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Hidden gems on the Xbox One

With three Xbox Ones to choose from, there's never been a better time to game on Microsoft's dedicated home console. With titles like Ori and the Blind Forest, Cuphead, Killer Instinct, and Gears of War 4 all calling the mean green machine home, there are plenty of powerhouse indie and triple-A titles to choose from. Still, there's more to the Xbox One family of consoles than meets the eye. For every diamond-like Forza Horizon 3 and Halo 5: Guardians dominating the storefront, there's a lesser-known black opal just waiting to be unearthed.

Whether you're a longtime Xbot or joining the ecosystem for the first time with a shiny new Xbox One X, these are the hidden gems you won't want to overlook when digging through the systems' library.

Fru

If you still own a Kinect, it's safe to assume that it's probably gathering dust on the top shelf of a closet somewhere in your apartment. If that's the case, dust off that bad boy! There's at least one Kinect gem worth unearthing.

Fru takes your standard get-from-point-A-to-point-B platformer and adds in one crucial ingredient: your body. As the outline of your own silhouette, you're tasked with assisting a small girl as she navigates dangerous terrain by manipulating the game's natural environment. Using your limbs, you can create bridges, block off waterfalls, and find other clever ways to help the little character get around. The fun comes from figuring out what exactly you're capable of doing to the environment, and each level brings a genuine sense of discovery once you figure out exactly how you can succeed in helping the fox-masked character—with whom you can't help but feel a sense of connection, while you protect and assist her on her journey.

Super Hydorah

Remember the simpler days of tough-as-nails 16-bit gaming, when pure skill was all that was required to get through punishingly difficult (but technically fair) levels? Yep—those sure were the good ol' days when gameplay reigned supreme and cathode ray tubes made sure input lag didn't exist. If you look back fondly on the '90s, or if retro gaming is your scene, you have no choice but to check out Locomalito's pixel-perfect, retro-inspired shoot 'em up Super Hydorah.

Locomalito is already well-known in the retro-inspired gaming sphere, thanks to their solid Ghosts 'n Goblins-inspired arcade action title Maldita Castilla EX: Cursed Castilla. This time around, they've decided to take on a Gradius-like shmup, and the results are outstanding. Super Hydorah features gorgeously rendered 2D graphics, tight controls, non-linear gameplay, and is authentically difficult enough to challenge—but never unfairly frustrate—old-school gamers. The game's level design is also top-notch, with each stage providing something fresh. Add the incredible sound design into the mix, and you've got one of the greatest retro-inspired shoot 'em ups available on the Xbox One family of consoles.

Be warned, however: those unfamiliar with retro gaming might find Super Hydorah's challenge a bit overwhelming. Even those well-versed in old-school shmups will find that Locomalito's take on the genre isn't an easy ride. No cruise control here. Gamers who like their games a bit more on the casual side might want to skip this one.

Kalimba

Sometimes, puzzle platformers require too much platforming. Other times, their puzzles are too perplexing. Getting the combination just right is no easy feat, but Press Play's Kalimba succeeds.

Kalimba's biggest strength is that it's an absolutely delightful addition to the genre, but isn't too puzzly to kill your buzz. Instead of taking charge of one character in a typical left-to-right side-scrolling platformer, the game doubles the fun by putting you in charge of two little totems, tasked with rebuilding one great totem with individual pieces earned at the end of each level. Getting from start to finish in poor fashion results in ugly totem pieces, while perfect runs reward you with beautifully crafted, ornate ones. How beautiful you want to make the great totem is entirely up to you, but the game is fun enough that you'll probably find yourself interested in getting the best pieces possible.

Earning the best pieces is no easy feat, however, as successfully getting both of your little guys to the end of the level is a lot harder than it might initially seem—but not too hard. Never does the game become so challenging that you'd rather just give up than continue, but later levels can certainly raise your blood pressure. And in case you were wondering: yes, Kalimba also shines in couch co-op—another reason not to pass this one up.

Tacoma

As one of the shortest and most-easily consumable gems on the Xbox One family of consoles, Fullbright's adventure game Tacoma is an emotional ride you'll definitely want to take. Clocking in at only a few hours, the game can easily be beaten in one sitting, which is definitely the way to play through the game's futuristic story.

Tacoma takes a deep, dark look at the year 2088, in which the entire crew of the titular space station is subject to 24/7 surveillance. Capitalism reigns supreme in this not-so-distant future, as things like brand loyalty can reward families with actual monetary value. Your job, as an AI specialist, is to slowly meander through the space station to find out what went wrong by reviewing spectral and ghostly augmented-reality recordings, which often leave you feeling a wide array of emotions, thanks to outstanding voice acting and a quality script.

While Tacoma isn't the first nor the most memorable "walking simulator" ever created (especially when compared to the superb Gone Home), it stands out as one of the better onesthanks, in part, to it being just short enough not to overstay its welcome. If you own an Xbox One and have a few hours to kill, download Tacoma. It's definitely worth it.

Dungeon of the Endless

The premise of Amplitude Studios' Dungeon of the Endless is simple: as survivors of a crashed escape pod from a prison ship, you must move an energy crystal from one randomly generated floor to the next. Simple, right?

Actually, that's where the simplicity stops. Don't be fooled by the game's two difficulty options: "Too Easy" and "Easy." The game is brutally difficult and does almost nothing in the way of handholding. Just like marooned survivors on a strange planet, you're on your own. Combining roguelike elements with tower defense mechanics, learning how to survive Dungeon of the Endless's procedurally-generated floors is a task in and of itself—let alone actually learning how to get the crystal to the next floor. In many ways, the game's closest parallel is Binding of Isaac—and like that game, the drive to "git gud" rewards players with a steady sense of legitimate progression. Each run feels a little bit easier than the last, and each failure brings new strategies for how to advance the next time.

Though you probably won't end up playing Dungeon of the Endless endlessly, it's definitely a hidden gem worthy of being housed in any Xbox One owner's digital collection.

#IDARB

Take one look at the game and one thing is instantly clear: #IDARB's got a lot going on.

Few games can match #IDARB's competitive insanity—which makes it an absolute must-have when friends are over. Though the party favorite can be played against as little as one other human opponent (online, if your friends are busy), the game is significantly better when played two on two, with all four of you sharing the same couch. #IDARB is at its absolute best, however, when you team up with three friends to take down four others in a beer-guzzling party game of epic proportions.

Mashing together elements of classic sports titles like Ice Hockey and NBA Jam with hectic fighters like Super Smash Bros.#IDARB charges teams with scoring difficult goals, and rewards complex alley-oops with even more points. When it all comes together, you'll jump off the couch and a bust a move. When it all goes horribly wrong, however, you're just as likely to scream obscenities at the top of your lungs until your neighbors start pounding on the walls. Either way, with as many as seven other friends sharing in both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, it's guaranteed to be a good time.

As added bonuses, you can design your own pixel-art characters, and the game features a pretty sweet music maker. If you're not all up on that #IDARB, you're definitely missing out.

Fantasia: Music Evolved

Another one of those rare games that actually makes the Kinect worth owning, Fantasia: Music Evolved is a must-have for anybody looking to let the music move their bodies, even if you really aren't into dancing.

Unlike other rhythm games requiring carefully timed button presses on plastic guitars (or simple controllers), Fantasia: Music Evolved allows you to not only conduct, but create beautiful symphonies comprised of both classical hits and pop favorites. Thanks to generous and forgiving mechanics, the game makes you feel like conducting legends Leonard Bernstein or Richard Wagner while you throw your arms about in just about any manner you see fit—you can work on making one arm movement transition gracefully to the next, or you can simply stand there and unenthusiastically punch your arms in the required direction. Whichever you choose, you'd have to be one cold-blooded wizard not to have a warm, fuzzy feeling as you secretly pretend to be Micky Mouse in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."

Sure, Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" and Antonín Dvořák's "Symphony No. 9: From the New World, 4th Movement" aren't the most likely pairing, but the inclusion of tracks like The Flaming Lips' "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1" alongside Franz Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" makes sure there's something for everyone. Better yet, each track comes with three remixed versions, allowing you to take every song in unexpected directions on the fly. Dust off those imaginary wands and get conducting!

D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die

D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die is one Kinect-able title you'll definitely not want to use your body to play. However, when played with your standard Xbox One controller, D4 is one graphical murder that will leave you wanting more.

Sadly, you won't be getting any more. Once you complete roughly four hours of gameplay throughout the game's prologue and two chapters, there's nothing to satisfy that need… nor will there ever be. But don't let that deter you—both D4's storytelling and depth of character are commendable and on par with any of Telltale's best titles, and the linear level design is packed full of items to interact with, optional dialogue to engage in, reading material to peruse, and secrets to uncover. Almost all of it, bizarrely, is entirely extraneous—including the fact that every action uses up stamina, which can be easily and readily replenished by eating or drinking. Nevertheless, the game's unique sense of style and personality makes finding every single collectible and hearing every little optional quip worth it.

Aside from the wonky Kinect mechanics, D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die's only problem is that there isn't more D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die—but what is there should absolutely not be missed.

Dance Central Spotlight

When it comes to dancing games, there's no better value than Harmonix Music Systems' Dance Central Spotlight.

Retailing at only $10 when it was released in 2014, this Xbox One-exclusive dance title comes bundled with 10 legitimate hits—including popular tracks from Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Lorde, and Avicii—making it an absolute steal. Add in the fact that each song contains eight unique dance routines with entirely different moves to learn, and you'd be insane not to own this title. 

Even if you're really not into dancing, Dance Central Spotlight is one of the best fitness video games available, especially when you factor in the price. You can specify your height, weight, and workout time, and the game tells you how many calories you've burned while busting a move. And, as far as home workouts go, it's actually pretty fun. If you are into dancing but aren't particularly good at it, the game gives you the ability to pause mid-song and work out a particularly troublesome move until you get it right—ensuring that even those with two left feet can tear up the dancefloor…or living-room rug.

Bottom line: the game's $10, and you're simply not going to find a better dance game for that price.

Anarcute

Who knew anarchy could be so cute? Combining adorable cartoon animals with a charming story and catchy soundtrack is Anarcute, a game that lets you take control of big-eyed, impossibly cute animals as they try to take down the evil, world-dominating regime known as the Brainwash Patrol. From a top-down perspective, you control your mass of cuddly rioters as you aim to obliterate every brainwash tower in four different cities—but don't let the cute aesthetic fool you. The game ramps up in difficulty as you progress, reminding you that this isn't really just some 'kiddie game' lacking in strategy.

The game can admittedly get repetitive, but the mechanics itself are surprisingly tight and addictive. Obtaining the coveted S ranking on each mission is no walk in the park, either, so there's plenty of reason to keep coming back for more. Anarcute's ability to combine an original art design with legitimately challenging gameplay is where it most succeeds. Make sure you add this one to your download queue.