Game that Made me Feel the Most Feels:
Night in the Woods
Developer: Infinite Fall
The first time I played the demo of this game was at Gamercamp in Toronto, sometime in 2014 or 2015 in my second year of university. I went at least 3 years before playing it again, and even after buying it, it sat in my steam library for a whole year. I don’t know why I put it off—I think I was anxious to commit myself to a ‘long-term narrative game’, and I’d heard it had some existential themes which were putting me off. But then I played it. And to no one’s surprise, it was amazing and made me cry.
The story follows 20-year-old Mae Borowski (controlled by the player) as she returns home to the small town of Possum Springs to move back in with her parents. Also, all of the people in this game are animals, like most great games (shoutout Animal Crossing). She reunites with her old friends Bea, Greg, and his boyfriend Angus, who you can spend time with and go to band practice together. Not to spoil too much, but things get real weird real quick, with mysterious figures and surreal dreams. The game has strong themes of mental illness and mental health, the relationships we have with our friends and family, and small-town northeastern Americania.
Everything about this game, from the story to the characters and the colours and the music, brought up a nostalgia for a past I knew but didn’t quite have. Playing this as a young 20-something, I felt myself relating to Mae and laughing/crying at the authenticity of the characters—a testament to the writing of the game. For me, it so perfectly captured a feeling I can only describe as ‘the narrator from a show you watched as a kid saying “and so it goes”’ (but hey, that’s just me). Seriously, if you want to think about your life and stuff, go and play this game—or at least listen to the soundtrack.
Best Bang for its Buck: Minit
Developers: JW, Kitty, Jukio, and Dom
Publisher: Devolver Digital
The first time I saw Minit was at the GDC 2018 Day of the Dev’s pavilion; it’s an old-school black and white pixel game, with the premise of having only 60 seconds to do what you need to do, and then you die (before respawning and starting the cycle over again). It’s an adventure puzzle game, where (some) of your actions carry over, as you inch closer to the end of the game. The characters you meet are cute and quirky (they reminded me of Tamagotchis), with the premise being you’ve picked up a cursed sword and are now trying to file a complaint with the company that created it. The game is reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda (1986) and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask with its top-down view and time-based mechanics. Finally, the soundtrack is motivating and upbeat, emphasizing how important every second is-- it really made me feel like I was on an adventure. The game only costs $10.99 and it can be finished in a few hours, which is worth it for this bite-sized journey.
Most Hours Played (Best Time Sinks):
Tie - Ark and Civ VI
Developer: Studio Wildcard / Firaxis Games
Publisher: Studio Wildcard / 2K Games
There are a few games I own that I won’t play for years, but when I do, I play them non-stop for months. Sid Meier's Civilization VI and Ark: Survival Evolved are two of those games. Let’s start with Civ VI.
I’m a long-time fan of Civ V, which is still arguably one of the best games in the Civ series (I’ll also play that game for hours), but 2018 was the year I got Civ VI, so I’m talking about that instead. The Civilization games are turn-based strategy games where the player develops their civilization over a period of millennia to achieve a win condition against the other players (human or AI). The player can with through domination, science, culture, religion or overall score. Each player’s civilization is represented by an important historical leader for that civ (i.e. in Civ VI, Egypt is led by Cleopatra, while America is led by Teddy Roosevelt) and have their own unique traits and bonuses. There’s also terrain and various strategic resources the player can claim within their borders to help build their civilization. The game itself looks like a board game with figures come to life on hexagonal tiles—Civ VI especially ups the graphics with detailed models in a colourful toon style. I love playing this game with friends, often ending nights with the infamous ‘one more turn’—spoiler, it’s never just one more turn. Since the game draws from real life civilizations, historical figures and locations, I also found myself learning a lot about history from this game.
Ark: Survival Evolved is an action-adventure survival game that combines a few of my favorite things: crafting, building and taming—taming dinosaurs, specifically. After creating your character, you start off naked on an island, punching trees and gathering berries to make tools and survive. To tame a dinosaur, you essentially have to beat it unconscious and put food in its inventory for it to love you. Realism! Once you’ve tamed a dinosaur, it follows you around, attacking your enemies and leveling up with you. At first, the game can be pretty punishing—you spend hours grinding for materials to build your base, and if you happen to run into a T-rex, then hours or progress can be easily lost. The workaround for this, thankfully, is that you can change your settings so that you can harvest more, or give your tamed dinosaurs a bit of a boost so they don’t die as easily. This is the ideal situation for me since all I really want to do is make a nice house for me and my 50 raptors. This game can also be played with friends online, so you can have a whole community with you and your dino-hoarding buddies.
Best Mobile: Fire Emblem Heroes
Developers: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo EPD
I would say I joined the Fire Emblem fandom a little later in the series with my first game being Fire Emblem: Awakening for the 3DS, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the free to play mobile game that features characters from all Fire Emblem games, Fire Emblem Heroes. It’s a tactical role-playing game with similar (but simplified) mechanics that the Fire Emblem series is known for, featuring its own unique story and characters as well. The player summons heroes loot-box style from various ‘banners’ that feature select heroes with a theme (i.e Christmas theme, or heroes from the same game), and then use them to fight and level up. All of the heroes come with their own unique character art and voice lines (you can see the artist and voice actor on their character page), and it’s fun to see your favorite characters in a new style or outfit. Unlike Awakening or Fates, you can’t create relationships (and therefore children) in this game since it has different mechanics, but it’s a small price for the amount of content.
Best FPS: Overwatch
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
I am not good at first-person shooters. I am especially not good at online first-person shooters, and the toxic community terrifies me sometimes. The whole idea of competitive online play intimidates me so much, I can’t play an online game unless I’m with people I know and I’ve practiced first. All of that being said, I love Overwatch. I bought it when it was on sale and only knew of it from its creative cast of characters. I had been following the concept art on Pinterest since it was announced, and to this day I am a huge fan of the amount of story and character the studio has put into this game. It’s more than just a first person shooter-- it’s a fully-fleshed out world with relationships and back-story, which is probably why the game has such a huge fanbase, rich with cosplay and fanart (I have the art book, it’s fantastic). It also has a loot box system, which hooks me in to try and get those weekly wins. I have a small group of friends I play with where we use voice chat, and it’s helped me appreciate being able to vocally communicate while I play (something I don’t do with strangers). Since there’s a wide variety of characters and play-styles to choose from, it’s easy to choose something that makes me comfortable instead of worrying about how terrible my aim is.
Best Games that Aren’t Out Yet:
Untitled Goose Game
Developer: House House
This is another game I saw at GDC 2018 and got to play, but it’s not out yet (release 2019). What can I say? It’s a stealth game where you play an asshole goose. It has a simple, unshaded style layered with graphic effects and natural animation. You get to harass the gardener. You honk. And I can’t wait to play it.