this game you ask? Pinball, of course!
In Yoku's Island Express, players take control of Yoku, a dung beetle who moves to a small island to start a new job as Postmaster. Yoku rolls his ball around the island with a sack full of letters on his back that must be delivered, and if that happens to mean being dragged into a desperate struggle between good and evil and spending hours being hurled around various pinball table-like environments by conveniently placed flippers, then so be it.
A word of warning though, the tropical jingle that acts as this game's main theme is so catchy that it makes the Super Mario Bros. theme sound like a cutlery set whirling around a washing machine, so if you do play Yoku's Island Express, prepare to be singing that tune to yourself for the next few weeks.
Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition (2018)
If you've recently seen our list of the best hidden gems on PlayStation Now, you may have noticed that up until this point, no game has appeared on both lists. That's not intentional, it's just indicative of the size and diversity of their respective libraries. Well, there's one game that defies probability and stands proudly among the best that any platform has to offer: Hollow Knight.
There's a reason that any fan will fawn over this game, happily spending the entire day talking about its gorgeous hand drawn art style, challenging but always engaging boss encounters and the magic of exploring its imaginative underground setting. Long story short, if you're looking for your next adventure, make this top of your list.
That's it for our list, but let us know in the discussion below if there's any favourites that we've missed out. Also, if you'd like to find out a little more about how Xbox Game Pass compares with PlayStation Now and other similar services, be sure to check out our feature found through this link.