Something weird happened to me this year: I stopped wanting to murder things in video games. I’ve never been into super violent games and I’ve never liked games with guns (not even really GoldenEye for N64) — but I’ve always enjoyed a good dagger-stabbing or arrow to the knee, as long as persistent gore is turned off, and as long as the deaths are guys or creatures who were trying to kill me first. This year, though, things were so hard and dark in the real world that they weighed even heavier than usual on my tender heart and I wanted to play games that were light and ridiculous and that didn’t require me to gouge anyone with my sword. And so I made a list for you because maybe that’s the kind of year you’ve had too!
Lonely Mountains: Downhill
Without getting TOO real, I recently found out I have a spinal condition that might mean I won’t be able to ride my bike anymore, which is a grief I can’t put into words yet — but here’s a video game that lets me ride a bike! By myself! Down a hill! That’s it, that’s the game. You start at the top of a mountain or hill or incline and then you just have to make it to the bottom. It’s really cathartic, probably even if you don’t ride a bike in real life.
A Short Hike
Like Lonely Mountains: Downhill, the title really says it all: the whole point of this game is to go on a short hike to find phone service — but once you set out, an entire world opens up to you, full of beautiful places and lovely characters. There’s no right or wrong way to play. There’s no real repercussions for doing or not doing anything. You don’t even die if you fall off the edge of the world!
It’s a civilization builder in which no one in your civilization can die! (Take that, Frostfall!) Islanders is simply a minimalist strategy game full of bright colors and chill music. It actually gave me ASMR every time I played it.
What the Golf
If you like puns and physics and absurdity, you should play What the Golf. It will make you laugh, I promise.
Pokémon Sword / Pokémon Shield
I honestly thought, at this point, Pokémon couldn’t do anything to surprise me! Well, I was wrong! Sword and Shield is all nostalgia, come to life in a brand new way. And it was the best thing going on Twitter this year, besides maybe Baby Yoda.
Sky: Children of the Light
You could actually forget you’re playing this game on your phone (which is the only place you can play it for now), is how good it is. It’s thatgamecompany’s follow-up to Journey, and it’s kind of the same thing. Sky: Children of the Light is an adventure full of healing quests. There’s a multiplayer component, but you can only be nice. And dang, that’s a relief.
I’m not generally into multiplayers, but in this dear and gentle game, you write kind letters to other people and they write kind letters back to you, while you listen to “lo-fi chill beats.” You have to be weirdly vulnerable to play this game, and so do the people playing with you. It’s very moving.
Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
After playing Link’s Awakening and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, I can honestly say I’d happily pay $60 a pop for Nintendo to remake all of my favorite GameBoy games from my youth. So much of it was so familiar! But also it felt brand new! And after the zillion hours I logged on Breath of the Wild, the simplicity was welcome.
Untitled Goose Game
What were your favorite feel-good games of 2019?