‘Ratchet and Clank,’ ‘Pokémon,’ ‘Resident Evil ‘and more can get you through the year’s hottest months.
The outside world is returning to some sense of normalcy, but for those of us in Texas, “normal” means “really dang hot.” So if you can’t be outside all day, you need some things to keep you busy in the good ol’ air conditioning.
Thankfully, quite a few great video games have been released this year. It is admittedly a weird year for games, as COVID-19-related delays are making long stretches of 2021 feel thin, but the stuff on this list has helped keep me happy and entertained the last few months.
‘Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart’
If you’re making a list of iconic video game duos, Ratchet and his robot buddy Clank have to be in the discussion. Since 2002, the pair have been in more than a dozen games, each more bombastic than the last.
In this latest outing, the heroes must travel not only to new planets but also new dimensions to defeat an old nemesis, Dr. Nefarious. You’ll run, jump and shoot your way through a variety of colorful locales, using fun abilities to get from one place to the next. You’ll also amass an impressive arsenal of over-the-top weapons, ranging from a standard sci-fi pistol to a device that turns enemies into plants to a gun that literally rips a dimensional hole in the sky.
"Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart" stands out by being an impressive early showcase for the power of the PlayStation 5. It looks gorgeous and runs smoothly, even when creating big explosions in a large crowd of enemies. But one of the most impressive elements is its load times, allowing you to leap from one dimension to the next seamlessly during the adventure.
Available on the PlayStation 5.
‘New Pokémon Snap’
We’ve all been stuck inside for a while now. Wouldn’t it be great to just hop in a floating car and go on a photo safari to take pictures of Pokémon?
"New Pokémon Snap," as the uninspired name implies, is a sequel to 1999′s Nintendo 64 classic "Pokémon Snap" — a game that I and many other old school "Pokémon" fans remember fondly. Rather than catching or battling with the series’ iconic creatures, the goal here is to take great pictures of different Pokémon creatures as you sit in a linear, tram-like cart. The better your photos, the higher your score.
There is likely a nostalgia factor at play here:If you don’t already love the "Pokémon" series, there is little chance that this game will appeal to you, even as different from mainline games as it may be. At least half of the appeal comes from seeing fan-favorite creatures out “in the wild” and trying to get a perfect shot before they scamper away.
Available on the Nintendo Switch.
Dallas-based game developer Flight School Studio is quite good at creating unique, small and beautiful experiences that don’t easily fit into the standard boxes you expect from video games. Such is the case with its latest game, "Stonefly," which will have you piloting giant mechanical vehicles that behave like tiny, agile insects. (Or maybe everybody and everything in the game is tiny and insect-size? The world that Flight School has made is striking and unexpected.)
Played from an isometric view, combat in "Stonefly" consists of flipping over enemy bugs and pushing them off the environment in an almost sumo wrestling-like fashion. It requires some finesse and strategy, particularly since the various robo-insects you pilot will behave differently.
Unfortunately, I don’t enjoy actually playing "Stonefly" as much as I do Flight School’s last game, "Creature in the Well." It takes just a bit too long to get going, and then it gets slowed up by the need to repeatedly collect resources to improve your abilities. Still, it’s a game unlike anything else you’ve likely played recently, and it’s got a lot of impressive elements, especially considering that it comes from a relatively small team.
Available on PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
‘Resident Evil Village’
I’m a longtime fan of the Resident Evil series, and two of my favorite entries are "Resident Evil 4" and "Resident Evil 7," which are remarkably different games when you put them side by side. So imagine my surprise and delight when playing "Resident Evil Village" (the eighth game in the series) and slowly realizing that the developers had blended both games into something really fun and special.
Village retains "RE7′"s first-person gameplay, but it’s not nearly as scary or as unsettling as its predecessor (though, rest assured, there are plenty of creepy moments). It also mixes in a bit more of the action-focus of "RE4," complete with a large collection of upgradable guns and a shopkeeper to whom you will sell collectable trinkets. It’s also got all the monster slaying and light puzzle-solving you would expect from a "Resident Evil" game, only this time you have to deal with werewolves and vampires in addition to the run-of-the-mill undead.
I don’t often replay games, but I’ve already finished "Resident Evil Village twice. It’s an early contender for one of my favorite games of the year.
Available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
‘DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power’
There was a time when you couldn’t walk into a video game store without tripping over at least three games based on a comic book, but it has actually been a little while since we’ve seen a good superhero game aimed at younger players.
Based on the recent TV show of the same name, "DC Super Hero Girls" puts teenage versions of some of DC’s most powerful women front and center. Have you ever stopped to wonder what high school would be like if Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl and Green Lantern were in classes together? This game juggles both after-school antics and crime-fighting escapades, and it’s surprisingly successful at what it sets out to do.
Available on the Nintendo Switch.
You crash-land on a dark, mysterious planet. Before long you stumble across the corpse of an astronaut — and you’re horrified as you examine the body and discover that it’s you.
So begins "Returnal," a brutally difficult but devilishly good action game about time loops. You are all but guaranteed to die over and over and over again in "Returnal," and each time you return to life, you also return to the beginning of your journey, retaining only select items and knowledge from your last attempt.
"Returnal" makes good use of the PlayStation 5′s unique controller to give you fine control over the game’s variety of weapons, but it was the mystery at the center of the story that kept me playing over and over, even after frustrating deaths.
One downside: At the moment it’s nearly impossible to save and quit your game in the middle of a session (the developers instruct you to use the PS5′s “rest mode” if you need a break), which is not a great system for people who can’t dedicate hours at a time to a single game.
Available on PlayStation 5.
‘Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade’
If you listened to me a little over a year ago and picked up "Final Fantasy VII Remake" on the PlayStation 4, and then you were lucky enough to pick up a PlayStation 5, you can now upgrade to a sharper, better version of one of 2020′s best games for free.
If you didn’t play the game last year, you have a perfect opportunity to hop in with "Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade" (yes, that’s the full, somewhat confusing title) on the PS5. It contains the stellar base game as well as a substantial new downloadable chapter, titled “Episode Intermission.” Players of last year’s version can grab that new chapter as a $20 add-on. It’s a lot shorter than the main game, but it’s sweet.
"Final Fantasy VII Remake" is in some ways a misnomer, because it’s not just a remake of one of the most beloved Japanese role-playing games of all time. It’s the first chapter of an innovative reimagining of a classic, driven by a great story and polished gameplay that should entertain both old and new fans.
Available on the PlayStation 5.
Do you want to spend more time reading this summer, but you still want to play video games? Might I suggest "Disco Elysium" as a way to enjoy both?
(You don’t actually have to read everything. The game is fully voice-acted.)
"Disco Elysium" is a more cerebral take on classic role-playing games, with the most obvious difference being that there is no combat. Set in a fantasy world distinct from our reality, you play a run-down detective attempting to solve a murder mystery during a story that takes place entirely in a single city district. Everything you say and every choice you make has an impact on your character and the way other people interact with him. Be prepared for things to get deep — there is a lot of discussion among characters about politics, morality and religion.
Now in its “Final Cut” form, Disco Elysium is available on the PC, Mac, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
If all you’ve got to keep you entertained this summer is an aging computer, I have some good news: One of this year’s best games is designed to look like it runs on an old PC, and as such it can be played on most laptops.
"Loop Hero" is all about, well, looping, and at times it actually plays itself. Played from an overhead perspective in a board game-like fashion, the primary element of "Loop Hero" involves laying down tiles on a randomized track. The hero will walk in circles around that track, outside of your direct control, being influenced by every monster, building, item and other tile you strategically place on the field. You want to keep him alive — but you also want to put him at risk so you can collect more resources.
As a unique mishmash of game genres and ideas, it’s difficult to put "Loop Hero" into words, but it can be even more difficult to stop playing.
Available on Windows and MacOS.
‘Neo Geo Pocket Collection’
If you’d rather spend your summer with blasts from the past instead of something new, you might be interested in the "Neo Geo Pocket Collection." While the Neo Geo Pocket Color handheld didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it launched in 1999 (that’s what you get when you compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy Color), it was home to quite a few beloved games that are still fondly remembered (and plenty that, honestly, don’t hold up very well).
Fighting games like "SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium" and "SNK Gals’ Fighters" are still pretty fun, as are the two included Metal Slug games (miniaturized versions of action classics you might have seen in arcades). If you care about game history and preservation, there are also some great high-resolution versions of the games’ manuals and box art. They aren’t all winners, but this collection is a neat blast from the past for a specific audience.
Available on the Nintendo Switch.
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