The holidays have come and gone, and many of you might have new video game systems that you’re eager to fill with more games. Or maybe your loved ones threw up their hands and said, “We don’t know what to get you, so here’s a gift card,” leaving you to decide what electronic entertainment to spend your time and money on.
A lot of great video games have been released in the last few months, some of which could have been trampled during the holiday shopping rush. So in case you missed them, here are 10 recent releases that are worth checking out, in alphabetical order.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII: Reunion
Final Fantasy VII is a masterpiece role-playing game that is playable on just about every system under the sun, but its best spinoff, Crisis Core, has until now been locked to Sony’s only moderately successful PlayStation Portable. This new version, Reunion, remasters the game to make it look and feel more like 2020′s Final Fantasy VII Remake, allowing more people to experience this prequel story in a better way than ever before.
Crisis Core is shorter and more action-heavy than its forebear, and its portable roots offer a more casual RPG experience that can easily be picked up and enjoyed in short bursts. The main caveat to the battle system is that most of the game’s most powerful abilities are locked behind a digital slot machine mechanic (literally). The upside: It can help battles feel dynamic and fun. The downside: You will sometimes feel too much as if you’re at the mercy of the random number generator, depending more on luck than skill.
The basic, linear story can be completed in a breezy 15 hours or so. But if you want to get more bang for your buck and conquer the game’s 300 (mostly optional) extra missions you could easily double your time.
Available now on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PC.
God of War: Ragnarok
When the God of War series first became a smash hit on the PlayStation 2, it was notable for its gore, its explicit content and the constant rage of its protagonist, Kratos. Fighting your way through armies of mythological Greek monsters and gods was a violent but fun affair.
The new God of War is still violent, but it is also much more thoughtful. Ragnarok picks up soon after where 2018′s reboot left off, still focused on the legends of Norse mythology this time around. But if you were to ask me what it’s about, the first thing I would say is not “It’s about fighting Odin and Thor” but instead “It’s about parenthood, and how the relationship between a father and son can be messy but worthwhile.”
Purely as a game, Ragnarok is an enjoyable adventure through a relatively open environment full of monsters to kill and secrets to find. But those things are elevated by the fact that it is all propelled by an emotional story worth telling.
Available now on PlayStation.
The surge of popularity in farming-based video games, mostly in the wake of Stardew Valley’s smashing success, has been great for the “cozy gaming” crowd. But sometimes you need your stakes to be a little higher than just “Will I sell enough wheat to upgrade my watering can?” Stakes like solving the mysteries behind the “season of death” and making sure it doesn’t destroy the life of more than just your crops.
Harvestella blends relaxed farming gameplay with action role-playing mechanics that feel more in line with a Final Fantasy spinoff. The downside is that the game doesn’t exactly master either half of that equation, which could leave you wanting if you’re looking for purely a good life simulation or a good RPG. But if the chocolate plus vanilla combo it offers is up your alley, you might find yourself addicted for seasons to come.
Available now on Nintendo Switch and PC.
The Last of Us: Part I
On Jan. 15, HBO will debut its prestige television adaptation of The Last of Us, the subscription TV service’s first show based on a video game. If you want to check out the source material, this is the best place to start.
Part I is actually the third release of The Last of Us, which debuted on the PS3 back in 2013. In a story reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, it chronicles the post-apocalyptic journey of a gruff Texan and the young girl he’s sworn to protect. A deadly and highly contagious disease has turned much of the world’s population into fungal, zombielike monsters. Players will sneak their way through infected areas and use improvised weaponry in a desperate effort to survive.
If you’ve never played The Last of Us before, now is as good a time as any, and this is the definitive way to experience a game that has become a modern classic. If you have played the game already, there’s not much to entice you back aside from an impressive new coat of paint. You may just want to save your appetite for the show.
Available now on PlayStation 5. Coming to PC on March 3.
Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope
A lot of Mario games, whether they involve saving a princess or playing a sport, require quick reflexes and constant movement. Not this one. Mario + Rabbids requires you to pause, analyze the situation in front of you, and plan ahead.
Sparks of Hope, like predecessor Kingdom Battle, is a turn-based strategy game set in the Super Mario universe but guest-starring Ubisoft’s loud, rambunctious rabbitlike mascots. With every turn in a battle, you will want to think carefully about how you will move your characters and take advantage of their unique abilities. For example, Mario’s brother Luigi is great at long-distance with his bow and arrow, but you’ll probably want to keep Princess Peach close enough to the front lines that she can heal everybody when needed.
It’s a different take for the Italian plumber, but the formula is fun, addictive and well-polished.
Available now on Nintendo Switch.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns
The Avengers have their place, but the Midnight Suns have consumed more hours from me than most video game superhero team-ups have in the past.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a comic book-inspired, turn-based strategy game from the studio behind Civilization and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The game lets you create your own superhero, the Hunter, and throws you into battle alongside other heroes like Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Blade and Captain Marvel to take on HYDRA and their latest dark magic scheme.
During battle you are randomly dealt ability cards from a deck that you can customize yourself, granting abilities and movement skills unique to each hero in your party. Teamwork and clever planning are key. In between these fights, you will have plenty of time to cool down and chill out with your fellow heroes, building relationships that will in turn improve your chances against enemy forces.
Available now on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and PC. It is planned for release on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at a later date.
Yes, there are two Marvel games on this list. If that’s a problem, you can take it up with the Comics Code Authority.
Marvel Snap does a lot of things perfectly for a digital-only, mobile-centric card game, avoiding many of the pitfalls that make other collectible card games intimidating for new players. Each match lasts only six turns (give or take one), meaning you will be done in less than five minutes. You also don’t need to stress too much about building your deck, as each one only holds 12 cards. New to card games? Don’t worry. All of your first matches will be against AI opponents instead of human players, minimizing any embarrassment you might otherwise feel.
One of the biggest points in its favor? Marvel Snap is free. As free-to-play games go, Snap does a stellar job of avoiding the sense that it is ever “pay-to-win,” or built in a way that favors paying players over free ones. You can spend a ton of money if you like, but it’s all in the form of cosmetic items, primarily variations of card designs that showcase your favorite heroes in a wide variety of art styles.
Available now on phones and PC.
Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet
Pokémon games are released every year these days, and this latest iteration sits in a unique, seemingly contradictory space: If you talk to a lot of lifelong Pokémon fans about Scarlet and Violet (which, if you’re new to the series, are alternate versions of the same game), there is a good chance they will tell you that they are the buggiest and most technologically disappointing games in years but also the most fun they’ve had with the series in a long time.
That dichotomy is frustrating, but it’s still proving to be successful for Nintendo and the Pokémon Co. Scarlet and Violet introduce a lot of exciting features to the beloved monster catching series, including a more open world, a less linear story progression and four-player multiplayer, which allows friends to explore the new land together.
Available now on Nintendo Switch.
Return to Monkey Island
One of the most beloved adventure game series of all time is back with all of the humor and clever puzzle-solving you’d expect alongside a story that feels appropriately retrospective.
Mighty pirate Guybrush Threepwood – think of a more charming but goofier Jack Sparrow – set out to solve the secret of Monkey Island years ago, but all he got was a stupid T-shirt. Now he intends to uncover the island’s mystery for real, as long as the villainous ghost pirate LeChuck doesn’t get there first.
Like past Monkey Island games, Return to Monkey Island is a point-and-click adventure game with charming 2D graphics and jokes and funny references that are packed into every nook and cranny. If you’re not good at solving puzzles, there’s a handy hint system that will hold your hand through the story.
Available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox.
Sports Story, a follow-up to 2017′s Golf Story, might be less about sports than you would expect. Sure, you will spend a lot of your time hitting golf balls, playing tennis or returning serves in volleyball. But you will be spending as much time, if not more, completing over-the-top tasks such as rescuing a cat from bees (using a frog), infiltrating a base, freeing gossiping birds from their cages and squaring off against pirates, gang members and other foes.
All of this is done with graphics and game mechanics that are reminiscent of (but more advanced than) what you would find in old Super Nintendo sports games. The old-school feel lends the experience some extra charm, invoking memories not just of old sports games but also epic role-playing adventures.
Originally planned for release in 2020 before experiencing several delays, Sports Story is clearly much more ambitious than its predecessor, which focused solely on golf. As of this writing, there are some rough edges in terms of bugs and technical performance that will hopefully be smoothed out soon, but players who can see past those will experience a charming adventure that’s not quite like anything they’ve likely played before.
Available now on Nintendo Switch.
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