Look, I’m not gonna sit here and pretend I’m a talented enough writer to think that you all need me to explain how important summer vacation was to a kid. We’ve all had them, we’ve all enjoyed them, we’ve all dreaded their passage, there’s not really much I can contribute to that conversation.
With that in mind, it’s fair to say they were just as important to me as they were you. I was never really a family of big summer plans; never went to camp (and thank fuck because I would have hated every fucking second of it if it wasn’t Space Camp), never went away for an entire summer, never even went to the ocean until much later in life – really, my big summer events that weren’t a long-weekend trip to Toronto or Chicago were largely spent sleeping in and/or eating too much at grandpa’s house.
Not that I’m complaining! Then, as now, I was a lonely young man who really valued his free time away from people, and what better way to spend that time than with video games? Any kind of break from school was, to me, the perfect time to catch up on video games and finally make some goddamn progress, whether it was Chrono Trigger or Metal Gear Solid or whatever. As a result, the majority of my most pleasant gaming memories revolve around summertime, and I try to uphold that tradition as much as I can by staying inside all goddamn summer and playing all the goddamn video games I can!
It gets a little harder as time goes by, though, because now there’s too many goddamn video games and as a result anything I want to remember having played in the summer has to compete with like twelve other games I’ve thought about getting into. To that end I’ve decided to try to keep a record of every summer game I play going forward, starting with these choice nuggets! Join me, won’t you?
Earthbound: The big granddaddy of them all. Not the first game I can remember spending a lot of my summer playing, but the one that always struck me as the most summer-y. Nobody believes me when I tell them this, but I actually played Earthbound shortly after its release after reading about it all the time in Nintendo Power, and furthermore I actually owned it not long after once it dropped in price. (I know, I know, nobody fuckin’ believes me.) It came out in summer, I played it in summer, I bought it in summer…and really, it just looks and feels like summer.
(I’m gonna assume nobody reading this really needs me to sum up Earthbound for them.) The opening segments are the biggest contributor to this; between the color palettes, the choice of ambient summer-y sounds of insects and city buses, and the fact nothing in the world seems that cold or out-of-sorts the way nothing does in summer time, Earthbound has to me always taken place somewhere between May and August. As a kid roughly Ness’ age from a similar background, summertime was really the only time I could conceivably go on a huge adventure to save the Earth, and I have extremely fond memories of running around my backyard (and the neighbor’s, when they’d let me) pretending to fight possessed hippies with a yo-yo, wearing a little red strapback hat. It was a game that encapsulated everything I wanted to happen in summertime, and that’s stuck with me to the point where I try to replay Earthbound every summer. I only made it to Twoson this time, but the fact I even got to play it (and finish Onett, which is really my favorite part of the game) is good enough for me.
Adventure Island 3: This one kinda came out of nowhere; it was on my RetroPie and while I had fond memories of it I hadn’t actually played it since I was…oh, 5 years old. Adventure Island 3 was probably the third video game I ever played in my life behind Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man 5, and while I never owned it I rented it constantly. Something about the graphics and setting totally spoke to me, and while I remember always getting irritated at the fact your health is constantly ticking down I liked it enough to keep fighting through it.
And you know? I still do. It holds up really well, and is probably my favorite example of the tortured Adventure Island/Wonder Boy genealogy, especially when compared to the later Super Adventure Island titles that over-complicated things. The dinosaurs are still adorable (even if a few of them aren’t particularly useful), the graphics are super charming, and the challenge is a little more pronounced than a lot of other NES platformers without being insane. Adventure Island 3 is probably always gonna be my favorite game of the series, and is still really the only one I’ve spent that much time with…unless I decide to take a crack at the translated version of Adventure Island 4 next year.
Mighty No. 9: Alright, look, full disclosure: I gave this game a shit ton of money on Kickstarter and I reviewed it on the other site I contribute to, Gizorama, but I still felt it worth mentioning as it counted as “a game I played this summer”.
You can get my full thoughts elsewhere, but…you know what, I’ll say this: I really wanted to like Mighty No. 9. And you know what, I almost did. The concept was good, the art style and setting is awesome, and there’s actually a handful of good moments and fun levels to work through. But nothing else really works about it. Cheap, shitty deaths are everywhere, the controls aren’t quite as sticky and responsive as they could be, and most of the levels really feel like they run out of steam about halfway through the way the shittest Mega Man levels did. I played as much of it as I could before moving to greener pastures, and I really hope things come together well enough for everyone to get a shot at a second one to improve on a lot of the problems (since they’re all really fixable) but, uhh…I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up, huh.
Quake Live: The one on this list that surprised me the most; I have no real reason or motivation for it (as I’d started playing well before the announcement of Quake Champions which I’m still stoked about), but I decided this summer was a fine time to get back into Quake Live for whatever reason. While I’ve never been particularly good at it, except when I had the mouse and keyboard for the Dreamcast version when most everyone else online was using the gamepad, Quake III and its numerous variations have always been oddly comforting to me. I really tend not to enjoy playing video games online against other human beings, and while I’m still not good at Quake Live I’ve spent enough time with it that I at least feel like I have a chance. It remains to this day my ideal of what a first-person shooter should be; no load outs, no skill trees, no regenerating health, just 12-24 people jumping around like idiots with rocket launchers and floating first aid kids. I assumed early on that I was going to be far too curmudgeonly to ever enjoy stuff like Overwatch, and Quake Live gives me something to play when I’m in the mood to actually play a game with other people. (Which, as stated, really doesn’t happen that much at all.)
No Man’s Sky: Alright, yeah, I drank the Kool-Aid on this one too. I can’t really explain what motivated me to try it, I was just interested in the idea of being able to kinda meander around space for a while without a ton of clear objectives. And you know what, it does that well enough to be considered a success. I can understand a lot of people’s gripes with it, and maybe I was either not expecting much or just conditioning myself to like it anyway, but I had a few hours of fun.
The optimal word there, I suppose, is a few. I knew in the back of my mind I was buying this to kill a few weeks before I got to the next game on my list, and I can’t say I really expect to stick with it, if I’m being frank. I had some fun, met some aliens, blasted some rocks to sell to said aliens, and while I didn’t have nearly as many technical issues (or as bad a time) as some of the people I read about, I still can’t say I’m gonna go back to it anytime soon. Especially not when I could be playing…
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: HERE we go, the big one I was waiting to come out all summer (or at least after the next entry on the list). I’ve been a huge fan of the Deus Ex series ever since my dad bought us both a copy of the first one way back on PC, and I’ve loved where the series has headed lately between Human Revolution and this new one.
In fact, I think that’s the biggest reason I like the new one so much; it isn’t really that different from the last game and that’s totally great. Human Revolution is up there with some of the best games of the last 5-10 years for me, easily, and Mankind Divided really doesn’t stray far from the path. Some of the augments work a little differently now, some of the menus are set up a little differently/more intuitively, and frankly the game feels a little better on the whole while not actually changing the moment-to-moment gameplay and combat too much, and why should they have? I still love the Rainbow Six Vegas-ish cover system, the conversations actually flow a little better and with more indication of what you’re actually about to say (a lesson Mass Effect never quite got the hang of), and the new setting isn’t quite as interesting as seeing cyberpunk Detroit but it gives off a really cool Half-Life 2/Dishonored-kinda Eastern European vibe. Honestly, not to gush, but considering how few games this year have piqued my interest, this would be an early frontrunner for my personal GOTY, were it not for…
DOOM: GodDAMN. GodDAMMIT you guys. DOOM is SO GOOD. This is, admittedly, another one I’ve reviewed elsewhere but I really cannot say enough good things about it.
Other than like the two times it crashed (and the fact it wouldn’t actually let me record any footage, which was weird) there was nothing about DOOM I disliked. The combat is frenetic and gory, the monster redesigns are fantastic, the levels evoke the art style of the original games without being overly slavish or too far removed, and I found myself oddly interested in the universe and setting, which is generally not something a DOOM title focuses on. The debate still rages as to whether or not you’re actually still playing the guy from the older DOOM games, specifically the first two and DOOM 64, which I’m inclined to believe but the fact it leaves room for speculation is pretty impressive.
Frankly, DOOM is exactly how a reboot of an older game series should happen. It evokes the art, mood, setting, and gameplay of the older ones without being “too much of the same” or completely disconnected, and speaking personally it offers enough old-school touches that I have a hard time finding much to complain about, although you know I’ll basically love any first person shooter that offers health kits and the ability to carry all of your guns at once. Really, DOOM is my favorite game of this year, and were it not for Metal Gear Solid V it’s good enough that it would have been my favorite game of last year too – especially since (HOT TAKE INCOMING) I actually didn’t like Fallout 4 very much at all (BRRRRRRRRAP, FEEL THE EDGE) but that’s a conversation for another day.
A successful list, I’d say, even without factoring in the stuff I only played for a little bit, such as the variety of Dreamcast images I tested for like half an hour during my GDEMU review. Sure, I might have actually gone to see friends and do stuff this summer, but mostly I can judge the success of any given summer break based upon how many video games I was able to sneak in, so this year was a rousing success. Now all I have to do is keep playing video games (and drink) until the shittier seasons are over, and I’m back in business!
…god, it’s gonna be a long eight months.