If you’ve enjoyed having your brain teased by a video game in the last 20 years, or enjoyed the layered mechanical riddles of an IRL escape room, you have Myst to thank. Wildly popular when it launched in 1993, the narrative adventure was a pivotal moment for puzzle-solving in games. Now, 27 years later, the classic is reborn in virtual reality–rebuilt, but almost completely unchanged. Myst is and will always be a treasure. Even after all these years, its puzzles will still test, and maybe even stump, you. For returning fans, seeing it in VR for the first time is a powerful nostalgia trip. Being inside a world you’ve only seen through a screen before feels like diving into your own memory. When you get over that initial sense of wonder–or if you don’t have the nostalgia that conjures it–Myst can’t hide its age, and its VR makeover exacerbates its blemishes.
Myst is a small uninhabited island dotted with odd buildings and unintuitive, free-standing switches. When you arrive, you have no idea why you’re there or what you should be doing. As you poke around–opening every door, pressing all the switches, reading the books and notes you find–your situation starts to take shape. Trapped on Myst, you will need to unravel its puzzles to uncover its secrets and escape.
The content of Myst’s places and puzzles do not follow any kind of unifying aesthetic–they are united in service of creating perplexing challenges that require you to be mindful of your surroundings and think creatively. At a glance, each puzzle seems completely obtuse, a hodge-podge of interactive puzzle pieces that don’t easily fit together. More often than not, you’ll need to take a good long look at your surroundings and figure out how the puzzle works before you can solve it.
Fans of competitive, block-dropping puzzle games had it pretty rough for most of the last decade. Creativity in the Tetris space was being stifled by a strict set of game-rules guidelines imposed by The Tetris Company, while Puyo Puyo was mostly trapped in Japan, playable only by those international fans fervent enough to tread import waters. Thankfully, things have changed somewhat on both fronts, bringing us the unusual mashup title Puyo Puyo Tetris in 2017 to critical and fan success. Three years later, we now have a follow-up in the form of Puyo Puyo Tetris 2. While it keeps much of what made the original game a success, it offers a few new game modes and online enhancements–but as a sequel, it lacks the same punch as the original.
Like in the original game, Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 is built around an engine combining these two competitive puzzle titans into a singular game entity. Players pick either Puyo Puyo or Tetris gameplay and go up against an opponent, with rules adjusted according to which style they’re using–or they can play a mode that switches between Puyo Puyo and Tetris gameplay at set intervals. If you’re feeling especially brave, you can attempt Fusion mode, which puts Puyo blobs and Tetromino blocks on the same board in a complex rules mashup that will put your puzzling skills to the true test.
But that’s just the beginning. There’s a lot on offer in Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 for both solo and multiplayer play. The Adventure mode offers an all-new story, complete with a pleasant new overworld interface and featuring a cast of colorful weirdos–mostly from the expanded Puyo Puyo universe–who solve all of their problems and disagreements by tossing colored blobs and blocks at each other. The game modes change in every chapter, so Adventure Mode serves as a way to practice and learn the various styles of gameplay available while also unlocking characters, in-game shop credits, and various embellishments for your profile. While the rainbow-colored characters and their jokey personalities are certainly cute, the nonsensical nature of the narrative will either charm you to bits or leave you mashing the skip button to get to the dropping faster. This mode takes a few hours to finish, and future DLC expansions have been teased.
Early on in Cyberpunk 2077, there’s a series of side quests that has you tracking down rogue taxis run by faulty AI. You have to talk one of the taxis down from suicide as it contemplates driving off a bridge, while another needs to be brute-forced into behaving, and a third is an obvious reference to a famous video game AI that manipulates you as you chase it down. It’s one of the best minor questlines in the game, an intriguing and surprisingly human substory that rewards you with lots of much-needed cash. It’s also an excuse to send you to every corner of Night City, a clever introduction to all the areas you haven’t yet been.
I spent a lot of my playtime following side-quest threads like this one, excited about the premise and hoping to find something as interesting or fun or rewarding at the end and, in many cases, I did. But now, after finishing the main story, I can’t see how most of those activities fit into the overall narrative or the character I was playing. The main story doesn’t even gel with itself.
Cyberpunk 2077 draws heavily from its source material, with everything from the world itself to the life and death of Johnny Silverhand coming from its pen-and-paper inspiration. But unlike in a tabletop RPG, you aren’t playing a role of your own creation in Cyberpunk 2077; you’re playing V, and this is V’s story, not yours. I often felt like I was role-playing two different characters: one V for the side quests and one more limited V for the main story.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. When the first episode of Telltale Games’ Sam & Max Save the World debuted in 2006, fans of 1993’s Sam & Max Hit the Road had waited years for the dog and bunny’s return. Now, Save the World is old enough to have built up its own nostalgic fanbase, keen to once again revisit these lovable weirdos. Sam & Max Save the World Remastered isn’t a new game, but the huge visual and mechanical improvements implemented by developer Skunkape Games (a team made up of ex-Telltale folks) make it a pleasure to revisit.
For the uninitiated, Sam & Max Save the World Remastered is about two freelance police agents: Sam, a loquacious, wry dog who acts as de facto leader of the duo, and Max, his psychotic rabbit pal. Across the six episodes included in this remaster, the pair gets caught up in a mass-hypnosis scheme, thwarting various enemies on their way to finally facing the season’s big bad during the finale. While Telltale would eventually become known for its choice-focused narrative experiences like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Sam & Max Save the World is a far more traditional point-and-click adventure game–you talk to people, gather items, and then use those items in clever ways to progress through the story.
Each episode of Save the World follows roughly the same pattern: Sam and Max get a call about a new case in the opening cutscene, and they head out to start asking questions. Each episode is compact, running about two hours and featuring, at most, three locations. Over time, recurring themes and characters emerge, and before long the pair realize that there’s some nefarious connective tissue running throughout all of their cases.
The farming/life-sim genre is an increasingly crowded field these days. There is no shortage of games that offer the experience of building a small farm, raising crops and livestock, and making friends and relationships along the way. But every so often, a game in this genre comes along that really turns things on their head, taking well-worn tropes and expectations and making them feel fresh and new. Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin is such a game. It combines an in-depth rice-farming simulation with excellent 2D platforming action and a wonderful atmosphere to make a delightful, fulfilling experience.
Sakuna is a haughty, bratty harvest goddess of the old-timey Japan-inspired world of Yanato. She lives comfortably with her divine peers in the Lofty Realm away from the suffering of mortals below. When a group of hungry mortals stumble into the Lofty Realm looking for food on her watch, she discovers to her horror that they’ve destroyed the offering to the great deity Lady Kamuhitsuki. As punishment, she and the mortals are banished to the Isle of Demons, where she is tasked with cleansing the land of evil forces while eking out a meager subsistence living with her newfound companions. Now, the goddess Sakuna needs to get her hands dirty–and bond with the humans that have lived beneath her–in order to survive.
The base gameplay of Sakuna is split into two parts: exploration and simulation. The exploration sections have you traversing 2D environments to hunt enemies, collect materials needed for combat and survival, and discover new areas for gathering. The simulation sections task Sakuna with managing the day-to-day labor involved in harvesting a rice crop needed to sustain a family. Engaging in both of these activities is necessary for progress, but you need to decide how to best invest your time. A day-and-night cycle means there’s a constant march onwards through the quite truncated seasons, which affect many things, such as when collected materials spoil, enemies’ strength, which materials can be gathered, what farmwork can be done, and so on. The need to balance activities and manage both item and time resources makes for a gameplay loop that’s interesting and challenging without being too punishing. It also allows for the gradual introduction of new elements as you progress, like additional farming tools and more exploration abilities.