The world is a scary place right now, and people all over the world are looking for ways to escape its horrors and sadness for just a few hours at a time. Our writing staff here at 25 Years Later come from all walks of life, and several of us love video games. Like any other entertainment medium, video games can offer all kinds of different experiences, but today, some of our staff members want to tell you about some of the more positive games they’ve played. Some of these games are funny, some of them are relaxing, others are emotional, but all of them offer a counter-balance to the darkness and chaos of 2020. Join us as we take you through some of our favorite Feel-Good games.
I had to look up what the opposite of an oxymoron is (two words that contradict each other). It turns out it’s called tautology (two words that mean the same thing). In my world the term ‘feel-good game’ fits that description. I shy away from games with heavy themes, excessive violence and heart-racing horror. I exclusively play games to feel good, and feel-good games make me feel best. I was spoilt for choice then when it came to talking about this subject. Even so, one series immediately leapt out to me. Three games that are so infectiously joyful that not even the most cynical and jaded gamers would be powerless to their charms. I’m talking about the Parappa the Rapper series.
The original Parappa the Rapper released in 1996 for the Sony Playstation. Developed by NanaOn-Sha, it was the brainchild of Masaya Matsuura, a Japanese musician and producer, and American artist Rodney Greenblat. The game was something of a surprise hit, selling over a million copies in Japan alone. For a while, it made its titular character, Parappa, something of a mascot for Sony’s system. Parappa is a hip-hop loving, beanie wearing puppy with an unshakable positivity. Whatever problems life throws at him he quickly takes on with his signature catchphrase “I gotta believe!”
The first game follows Parappa as he tries to win over his crush, Sunny Funny—an anthropomorphic flower. Throughout the game he learns how to overcome various hurdles through rap lessons. First, he learns how to defend Sunny from bullies by learning Karate from Chop-Chop Master Onion. Then how to drive from Instructor Mooselini. After he breaks his Dad’s car, he learns how to earn money from Prince Fleaswallow. Lastly, he learns how to bake a cake from Cheap Cheap. On paper it all sounds trite, but it’s anything but—Parappa the Rapper is a glorious mix of 90s Japanese absurdity and 90s American surrealism.
Rodney Greenblat’s animation is joyfully juvenile. Paper thin characters (several years before Paper Mario, it should be noted) that look like they could have been lifted straight from the imagination of a preteen. Bright primary colours, psychedelic designs—it’s silly, smile-inducing, and surreal. The game is chock-full of colourful characters, each more ridiculous than the last. I’ve already mentioned a few from the first game but including 1999’s Um Jammer Lammy and 2002’s Parappa the Rapper 2 there’s a vast motley crew of loveable creatures.
Equally endearing is the ludicrous script and hilarious voice-acting in the game’s cutscenes. It’s all so over-the-top and silly—part parody, part sincere but always bizarre. Sometimes the game will feel unintentionally funny but then suddenly it will throw a curveball at you that will have you giggling along with it.
In one scene in Um Jammer Lammy, titular guitarist Lammy has just survived a plane crash-landing on her way to a gig. She frantically searches for her guitar by emptying her pockets. She pulls out pigeons, lit dynamite, a full suit of armour, and car wheel before realising that she left it on the plane. She spots a guitar shop and runs in stammering that she needs a guitar. When asked “what kind?” she replies “Well, um.. a cool one, with awesome sound and has reclining seats, power-steering, and dual airbags…”. It’s hard to know if that’s intentionally or unintentionally funny, but it makes me laugh every time. There are many scenes like that in each game.
Finally, we get to the gameplay itself. Parappa the Rapper is generally acknowledged as the first ever rhythm game. It uses a simple-but-effective ‘Simon Says’ mechanic where a series of button presses will be shown which correspond to lyrics in the song. They must be repeated accurately and in time to retain the ‘good’ rating needed to successfully complete the track. The Playstation’s controller buttons feel perfectly suited to the game making reacting to the various button combinations feel instinctive. Ultimately the gameplay is simple but satisfying. What makes it truly a joy to play though, is the tracks themselves.All three games have truly outstanding soundtracks. Parappa the Rapper is full of bouncy hip-hop, Um Jammer Lammy is a smorgasbord of pop, and Parappa the Rapper 2 is a funky delight. Nearly every track in the series is a toe-tapping, ear worm—guaranteed to have you bopping along while tapping away on the controller. Masaya Matsuura’s background in music gave the game the soundtrack it needed to succeed.
Overall, the Parappa the Rapper series is a fantastic blend of surreal 90s animation, Japanese silliness, addictive gameplay, and genuinely fantastic music. What better recipe is there for a feel-good game?
So, everyone, as outlined in many, many weeks of our We’re Just Playing column, I spent a lot of time when all of this first started playing through Persona 5 Royal. This is the last time I’ll discuss this game…for a while, at least. I promise.
In many ways, the game (which released back at the end of March, just a few weeks after the world went insane) couldn’t have come at a better time. For me—a type 1 diabetic and therefor have a compromised immune system—took to doing overnights at the store I work at. It wasn’t an easy adjustment, and waking up at 5 pm every day meant I was alone all night to stew in my thoughts, while nights off were also spent alone since the rest of the world was asleep.
Enter Persona 5 Royal. As a JRPG, it’s a genre I adore but don’t have as much time for as I used to. And this one is arguably the most time-consuming of all, with the main story taking me 116 hours to get through. It has an undeniable sense of style, with an upbeat soundtrack that gets stuck in your brain and colors exploding everywhere (appropriately, the opening theme song is called “Colors Flying High“). And the premise offers a unique kind of power fantasy, one whose message resonated with me personally as someone who worked alone through nights and only read about the aftermath of riots, increasing Covid cases, and police brutality.
For those not in the know, Persona 5 Royal puts the player in charge of the Phantom Thieves, a group of teenagers who gain the ability to change wicked and warped hearts by traveling into the Metaverse, which is essentially the collective human conscience. Every “dungeon” is actually a Palace with a ruler, who is—most of the time—someone that uses and abuses those around them for their own gain and has a warped perception of their own importance. The boss of every palace is a confrontation with these people, and defeating them in the Metaverse and stealing the source of their warped desires causes them to confess to their crimes in the real world and atone for their sins.
I say it’s a power fantasy, and it is. But not in a DOOM: Eternal way, where you’re laying waste to everything in site. It’s more a power fantasy in a “change the world for the better” kind of way. It’s why I can forgive the sometimes simplistic writing for the villains, who are often more caricatures than fully realized people like the main cast. It may sound silly, but playing through the story allowed me to cope with the borderline anarchic chaos that continues to go on in America. The Phantom Thieves are all well drawn, too, with each of them being eminently likable. And, arguably, the most enjoyable part of the game is spending time with the game’s expansive cast to earn new abilities and learn their stories, almost all of which are compelling in their own way. In a world where simply brushing up against someone can be the difference between life and death, Persona 5 Royal let me live out the best power fantasy of them all: spending time hanging out with friends. It’s not something I’ve been able to do since the quarantine took effect, and spending long hours on my nights off in the world of Persona 5 Royal helped me through the adjustment period. And not only that, but the game’s long run time means you will be kept busy for a long, long time, which is perfect for keeping you motivated to stay indoors and away from people.
The other game I’d like to discuss is a bit of an odd choice, but one I stand by. To the Moon is a short narrative-based title developed by Freebird Games. In it, you play as two doctors who work for a corporation that specializes in granting a person’s dying wishes. Or, rather, they go into the mind of their client and learn enough about them to change their memories in order to grant their wish. In the case of this game, they are tasked with going into the mind of Johnny Wyles, a widower who, for reasons unknown to him, has always wanted to go to the moon.
What unfolds is the story of an entire life told backwards, and you learn that his wife River was a person living with a condition that made communicating emotions to her husband difficult (check out Aaron Ploof’s excellent write up on that topic here). You learn things about both River and Johnny that are realistically tragic, particularly near the end. I think I once saw a Steam review that said something to the effect of the user expected getting the game’s one achievement (simply clearing the story) would be easy. That turned out to be wrong. It’s because this game can leave almost anyone as an emotional wreck. It makes you reflect on your own life, and all the little, seemingly insignificant events that shaped who you are and where you are in life. Plus, the soundtrack is magnificent, with one song in particular playing during a scene that is almost as tough to watch as the Log Lady’s final moments in The Return.
So why am I suggesting this as a Feel-Good game? Why would anyone play something that will leave them emotionally ruined, especially during the times we’re in right now? It’s because, even though the game absolutely punches you in the gut, it’s also a nice reminder of the universal nature of human love and connection. Its ending is exceptionally bittersweet, offering emotional catharsis and making the player realize that, in the end, no matter who a person is, they’re capable of feeling love, and that everyone expresses it in different ways.
During my time on overnights, and knowing everything that was happening in the world, I really struggled not to focus on just how bad and scary of a place the world became. Every night, I would wake up to news of riots, violence, and more Covid outbreaks. It was discouraging, to say the least, and I think that To the Moon is a reminder that underneath all of the ugliness that is humanity is something worth saving and cherishing. For all of our flaws as a species, and for all the bad we cause, there are still good people out there, and they are just as capable of compassion and caring as anyone else.
My love for Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is well known around these parts. It is one of Mario’s earliest, and most successful “spin-off” series. I’ve referred to Yoshi’s Island as a backdoor pilot (TV lingo) of sorts, stealthily introducing itself to the world under the guise and protection of a more known quantity.
I’ve been a fan of the series since, but it’s nowhere near flawless. Yoshi’s Story (N64) was a shockingly easy and short title I find bordering on indefensible, and from what I’ve heard, Yoshi’s Crafted World is another case of the game designers making a game young children can breeze through in a week. But there were also the solid DS games that hewed closer to the SNES original’s format. To me though, the one game in the series that always hits the sweet spot is Yoshi’s Wooly World for the WiiU.
I love action platformers, and I love collecting things in games. Any game that ends its levels with some sort of tally is OK in my book, be they Rayman Origins or Doom 2016. In Wooly World, you play as Yarn Yoshi (sans Baby Mario), going from one section of Jo-Ann Fabrics’ Island to the next, collecting more items than ever, while traversing a world where everything is made up of fabric, yarn, zippers, and buttons.
Instead of eating enemies and laying eggs with them, Yoshi will eat certain enemies and turn them into little balls of yarn that you can then aim and launch just like in every other Yoshi game. It’s the tried and true Nintendo formula of “it’s the same, but tweaked!” It’s all incredibly adorable, and mostly easy-going on the difficulty level, but there are a few boss stages where you will need to use a good deal of brain power to gather all those juicy collectibles.
That’s the thing about good platformers, they need to work on two levels of difficulty at a time in order to be multi-generational. Think of it like The Muppets, or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; those things have universal appeal. While some Yoshi games, and platformers in general, only appeal to the kids (Yoshi’s Story), and others only appeal to the more seasoned gamers (Yoshi’s Island), Wooly World lets you set the level of difficulty for yourself. Not just in power-ups, available before each level, but in how you want to approach each level. Do you want to just have fun and get from point A to point B, or do you want to find every stitch of collectible goodness? It’s what makes “easy” platformers like 2D Super Mario Bros. games hard if you choose to go completionist on it. There are other, vastly superior platformers that bring the challenge, such as Donkey Kong Country, and modern day Rayman, but I don’t spin those titles when I want to relax.
This game is just my calm happy place. I mean, my ultimate clear-my-head, chill zone, game is The Binding of Isaac, but really, if left to my own devises, everything I wrote for this site would be about that game. So, I picked “Yarn Yoshi: The One with All the Amiibos.”
Due to an abundance of time on my hands and limited finances during lockdown, I found myself trawling lists of the best Wii games online to find some bargains. The Wii is a very underrated console and because of this, as soon as the Switch came out, all its games dropped to outrageously low prices. For just a few quid each I bought and completed many great games such as Metroid Prime 3, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and Mad World. I thoroughly enjoyed these and completed the latter two multiple times but the game I got the most joy from was NBA Jam.
I was a big fan of the original console version for the SNES as a kid when I was really into basketball, so as soon as I saw there was a version for Wii, I jumped at it (no pun intended). It was good timing as well, as my passion for the sport had just been reignited by the The Last Dance, the Netflix documentary series about the golden age of the Chicago Bulls in the 90s, which was unfolding whilst I was playing the original. I purchased a basketball along with the game, so I was playing the sport at home and on my local court, creating a nice synergy.
The gameplay, as with the 90s version, is as addictive as it is simple. I watched a YouTube video of creator Mark Turmell talking about its development and how it became a billion-dollar arcade game that Shaquille O’Neal had on his private jet and even Michael Jordan requested a custom-copy of. When you try it for yourself, it’s easy to see why. The Wii’s motion controls complement it perfectly and swinging the remote up and down to dunk and shoot three-pointers is immensely satisfying. It does an amazing job of translating the real-life physics of the sport into a fun game that adds cartoony elements without straying too far from reality.
Scoring three baskets in a row and becoming “on fire” sets the ball alight and allows you to leap some 50+ feet into the air for a colossal slam dunk that may be one of the most exciting and rewarding moves in any game ever. The stats for the players are accurate, also adding a level of strategy to matches. One of the best things about it is that if you practice enough, you can keep challenging yourself and beat the best teams on the hardest modes with the weakest ones, as you learn little tips and tricks here and there to overcome even the likes of LeBron “King” James. Again, just like a real sport.
Everything down to the music and branding is slick and there’s a whole host of hidden characters to unlock that even people who don’t follow basketball can appreciate, including my personal favourites Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman from the Bull’s 90s dream team. This was exactly the game I needed during lockdown, one that was the closest thing to actually playing a team sport, and it had me on the edge of my seat and even a bit sweaty when taking on the best teams.
This version also introduces fun modes that include Power-ups, one-on-one games and Boss Battles that add more wild, diverse elements to keep things interesting. It’s the game I’ve found myself coming back to again and again during this surreal period and I’d go as far as saying it’s by far the best sports game I’ve ever played. What other game can you play as the Beastie Boys and take on the likes of Dr. J, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird? Boomshakalaka!
A Brief Post Scriptum
All of these games offer different kind of Feel-Good experiences, but all of them have brought joy to the staff here at 25YL. It’s important to take a moment every day, once a day, and find something positive about the world, and these games can help put you in that mind set. Please remember to stay safe and take care of yourself during these extremely difficult times.