We really needed videogames last month. We’re really gonna need ‘em for at least a couple more, too, the way things are looking. Fortunately March gave us at least four games worth playing, and two of them are ones that we could gladly pour hours into every week for the next year, at least. Here’s what we’ve been playing to stay safe, sane and indoors over the last few weeks. And since we’re only looking at new games from March, that means I can’t slip Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 on here—even though I played that more than anything else the first week of the quarantine.
1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Originally Animal Crossing applied almost no pressure to the player. You could pay off your house, or not, and that was pretty much it. Much has changed since 2002, though. Almost everything you do in New Horizons has the residue of productivity on it, even if you’re trying to be as aimless as possible. Instead of playing games within this game, the only way to not accidentally be productive is to literally do nothing—to sit in a chair, or lay on a hammock, and put the controller down. To sit quietly with your own thoughts—thoughts that exist fully outside of your Nintendo Switch.
The fact that you can do that, though, is an example of the confidence within Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Nintendo might have ramped up the numbers and the to-do lists, all the tasks and chores that make New Horizons feel like one of the last outposts of whatever notions of normalcy we might’ve once had, but you can still tune that out and live within your own head for a spell. That head might naturally drift towards the hellishly contorted world we live in, and not the delightfully cartoonish one of Animal Crossing, but escapism is overrated anyway. I’d rather worry about every aspect of modern living while quietly reflecting on the rhythmic roar of a videogame ocean than while sitting slackjawed in a living room I won’t ever be able to leave again. Give me these New Horizons—rigid, commercial, and staid—over the chaos of the last decade.
2. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
From the very first moments of 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest, the developers at the Vienna-based Moon Studios have been manipulating our emotions. They do it about as well as anybody else in videogames ever had, and there’s something commendable about that. They convince us to immediately invest in their characters emotionally, which is hard to do, especially when no real words are being spoken. And one they have us on their hook, they’re excited to devastate us with unexpected deaths and heroic sacrifices. It can be a bit cloying—a little predictable, a little shameless—but it still has the desired impact, which means Moon Studios knows what it’s doing. And since Will of the Wisps, like Blind Forest before it, is a precisely calibrated machine of a platformer, with the the kind of Metroid-style backtracking elements that makes it almost impossible to put the controller down, there’s more than enough follow-through on that emotional wallop.
3. MLB The Show 20
Platform: PlayStation 4
The best baseball videogame is even better today, for no reason of its own. With the indefinite postponement of the Major League Baseball season (and, thus, the temporary end of what is truly the greatest baseball game, fantasy baseball), there are only two real sources to get our diamond fix today. One is RBI Baseball 20, which is made by MLB itself; although it’s improved from its shabby beginnings, and introduced a fine new pitching mechanic this year, it’s still a deeply inferior product that should only be played if you have no other option. (Sadly, that includes Xbox One and Switch players.) Sony’s MLB The Show remains the corner to paint if you’re looking for in-depth baseball action at home. It’s as thorough and complicated as ever, which might turn off some players; considering that at least half of baseball fandom is obsessing over stats and history, and that the season itself feels endless, most fans should welcome the all-consuming nature of MLB The Show. Also, it’s not like most of us have anywhere to go over the next couple of months.
4. Doom Eternal
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
I am not generally a Doom man—younger me felt the original sent games as a concept spinning off into the conjoined shitty paths of thinking violence equals maturity and that heavy metal made with computers is actually listenable—but Doom Eternal is one of the least Doom-like Dooms I’ve ever Doomed. It’s also 100% certified Doom, just like a pure unfiltered toot of the totality of Doom. No, these thoughts don’t contradict each other.
Despite carrying around a few extra layers of business, Doom Eternal feels good. It is physically, mentally and emotionally a much-needed jolt out of all the ruts I’ve been stuck in—a shot of manufactured, harmless stress to take my mind off all the real stresses of today. Visiting a fictional hell world will always be preferable to dealing with the hell world we’re actually living in. Doom’s ripping and tearing is more vital today than ever—and not just that which I visit upon my enemies, but, importantly, the torturous ways in which they rip and tear through me. Doom Eternal is a two-way street—the doom I perpetrate and the doom I have to welcome with open arms. It’s a kind of penance, and I am ready to accept my punishment.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.