I’ve always had a knowledge and appreciation of games. I’ve watched everything from GTA to Bloodborne to Binding of Isaac and a lot in between being played, but the stuff I got my hands on as a kid sat firmly within ‘kid’ boundaries. Obviously The Sims on PC was a massive part of childhood gaming, but I also loved weird adventure games that my parents found out of nowhere like Ankh (an Egyptian kid gets cursed and is bound for the underworld, gameplay here), every karaoke and dancing game ever – the sibling rivalry was strong with these ones – and a bunch of online games mostly found through Miniclip (yes, I am very upset that Club Penguin is closing its doors).
Transitioning to gaming as an adult (no no no go away I’m still a child) has been weird. I feel a little silly even calling it ‘gaming’, because that term now calls to mind a ‘gamer’ who spends every free moment on their console or PC talking into a headset, playing games which take a massive amount of time to be good at and potentially making fun of n00bs. Particularly as a female and as a fan of less, for want of a better word, hardcore games, ‘gaming’ for me has been quite intimidating to crack (gamer gate anyone?).
Needless to say, it’s taken me a long time to find games I enjoy as an adult because they’re just not advertised as much as mainstream shooters and RPGs. So here’s a list of some titles I’ve been enjoying a lot recently on various consoles – and if you like games but you’re a little scared to try playing them again, maybe you’ll find some inspiration here too.
1. Stardew Valley (PS4)
I love this game. The story begins when you inherit your grandfather’s farm and decide to leave your office job for want of a simpler, more peaceful life. You move to Stardew Valley, a small town of around 30 citizens, any of whom you can choose to build relationships with. From the beginning, this game is all about choice – you can pick either a community or corporate route in which to keep the town alive, which characters you’ll befriend and who you’ll woo, and even your trade. Yes, you own a farm, but you can also fish, mine, forage and even fight for a living. I particularly like the game’s combat system – you have an energy bar and a health bar, and if either one runs low in a fight you’re definitely in trouble. The clever part is that eating food will replenish these bars, so if you’re nervous about surviving a particular mine level all you have to do is stock up on hearty meals and remember to eat whenever your health or energy runs low. The choice to have extra protection is what I like – you can choose your own level of difficulty.
The best part of this game for me though is the depth of the characters, as well as its commentary on the state of society. As your relationships blossom, you learn more and more about each person in Stardew Valley and the hardships they’ve gone through (or are going through) to be in the town today. It’s these reveals – and the far away goal of completely refurbishing the community centre – that keep me coming back to play. I’ve already plugged 30+ hours into it and I’m only on my second year!
2. Tapped Out (Mobile)
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the Simpsons, but this game is fantastic. Homer misses a reactor leak at the nuclear plant he works at, leading to the entirety of Springfield being lost in an explosion. It’s up to him (and the characters he salvages along the way) to build a new Springfield and return the town to its former glory. You build houses, restaurants and buildings like the school and library, complete character tasks often based on famous episodes’ plots and you can even visit other Springfields if you know anyone else who plays.
Many mobile games are just addictive ploys to take your money. This is not one of those. Yes, you can pay real money for in-game currency and yes, they do try to get you to invite your friends every few levels but I haven’t indulged in any of that and I’m progressing just fine. It’s engaging but not so addictive that I feel like I’m checking it every five minutes or have to move my clock forward to cheat. The timings of tasks are cleverly calculated so that you usually can’t spend more than ten minutes at a time playing the game – it’s more of a set-things-up-and-leave-it-for-a-few-hours kind of thing.
I probably should have seen this coming, because I loved Hit and Run as a kid, but the dialogue really does have me laughing. And that’s despite not loving the TV show. It’s quirky and fun, and acts as a nice study break every few hours.
3. Pokemon Sun (Nintendo 2DS)
I was lucky enough to receive a 2DS and Pokemon Sun at Christmas. I did lose my DS down the back of my spare bed for a few weeks, but I managed to find it yesterday and was straight back into Pokemon. I had a Game Boy Color from the age of 5 or 6 which I played Pokemon on, but (presumably because I was so young) I didn’t really understand what I was supposed to be doing. I got scared when things jumped out at me, I didn’t know you could catch wild pokemon, I couldn’t have told you what type anything was and I don’t think I ever saw a gym. Not the best start to a franchise.
I’ve tried playing the older games since and I don’t know if it’s trauma or if they’re just not my thing, but I really can’t get into them. Then I saw Sun and Moon with their shiny new graphics and 3D world and a distinct lack of ‘gyms’ which have been replaced with Island Kahunas and I thought, maybe I can get into this. And I did.
Pokemon Sun/Moon are friendly to any level of player: they emphasise a lot of what long-term fans of the franchise have enjoyed while making the aesthetics and goals a lot more accessible and more easily understood by the new player. The difficulty increases gradually, you’re taught that exploration equals reward and the quirky characters are brought to life even more with the new game design. If you’re the kind of person who collected Pokemon cards (me, I loved those things) but never got into the Game Boy editions, I highly recommend Sun and Moon. Also, you only need a 2DS. The 3D aspects of a 3DS aren’t worth the extra money, and you can play all the same games.
4. Dragon Quest Builders (PS4)
There are a few games I’ve split the cost of with my boyfriend in the last year or two, and this is one of them. Dragon Quest Builders is a mixture of sandbox and RPG – think Minecraft paired with… actually I don’t know any other games to compare it to. It’s like a controlled, yet way more fun Minecraft with an actual storyline.
Your character is the only human able to build new things – this power has been taken from the rest of humanity by the evil Dragon Lord (but you’ve got a Goddess on your side). Through multiple chapters with surprisingly different stories and themes, you rebuild a settlement and restore a little light to the world which has been cursed to darkness by – you guessed it – the Dragon Lord.
This game excels in being interesting to any age. Kids could definitely understand the gameplay and have a great time building stuff, but the clash between humans and monsters is complex and convoluted and the dialogue both heart-wrenching and hair-raising. The game was originally Japanese and has been translated impeccably; every joke is heard loud and clear. The combat is fair and you’re not heavily punished in failure, which stops me from giving up after one bad battle. The game is worth it just for the twists and turns in the stories that are slowly revealed to you as you play.
5. Tomodachi Life (Nintendo 2DS)
I just had to mention this one. Tomodachi Life came with my 2DS so I booted it up after I’d got over the Pokemon hype and was instantly hooked. It’s unlike any game I’ve played before. After naming your own island, you create characters (who are ideally based on people you know in real life) that live in an apartment block and ask you for help with various problems and friendships. The characters can get married and have kids, and then the kids can move into the apartment block or get sent off as explorers. You pick everything about the characters, from their facial features to their voice and even their personality traits.
There are various shops and destinations around the island which your characters can visit, and events are held each day. My favourite part is the news, which consists of the player’s achievements or random stories and is read out by a randomly chosen character at various points throughout the day. The characters will also choose to say something of their own accord every so often, which is usually strangely profound. If I had to categorise it, I’d say it was the Sims mixed with Tamagotchi but with a lot more room for bizarre things to happen.
So if you’re getting a DS, I would recommend getting one that comes with this game. It’s so not worth buying separately but it’s a great experience, and hey, I’m still playing it.