This year has been… a lot. Staring at the same handful of walls for months has made me want to escape more than just my apartment. I’ve been seeking out excellent video game puzzlers that let me bend my reality just a bit and step into a nice dream. Here are 3 such experiences to help you round out a bizarre 2020.
A Fisherman’s Tale (VR)
Anyone who grew up with a dollhouse (or like me, a Castle Greyskull) has spent hours imagining the world inside coming to life. A Fisherman’s Tale took place in the dreamworld of a lighthouse keeper’s model of his own lighthouse. I became the puppet of the lighthouse keeper himself. When I reached into the model, a giant thing moved in my peripheral vision matching my moves exactly… the real lighthouse keeper’s giant hand! Recursive, no? It got crazier from there, but somehow made sense in the way that only dreams can while you’re in them.
Buoying the grand experience was the beautiful art of the world, somewhere between cartoonish and realistic. The professional production of the voiceovers and sound design gave life to the delightful sea creatures who helped me through my various escape room-adjacent predicaments. Likewise, the narrator of my adventure helped keep me on track when I mucked about with various unimportant props too long.
Because of the reality-warping aspects of A Fisherman’s Tale, this was an experience that can only happen in VR. It’s the kind of game that you’ll want to share with VR newbies to blow their minds on Christmas morning after you unwrap your Oculus 2 or PSVR. While it clocked in about about two hours for me, it was well worth the money grandma sent me.
Available on all VR platforms.
A Good Snowman Is Hard to Build
A Good Snowman is Hard to Build favored simplicity in presentation right down to its apt title. Everyone knows that a snowman consists of a large, medium, and small ball of snow, in that order. Seems easy. Rising to the task as a faceless monster in the confines of a garden hedge maze proved to be much harder.
Why was I a monster rolling around a snowy English garden? It was unclear. A Good Snowman is storyless, but that was fine with me because who needs an excuse to build a snowman?
This charming indie game was perfect for an evening of puzzling. I was initially drawn in by the lovely art style, reminiscent of Untitled Goose Game, but got hooked by the challenge of snowman-building. More than once, I found myself in the cycle of flatly stating “that’s impossible” when encountering a new puzzle only to cheer my brilliance when the head of the snowman finally landed in place.
Available on Steam, iOS, Android, & itch.io
The Gardens Between
$20 on Steam & Consoles / $5 on Mobile
The Gardens Between was unlike any puzzle game I’d played before, and yet I had no trouble understanding the “Alice in Wonderland” logic required to make it work. Pulling off “unique yet intuitive” is quite a feat.
Falling somewhere between the time-bending Braid and the single-player co-op of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, The Gardens Between asked me to advance two young friends through the surreal islands of their shared memories. The controls were incredibly simple: move time forward or back. Doing so moved my characters and sent the on-rails camera rotating around the island to reveal obstacles I had to overcome.
The music of this world received special attention as well. Gorgeous ambient tunes accompanied my journey and calmed my mind when I was stuck. Developer “The Voxel Agents” was so proud of it that they’ve created a special section of their website where I could just kick back and relax to the soothing vibes.
No better way to slide into a calmer, saner, and more relaxing 2021.
Available on: Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Steam, iOS, Android, and Stadia