Yes, summer is about being in the great outdoors, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop gaming. Here are a number of recommendation for engrossing games for your portable devices so you can play at the park or beach. For those rainy days, a few console faves are on offer. Lastly, take along some gaming podcasts with you on those road trips this summer.
Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution / Age of Empires / Age of Empires: Mythologies (Nintendo DS)
Summer gaming is all about portability. Who wants to stay inside screwing around with Playstation or XBox, or even your computer, when you can hang out at the park, the beach or any place with a little handy device loaded with pleasurable diversions? The main issue I have with the Nintendo DS is most of the games are aimed at a very young market, with cartoonish graphics and simplistic play. These three DS takes on classic PC strategy games are a few of the rare exceptions, providing adult, turn-based play on this convenient little device that, if you have kids, you probably already have around your house, anyway.
Civilization, Age of Empires, and Age of Empires: Mythologies are mainstays of every plane ride I ever take, and the games I most addictively play on the DS. Certainly not as complex as The Quest for iPhone, which I recommend farther along in this series, these stripped down versions of the PC classics are nevertheless engaging and challenging. Plus, you know you really want to plot world conquest from a deck chair — and with these games, you can. Sarah Zupko
Not the DS version.
Based in not-so-sunny Guildford, one of the main homes of the British games industry, Criterion Games will be aware that just because summer has arrived doesn’t mean the weather will hold up. It’s when outdoor pursuits are off the menu that videogames really come into their own, and the weather is always perfect in Paradise City, the fictional American conurbation that is the setting for Burnout Paradise. The city’s wide, fast streets and soaring mountain passes are the ideal setting for Burnout Paradise‘s gleaming supercars to tear around. With hundreds of pick-up-and-play events to complete and dozens of vehicles to unlock, Burnout Paradise is perhaps the ultimate exponent of the arcade racing game and contains enough gameplay to keep you going until the sunshine returns — and then some. Andy Johnson
Child of Eden (Xbox 360)
In 2001, Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Lumines) released Rez, a synaesthetic rail shooter best described as the inside of William Gibson’s mind. In 2011, Rez is followed by its spiritual successor, the recently released Child of Eden for Xbox 360 (the PS3 version is coming later this year). Child of Eden is a technorganic flight of fancy which feels like an altered state in and of itself. Flying through lushly detailed stages representing the ascendency of life, dreams and memory, players are tasked with recreating the enigmatic and beautiful girl Lumi, the first post-Singulairty human born in space. Playable with both the Xbox’s conventional controller and the Kinect motion sensor, Child of Eden is a dizzying electronic dance celebrating life itself, great for casual play or a more intense summer evening. Kris Ligman
Sensate as a living thing, few games manage to capture the vibrancy of nature as well as Flower, thatgamecompany’s 2009 PSN exclusive. Elegant in its simplicity, Flower casts the player in the role of a petal dancing on the wind, spiraling effortlessly through blossoming meadows and sunlit autumnal fields. The player gathers petals, blooms flowers and paints fields in color and light, liberating twisted cityscapes into a new ecological utopia. Few games would merit poetic allusions, but as a genre-less and beautiful digital ballet on the subject of nature, Flower truly is worthy of being compared to a summer’s day. Kris Ligman
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PlayStation 2 / Xbox / PC)
Sun… sand… felony grand theft auto. Rockstar’s invocation of Miami circa 1986 still holds up nearly a decade later. The controls are still a little unreliable and the graphics are a little dated, but the mood and tone that Rockstar manages to evoke through the cars, architecture, and especially the music of the decade will still leave those who remember this time nostalgic for a Florida vacation — well, assuming you can imagine the trip having been catalyzed by a drug deal gone bad. You’ll do some very bad things in a very pretty place, but isn’t that what some beach-side vacations are all about? G. Christopher Williams
The Quest and more…
Maybe it was the summer breaks spent in sweltering arcades, or because the original console versions came out in September, one of the hottest months in the Bay Area, but Mortal Kombat always reminds me of summer. The newest installment’s two dimensional perspective and ridiculous gore takes the “klassic” (sorry, I had to) series back to its roots. Its fighting system is approachable enough to learn at a party in-between drinks, while its simple rules and camp sensibilities make it a great, if gruesome, spectator sport. Those looking to dig deeper will find that NetherRealm Studios created a fighting system that is both accessible and robust, making Mortal Kombat a serious contribution to the competitive fighting game scene. Whether you’re looking for a summer fling or a long term relationship, Mortal Kombat will steal your heart and then show it to you. Scott Juster
The Quest (iPhone and Palm)
There’s literally no other game series quite like The Quest and its myriad expansion packs. At once brainy and adult, while visually striking and relying on a method of game interaction that involves reading text, challenging problem solving, and character design choices, this RPG is amazingly addictive, and offers superb replayability. The original game was developed by Hungary’s Redshift Games as a next generation of an earlier popular Palm platform game called Legacy. Redshift made its game editor available to The Quest players, and like Legacy before it, a devoted community has formed around the game and created new expansion packs every few months. Most of those are from Zarista Games and each of their additions outdoes the one before. Pick up Quest Gold from the App Store, which includes the base game and several expansions, and be prepared for at least a solid week or more of questing. Undoubtedly, you’ll need tips, but there’s a loyal fan community at catacomber.com to help you along the way. Then pick up all the expansions from Zarista, each around $2.99, and worth every penny. Yeah, I know you should be looking at the waves and breathing in the summer air, but you know you still wanna look at a little screen and play… even on the beach. And that’s something you can do with this thoroughly engaging RPG on your iPhone. Sarah Zupko
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (PlayStation 2 / PSP)
Despite school being out, some of us do miss friends, teachers, and even a little academic rigor during the dog days of summer. Persona 3 is a perfect antidote for those still looking to get their “school days” fix but in a completely fantastic setting. In this Japanese import, students attend class by day but find their high school transformed into a labyrinthine dungeon by night. While this is an involving dungeon hack, the true charm of the series is the presentation of the students and the complexities of navigating the ever treacherous hallways of teenage social life. You might come for the role playing elements, but you’ll stay for the fascinating relationship simulator that overlays the whole system of the game. Who says you have to leave your school friend behind for summer? You’ll need them if you want to save the world before the school year ends. G. Christopher Williams
Tropico 3 (PC / Xbox 360)
In this political and economic simulation, the player takes on the role of El Presidente, the dictator of a Carribbean island called Tropico. Building the infrastructure of a struggling banana republic is the chief interest of the game, albeit a familiar one for the genre. What sets Tropico 3 apart from other sims, though, is its tongue-in-cheek look at Cold War politics and the way that those politics affect your tenuously held beach front property. Constant pressures from various interest groups from Communists to Capitalists, from the Church to the intelligentsia, from the U.S. to the U.S.S.R. will force you to rethink your policies and strategy and prevent a coup before completing each of the missions in the overall campaign. The game never takes itself too seriously, and the soundtrack is full of a host of great Spanish language party tunes that feel right at home in what you hope to make a tropical paradise for the people. G. Christopher Williams
Two Summer Boredom-Busters From the Atari Vaults
Around this time of year, magazines and websites usually make lists of the best upcoming games. To them, summer may be all about diving into an intricate puzzle that takes days to complete, but some of us opt for something a little simpler on those ozone action days. Enter PITFALL!, or the superior but lesser known Jungle Hunt. The original and its many offshoots have been released on everything from the Atari 2600 to Playstation 2, but PITFALL! remains endearingly easy. You are Pitfall Harry, an Indiana Jones-esque explorer tasked with collecting treasure from a sunny jungle world by jumping over/avoiding fires, snakes, and sinkholes. It is more fun than it sounds. Jungle Hunt, however, is ten times more fun to play, but it never inspired sequels or an animated series (Pitfall Harry). You can swing on vines, punch out swimming crocodiles, jump over rolling boulders and tiki warriors, and rescue a girl at the end, but all Jungle Hunt ever got was a lawsuit from the estate of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. Such is the fickle world of ’80s video games. Jessy Krupa
The Best of Thoughtful Gaming Podcasts
The Brainy Gamer Podcast
Michael Abbot’s Brainy Gamer blog has been one of the more important hubs of thoughtful game conversation on the net for the last few years. By bringing together those interested in gaming from various backgrounds, including games journalists, academics, bloggers, and just plain gaming enthusiasts, Abbot has managed to create one of the most civil spaces for discussion of games, games as art, and games as performance on the web. While he has produced fewer podcasts in recent months (though a couple new ones arrived very recently), he has a back catalog of discussions with interesting guests and interesting topics that is well worth combing through.
Abbot’s civility and curiosity is ever present in these discussions, leading to interesting back and forth between guests and host. His respect for his listeners, guests, and gaming itself make it clear why such a unique community has formed around his site. You can find his podcast at www.brainygamer.com.
The Experience Points Podcast
According to hosts Scott Juster and Jorge Albor, “ExperiencePoints.net is a site dedicated to the serious — but not humorless — analysis of video games and culture,” which is a pretty apt description. It may seem like a bit of nepotism on my part suggesting Juster and Albor’s podcast as some of the best on the net, given that they also write for PopMatters. However, the reason that I asked them to write for this site in the first place was based largely on having listened to their podcast and reading their blog for the last year or two and always coming away impressed with the level of conversation there.
Juster and Albor’s weekly show is most often a discussion between the two hosts — with only occasional guests dropping by. The format works very well though, as this allows the two to very sharply analyze an issue in gaming in a tight, focused conversation that usually clocks in around 30-45 minutes. Additionally, they have most recently added a new series of shows called The IndieCast, which focuses on discussions of independent titles in gaming. They have a pretty extensive archive of episodes, which can be found at www.experiencepoints.net.
The Digital Cowboys Podcast
While I initially dismissed The Digital Cowboys podcast as just too long to listen to on a regular basis (each episode usually runs over two hours), I have found myself drawn back to the site most every week to listen to new episodes and catch up on old episodes because they are just too often too damned good to ignore.
The show is well served by the wit and good humor of Alex Shaw and Tony Atkins, who serve as good foils for one another. The two have a uniquely fruitful chemistry as they discuss games with a plethora of guests on a host of topics. I very recently pointed out two episodes that I especially admire of theirs (one on death in games and one on sex in video games), and I still contend that either one is good place to start for the uninitiated. You’ll probably remain hooked on their discussion, as I have. You can find their rather massive list of shows at thedigitalcowboys.com.
Hosted by Charles J. Pratt, Another Castle is a podcast focused on discussions with both creators of video games and thinkers on gaming culture. Pratt’s show is incredibly well produced. Discussion is accompanied by ambient noise, giving these sit downs a sense of intimacy, as if you are listening to Pratt and his guest having a chat in a downtown bistro.
Pratt’s interview style is the best kind, as he knows how to get out of the way of his guests and let them speak to a topic, but he also knows when to engage in debate and discussion to tease out the most interesting points in a conversation. You will hear from everyone from interesting indie designers like Anna Anthropy to thoughtful academics like Jesper Juul and McKenzie Wark. His shows are well worth a listen and can be found at gamedesignadvance.com.
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