Since its February in release, Elden Ring has taken the internet by storm as millions of hapless players explore the Lands Between, die repeatedly (and violently) along the way, and then meme about it. This latest release from Hidetaka Miyazaki and FromSoftware — creators of Demon’s Souls and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice — is notoriously challenging; dying is basically a prominent game mechanic as players figure their way through the game’s relentlessly grim world, frantic boss battles, and unforgiving quests.
Elden Ring’s grim narrative and punishing difficulty are part of the appeal, of course. But they can also be a lot. After clocking 90 hours on the game over the past month, I needed a respite. So I reacquainted myself with a bunch of my favourite feel-good games — titles that helped me remember gaming can be full of fun, hope, colour, laughter, good vibes, and no-strings-attached wonder (when it isn’t about dying in hilarious and infuriating ways).
Chicory: A Colourful Tale
Elden Ring’s fantasy world is full of melancholy and infinite sadness and a spectrum of moral choices. Chicory’s world of Picnic? It’s pure black and white. And that’s the problem. Assuming control of an anthropomorphic dog named after their favourite food (Default: “Pizza”), players take up a magical paintbrush and set forth to paint Picnic red (and orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) on their journey to solve the mystery of the missing colours, while making some quirky friends along the way.
Part Link’s Awakening, part visual novel, Chicory is a funny and surprisingly deep adventure about self worth, creativity, and inspiration, taking place across a world just waiting for the player to make their mark.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, macOS, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 5
A Short Hike
Want a game that’s literally the opposite of Elden Ring? A Short Hike features adorable graphics modelled on the N64 or Nintendo 3DS (depending on which graphics setting you select), is set in Canada (not the bleak Lands Between), lets you explore a dense, creatively designed island as a flying bird searching for cell service, and has a touching story that’s over before you know it. It’s the perfect antidote to your FromSoftware blues.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, macOS, Linux
Life is Strange: True Colours
Set in a small Colorado mining town, Life is Strange: True Colours is a narrative-heavy experience couched in player choices that define how they story plays out over its five chapters (and optional prologue DLC). Players take the role of Alex Chen, a twenty-something woman gifted with mysterious empathic powers, who’s spent her life bouncing between foster homes, as she reconnects with her estranged brother. Along the way, Alex finds friends (and enemies) as she explores Haven Springs and makes a series of personal choices that determine her relationships with the town residents and ultimately dictate how the game’s explosive ending plays out.
It’ll make you cry, sure, but in a different, healthier way than Elden Ring.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age
Want a 100 hour game that won’t suck your soul dry before it’s over? Yuji Horii’s latest entry in the long-running Japanese RPG series is a bright, amusing, thoroughly immersive experience featuring not one but two huge plot twists that rewrite everything the player thought they knew about the game.
Unlike its longtime competitor Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest XI sticks to the genre’s traditional turn-based roots, with polished combat and character development systems that feel like a 21st century take on the golden age of Super NES Japanese RPGs. Speaking of which, the polished “definitive edition” allows you to play the whole game in all the pixel art glory of the 16-bit era. Two huge adventures for the price of one!
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Nintendo 3DS, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia
Animal Crossing: New Horizons — Happy Home Paradise
Even Elden Ring’s Tarnished heroes need a break from the oppressively bleak Lands Between. What better way to get some R&R than a tropical getaway where you call all the shots?
Happy Home Paradise is an add-on for 2020’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons that puts the player in charge of decorating and furnishing dream vacation homes for animal visitors. Ever wanted to design a superhero training area for a squirrel? What about a bus station for a chicken? Or a karaoke parlor for a bear? Well, here’s your chance. I guarantee this is what your Tarnished dreams of between excruciating deaths.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Open world? Check. Gigantic enemies waiting to wreck you? Check. Countless customisation options? Check. Intricate crafting system? Check. Semi-coherent story? Check. Incredible soundtrack? Check.
No. We’re not talking about Elden Ring. Nintendo’s latest take on its flagship RPG series shares many qualities with FromSoftware’s masterpiece, but in place of death-spewing corpses, Pokémon Legends: Arceus has cuddly Pikachus and big Buizels. While its no technical masterpiece, Arceus is a joy to play thanks to innovations on the classic Pokémon formula — including the aforementioned open world, the ability to see and battle Pokémon right on the game map without a transition to a separate combat screen, and making your own Pokéballs and other items with gathered materials. It’s just fun, and provides a glimpse at what’s coming to future mainline games in the series like this year’s Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Like Elden Ring, Outer Wilds is the type of game where the player’s actions drive the narrative and create unique gameplay experiences — but not in the “choose your own adventure” style of a game like Life is Strange: True Colours. This is about experiencing a huge world (or, rather, a series of worlds) and peeling back its layers as a tragic, complex story reveals itself in fragments, relying on the player to piece things together over the course of a 15 hour playthrough. Also like Elden Ring, death is a game mechanic in Outer Wilds, as the game’s universe is destroyed every 22 minutes, leaving the player with only the knowledge they’ve gained along the way as they set out on their next loop around the sun.
Come for the space exploration and heady story, stay for the slappin’ banjo-driven soundtrack and gorgeous alien worlds.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (forthcoming), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
The undisputed King of Kart Racers hasn’t seen a genuinely new entry since 2014’s Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U — but that hasn’t stopped the series from dominating the genre thanks to a re-release on Switch in the form of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which was packed with new content even before the recent launch of the “Booster Course Pass,” which will add another 48 tracks to the game over the course of the next 18 months. Simply put, there’s never been a better time to hop in your kart and take a trip around the Mushroom Kingdom. It’ll get your blood pumping, test your friendships (IRL and online), and put a smile on your face so fast you’ll forget all about Radahn and his silly little horse.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Katamari Damacy REROLL
If you’ve ever played Katamari Damacy — a kooky, action-platformer-puzzle-ball-simulator on acid that debuted back on the PlayStation 2 in 2004 — you’ll no doubt be humming its infectious theme song in your head right now. You know the one. Nah, na na na na nah na naaah.
If you haven’t experienced Katamari Damacy, well… buckle up. You play as a prince, and after your dad, the King of All Cosmos, destroys the entirety of the known universe — the stars, planets, and, well, everything except Earth — it’s your job to clean up his mess. To do this, must roll a sticky magic ball called a katamari through various Earthly-environments. You start off picking up paper clips and thumb tacks, but as your ball grows bigger, you’ll start accumulating up couches, cows, cars, houses, aeroplanes, and, well, whatever you need to make a ball big enough to please your dad, who will turn all that accumulated junk back into a planet.
It’s a trip, and you’ll have a smile on your face (and a catchy tune in your ear) the entire time you play it.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Google Stadia
Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer
Brace Yourself Games’ original Crypt of the NecroDancer cleverly combined elements of dungeon-crawling roguelites and rhythm games to create an experience that was instantly addictive, unique, and challenging to master. This spinoff, which adds Nintendo’s Zelda series to the mix — complete with gorgeous pixel art inspired by the secret best 3D Zelda, The Wind Waker — makes for an even more irresistible meal.
If the tough-as-nails gameplay isn’t enough (you can turn off the rhythm mechanics), the remixes of classic Zelda tunes are worth the price of admission alone. Crypt of the NecroDancer was already known for its top tier music, but Brace Yourself Games brought in composer Danny B — of Super Meat Boy fame — for some of his finest work yet.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Untitled Goose Game
Honk, honk! Honk!
(sorry the goose stole my laptop and i can’t finish my write-up. posting from my phone.)
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, macOS