Subject: Thoth talks videogames
Posted on: 2020-08-11 16:27:20 UTC

So, as you may have gathered, I really really like videogames. Possibly to an unhealthy degree. So this is mostly just gonna be me talking about things I like in an effort to convince all of you to try something I really like. It might get a bit long.

If you've been playing something cool, or you have something to say about a game I mentioned, or whatever else, please don't hesitate to reply and/or hijack the thread. The community thrives on discussion, and I'd rather hear about more cool stuff than not hear about more cool stuff.

Does anyone remember Superbrothers Sword and Sworcery EP? Yes, that is the name of a real videogame. And it's excellent. It's available on Steam now, but it was originally a mobile game and that's really the best way to play it. It's chill and relaxing, as much about taking in a beautiful pixel-art landscape and the absolutely stellar soundtrack as it is about the puzzles or actual gameplay. It's meant to be played a little bit at a time (which is the only way it can be played---some parts of the game are quite literally dependent upon the phase of the moon), and while it's not terribly long, it's the sort of thing that sticks with you. Between the quirky dialogue, the idiosyncratic design, and a tone that jumps between ominous high fantasy nonsense and equally nonsensical modernity without even a hint of the pretense that any of this is really real. It's the sort of game where you can trip on mushrooms, rock out with the actual composer who wrote all the music in-game, and then go fight an epic battle with the forces of evil. And sometimes there's a dancing bear. Play it. You'll never forget it.

Another game that's absolutely unforgettable is Psychonauts, and as luck would have it you can pick it up for a single dollar thanks to the good folks at Humble Bundle for the next two days. Or you can pay $9 for everything Double Fine's produced, which is worth it for Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, or Stacking alone. But I digress. Psychonauts is a 3D platformer from 2005, which was one of the last years that a big 3D platformer could come out. It's a cult classic, which is to say that it sold terribly at first. That's a shame, because while the gameplay is occasionally a bit clunky, Psychonauts has some of the best writing of any game of its era. You play a psychic boy who runs away from his circus home to attend a government-funded summer camp for psychics where you must stop a series of sinister goings on and save the camp by quite literally getting into everyone's heads. Think something somewhere between Inception and a piece of really good children's television and you've got the right idea. It's also... just great. You become a giant and terrorize a society of talking fish people, travel into the mind of a wrestling-obsessed artist, shrink down into a board game to convince the individual pieces to battle Napoleon, and venture into the quite-literally twisted mind of a conspiracy theorist and play with twisted gravity while trying to disguise yourself from incompetent secret agents disguising themselves as roadworkers and housewives by holding up props and speaking surreal stock phrases in deadpan monotones. It's just... fun.

You may remember a game by the name of Papers, Please, an intriguing paperwork-checking simulator that places you in the role of border guard in a Soviet satellite nation. What you may have heard less about is it's sort-of-successor by the same creator, Return of the Obra Dinn. You play an insurance inspector tasked with discovering the fates of everyone who was aboard a ship that was thought lost but just appeared in English harbors without any crew. You are armed only with a ship's manifest, a picture of every crewmember, and a magic pocketwatch that lets you travel back in time to see the moments just before the death of anyone whose body you find. Needless to say, you'll find a lot of bodies. If you're a fan of detective stories, whodunnits, and deduction, you'll really enjoy this: It's more or less one gigantic mystery puzzle. Most people aren't so kind as to be obvious about who they are as they're dying, so you'll need to pick up on context clues, try to look and see where people are across memories, and cross-reference between different pieces of information. A notebook comes in handy here. Thankfully, once you get three fates and identities correct your deductions are confirmed, so you don't have to worry about going too far off the rails. It's a great story and plenty challenging.

Sometimes, though, you just want to relax and play something dumb. Filling this niche for me has been a lovely little game by the name of OlliOlli2. The sequel to OlliOlli (although you don't need to play them in order), this is an outstanding 2D skateboarding game with a focus on landing cool tricks. It's hard, but the challenge isn't so much mental as physical: Quickly and precisely landing a series of well-timed button-presses to pull off some crazy trick and land you skateboard in a manual so you don't lose your combo is just something that feels good to do. It's mindless, but not skill-less. Which makes it, to my mind, the perfect relaxation game: It doesn't tax your mind, but it's intense enough that your mind can't just wander everywhere.

And that's more or less what's come up for me recently.

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