Let’s Play!

Let’s not mince words: I didn’t have much time to play this week, and San Francisco hosts WonderCon this weekend, which means I spent most of my free time goofing around with old friends and talking shit about games instead of, you know, actually playing them. If pulling up stakes in some podunk ‘burbia for the bright lights of the big city isn’t in your quest log, you should understand how the act changes up your friends list. Best buds become childhood friends, school chums and hometown heroes; henceforth, you will only see them during weddings, funerals and the odd clusterfuck of convocations that plagues every big city. Since WonderCon is basically Opening Day for Left Coast nerd convention season, my time was well-spent playing host and guide instead of writing up anything more substantial than a Top 5 List.

Thankfully, we’ve already established a solid precedent of phoning it in.

I’d like to think Pat uses game recommendations to subtly flash nerd cred, laying bare his formative experiences expertly couched in the thieves cant of SEO terms and Top 10 lists that everyone understands. It’s good copy, and more importantly it tells you a little bit about where he’s coming from. I believe readers can only fall in love with writers they understand, and trading recommendations is a deceptively simple way to go about it. But where Pat pushed games that prove his pedigree and the places he’s been, I’d like to make a few recommendations that show you where I’m going. I wrote about the value of chasing new challenges and experiences last week, so here are a few of the games that got me so excited; I’m looking forward to chipping a few titles off this list in the coming months, and I dearly hope you’ll join me at the chopping block.

1. Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery EP

#Sworcery is all about style over substance, and that’s okay. I’ve played an hour or two on the iPad already (the iPhone version will be available in April) and I’m excited to dive back in and finish The Scythian’s strange journey. Any game that juxtaposes the narrative stylings of Burroughs with neologisms like “Logfella” and “amirite” to breathe life into silly soliloquies like “we told her about how we had smashed The Dark Moon Trigon’s loathsome rainbow attack & she was all like ‘cool’,” is worth my time. If that doesn’t hook you, consider slipping $5 to Superbrothers for the sweet soundtrack and a completely unique game that capitalizes on the strengths of your mobile device with touch controls (and no UI), a serialized story told in short chapters and the option to post every line of text to Twitter. That last feature might frustrate a few people, but I believe modern games need to incorporate modern forms of communication and I’m glad to see someone is puzzling out how to do it tastefully.

2. Earthbound

I never owned an SNES, which means I never played Earthbound or Final Fantasy VI or any of the other great 16-bit role-playing games that made being a nerd in the 90’s bearable. Kefka, Ness, Metroid; I remember pining over an awful lot of Nintendo Power covers as a kid, and while owning a Nintendo DS has sated some of that schoolboy lust (fuck the Floating Island) it’s still impossible to find a (legal) copy of Earthbound anywhere in the U.S. I think this game is worth playing because to the best of my knowledge it’s the only classic console RPG that takes place in a contemporary setting; factor in the goofy dialogue and the opportunity to peer at turn-of-the-century American suburbia through a Japanese lens, and it might even be worth pirating. I’m looking forward to playing it this year, and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on whether it’s worth the hype.

3. Miegakure

I’m mad about Miegakure, the four-dimensional puzzle game from Marc Ten Bosch. A lengthy demo was playable in the IGF Pavilion this year, and words alone cannot describe how you play this game. The fourth dimension is something you can only begin to understand through intuitive experimentation with a controller in your hands, and because of that ineffable quality I worry the game will be overlooked in print as just another quirky platformer. Miegakure is that and more; a game that gently seduces you into looking at the world with a fresh perspective. Creating such an intuitively traversable 4D space is a deft bit of design work, but more importantly it’s an imaginative way of crafting new challenges for the player. During his GDC 2011 presentation Iwata reminded developers that “engineering is not quite as important as imagination,” and games like Miegakure and Nidhogg (not to mention Minecraft) are stellar examples. Bosch has promised that Miegakure will be available for download on PC and consoles alike, though no release date has been announced.

4. Beyond Good & Evil

“The best Zelda clone ever made” is a phrase that’s both pejorative and praise, but I never played Ocarina of Time either so the point is moot. In fact I never owned any Nintendo hardware that wasn’t (meant to be) man-portable, which means the only Zelda title in my ludolexicon is Link’s Awakening, a tender mindfuck of a game that finds our prototypical protagonist taking his Hero’s Journey through the fever dreams of a psychic fish daydreaming inside of a giant egg. On top of a mountain. Take your ocarinas and shove ’em; Awakening was all the Zelda I require (and I don’t even think Zelda was in that game.) Instead, give me a chance to guide an investigative photojournalist with a jō staff and a funky sense of style through her struggles to expose a corrupt military junta and save her adopted uncle, who happens to be an anthropomorphic pig. With rocket boots. That game sounds rad.

5. Vespers

I know you’ve never heard of Vespers, but stay awhile and listen: it’s a text adventure, winner of the Interactive Fiction competition in 2005, and we can play it completely free. We really should, too; classic text adventures like Zork are the sort of thing our favorite game writers grew up playing on their Commodore 64s because their hip older brothers would swirly the shit out of them if they dared set foot in the local arcade. Back in the 80’s there was a sort of strange disparity between arcade games like Asteroids and the more abstruse text adventures that defined early computer games; eventually the two would conjoin to birth masterpieces like Mass Effect 2, but it’s fun to take a look back and imagine what would have happened if text had never known the sweet caress of vector graphics.

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