Happy holidays from your ol’ buddies, ol’ pals at FemHype! It’s me, your friendly neighborhood Max. With “Game of the Year” games being announced, there really are only so many triple A games that one can afford. So, for this holiday season, we are giving you lovely FemHype community members the gift of cheap, fantastic games that we can nerd out about together. So here we go, fam!
Moonmist (PC), Aphelion
A ghost of video gaming haunts 1986 interactive fiction mystery game Moonmist. When writers Stu Galley and Jim Lawrence sat down to collaborate on a new work for game company Infocom, they drew on the oeuvre of famous fictional detective series Nancy Drew (Lawrence had anonymously penned several Nancy Drew novels in the early 1980s). Historian Jimmy Maher wrote that this inspiration was so prescient, “The game and its accompanying feelies … would really kind of prefer it if you could see your way to playing as a female. Preferably as a female named ‘Nancy Drew,’ if it’s all the same to you.”
In Moonmist, you take on the role of a detective coming to the aid of your friend, Tamara Lynd, concerned about the haunting of her fiancé’s manor, Tresyllian Castle, near Cornwall, England. The classic text adventure system was praised at the time for its elegance. Copies of the game included physical materials—“feelies”—to aid the player in navigating Tresyllian, including a story about “The White Lady of Tresyllian Castle,” the ghost Tamara claims has been harassing her.
Moonmist is especially notable for including a character who is arguably the first gay character in a video game—I covered the character in-depth in a piece, with major spoilers, in video game history e-zine Memory Insufficient Volume 2: Issue 2. Like spooky spectres haunting a British castle, a number of free emulators of Moonmist float around online.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (Steam, PS3, Xbox 360), Aria
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was a dystopian sci-fi game that was basically ahead of its time. Made in 2010, Enslaved was a vanguard in the contemporary trend of duos in games, as it not only focused on the main characters’ unique abilities and combat prowess, but created a story centered around the characters’ emotional arcs and relationships before acclaimed duo-centric games like The Last of Us and BioShock: Infinite. The wonderful performances of Andy Serkis as Monkey and Lindsey Shaw as Trip also elevate the game from being a beautiful post-apocalyptic game to a unique, philosophical character study.
Despite some clunky combat controls, Enslaved was one of those rare gems that had it all: layered gameplay, engaging story, powerful performances, and beautiful worldbuilding, and though its cliffhanger ending will never be resolved, it is still an underrated game that deserves to be revisited.
Okami (PS2, PS3, Wii), Ashe
Wow, this is a hard one to pick! My nostalgic backpack is filled to overflowing and you’d have me choose my favorite child? Well, let’s see … Final Fantasy IX? Chrono Cross? Tomba? While these are all fantastic games, I’d probably be better off choosing one the average person can actually find nowadays. Leave me to my temporary sorrow …
Premiering back in 2006, this Capcom action-adventure game was released a financial failure and later wound up a critical darling. I nabbed it when when it first came out on the premise alone: you play as Amaterasu, a Japanese goddess in a wolf’s form, and both battle dark spirits and rejuvenate the surrounding environment with your magical paintbrush powers. Where do I even begin with how damn good this game is? Do I start with the stunning watercolor-esque graphics that still put most AAA titles of today to shame? Or do I devote a mini-essay to the simple and flexible combat system? It’s a rare title in which even my saltiest criticisms are rendered mild and pedantic, because the sheer love in this game is palpable from the very beginning to the last few minutes.
I’m replaying it now, years after I first picked it up in high school, and it’s aged like fine wine. The game’s soundtrack still gives me chills, the characters are as charming as ever, and the vast and intriguing mythological setting remains perfect both for adventure gamers that grew up on Legend of Zelda and culture buffs who love mythology. It was released originally for the PS2 and recently got a Wii adaption (as well as a sequel, Okamiden, for the DS), so this shouldn’t be too difficult to nab when Christmas season rolls around.
Do yourself a favor and play Okami. It’s one of those titles in which everyone can find something to love.
Age of Empires (PC), GameBoyish
Before MMOs were all the rage, there was the first Age of Empires. I remember borrowing the CD-ROM from a friend, and when my siblings and I had them installed to our Windows 95/98 computers, we were immediately hooked. This was a time where the internet was still on dial-up so you couldn’t really stay connected for too long or your parents would get upset that the phone line was busy and the bill would get tremendous. If you always wanted to get into a real-time strategy game that’s easy to master and quite fun to play even by yourself, this was the game for you. Even my dad—who isn’t a gamer at all—quite enjoyed fighting the AI team on the hardest settings during his free time.
I highly recommend getting the Rise of Rome expansion pack, which has more civilizations to choose from and new campaigns and technologies. What I really enjoyed about this series is that the campaigns are loosely based on real historical events. I never really got into any modern day strategy games at all, so my siblings and I often scoffed and said in our hearts, “We were into strategy games before they were cool.” *hipster glasses on*
It’s strange to think that so few people today know that AoE was the predecessor to today’s hottest MMOs. Here’s to hoping you youngins give it a go. Heck, the cheats are quite amusing as well.
Chip’s Challenge (Steam), Kayla
One of the first games I ever got into was Chip’s Challenge. I would go play it with my neighbor for hours at a time. Chip’s Challenge is a top-down game where you use the arrow keys to move. It sounds simple, but there are 149 levels and each one has different challenges. Some levels are more puzzle-based while others are more action-based. Many are a combination of both, and with that variety, I never get bored. I like the backstory, too; Chip has to complete these challenges so that he can join the club run by Melinda the Mental Marvel. And best of all, I recently found it on Steam for $1.99!
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (Steam), Kyra S
I’d have to go with the Baldur’s Gate games. They haven’t exactly been forgotten, considering the Enhanced Editions released recently, but they’re also not as well known as many of Bioware’s other games despite having aged very well. The modding community for these games is pretty incredible, too, basically guaranteeing you won’t run out of content to play—and because the games are old, they should run on just about any computer. The Enhanced Editions are available on Steam for $19.99 each, but they generally drop to about $6 each during sales; GOG also has the original editions for $9.99 each and less during sales. The economic and political aspects of the first game’s overall plot are fascinating, and both games include the great worldbuilding, characterization, and meaningful player choices that Bioware games are known for.
On a more personal level, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn was my introduction to RPGs and one of the titles that got me into gaming, in part because the game allowed me to experience what it was like to be, specifically, a powerful woman. I’d never felt that before, and it was pretty significant in my concurrent development as a gamer and a feminist.
Also, there’s Minsc. If you haven’t met Minsc and Boo, you really have to fix that.
Monument Valley (iOS, Android, Windows Phone), Max
I started playing Monument Valley as a fluke. It happened to be free for about a week, and I happened to actually download it, as I have a terrible prejudice against spending money on mobile games. The game itself is only a few dollars on the App Store for iOS, and about halfway through playing it, I came to the conclusion that I would pay the price for this game ten times over. It is important to note that while I was playing this, I was on a very hot, crowded, delayed train filled with angry commuters. Despite this, I felt incredibly calm and emotionally invested in a beautiful story reminiscent of Journey with incredible art that makes me feel like I’m trying to get my baby brother back from a goblin king in extraordinarily tight pants. It’s a beautifully done story in all respects.
Chariot (Steam, PS3, PS4, Xbox One), Megan E
As online multiplayer has gotten more popular, couch co-op is becoming a thing of the past. Yet Frima developers said “nope” to that and designed Chariot to not only be couch co-op friendly, but pretty much couch co-op required. You play as a princess and a prince who have to guide the chariot with the body of the dead king through various stages and puzzles. You can play the game solo, but it’s designed from the ground up to be easier and more enjoyable with another person.
It’s sad to say that this is unique, but that’s the nature of games these days. Aside from being built for couch co-op, it’s just an enjoyable game. It’s a physics game, challenging you to deal with an object that’s almost always in motion over various challenges. If you have someone you enjoy playing games with (while in the same room) you need to check out this under appreciated gem.
Dark Cloud (PS2,PS4), Melissa
I am on this shit like white on rice. If you’ve been keeping up with video game news, it just so happens that the Playstation 4 has started releasing Playstation 2 classics on the PSN Store. “But Melissa”, you say, “all of those games are boring obscure titles and Grand Theft Auto.”
Wrong. Look at the top of the list.
That, my friends, is Dark Cloud, a game that you should be adding to your holiday wishlist if you don’t have it. The basic gist is that your character’s world was nearly destroyed, and he now has the task of rebuilding the world using the buildings that the king of the fairies sealed away. While it doesn’t have much going on when it comes to social progressiveness, it does feature super fun randomly generated dungeon crawling, town building, and a flying moon bunny with a machine gun. No, really. You can get it in sweet 1080p for $15 USD on the PSN Store or at Half.com for around $5 to $10 USD.
Silent Hill 3 (PS2), Nightmare
Silent Hill is a well-known franchise all around, especially at the tail of the first movie adaptation and the Silent Hills controversy, though I often feel the third game in the series is overlooked when talking about the series, despite arguably being the best one in the entire franchise.
Using the same engine and base gameplay as Silent Hill 2, Silent Hill 3 builds on top of it with improved visual design, new mechanics for distracting enemies when trying to sneak past them, even scarier scenarios, and one of the best lady protagonists and lady antagonists in gaming. Besides some ableism related to mental illness, it’s a bloody good time—just make sure to get hold of the original version and not the broken HD re-release.
Captain Toad Treasure Tracker (Wii U), Nik
While it isn’t your typical Nintendo blowout hit, it shows Nintendo is taking a risk in choice of character and gameplay. Captain Toad even utilizes the often forgotten gamepad controller. You can blow through the game fairly quickly and easily, but to get 100% completion, it can take some time and finesse. The game’s simple mechanics and light-hearted personality make it easy to enjoy. The simple objectives also make it great for when you’re short on time, allowing you to pop in and out and still feel accomplished. A little Treasure Tracker does the heart good, and it is always time for an adventure.
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS), Rachel W
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a point-and-click puzzle game released in 2006 on the DS, a neo-noir detective story revolving around grumpy ex-detective Kyle Hyde. Now a low-life salesman, Kyle finds himself in a rundown L.A motel where both the hotel and its inhabitants hold many secrets—some mysteriously linking to Kyle’s past. The game introduced a new way of holding the DS system (like a book), and coupled with its slick and stylish visuals and gripping mystery narrative, it really leaves its mark. Hotel Dusk truly showed the capacities of the DS and is considered an overlooked classic. Dust off your old DS and give Kyle Hyde and Hotel Dusk a visit.
Tales of Symphonia (PS2, Gamecube), Red
The game I think has been forgotten about over the years is Tales of Symphonia (2003/2004)! This game was the first “Tales of” game to be released on the PS2 and Gamecube. However, with recent releases of even more diverse casts, this game gets swept under the pile. The story follows a young Lloyd Irving to bring his friend Colette to rebirth their world. However, their ritual hits many snags when they realize their world is not the only one that exists. It’s a classic tale that you can experience with friends! Up to four players can join in on battles locally, which makes for a lot of fun.
GotchaForce (Game Cube), Sloane
There’s a little game I remember back from the old days of 2003. A little game for the GameCube by Capcom called Gotcha Force. Gotcha Force is a game I remember fondly—it was bright and colorful with tight, fun, and varied gameplay. Incredibly cheesy yet endearing voice acting with a Saturday morning cartoon/anime plot and aesthetic, complete with triumphant theme song kicking in for the final battles, it’s something I love that just isn’t thought of or even really remembered now.
It’s a fun multiplayer game with a lot of variety in how you can play and set up squads of characters, and it’s a game I frequently lost hours upon hours in as a kid. It’s sad that this game isn’t available digitally on any platforms, because it’s such a fun, fast-paced action game that I’ve gotten more than my fair share of hours out of when I least expected to.