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Today's Wholesome Direct was a ball pond of fascinating fun

Dive in.

I remember talking to a developer almost twenty years ago about where they thought games were headed, and they told me that one day they imagined a game about an old guy just trying to get across town to help out a sick friend. The drama, the challenge, the mechanics, everything comes out of the situation - being old and worried and on the wrong side of the city.

At the time I was speaking to the developer, they were finishing up work on a console game about aliens and soldiers. The dream of the old guy game seemed pretty distant. And I thought about it today during the 2023 Wholesome Direct, a curated bunch of games from developers who specialise in the cozy, unusual and delightful. Would the old guy game have been at home here? It wouldn't have been hugely out of place.

To put it another way, my favourite game in this Wholesome Direct was probably Toasterball, which cropped up at the end, in a relatively speedy montage of games that came after the main reveals. Toasterball is a game about playing basketball with toasters - your bread pops up and hopefully sends a ball back the way it came. I actually whooped when I saw it. Best of all - I've just discovered that it's already out.

Wholesome Direct.Watch on YouTube

If I'd looked away from the screen at the wrong moment I might have missed Toasterball, and that was part of the appeal of this brisk yet somehow also relaxing show. Near the start, the presenters announced we were about to see almost eighty games. I didn't keep count, but looking back through my notes I can believe it. They got a lot into an hour.

In terms of big stories, one of the pleasures of Wholesome Direct is that it really comes down to who you are and what you value. I suspect the news that Unpacking is coming to smartphones and tablets this year is a big headline for a lot of people, and for me I was delighted to see that the narrative cooking game Venba finally has a release date - it's out on July 31st. But elsewhere, it was a ball pond of fun. Dive in. See what you fancy.

While the games were wildly varied, the colour palette remained pretty similar from one to another - a lot of candy pinks and purples, a lot of woody browns and greens. And the themes tended to cluster, as the wholesome games industry really starts to understand what it's about. Invention was high, but if you like animals, sunny days, pastels, the great outdoors, gardening, stickers, witches and cooking you'll have had a very good show. Animals: there was Usagi Shima, a bunny collecting game, and Kamaeru, a frog breeding game within minutes of one another. Stickers: Sticky Business is a game about running a sticker company while A Tiny Sticker Tale is a proper sticker adventure!

At times, the Wholesome Direct seemed to echo the typical summer games conference - the pre-show had both a game with a surprise demo and a game with a surprise release, if my notes are correct. Elsewhere there were follow-ups, DLC for A Little to the Left - 25 new cabinets and drawers - and hot new games from developers who are a known quantity. Inkle's gorgeous rambling game A Highland Song looked as magic as ever, while Kibu is a beautiful game about tending nature and comes from the developer of Omno, which I loved. There were even licenses: there's a Moonin game and a game about Little Nemo on the way.

What I adore about this show is that I can guarantee the best thing I saw - other than Toasterball - will not be the same as the best thing somebody else saw. I cannot wait for Surmount, a wild spin on climbing, but maybe you're all about the VR sushi adventure Sushi Ben. Almost eighty games! Impossible to make sense of after one viewing, I suspect. And I suspect that's the point.

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