When April started my free time was devoted to two games: Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Final Fantasy VII Remake. Now that the month is almost over, Animal Crossing is still eating away a half-hour or so of my time every day, and I find myself popping back into FFVII Remake more than I ever imagined I would. Only one of those games actually came out in April, though, so only one of them is eligible for this list—a list I know you’re all waiting to read with breathless anticipation. Here goes.
Platform: PlayStation 4
Square Enix pulled off an impossible trick here. They not only remade one of the most beloved games of all time in a way that thoughtfully built and expanded on the original; they somehow turned what was about five hours of story in 1997 into a 50-hour game without it ever feeling all that padded out. Remake preserves the strong political consciousness of the original game while greatly fleshing out many of its secondary and background characters, giving it all a greater emotional resonance than it had back in the day. This game has something to say but remembers to keep the focus on characters and their relationships, preventing it from ever becoming too preachy. It’s not subtle, at all, but it’s more subtle than the original, or what you would typically expect from a JRPG, and that’s one of the reasons it’s our favorite game of the month.
Platforms: PC, Switch
Games are even more stuck in the past than usual right now. Over the last few weeks I’ve spent time with remakes of Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil 3, hung out daily in the fifth (or sixth?) Animal Crossing game, and even dug through an entire miniconsole full of TurboGrafx and PC Engine deep cuts. Whenever I needed a break from the old and familiar, from the earthy bonds of our boundless nostalgia, I turned to In Other Waters, a deeply strange, entirely alien game well worth exploring. Its clean, minimal display belies a complex structure of interlacing gizmos and gadgets that replicate the operating system of a high-tech diving suit being used to explore the oceans of another planet. The colors are soft and warm, synths hum lightly in the background, and the main thing we have to do is read about this foreign world, its unusual wildlife, and the relationship that develops between the scientist within the suit and the artificial intelligence helping her carry out her tasks. In Other Waters is a true anomaly in 2020; it has the spirit of an old point-and-click adventure game dressed up in a slick, futuristic, sci-fi display, and is extremely patient with its players and respectful of their intelligence.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
This loving tribute to Sega’s early ‘90s beat-’em-up doesn’t just channel an overlooked classic. It’s one of two recent games, alongside March’s smarter Treachery in Beatdown City, to revive a genre that was once a cornerstone of the whole medium. The primal thrill and eternal allure of pulverizing waves of bozos with your fists, feet and special moves might have ebbed since their quarter-swallowing heyday in the early ‘90s, but Streets of Rage 4 shows that, when done with love and attention, this kind of violence can be as invigorating as ever.
Platform: It’s its own self-contained platform, chief.
Konami aced the microconsole test on its first try with the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, a best-in-class box that brings together 57 games from the PC Engine and TurboGrafx, while filling in a crucial gap in gaming history for most players today. I’m a perfect sucker for this thing, of course—I’ve kept a TurboGrafx plugged into a TV for most of the last 30 years, and have consistently trawled eBay and retro stores for games that eluded me in the ‘90s. Still, I don’t think you have to already love NEC’s system from the ‘80s and ‘90s to love the Mini. If you have any amount of interest in videogames’ past—not just in specific games or franchises, but in the kinds of games that proliferated in the early days of the medium, from shoot ‘em ups to platformers to JRPGs—you’re destined to become enchanted with something in this lineup. And if you love shoot ‘em ups, this is a must-own, as the PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 has one of the greatest libraries of shooters ever. Yes, it won’t pack the same nostalgic punch for most players as Nintendo’s retro microconsoles or the Genesis Mini, but in terms of the number and diversity of games, and the aesthetic quality of the menus and the system itself, you can’t really beat the TurboGrafx-16 Mini.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.