From cooking sims to monster-tamers to Victorian romances, Sidequest writers have been hard at play this fall. Join us in a recap of the games we’ve been playing; you might find something new that tickles your fancy, a fresh perspective on your favorite game—or a reason not to start that game you’re on the fence about. Ready? Here we go.

Monster Super League, Four Thirty Three, 2017Monster Super League

Four Thirty Three
Android, iOS
September 7, 2016

“Collect the hero/monster” games are a pretty hefty chunk of the non-MMO RPG market, so it’s hard for a game to stand out. What caught my eye about Monster Super League were the graphics. Displayed with both an anime-style portrait and smooth, clean 3D-rendered models, it’s neither overly cutesy, nor gritty and warlike. I jokingly nicknamed this game “Eyecandy for Bisexuals”—while there are a number of female humanoid monsters that fall in the pretty/cute/sexy/fanservice categories, there’s also a number of shirtless pretty boys.

The game itself isn’t just timers and collections: there’s multiple ways to develop your monsters, some light PvP and co-op modes, and a smattering of smart-alec plot. But what makes the game so easy to keep playing is how very well balanced it is. This is no pay-to-win: levels are capped, so the only thing money can buy you is shorter recharge times and the occasional rare monster in bulk. Even without paying, the game makes collecting premium currency easy enough that free/low-paying players won’t be completely left out of events, and I’ve only rarely managed to drain the energy timers down without enough refills to keep playing. The company, which is surprisingly responsive to players on their Facebook page, is also pretty generous with the freebies and bonuses.

If I had to ding this game for one thing, it does crash on occasion. Okay, two things—why can I not nickname my monsters?  I need nicknames!

—Tia Kall

Stranger Things: The Game, BonusXP, Inc. Netflix, 2017

Stranger Things: The Game

BonusXP, Inc.
Netflix
Android, iOS
Oct 4, 2017

Continuing their tradition of meddling with affairs beyond their ken, Netflix has published a video game. Someone had the idea “What if we monetized our game with ads, but instead of a bunch of cheap ads for things people don’t care about, we just put in one big ad for something people want to see?” And that has worked out just fine. The game is meant to evoke SNES-era adventure games, a la Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Not only does it accomplish that, it’s quite entertaining.

The game follows Chief Hopper as he sets out to round up all the kids, who have gone missing again. The mysterious lab on the outskirts of Hawkins is presumably responsible. Each kid rescued becomes a character you can switch to on the fly, and their different abilities are key to unlocking new areas of the map. The town is littered with other named characters from the show, all of whom have dumb fetch quests to give you, as is appropriate to the games being homaged. If you complete all the dungeons and a couple other things, you can collect enough Eggo waffles to unlock Eleven as a character. The game is basically over at that point, which is a little disappointing. Although, she can shoot down owls with her mind bullets, so that’s pretty cool.

The “point” of the game is the trailer for Stranger Things Season 2 that you can unlock once you complete it. Season 2 is out now, which makes that less of a draw, but they’ve added more content to coincide with that release, including a new playable character. The new content is a little spoiler-y, and really the whole game is, but hopefully it’s all elements that are introduced early on, and I can still fully enjoy watching the rest of the show.

— Annie Blitzen

The Superlatives: Aetherfall, Alice Ripley, Choice of Games, 2017

The Superlatives: Aetherfall

Alice Ripley
Choice of Games
Android, iOS, Windows, Kindle, Chrome
Oct 19, 2017

This Choose Your Own Adventure-style game puts you in the shoes of a superhero in a very alternative-history Victorian London. It’s Ripley’s first contribution to Choice of Games, using their ChoiceScript system that allows anyone to write a text-based adventure and host it on their site. According to whatever arcane decision-making process, The Superlatives: Aetherfall is presented as one of Choice of Game’s official titles, rather than a hosted one. It’s a bizarre business model they have going on over there, but it seems to be working out.

I don’t believe this game was written by this Alice Ripley, but who knows. At 260,000 words, it’s a pretty long story no matter which choices you make. I personally found it a little too long, although the writing is all very compelling, which helped the game keep momentum. There are at least two very distinct points that would make good “endings,” and I would’ve appreciated a way to “save” my game at those points so I could replay individual acts with the same set of initial conditions.

My favorite thing about this game is its setting. It’s a deeply socially aware version of Victorian England, which is a dramatic reversal of the actual history. Right off the bat, you’re given a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds to choose from for your character, which is something you don’t see much of in steampunk-type works. I played through as a gay lady, and the relevant romance plotlines were very nice. You’re even given options regarding how elitist versus socially aware you want your character to be. This is one of the best CYOA stories I’ve ever read.

— Annie Blitzen

Digimon Cyber Sleuth, Media.Vision, Bandai Namco, 2015

Digimon Cyber Sleuth

Media.Vision
Bandai Namco
PS4, Vita
March 12, 2015

Hop into the digital world and solve some problems for people, ‘cos you got a new job as a Cyber Sleuth. I’ve played this game before—and loved it—but, thanks to Sony’s fear of piracy, I couldn’t transfer my save and decided to finally replay it on my own PS4. The experience really held up, if not improved, from my first time playing the game. If you grew up enjoying Digimon, it’s an example of Digimon growing up with you.

The story is fun, not exactly breathtaking, but the cast is loaded with really awesome female characters who are each extremely distinct from one another. The world actually has queerness openly mentioned, including a woman who is in love with another woman, a minor NPC who is very clearly stating how they hate how they can’t have a non-binary avatar, a character who asks if a girl has a boyfriend or a girlfriend where the question isn’t framed as scandalized, and a few other bits scattered inside. It’s really amazing to feel like I get to belong in a world I grew up adoring; that they finally address the fact that I have a place in it.

The gameplay loop is really fun. Digi-volving and digi-devolving digimon while racking up really powerful digimon loaded with cool moves is a blast. There is a ton of hidden systems too that you don’t need to deal with to beat the game, but they will help you if you want to fight online or go against the game’s hardest challenges. As a huge fan of games like Pokemon, Dragon Warrior Monster and Monster Rancher, I think this game stands as one of the best of monster-tamers.

— Alexis Sergio

Darkest Dungeon, Red Hook Studios, 2016

Darkest Dungeon

Red Hook Studios
PC
Jan 19th, 2016

I shouldn’t like this game. I don’t like games that are hard for the sake of being hard, and generally the whole Lovecraftian mythos thing earns a shrug from me. It’s so fun though. It was billed to me as a dungeon crawler, and it is, obviously, but that really misses the mark of what it’s like to actually play the game. Dungeons are side-scrolling, with a party of four. In town, you have access to three times that many characters—which is good, because each dungeon dive will test the characters you do have to their limits. Death is permanent in this game, but it’s also not the end—at least for the player. You’ll have to replace those lost party members, and their replacements will start from the beginning. It’s worth not getting too attached.

The closest combat comparison I can make is the days of JRPGs on the Super Nintendo, with your party on one side, the enemies on the other. Combat is turn-based, and during each turn you select from your available abilities or use an item. You can also shuffle party order, which is good, since enemies have abilities that can either knock-back or drag a party member to the front, and certain abilities only work from certain positions.

Dungeon dives come in short, medium, and long, and I find that really works for me; I don’t have the patience for long gaming sessions that I used to. With Darkest Dungeon, I can hit a dungeon and be done in about an hour or so, then move on. The game also autosaves if you need to stop early, so don’t worry about losing progress in a dungeon.

I suppose the best summary for this game is that it’s a turn-based, side-scrolling RPG with Diablo-style aesthetics. If that sounds like it’s your jam, give Darkest Dungeon a try.

—Nola Pfau

 

Undertale, Toby Fox, 2015

Undertale

Toby Fox
Windows/Mac/Linux, PS4, PS Vita
September 15, 2015

I was introduced to this game in two ways: one, through Ashley Miranda’s awesome poem, and through VideoGameDunkey’s playthrough. I had vague notions that I would play it myself someday, but when the Steam sale dropped it to $5, I basically decided that it’s now or never.

And let me tell you, best $5 I’ve ever spent.

The basic premise of the game is that you, a small child, have fallen underground where monsters dwell, and are trying to get back home. Along the way, you find out that humans drove monsters underground due to the strengths of their souls, and that monsters dream of coming back up to the surface one day. The gameplay is straightforward and accessible to everyone.

Everything about this game appeals to me, from the simple aesthetics, mood music, and incredible characters. Papyrus and Sans will go down as two of my favorite characters in gaming history; they resonate with me on a such a deep level. The nameless and speechless protagonist is the very definition of “put yourself in a video game.” From the angsty ghosts to the armor-clad “good guy” who is trying to kill you, this game has been an incredible experience from start to finish.

I really enjoy games that grapple with morality, and I wasn’t expect to have such a deep experience with this particular one. But actually, from the very beginning, you are forced to grapple with your complicity in the oppression of monsters. You must decide how you will go through this world: Will you follow in the footsteps of the humans before you, or forge friendships with those you meet? Will you prove Undyne wrong about humans, or will you strike her down? Will you go back in time to correct your mistake of killing Toriel and get taunted by Flowey, or will your determination to not hurt her win out?

Pick up Undertale and find out.

— Naseem Jamnia

Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo, 2017

Super Mario Odyssey

Nintendo
Nintendo Switch
October 27, 2017

It has been literal decades since I have owned a Nintendo console, and thus I have missed generations of Mario games. The last Nintendo console I had was the SNES, so the last Mario I played through was Yoshi’s Island. I have missed my little plumber guy. I am thoroughly enjoying Odyssey and its unique gameplay elements. I can’t wait to sit down with a friend to try the two-player mode.

— Corinne McCreery

Divinity: Original Sin II, Larian Studios, 2017

Me (skeletal lesbian) curling up with the love of my life (lizard lady).

Divinity: Original Sin II

Larian Studios
PC
September 14, 2017

I’ve gotta be honest, I never in my life thought I’d get the joy of playing a multiplayer RPG, let alone one so unbelievably GOOD! My friend and I have been making our way through the campaign of Divinity: Original Sin II bit by bit since September, and let me tell you, the things we’ve done along the way have been straight up ridiculous. This game has let me take out my authority issues by blasting my way through a fascist conversion camp for sorcerers, take out petty vendettas by transferring my character’s damage to my enemies after they cast damage-over-time spells on me, have a naked bar brawl after falling in love with a lizard lady sex-worker, and venture into the world of petty (sometimes grand) art theft as I steal every painting (plate, fork, skull, decanter, and book) I come across through often surreal and ridiculous means. To be honest, the amount of times one of us hears the words “Oh no, I’m in a fight now,” from across the tavern alone makes this game worthwhile.

— Joesph Langdon

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, The Astronauts, 2014

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

The Astronauts
Windows and PS4
September 26th, 2014

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is the textbook definition of environmental narrative meets atmospheric horror. You play as paranormal investigator Paul Prospero, who’s come to a small mining town in Wisconsin at the behest of a letter from teenage fan Ethan Carter only to discover the village abandoned and Ethan, missing. The player must harness Paul’s supernatural ability to see into the past, and uncover the insidious underbelly of the game’s plot.

The setting of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is downright picturesque. Right from the start, the game dumps the player into rich landscapes juxtaposed with small, grisly scenes that evoke feelings of terror and paranoia. A trail of corpses and mysterious disturbances leads the player across a rickety bridge and down into Red Creek Valley, where magically infused houses, dark, empty churches, and graveyards plagued by ritual sacrifices slowly ratchet up the tension without outright threatening the main character with a violent end.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter touts itself as “a narrative experience that does not hold your hand,” which is just a pretentious way of saying that it’s a walking simulator that’s spooky as fuck, and the developers are 100 percent not sorry about it. If you’re into the occult or just like having the feeling of soul-crushing dread crawling its way up and down your spine, The Vanish of Ethan Carter is for you.

— Stephani Hren

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!, Vertigo Gaming Inc., 2017

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!

Vertigo Gaming Inc.
PC, Mac
September 13, 2017

You know how I like to wind down from a long, hard day at work? More work. That’s why I’m having a blast with Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!, a restaurant sim in which you prepare food according to various orders at high speed. It’s an intense, stressful experience, as the game throws weird key bindings at you (u for guacamole, b, not r, for refried beans, and a for black beans, of course) on top of everybody’s individual food tastes (you’ll get pickles on your chicken sandwich and you’ll like it, Sandra), plus dishes that need washing, bug traps that need emptying, and the occasional robber who needs an ass-kicking.

The general consensus on Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! is that it’s stressful. Don’t get me wrong: it is. But it’s this manageable kind of stress that lets me unwind, even as I’m freaking out about my inability to pour a pitcher of beer without it overflowing or how yet another customer just has to have chicken strips right before I’m due to close. And just like my real service jobs, I can’t yell at customers or tell them no—I can serve them a bad meal, but it only hurts me in the end.

Though there are a few bugs now and then (understandable, considering it’s programmed by just one person), the game is impossibly fun despite its steep difficulty. And with the ability to create your own menu in a custom restaurant, there’s a never-ending potential for replayability. Just as a warning, though, my attempt at an all-liquid restaurant (soups, stews, and beverages) didn’t go over well.

Thank you, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! for allowing me to turn my workaholic tendencies into play.

— Melissa Brinks

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