Love is in the air, friends. And by “air,” I mean the radio spectrum afforded to Wi-Fi carriers. With Valentine’s Day approaching, the old-fashioned love letter or Hallmark card is swiftly being replaced by a thousand digital replacements: a Facebook Memory, a Twitter Moment, a Periscope telegram, an Instagram hashtag. We have never had so many ways to declare our love in public without the chiding or unsanitary consequences of kissing in the town square.
Videogames offer a tantalizing compromise: a way to test your compatibility in front of others through the innocent prism of play. As Tom Masson, author of A Bachelor’s Baby, once wrote: “The love game is never called off on account of darkness.” So ditch the fancy dinner and let those chocolates melt in the ozone-powered sun. Here are nine games to play with your special one on February 14th.
Mario Kart: Double Dash
Pull out your trusty Nintendo Box circa 2002 and fire up one of the most divisive entries in the beloved and accessible franchise. One player drives the kart, while the other stands on the back and fires at your opponents, who this time wield special, character-exclusive weapons. If you play your cards right, living room chatter—’Hop on!’, ‘Watch out for that giant banana!’—can segue into another sort of multiplayer madness.
Love is often expressed as a physical union of bodies in motion. But such acts can get messy, or are awkward with the kids around. Microsoft’s 3D camera allows for an alternative solution that the whole family can enjoy. Fire up Kinect Party and see you and your partner projected on the television, destroying miniature skyscrapers or prancing through a field of bubbles. This pseudo-sequel to Double Fine Happy Action Theater shows the softer side of the studio behind nutso action games like Psychonauts and Brutal Legend and makes use of the under-utilized sensor in ways your Valentine will never expect. Virtual ball-pit, anyone?
Spin the Bottle
Put away that six-pack; the only bottle you’ll need is the one in your hand. If you’re holding your Wii remote, that is. This experimental collection by Scandinavian studio KnapNok Games is an innocent take on the party favorite. Instead of smooching, you and a partner will be called on to interact in one of a dozen weird, compelling ways. Swat an invisible tennis ball back and forth. Crawl on all fours and find a hidden remote while blindfolded. Other games need no description: Pump the Trolley or Squeeze the Orange will certainly liven up your evening, whether romantic or platonic.
Perhaps the earliest memories of love we have point back to that most dreaded of spaces: The dance-floor. Whether you’re surrounded by Middle School chaperones or celebrating a Mitzvah, the dance-floor is a cruel and confusing battleground. What does one do with all these limbs? Where do you place your feet? Why does Eric Clapton feel wonderful tonight, anyway? Bounden use this uncertainty as impetus for a thrilling, intimate experience. Two players place their hands on a single mobile device; by working together to move the device along a set virtual path, the players unwittingly perform a lovely, accidental duet. The developer, Game Oven, even collaborated with the Dutch National Ballet to design the choreography.
Woody Allen knew that life, ultimately, comes down to two opposing phenomena: Love and Death. (Whether his view on the former is sound should, I grant you, be questioned.) Even the French overlap the two: that idiomatic culmination, “petit mort,” literally means “little death.” So if candy hearts do not get yours beating fast enough, try this interactive horror film by Supermassive Games. You direct hapless and foolhardy teens around a remote cabin with a killer on the loose. Choose poorly and they meet their maker, one by one. The jump scares will have you clutching your partner; the developing characters will make you mourn their demise, or wish they’d been decapitated sooner.
Conceived and developed by Jason Rohrer, this tiny morsel of a game is like a pearl of Beluga caviar: It may be small, might go down quickly, but it is a rich and rare experience. The entire quest takes five minutes. Your moves are limited. You may not know exactly what to do at first. But once you understand where you’re heading, the inevitable climax smacks you and leaves you empty—and hopeful for another, better outcome. Aside from Valentine’s Day, other ideal events during which to play Passage: 50th wedding anniversaries, baptisms.
This charming platformer by Media Molecule is meant to be a single-player experience, but its reliance on Sony’s feature-rich portable can provide a surprising take on the phrase, “hands-on.” The entire world is crafted from paper and cardboard. Certain moments ask you to engage with these materials using the back touchscreen to poke through or mold your surroundings. What was designed for one person can be retrofitted into a two-person test of communication. The on-board camera also portrays the player’s face as the sun: Cue the Stevie Wonder and turn the lights low.
Progress to 100
Games used to rely on joysticks. Then buttons. Then arm-waving. With smart devices, the most ubiquitous gaming device has become a chimera of touch-screen, motion sensor, camera, microphone, and Wi-Fi switches. Like a narrow-minded Casanova, most games only think to use one of these charms. Progress to 100 forces you to rethink this magic slate in your hand and engage with it in surprising ways. One hundred mini-tests of observation and logic does not sound like the perfect romantic getaway; all I know is that I fired this up on my wife’s iPad and placed it in her hands and she was immediately smitten. Warning: Reaction will differ depending on “it”’s antecedent.
This little gem, developed by HAL Labratories and built into every one of Nintendo’s dedicated portable system, is the perfect palate-cleanser after a tough night out (or in). You take a picture of someone’s face—your spouse, your dog, that picture of Donald Trump on the cover of Esquire—and the face morphs and splits off into a series of floating spaceships. The system’s outer camera depicts your surroundings being infiltrated by a swarm of these “Face Raiders” and you need to shoot them down. You do so not by tilting a joystick but by aiming and twirling around the room. The faces aren’t just static screenshots, either; each scowls or smiles as they buzz across the kitchen, and some might even zoom in for a juicy kiss. For the jilted or unsatisfied lovers out there, this is the ultimate Augmented Reality showdown.
Since 2003, Jon Irwin has been paid to write about film, techno, ice cream, wine, golf, drag-racing, French children and videogames. His first book, Super Mario Bros. 2, was published last year by Boss Fight Books. Follow along: @WinWinIrwin.