As both a parent and the resident news lad here, I probably spend way more time talking and writing about games than getting hundreds of hours to actually play them. While most of the games I've snuck the odd minutes with – I hesitate to say hours – made it onto our Advent Calendar for Horace’s approval, the three below were a few that made me and my family smile at different points throughout 2022. Roll on 2023 - and even more games.
Possibly my most magical Christmas as a kid was in 1997, aged 12. I got a Saturn and an issue of the UK’s Official Sega Saturn Magazine that had a Christmas NiGHTS Into Dreams disc on the cover. I reckon that it was my favourite, most unabashedly fun time for gaming ever (outside my decades fiddling around on PC, obvs). Indie platformer Lunistice is a blatant love letter to the 32-bit era, and the kind of game that largely skipped the poor old Saturn.
You guide Hana the Tanuki about as she dreams, aiming to get her to the Moon. Hana properly speeds along, bouncing and spinning her tail to thwack enemies with a lovely splat effect. Devs A Grumpy Fox have really nailed the classic 90s platformer vibe, thanks to all the different dreamworlds that Hana gets to careen through. Don’t expect something open-world like Sonic Frontiers, because Lunistice is deliberately meant to be a linear, short experience. Good grief, could we use more of those.
It might be short, but if you have fun zipping about Lunistice’s dreams with Hana then there’s always the option of going back to improve your times, or trying to score an S-rank on every stage. You can play as a few other characters too, such as Toree 3D’s Toree and Holomento’s Toukie. They have different weaknesses and abilities to Hana, so it mixes things up a bit if you want to squeeze some of that tasty replayability juice out of Lunistice. The game is bright, quick, and entirely the kind of thing that 12-year-old me would have been ecstatic to get on Christmas morning.
Coin Crew’s combo of visual novel and escape room sim seems to have been forgotten about this year, but Ed had a fun time with it for his review. I did when I played it too, hooking my laptop up to the telly and tackling its puzzles together with my wife in couch co-op. The best, and possibly weirdest, thing I could say in Escape Academy’s favour is that I’ve had dreams like it. They usually involve struggling my way around my old school to get to a maths class that I can’t find on my timetable, but swap maths for surviving floors of flooding rooms and it’s basically the same thing.
While we preferred playing by swapping over a controller after one of us finished a room, you can jump into proper two-player co-op instead if you prefer. Escape Academy hit my silly sense of humour on the head like a giant novelty inflatable hammer, so I was smirking throughout. I never felt majorly challenged by any of the game’s puzzles, but the whole thing is handled really well. The Academy staff are all voiced with character, and the music made me feel like I was on a particularly involved gameshow. It’s not a long game, but you’ll definitely get a few evenings worth of headscratchers out of it.
There’s already a DLC, Escape From Anti-Escape Island, that carries on the escape-fest with a tropical twist over five more escape rooms. Coin Crew’s roadmap for the game includes another paid DLC with another five rooms in spring. A free major update is coming early next year, too. Somehow, I don’t think my days of defying the puzzles set by Escape Academy tutors are over just yet.
There’s more Pokémon-likes than ever on PC these days, such as Temtem and Ooblets, but TRAGsoft’s Coromon is a much more straightforward revival of classic creature collection torn right out of the Game Boy Advance era. Unless you rummage through your loft and dig out your classic handhelds, you’re not going to find a pocket monster collectathon that looks anything like this anymore. It just captures the feel of old-school Pokémon better than Game Freak have been doing for a little while now.
Coromon’s critters are, surprisingly, not your average Rickey Rouse or Monald Muck knock-offs of the real thing. They’re nicely designed, cute little examples of an alternative take on the whole animals-with-superpowers schtick. Coromon’s animations are slick and pretty charming both in and out of battles too. Despite the attempts to make Coromon its own thing, the many similarities to classic Pokémon are unavoidable. Frankly, that’s one of the major reasons to pick up the game.
See, TRAGsoft have steered into this. Coromon does exactly what you’d expect and then chucks in more stuff that you didn’t necessarily think would make it in for good measure. You can start Coromon and instantly know what you’re doing, but then you head into the settings and that’s where things get surprising. You can faff about with battle difficulty settings to make them easier or harder, and there are independent options for wild and trainer battles. There’s even an option to effectively set up a Nuzlocke mode, releasing Coromon into the wild when they faint. Kudos, TRAGsoft, kudos.