A few months back, I won a Nintendo Switch in a contest at work. I haven’t owned a video game console in a long time, so it’s been fun messing around with it. I signed up for a yearlong Switch Online membership so I could play some of the NES games from my childhood, but before long I got sucked into Tetris 99. This is an online “battle royale” version of Tetris where you play against 98 other people and try to be the last person standing. So far my best performance is 2nd place, and I’m still hoping to win one someday. (It’s hard. You have to both play Tetris but also strategically target your opponents to dump garbage blocks on them at the same time.)

I was surprised by how expensive games are these days. The top tier ones are well over $80 each! I didn’t want to jump into one of those without being sure I’d actually play. Then last month I started reading lists of the best video games of the year in search of one to try out. I kept seeing Dave the Diver mentioned, and it seemed like a fun idea – harpooning fish and running a sushi restaurant. I downloaded the demo and quickly fell in love. When I spotted it on sale, I jumped on it.

THIS GAME RULES. When I wasn’t sewing over my Christmas holiday, I was probably playing Dave the Diver. At first I felt a bit overwhelmed between fishing and running the restaurant, but the game does a good job of slowly introducing you to different features and tasks. There were only a few times I had to resort to looking things up (e.g. the advantages and disadvantages of using the “Auto-supply ingredients” option when creating your nightly sushi menu). The cutscenes are hilarious, and more than once I laughed watching Bancho put together his latest masterpiece or Duff upgrade my underwater rifle. I couldn’t believe the wide variety of mini-games and gameplay mechanisms, from petting manatees to solving underwater puzzles with laser beams and mirrors to competitive seahorse racing to cooking food for a televised chef battle to a fever dream anime popstar rhythm game. You can even decorate the restaurant! I remember the terror at facing down each of the bosses (especially the Great White Shark and the Giant Gadon), and my annoyance at that goddamn narwhal that kept spearing me. (Let’s just say that once I levelled up my skills, narwhal sushi featured on the restaurant menu heavily.)


I finished the main story of the game on Christmas Day. It has a surprisingly touching end scene, and I actually felt a little sad that it was over. Thankfully you can keep playing to complete your fish collection, and it took me another couple of days to track down the last few. (That bonito was a real pain!) Now I’m working on getting three-star versions of everything, which means catching them in a net rather than harpooning them. I also received a surprise new task – there’s apparently one more secret boss I can take on during the next stormy night. So I’m not done with Dave yet! I really, really recommend this game, and it was well worth the price in terms of the hours of fun it delivers. My only complaint is that I had a couple game crashes along the way, most frustratingly after I’d completed some difficult task that I then had to redo. It only happened a couple times though, and the auto save mostly worked. (I’ve seen the developers pushing updates, so hopefully they’re addressing this.)

After I finished Dave, my friend Amy recommended Unpacking. This is another game I’d seen recommended in recent years. It’s a very simple concept, barely even a game at all really: you have a series of rooms where you unpacking moving boxes and put things away. That’s it. But as you go, you start to learn things about the main character. You see the things she carries from house to house, and you learn about her hobbies and her passions. I don’t want to spoil anything because this is really a game that needs to be experienced to have the proper effect, but there was one point – where she was moving in with her boyfriend – where I had a realisation that really pissed me off on her behalf. And then when I saw where she was moving to next… I think I actually said “OH NO” out loud in my living room. It’s a lovely game, especially for people who maybe don’t think of themselves as gamers. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s quite short – you can finish it in just a couple hours – and it’s very satisfying in the end. I was also really pleased to learn that the game was made by an Australian studio! Definitely worth checking out.