#LoveYourBacklog – 2023 Edition

I’ve never cared too much for calling the oodles of unplayed games I’ve purchased and just not yet gotten around to my backlog. To me, backlog feels like word that should be attached to some odious chore, and although I will admit to being sometimes overwhelmed by my gaming library, I don’t have any sense of shame or feelings of pressure about it. Games don’t have best-by dates, after all.

I last participated in #LoveYourBacklog back in 2020, when apparently it was only a week instead of a full month! Since then, I’ve managed to add quite a few games to my library. Grabbing some quick stats from Playnite, which isn’t completely up to date, but it’s at least fairly close, I’m creeping up towards 4500 games owned, with over half of them never even launched!

Thanks to Kim from Later Levels for this fun set of questions all about the backlog.

A game you’re eager to play, but haven’t yet started.

I was super excited about Atrio: The Dark Wild when I played the demo back in June of 2021, and I bought it as soon as it came into early access that August. Since then, it’s gone through its entire Early Access period, and had a full release in January of this year.

I still have yet to launch the game, and I cannot explain why that is.

A game you’ve started several times but haven’t yet finished.

Oof – this is really my shelf of shame, here. I don’t feel bad when I buy stuff and then don’t end up playing any of it, and I’m perfectly fine with games I start and decide I don’t care to finish. But the games that I play for a few hours (or a few dozen hours) and really want to finish but just wander off from? Those get to me, and there are dozens upon dozens of them.

For purposes of this question, though, I’m just going to pick two.

I have spent almost 120 hours playing My Time at Portia and have yet to reach the halfway point of the main story. I have promised myself that I will go back to it, and I will not start fresh this time. I think this one is a case of the game just feeling too damn long – it’s not that it drags, even, just that it’s overwhelming. I don’t tend to do very well with long games (although I can put an ungodly amount of hours into endless ones).

Another contender for the “I have started this far too many times” award is Dead State: Reanimated, but at least a couple of times I’ve bounced off of it due to a mid-game difficulty spike I couldn’t work my way through. I still hope to finish it someday, but I don’t know when someday is going to come for this one.

The oldest game in terms of release date.

The original Might & Magic RPG, originally released in 1986 is probably the oldest game in my library by release date. I grabbed this as part of the Might & Magic 6 pack: Limited Edition on GoG.com, fully expecting I would probably never play the first couple titles. I never played any of these myself, but some of my earliest gaming memories are of watching my uncle play this series. So this was more of a nostalgia buy than really any intent to actually play them myself.

If we’re talking about the oldest game that (a) I didn’t play when it was a new game and (b) I actually would like to get around to someday, that would have to be Planescape Torment from 1999. Even here, though, I’m far more likely to play the Enhanced Edition that came out in 2017, but the GoG package came with the original as well, so I do own that version.

The most recent addition to your library.

Is it really an addition to the backlog if it’s bought with purpose and the intention to play right away? I just added Ephemerid: A Musical Adventure to my Steam library the other day, but I picked it up to play during #MusicGameMarch for the Community Game-Along.

Incidentally, I paid full price for it, which I almost never do. Of course, full price was only $3.

The game which has spent the most time on your backlog.

Most of my early steam purchases & activations are things I actually played at least some of. I realize most people consider any uncompleted game to be part of the backlog, but if I’ve hit my satisfaction threshold with a title, I don’t feel the need to push through and see the credits as well. So, looking for titles I’ve never even fired up, it looks like Thief II: The Metal Age, which I purchased in July of 2012 (along with the other two early Thief games) has been hanging out, completely ignored, for almost 11 years now.

However, since then, I’ve realized that I don’t particularly care for stealth games, so it’ll probably continue to languish unless my tastes change again.

The person responsible for you adding the most entries to your backlog, due to their good recommendations.

I am my own biggest and best enabler when it comes to adding things to my backlog. I love shopping. I love research. I love finding quirky indie games that I just have to have. I’m the person who’s pointing out game giveaways and bundles that are a complete steal to everyone I know.

I am most definitely the problem.

Games I Love in Genres I Don’t or Why I Keep Trying to Try Out Everything

You would think by this point in my life, I would have a pretty good idea of what I like and what I don’t when it comes to gaming. You would be wrong, just as I am often wrong when I think that I don’t like certain genres or specific mechanics, and that having them in a game would be a deal breaker. But for every rule there is an exception, and I feel like the next step in my journey is looking at the exceptions rather than the rules to help me to figure out why these specific games work for me when many similar titles just don’t.

3D Platformers – Psychonauts and Psychonauts 2

All game images in this post link to their respective Steam store pages.

Okay, maybe this one is cheating every so slightly. It’s not like I am opposed to the concept of 3D platformers – or platformers in general actually – it’s just that I’m so very very bad at them that a game really needs to speak to me in order for me to push through that frustration. Psychonauts is a game that took me nearly two decades (and at least one major patch which dialed down the difficulty of the final area) to finish. Thankfully, I had a much easier time with Psychonauts 2.

I might have still loved them just for the concept – I love the idea of going inside people’s heads and sorting out their problems. But it’s the humor of the game that really sold me, that kept me coming back even though I was struggling, and has made me buy untold copies of the first game to inflict on everyone I know who plays games.

Games Where the Main Character is an Unrepentant Bad Guy – Saint’s Row: The Third and Saint’s Row IV

Look, I’m not going to apologize that – generally speaking – my video game fantasy life is being able to fix everyone’s problems. I do everything I can not to choose mean or hurtful dialogue choices. I just want to be the good guy, ok?

Except when I’m playing Saint’s Row. Then I gleefully run over pedestrians, blow up buildings, and shoot anyone who looks at me funny, as well as most of the people who don’t look at me funny. I crash so many cars, so very many cars, and almost every single one of them is stolen. I don’t care. I am embracing my inner gang leader, for whom actions almost never have any kind of permanent consequences.

I generally find myself bouncing off games that want me to play as the bad guy, but when I really want to get my destruction on, these are the games I generally return to.

Games With Extremely Tight Time Limits – Dead Rising series & Cook, Serve, Delicious! series

I’ll admit it – in the past, when people have asked me the number one thing that turns me off from a game, I have answered that it’s unforgiving time limits. Except, apparently, when it’s not. In fact, I am pretty sure the only thing that the Dead Rising series and the Cook, Serve, Delicious! games have in common is time limits, and I don’t think either set of games would work at all without them.

Dead Rising and its sequels actually consistently set you up to fail. It’s built into the way the game works. Sure, you have to start over, but you retain your level and your upgrades, and more importantly, your knowledge of the game world. You need to learn how to best optimize your route to not miss critical game deadlines, and coming back both more powerful and meaningfully smarter about the game makes replaying the early bits sheer joy.

Now, I can’t explain why the Cook, Serve, Delicious! are almost meditative for me. In fact, I regularly make these games harder than they are by default by not allowing even a single less-than-perfect order to leave my kitchen. As you get further into the game, the recipes get more involved, and your customers get less patient, and there is no button that let’s you toss an order in the trash and redo it. These games are fast paced, and they require a lot of twitch reactions and a huge amount of memorization to play effectively. They’re everything I should hate, but in this one very specific instance, I absolutely love.

Are there any games that have really worked for you, despite being fairly far outside of your gaming comfort zone?

Attempting to Temper My Expectations – Musings on Returning to World of Warcraft at an Expansion’s End

I’m not even sure that I’m all that excited about Dragonflight – World of Warcraft’s next expansion – but I am absolutely getting that end-of-expac itch. It feels like time is running out to do all the things I wanted to do when Shadowlands first released.

Now, I have tried to convince myself that if I really wanted to do all of those things, I would have done them over the months I was actively subbed and not playing, but I cannot seem to get that to stick. I have characters to level, battle pets to hunt down, and there’s a whole bunch of nerd points I wanted that are going to be a royal pain in the ass in a few months, and have you guys seen the fancy jelly cat mount that you get if you manage to complete all the fated raids before 10.0?

Clearly, I was not listening to anything I said when I sat myself down for a stern talking to.

Of course, I anticipate I’m going to run into the same problem I always do when I’m playing WoW – or any other MMO for that matter. I want to do the things that are Fun (for me) while managing to avoid all the things that are Not Fun (for me). Which is all fine and dandy when it comes to all the casual-core stuff I love – leveling, battle pets, running old content for transmog and nerdpoints, leveling professions & playing the auction house.

No, where I always run into trouble is that I do, in fact, like to raid. More specifically, I like to raid with my guild. However, chasing upgrades is part of the stuff I find to be Not Very Fun At All, especially since there’s been so much focus on Mythic+ and high-pressure timed content.

While the very generous raid requirements for my guild mean that – at this moment – I am only short the legendary from the last patch (which I skipped almost all of), there has been discussion of also requiring tier pieces for our Fated raid nights, and that is probably more grinding than I am going to be able to push myself to do.

So while I do intend to restart my subscription sometime in September, and as much as I have grabby hands for that silly green cat, I don’t expect to be raiding between now and the first tier of Dragonflight (assuming I stick around that long). Maybe I’ll change my mind and decide that it’s worth putting in the effort, but I have to start by telling myself I’m just popping in for the super-casual stuff.

…and maybe to clean out my character’s banks before the end of the expansion.

Some Thoughts on Release Dates

I know I’m being hyperbolic here, but it seems like about half of the gaming news I stumble across as I meander through gaming-related internet spaces are about release delays. In fact, it’s not at all uncommon for me that the first I’m hearing of a game that has piqued my interest is when the developers are announcing that they’re not going to make the target they set for themselves. Most recently, I saw the trailer for Nightingale, a first person survival crafting game that looks so damn cool, for the first time in an article explaining that Inflexion Games was pushing back its release to sometime in the first half of 2023.

Now, this is nothing new. It wasn’t even new when everyone and their brother started complaining about pandemic-related delays back in 2020. Roughly a quarter of my (admittedly excessive) Steam wish list is taken up by games that aren’t out yet, and at least one of those has been on my wish list since 2017. Games take a long time to make, and indie games often take longer as they’re passion projects rather than full time jobs for dozens or hundreds of people. Even when I back a game on Kickstarter, I don’t ever expect it by the anticipated release date, and am usually pleasantly surprised when the key shows up in my email.

At the moment, my backed projects page on Kickstarter has four games that have missed their estimated delivery dates, one of which is over a year late. I’ve tried to take a back-em and forget-em approach, which works for me most of the time.

Now, I understand why AAA publishers drop release dates early. They need a lot of hype to validate their big budgets, and many also come with physical releases, which retailers like to be able to plan for. But when it’s so very easy to set the release date on steam as “Coming Soon” or “TBA” – why do developers publicize their targets and risk disappointing their intended audience?

Dwarf Fortress is doing estimated release dates right.

I’d already been ruminating about this a bit, when Naithin made a post talking about the games he was looking forward to that are supposed to release before the end of the year. In it, he talked about a couple of titles that would have been on his list, but have already announced their delays.

Fellow blogger Nimgimli also talked about delayed games recently over on Twitter. Although games get delayed all the time, the end of the year seems to be particularly hard on release schedules.

For me, I prefer if a developer doesn’t guess at a release date until it’s fairly close, but I also have no qualms about wish-listing games that may not be out for years, if they ever show up at all. What I have noticed is that the discussion threads on Steam tend to get a little heated when dates keep getting pushed back with little or no other communication. Since obviously, Steam doesn’t require a concrete date in order to get a store page up, why use projected release dates that are months or years in the future? Is the attention gained from goals that go unmet better than from the honesty that a game will release when it’s done?

I do find these fun non-date release dates rather refreshing.

Obviously, I’m not a developer, and I really have only the slightest inkling of how long it should take for a game to go from an idea to a finished product (or, at least to a playable Early Access build, if that’s the route one chooses to go). I do know that constantly shifting release dates, even in these unprecedented times erode consumer confidence, and to me, that feels like a direct route to devaluing your brand.

Three Months With the Steam Deck

I’ve had my Steam Deck for about three months now. In the roughly nine months between hitting that pre-order button, and finally having it in my hot little hands, I had a lot of time to think about whether it was something I really needed, would I get enough use out of it to justify the cost, and could it actually be anywhere near as cool as I hoped it was going to be.

Well, on the first question, no, I didn’t need it (but – honestly – there was no reason to ever think I needed it – it’s a toy after all). For the first few weeks it was here, it was looking like the second and third question were also going to be no’s and I was going to have a $600-ish hunk of regret. I suppose the jury is still out on the third question, but over the past couple of months, that second no has turned into a resounding yes.

The first month, I didn’t so much play on the Steam Deck, as I played around with it. I installed games, booted them up, played for a few minutes, then went on to try something different. No matter what I tried, nothing really felt like the correct thing for the platform. I mean, if I just sat at my desk, I’d have a bigger monitor, and my trusty mouse & keyboard, and why did I think I wanted this thing in the first place?

I was still pretty obsessed with Bugsnax at the time, so I kind of forced myself to push through a hefty chunk of a third playthrough solely on the Deck. I didn’t come anywhere close to beating the game this time, but it was enough for me to start to get used to the idea. It wasn’t, however, until I started messing around with Atomicrops that I really started to be as excited about the Steam Deck as I was the day I placed my reservation.

It was the right game at the right time. I found myself reaching for the Steam Deck every time I had a gap in my day where I though I could knock out a season or two. Because of this, it ended up being my most played game in both May and June (and in June, nothing else came anywhere close). It let me shake off the bit of buyer’s remorse I’d been feeling.

Now, when I convinced myself that I wanted this, I thought I knew what types of games I wanted it for. What I didn’t consider is how much adjustment I would need to non-mouse-and-keyboard controls. I finally branched out more last month, trying out different types of games. Some felt pretty good with the controller, some I played just long enough to know I wanted my PC for them.

However, it was nowhere on my bingo card that my latest Steam Deck obsession game would be a Pop Cap title from 2006. Surprisingly, Zuma Deluxe plays like a dream, and 20 or so hours I’ve spent shooting tiny orbs out of a frog’s mouth over the last month or so have gotten me very used to the trackpads.

Of course, no love story is perfect. Although not something I am willing to send it back over, I unfortunately got a Deck with a wonky power button. Instead of just being able to gently press on it to boot it up or wake it from sleep, I need to really press it pretty hard. I have a tiny screwdriver that does the trick every time, and I’ve just started keeping it in the case. Sure, it’s a weird accessory, but it’s working for me.

It’s unlikely that the Steam Deck will ever overtake my PC as my primary gaming device, but I definitely feel like I’m using it enough to justify having it. Sure, I’m not playing the games I thought I’d be playing on it, but when I find a game that works for me on the smaller screen, I’m loving every minute I’m spending with it.

Your Summer Safari – Five Photo-Snapping Games

Thanks to GhastlyMirror over at The Ghastly Gamer for inspiring this post. Check out their post on Summer Gaming Fun for more virtual vacation destination suggestions.

For a lot of folks this summer, travel just isn’t in the cards. Maybe you’re choosing caution in light of two completely separate pandemics going around. Maybe it’s the high cost of gas and, well, everything else. Maybe it’s just that it’s too damn hot this summer to leave the sanctuary of your air conditioned house. Any way you look at it, this might be the perfect time for a virtual vacation!

I really can’t recall playing any photography-focused games prior to last year’s New Pokémon Snap, which I bought for the Nintendo Switch and then absolutely devoured. Since then, I’ve been hunting down puzzle adventure games with a strong focus on taking pictures. Maybe one of them (or all of them) might strike your fancy and allow you to take a little virtual safari this summer.

It only took me a little under six hours to complete Alekon to my satisfaction when it released last August, but every minute of that was absolutely delightful. Explore biomes to photograph adorable critters, called Fictions, and welcome them into Dream’s Doorstep, where they will present you with quests and minigames. Initially, you’ll be confined to a set path through these areas, but it won’t be long until you unlock the ability to free-roam. All of the pieces of this game just fit perfectly for me, and the art style and humor really polishes up the whole experience.

Beasts of Maravilla Island will whisk you away to a magical place, full of fantastic creatures. You’ll fill your photo journal with pictures of the flora and fauna, and solve puzzles to get those extra special shots. It’s a compact experience, easily finishable in less time than it takes to watch a movie, but the beauty and positive message of the game will likely stay with you long after you set sail for home.

This is one of the games I played this year for the #JustOnePercent project, and you can read my full review here: Game Over: Beasts of Maravilla Island

Penko Park is the photography collectathon game for those among us who might be existing in summer, but are dreaming of Halloween. This one is three parts cute to one part creepy as you explore an abandoned wildlife park, and photograph and interact with the things that have been left behind. Your photo journal will guide you towards things you may have missed, and there’s quite a few achievements to be gained along the way.

I know that cats are the current kings of the video gaming world right now, but Pupperazzi caters to the dog lovers. Solve puzzles, take photos, and dress up dogs in adorable costumes. Take a break from your career and the pressures of social media to play with a variety of dogs. This one is also currently part of XBox Game Pass for PC.

If you prefer your photography games to lean heavily into puzzle solving, Toem: A Photo Adventure might be the best choice for you. The inhabitants of this quirky black and white world need your help. Take pictures to solve problems, and don’t forget to focus on all the little details along the way.

Release Radar – July 2022 – On My Wishlist

At this point, probably about a full third of my wish list is made of games that aren’t available for purchase. This wasn’t always the case: for most of my adult years, I subscribed to the “patient gaming” philosophy, and rarely bought games anywhere near their release date. Since I don’t play a lot of multiplayer focused titles, there’s no pressing need to make a day one purchase, and – generally speaking – waiting means that you get better prices, and better games, as bugs are squashed and additional content added.

However, as my tastes have shifted away from AAA titles, and towards more and more quirky indie games, I find I’m more interested in being an early adopter. I still don’t make many day one purchases, but it’s not uncommon for me to wait between a few days for the first reviews to trickle in, to a few months, when games are likely to receive their first significant discount.

Even now, just more than halfway through 2022, I only have picked up a handful of titles that have become available for purchase just this year (although I did own quite a few that made the transition from early access into full release), but there are several titles I’m very interested in that are becoming available to play later this month.

I played the Escape Academy demo during the most recent Steam Next Fest, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I did waffle a bit on whether or not I’d be picking it up, but now I don’t have to decide, as it’s also going to be a Day One Release on XBox Gamepass for PC in just a few days.

Clanfolk is another title I’m intrigued by that is dropping on July 14th. Although I haven’t played it myself, there is a demo available, but I may have a hard time resisting this one. I love the idea of a multi-generational colony builder, and I find that I don’t mind the quirks of early access in this type of game.

It’s been more than two years since I played the demo for The Final Earth 2, and a good 18 months since the initial expected release date has come and gone. The fact that I’m still looking forward to it after all this time means I’m going to have a hard time waiting to grab this one.

Although Stray isn’t actually a wish listed title for me, the hype around this particular game has been assaulting me from all directions. I wouldn’t have expected a cyberpunk cat adventure game to be the most wish listed title on Steam, but obviously there’s something about the combination that’s calling out to folks.

I played the demo for Beasties in October of last year, and found it charming. Although there’s been an early access build on itch.io for awhile, and it came out for Nintendo Switch earlier this month, I wanted to wait for a Steam release. I probably won’t pick this up until I know whether or not it play nice with the Steam Deck, as that’s how I would most like to play it.

Wrapping up the list of July releases on my radar is Bear & Breakfast. This is one I tried out during the June 2021 NextFest, and I remember spending a lot of time with the demo. I expect it’s going to be more story focused with a definitive ending than your average management game, so I’ll likely wait on some reviews before pulling the trigger.

Did I miss the July release that you’re most excited about? Tell me about it in the comments!

Summer Sale Season Recap

Another Summer Sale is now over, and – as usual – I probably bought too many games to even conceivably play before the next sale season happens in about six months. Still, grabbing deals is at least half the fun for me, and grab deals I did!

Purchases on Steam

This is the first major sale since we’ve started paying a whole lot of attention to our monthly entertainment spending (although, if we’re honest, I’ve always paid at least some attention to discretionary spending). Of course, having the sale bridge months meant that I could pick up a few things early, and then pick up a few more when my wallet gets refilled on the first.

I kept my purchases on Steam just under $75 (before tax and not including the bit of trading card money I had stashed in my wallet). That netted me 17 games (as well as one DLC), giving an average price of just under $4.50 per game. In a somewhat unusual turn of events for me, I’ve already played around with four of them – I tried out Heavenworld, Fantasy Match Puzzle and Stacklands on my PC, and have been dabbling in Kitaria Fables on the Deck.

Fanatical Purchases

No matter how large my library gets, I’m still unable to resist a bundle, and Fanatical’s “build your own” bundles get me more often than any other these days. I grabbed five games for $7.99 in the Build Your Own Slayer Bundle and then five more for the ridiculously low price of $2.99 in the Build Your Own Indie-Pendence Bundle. I also grabbed PCI: Public Crime Investigation while it was just a dollar more than what I had been hoping for in the Steam sale (in which it wasn’t discounted at all this time around). Overally, I’m very pleased with what I picked up for $22 in total.

Now, I realize I’m in a privileged position to be able to drop just shy of $100 on my hobby for no particular reason other than I love a sale. When AAA titles cost more than half that, and I cannot remember the last time I actually enjoyed a AAA title as much as I enjoy quirky indie games, I am not going to feel bad about purchasing 28 new-to-me games, even if most of them are probably not getting played anytime soon.

Three Mega Bundles Currently Live on Itch.io

Although I’ve been making an effort to keep track of the fundraising mega-bundles that are appearing on Itch.io with increasing frequency as terrible stuff keeps happening in the world, I have to say that the main page doesn’t always make them easy to find. There are currently three different bundles live right now.

Queer Games Bundle 2022

This bundle was open only to queer creators, and benefits them directly. It contains 588 items, which include a mix of video games, physical games, assets, and written works, many of which feature LGBTQIA+ representation. A minimum donation of $10 is required to receive the bundle.

This bundle will have a bit more than 24 hours remaining at the time of this post, so if you’re interested in this one, don’t wait!

Worth of Better, Stronger Together for Reproductive Rights

This is a charity bundle, with 50% of the proceeds being donated to The National Organization for Women and 50% to The Center for Reproductive Rights. This is a somewhat smaller bundle – only 169 items, but includes a handful of higher value titles not present in either of the other currently available bundles. These titles include Lost in Vivo, Aground, and Sylvio. A minimum donation of $10 is required to receive the bundle.

This bundle has about 10 days remaining from the time of this post.

Indie Bundle for Abortion Funds

This bundle will be donating 100% of the proceeds to The National Network of Abortion Funds Collective Power Fund, and is the largest of the three bundles currently available, with over 750 items included, and more still being added through July 6. Again, you’ll see a variety of item types that are available on the Itch.io platform, and this bundle does include some items that are already available for free. A minimum donation of $10 is required to receive the bundle.

This bundle has about 8 days remaining from the time of this post.

My Top Picks from 2022 Wholesome Direct

I usually skip most of the gaming conferences, but last year I discovered Wholesome Direct, and it felt for the first time like someone finally made a game show that was specifically tailored to my interests. So this year, I blocked out the time to sit and actually watch it live, but it’s still available to watch on YouTube for anyone who might have missed it. If you’re into this type of chill game, you’re likely to find something to get exciting about in the 94 new and upcoming games featured during the hour-long run time.

There were quite a few titles I was already aware of – several of which have had a place on my wish list for a year or longer – but there was also a handful of news-to-me games that I can’t wait to find out more about.

I actually took notes during the show – I knew from last year that they would be covering far more games that I could hope for my middle-aged brain to remember. There were eighteen titles on my notepad at the end of the hour. One of those turned out to be a VR-required title, which means that I won’t be playing it. From the remaining seventeen, I managed to whittle it down to a short list of seven titles that I’m really jazzed to find out more about.

From the Steam page: An Action-RPG that’s (not-so) secretly a Personality Test. Use Physics-based telekinesis to make your mark on a strange world of Spirits. You will not be told when you are making decisions. You will never be judged in terms of Good or Evil. You will simply face the consequences of your actions.

Can I just say how much I love the idea of Freeride? It seems like a natural progression of the tried-and-true RPG trope of good versus evil. There’s no demo currently available, but there’s a short play test build. Even knowing what the gimmick of the game was, I got drawn into the very brief mechanical tutorial, and was surprised when the game judged me based on my actions.

From the Steam page: After losing your job you end up in a small town far away from home. As luck would have it you get to stay in an vacant witches house and start building your new life. Build your own garden, grow plants for your potions and spells and build friendships with the town’s folk.

There are quite a few games already out, and oodles more in development that are putting alchemy, magic, and farming into a neat package, but this one stood out to me. Part of that is the gorgeous 3D graphics, and part of it is the feel that – for me – they’ve got the ratios for this recipe just right. There’s no demo (yet) and the devs have recently stated that they are not planning an early access release, so it might be quite a while before I get my hands on this one, but it looks like it will probably be worth the wait.

From the Steam page: A wholesome, non-linear adventure game, where a lost soul and his dog set out on an otherworldly trek through the afterlife. Pass into the world beyond, commit acts of kindness for other souls, and mend mistakes from a forgotten past life. All with a very good boy by your side!

Cats seem to be the more popular video game pet, but personally, I’m a sucker for anything with a dog. I also really enjoy this type of adventure game, where you’re not saving the world, just making it a little bit better. It looks absolutely beautiful. Hello Goodboy does have a demo available, which I plan to dive into soon.

From the Steam page: Discover new beginnings after crash-landing on an undiscovered planet. Join Kokopa and Pollimero as they explore, build, garden, and meet new friends — while uncovering the mysteries of this unknown planet!

Kokopa’s Atlas is another one that checks a lot of boxes for me. A little farming, a little bit of social sim, and a whole bunch of exploration and scanning in a strange land. As weird as it sounds, give me a scanner in a game, and I will contentedly walk around scanning things for hours. The developers are currently polishing up a new demo build; maybe it’ll be ready in time for the Steam NextFest later this week? I hope so!

From the Steam page: Lonesome Village is a puzzle-solving adventure with social simulation.

The description for Lonesome Village is short and to the point – the primary focus for this one is going to be on making friends and solving mysteries. You’ll also be able to customize your house, grow a garden, and do some fishing. There’s also a demo for this one, but I’m almost hoping it won’t spoil too much in the way of story.

From the Steam page: Paper Trail is a top-down puzzle adventure about leaving home, set in a foldable, paper world.

The thing that drew me to Paper Trail was most definitely the paper-folding puzzle-solving mechanic. I’m not sure why the look of actual book pages, and the ability to fold things captivates me, but I have a hard time resisting any game that makes use of this gimmick. This one also has an active demo, so I’m planning to check that out and see how I feel about the actual puzzling part of the game feels, because I’m already in love with the aesthetic.

From the Steam page: Bring kindness and light to the people of Sainte-et-Claire as Lila—a tiny mouse with a big heart! Explore a quaint French village, make electrifying new friends, and do good deeds for those in need in this lush narrative adventure game.

Really, who doesn’t want to be a do-gooder mouse? The art on this one blew me away, and I love the idea of being a tiny force for good in an uncertain world. Add in some collectibles and mini-games, and I feel like this could come together into a gloriously relaxing package of happiness. The Spirit and the Mouse also has a demo available on its Steam page, but I can’t imagine not liking this one.

Did you watch this year’s Wholesome Direct? What games were you most charmed by?