Astro’s Playroom

Astro’s Playroom is a pack-in with all PS5s. Aptly, it’s also probably the best console launch title since the near-universal Wii Sports. What starts as a nostalgic 3D platformer becomes something much more reverential to the history of PlayStation, to the point of feeling experimental. The game is mainly about jumping and object hunting, but what sticks out here is Team ASOBI!’s love for video games. One of the many collectibles is the PS Move Sharp Shooter peripheral-hunk-of-plastic-failure-thing, and its blurb reads “Met with Resistance”. Astro loves its history, warts and all, and feels pretty special because of that.

Super Mario 64

Possibly the first videogame I ever played, Super Mario 64 was a concept Nintendo had to create a whole new console to see realized on the screen. While I am looking at it through nostalgia-tinted eyes, Super Mario 64 puts function over form. Nintendo astutely realized Mario’s first foray into the third dimension should be a playful romp, not a narrative adventure or visually impressive spectacle. The cartoony aesthetic and joyful exclamations from our persistent plumber still make me smile 20 years after the first time I jumped around in front of Peach’s castle and I think they always will.

Silent Hill 2

A deviation and gigantic step up from the first game, Silent Hill 2 is a masterpiece in psychological horror. James Sunderland is the troubled soul we control in this title. It’s a harrowing journey both physically and mentally, as James suffers emotional torment in a foggy and rusting world filled with horror. It begins when he returns to the “special place” his late wife speaks of through a post-mortem letter she sends him, with the following story being simply incredible. The combat is stiff and awkward, but the game deserves to be praised as one of the greatest ever made.

Spiritfarer

As Stella, I hug my old friend for the last time before I send her onto whatever comes next after this life. With tears in my eyes, I go back to the ship to shear sheep, make endless plates of food and hug everybody within a mile radius. Spiritfarer is the perfect mix between lay-on-the-floor-sadness when you lose your shipmates and grunt-under-your-breath-anger when they send back yet another plate of food because it’s ‘boring.’ Most importantly, it’s about grief and acceptance, the importance of saying goodbye and the memories we leave behind. “I hope it’s like falling asleep.” Me too.

Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt

A cute little free indie, Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt is worth spending an hour on. Cure the woes of the land by shooting the pain away… with healing magic! The combat is simple, yet strategic, and proper use of bombs and dodging will be what wins the day. Progress is simple–heal enough people (or things) to advance to the next area. The art style is minimalist and cute, too. Aside from a cheap trick that will likely have you missing 100% in your first playthrough, the first Princess Remedy title is a short, sweet, and enjoyable adventure.

Umurangi Generation

Playing Umurangi Generation is like being a background character in a disaster movie. You’re a freelance photographer working for the Tauranga Express, combing through the streets and rooftops of the city taking pictures for meager pay. Photography is deep but approachable. It inspired me to dig my old DSLR out of the closet. The world is a stylish near future that at first feels like a relaxing homage to Jet Set Radio, but throughout the game’s short runtime reveals itself to be a prescient allegory for when our institutions fail us, and how regular people end up paying for it.

Halo 5: Guardians

Halo 5: Guardians is lost in its own plot but the gameplay has been sharpened and if you want Spartan action in spacious, interesting levels, it’s here. Frankly, I wouldn’t have had so much of a problem with the centering of the multiplayer by making the entire campaign about commanding a squad, but… You know how sometimes you want to tell a story about the relationship between two people and how they both change and drift apart over time but you accidentally add SEVEN extra protagonists? It happens to the best of us but it also happens to 343 Industries.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: The Game

A decade later, Scott Pilgrim’s retro-style brawler is still the same snappy, charming beat em up that captivated fans in 2010. It doesn’t explain a lot and the controls can be a little floaty, but it doesn’t matter when the punches are landing and the music is bumping. Once you begin to level and build your stats through eating food or buying bionic arms, the game really comes into its own as the cult classic that people clamored for over the years. Though, here’s hoping we don’t all fall in love with it, just to lose it all over again.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is my ultimate comfort food game. Yes, it’s designed for literal children, and to say it offers any kind of challenge for someone in their mid-20’s would be laughable, but I can’t deny that playing it feels like a warm blanket of wonderful familiarity. Most of the LEGO games are pretty interchangeable but I like this one best because the sandbox activities are the most fun out of every LEGO game I’ve played. Curling up on my awful office chair and slapping around some blocky goons is something I always turn to when times get rough.

Stardew Valley

Ever got sick of your shitty office job and wished that you could inherit your nameless grandpa’s farm for yourself? Well, you can if you play Stardew Valley. Yes, you swap your life of crunching numbers for having your own farm with like, 200 gold to your name. Sweet! A town full of old people, sweet but kinda repressed goths, and a mayor that can’t keep his underwear on his body, you’ll explore a land of mystical wonder, fall in love and make new friends – all while tending the field far away from the capitalistic hellhole of your previous life.