Chan Khee Hoon
Admittedly, there are days where it feels like friendship in this quaint little town is conditional, an odd feeling that everyone wants something from you: 10 pieces of paper for fixing a flimsy wall, two matcha lattes for a thirsty neighbor, a sports drink for an aspiring athlete. At one point, a vendor even jokingly requests 120 blocks of wood to build their store — a joke to be had at your expense. But if you can shelve these uncomfortable thoughts, Mineko’s Night Market can be a place to linger for a few hours. Be it chipping away at your laundry list of mundane but comforting chores or selling some handmade kitty kitsch at the night market, this cozy sim is an invitation to slow down and smell the roses. Or rather, pet the cats, as they flop over in contentment, their purrs resonating from deep within their bellies.
Surviving the calamities of Wo Long requires nearly obsessive hours of practice. But what comes after is the exhilaration of being able to deftly execute hordes of enemies and demons alike with merely a reflexive twitch of your well-honed limbs. With its intricate combat system and an equally evocative setting, Wo Long is a journey worth embarking on — even if it means devoting three more hours to your next boss fight.
There are funnier games out there, from the refined comedic diction of “Untitled Goose Game” to the sardonic humor of “Portal.” But it’s the thrill of discovering ludicrous scenes, and the delight of digging into every crook and cranny in search of more absurd secrets to unearth, that elevates “Goat Simulator 3” above the one-note joke of the original game. Take a long walk along a quiet street, or hitch a ride on a moving van toward the next city. Perhaps you’ll spot the sigil of Baphomet, or meet a clandestine group of occult worshipers, hidden behind the dense foliage of bushes and low-hanging trees. Drag a scarecrow into a satanic circle or two, and see what unfolds; it’s usually an unexpected treat.
But in the end, all there is to remember about No Place for Bravery is the red from all his murderous encounters — the bloodletting Thorn has committed from brutalizing his foes, the insurmountable pain of his cheap, repetitive deaths, and the immense frustration of never seeing the game reach its fullest potential.
In a way, it’s the FPS genre that grants players a kind of agency that rhythm games haven’t — the freedom and exhilaration of performance. You can execute kills to the beat of your internal pulse, with the act of shooting bodies and popping heads forming a pleasing rhythm. That’s why playing “Metal: Hellsinger” can almost feel like you’re holding the drumsticks yourself, as you blaze through demon hordes with a percussive flow of your own.
“Endling” isn’t the sort of game you might settle down to play after a long day of doomscrolling through social media; it’s the sort that forces you to confront the monstrous scale and toll of human activity on the ecosystem and the planet. And yet, even as a deeply apocalyptic look at what feels like the imminent end of our world, the game’s profound pessimism doesn’t stray too far from the truth. Scientists have already warned that we are in danger of losing 20 to 50 percent of all species by the end of this century; the bulk of this is due to human activity.
Within the opulent comforts of the luxury apartments and exclusive private clubs of Boston, Swansong positions high society politics as a game played by the rich, a realm that’s far outside the influence of the working class and the poor. To be invited into such an exclusive circle in Swansong is a frankly riveting proposition—I can’t deny that there’s a thrill, verging on tabloid-level curiosity, in mingling with the distastefully powerful, uncovering their dirtiest secrets, and conniving with the Prince of Boston. But still the most intriguing bit about Swansong is to have all these politicking depicted as layers of conversations and sleuthing, which are exploits that are far more human than the game’s supernatural brethren would believe.
Eventually, Best Month Ever becomes a largely run-of-the-mill road trip; you know, the sort of trip you don’t mind embarking on, but would be perfectly okay if it has to end prematurely. In other words, it’s not exactly the most thrilling or boring of journeys, but also one that needs frequent pit stops to sustain your interest, if you wish to see the game through to its conclusion. What’s unfortunate is that Best Month Ever also unabashedly pines for several playthroughs, as evident in its myriad endings, but the vehicle it’s run on guzzles your stamina and patience like the least fuel efficient of cars. Unfortunately, I only have the capacity for a single excursion or two; I don’t think I can stay awake as the road trip sluggishly cruises towards its destination.
Nonetheless, it’s impossible not to be charmed by Chinatown Detective Agency. Mei Ting, in particular, is exuberant and spirited (she particularly enjoys the promise of cash), and the motley crew of characters who accompany you in your detective work is far from atypical, as you work together to unravel conspiracies and convoluted schemes. The treacherous plot at the heart of the game, too, will probably take repeated playthroughs to uncover, given the several routes and choices you can pick throughout the game. For all of Chinatown Detective Agency’s imperfections, this is still a case I’d gladly take on, over and over again. Of course, with a web browser and notebook in hand.
Even the perpetually overcast skies feel like a sign of what’s to come for its characters, as if a torrential rain is set to descend anytime soon. But look beyond the parted clouds and we may see a slither of hope yet. Likewise, this is the proverbial silver lining that Norco represents for the videogame industry: a modest title that demonstrates that a narrative-rich experience, made by a first-time indie developer, doesn’t always have to be overshadowed by ostentatious displays of bigger releases. Norco may refer to itself as a sort of pixel ephemera, but its adventure is a vast, cosmic tale that will be fondly remembered decades after.
In the end, I can’t help but feel increasingly enamoured by the sights and encounters. And by the time you get to the dungeons and underground fortresses, you’ll already lulled into a meditative state, as you give in to your impulses to marinate in Tunic’s sheer abundance: its atmospheric soundtrack, its crisp combat, and its resonant adventures. You become a child once more, eyes glued to the screen, fingers cemented on the buttons of your controllers, piles of notes strewn across the table, as you mindlessly hack at everything in sight: ghostly knights, creaking skeletons, and oversized bosses. How many more hours do I want to keep playing? As long as the night would last, and till the early hours of dawn.
Even as Siberian Mayhem quickly descends into chaos and sheer pandemonium, there’s always a final word to be had, or one last gunshot to haphazardly fire into the abyss. And when you inevitably fall to the forces of evil—because you’re just one person raking up thousands in terms of bodycount—you just need to try, and try, and try again. There’s little that’s particularly groundbreaking in Serious Sam’s brand of predictability, but there’s also comfort to be found. As Sam said, the fights are their own rewards, after all.
Twelve Minutes has an intoxicating premise about a man stuck in a time loop, backed by a Hollywood cast of voice actors that immediately presents the game with a veneer of cinematic prestige. But just as it quickly captivates the player with the tantalising promise to unravel all its mysteries, it also loses all that steam just as rapidly with its unbelievable twists and unspeakable violence, resulting in a conclusion that's as mind-boggling as it's nauseating. In the end, Twelve Minutes can't seem to rise above its film influences, as it grinds to an unsatisfying, disconcerting halt.
Even though Littlewood is a peaceful town building and farming sim that doesn't offer anything new in the genre, it thrives in the soothing, meditative loop of its routines--from harvesting fruits to mining precious stones from ores. There are plenty to busy yourself with, but there's also plenty of time to get to them at your own pace. This means that Littlewood is mostly devoid of the pressures to optimise the grind--an issue that usually plagues other farm sims like Stardew Valley. It's, in short, a charming little distraction from the stresses of our real world.
It's difficult to assign a score to a title as esoteric as Art Sqool, an art game that seeks to encourage players to tap into their creativity and doodle in the midst of a captivating, candy-coloured universe. Be it ruminating about the themes of your assignment in a cozy corner, or messing up your homework by haphazardly scribbling over your blank canvas, Art Sqool requires you to discover your potential and assign your own meaning to the experience. Even though I've found the game to be a ceaselessly charming one, there are also times when I quickly tire of its lack of incentives and activities. Give this a twirl if you're looking to indulge your artistic capabilities and moments of quiet introspection.
Star Renegades doesn't countenance mistakes, while demanding an inordinate amount of commitment from its players due to its mechanically dense system. This can be a challenging game to get into, from learning about its intricate turn-based combat, to making sense of the walls of text, numbers and symbols it throws at you. Those patient enough to familiarise themselves with what this roguelike has to offer, however, may find this to be a tactically satisfying experience.
Making a sequel to one of the most acclaimed horror games in recent memory may be a tall order for some, but Frictional Games has done it with aplomb with Amnesia: Rebirth. Without straying far from the formula that made Amnesia: The Dark Descent so popular and feared in equal measure-the clever use of jump scares, immersive puzzles and the light-dark dichotomy-Rebirth has reinvigorated its brand of horror with a haunting narrative that's as moving as it is refreshing. Rebirth may still be a bit too much to bear for players who don't usually venture into horror, but it's a sequel that should please ardent fans and horror masochists alike.