Going Off Book: Gorogoa and The Shady Part of Me

I have really bad hand-eye coordination. I blame my parents (because, why not?) who did not allow us to have a video game console in the house when we were kids. However, this was during the golden age of the Nintendo and Super Nintendo so, of course, I still found ways to dabble. I played various iterations of Super Mario Bros. at my best friend house. Badly. I even won a GameBoy from a television contest, which allowed me to get decent at Super Mario Land and Tetris. But I grew up and find myself an adult who’s bad at most video games, particularly the running-jumping-fighting-racing kind.

But because pandemic + lockdown, my partner and I decided to get a Nintendo Switch to get us through the long winter. And we immediately downloaded a compilation of classic Nintendo games, expecting a sweet hit of nostalgia. Readers, I’m just as bad at those games as I remember, which means I’m not even going to try their more updated versions with splashy graphics and massive worlds to explore. Plus, for extra fun, I discovered that I get motion sick when playing first person POV games, which rules out many of the most popular exploring and fighting adventure games.

What’s a girl with a new Nintendo Switch to do?

Fortunately I discovered a different sort of game that opened my mind to how diverse video games have become: Gorogoa. This game features hand-drawn scenes and animations in four tiled sections. You zoom in or out on the tiles and move them around and on top of each other, searching for the right combination to move the story along. The loose, almost dreamlike narrative involves a boy gathering colored tokens while a man at various stages in his life seeks for the mysterious rainbow creature he saw as a child. It’s essentially a puzzle solving game but so gorgeous to look at that it mesmerizes beyond other versions when the puzzle is all there is.

Inspired by my experience with Gorogoa, I went in search of similar games. The bad news is, there’s nothing else like Gorogoa, part of what makes it so special. However, after a couple false starts, I discovered The Shady Part of Me. This game also involves puzzle solving but with more of a narrative structure and traditional game levels. In The Shady Part of Me a lonely little girl in a large, empty space—perhaps an orphanage, perhaps an asylum—discovers her detached Shadow, herself fleeing a dark world of constant danger. You play both the Girl and the Shadow, solving the challenge so that both characters can reach the spot that opens up the next room. This game is also gorgeous to look at, beautiful and creepy with sharp overtones of Tim Burton. The challenges are fun, hard but not too hard, and intriguing to toggle between the two perspectives and find the combination that works for both. (It reminds me a little bit of Portal in that respect, but with less necessary intuition about geometry and the physics of the world.)

So I’ve become a video game player? Obviously these won’t replace books overall but it’s been a fun and different way to engage with narratives and work my brain. I play on the Switch but both games are available by other means.

Last, an announcement. I’m going to switch to posting on Thursday mornings, which means there will be two articles this week. Happy reading/playing!

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