Games, Happiness and Me
As I write this, I’ve just hopped off Twitter. Unsurprisingly, I found out yet another game is bad. Or maybe I found out that a company I once respected is run by people of a less desirable nature. What I’m trying to say is that news today is miserable. Utterly miserable. When you look at gaming, our little corner of the internet, it’s constantly miserable. Positivity is doomed to be forgotten in moments, the success of last month replaced by Anthem continually messing up.
Joy in video games is an absolute bitch to come by. So, in an effort to spread some smiles, here is a list of games that do nothing but spread glorious whimsy and happiness with each moment on screen.
"Tiny creatures far below," she cackled, "which of you'll be first to go?"
There’s a bear, a bird, magic jigsaw puzzles, a witch who can only rhyme, a blind mole and jinjos. Those madmen at Rare took a budding genre and created a gem with characters so happy, it’ll make your jaw hurt from grinning. Every moment of this game is filled with delight, from Spiral Mountain to Mad Monster Mansion.
My personal favourite zone in the game is the aforementioned mansion. It’s a classic monster house, but somehow it transforms a location that many would use for fear into hilarity. This is no doubt helped by Loggo, a talking toilet you venture inside. Obviously you can only do this as a pumpkin, because why not? The mansions ground house all sorts of brilliantly designed locals, including a haunted church and graveyard with living tombstones. It’s a genuine delight.
It should go without saying, but Rare was on top form when it came to the late nineties. They utterly killed it with this title. Special mention goes to Grant Kirkhope, who created a perfect soundtrack. No joke, it’s perfection.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also include my inspiration for this article. As most of you know, Banjo and Kazooie were announced for Smash. This is their return to Nintendo after nearly two decades. You haven’t seen pure, unadulterated happiness until you’ve read these comments. This is what I mean grown people crying at the sight of a returning childhood friend.
On the face of it, Magicka is a mess. The game about being a wizard has a host of characters that are plain wrong It controls weirdly, it’s nonsensical and strange. But then you and a few friends login, one of them finds a cheat sheet for the spells and BANG!
YOU ARE OFF TO THE RACES.
You end up chaining spells together to create a maelstrom of madness that will inevitably kill your entire party because casting a spell that somehow makes lava rocks is hilarious. Doesn’t matter that for the tenth time in the past five minutes you’ve blown up your friends and lost the fight, doesn’t matter that someone has a staff that teleports people around the screen and ends up putting you inside a meat grinder. It doesn’t matter that while you kill a boss your friend walks past and steals the best loot. The insanity of the game carries it to a warm place in your heart.
Magicka is an experience that has to be shared, the joy that created is simply too much for someone to handle alone. Get some friends and get spell slinging. You can’t beat it!
Look at it. This is another level of delight.
Stardew Valley is a weird one. There is something so calming about the picturesque life it provides. It takes elements from everyday and asks how it can make them better. Even the story behind Stardew Valley is a happy one. Rebellion and inspiration. I can’t put this into words, but Stardew Valley will allow you to completely escape the monotony of daily routine. It’s magical.
Okay. Alright. Hold your tweets back. I am aware of the hypocrisy of this being on my list. For those of you unaware, on the premiere episode of startmenu’s podcast, I went on a rant about the dullness of Animal Crossing and how I didn’t care much for it. The vast majority of my issues with the title is mechanical.
While I stand by my opinion, it’d be stupid of me to pretend like it isn’t a happy little game. It’s one of the few titles that family members of mine have been able to play endlessly. Watching younger cousins sit back with their DS Lite and play was a wonderful experience for me. I was the complete lack of stress in AC, Resetti aside. The level of calm it instills it something to be recognised and appreciated. Just be kind to one and another. Planting trees, collecting bells and filling up a museum. The game does its best to create a world where you can follow philanthropic interests, ones that are far more peaceful.
It’s inspired work from Nintendo.
Super Mario Odyssey
However, this is Nintendo at their best. Universal acclaim showered upon this masterpiece of platforming from the moment it came out. The joyful world of Mario and Cappy took the world by storm. Crisp clean platforming combined with a soundtrack to die for meant that from the moment you pick up the joycons you had fun. The story, like with most Mario games, is irreverent and silly. Bowser is playing the eternal villain and you, the hero, will defeat him.
However, this is not why it’s Nintendo at their best. High quality is the standard for Nintendo. The reason why it’s the best is that YOU CAN BE A DINOSAUR.
The addition of the capture mechanic is something inspired. Playing the game as a bullet bill, hammer bro, plant pot, ball of electricity or a tall man is so much fun.
Everything in the game is deliberate, perfectly placed and designed to make you happy. Each level is built around core things to learn and master. This means that you constantly get a small rush when you nail it! It’s as if they knew life would be miserable outside, so channeled every single positive moment they’d experienced into one bundle of glee.
If you haven’t played it, play it. If you can’t. Watch someone else play, it’s truly special.
OKAY. I LIED AGAIN. This is Nintendo at their absolute best, because this is my game. Pokemon Emerald was my childhood. Every piece in the OST, every moment in the game was mine. My childhood and my happy memories. I got this game Christmas ‘05. I had just travelled four hours in a car with my brand-new Gameboy Advance SP: Tribal. I arrived at my grandparents with glee. I opened my gift, Pokemon Emerald. I didn’t speak for the rest of the day. I was entranced.
It helped that the game was filled with an electric flamboyance. The opening credits show a world at your feet, cycling through open, grassy plains. You’re surrounded by creatures you’ll learn to love, from the useless to the breathtaking. You overcome friends, enemies and demigods. You prove yourself to your father and become champion. You also save the world.
This failed to mention the host of friends, both human and not, you make along the way and the whirlwind that was Pokemon in the mid 2000s. I grew up at the tail end of the Pokemon craze. This meant everyone I knew was also playing it, we would all play together on the street! There’s something to be said for a game that had us all connect and help each other out.
Games are happiest, most joy-filled when you have positivity associated to them. Pokemon Emerald is so packed with memories of family and warmth that I can’t help but smile every time I pick it up and play.
So, here’s a collection of happy games. Take one and go play it. Or better yet, make a list of your own and spread some gaming cheer.