Before long, you’ll have some flower friends, a waddling nose and a tiny acorn that can sprout into a giant tree provided everyone else holds hands and dances around in a circle. To progress further, you’ll need to frequently switch characters and use their unique abilities to make other people happy. The aforementioned tree, for instance, can gobble characters up and turn them into strawberries, pork chops and broccoli. The mouth, meanwhile, can turn food into poop and the balloon can float higher than anybody else. Every interaction is utterly bizarre but, through Takahashi’s trademark art direction, logical and endearing.
Completing tasks will eventually unlock larger objects — tables, chairs and giant inflatable ducks — that can ferry smaller characters between biomes. The floating pasture, it turns out, is called Spring and you’ll need to work through Summer, Fall and Winter before the end credits roll. Along the way, you’ll discover the origins of this strange but merry world and why the characters were scattered about in the first place. It’s a simple tale with a timeless message that players young and old should be able to appreciate.
“We are human beings living on the same planet,” Takahasi told me at E3 earlier this year. “Why do we have to fight each other? I just wanted to try making something that somehow means we can get over our differences. In a funny way, though, which is colorful explosions for me.” A perfect antidote, in short, to the madness of 2019.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
Like a lot of people, I decided to revisit The Witcher games after watching Netflix’s adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy novel series. But rather than starting a new playthrough of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I instead opted to check out Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales.
Chances are, even if you’re a fan of The Witcher universe, you may not be familiar with Thronebreaker. Despite its ties to CD Projekt Red’s masterpiece, it wasn’t a financial success, failing to meet the studio’s sales expectations when it came out last year. That’s a shame since it’s almost every good as The Witcher 3.
The simplest way to describe Thronebreaker is that it’s a combination of Gwent, the collectible card game (CCG) CD Projekt Red introduced in The Witcher 3, and a visual novel. You play as Meve, the queen of one of the kingdoms that makes up the world of The Witcher. While technically a prequel, as the player you have a lot of control over how the story takes shape thanks to the decisions you make as events unfold. What makes those choices difficult and compelling is that the characters they involve are often messy. For example, partway through the game, you have to decide the fate of a general who ordered the massacre of a village. That choice is made more complicated when you learn he did so out grief for a murdered son.
Gameplay is also fun thanks to the ways in which CD Projekt Red found to keep the Gwent formula fresh. To get some of the best cards in Thronebreaker, you’ll need to solve clever challenges that give you a limited set of cards and a specific win condition. These puzzle challenges do a lot to break up the usual battles. Even if you’re not a fan of CCGs, Thronebreaker is well worth checking out for its compelling story and characters.