As summertime draws nearer, we thought now would be the perfect time to offer our seasonal gaming and reading recommendations! Compiled by members of our staff, the following list of digital games and literary experiences encompass a diverse variety of genres, stories, and aesthetics – a true hodgepodge of high-quality content.
A quick note before we get started – some of the following games and books contain content inappropriate for young children. Please use discretion (and resources like the ESRB and Common Sense Media) to brief yourself on the content of each selection prior to consumption.
Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury
Dandelion Wine is about summer. It's about the importance of tracking time with little yearly rituals like the first cutting of fresh green grass, taking a rug outside to shake out the previous year, or enjoying the smell of the summer's night air from a front porch. It's about the joy of running in a new pair of sneakers and the horror of getting lost in the dark. It's about childhood, it's about aging, and it's about death. Every page contains nuanced truths about the human experience of life woven into a story with hints of magical realism. All of this told through the eyes of a curious and lively little boy in a small town in the American midwest.
The first time I read this book it had a huge impact on me, and I have wanted to return to it again ever since. So, this spring I decided to make it a little ritual of mine to read a bit of Dandelion Wine each summer.
If you enjoy the details of life and you live through your senses, you will thoroughly enjoy Dandelion Wine.
- Ethan Cayko, Producer
Ace Attorney series
ESRB Rating: Teen-Mature
Capcom’s Ace Attorney series is a shining example of quality video game narrative. The cast of characters – even the extras – are delightful and charming. It is very interesting to see how the art evolves through the series, and the latest entries in the series are not only a pleasure to play, but a pleasure to look at as well.
- Chen-ya Chang, Visual Design Lead
Life is Strange
ESRB Rating: Mature
In Life is Strange, players take on the role of Max Caulfield, a teenage girl with the ability to travel through time. In the game, players must jump between different timelines to solve puzzles and prevent a series of disastrous events. I’d highly recommend Life is Strange because it tackles teen struggles in an authentic way and can help open up a meaningful dialog about social issues. Life is Strange was released in 2015, but a new season is slated to come out this year - this summer is a great opportunity to get caught up on the series!
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Celeste is a 2D platformer where you tackle the difficult task of climbing a mountain. As a game designer, I really enjoyed Celeste because it does an excellent job introducing new mechanics through level design. Although it’s not a learning game in the traditional sense, Celeste embodies two of the most important tenets of educational game design: framing failure as a positive experience and teaching new concepts naturally through gameplay.
Plus, the developers shared their character controller code online as a learning tool for aspiring game makers!
- Quinn Crossley, Game Designer
Monster Hunter: World
ESRB Rating: Teen
I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is that Game Of The Year has already released, sorry 2018. The good news, is that that game is Monster Hunter: World.
If I had the ability to travel back through time, find myself, and attempt to convince myself to buy this game, I'm not sure how I would. It's a game where mastery of the systems is the reward, which is an aspect of any activity that cannot be conveyed in any other way than playing it. The perfectly-paced churning of constant improvement, the warm camaraderie when calling in randos or friends, the delicious, visceral stop-frames on heavy hits are all part of this monstrously compelling game.
Feast your eyes on them stop-frames.
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine
ESRB Rating: n/a
There's a criminally small population of games that choose to spotlight and mechanize the everyday-mythics of folktales. In fact, there are may be only...two. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is one of those two (the other being Kentucky Route Zero).
You're put in the shoes of a traveler in roughly-early 20th century USA, who has just lost a bet with the 'Devil,' who also happens to be voiced by Sting. For your soul, you're tasked with traveling the land, collecting and telling stories. As stories are passed around from town-to-town around the country, they evolve, becoming more wild and wondrous than their usually simple origins. It's a calm and rugged story (with its share of technical problems) that takes players on a journey through America's folklore roots; a sometimes imperfect, but absolute treat.
Recommended peripherals: Hot Summer Night. Open windows. Whiskey.
- Steven Farrell, QA Analyst
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
After four years in Early Access, Subnautica finally made an official launch in January 2018. An exploratory and survival game with beautiful graphics and creature concepts. You've crash-landed on an aquatic alien planet - search for other survivors, learn about local alien flora and fauna, build and customize your base and equipment - all while unraveling a narrative story about the planet's past inhabitants and ancient creatures.
- Madeline Folz, Web & Graphic Designer
ESRB Rating: Mature
The latest Hitman game puts you in the shoes of assassin Agent 47. Players are presented with massive, open levels where they have to sneak, strategize, and use disguises to take out targets in a variety of ways. It's the perfect game for the type of stealth gamer who enjoys planning things on paper and patiently biding their time to execute the perfect maneuvers.
The Last Wish - Andrzej Sapkowski
The Last Wish is the first novel in the Witcher fantasy series that inspired the games. It recounts several stories from the experiences of powerful witcher Geralt as he has run-ins with mythical creatures and beings, many inspired by Grimm's Fairy Tales and other stories readers may recognize, such as "Beauty and the Beast" and "Snow White." The book is highly entertaining and fast-paced. If you want a fantasy book where you want to get right to the good parts without having to trudge through endless pages of literary nonsense, this is a great series for you.
- Abby Friesen, Game Designer
Rusty Lake Paradise
ESRB Rating: n/a
This year, I discovered the indie studio Rusty Lake based out of Amsterdam (which happens to be my mother's hometown). Their games closely resemble The Room series: find this, to unlock that, which reveals a puzzle, to solve the next clue. What I love about all of their games is that they are original, mysterious, and really quirky. Each game has an intriguing story that overlays the puzzle adventure and the narrative is always a little philosophical, a little metaphysical, and always emotional. I love the way their games look: modern yet primitive. This kind of game suits how I like to play games - I can pick it up for 5 minutes or spend over an hour on it depending on how much time I have and what mood I'm in. I found this game by using a website I found called 50 Games Like. You type in a game that you like and it gives you a list of 50 games that are the closest match. This site is super helpful to me as I know which games I like to play but I don't always know the right words to describe them. Check it out!
- Jennifer Javornik, Vice President of Sales
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Sweet, frozen blended beverages – the ideal way to beat the summer heat. And this summer, Nintendo’s serving up a slush of their own: a Switch port of the latest entry in the beloved Donkey Kong Country series, Tropical Freeze! Originally released on the ill-fated Wii U way back in 2014, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a challenging 2D platformer that’s equally beautiful and punishingly difficult...if you own a Switch and have yet to try it, treat yourself ASAP by picking up a copy of your own!
- James LaPierre, Marketing Assistant
Neo ATLAS 1469
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
In Neo ATLAS 1469, you take control of a ship crew exploring the world in the 15th century and you can shape the world based on reports and rumors you hear from your ships. I think it's a nice opener to cartography and there's some light trade and mercantile elements as well.
- Darrick Reath, Visual/Interaction Designer
ESRB Rating: n/a
It has become a tradition for me to play Flotilla by Blendo Games each May. Perhaps it is merely that I initially played it back in 2010 some time between graduating college and my birthday, but I’d also like to think that it is a quintessential game for early summer nights, a blend of lighthearted fun and serene chill for playing while basking in the petrichor of a warm and rainy night.
On the surface, Flotilla seems a bit like a heavily diluted Homeworld. You have spaceships and combat them against foes in a three-dimensional space. Certainly, if you wanted the full space-battle experience, you might simply opt to play Homeworld, for it is a visual marvel with oodles of ships and a plethora of game mechanics. But playing Homeworld always feels like a bit of a serious commitment to me: like I’ve got to set aside a bunch of time and really turn my brain on. Flotilla, on the other hand, is a low-commitment, feel-good time for when you just want to fill two hours with a bit of interactive fun.
When you play the campaign, you fly from planet to planet building up your tiny flotilla of ships. You’ll encounter many rather silly characters and make decisions that will provide rewards and consequences. Maybe you take on some Rastafarian cats on the run from the law, only to find that they steal your toucan hitchhiker’s treasure map. Take up the gauntlet of the mysterious unicorn-riding space goddess to smite some unknown evil lurking among derelict spacecraft. Your choices may earn you ships and upgrades, or maybe you’ll have to fight your way through a blockade of law-enforcing deer in much bigger, scarier battleships.
The gameplay mechanics are fairly simple: ships can take missile damage only from the rear and bottom, while laser-beams can cut through anything but are much shorter range. There are only six types of ships which perform against each-other in a rock-paper-scissors fashion. Battles play out in a turn-based fashion in which you plot the course of each ship in 3D space including yaw, pitch, and roll. Once all orders have been established you give the go-ahead and watch as the tiny ships play out your instructions, gracefully dancing through space to the dulcet tones of Chopin’s piano masterpieces. Very therapeutic.
Give it a try on a summer night when the fireflies are out and the windows are open. It’ll be the most relaxing space adventure you ever experience.
- Alex Yaeger, Visual/Interaction Designer
We hope you thoroughly enjoyed reading our summer 2018 media selections! What content are you planning on consuming this season? Let’s keep the conversation going over on our Facebook and Twitter!