The BuzzFeed staff is always testing out new games, consoles, and apps, and we decided it was time to start sharing the best of them with you. For the sake of transparency, items under “Things We Bought” and “Tricks We Learned” were purchased with our own money and/or were not the result of a PR pitch. Those under “Things We Tried” are items that were provided to us at no cost for the sake of review. (But! We’re under no obligation to write a review of those things, let alone a positive review.)
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Just as I was about to start writing this review, I opened the browser version of A Dark Room and put off writing in favor of stoking a imaginary, digital, text-based fire by pressing a button that says "stoke fire." The room is warm. There's a stranger in the room with me, mumbling. I only have three wood!
This is how it begins. I started playing this game on my iPhone during my hourlong train commutes about a year ago. I just gathered some more wood, so I can stay warm now, thank goodness. The game is really a playable short story — which is why I love it so much, those are my favorite kind of games — where you slowly build your world, click by click on the desktop, tap by tap on your phone. You gather wood, you build a village, you take care of the people in your village.
It sounds simple, but it's as addicting as Candy Crush. Except it doesn't have any microtransactions or limits to how much you can play every day. I used to sit in my office at my not-so-great (pre-BuzzFeed) job, put off checking my email, and work out the perfect timing for checking traps, stoking the fire, and gathering wood. I can almost build a hut now, only need 22 more wood. Every night, I'd lie in bed with the lights off, tapping away, ignoring my the fact that I need eight hours of sleep. It's not flashy, which I thought would bother me at first, because my other favorite iOS game is Robot Unicorn Attack, a colorful sense-attacking fast-moving unicorn race.
A Dark Room is one of the few games that I think of when someone asks me my favorite games (plus, at 99 cents, the price is so, so right). My Lonely Hut is now a Tiny Village. I don’t want to spoil it too much for you, but let’s just say you should stick with it for more than the first 20 minutes. —Natalie Brown
2. Pokémon Yellow, available on the 3DS eShop
Last time I played a Pokémon game was Yellow in elementary school, long enough ago to have faded into a blur of childhood memories. But I do remember that I loved this game, as did most of my friends at the time. So when Nintendo reissued Pokémon Yellow as a 3DS eShop download early this year, it made sense to revisit the title to pass the time on my morning subway commute. But Yellow was so much more. For an adult, Pokémon Yellow was an entirely new and challenging experience and almost serendipitously proved to be the perfect companion for Pokémon Go.
Actual photo of Gabe around the first time he played Pokémon Yellow.
Yellow culminates in squaring off with the crème de la crème of Kanto — the Elite Four. Defeating these four trainers in succession is the game’s final task, and no easy one at that. After days of trial and error, it finally happened: All four of these elite trainers were defeated, and I could now call myself a Pokémon Master. But out of nowhere, that asshole Gary showed up. I had completely forgotten that Professor Oak’s grandson was the real final boss, appearing after the Elite Four to challenge you to one final battle. My Pokémon were weak and my potions were spent; needless to say he crushed me. But I returned after several days of training and collecting potions to take on Gary once more. It was close, but with my last surviving Pokémon I was able to defeat Gary and finally complete the game. I swear, the very next day Pokémon Go was released to the public, and I felt as if I had earned the right to embark on a new journey toward Pokémon Master. —Gabriel Sanchez
Get it for $9.99 on the 3DS eShop.
I recently bought a pair of friends the most self-serving housewarming gift of all time: a PS4 controller. They already had two, but because they are now my neighbors and because I don’t have a TV, I wanted a controller of my own. And what I wanted to be able to play was Towerfall Ascension.
Towerfall is extremely straightforward: You play as an archer, and your goal is to shoot your friends full of arrows. You only have one life per round, although you can protect yourself by dodging and using items like shields. The levels are, for the most part, simple as well. Some feature bubbling pools of lava, and the best ones have holes in the platforms through which you can infinitely fall, but the game is really just you and your friends/enemies darting around an enclosed space trying to bring each other down. It’s hypnotic and addictive and hard to tear yourself away to go back to your own apartment, where you have a bed to sleep in and chores to do.
The game is at its best with three or four players, preferably kind of drunk and swearing revenge on one another round after round. Two players doesn’t allow for enough strategy, and the single-player mode is almost beside the point. Similarly, cooperative play (where you fight monsters instead of each other) means losing too much of that taut, breathless feeling of hunting while being hunted. On my best days, I get into a Towerfall rhythm; I hunch forward and pick my target and do my signature move, wherein I fall on my enemy from above and don’t even bother messing with the arrows. We have christened it “the bop.” I like that I have a signature move in the eyes of these relatively new friends; I like having a group to play with. I never used to go in much for multiplayer games, preferring to retreat into RPGs and familiar Nintendo franchises, but I’ve come to like knowing that there is a controller out there with my name (not literally [yet]) on it. —Alanna Okun
4. Offworld Trading Company, available on Steam
I spent some of the best times of my gaming life playing Starcraft: Brood War and the Command and Conquer games, building up a base from nothing, forming a giant deathball army, and then sending them over to completely destroy my opponent. While those games are still amazing in my book, this newish game titled Offworld Trading Company has recaptured my love of strategy games once again. It’s an RTS game where you don’t fight with guns and missiles. Instead, you fight your opponents the Old-Fashioned American Way — by buying them out and owning their company. Literally.
You establish a headquarters on planet Mars, claim land, and fight against other player startup companies over scarce resources. The game ends when there is only one company left standing. It sounds sorta boring on the surface, but there’s this weird capitalistic thrill I get when I outbid another CEO on a plot of land I’ve been eyeing, or pay for some shady services to sabotage the production of other competitors. It starts getting really tense when you see a player buy up enough stock to take over another company. When this happens, they get a huge boost by acquiring all that player's resources and buildings. So by the end of the game, it's just two HUGE companies fighting tooth and nail over the stock and resource market.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so riveted by economics. You know that feeling where you’re so far ahead of the competition that you can easily fuck another player over, and it’s only by your good graces that they operate at all? Yeah, you’ll get that a lot in this game. If you’re an aspiring capitalist, or maybe if you’re one right now — you should absolutely give Offworld Trading Company a look. —Jeff Barron
Get it for $39.99 on Steam.
Star Wars was a major part of my childhood. What interested me even more than the movies, however, were the toys, which I collected and played with obsessively. Battlefront, and the Death Star add-on especially, scratches the same itch that my toys did all those years ago, and makes my wildest dreams come true by facilitating my desire to be an active participant in the events of Star Wars.
Most of Battlefront takes place on the periphery of the events of the original trilogy. The Death Star add-on, however, puts you right there in the movies. Every previous add-on to date has been a random assortment of new maps and game modes with no unifying structure. That’s not the case with Death Star. Rather, you get a structured and linear series of new maps beginning with a starfighter battle centered around an Imperial Star Destroyer. You’re then seamlessly transitioned into all-out warfare inside the Death Star. If you’re playing as a Rebel, your goal is to rescue R2-D2, and if you’re a stormtrooper, it's to stop the Rebels. The final phase of this game mode finds you back in a starfighter battling it out on the surface and within the iconic trenches of the Death Star.
Here’s the part that makes all my childhood dreams come true: If you win all three phases as a Rebel, you get to destroy the Death Star. This add-on takes me right back to my toy box, and it comes very close to filling the void left by Battlefront’s totally absent story mode. —Andrew Ziegler
Get the Battlefront Season Pass for $49.99 on Xbox One, PS4, or Origin (PC).
6. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Spirit of Justice, available on the Nintendo 3DS
My favorite running book series isn’t really a book at all, but a visual novel — Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. I have played and will continue to play every damn game in this series without fail. The writing is melodramatic and the conflicts fairly simplified, but I love the way it’s funny and full of feels, and still manages to make you think about your faith in the goodness of people and the nature of justice. These games have about 15 years of history, but every single one guides you through the beginning like you have not played a game in the series before, which makes even the newest entry, Spirit of Justice, very accessible to newcomers.
Throughout the game's five main cases, you switch off between three distinct, well-written young defense attorneys. As Phoenix, Apollo, and Athena, you investigate murders, cross-examine witnesses, and risk your life for your clients. The twist is that Ace Attorney has a ton of anime influence running through it — the lawyers have superpowers (three different types!) that allow them to tell when a person is lying (but not exactly what they're hiding), the prosecution can witness the last moments of the accused, and certain witnesses can summon the dead to testify in court. It sounds utterly ridiculous, but the writing is so tight that you'll understand nearly every nuance of the supernatural elements in each case.
The game has this nice flow where every case builds up to a triumphant moment when you use the evidence you've found to destroy the prosecution’s premise. That moment where the "Objection!" theme song kicks in is always obscenely satisfying; it's a wonderful, emotive mix of text, visuals, and music. Like any good murder mystery (something I've never enjoyed in book form), the biggest challenge is figuring out the twist before your character does, but trust me — most of the time you’ll be completely caught off guard by the truth. —Ahmed Ali Akbar
Get it for $29.99 on the 3DS eShop.
7. Zero Time Dilemma, available on PS Vita, Nintendo 3DS, or Steam
Zero Time Dilemma has a complex recipe: Nine people are trapped in an underground shelter, separated into three teams, and forced to play a life-or-death “decision game” in order to escape. The characters periodically have their memories wiped, so they (and you) have no idea where they are in their respective timelines. Complicating things further, the storyline branches with each decision you make, so you’re piecing together multiple narratives as you play. Trying to play the game in a chronological fashion is hopeless: Although you get to choose which memory fragment you want to access next, you’re given so little information about what you’re getting into that it’s almost like choosing at random.
My first pick was a seemingly innocuous snapshot of some characters looking calmly at a computer screen, but as soon as the scene began, the characters immediately started panicking and trying to find their missing teammate. After solving a room full of puzzles and watching some perplexing cutscenes, I was back to the memory fragment selection screen with slightly more information than I’d had before. I was hooked.
I tried making smarter choices after that, but this game gets super dark — arguably even darker than the first two games in the Zero Escape trilogy — and I couldn’t avoid it forever. One night, well past my bedtime, I stumbled into what I think it's safe to say was the darkest timeline. And I made some tough choices. And...people died. Horribly. But unless I wanted to turn it off and play Pokémon Picross, the game made me face those tough choices — and showed me that I could get through them to the other side. And on the other side was a weird, beautiful, touching storyline that made me tear up and also definitely gave me nightmares. —Sarah Willson
8. PlayStation VR Launch Bundle, available Oct. 13, 2016
I am riding in a rickety mine cart through a haunted carnival. Off to my right I hear a young girl singing “Frère Jacques.” I whip my head around, using the spotlights attached to my pistols to scan the wreckage. I spot her off in the distance, but she giggles and ducks away. Just then, she begins singing again, directly behind my left ear. I feel her in the room with me. I spin, and behind me, inches away from the cart, are two young women who look like they have had better days. One pounces at me and I lose it. I throw my motion controllers across the room and tear the headset off, screaming the entire time.
The PlayStation VR is wild. As I was playing through the half dozen or so games that will be available when the system launches on Oct. 13, I couldn’t help but feel like this is the kind of immersive gaming experience I’ve been promised since I was a kid. Virtual reality has always felt like one of those unattainable fantasies from science fiction that may be possible someday, but probably not in my lifetime, like flying cars and commercial space travel. So it was awe-inspiring to be sitting on my living room couch while I was dropped into the ocean in a shark cage, or piloting a spacecraft through an asteroid belt, or poking my head up from behind a desk to fire at mobsters who didn’t love that I was there to steal a jewel the size of my fist from them. (All of these experiences are available in PlayStation VR Worlds, which comes included with the PlayStation VR Launch Bundle.)
But the PS VR is not without its faults. The screen resolution on the headset is pretty low, and if you wear glasses like I do, the headset doesn’t quite fit right. (Your glasses will also fog up constantly, which really cuts into the immersion.) It’s probably worth noting that my wife, who is prone to motion sickness, couldn’t make it through even one session of VR Luge without needing to go lie down for the rest of the morning. It’s also inherently antisocial. More and more, games are something you play with your friends and family, but when you’re strapped into the PS VR headset, you’re completely cut off from the world. Unless you’re playing online, it’s entirely a solitary experience.
Other than a few minor annoyances, the PS VR works very well. I live in a small Brooklyn apartment and had plenty of space to play every game. When I was strapped into the Batsuit in Batman: Arkham VR, a mini adventure in the world of Gotham made popular by Rocksteady Studios, it felt natural interacting with my environment. When I wanted to play “Ode to Joy” on Bruce Wayne’s grand piano, I did. When my wife wanted to spend five minutes plucking Batarangs off her utility belt and whipping them at Alfred in the Batcave, she could. (He didn’t seem thrilled about it, but she could.) It’s impressive, and, more importantly, extremely fun.
If you want to be excited by video games again and the price tag of the PS VR doesn’t scare you away, you’ll definitely have fun with it. It’s going to be in its awkward gimmick stage for a while, but there’s enough there to make it interesting, and plenty of exciting new games and experiences on the horizon. Just don’t let Alfred push you around too much until then. —Tanner Greenring
The PS VR Launch Bundle will retail for $499.