For every game like Elden Ring that smashes the doors off sales records and gets the gaming world abuzz, there are dozens of smaller games that don’t make quite as big of a splash. Here in the sluggish summer months, which you might call The Lands Between in terms of big game releases, it’s a good time to look back at the first half of the year and see what hidden gems you might have missed.
Below you’ll find five games that flew beneath that radar but are still well worth your time. There’s a wonderfully funny FMV game, an immersive sim from veteran developers, a couple of puzzle games (one that will make you laugh and one that will absolutely do your head in), and a sim that’ll make you believe running a collectible card shop is sexy as hell.
Here are 5 hidden gems from the first half of 2022.
Not for Broadcast
Release date: January 25
2022 kicked off in a bizarre way if you played this FMV television studio simulator. And if you didn’t, you owe it a look now. In Not for Broadcast you’re a custodian at a TV studio who makes the mistake of answering a ringing phone, and now you’re in charge of deciding what viewers across the country see and don’t see when they turn on their televisions. On the fly you manage different news feeds, switch to commercials, keep the camera on live broadcasters, cut to different angles, attempt to bleep swear words, and eventually start making decisions on how much propaganda to feed the rapt television audience.
While it sounds like it could hit a bit heavy with social commentary, Not for Broadcast is far more silly and slapstick than serious, though it does satirize issues like wealth, political parties, the police, and even the pandemic (though in this game the lockdown is due to killer toy robots). The writing and performances are sharp and there’s lots of laughs as you struggle to keep viewers from changing the channel.
Release date: February 10
Running a collectible card shop doesn’t sound like it’d be super sexy, but oddly enough your little store in Kardboard Kings is frequently visited by hotties. As the shop’s new owner, guided by an extremely helpful parrot, you buy cards online, put them out for sale in your shop, and try to turn a profit by buying low and selling high. Along the way you meet and flirt with characters through branching text-based conversations.
And don’t let the sexy customers overshadow the fun of the business sim, either. A daily news feed can tip you off to trends in the card market, letting you capitalize on scandals or events that boost or crater the value of certain types of cards. The cards themselves are all beautifully done, too, making me wish the fictional games they’re made for actually existed. There’s romance, humor, intrigue (a mysterious masked visitor sometimes appears), and the day-to-day bustle of managing customers and your shop’s appeal. I don’t play card games, but I love this game about card games.
Release date: March 29
There’s no shortage of Sokoban box-pushing puzzle games, but Patrick’s Parabox pushes its boxes inside other boxes, and then pushes the boxes inside the boxes inside other boxes. Yeah, it’s gonna break your brain at some point, like when I accidentally pushed myself out of the box universe and wound up in a void outside time and space.
Solving the puzzles requires solving the puzzles inside the puzzles, and then sometimes pushing those puzzles around inside other puzzles. In the 350+ levels contained in the game there’s some real stumpers, but also plenty to breeze through without getting stuck. You’ll get the hang of the concept quickly, though there are still plenty of moments where your mind will freeze because you’re pushing a box you were just inside while watching yourself push the box you’re currently inside and you’ll wonder: wait, which box am I currently inside? It’s great mind-bending fun.
Release date: March 31
While the world was gripped tightly by the furled finger of Elden Ring, this immersive sim from the makers of Dishonored and Prey didn’t get a chance to make a real stir. In the top-down stealth sandbox of Weird West you’re a bounty hunter coming out of retirement to track down her missing husband, sneaking or shooting your way through ghost towns and abandoned mines.
But the weirdness of Weird West begins in act two when you’re a pigman—yes, part pig, part man—tracking down the witch that cursed you. And it only gets weirder in the game’s five chapters as you become a werewolf, meet sentient trees, and do battle with ancient supernatural entities. Your decisions follow you from story to story—you can even recruit former characters you played as companions—which really makes it feel like the world is responding to your actions.
Release date: June 17
My first thought was that The Looker was simply created as a quick joke, a goofy parody of Jonathan Blow’s puzzle game The Witness, which is both a creative collection of puzzles and a little too full of itself. But The Looker is, legitimately, a great puzzle game in its own right. It succeeds in double duty: poking fun at The Witness with sharp bits of humor, while coming up with some legitimately fun and challenging puzzles of its own.
I’m not sure how it pulls this off, but whether you loved The Witness or hated The Witness, somehow I can guarantee you’ll enjoy The Looker. It only takes an hour or so to finish, but it’s an incredibly funny game and is clearly not just a weekend project made on a whim. It’s inventive and clever and clearly took a heck of a lot of work to pull off. Plus, it’s free. So there’s no reason not to give it a look yourself.