With many of us stuck at home for the foreseeable future, our Netflix queues as exhausted as our desire to do another jigsaw puzzle, it’s prime time for a new hobby. You could try quilting or scrapbooking, or you could try video games. (Our own senior editor Anthony Rotunno has been getting lots of use out of his Sega Genesis Mini.) We asked three gaming experts to suggest their favorite titles for curious new gamers. Many of their picks, listed below, can be played on your phone or computer, so there’s no need to invest in a new console. Some even let you connect with friends whom you can’t currently see in person. And they’re all fun.
“The best way to see if gaming is something you want to take further is simply to pick up a free game for your smartphone or tablet,” says Ben Cousins, a game designer and industry consultant. “Two great genres for people new to gaming are puzzle and strategy. Both don’t require fast-twitch gaming skills and enable you to think a little before you make a decision.” In the puzzle category, he’s a fan of games in the Candy Crush series. If you’ve already dabbled in the original, try Soda Saga, which he calls a “great variant” on the theme.
If you like puzzle games but want something with more of a narrative, Zach Gage, a conceptual artist and video-game designer, recommends Dr. Meep. “It’s kind of like if Candy Crush was designed by an indie [game designer],” says Gage, explaining how you play as a psychoanalyst in the match-three game, helping your patients by completing puzzles with components unique to their psychological issues. “It’s a nice puzzle, even for people who don’t think they like puzzles,” says Gage.
If you want a game that’s more like a romantic comedy, Gage suggests Florence, which follows the ups and downs of the title character’s first love. It’s a good option for beginners because it’s “very easy to play and extremely narrative-focused,” he says.
Andrea Rene, a gaming journalist and co-founder of the What’s Good Games podcast, agrees with Cousins that phone games are a good way to get started. “We all touch our phones every day, so the interface to learn how to use these games is usually pretty user-friendly,” she says. “It doesn’t take a lot of practice, like holding a controller.” In the strategy realm, both she and Cousins like the simple, yet addictive, game Archero. “You play as a fantasy player with a bow and arrow (in the beginning), and you go through dungeons where you take out enemies and collect power-ups,” Rene says.
In a time of social distancing, PC games that can be played via screen-sharing on the videoconferencing platform Zoom are a fun way to connect. Rene and Gage both recommend the Jackbox Party Pack, which includes five party games, like the trivia game You Don’t Know Jack and Drawful, which Gage calls “a much wilder, more interesting version of Pictionary.” Only one person needs to download (and pay for) the games; the others enter a code to play on their phones or computers. (You can also download Jackbox games for consoles like the Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and Playstation.)
While the historical action-adventure game series Assassin’s Creed is a hit among serious gamers, Rene recommends the franchise’s latest installment, Odyssey, specifically for newbies. It has a “discovery tour” mode, in which players explore ancient Greece, learning about history and culture while interacting with characters as they go about their daily lives. “You hear these days of people having virtual museum tours, but what about being able to actually put yourself inside ancient Greece in the eyes of a video game? It’s a really neat concept,” she says. The game is also available for Xbox and Playstation.
Once you get a little more interested in video games, you may want to invest in a console, which lets you play a wider variety of games and offers a more social experience, since you can play with multiple controllers or play virtually with friends who have the same system. Our experts agree that the portable Nintendo Switch is best for beginners. “The device can be connected to a TV, but also used separately,” says Cousins. “It can also be played by two players without buying a new controller — perfect for kids fighting over who plays first.” Rene also recommends the Switch for new gamers, and she says lots of Nintendo games are “very approachable to gamers of all skill levels.” While the Switch is currently tough to find in stock, the Switch Lite, which is slightly smaller and lower priced, but can’t be connected to a TV like the original, is still available from some stores.
You’ve probably already seen Animal Crossing: New Horizons in your social-media feeds. According to Rene, the game is “taking the internet by storm right now with memes about turnips.” In this open-ended game, you play as a character on a deserted island and engage in activities like collecting resources to build furniture, catching fish and bugs, and buying and selling turnips. Rene says games like Animal Crossing are “feel-good games that are really great ways to escape during times of stress.”
Note: This bundle, which includes a Nintendo Switch Lite and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, will be available on April 30.
Children of Morta is Gage’s pick for a cooperative two-player game, and it’s an especially good option if you’re playing with someone who has some more gaming experience and is willing to give some guidance. In the action-adventure game, you play as members of a family of heroes defending your land from evil. Gage also likes that it’s two-dimensional, which he says is often easier for new players to adjust to than a game set in a three-dimensional space.
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