Today, we continue with recommendations of things to do while you’re staying at home with video games. And if you’ve missed the other posts in the series, here they are:
Spider-Man: I never thought we’d get a superhero video game that was as successful as the Batman: Arkham series was at capturing the essence of its main hero, but Insomniac Games accomplished the feat with their Spider-Man game. Swinging around the city is as exhilarating a feeling as any that I’ve encountered in any game in recent memory, and the variety of combat options means it never gets dull to beat up bad guys. Equally important, however, is the fact that—like the Arkham series before it—they absolutely nailed the characterization of both Peter Parker and the various Spidey villains, making the game an essential contribution to the Spider-Man lore.
The Last of Us: If entering a brutal post-apocalyptic world doesn’t feel too morbid for you given present circumstances, then now is the perfect time to play The Last of Us, since the long-awaited sequel is scheduled to come out on May 29th. Naughty Dog has always excelled at making thrilling single player action-adventure games with engaging stories, but they took a massive step forward in this one. The story is as well-executed as any that I’ve seen in any video game, and the relationship between Joel and Ellie is one that has stayed with me throughout the many years since I played it for the first time. The forthcoming sequel has a lot to live up to.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: If things continue to get worse, some of us may be stuck inside for months. Alas, that will still not be nearly enough time to experience everything that there is to experience in Skyrim, which allows you to explore a massive fantasy world and slowly build your character however you see fit. Whether it’s riding your horse through the countryside, traversing through the game’s many tombs and caves, battling against the dragons which have made a mysterious reappearance in this world, or dozens upon dozens of other gameplay experiences, there is so much content to enjoy here. I’m a sucker for a good RPG that you can get lost in for hours upon hours, and few series provide that experience as effectively as The Elder Scrolls series.
Super Mario Odyssey: It’s quite unfair that Nintendo finally made the Super Mario game that I’ve wanted for decades—a game that captures the way I felt when I played Super Mario 64 as a kid—at a time in my life when I can’t afford to buy yet another game console. As such, I’ve had to satisfy myself by playing the game whenever I go visit my brother-in-law, which unfortunately means I don’t get to play it nearly often enough. But no matter how much time has passed in-between sessions, whenever I pick it back up I immediately feel the same kind of joy I felt as a kid as though no time has passed at all. For a classic 3D platforming experience, you can’t do any better than Super Mario Odyssey.
Chrono Trigger: If you’re looking for more of an old-school experience, then Chrono Trigger is a classic that all gamers—young and old alike—should play at some point. I played it for the first time a few years ago, and I was struck by how well the whole game—whether it be the turn-based combat system or the fantastical story—had aged for something that was made when I was barely a year old. It easily deserves its status as one of the greatest JRPGs of all time, and it’s quite sad that games of its ilk are rarely made anymore. If nothing else, everybody should at least listen to its amazing soundtrack.
God of War (PS4): Before this year, I had never played a God of War game, even though the series has been around for a very long time. Apparently those earlier games had quite a different feel, especially when it comes to Kratos, the main character of the game. But stepping into this universe, one that saw the series move into Norse mythology, one with plenty of references to Odin and Thor and plenty more. My PS4 Pro sounds like it’s attempting to fly when this game is running, but that’s really the only downside. Gameplay is a lot of fun, the world is gorgeous, and building up your abilities and weapons was enjoyable for me and never felt like a chore. I’ve played through the main story and wish it were longer, but I know there are more things for me to do in this world, and I look forward to doing them. You should be able to get the PlayStation Hits version of this for a pretty good price, too.
Jedi: Fallen Order (PS4, Xbox One, PC): As much as I’ve always loved Star Wars, the past few years have seen me take a deeper dive into just how much I love it. So I can’t claim to have any experience with lightsaber-based action games from past years and consoles. But this one was a really good balance of story, playing through lots of battles in the regular combat style of the game, and awesome things like fighting an AT-ST alone on foot or infiltrating and taking over an AT-AT in the midst of battle.
Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4): Fans of The Wire are in for a treat, which I won’t spoil here, if they play this game. But they’ll hear it relatively early in the main story and then throughout the rest of the game. Like God of War, this one has been around for a little bit, so you should be able to find it fairly cheaply. I’d say the two games are probably the most similar to one another among these five games in my list, but they are definitely different from each other in plenty of ways. Set in a future that has seen modern civilization brought down by machines that are shaped like animals or dinosaurs—but humans not totally wiped out—you’re in control of Aloy, a child early in the game and a young woman shortly thereafter, as you try to prove yourself and figure out what the hell happened that got humans to this point.
Star Wars Battlefront II (PS4, Xbox One, PC): I’ve made an effort lately to play new games, but part of me is tempted to just play this one on loop. Between the starfighter mode and the first-person shooter mode, with tons of extra content having been added to the game since it’s been released, you can immerse yourself in the Star Wars universe in these battles. I’m no FPS snob, but the gameplay here has always been enjoyable to me. There were some things I liked more about the first installation of this series, but overall, this is the better game and certainly the more populated one for online gaming. Oh and I enjoyed the single-player story of this one, too, back when I first got the game.
Uncharted 1-4 (PS4): A simple description of the Uncharted series is that it’s influenced by Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider, but the series is so much more than that. Made by the same company as the excellent Last of Us, which Michael recommended above, these games are epic. I’m not a huge fan of using that word, but it fits here. You can play the first three games on the PS4 in Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, which includes all three of them and is a PlayStation Hits title that should be pretty cheap to pick up. And Uncharted 4 was a primary reason I made sure to get a PS4 in the first place.
Bonus rec: This video game recommendation engine has been a good tool for me. Not every game that matches the ones I throw into it has blown me away, but overall, it seems to have a good way of figuring out things you’ll like based on what you tell it you like.
Yoshi’s Story (N64): For first person shooters, Fortnite, World of Warcraft, or whatever the heck else it is kids are playing these days, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I’m an old school Nintendo girl through and through so my recommendations will reflect that. Whenever I was taking part in a multiplayer game, I always jumped to snatch up Yoshi as my character first, so you can imagine I am a big fan of the classic game that features the lovable dinosaur. It’s not complex, but the art is great and sometimes I think simplicity is a good thing in a game. Plus the soundtrack is great.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii): I love the whole Super Smash series; they are classics. I think Brawl is the best of the bunch because the different controller configurations you can do with the Wii take it to the next level. Plus having more character and map options is always a good thing. As long as you’re stuck inside with at least one other person, you can play Smash over and over and never get bored, in my opinion.
Mario Party (N64): Mario Party is my personal favorite of all the classic series Nintendo has produced and I feel it is often seen as second to Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart. But in reality, I think it is a more interesting game experience than either of the other two. This is the best video game for board game fans, as it really recreates a board game experience; characters move around the board and engage in various happenings along the way, while trying to collect as many stars as possible. Game play is also interspersed with mini-games, which provide some fun variety. Winning mini-games nets you coins, which you use to purchase stars. Ten Mario Party games have been released since the original and while I don’t think there is one single game in the series that reigns supreme, the early iterations for the N64 are generally regarded as superior to the more recent games in the series.
WarioWare: Smooth Moves (Wii): In my opinion, this was the most innovative game Nintendo released for Wii in the early days of the console. It really makes use of the Wii remote’s motion sensor technology in a series of fast-paced mini-games. When cooped up inside, a game that makes you move your feet—or even just your arm—a little is likely a welcome thing. Another huge advantage of this game is, even though it is of the party game genre, it is equally fun to play by oneself or with multiple players.
Paper Mario (N64): A lot has been made of the heralded Super Mario series, but I think its successor Paper Mario is the best single-player adventure game Nintendo ever made. The graphics were really innovative at the time the game was released and they hold up to the test of time; the game is visually stunning. Like Yoshi’s Story, the game is storybook style with each world as a chapter. The gameplay is straightforward without a huge learning curve, but you can find yourself absorbed in it for hours. If you love RPGs, especially Mario RPGs, this is the one to rule them all.
Final Fantasy VII (PS4): The remake is still scheduled to be released on April 10, 2020 but if you don’t want to wait until then, the original is still worth playing even with older graphics. The missions and side missions are plentiful, and Cloud and company’s storyline is the equivalent to a good novel. Good character development plus a good storyline will definitely keep you engaged. Finally two words: Chocobo races.
Final Fantasy VIII (Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows): Final Fantasy VIII isn’t nearly as beloved as VII but I still love it. I am a sucker for a good dramatic opening and this game delivers that in spades. The storyline involves a sorceress, a love story, and a group of mercenaries. As with the rest of the Final Fantasy installments there are plenty of missions and side missions that will keep you busy but this one has a bonus card game that can be a bit maddening. It might not live up to VII but still an overall enjoyable game to pass the hours.
Kingdom Hearts 1-3 (PlayStation): Now that you have played both Final Fantasy VII and VIII, you will surely enjoy seeing them again in this game. It blends the best of Disney with Final Fantasy to create the best crossover that puts The Avengers to shame. Ok perhaps that was a bit strong, but a lot of the original voices of the Disney characters come back for this game which makes the nostalgia factor strong. There are three games total in the series and all three are fun in their own way.
The Sims: The Sims can be found for almost any platform or console. You create simulated people and you control their lives. For instance, you could possibly make a David Wright sim where you get married, have children, live in a mansion, and have two dogs, a cat, and a hamster. I’m not saying that happened I am just saying it’s an option. Just be careful when cooking. Kitchen fires have consequences.
Halo: Growing up, my parents never let me own a game console. My only gaming experiences were at my Aunt’s house, playing the original Halo CE on my cousin’s X-Box. Naturally, I was captivated, and when I finally got my own console for the sequel I was beyond thrilled. Fifteen years, five installments, and countless hours later, this franchise still holds a special significance for me, and I think it’s a shooter everyone who is stepping into the world of gaming should experience.
The story starts simple enough - you’re a super solider fighting to save humanity from an alien threat - but the mystery begins when you encounter an ancient artificial alien world, a Halo. That mystery and it’s effect on the conflict defines the series, and while the story is fairly linear, it’s still captivating. The gameplay is also superb, as Bungie perfected the shooter with a formula that has stood the test of time. Best of all, each installment is being re-released on PC in one bundle, making this a fantastic time to experience one of gaming’s seminal franchises.
Mass Effect: Halo was my first love, but I don’t think anything has had the emotional impact of Mass Effect. Before they fell to the demon that is EA, Bioware was the king of the RPG, building worlds (or a galaxy, in this case) rich in characters, lore, and nuance, then crafting incredible stories within that frame. The three game arc of the original Mass Effect series does this beautifully, as you join Commander Shepard on what starts as a relatively mundane op but turns into a galaxy-wide struggle for survival. This franchise peaks in the second installment, where the in-game NPCs that make up your crew remain among the best ever created due to your ability to emotionally connect with each and every one of them.
Some warnings before you go in. The combat in the first game has not aged well, and can be a bit of a slog (a common problem with older RPGs). The controversy around the ending to the third game, which closes Shepard’s story, has been well documented and will likely leave you frustrated, though there are some mods that fix this. The followup franchise, Andromeda, was a flop and has essentially been abandoned as EA runs Bioware into the ground. Finally, this franchise is a huge time commitment, hundreds of hours if you explore all its intricacies. All of these comments aside, I cannot recommend it more highly, as I think it’s a franchise that every gamer, veteran or rookie, should experience.
The Binding of Isaac: After recommending two multi-game, story-heavy franchises, I’ll tack in a different direction to The Binding of Isaac. It’s a simple game - 2D movements with simple animations in an arcade-style, top-down dungeon exploration. The controls are easy to grasp, and the early iterations of the game are simple to tackle. What makes this game great is it’s replay value; each time you play, the dungeons you explore are randomly generated, leading to new power-ups, enemies, and encounters. One campaign might take a half hour, but no two campaigns will be identical. There are also a multitude of challenges for those of you who enjoy pulling your hair out, as the game goes from a pleasant experience to a stress-inducing struggle. It’s a great, casual option for anyone with a computer and some spare time.
Dying Light: The zombie trope is played out, but Dying Light freshens it up with incredible game play that couples combat with free-running. Rather than your standard bunker-down-and-pray zombie game, Dying Light lets you scale buildings, leap across alleys, and zip-line down skyscrapers as you parkour your way out of a city ravaged by both the hoard and the human survivors. The story isn’t anything incredible - enjoyable, but not memorable - but the movement and combat mechanics are so engaging that you’ll keep coming back for more. For those of you who enjoyed the movement in either Titanfall or Mirror’s Edge, I recommend this game in particular.
Doom (2016): This is perhaps the goriest, bloodiest game in existence, so fair warning if you’d like to avoid that. Hop into the soft reboot of one of gaming’s first shooters, as you take control of the Doom Marine and proceed to slaughter literally scores of demons. Yes, there’s a story here, but the game play is the real selling point - a non-stop carnage-fest that will leave you feeling like a literal god as you rip and tear through everything in your path with a retro-style arsenal. As an added bonus, this game features one of the best soundtracks of the decade, coupled with innovative techniques that really tie the music to what you’re doing. It’s a good time all around and a great way to blow off steam (and the sequel just launched last week if you want more).
MLB: The Show 20 (PS4): As readers are aware, I’ve made MLB: The Show my personal Dante’s Inferno for years. I’ve documented some of my cruel experiments on this very website, but what you might not know is that I’ve been using this simulated baseball world as my evil playground since my early teens. I’ve done several things I’ve never written about, many of which could be considered criminal and I should probably be in jail. My PS4 has actually sustained real, internal damage because of it. That said, if you play this game properly, it is genuinely the most realistic baseball video game you can find, with lots of cool game modes, legends, and the ability to go whisk you away to a fantasy land where baseball is actually happening right now. You can play as the Mets and lead them to a World Series, create a player and start a career from the minors in Road To The Show, recreate several legendary moments in the sport’s history, or be a degenerate like me and push this game to limits the creators did not intend it to go.
Backyard Baseball (PC, PS2, Gameboy): This isn’t even a recommendation as much as it is just a chance to praise these games, because unless you have an old PS2, Gameboy, or PC that can read these old CDs, you probably can’t even play them anyway. But this series was legendary, and it was such a simple concept: kids playing baseball. The game had a roster of kids you could pick from to add to your team—just like you would if you were kids playing in your backyard—and then you played baseball with them. If your first pick wasn’t Pablo Sanchez every time, you were doing it wrong. You could choose to play in a backyard, an empty parking lot, the street, an actual little league field, or any other place where kids could theoretically play baseball. In 2001, they added real MLB players depicted as young kids to the game, and you could pick them for your team too. The series just fit so perfectly for that era of sports gaming. Just don’t look for any edition after 2005, as they tried to add more features to it and modernize it with the times, which only turned it into something it wasn’t meant to be.
Grand Theft Auto V (PS3, PS4, XBox 360, XBox One, PC): So I’ve never actually been a huge gamer, but GTA V remains the only game in which I’ve completed the entire story mode beginning to end. In fact, I’ve completed it twice. There’s a reason GTA is one of the more successful titles in gaming, and it’s because it’s always got a fun story, and so, so much to do. In this edition, you can drive around a knock-off Los Angeles, break every single law, blow shit up, steal cars (hence the title), jump out of helicopters (parachutes optional), fly planes into mountains, and do some very R-rated stuff. If you’re feeling stressed with everything happening in the world, nothing really relieves stress quite like firing up GTA and wreaking havoc.
LucasArts Adventure Games: I don’t play video games all that much these days, but Nintendo was a huge part of my childhood. Mario, Link, Samus and all the rest were always there for me when I needed them (I had real friends too, I swear!). I can still distinctly remember the time when someone made fun of me for playing Pokémon during lunch period in middle school. The joke was on him though; I had just caught a Snorlax. But everyone knows all about Nintendo, so I am instead going to recommend a forgotten collection of games: the LucasArts adventure games.
The classic 1990s LucasArts games are in the style of point-and-click adventure games that used to be popular, and have seen something of a comeback in recent years, with the Telltale games, “escape room” games, and “walking simulator” games. But what made the best LucasArts games so much fun was their sense of humor; outside of a couple of games like Loom and The Dig, most of the classic LucasArts games were absolutely hilarious. Some highlights include Full Throttle, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Grim Fandango, and the Monkey Island series.
But my two personal favorites are Sam & Max Hit The Road and Day of the Tentacle. Sam & Max stars a couple of freelance detectives (who happen to be a dog and a rabbit) on an absurd road trip across America as they search for a Bigfoot who has escaped from the local carnival. Day of the Tentacle follows three friends who must work together across three time periods to try and prevent a deranged sentient tentacle from taking over the world. And since Disney owns the rights to the LucasArts canon, you should play these games now before Disney inevitably runs out of ideas and makes a Day of the Tentacle movie or a Sam & Max animated series for Disney+. Side note: If Disney needs anyone to work on these scripts, I can start immediately. Give me a call, Mickey!