I never owned a console other than a PC growing up, so I lack all the nostalgic feelings a lot of people have with Mario and Rayman and what not. Growing up, I played the Sims, Rollercoaster Tycoon and the first game of Harry Potter (which is brilliant). But not much else, I wasn't much of a gamer.
Since quarantine however, I told myself I needed a hobby other than drawing to keep myself entertained if work was dry. I decided to buy a second-hand Nintendo Switch and Animal Crossing (like the rest of the world it seems). It was a worthwhile investment, as I have put nearly 300 hours into that game. I still play it occasionally, but not as obsessively as when it first came out, and I started looking for other games that I might enjoy playing.
It doesn't help that a lot of games have the same mechanics. Some are shooters, some are racing, and for some games you have to pay instead of wait until you can continue your game. It's great so many people relax by playing these games, but I find that boring. I like games where you need to figure out what to do, where it's not totally clear in the first minutes how things work. I like games with narrative, in which you find out more and more about your character as you progress. But most of all, I like illustrated games.
As much as in animation, I love it when love and passion and sweat and tears are visible through the design of the game. I think that's why I'm falling in love with the indie genre. Loads of shorter games, that are realized through crowdfunding, exist because there are designers, illustrators, developers and storytellers are passionate to create their own worlds. In this blog post I'd love to list a few of my favorites.
I think a classic for a lot of people is Machinarium. Created by Amanita Design, based in the Czech Republic, who is responsible for a lot of amazingly pretty point and click games. The game is a little older, but still holds up really well. Machinarium is about a robot, on a planet full of scraps. Much like Wall-E, actually, but hand painted. You walk through its world puzzle by puzzle, solving small little riddles hidden in the background. It's adorable and really well designed. It's not that long, but really charming. Perfect to play on a rainy Sunday!
The game is not expensive, there's even a free demo of this game on the website of the developers.
Another puzzle game! (See? I like puzzles!)
I discovered Monument Valley when its makers, ustwo, gave a talk at Playgrounds. It's one of the most beautiful games I've ever played. It's very popular, even awarded with an Apple Design Award. It is often said it could have been made by M.C. Escher, if he had lived today
You play as Princess Ida, in a beautiful, empty environment. You can walk around the buildings and architecture and sometimes alter your surroundings by twisting and turning thins around. There's not much story in this game, but that doesn't matter. Every level provides a new design so beautiful, I'd love to hang it on my wall.
You can play Monument Valley for a small price on your phone and iPad, and there's even a sequel!
Firewatch is a great, narrative first-person game. You arrive as Henry in a natural reserve as a firewatcher. It's quite boring at first: your task is to sit on top of a watchtower, only to report if you see any smoke in the beautiful distance. You report to Delilah, your only contact in the game. She's on the receiving end of your walkie-talkie, but you've never met. Slowly but surely you find out that something's wrong in the forest, and Henry has sought solitude for a reason.
The game is 3D, so a bit less 'illustrative', but you can tell from all the objects and the forest itself that a lot of thought went into the design process of this game. Illustrator Olly Moss created wonderful concept artwork for Firewatch, and the company blogged about the process of the makings of this game.
Don't starve together
Don't Starve, and the multiplayer variant Don't Starve Together, is one of my favorite survival games. The style is very unique and seems to consist of a few scribbles. The soundtrack is very addictive too!
You're stranded on a remote island without any possesions. At first you need to survive by finding food, cutting down trees to make a fire, and explore the map. The more you explore, the more items you can craft and the more sophisticated your island will be. Kind of like Animal Crossing, minus the cute villagers. Because if the night comes, you need to keep your cool.
There's a variety of questionable characters you can play as, and each of them has different strengths and weaknesses. There are also lots of expansion packs. It's very addictive!
Night in the woods
Night in the woods is one of my favorite games ever! I love it so much because the story is very raw and honest about growing up in crap times, which you don't see often in games. The main characters are anthropomorphic animals, but you can relate very well to their struggles, especially as a young person. I love games where the story is maybe more important than the gameplay, with characters you can identify with.
You play as Mae, a grumpy cat (haha) who returns to her hometown after dropping out of college. There she meets up with her old friends and tries to find her place in the town she once left behind so eagerly.
This game is GORGEOUS and very emotional. One of the game's makers is animator and artist Scott Benson, who is brilliant.
Knights and bikes
When Rex Crowle came to Playgrounds in 2017 and announced this game, I was already in awe of the art style. I made a mental note to buy it immediately on its release, but life went on and I found out it was already out for a full year when I finally bought it. Oops.
I'm playing this right now on my Nintendo Switch and I'm not that far yet, but so far the game has been super enjoyable, not to mention SUPER PRETTY. I love that they use child versions of classic game mechanics. Little trinkets you find in bushes are used as money, and wellies are seen as a 'power up' in the rain. What the game does really, really well is showing the world through the eyes of a child. It makes a fun story, though I'm told it gets more emotional as it evolves. I can't wait to put more hours into the game, I play it very slowly so I can fully enjoy the artwork and the little details as I go along.
This game I played a while ago, but I still really like it. It's a point and click game with a strong narrative (my favorite kind of game). There are two main characters, each their own story, who don't interact at first. As you make progress in the game, you find out what their connection is.
The game is beautifully illustrated, painted almost. The story is original and fun to explore. I love that there's almost no time limit and you can explore each illustration as long as you want to.
This one I haven't played yet, as it just came out. But it looks adorable and so well-designed! The trailer alone deserves an honorable mention. I'm eager to play this game.
That was my list of favorites! I don't play games that often, but I love to relax in a well-designed world every now and then. I hope there are some on this list you haven't played yet. I'd love to know about other illustrated games as well, and I'm very interested in the games you're playing! Let me know below!