Every month, Team Unwinnable puts together short lists of recommended music, books and games. These lists originally appeared in Unwinnable Monthly 94. If you enjoy what you read, please buy the issue or subscribe.
“Tough,” by Prick
“Dogs,” by Pink Floyd
“Capital G,” by Nine Inch Nails
“Happy Song,” by Bring Me the Horizon
“Talk Show Host,” by Radiohead
“Pave Paradise,” by Have Heart
“Put Your Money On Me,” by Arcade Fire
“Willie o’ Winsbury,” by Offa Rex
“Dear Future Person,” by Cornelius
“The Background World,” by Nine Inch Nails
“Highway Tune,” Greta Van Fleet
“Bloody Hammer,” by Roky Erikson
“One of Us,” by Mystery Skulls
“iSpy,” by Kyle
“Indian Summer,” by Enemies
“Don’t Say I Know,” by Tera Melos
“Winning,” by The Sound
“Stick Stickly,” by Attack Attack!
“Wild West,” by Lissie
Listen now on Spotify
Selected by Stu Horvath, James Fudge, Jeremy Signor, Erik Weinbrecht, Gavin Craig, Austin Price, AJ Moser, Matt Marrone, Jeremy Voss, David Shimomura, Don Becker, Ken Lucas, Taylor Hidalgo, Amanda Hudgins, Khee Hoon Chan, Levi Rubeck, Zach Budgor, Gingy Gibson and Sara Clemens
Mapping the Interior, by Stephen Graham Jones
House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Goodbye, Vitamin, by Rachel Khong
Exit West, by Moshin Hamid
Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King
Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
Fraulein Frankenstein, by Stephen Woodworth
Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain, by Alan Light
Shaking a Leg, by Angela Carter
Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld
This Gaming Life, by Jim Rossignol
Selected by Stu Horvath, Jeremy Signor, Erik Weinbrecht, Gavin Craig, Austin Price, AJ Moser, Matt Marrone, Jeremy Voss, Taylor Hidalgo, Levi Rubeck, Zach Budgor, Gingy Gibson and Sara Clemens
Secret World Legends – Yea, I’m still playing it, even though I finished the main story. It is all raids and dungeons and grinding to approve my equipment now, in anticipation of the release of the Tokyo maps later this month. Don’t judge me.
Stardew Valley – As soon as multiplayer hits, I will be on it like stink on a skunk.
Merchant of Venus – One of the most generous boxes I’ve played in quite some time, the 2012 release of the ‘80s classic Merchant of Venus is a big, open-ended space adventure where you’re a merchant trying to earn the biggest profit by the end of 30 rounds. How you do that is up to you: buy goods and sell them for a high price, taxi passengers around the universe or even earn fame through completing missions or shooting down pirates. If you like board games and dense spacefaring games like Elite, Merchant of Venus is for you.
Homefront: Revolution – I picked this up for $2 from a Redbox machine. The story is very relevant given our current political environment and the gameplay is, so far, jarring and fun. Let me put more than three hours in before I give an appropriate perspective.
Fate/Grand Order – I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve been fascinated by the Fate/Stay Night franchise and the larger Type-Moon universe since I first watched the wretched Studio DEEN adaptation back in 2006. It’s not that I like the series, mind. Aside from Fate/Zero, the anime have been uniformly terrible, and the visual novel is a total fucking mess of undeveloped themes and wretched writing. But the basic conceit – summoning up reimaginings of major historical figures, legends and fables that then duke it out with stylish interpretations of their ultimate techniques and weapons – is pop-culture genius. OK, yes, most of the early character designs are horrible (how fucking outlandish and unrepresentative is the medusa design? Does it even make any sense? And why does Medea look like another generic anime elf girl?), but then you look at their interpretation of Alexander the Great or Gilgamesh reimagined as a gold saint from Saint Seiya who chucks volleys of legendary weapons from his legendary treasure vault and for just a second you understand that in the right hands this would be a fantastic idea.
Fate/Grand Order wants you to think the same thing, but, um . . . it doesn’t put any effort into that attempt. Oh, yes, there are about seven thousand new servants here, but most of them don’t make sense. Why are Marie Antoinette, the Phantom of the Opera, Mephistopheles and a hundred other of these characters even Heroic Spirits? Why do so many of these designs look so fucking cheap? Why does a series built on rules defy them so often they no longer even mean anything? Why is it that half of the servants are genderbent in the name of crass sexploitation? Finally, why is it all stapled on to a game so god damn trite and simplistic that you can literally tap the screen of your phone while it’s in your pocket and complete battles said to be “hard?”
Worst, why I do still keep playing this shit compulsively? Somebody, please: free me from this life.
Pyre – Everything about this experience has surprised me. During my hands-on time at PAX East, I came away frustrated by the intricacies of the fantasy sport, both in how it handled on a DualShock 4 and how the apparent mix of basketball and football felt like the worst of each experience. However, after spending a dozen hours with Pyre, this has become one of the best games I’ve played all year. Like the best kind of JRPGs, the party characters feel like living entities, and a clever third-act twist makes me care about them each in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. Although I have yet to lose a battle, the action has revealed its subtleties to me over time and I find something new to love whenever I fire up this short but sweet adventure.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – AAA production values with an indie sensibility, made by one of my favorite studios, about mental illness. Color me intrigued at the very least.
The Darkside Detective – Small games don’t get the love they deserve. It’s not about how many gigabangs a game is or how many polygons it can mash into a thing or how quickly it will overload your full tower modded gaming rig. Games are can be small and toyish and fun. They can be full of silly reference and briefly romp around the four walls of your screen like you used to bounce around the four walls of your home with fake guns and flashlights.
The Darkside Detective is short almost to a fault and pithy as all heck. It is funny, droll and as sigh inducing as it is laugh inducing. You don’t need a mega crazy computer to play it or a lot of time. Click around, have a few laughs at the expense of some folks made out of Lego sized pixels.
Fire Pro Wrestling World – Still.
Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen – I’ve recently re-entered the fray, playing an emulated version of this game on a portable Pi arcade. I still own the original SNES cartridge and am thinking of firing it up on the Retron5. This game is a tactical RPG that is chock loaded with vampires, dragons and unwinnable scenarios.
Shenmue – I don’t belong here. I am an alien – a body snatching invader who has slithered immaterially behind the eyes and hands of Ryo Hazuki. In his weakest moment, mere days after his father was murdered in front of him, I assumed control. This granted me free reign in a quiet, sleepy, late-80s Japanese community. All but Ryo’s mouth. But together, Ryo and I painted the town . . . well, not red. A curious shade of magenta, maybe. Or a cyclamen. Salmon?
As I guide Ryo like a lost, dizzied puppy bumbling through the streets, there is a very serious, machine-like dedication behind Ryo’s words. He seems dead set on finding his father’s murderer. I am dead set on collecting a wide, SEGA-themed variety of capsule toys. I also want to drink as many sodas from a vending machine as I can. Japan is interesting, I like it here, and I want to visit here for as long as I can . . . but, okay, fine, Ryo. I’ll ask the gruff looking gentleman over there if he knows anything about a motorcycle ruffian named Charlie. Right after I get this can of soda. Oh, and a capsule toy! And while we’re at it, one more game of darts.
And, oooh, look. They have Space Harrier II at this arcade!
Superhot (PSVR) – Hampered by some pretty serious issues with functionality, there is really nothing that beats those brief moments when everything just clicks and suddenly you’re the coolest person in an action movie. And then your hands float off because they desynced from the headset.
Witcher 3 – I think I’ve almost done it. After devoting close to a year and a half to Witcher 3, I feel that I’m finally close to completing Geralt’s epic adventure. Granted that I probably spent more time brewing potions, hunting for buried treasure and prioritizing my role as a monster slayer-for-hire over finding my seriously-in-danger daughter, Ciri – the sense of closure that comes with finishing the game feels almost palpable. Yet, like Geralt when he gruffly confessed his feelings to Yennifer (or Triss, whoever your preference is), I found great difficulty expressing any sort of relief or joy. Traversing the Northern Realms as Geralt has been a breath-taking experience, but it can be exhausting for an adult with plenty of responsibilities. Plus, I still have another world – Hyrule – to explore, which from what I heard, will take me another year or two to fully explore. Wait, how do people even find time to play games anyway? Do you guys even sleep at night?
(Khee Hoon Chan)
Audioshield – I didn’t play this myself, but watched a friend bat away paintballs to the pulsations of “Around the World” by Daft Punk. It’s not the game that will make VR (a technology still hampered by expense and space concerns, limiting creators and users alike) viable, but it’s hard to discount the experience when your buddy takes off the headset, beaming and blinking like he’s just crossed dimensions.
Persona 3 – High schoolers build their friendships by day and go forging through hell’s labyrinth after midnight.
Recettear – This is a game about buying and selling stuff so you can buy and sell more stuff. You run an item shop that’s going to get foreclosed if you don’t pay the bank what your dad owes on it in a matter of weeks, so it’s to your advantage to carefully time the markets to buy low and sell high. On top of that, there are dungeons to go through to find more items and crafting materials than what you can get in town and it gives you story for the various companions that you can take dungeon-crawling with you. If you like grinding, crafting and running your own item shop, this is the game for you.
Mass Effect: Andromeda – I finally fixed my Ryder’s face and hair. I’ve come to realize I hate long hair on third-person-perspective videogame characters; it’s never animated quite right and I hate having to watch it move unnaturally. So Sara’s got a soldier’s haircut (also – she would, obviously) and her killer green eyes set on Jaal.