Getting into video games in the midst of COVID-19 – Iowa City Press-Citizen

You may or may not have heard of this thing called "Animal Crossing New Horizons" the most recent in a series of video games about living a relaxing life in an island society you buildwith your anthropomorphic animal friends. For many, however, it serves as a welcome escape fromincreasingly grim COVID-19 related news.

Even if you aren't a regular gamerand don't know a PS4 from a Nintendo Switch, with increasing time spent indoors, video games might be a welcome respite from the worries of the day.

With that in mind, the Press-Citizen has put together a list of relativelyaccessible, easy-to-playvideo games across a variety of age groups and genres. But first we'll cover a few different ways one can play "Animal Crossing."

If you're interested in playing "Animal CrossingNew Horizons" specifically, you're going to need a Nintendo Switch. For those unfamiliar, the Switch is what has been called a "hybrid system," meaning you can play it on the tablet-sized system itselfor you can plug it into the TV and play that way.

However, social isolation in the wake of coronavirus has made a Switch hard to snag. The normally $300 game system has been difficult to track down for under $400 over the past two weeks. There is anotheroption called the Switch Lite,a $200 alternative that does everything the Switch does except plug into the TV.

As for "Animal Crossing New Horizons" the game will set you back about $60, whether you're gettinga physical edition or a digital one.

If you've never played an "Animal Crossing" game and just want to dip your toe into the series, there's also "Animal Crossing New Leaf" ($20) only onthe 3DS, an older system that's you can typically findfor $100 or more depending on themodel.

There is alsoa free phone app called "Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp" which (according to my "Animal Crossing" obsessed roommate) is very playable, but does encourage the player to spend real money in-game.

Screenshots from "Animal Crossing New Horizons" on the Nintendo Switch.(Photo: From the "Animal Crossing New Horizons" press kit)

Of course, the above means spending a lot of money, especially if you don't know if you'll like something. So here are some cheaper options, available on computers, phones and tablets.

There are two major websites where you can get most of the following games:Steam and GOG. Steam isthe more popular of the two and the one with the largest selection of games, however, Steam uses DRM (Digital Rights Management) meaning it can be difficult or impossible to play games on Steam if you don't have an internet connection.

While an internet connection is rarely a problem for me I still tend to opt for GOG when the option is available. That said, a good number of these games will also be playable on a phone or tablet for those who don't want to navigate unfamiliar software.

Screenshot from "Stardew Valley"(Photo: From the "Stardew Valley" press kit.)

Price:$8 - $15

Platforms: GOG, Steam, Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Andriod, Apple

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10 and older)

"Stardew Valley" is probably the game most like "Animal Crossing" on this list. Made by just one person, "Stardew Valley" is a game that kicks off with your late uncleleaving you a farm in the countryside. So you leave behind your cold corporate job to live a simpler life in the titular Stardew Valley.

The focus is on cultivating crops and farm animals but also lets you get to know some of the townsfolk and improve the community in the game.

There's actually quite a lot to do here and the recently implemented multiplayer means that if you know someone else playing the game on the same device that's not a phone or tablet you can play the game with others. That said, the game's tutorial is not as robust as it probably should be, but if you're willing to give the game a little bit of patience it can be very rewarding.

Screenshot from "Jackbox Party Kit 4"(Photo: From the "Jackbox Party Kit 4" press kit)

Price: $25 - $30

Platform:Steam, Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One

ESRB: T (Teen)

Essentially what you get with any Jackbox gameis a set of board games without the board. There are currently six different "Jackbox Party Packs" with a handful of games in each version. Most of these games are best played with at least four people, all each playerneeds is a phone or tablet.

The games in each version range from Quiplash an "Apples To Apples" likegame where you try to come up with the best answer for a prompt to Tee K.O. where players design the perfect T-shirt.

As I mentioned, there are six versions of this game so before you pick one up you might want to check specifically what games are included in it. It's also very user friendly as each game has an instructive walk through session.

Price: $20

Platforms: GOG, Steam, Switch, PlayStation 4,Xbox One

ESRB: M (Mature)

There's a genre of games over the past 10 years that have come to be known as "walking simulators." These games have very little "play" to them. Sometimes you might have to solve a puzzle or figure out how to get to a particular area, but ultimately the focus is on walking through the story being told.

In the case of "Firewatch," the game follows Henry, a manwho goes to Shoshone National Forest to escape a recent tragedy he's faced in his home life. His only point of human contactis his supervisor, Delilah, who he speaks to over the radio as he surveys the park space he's been charged with amidst strange happenings.

It should be noted that this is the least kid-friendly game on this list as it has swearing and allusions to alcohol along with otheradult themes. That said, it's very atmospheric and engaging and the game from that genre I've found most engaging. Other simulator type games include"The Stanley Parable," "The Beginner's Guide", "What Remains of Edith Finch?" and "Gone Home." Though they often have wildly different tones and stories, there's nothing in the genre I'd hand to someone under age 12.

Price: $7 - $20

Platform:GOG, Steam, Switch, PlayStation 4,Xbox One, Android, Apple

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10 and older)

Contrasting walking sims, the Lego games are maybe the most kid-friendly entries on this list. They offer action and puzzles that kids and parents can generally enjoy together. While these games arguably play the most like a "traditional video game" they tend to be easy to enjoywith little to no punishment for failure.

I only mention "Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga" specificallyas it's one of the oldest Lego games and thus, one of the most widely available, letting players enjoy the original six Star Wars films in Lego form. If "Star Wars" isn't your cup of tea though, there are a dozen other franchises on offer from the "Avengers," to "Harry Potter," to "Indiana Jones" and"Lord of the Rings"; most of which are available on all or most ofthe above platforms.

Screen shot from the video game "Undertale."(Photo: From the "Undertale" press kit)

Price: $10

Platform:GOG, Steam, Switch, PlayStation 4

ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10 and older)

"Undertale" totes itself as "Thegame where you don't have to destroy anyone." In the game, you play as a human who has fallen below the surface of the earth to a world of monsters and must find your way back to the surface. However, as the selling point states, the game is built on the idea that "you don't have to destroy anyone." In fact, most of the challenge of the game comes from figuring out how to get out of fights largely without harming opponents.

If you've already played "Undertale" or finished it and enjoyed it, there's a similar game called "Deltarune," which is being released in chapters with the first chapter available for free online.

Price: $40

Platform:GOG, Steam, Switch, PlayStation 4,Xbox One, Apple

ESRB:E (Everyone)

If you remember enjoying the old "Myst" game on PC, then "The Witness" is probably the closest thing here for you.If you're not familiar with "Myst" then know that "The Witness" places the player on an abandonedisland to explore and solve puzzlesin order to reveal the secrets of the empty island.

While this game is rated E for everyone, it's probably not one you'd want to pick up if you're easily frustrated by puzzle-solving or give to a kid who wants some action. But if you love for puzzle solving, this might be something worth checking out.

Cards on the table, this is the only game on the list I haven't played at all. However, I wanted to include a puzzle game that would be more accessible than my own favorite (The Professor Layton series on the Nintendo DS). This is one I intend to dip my toe into at least over the next few weeks for its beautiful atmosphere and (I'm told) rewarding puzzle solving.

Price: Varied

Platform:GOG, Steam,Playstation 4, Xbox One, Andriod, Apple

ESRB: T (Teen)

When the originalPC game "Sims" came out in 2000, it wasa smash hit. Over the past two decadesentries in the franchise have continued to come out regularly. The games allow you to designyour own family and house and live a simulated version of day-to-day life.

While there is a "The Sims 4" (2014) available through another service called Origin, "The Sims 3" (2009) is available on Steam. There's also a decent number of older games in the Sims franchise on GOG, specifically "SimCity" games that, rather than putting you in charge of a family of Sims, put you in charge of your own city. In that same vein on GOG are the old "Roller Coaster Tycoon" my siblings and I would play when we were little, in which you build your own amusement park. While ease of play varies from game to game, many of these tend to be built for accessibility.

Screenshot of "Oxenfree" a video game from Night School Studios.(Photo: From Night School Studios website)

Price: $10

Platform:GOG, Steam, Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One

ESRB: T (Teen)

Similar to the aforementioned walking simulators, "Oxenfree" is pretty light on gameplay outside of a few puzzles and the like and has an emphasis on story. But rather than giving you a fairly straight forward tale to enjoy, "Oxenfree" and games like it emphasize choice.

A group of teens decidesto spend the night on an abandoned island, a choice that ultimately leads them to a strange discovery in a nearby cave that leaves them scattered across the island. I've seen the game compared to "Stranger Things" which I'd say is an apt analogue.

A similar seriescomes from a studio called Telltale Games. While generally more adult than"Oxenfree," Telltale Games of the past eight yearsoffer a similar type of gameplay, but more cinematic, across properties like "The Walking Dead" and "Batman." Picture a movie where most of what you do is select the dialogue for your character and see how things play out from there.

Isaac Hamletcovers arts, entertainment and culture at the Press-Citizen. Reach him at ihamlet@press-citizen.com or (319)-688-4247, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet

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Getting into video games in the midst of COVID-19 - Iowa City Press-Citizen

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