I’m in a video game funk ever since I beat Dark Souls III. I was in one before I got Dark Souls III, and now that it’s over, I’m back in it. I still play Binding of Isaac: Rebirth/Afterbirth every day, but it’s more just to scratch that video game itch. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a very good game. However, it’s more a habit by now than anything. I’m not a great Isaac player, but I don’t really have to think about it as I play it. I can zone out as I play, so it’s pretty restful for me. The problem is, Dark Souls has spoiled me for most new games. If they’re Souls-like, they just make me want to play Dark Souls again. There are a couple of Souls-like games that I’m interested in (EITR and Death’s Gambit), but they’re not coming out for the foreseeable future. I’m somewhat interested in Salt and Sanctuary, but not enough to actually buy it. I’ve tried to play some hack and slashes, which I loved before, but I found myself getting bored fairly easily. Path of Exile, which I loved when I played it in beta/early access, Victor Vran, and Grim Dawn. All three should be right up my alley, but I just couldn’t stay interested. I need a game that is engrossing as Souls is, but isn’t Dark Souls. Until that happens, I want to tell you about a few of my favorite games, all of which I’ve finished (or, in the case of Rebirth, got the Real Platinum God achievement. There really is no finishing Rebirth).
- Dark Souls, the trilogy. I’ve written ad nauseam about these games, and with good reason. The first Dark Souls is a masterpiece, and I would recommend it in a heartbeat with a caveat: Don’t play it if you’re easily frustrated or if you don’t like dying many, many times. I’ve had people try the game because of my enthusiasm, then confess that they had ragequit the game. They’re always apologetic, but I get it. I really do. I am a huge fan of these games, but I can understand why someone wouldn’t be. The games are often an exercise in futility, and it’s easy to get frustrated and sore while playing these games. I ragequit the first game the first time I played it and didn’t touch it for years afterwards. I don’t remember how I got back into it–probably because the sequel was being announced, and if I wanted to play that, I felt I had to play the original first.
I wish I could say it was love at first sight (I originally typed ‘first fight’, which is not wrong), but it wasn’t. The game kicked my ass several ways of Sunday every time I played it, and I honestly couldn’t tell you why I kept going. Stubbornness, probably. I have a lot of pride, and there was no way in hell I was going to let this game get the better of me. The Biggie & Small fight nearly broke me, but once I beat them, I felt as if I could handle anything else FromSoft threw at me. I soldiered on, but the second half of the game wasn’t nearly as good as the first. The DLC was fucking brutal, and I was relieved when I finished it.Ironically, it was playing the sequel, which is considered a lesser game, that made me really fall in love*, as it were, with the series.
By the time I finished the second game, I was all-in, even though, once again, the DLC kicked my ass. I went back and played the first game again as a pyromancer, but better, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. One reason is because I engaged in jolly cooperation whenever I could. Once I finish a Souls game for the first time, soloing as much as I can, I have no compunction about summoning phantoms. And, the games are a total blast that way. Dark Souls III was a love letter to Souls fans. It never strayed too far out of its comfort zone, which was fine with me. I wanted the ultimate Souls experience playing it, which is exactly what I got. I can’t explain exactly why I’m so invested in this series, but it’s now a part of me in a way I never would have expected.
- Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. What can I say about this game that I’ve put the most time into? It’s based on the Abraham/Isaac story (Bible), but with a twist. Isaac’s mother is deeply religious, and she hears a voice telling her to kill her son, Isaac. She has previously shut him in the basement, so that’s where the game starts–with you in the basement as a little Isaac, trying not to be killed by your mom. BoI:R is a remake of the original BoI, which I never really liked. The original was janky and hard to control and just not fun at all.
I started playing BoI:R with skepticism, but it grabbed me immediately. The controls are smooth, and it’s so much fun getting synergies that make you OP late in the game. There are several unlockable characters, and they all have distinct characteristics. My favorite is Eden because s/he starts with two items, maybe a trinket, maybe a pill/card, varying stats, and a varying amount of health. S/he also starts with a different hairstyle every time. You need a token** in order to play as Eden, and you use a token every time you play as him/her. Azazel is my second favorite because he starts with mini-Brimstone, can fly, and has more damage. In other words, he’s babby mode.This game is hard when you first start playing it. You have to figure out what all the enemies do (and there are a ton of them), how much damage each does, and good luck if you have shit damage. I’m someone who cares a lot about health, but in this game, damage is king. If I have a run in which I have a shitton of health but very low damage, I lose interest very quickly.
The theme of the game is something that is rarely seen, too. You’re a boy who is trying to escape his murderous mother, and you get increasingly grotesque as you go because you’re picking up all these items that help you, but may be bad for you in real life. Synthol, Dog Food, Chemical Peel, Ipecac, Magic Mushroom, to name a few. Most of the items make a physical impact on you, and by the time you reach the end of the game, you look like a monster. Interestingly, the boss of The Cathedral is…Isaac. You. A pristine Isaac, and I didn’t really think about what that meant until I read this excellent article.I’m not going to tell you how many hours I’ve put into Rebirth/Afterbirth, but it’s the game I’ve played the most by far. Once you get the basic gist of the game, it can be a lot of fun trying to break it. I’m not as big a fan of Afterbirth because I feel as if it’s mostly fan service, but I still play it (because it’s integrated with Rebirth. Can’t play one without the other).
- Torchlight. The first ‘hardcore’ game I’ve played, and one suggested to me by Ian. It’s a hack-and-slash adventure game, and while I was skeptical going into it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I played as the Vanquisher because she’s the only female character, and I rocked a bow and arrow through most of the game. It’s a classic loot-filled game in which you pick up every shiny object you can find. As with most of these kinds of games, your inventory is limited, but there’s a nice twist in that you have a pet who can run to town with your shit and sell it for you. By the way, I love the pet mechanic in this game. You can have a cat or dog as your pet (I chose a cat, as black as possible, because I have two black cats, and I named her Enigma), and she will fight by your side. Additionally, you can fish for fishes that will augment her powers and transform her into other creatures for a certain amount of time. I loved this mechanic, and I spent a considerable amount of time fishing so I could feed her. She also levels up, albeit it not as quickly as you do.
The game is fun throughout. I liked leveling up my skills and summoning minions and being able to heal Enigma and me with one click of the mouse. It’s not hard by any definition of the word, but that’s what made it the perfect starter ‘hardcore’ game for me. I don’t think I would have dealt well with Dark Souls or Binding of Isaac: Rebirth as my first serious game because it takes a long time before you feel competent playing either. With Torchlight, I felt powerful right from the beginning. It wants you to feel large and in charge, and I appreciated that as I guided Mulan*** throughout countless dungeons. The story was negligible, but that wasn’t why I was playing this game, anyway. The NPCs are colorful and fun to talk to, and I enjoyed doing quests for them. I wasn’t as keen on the endless dungeons, but that was because I fucked them up and had to start over again.
You might be wondering why I chose Torchlight and not the sequel, which is the consensus superior game. I am in the minority who preferred the original in part because I don’t care about multiplayer. In addition, I liked the Vanquisher so much as a character (and was really glad she was an NPC in the second game), all the characters in the sequel paled in comparison. I chose the Berserker in the sequel, and she got way too powerful way too fast. By the end of the game, I had a hundred healing potions and hadn’t touched one in hours. I like being OP, but that was too much. Finally, the sequel just felt like more of the same. Yes, I know I said that’s what I liked about DS III, but with gameplay as simple as Torchlight’s, more of the same is not necessarily a good thing. In the end, I have a soft spot in my heart for Torchlight because it was the first ‘hardcore’ game I played, and it was a really good time. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be gaming today.
- Cook, Serve, Delicious. My god. This game. It’s a cooking sim game, but it’s so much more than that. You might be saying, “Minna, this isn’t a hardcore game,” but you would be so wrong. It has a nominal story of you buying a shitty restaurant and turning it into a five-start restaurant. You buy foods and upgrade them, making them increasingly complicated to complete. You serve them to dumpy-looking customers as quickly as you can, having to complete chores in between orders. In addition, you receieve hilarious emails, some of them that have to do with the game, and some that are just spam. You don’t have a second to think, but if you can get in the groove, there’s a meditative aspect to it.
There’s more to the game than that, however. You can date people, wooing them with your culinary skills, compete in Iron Cook Challenges, and do Catering Events. There’s also a NG+ experience which is much, much harder. After I 100%’ed the game, they came out with an expansion/DLC, which I bought. It’s called Battle Kitchen, and there are a whole bunch of challenges you have to meet. You win stars with every win, and when you reach a certain amount of stars, you get to spin a wheel and unlock characters from other indie games, such as Fish from Nuclear Throne and Starch from Assault Android Cactus.**** I haven’t spent as much time with the DLC as I did with the original game because I don’t care much about the challenges, but I’m super-stoked because a sequel has been announced. It was suppose to come out this summer, but didn’t. I cannot wait for Cook, Serve, Delicious 2; you can be sure I’ll be playing the hell out of it. The original is a clickfest in a good way, and there’s very little more satisfying than finishing with a perfect day.
- Portal. I had a bad experience with this game the first time I tried to play because I had someone hovering over my shoulder, barking out directions. After fifteen minutes of that, I stopped and refused to pick it up again. Fast-forward six or seven years, and I was curious to play because I’d heard nothing but rave reviews about it. It’s a first-person shooter puzzle game, and that’s not something you see every day. In addition, the main character is an Asian woman. That’s not something you see hardly ever. Chell. Still my favorite protagonist in any game ever. The situation is foreboding and different, too. You wake up in a a room, no idea where you are or what you’re doing. You have some kind of ray gun with which you can shoot portals, but that’s about it. It takes a bit to figure out that you need to use the portals to move from room to room, and at some point, a voice starts talking to you.
Ah, GLaDOS. She is the voice talking to you, and she’s a real asshole. She goads you and lies to you and taunts you as you make your way through what you learn is Aperture Science’s research lab. You are the experiment, and you will die if you don’t get out the situation. The puzzles become increasingly difficult, and I had to get Ian to do one of them for me because even though I knew what I was supposed to do (I looked it up), I couldn’t line it up properly. I have spatial awareness difficulties, so this game was frustrating to me more than once. When I finally reached the end of the game, however, I felt like a fucking genius. This game is brilliant, and I’ve heard that Portal 2 is even better. I’ve put about an hour into the sequel, but I got stuck by a puzzle. Again. I want to get back to it because I loved the original so much. I’ll probably have to start over again, but I’m OK with that.
Side note: There are talks of a J.J. Abrams-led Portal movie. I’m both excited and nervous about this. I would love a great Portal movie, but I’m worried that he won’t cast an Asian as Chell. Also, that he won’t get Ellen McLain to voice GLaDOS. What if there isn’t even a GLaDOS???? I’m not a huge Abrams fan, so I’m skeptical.
Portal was so fresh and different for its time. It’s aged well, and it’s something I could pick up right now and still enjoy. It’s a game I would recommend to anyone who’s interested in games, but unsure of where to start. It never wears out its welcome, and it’s highly-satisfactory to solve the puzzles. Also, beating the final boss was pretty great, too.
That’s my list of favorite games. They are all solid games (in addition to being favorites of mine), and I can see why I have such a high standard for games these days.
*I have a hard time defining my feelings for the series. It’s not love, exactly, or enjoyment, or anything like that. But, I wouldn’t trade the experience of playing them for anything.
**You get a token every time you win a run.
***I name all my characters Mulan.
****Both are fantastic games. I finished AAC, but not NT.