I don’t know about you, but my game playing has spiked during quarantine. The time I used to spend going out with friends, eating in restaurants, and seeing the sun is now my game time. Fortunately for everyone reading this, I’ve been able to sort the great games from the… less great ones and have some real gems picked out and ready for you.
If you’re the kind of person who likes masterfully crafted puzzle games with charming theming and engaging visuals then do I have a recommendation for you. A Monster’s Expedition is a masterfully crafted puzzle game with charming theming and engaging visuals.
If you’ve played any of Draknek’s other games (Sokobond and Cosmic Express are two of my favorites) you can expect Monster’s Expedition to scratch a similar itch. Here you’re a faceless monster with nothing but a backpack and the ability to cut down trees and roll logs all by yourself. Like all great puzzle games this is a simple premise that is then put into a variety of contexts through puzzle design that forces you to engage with all of the possibilities of its toolset. This time you’re trying to build bridges and rafts to travel from one small island (puzzle) to another by rolling logs as far as they can in one direction, or flipping them end-to-end one square at a time. That’s it! It’s really refined!
Now what really makes A Monster’s Expedition unique is that it’s what the developer calls a “relaxing open world puzzle adventure.” At first I assumed this was some kind of marketing jargon, but it’s actually a brilliant update that I hope all puzzle games adopt going forward. The setup for Expedition is that you’re moving from small island to small island which is the in-universe justification for having to solve a bunch of small puzzles. Where the open world comes in is in that many islands have solutions that push you over to different islands that crisscross paths and let you explore an overworld map at your own leisurely pace. This means you can almost always find another puzzle to try if you’re stuck on whatever path you were working on.
I don’t want to oversell it, but there’s a real chance that A Monster’s Expedition will end the year as one of my favorite games of 2020.
When I read that Spiritfarer was a “cozy game about death” I was intrigued. As a group we’re pretty awful at talking about what waits for us at the end of the road, so when we do include death in gaming it’s usually dispensed by our player characters or infrequently to a friend in a case of raising the stakes. Spiritfarer is nothing like that Spiritfarer is a kind game about death, one where you’re dispensing death, but only because you’re in charge of ferrying lost souls through the afterlife. Your boat isn’t the little ferry you might expect, but a fully customizable barge. In a sort of Harvest Moon-alike twist you’re collecting different materials during your journey to build new things like quarters for the friends you’re transporting or facilities like kitchens and gardens. It’s a really big boat, ok?
But the area where Spiritfarer really becomes great is in how it treats time. If what I’ve been told is accurate (I haven’t gotten to credits in Spiritfarer) the game runs for 20-30 hours but doesn’t require you to be completely engaged for the whole runtime. You don’t actually sail your ship, but select a destination on a map and wait for your vessel to navigate there automatically. During this time (usually anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes depending on distance) and you’re free to engage in all kinds of activities from fishing to hanging out with (and hugging!) your shipmates. This downtime forces the game to be played at a relaxed pace and live in the world you’re building on your ship. It’s really great.
If you’ve been online anywhere over the past few weeks you’ve probably run into Among Us somewhere on your travels. It’s that game of blobby spacemen fixing parts of their ship and then being murdered or shot out of airlocks. Its omnipresence on the internet makes it feel a bit unnecessary to explain, but I’ll dive in anyway.
The set up here is simple: you and your teammates are stuck on a spaceship that has stalled out and it’s up to you to get it running. Unfortunately some of your teammates are not who they appear to be, some are impostors who win the game not by getting the ship started but by murdering you and your pals. If you’ve ever played a game like Werewolf or Mafia you’re probably familiar with the idea of a hidden role game, but what has really drawn me to Among Us is that it’s a hidden role game where the humans don’t just wait around to get murdered. There’s a strategy in who you’re near as you can go it alone and have no alibi, go with a partner and potentially get murdered, or go in a trio for slower but safer progress. It’s these little changes that don’t seem like much but make Among Us one of the best hidden role games ever, and a blast to play with a group of friends.
Take Tetris, rotate it 45 degrees to the side, and make all the pieces square. Now teach it to sing. This is Mixolumia.
Instead of arranging the board via shapes, you’re working with squares made up of 4 separate “pieces.” These pieces come in a variety of colors and slide apart depending on how they land. Your goal is to match groups of at least 3 same-colored pieces so they disappear and prevent your stack from reaching the top of the screen. It’s pretty standard stuff, but where Mixolumia gets unique is in its presentation. It’s an exceptionally relaxing game, despite its manic block placement largely on the back of its soundtrack and customization. The game ships with 3 great soundtracks, but you’re able to add your own in as well as custom visual palettes. I’m sure some folks will use this to put in something more stressful like speed metal and neon but for my purposes it enables a really meditative experience
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