Night in the Woods
After the group’s rave reviews of Night in the Woods, I decided to give it a try. I was expecting a walking simulator at best with some cute graphics and what we have come to call “feels”. I was pleasantly surprised to find a game rich in humor, relatable characters, and a world I still want to go back to. Casual gamers can skip the fluff and complete the main story in about 8 hours, but I highly recommend enjoying the journey- stop and smell the Pastabilities. Every recurring character is worth having daily conversations with. The world of NITW also has its own slang and mythology. I’ve spent a large amount of time in Schuylkill County, PA, and watching the changing faces and places in (town) was the perfect familiar, Coal Country-town elegy for me to escape to during the garbage fire that was 2018. Writing this has made me want to play it again.
My husband and I have put 60 hours into this silly little co-op game. To put that in perspective, I probably do about 1 1/2 hours of real cooking per weekday. I could have made, like, 40 *real* meals in the time we’ve spent on this. No regrets here- Overcooked 2 is more than a cash-grab sequel. It’s a genuine improvement with new controls, recipes, kitchens, and everything else you could want. It’s also had several rounds of free DLC. If you derive any satisfaction from teamwork or time management, give it a go.
Finally, a game you can be bad at and still have fun! I picked up a controller to try Crawl during Extra Life because we needed a 4th player. 2 hours later, I didn’t want to give that controller up. 3-on-1 is a tough structure for a game, but Crawl feels balanced. It’s not impossible for the starting hero to win, and it’s equally feasible that someone else will possess the body at a critical moment to go to the final boss battle. If you’re good at rogue-lites, you’ll probably have a good time. If you’re not, you will likely have an even better time turning yourself into a chair, buzzsaw, or flamethrower.
Super Mario Party
Everyone hates Mario Party. I get it. What started as a really fun, mostly skill-based franchise quickly devolved into “participation stars for everyone”. Every title after 3 got more bloated with items, candy, excessive dialog, and dynamics that made no sense (why would everyone want to be in one car??) Super Mario Party for the Switch is a return to form. It has multiple game modes, including a fun co-op adventure, but the basic game has been pared down to its original elements. It’s the game I’ve been waiting for since about 2005.
Once again, word of mouth got me to sit down with a game I didn’t expect to like. I’ve played several farming/ town simulators, including some of the best-loved (Animal Crossing, Rune Factory), and they just don’t hook me. I’m not a completionist, and I don’t like monotonous gameplay with minimal story. Luckily, Stardew Valley isn’t a game that demands the player take any specific approach. You can play for the story, or play until you have every in-game achievement to restore the community center. Or, you can be a weirdo like me and see how far you can get in the game without livestock, and only befriend the weird gamer girl and the crabby old man. The graphics are delightful, the music is soothing, and the farming was entertaining enough that I played for about 13 hours.
Star Ocean 5: Integrity and Faithlessness
Star Ocean 3: Til’ the End Of Time is one of the most underrated JRPGs out there. It has a strong story, a more active battle system (think Tales of Symphonia) than the standard JRPG turn-based, and it’s got a whimsical sarcasm that made it irresistible to me. Fast-forward to this year, when I finally started Star Ocean 5 (I skipped 4 after hearing from several friends that it was disappointing). It’s great to be back in the world of the Star Ocean games, and the environments are so much more beautiful and complex than I expected. About 15 hours in, I’m having a good time with it, but I can’t deny that the game is a little clunky. It’s difficult to walk up to people and talk to them without running into them, as you have to be at the exact right orientation and distance to initiate dialogue. The combat doesn’t seem as fun, but that could be because I’m not a newcomer to the system this time around. I find I don’t really even have to think about what buttons I’m mashing at all unless it’s a boss battle. The upgrades and skill trees are neat, but the loopy inventing system from previous franchise (which embraced the opportunity to make failure funny instead of just frustrating) has been replaced by recipe-based item creation, which seems so dull by comparison. Will I keep playing? Yes. Do I wish it was just more SOTOT? Also yes.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Preface: I played World of Warcraft until level 80 with an ex, but I don’t like MMOs. People are jerks, and I don’t like games that are lacking in story or demand too much of my schedule. I’m surprised at how much SWTOR has grown on me. I feel like my toon actually has a personality, thanks to the role-playing element. There’s a little bit of a learning curve with all the menus, but if you like Star Wars and MMOs at all, it’s a good time.
Gabriel Knight (series)
Oh man, I don’t even know what else I can say about the highs and lows of the Gabriel Knight series. The games themselves range from pretty good to abysmal, but we had a great time with them. Playing all three in a year was a fun way to revisit the history of PC gaming technology in the nineties, as every game uses different graphics engines and movement mechanics. If you’re only going to play one and you want a good point-and-click experience, play the first one. If you’re curious about learning a slight bit of actual history, or nostalgic for the brief lifespan of FMV, play the second. If you want to see what it would look like if Dan Brown and the animation team behind Food Fight did a lot of cocaine and thought they were brilliant, play the third.
South Park Pinball
I’m not a pinball wizard by any means, but I love to see the mechanical and artistic effort that goes into each machine. Some are surprisingly fun given their subject matter (AC-DC Pinball). Others have a great ambience, but don’t play very well (Addams Family Pinball). South Park Pinball is surprisingly good. I say “surprising” because so many pinball machines for popular TV shows are cranked out without much regard for gameplay, but this one has love in it. It also has a flushing toilet with Mr. Hanky, several ways to kill Kenny, and multiple missions and ramps to keep the actual play engaging. The audio clips sound great- remember when Chef was still around? The whole thing gave me hope that someone out there cares enough to make pinball that isn’t shovelware. Well done.
Most Feels: Night in the Woods
We sometimes romanticize the ideas of “going home” and “simpler times”. Night in the Woods does an excellent job of showing the pros and cons of arrested development (maybe even regression) as well as growth. Real talk, 2018 wasn’t my favorite year. Following the stories of Mae and her friends’ coming to terms with the disappointments of failure in adulthood made me feel like I was in good company. And, seeing them find a way to pick up the pieces and take some uneasy steps forward gave me a little hope.
Biggest Disappointment: Jeopardy! for the PS4
No Alex, minimal animations, and two CPU names I can’t seem to change. I love trivia, but this is testing the limits of my love. I’d take Trivia Murder Party or You Don’t Know Jack over this game. Actually, let’s just watch an episode of Jeopardy! and play along at home, like we always have.
Funniest: Gabriel Knight series
The writers of Gabriel Knight think they’re funnier than they are. At times, this series is like a video game version of The Room. Throw in some highly entertaining bugs and nonsensical puzzles, and you’ve got an enjoyable recipe for “so-bad-it’s-good” fun. Save yourself the pain of playing through the third game, though. To quote a favorite film, “It’s so bad it went past good and went back around to bad again”.
Prettiest: Tetris Effect
I didn’t know I needed jellyfish and a ring of fire-people bowing while I played Tetris, but apparently I do. I only played about a half hour of this game, but it was mesmerizing. It was actually a little hard to concentrate on making rows because I just wanted to watch the animation.
Shame: Jeopardy! Mobile
After about two months of “Just one more game! Oh, wait, it’s Mythology theme week… OK, I guess I’ll play this week, too… but I can quit whenever I want,” I finally did quit Jeopardy! Mobile. It was too much of a time-suck and I got bored with it, but at least it actually had Alex!
That Beat, Tho’: Night in the Woods
I probably listen to this soundtrack at least once a week at work, sometimes more. It varies in tempo and emotion, but it’s cohesive. The soundtrack for the in-game game, Demon Tower, is also included. I’ve played it as background music when friends and family are visiting, and everyone seems to enjoy it, gamers and non-gamers alike.
Best Multitasking Game: DuoLingo
When I’m cooking, putting on my makeup, or just waiting in line at the store, I fire up DuoLingo. Each lesson takes about 5 minutes, and there are club activities (such as captioning a picture) that take even less time. It’s been a great way for me to learn on the go. I’m counting this as a game- it has a health bar and levels. That’s my justification, and I’m sticking to it.
The Future is Bright: Valkyria Chronicles 4, Kingdom Hearts 3
Hey, wouldn’t it be neat if the latest games in an established universe fixed what wasn’t good about the previous ones, did some new and exciting things, and kept true to the spirit of the previous games? We’ll see if that actually happens. Given my usual timeline for playing games, I’ll probably report back in 2023.
The Game That Keeps on Giving: Overcooked 2
I’ve played a lot already, and DLC and new game modes just keep getting added. If only there was ever anyone on the online matchmaking versus mode. Aaron and I might be the only two people playing this game. We have no way of knowing for sure.