(macOS/PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox) UNPACKING is an adorably short but impactful indie game from developers Witch Beam that is basically an isometric interior design game. All you do is age and move from place-to-place, from apartment to apartment and so on. It’s one of the few games I’ve played that, while I imagine some 20-somethings might understand, really, it’s all about proper adulthood. The kind that requires a mortgage or, at least, striving to get to a point in which a bank will allot a mortgage to you.

This is a game about aging and compromising and figuring out what works for both you and your partner, and also just enjoying the space you’ll spend the bulk of your time in.

I realize that sounds heavy, but Witch Beam lightens the load for you. You can think about all of that, or you can just mindlessly open boxes and try to find where every object should live, because that is the entire game, and it’s supremely satisfying to do so. The narrative is just the icing on the cake.

The game leans on a lot of 16-bit era tropes, from the pixelated visuals, the isometric viewpoint, as well as the soundtrack, but that works in its favor — at least for me. It comes across as simple and endearing in a soft way, although the audio and sound design? Way better than the days of the SEGA Genesis. Goddamn, I am not one for ASMR, but this is a balm for your ears.

Again, this is a very short — but very fulfilling — game. Is it for everyone? Well, no, particularly if you’re consistently seeking videogame thrills. However, it is very sweet and cozy and amazingly designed and something I think most folks would enjoy.

(If you watch the trailer, pay attention to the pig. That’s all I’ll say.)


While I first played LIFE IS STRANGE waaaay back in 2017, I’ve been intensely playing/replaying all of them pretty much non-stop for the last two months.

“I want to look at everything.”

I realize that’s not healthy. Emotionally, they’re absolutely brutal. My wife remarked: “Everytime I see you playing these games, someone is sobbing or you are.”

However, I’ve been going through a lot over the past year — to the point where friends have reached out and asked me: “Are you okay? Because you don’t seem like you’re okay.”

“I thought if you heard my voice, it could be a little bit like I was there.”

And no, no I’m not. Not at all. While I don’t want anyone’s sympathy, I do appreciate the outreach, and that’s exactly what LIFE IS STRANGE encapsulates.

(I will be fine. I have a quality support network. I’m just over-emotional in general.)

LIFE IS STRANGE: BEYOND THE STORM — FAREWELL [REMASTERED] (FAREWELL from here on out) supplies a short and bittersweet closure to the Arcadia Bay series. It’s simply Max and Chloe lounging around as young carefree teens until the end.

That’s all. That’s the entire game.

It’s delightful, and as someone who has lived through too much, to be able to relive the lighter moments of the past brings a smile to my face. Is it sheer nostalgia through another’s eyes? Yeah, but I’ll take it.

Two facets that I haven’t quite touched on with prior LIFE IS STRANGE entries:

1) The goddamn soundtrack. The music programming and the original scoring is absolute perfection. It encapsulates the ennui and conflict and ebulliency of being a youth. No notes.

2) Chloe’s physicality, height, and lankiness. As someone who is taller than most, often thinner than most, and prone to leap up on curbs as if they were a balance beam, I absolutely loved the animation work here.

FAREWELL sees Chloe before she literally feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. She springboards around, leaps around, bounds down stairs and jumps onto tables. She’s still slightly awkward and feeling matters out, but supremely confident in her command of her body in a way I’ve never quite seen in a video game.

I realize that may sound odd given that 90% of video games are all about physical activities, but there’s a personal exuberance here that feels fresh and makes me feel very seen.

“Even when we’re apart. We’re still Max and Chloe.”

To re-iterate: this has been an enormously exhausting but fulfilling journey; one that finally has me exhaling. At least until the next game. If you want to put yourself through the emotional interactive wringer, as opposed to mindlessly shooting dummies, I highly recommend it, but it does come at as cost, as does simply living life. There’s absolutely nothing like these games, and I’ll treasure them always.

“After five years, you’re still Max Caulfield.”



This post contains mentions of familial death.

In my prior BEFORE THE STORM write-up I noted how I relate far more to Chloe than I did to Max, which seems to be an unpopular opinion but I am who I am. I didn’t go into details so here are a few additional reasons that dovetail with my youth.

Chloe is a quintessential young punk, whereas I was a quintessential young gothling; she sneaks out of her house to attend illicit live band shows in sketchy places; she feels all alone in the world, at least until she finds a friend in Rachel Amber who presents as a perfect straight-A student but is actually a hedonistic, rebellious queer youth.

Been there, done that (although not necessarily in that order).

“It’s okay not to be okay, Chloe Price.”

BEFORE THE STORM sees Chloe trying to heal after the abandonment of Max and the death of her father, and she finds solace in Rachel’s hands. For three episodes, we get see the joy in her eyes, the wonder of discovery, a whole new queer world opening up in front of her.

Again, if you’ve played the prior games, you know how this ends, and it is not good, but goddamnit, I just love to see Chloe — as angsty as she is in this point in her life — happy, if only momentarily.

Upon replaying, I was surprised at how much foreshadowing and groundwork was laid, although I definitely suggest playing this after the first game.

Also, upon replaying, I had Chloe interact a bit more aggressively and was happy I did so; the call-and-response is far more interesting than the rather milquetoast approach I took the first time.

While the game lacks any supernatural or superpower elements, it does have spectacle with fire. Again, these are not subtle games — it’s subtext to communicate the burning urges of youth — but I can’t help but love it, and visually the billowing smoke ever-present in the background is so very striking.

And while you don’t have Max’s rewind powers, the developers have nicely added a few new features to the dialogue trees to keep matters fresh. Never at any point in time does it feel like you’re simply watching a film — you feel like you are in control, and that your decisions make a difference.

Lastly, I’ll state: this post is concerning the remaster, which … is not great. It is not polished. It has a ton of bugs and crashed several times and honestly? Doesn’t even look good enough to merit the term ‘remaster’. However: I bought it simply so I’d have a physical copy, so I could play it on my Switch on a desert island until the batteries died. That’s how much I love this game.


(PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox) One of my favorite things about LIFE IS STRANGE is its episodic fragmentation because it allows me to detail specific things I love about the series without having to write everything into one long post.

So, yes, I’m totally using the remastered version — which includes the first game and BEFORE THE STORM — to summarize everything I wasn’t able to shoehorn in before about the first game. (There will be one last post about the BEFORE THE STORE remaster!)

[Slight spoilers below!]

The fourth episode of the initial game is absolutely brutal, but also very memorable. Max’s time use inadvertently affecting her best friend is heart-rending, and the two of them reconnecting — a second time — is extremely emotional in a way that I’ve never felt in another game.

At the end, well, I’ve witnessed others going through what Max is tasked to do, and — the way I played it — goddamn, in real life I was just an observer, there for comfort, but holy hell. My face gets wet just thinking about it.

I’ve said it before: this is just life. Life is hard. Nothing and no one can prepare you for what you’re going to live through, because everyone’s journey is different. But if you can find folks that can help navigate you through, you’re very lucky, and that’s why the fourth episode is so tough for me, because of the loss, and because of the changes.

While I absolutely love this series — it’s certainly one of my all-time favorites — this remaster? It kinda sucks. Visually, sure, it’s slightly glossier — oddly, Rachel seems to have the best glow-up — but doesn’t add much except for major loading times and overly severe and distracting lighting. (I’ll note that I played it via Switch — loading times may be faster via your Xbox.) While the original was slightly janky, this feels terribly unpolished and I encountered a number of bugs and crashes, which is weird for a remaster. Frankly, I’m pleased I played the original digital copies when initially writing about this series, because that felt more natural and playable. It certainly doesn’t look as crisp or play as well as TRUE COLORS.

Nonetheless, I was very happy to see Chloe and Max together again, although watching Chloe and knowing what will happen made me constantly well-up. I kept thinking: “This isn’t fair. I just want the best for them!” Granted, that’s the sort of emotional response any writer wants to hear when they pen something, but goddamnit, as someone playing the game, it’s rough. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I did try to lighten her load.

I hope I’ve convinced you to at least try the series, no matter which way you can. It’s absolutely something special and evocative and overly emotional and I love it. This is a series of games that will most certainly inspire and influence future game designers and developers, and it’s extremely rare to know that upon initially playing a game. It’s so raw and heartfelt and, as I’ve said before, it’s hard to believe it even exists. It was a huge swing on behalf of Don’t Nod and they knocked it out of the park, and it’s something that will live with me always.



This post contains mentions of familial death.

While I said that LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM is my favorite of the series I, somewhat intentionally, neglected to mention that LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS (TRUE COLORS from here on forward) is the one I identify with most.

TRUE COLORS centers around Alex, a twenty-something who reunites with Gabe, her big brother, in the fictional town of Haven Springs, Oregon. Their mother died of cancer when they were teens, their father abandoned them shortly after, then her brother was locked up in juvie for carjacking, and Alex was scuttled from foster home to home, essentially until now.

(I’ll note that there’s a spoiler below, but it literally happens in the first chapter and it is a major part of Alex’s journey, and really not spoiler-y! But go forth, play it, then come back if you’re squeamish!)

Of course, LIFE IS STRANGE being LIFE IS STRANGE, her brother is killed under specious conditions.

Also, LIFE IS STRANGE being LIFE IS STRANGE, it’s revealed that Alex has superpowers: she’s an full-blown empath who can literally see how people are feeling, hurting, and intense emotions cause her to lash out.

All my life I’ve been called out as someone overly sensitive, someone overly emotional, someone too observant, and when I am emotionally overwhelmed, I too explode.

So, yeah. This hits a bit too close to home for me. When I described the game to my wife, she explicitly asked: “Are you sure you should be playing this?” and I replied “No! I definitely should not!” but proceeded to do so anyway, and proceeded to cry through the bulk of the first third of the game, and I’m a better person for doing so. For as much as the game underscores the trials and tribulations of being emotionally oversensitive, it also extolls them. Alex is not only finding the truth out about the death of her brother, but finding what she wants out of life.

It also serves as one of the best renditions of a rural town’s Main Street I’ve ever played. I’ve previously harped on how the LIFE IS STRANGE series mirrors my time growing up in Vermont and TRUE COLORS is the absolute pinnacle of that. Haven feels like I’m wandering through Church Street — downtown Burlington, Vermont — even down to the indie record store. (Shout out to Pure Pop!) The only thing missing are the gravy fries from Nectar’s.

(I’ll also note that TRUE COLORS features the following exchange: “Greatest Northwest band of all time? Go.” “Sleater-Kinney, if you were wondering.” and Sleater-Kinney is only one of my favorite bands ever, so thanks game for validating that you are solely for me.)

I’d be remiss to neglect to mention the glow-up imparted on TRUE COLORS. While the prior LIFE IS STRANGE games had striking visual character designs, TRUE COLORS is absolutely gorgeous, all rounded features, glossy and fluid animations, and even better: it imparts a sense of tactility that was lacking in the prior games. It’s not just that characters touch each other, it’s that they rub and wear and scrape against works around them. This is a world well-crafted.



This game contains details of familial death. To prevent spoilers, I side-step mentioning those details.

If you’ve been following along with the prior posts: LIFE IS STRANGE: FAREWELL (FAREWELL, going forward) is a very short prequel to LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM (BEFORE THE STORM, going forward), which is the prequel to LIFE IS STRANGE.

In other words: you get to see Max and Chloe as very early youths, just as Max is about to leave for Seattle and just when Chloe’s life turns to shit.

BEFORE THE STORM was far smaller-scale than LIFE IS STRANGE, and FAREWELL is even more intimate. It details one of Max’s last days with Chloe before she moves to Seattle. She hasn’t told Chloe yet — she’s afraid of ruining the mood and just wants to hang out with her best friend and riff on the good times; all of their pirate games and treasure maps and blowing up shit and languid lounging sleepy days, hanging around Chloe’s room, occasionally popping out for a stack of her mother’s pancakes.

One of the most remarkable features of LIFE IS STRANGE is its indulgence in reminiscing and introspection. Each and every installment features a number of places to sit or lay down on and mull over feelings and revel in memories. For the majority of FAREWELL, it’s Max laying alongside Chloe on her bed as they idly listen to music, the breeze flowing through the windows, as she recounts her feelings about her best friend to herself. The camera cuts to specific areas of Chloe’s room, occasionally glimsping the outside, even after Max has completed her inner monologue.

It’s techniques such as that which makes LIFE IS STRANGE a game instead of an interactive novel. You can exit out of these vignettes at any point in time. Hell, you don’t even need to enact them. However, when you do it enriches the characters and the world that they inhabit.

FAREWELL is quietly brutal, with a gut-punch of an ending but, for a short period of time, you get to live in the idyllic world of their youth and see them simply having fun and enjoying life. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself opting out of works that unnecessarily put their characters through unrelenting traumatic circumstances and, while LIFE IS STRANGE most certainly does that — I realize it’s basic narrative necessity — it also finds time and space to give them joyful experiences, and I will miss them.

“Even when we’re apart, we’re still Max and Chloe.”

BAYONETTA 2 (2014)

(Switch/WiiU) BAYONETTA 2 feels like a parody of videogames, something so ludicrous that it’s hard to believe it even exists. It’s something so deliberately non-sensical, hyper-sexualized, cartoonishly violent, and completely and utterly removed from reality that it could -only- be realized as a videogame.

On paper, it shouldn’t work. The protagonist is utterly outlandish: Bayonetta brandishes her hair as her costume and as a weapon and as identity. Every appendage of her is weaponized — literally: guns as high-heels. BAYONETTA 2 isn’t just hack-and-slash, it’s absolutely gonzo.

However, it does work. While, yes, Bayonetta has a lot of fan service — I often say every work speaks as to the creators’ fetishes, but this nakedly puts it front-and-foremost — it feels like the lingering camera and leather and latex comes from a place of positivity instead of exploitation. Bayonetta exudes cool like James Bond and flexes it. She’s living her best life as a badass witch, a devil-may-care woman who does what she wants and loves what she does. Couple that with a myriad of mind-bending set-pieces, bonkers bosses, and a litany of combo opportunities and it’s a phantasmagoria of delight.


I highly recommend the following write-ups regarding BAYONETTA 1 & 2, from Leigh Alexander and Maddy Myers.


Talk your way out of Hell.

Flirt your way out of Hell.

Cheat your way out of Hell.

Dance your way out of Hell.

Party your way out of Hell.

(PC/macOS/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xboxes) AFTERPARTY is another narrative-forward videogame from OXENFREE developers Night School Games. Unlike OXENFREE, a deft interactive teen horror adventure, AFTERPARTY focuses on two platonic 20-something best friends — Milo (Khoi Dao) and Lola (Janina Gavankar) — just about to graduate from college.

Then they die and go to Hell and, in order to escape they need not only outdrink Satan, but also come to terms with each other, their past, and their future.

What follows is an extremely visually striking and darkly comedic game, perhaps containing some of the filthiest, well-crafted jokes I’ve ever encountered in a game. AFTERPARTY is also brilliant with its character work — not just its honest and complicated portrayal of a platonic friendship between a man and a woman — but also with its ancillary characters, including psychopomp ferrier Sam (HORIZON: ZERO DAWN’s Ashly Burch) whose life/death is both over-shared and enigmatic at the same time.

It is worth noting that, while OXENFREE featured some intriguing interface tools apart from dialogue trees, AFTERPARTY’s non-dialogue interactivity is reduced to a number of routine mini-games. While thematically that makes sense — beer pong and rhythm mini-games make perfect sense for the material — they often feel like they emptily get in the way of what you’d rather be doing: advancing the story and learning more about the characters.

Nonetheless, it’s perfect for playing over the Halloween weekend with a friend. AFTERPARTY doesn’t overstay its welcome, and while it actually takes place in Hell, it’s more emotionally substantive than scarring.


It took a while, but I just wrapped up PARADISE KILLER, an extremely stylish, absolutely bonkers murder mystery game for Switch/PC. It’s so bonkers that, when my wife asked why it was named PARADISE KILLER, I had to think for a bit and then responded: “It’d take me at least five minutes to detail why, and I don’t have the energy for that right now.”

That said, I do love a challenge, so here it goes: humanity has been visited by gods and, in a way to appeal to the gods’ sensibilities, a faction of semi-immortals (who go by the moniker The Syndicate) have been building ideal islands — this may or may not be a riff on Gaunilo’s ‘Lost Island’ argument, who knows? — by kidnapping mortal humans to build said islands. Unfortunately, each of the prior 24 islands have been corrupted by demonic influence, causing them to self-destruct the island and move on to a new, more perfect island. The immortals get to ascend to the new island, whereas the mortals are ceremoniously slaughtered. Island 25, dubbed Perfect 25, has been built and The Syndicate are transferring over, but halfway through the migration the leaders of The Syndicate are murdered. To solve the mystery, Syndicate investigator Lady Love Dies is brought out of her multi-million year exile. (She’d previously been tricked by a demon to help undermine an island.) The game itself has you navigate Lady Loves Dies throughout the mostly empty vaporware aesthetic of Island 24 to interrogate the remaining Syndicate members, gather evidence, and then dole out sweet bullet justice.

Phew. See? Absolutely bonkers, and I didn’t even go into the blood crystals, reality drive, or lingering ghosts.

Now, please don’t take this post as an ecstatic recommendation. This game is practically tailor-made for me, thanks to its high-concept pitch, exceedingly idiosyncratic dialogue, non-sensical item collection, low-anxiety stakes, absolutely infectious soundtrack and casual romancing, but it’s not exactly a ‘good game’. Most of the time you’re roaming around the island for hours to find someone to talk to, all while getting distracted by the numerous items that litter Island 24. You can purchase a few power-ups, which consist solely of ways to allow you to explore more of the island, slightly faster, which you’ll appreciate because you will get lost, a lot. It’s an open world game, but lacks the hallmarks of what one expects from open world design, such as sensible urban layouts or proper landmarks, or even easy fast travel. (You can fast travel, but it’ll cost you.)

Also, the end is more than slightly underwhelming. It’s worth noting that, while it’s a murder mystery, you can accuse anyone you want, regardless of evidence. Even after the trials are over, you can dole out justice haphazardly by executing or exiling anyone left on the island.

That said, it was a perfect game for me at this time, as it helped me through the tail end of winter and eased me into spring. I desperately need to pick up a copy of the soundtrack.