By Matt Gerardi
Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s weekly look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. I’m back on the Roundup beat this week. All the thanks in the world to Harold for putting up with me while I’ve been sick and filling in last week with a great installment of the column. This week, our writers are, like the rest of us, finding ways to cope with the state of the world. Luckily, there’s Animal Crossing. Plus, a very special PC mod, an especially scrumptious RPG, and the beauty of Ori’s latest adventure.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons couldn’t have arrived at a better time. As a pandemic hangs over the world and drives us into our homes, a healthy dose of the cheer, routine, and pure normalcy Nintendo’s little life simulator brings is a welcome addition to our terrifying, chaotic new lives. Scott Stein captured this feeling perfectly in his review, remembering how the original Animal Crossing was there for him in the days after 9/11 and, now, New Horizons provides a much-needed respite for him and his family. “Animal Crossing has never felt much like a game; it’s felt like a comforting place, a cozy blanket to wrap yourself in,” Scott writes. “And it’s never felt more like that than now.”
As Daniel Howley reported at Yahoo Finance, that sentiment seems to go well beyond Animal Crossing. Schools are shuttered and kids (of all ages) are home. Offices are switching over to telework. Everyone’s been advised (or ordered) to stay home and stay away from others. Naturally, the isolated and the bored are turning to videogames to help pass the time. Microsoft and Valve have seen unusual upticks, Daniel writes, as have Italy’s telecom companies. And Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony all saw brief online outages, potentially due to over-stressing their services.
Another perfectly good use of your social-distancing time? Why building a PC, of course. Chances are, though, any new rig you’re able to put together will pale in comparison to this radical Destiny-inspired PC that Jorge Jimenez shared over on PC Gamer. It’s design is based on the Wardcliff Coil, a special rocket launcher from Destiny 2 that looks like it was cobbled together in a mad scientist’s garage. Jorge got a hold of the PC mod’s builder and got behind-the-scenes info about its creation, as well as a bit of the touching backstory behind his inspiration.
And over on the Critic’s Circle site, Kimari Rennis gave us some of her thoughts on Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl – Gold, an enhanced Switch release of the cheeky food-themed action RPG from Level 5. While Kimari was charmed at first by the game’s cute look and abundant humor, she found those joys quickly wore thin. It’s the “repetitive nature” of the quests that really drags things down, she says. All the uniformity to your adventuring gives you the feeling “there’s no meaning behind this other than becoming stronger for the next ‘fetch-me-this’ quest,” she argued.
Also, Ronald Gordon stopped by the site to share some insights on Ori and The Will of the Wisps. Ronald was dazzled by the game’s stunning art, digging down to the details about its strong use of color and light. But what really stands out is the tone of it all. “’Good-hearted’ is the right word for Ori and The Will of the Wisps all around,” he wrote. “Ori just keeps on going, keeps on finding clues, keeps jumping higher and higher – to do the right thing – even when things become dark and unknowable. He knows full well that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” We could all use a bit of that optimism right about now.
From Beyond The Circle
One company that, reportedly, isn’t handling this pandemic situation very well is GameStop. According to Vice’s Patrick Klepek, the ailing retailer is trying its damnedest to stay open amid the crisis—endangering its employees and customers—with corporate going so far as to allegedly instruct employees to hand law enforcement a flyer claiming the store is an “essential” retailer, in the event authorities attempt to shut a location down. This comes after earlier reports that employees lacked sufficient cleaning supplies to disinfect their stores and protect themselves and their customers.
In non-pandemic news, Sony broke its silence regarding the PlayStation 5 this week, with the console’s lead architect, Mark Cerny, delivering a presentation via YouTube video about the company’s vision for the system. This highly technical presentation was intended for the now postponed Games Developers Conference, where its dry, often-conceptual discussion about the PS5’s innards would have made more sense given the industry-heavy audience. Luckily for us laypeople, the experts on the internet, such as Gamasutra’s Alissa McAloon, went throughout the trouble of breaking down Cerny’s talk to more easily digestible nuggets.
Looping back to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, this latest installment in the series changes up the format by dropping players on a deserted island and having them build it up into a bustling community. This twist gives the game an odd undercurrent of colonialist ethos, especially as players exploit the island’s natural resources and establish their village, ostensibly all to the benefit of land baron Tom Nook. This caught the attention of translator and journalist Kazuma Hashimoto, who assembled a vital article about Japan’s history of colonialism, discrimination against indigenous peoples, and historical revisionism—and how these are important real-world ideas to keep in mind as we approach a Japanese game with such imperialist themes.
And finally, The Video Game History Foundation and author David Craddock recently took us back in time to get the story behind one of the more strange and idiosyncratic artifacts of the early PC edutainment boom: Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego? That’s right, the hit computer game about the globetrotting, time-traveling thief once took a special detour to the humble state of North Dakota. But why North Dakota and how the heck did Brøderbund get convinced to make this special spin-off? Craddock has the answers.
That’ll do it for this week’s Roundup. Thank you for reading. Stay safe. Stay healthy. We’ll see you next week.
Matt Gerardi is a writer from New York, the former games editor at The A.V. Club, and a member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.