Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
A few months back—or centuries, depending on how your personal perception of the passage of time is currently coping—I wrote an installment of What Are You Playing This Weekend? that was all about New Year’s resolutions and hope. Hope for the future. Hope for personal growth. Hope that I might actually play a few new games this year, rather than just allowing myself to add another hundred hours of play time to my Binding Of Isaac clock. You may be shocked to learn that these lofty aspirations haven’t really panned out.
Sure, I’ve played those new games that were culturally unavoidable—but even then, it’s not like the Final Fantasy VII Remake didn’t arrive with a healthy dose of the familiar wafting around it. More often, though, I’ve found myself gravitating toward conceptual safe spaces: The mindless action of a good Dynasty Warriors title. The Peggle-but-it’s-an-RPG ease of Roundguard. And even extended treks into Minecraft, one of the greatest depression games ever devised by the human race. (It’s not necessarily complex psychology to note the appeal of a perfectly controllable reality with well-defined rules at this current moment of human existence, but it’s certainly potent.)
To be clear, this isn’t a pity party, or an effort to shame anyone whose habits have sent them down similar avenues toward the well-known and understood. Gaming serves many artistic purposes, but comfort and fun are primary among them. A Plague Tale is fascinating, sure, but there’s only so much human misery you can absorb at any given moment before you just want to boot up Heave Ho and watch the silliness ensue.
Even so, my hunger for novelty has been a problem: Like many players, I have a desire for New Stuff that still rages even when my need for the familiar is going strong, forcing me to seek out those proverbial comfort games whose potential I haven’t already fully tapped. Which brings us to Cherry Team’s 2017 indie darling Hollow Knight, which has revealed itself as my ideal comfort game.
Three years after its release, the bug-themed adventure is still subtle, beautiful, and brimming with mechanics that make it one of the best action-exploration games in recent memory. (It’s not easy to one-up Dark Souls when it comes to how to handle healing in a video game, but damn if they didn’t manage.) Its real ace in the hole, though, is that it’s new—sort of. Team Cherry updated the game extensively in the first two years after its release, adding in game modes, bosses, strategies, items, and more, none of which were there when I did my original playthrough, Dipping into it now, it feels like the platonic ideal of a brand new, old, familiar game. Finding that sweet spot has made the last few weeks a bit more bearable, even if it’s strange to be taking this much comfort from a game where almost everyone you meet wants to cheerfully devour you.
Obviously, my perfect comfort game won’t be your perfect comfort game; we’re at a point where everyone’s tastes are settling down at the bottom of their personal version of Maslow’s hierarchy of video gaming needs. Identifying what form that takes for you—whether it’s blasting away at strangers in a competitive online shooter, chilling with your friends in Animal Crossing, or slaying possessed bugs in a subterranean fallen kingdom—is going to be key to finding respite in our hobbies in our current collective lockdown.