Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Game Recommendations

I didn't play games quite as much in 2018 as I did in 2017, and I certainly didn't finish as many, but I did play a few that I liked enough to recommend.

For context, I'm mostly a fan of adventure/puzzle games that allow you time to think things through. I also enjoy visual novels, which are sort of "choose your own adventure" stories with visual elements, and the occasional RPG. I played all of these games on my computer, with a mouse and/or keyboard - I don't currently own a controller.

In no particular order:


In this game, you are basically a Roomba. The only other character with whom you regularly interact is the house AI, Sabrina, who repeatedly tells you that your humans are very busy, but you'll get to see them soon. Maybe tomorrow. Or the day after that. It soon becomes evident that something very bad has happened in this house. Was Sabrina responsible? Can you really trust her?

There are puzzles to solve, but they're all extremely simple and usually involve taking a thorough look at your environment and clicking buttons until the proper things light up. This game is less intended for puzzle aficionados and more for those who'd like an interactive character-focused story. Past a certain point it's pretty predictable, and, as a fan of non-evil AIs, aspects of the ending irked me, but I found it to be a gut-wrenching story nonetheless.

Rusty Lake Paradise

Weird puzzles and more Rusty Lake lore. I still think Rusty Lake: Roots is the best game in this series, but this was still enjoyable. If you'd like to get a feel for what these games are like, I'd suggest trying some of the free Cube Escape games on your smartphone - my favorite is Cube Escape: Birthday, although you can start from almost any point in the series. Just be warned that these games are weird and occasionally gross and/or gruesome.

The developer also released a Cube Escape game on Steam, Cube Escape: Paradox. I played and enjoyed the entire free portion but am currently stuck on a part in the for-purchase portion.

428 Shibuya Scramble (visual novel)

Note: I haven't completed this yet. I've played for 11 hours and have gotten several "Bad" endings, but I haven't made it through all the chapters/in-game hours yet.

This is a relatively old Japanese visual novel, so the controls occasionally leave something to be desired. However, the storytelling and characters absolutely make up for it. It starts off as a basic story about a kidnapped girl, and from there spins off into something that follows multiple POVs. I've found that the best way to progress is to follow one particular POV until you hit some kind of wall, either a "Keep Out" sign (indicating that another character's story must progress to a particular point before you can switch back to this character) or a Bad Ending (where you are given a hint as to what you need to do to make things right).

There's no way to skip "read" text, which is going to be a pain once I get all the way through the story and start hunting for missed endings, but I love this visual novel anyway. It's quirky, a bit cheesy, often funny, and just generally enjoyable to read. The visuals are mostly still photographs, but they're occasionally combined with camera movements in ways that can trick your brain into thinking you're watching a video.

Hidden Folks

Do you like Where's Waldo? This is like a black-and-white computer game equivalent. Each screen is jam-packed with tiny details, and, if you pay attention, you can gradually follow certain characters' adventures from one location to the next. I really enjoyed this, even though it was occasionally hard on the eyes, even with the different visual settings and the ability to zoom in on small areas of the screen.

Gray Matter

Jane Jensen, the woman who created the Gabriel Knight games, also designed this. It's an adventure game that mostly scratched my old school point-and-click adventure game itch. There's nothing in the game that will kill you, and gameplay involves collecting and using items, talking to people, searching your environment, and solving occasional mostly well-integrated puzzles. There's also a magic trick mechanic, although that's not as interesting as I thought it would be - you look through a children's book of magic tricks and use it to have the heroine perform actions in the required order.

The visuals and character movements were occasionally a bit clunky, and I disliked some of the things that the heroine had to do, but I enjoyed this nonetheless.

The Blackwell series

This is a point-and-click adventure game series in which you play as a woman (mostly Rosa, but one game has you playing as Rosa's aunt Lauren) who has suddenly found herself bound to a ghostly detective.

I played The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, Blackwell Convergence, and Blackwell Deception. In order to best follow along with the story, I recommend playing the games in order, but I will admit that the puzzles in the first game in particular have some annoying moments. My favorite games in the series, so far, are Blackwell Convergence and Blackwell Deception. You can definitely see the developer improving in every area: gameplay, storytelling, and character development. I'm looking forward to playing the final game in the series, as well as the developer's newer games.


If given a choice between Stardew Valley and Cattails, choose Stardew Valley. But if you've played Stardew Valley and want to try something else, maybe give this game a shot.

You play as a cat that was adopted by a little girl and then cruelly abandoned in the wilderness by the girl's mother (that woman sucks, and the opening animation was an unexpected gut-punch). In order to survive, you must hunt for food and forage for various herbs. At the start of the game, you must join a particular colony, which affects which characters you regularly interact with and the sorts of resources you can easily access. If you encounter cats from another colony, they will fight you, unless you're visiting their colony or you're at a festival. You can befriend and eventually marry and have kittens with cats from any colony, not just your own.

I've only played this for 9 or 10 hours and feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what this world has to offer. That said, I do feel like the characters and character interaction could use more depth. Still, it's fun to explore, catch vast amounts of prey, and make forays into enemy territory for goods you can't get closer to home.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

Another one I haven't played enough (9 hours) to be entirely sure about recommending, although I really liked what I've seen so far. This reminded me how much I used to love playing RPGs. The characters and city are fun, and its turn-based combat is much less stressful for me than the real-time combat present in so many games I'd like to play but that would probably wreck my nerves. My only complaint is that it seems to be designed to actively discourage grinding - yes, I know lots of people hate grinding, but there are times I find the repetitiveness of it to be soothing.

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