Some days I'm just looking for a simple gaming experience (and I don't care to see every strand of hair on my in-game character's head - I just want to share a laugh with someone). In a quest to keep connections alive through the pandemic and a cross-country move, my friends and I discovered three games that reinforced the idea that simple, well-executed mechanics trump sophisticated graphics when it comes to having fun.
As a local and online cooperative game for up to eight players, Pico Park is the catalyst for many memorable stories. It was initially puzzling that this game is tagged on Steam as both Cute and Psychological Horror. It didn't take too long however, to discover that it is only Pico Park's pixelated cats that are cute; the psychological horror arrives in the form of your very best friends.
I tried to leap across a canyon in Pico Park that was four times as wide as I was tall, while bound with a bungee cord to three other friends. Three of us made the jump, but our fourth friend slipped; we left him yo-yoing off the precipice in an indignant huff as we picked ourselves up from rolling on our real-world floors laughing. Then there was the time we had to escape from a haunted room and, without giving too much away, the only way to do that was by all of us simultaneously throwing shade at the ghost. You can bet there were multiple accusations hurled at each other over who wasn't doing their job!
There are three game modes to select from: complete all 48 puzzles in World mode, then call it quits with the game and possibly your friendships; keep collaborating in Endless mode and pat each other on your backs; and finally, Battle mode, for the friends that bond over competition. If your friendships are not ready to be tested, Pico Park also offers a public lobby to host or join games. It is significantly more difficult to collaborate without in-game voice chat, but the rudimentary pre-programmed messages are enough when you just need to tell your team mate to "GO!"
Developed and published by indie Japanese studio TECOPARK, Pico Park is on Steam and Nintendo Switch.
Super Animal Royale
If puzzle-solving just isn't your idea of a good time, you can bring friends together over a common enemy. As its name suggests, Super Animal Royale has you and your furry/feathered friends trying to be the last menagerie standing by outlasting the other animal squads in a battle royale shootout. The animals may be cute, colorful, and squeaky, but appearances belie how truly sweaty this game can get. You need a friend to cover your back when a Super Tiger armed with an assault rifle, riding atop an emu can charge at any time out from the fog of war. Between the catfights and deadly skunk gas forcing you into enemy territory, successfully keeping out of hairy situations is a real testament to your friendship.
My friends and I never got around to the other modes, but besides squads of four battling it out, Super Animal Royale also recently debuted the S.A.W. (Super Animal World) Forces vs. Rebellion mode, where teams comprising six squads each capture control points and pick off the enemy players. Should you want to be a lone cat raging against the world, or the trusty sidekick, Super Animal Royale also offers solo and duo modes.
There are a wide range of cosmetics and various ways to earn them in this free-to-play game, but for my friends and I, Pixile Studio's answer to Apex Legends shines in the battle royale matches themselves.
Stick Fight: The Game
But what if at the end of the day, you simply want to beat your friends up? Well, bring a big stick, or a snake launcher to the party. Swedish indie studio Landfall Games, also responsible for other zany, physics-based games like the Totally Accurate Battle Simulator, drops you and up to 3 friends in various environments where you have to stay alive long enough for the sky to bequeath you random weapons to take each other out.
Maneuvering as a stick figure is no simple matter, albeit a hugely hilarious one. Kungfu-style kicks or just pushing your friends off a cliff are completely legitimate ways to wrest the crown from their unworthy head. The levels cycle very quickly from one to the next though, making it unwise to grow too fond of that crown.
These games are not the most replayable, nor are they visually intricate or realistic, but that was all the virtual experience we needed to share real, valuable moments with each other.
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