Three Favorite Video Game Recommendations : Pop Culture Happy Hour This winter, we've been at home, playing games. And we've been exploring games for the Nintendo Switch. We've been trying adventure games and puzzle games, beautiful games and silly games. And in this encore episode, we have a few to recommend.

Three Favorite Video Game Recommendations

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LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

This winter, we've been at home playing games, and we've been exploring games for the Nintendo Switch.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:

We've been trying adventure games and puzzle games, beautiful games and silly games. And in this encore episode, we have a few to recommend. I'm Stephen Thompson.

HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. And in this encore episode of NPR's POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR, we're recommending some games for the Nintendo Switch.

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HOLMES: Welcome back. You just met NPR Music's Stephen Thompson. Also with us is Glen Weldon of the NPR Arts Desk. Hi, Glen.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Hey, Linda.

HOLMES: So we're going to start with Glen. Glen, tell me about the game that you brought to recommend.

WELDON: Well, first I'll say that it turns out - we didn't plan it this way - but all three of us chose indie games. While there are a lot of huge, behemoth games out there - some that rhyme with Shmanimal Shrossing (ph) - we didn't choose those. I didn't choose those.

The game I ended up choosing - after trying a lot, the one I really want to recommend is called GOROGOA - G-O-R-O-G-O-A. It's a puzzle game; came out in 2017; made a lot of best-of-the-year lists then. It's available on lots of platforms, not just the Nintendo Switch. And now comes the part I've been dreading, because now I have to describe this game. It is nearly impossible to describe. I read a lot of those glowing reviews back in 2017, but I didn't get it. I couldn't understand what the game was about - certainly not enough to intrigue me - because it's so tough to compare this to other games because there's no other games like it. But here we go.

All right, so there's these tiles, see? OK, they have these beautiful animated illustrations on them. So on the first tile, a boy is looking out a window at the city. He sees a monster pass by. You can then take that tile and lift the boy and the window away from it and - to expose another tile underneath it, which is the city. Then you can kind of go clicking around the city and find other things. Maybe you find another window about the size of the window you just pulled away, and you can put the boy and the window back on top of that window and he can go through the window. Maybe he can go through doors. You're crossing not just space, but also time. You can make him big and small.

The thing about this game is these puzzles, even though it's a very short game - it's, like, maybe two hours - you'll burn through it in two hours - these puzzles are so intuitive. Any puzzle game is a balance between the kind of pleasant frustration - what do I do next? - and immense satisfaction. And the mix is very important. If you have too much pleasant frustration, then it becomes just out-and-out frustration, and you're throwing the Switch across the room.

I never felt that here. I always could find the way through, the next thing to do. And when you find it - because things line up in such clever, intuitive ways - it is just immensely satisfying. I can't remember the last time I felt this incredible relief at, like, ah, I did it. I got it. So that's GOROGOA. Did you guys play?

HOLMES: I did. I did. And I have to tell you, Glen, you found it very intuitive and finished it in two hours. I did not. I love this game, but I find it very difficult. I am currently at a stuck point. Maybe I will Slack you and get you to explain to me the stuck point.

WELDON: Sure. Happy to.

HOLMES: But I love - I love - this game, even though I find it really hard. Because, like you say, it is so satisfying when you figure it out because they are so - when you get the hang of it, you start to figure out, oh, objects in two different adjacent tiles can interact with each other. There are things that move and there are things where something moving in one tile can move something in another tile. But I did find it, I think, a lot harder than you did.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Maybe I'm just not good at puzzle games. Stephen, did you play it?

THOMPSON: I actually spent more time watching playthroughs.

HOLMES: Yeah.

WELDON: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: Which I find is actually a - kind of a pleasant in-between space for people who enjoy video games but are terrible at them. And I think it worked especially well for this game because this game kind of blurs the line between video games and just straight-up visual art. I felt like I was watching almost, like, a screensaver, where different pieces of gorgeous visual art are dissolved and are replaced with other pieces of gorgeous visual art.

So I didn't necessarily get a sense of how intuitive it might be. I - maybe I would have developed that intuition. But I really enjoyed looking at it, and that is very often how I experience video games. I live in a house with two kids who are very, very, very, very good at them, and I find that my comfort zone with a lot of these games is to just be in the room while people who are good at them play them.

WELDON: Another aspect of the game is this story, which is odd to say because there is no dialogue. There's only one character, theoretically. But this story is about regret and the natural world, and it's haunting in a way. There's a somberness to it that I wouldn't necessarily have thought would be so enticing and intriguing. But it really is.

HOLMES: Glen, we're going to have to get on Zoom so you can show me how to finish this freaking game because I really love it.

WELDON: Will do. Will do.

HOLMES: I really, really, really love it, and it frustrates me.

OK, Stephen, we're going to go to you next. I read the title of the game that you picked, and I was like, yep, sounds like a Thompsonian (ph) game to me. Go ahead. Tell us about it.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Well, I picked Donut County, a game from late in 2018. It's another indie game. It was actually developed, I think, from an app. And again, it's been developed for other systems as well. But it was developed by a guy named Ben Esposito working with only a few other people.

And it's another game kind of like the other ones we're talking about, where playing it through takes about two hours. It took me 2:15 to complete it. Now, that is because I had my very patient 19-year-old son who had played it through before standing with me and occasionally saying, OK, so over there, there's a big bucket (laughter). And so, like, having a patient loved one who knows what they're doing nearby was very helpful.

But basically, the plot of the game is you are a mischievous raccoon who has the capacity to create holes in the ground that you drag the hole around and then things on the map fall into the hole. And so it's essentially a series of short puzzles in which you control this ever-expanding hole in the ground. And so a certain element of the game is just following it around and finding the littlest thing on the map, and then the hole grows a little bit. And then you find the next biggest thing on the map. Eventually, you have access to a catapult, and there's a bunch of dialogue and a bunch of little plot where you're kind of clicking the A button a lot to just kind of get through a lot of this dialogue between these puzzles. But it's very cute and very clever and very fun.

And what I liked about it, what immediately drew me to it, was it seemed to exist in the same place of imagination that a lot of, like, the indie Atari games that I played as a kid were going. Like, the Atari games - you know, you only had so much memory in an Atari cartridge. And so in order to design a game that was different from all the other games, you had to use your imagination and come up with something silly. And so some of my favorite Atari games would be, like, Eggomania, where you're a bear with a bucket on your head and a bird drops eggs on you. And this had that kind of same doofy (ph) imagination to it where, like, you just control a hole that things fall into. And that is my happy place as a video game player.

HOLMES: Yeah, I played this one briefly. What I loved about it was I started playing it and I was like, am I trying to help the duck or am I trying to catch the duck?

THOMPSON: (Laughter) No.

HOLMES: And the answer is, you're never trying to help the duck. But I liked this game.

WELDON: Yeah, I loved this game. It scratched - if you have played a lot of Katamari Damacy...

THOMPSON: Exactly.

WELDON: ...And it really scratches that itch because you are tidying up a space. Yes, you're destroying property and lives by sending them down to hell, basically. But it is so satisfying when the hole can swallow up a house or when two bunnies fall down into the hole and then suddenly lots of little bunnies start hopping out of it. And I really like how it builds to a final level in which everything you've come to know, every skill you've developed in this very, very silly game comes back into play, which is exactly how games like this should work. It's - I just loved it.

HOLMES: Yeah. So Stephen's game, again, is called Donut County.

So my game - if you follow me on Twitter, you saw a short video of me playing this game because it is so exactly my jam, particularly at this moment. The game is called Good Job, and you essentially play the child of the boss at a - kind of a generic office. And you go in and have certain tasks that you're supposed to do. The first one, for example, is set up the projector. So you got to go get a projector, and you got to put it in a room across the floor plan. However, it doesn't fit through any of the doors. So you have to figure out, what are you supposed to do? Spoiler alert - because it's only for the beginning - you're supposed to slingshot something heavy through the wall and through windows to break everything so that you can drag (laughter) the projector across the floor.

I love it very much because you are essentially a chaos agent in this game. You are a chaos agent with a job to do. So you are supposed to, in certain situations - like, you've got to go gather up all the workers. So you go get all the guys who are sitting on chairs, and you drag them over to where they're supposed to be. You break stuff all the time.

This is one of the best games I've ever played in terms of its sense of physics. When you are dragging a copier or a piece of office machinery that's presumably on wheels - when you're dragging it around, it kind of, like, rolls in a predictable, physics-friendly way.

I just found this game so satisfying and funny. It kept really making me laugh when I would knock stuff over or break stuff. I also love it because you can decide how much you want to care about breaking stuff.

THOMPSON: Yes.

HOLMES: You will finish the level either way. And you can go back and try to do it faster or doing less damage. But if you're like me and you don't necessarily want to stay on the same level perfecting your skill, you want to go to the next thing, you can go to the next thing and now you have forklifts. I love it for that reason, but mostly this game just made me laugh.

THOMPSON: I had a very similar reaction with this game to the reaction I had to Untitled Goose Game, another game in which you are a chaos agent just going around making trouble. And what I love about both of those games is they can be kind of whatever you want them to be. I prefer somewhat of a concise, puzzle-oriented game, where I'm looking in each scene and I'm just kind of looking for a solution. A lot of people prefer these open world kind of Breath of the Wild, like, wander around this great vista discovering things. And if you like either of those things, you have something to enjoy in this game.

HOLMES: Mmm hmm. Mmm hmm.

WELDON: Huh. See, I didn't love this. I didn't find it intuitive at all. Some of the answers to the puzzles I would never have found out without a walkthrough. Like, there's one point where to get people to stop lining up for a bathroom so you can get past them, you spray a fire extinguisher at them.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: How does that - wait, what logic is that? I mean, also the fact that you can play it in a couple different ways is what's not satisfying to me. Like, is it a destroy-everything game or is it a timed puzzle game? The answer is it's both.

HOLMES: See, I like that.

WELDON: But, see, if it's a destroy-everything game, it has to be a lot more viscerally satisfying. See, I am a rule follower and a grade grubber. And you get a grade, a letter grade, at the end of every level, and I can't tell how I'm being graded.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: I need a clear set of objectives, and you need to tell me exactly what is expected of me here. And I get a good grade for doing it fast and destroying stuff, and I also get a good grade if I am very - like, what - I feel like I need an adult and I need to be told exactly what to do, and this game doesn't do that for me.

HOLMES: See, here's the thing. I went back and played the same level a second time and realized that I had completed the level previously without figuring out, like, the basic trick of that level (laughter) because I had just smashed everything.

WELDON: Yeah.

HOLMES: I was like, oh, I just broke everything. I didn't realize that if you do this and this and this, the doors will open and you don't have to break everything. I thought that was so funny when I realized like, oh, you can just open this door (laughter).

WELDON: Yeah.

HOLMES: You don't actually have to just fling a couch through the wall, which is what I had done previously.

WELDON: Sure.

HOLMES: See, I agree with Stephen that it has some similarities to Untitled Goose Game, except that it tells you what you're supposed to do, which is, you know, move the projector from here to here. As opposed to Untitled Goose Game, which I can't get into because I feel like I just walk around quacking, and I'm like, I don't even know what the objective is. What am I supposed to be doing?

THOMPSON: All I want in that game is just to walk around going (quacking).

WELDON: Yeah, sure.

THOMPSON: If that were the game, just walk around honking at people, I'm in.

HOLMES: Well, if there's one thing that I think we've learned, it's that people like different games.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: And I think there's a theme emerging that depending on how intuitive you find a game to be, you may like it less or more, which is why, you know, Glen found his pick to be relatively easy and I found it to be extremely difficult - extremely difficult.

We want to know what Nintendo Switch games you're playing right now. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @pchh. And that brings us to the end of our show. We'll see you all tomorrow.

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