What we've been playing

A few of the games that have us hooked at the moment.

3rd of September, 2021

Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: numbers, a retro oddity, and a lovely island retreat.

If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.

Good Sudoku, iOS

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I have a funny relationship with Zach Gage's revisionist approach to classic games, like Sage Solitaire and Really Bad Chess. They're slick, tasteful, gorgeously playable, and kind of intellectually brave in the way they try to fix - or break - some of the most brilliant and ornery designs ever created by the human brain. But somewhere along the line they seem to lose something, too - some of the friction, the capriciousness that makes these games so indelible. My favourite of his by far is also the most chill, Flipflop Solitaire, but even that game is a little lacking in flavour.

Good Sudoku (I've been enjoying the complete "Good Sudoku+" edition on Apple Arcade) may similarly scandalise purists in the way it gives you powerful visualisation and auto-completion tools to help you solve the classic number puzzles in blisteringly short times. But its ultimate goal is quite different - not to change sudoku, but to teach it. As a novice, I can say that it clearly works... up to a point. I've sped up to Expert level but got rather stuck there. I love that I'm now conversant in such arcane sudoku techniques as the Naked Pair, Locked Candidate and Pointing Triple, but while I understand them, I still find the more advanced ones difficult to spot on the grid. So I use hints, but what to do about the fact I feel like I'm cheating? Gage has me covered here, too, in Eternal mode, where you lose hearts for mistakes and for hint usage, and your heart total persists from one puzzle to the next. Survival sudoku. Roguelike sudoku. It's not for the faint of heart, but I'm in.

Oli Welsh

Nightshade, Switch

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I long for this sort of thing to happen: a game turns up on the Switch's NES collection, I've never heard of it and I take a punt and it turns out to be...fascinating? I'm not sure if Nightshade is a good game. In fact, it's often a little annoying. But it's better than good. It's weird and transporting and mysterious.

You play as a sort of Shadow-like superhero character investigating a city that's gone terribly awry. The game has a wonderful pulpy feel to it, and the mechanics are gloriously odd. Given the fact this is a 1992 NES game I expected a sort of scrolling beat-'em-up. Sometimes you do fight people, but more often it's a point-and-click adventure game in which you use items, combine them, and solve puzzles.

The key people who made this went on to make the SNES Shadowrun, and perhaps that's the best way to understand what Nightshade is. It's quirky and humorous and dark and moody, and it's the sort of game that wants more from games than the simple genres allow for. Dive in. It's kind of wonderful.

Chris Donlan

A Short Hike, Switch

I suspect I will never delete A Short Hike from my Switch. For one thing it's probably taking up a tiny amount of room, but more importantly it's so rich in its compactness, so filled with memories and so endlessly playable. This was the first game my daughter ever finished, the first game that allowed her to see that some games extend beyond the end credits. Now she has moved on and it's mainly me firing it up now and then, but I always find something new.

Today it was an artist. I went for an aimless wander and encountered a disappointed painter, doubting themselves as so many in A Short Hike do, worrying about the future and looking for the perfect spot to work in. I followed them about for a bit and then abandoned the thread to be picked up another day. I wandered over a graveyard, found a few last coins - there are still some scattered about - and stopped on a hill to watcher joggers go past.

This stopping feels like the most miraculous part. A Short Hike is dense with things to do, but it's also an ideal game to rest and watch things happen around you. After a few minutes the joggers were all gone, and I headed down the mountain towards home. I wonder where I'll end up next time I play.

Chris Donlan

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