PC/Mac/Linux • Nostalgia is a tricky beast. Some creators will use it like bad wallpaper, covering the cracks of their leaky foundation while trying to remind us of the wallpaper in our childhood bedroom as if that would make us ignore what’s underneath. Other creators will use it to enhance the story or characters by dropping us deeper into whatever it is they’ve crafted. Last year’s X-Files reboot was the former, Stranger Things was the latter. Nostalgia can only take you so far, and if the product isn’t good to begin with then nostalgia won’t suddenly make it worth your time. Thimbleweed Park drips with nostalgia. In fact, they could have called it “Nostalgia: The Game” and I would have nodded and thought it was a good choice. Thimbleweed Park exists solely to remind you of classic point-and-click adventures from the 80’s and 90’s, especially those from LucasArts, but it does it with a deft hand and excellent new mechanisms, making it far more Stranger Things than X-Files. This is nostalgia done right.
iOS Universal, Android • Shortly after this review was published, Funforge updated Tokaido, notably adding the previously missing two-player option. Because two-player local play was my ideal use case for the game, this pleased me greatly, and it deserved special mention. My thanks to forum-goer “Misguided” for directing my attention to the improvement. Tokaido crystallizes thinking about the merits and challenges of digital translations of tabletop games. The cardboard version features lovely art, evocative of stylized watercolors, which sets the mood for a pleasant walk along a scenic road in ancient Japan. Not content to simply replicate these static images, developers Funforge created a 3-D, animated version which captures the artistic impact of the original–given the extent to which this is the game’s greatest asset, that’s genuinely impressive. Unfortunately, the very quality of the presentation highlights limitations of both the app and the underlying game.
iOS Universal • Word games are usually not my go-to, but every now and then one will get under my skin and become an obsession. The last was Tim Fowers’ board game port, Paperback, but Zach Gage’s latest, TypeShift is the newest word game keeping me up at night.
Switch • With a daughter turning nine in March, I had an excuse to pre-order a Switch and the new Zelda. The one-sentence review I would give of it is this: it’ll make you feel like a kid again, until you watch kids play. If I could add another sentence, I’d note that I’m only writing about it because I promised my kids I wouldn’t do the thing I just started doing in the game until they could watch me, and they’re in school. As I have now been gifted with an unsought opportunity to reflect, I’m going to make the most of it to try and excuse playing Zelda to the exclusion of writing for you wonderful people for weeks. It was “research” for this piece.
iOS Universal, Android (coming soon) • Neil Gaiman is my favorite (living) author. I haven’t read anything from him that I’ve disliked, and will buy any new book he writes without even knowing what it’s about. I feel the same way about Wes Anderson’s movies, even though I’m not a hipster (and if you call me one, I’ll take off my glasses and jaunty hat and we’ll have to go outside, mister). For some reason, certain creators just connect with each of us regardless of what they put their minds too. It’s no different in the digital realm. For a long time, Blizzard was my spirit animal, then Playdek. I still like both of them, but I’m starting to think that Tinytouchtales is the one. Maybe it’s the art, maybe the gameplay. Probably both. Whatever it is, they know how to crawl inside my head and hit all the right buttons. Card Crawl is still in there, tapping away as one of my favorite mobile games ever. Their latest, Card Thief, might be even better.
PC/Mac, iOS (coming soon), PS4, Vita, Xbox One, Wii U • A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies. The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure! Scrub ‘colonies’, keep ‘off-world’ and underscore ‘adventure’. Forma.8 is here.
iOS, Android • Link Twin is a simple, pleasantly-presented puzzler. Though modest in scope and number, its puzzles pass my idiosyncratic test: they sometimes stumped me until I stopped playing, and were immediately solvable when I returned. That tells me that there are various ways to approach them which are valuable enough to attract one’s thinking but easily accessible enough that breaking one’s chain of thought makes it possible to take a new tack. This would leave me perfectly satisfied, but for the fact that the minimal narrative hints at something more.
iOS Universal, PC/Mac • Being a socially awkward 12 year-old in 1983 meant that I spent an inordinate amount of time by myself at the local mall, most of it at Aladdin’s Castle spending paper route earnings one quarter at a time. When the quarters dried up only a few other stores could garner enough excitement to get a visit before biking home. There was Hobby Horse, where I could peruse Dungeon & Dragons modules and Ral Partha metal figures. There was Spencer Gifts, whose poster section offered the alluring chance to spy sideboob before being asked to leave the store. And then there was Waldenbooks, one of the early Amazon casualties, which offered up more books than I could imagine and was far closer to home than any public library. It was here that I purchased my first Fighting Fantasy book, Warlock of Firetop Mountain.
iOS Universal, PC/Mac • When the first Where’s Waldo? book was published I was already in high school failing to impress the ladies with tales of my 7th level paladin, Sir Loinofbeef. Yes, even at 16 I was confused why girls weren’t impressed by the wit of a Bugs Bunny cartoon from 1949. Anyway, I was a bit on the old side for “hidden object” books that seem to still be a thing 30 years after the bespectacled barber pole made his first appearance. Hidden Folks is basically a Where’s Waldo? for the digital age. Each screen is loaded with a mind boggling horde of stuff, and you’re tasked with finding a needle in the figurative haystack. Sounds terrible, I know, but for some reason it isn’t. In fact, it’s a rather wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Tabletop • In the comments following our review of Arkham Horror: The Card Game, there was short discussion of Fantasy Flight‘s recent decision to split their rulebooks into two separate tomes, a Learn to Play guide and a Rules Reference. Victory Point Games has done FFG one better. Actually, four better. That’s right, when you pull the lid off of the latest edition of Dawn of the Zeds you’ll find no less than six rulebooks staring you in the face. Six. If the tech writer at VPG was writing A Song of Ice and Fire the series would have ended back in 2005. I’ll admit, the six manuals seemed like a whole lot of overkill until I actually got this to the table. Dawn of the Zeds can be a massive, complex game if you want it to be, or it can be a simple struggle against invading hordes. Either way, it’s harder than hell and hell of a lot of fun.