A lot of video games come out every single week. Even if you limit yourself to only big, retail releases (ignoring smaller independent games, which would be a mistake) the market is very crowded, and it can be hard to know what to spend your money on.
Here are some quick thoughts on some recent video game releases that you might want to pay attention to.
Tetris Effect (PS4)
If you press me to name the greatest video game of all time (not my "favorite," but the best), I would probably say Tetris. It's as close to perfect a game as we've ever seen, after all. It's seen dozens of iterations over the decades, but how to you really improve on that basic formula? Blocks of different shapes fall from the sky, and your job is to arrange them as efficiently as possible, clearing "lines" of blocks when they stretch neatly from one side of the screen to the other.
Tetris has such an effect on people's minds that it has been studied extensively by scientists, even spawning the name of a cognitive phenomenon called "the Tetris effect," from which the newest version of Tetris gets its name.
Tetris Effect is at once the most zen-like and the most trippy Tetris game you have ever played -- even if you don't play it in virtual reality (which I highly recommend, if you have the means). Led by game developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi (famous for other sensory blockbusters Rez and Lumines), Tetris Effect takes everything about Tetris that feels good and makes it feel even better. Block movement makes sound in conjunction to a great music soundtrack, which makes you subconsciously want to drop Tetrominos in time with the beat. Stunning particle effects and backgrounds, meanwhile, give the entire aesthetic an otherworldly feel.
There's no multiplayer to enjoy with your friends, but there are plenty of modes packed into Tetris Effect that will appeal to you whether you want to challenge yourself for high scores (or experiment with some very different ways of playing the classic game, including a mode that sometimes forces you to play upside down) or simply relax and zone out.
I had access to Tetris Effect on election night, and I wish everyone else in America did as well. If you're stressed and need something to re-center your brain, this is one of the best options you've had in a long time.
Moonlighter (Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Anybody who has played a fantasy action game or RPG is familiar with the act of exploring a dungeon and walking out of it with a bunch of pretty random stuff, be it weird artifacts found in a chest, slimy bits of slain monsters or, y'know, just random pieces of rock. Usually you can take this junk to a merchant in a nearby town, sell it for gold and then buy stuff that's actually useful, like a new sword.
But what if in addition to being the local adventurer, you were also the shopkeeper?
That's the gist of Moonlighter, a clever and cute adventure in which you need to explore the depths beneath your town in order to stock the shelves of the shop you run. After you get home from fighting monsters (with classic Zelda-style combat) you set out inventory and set prices, being careful not to price things too high (which will make customers mad and lose you sales) or too low (in which case you're only ripping yourself off). It's a charming and addictive combination of gameplay types that offers a fun twist on some classic tropes.
It's now available on the Nintendo Switch (which is the version I've been playing), and it's a fun game to have on the go.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4, Xbox One)
The makers of Grand Theft Auto know how to make a splash with their video game releases. In its "opening weekend," Rockstar Games' epic Western video game Red Dead Redemption 2 broke entertainment records by bringing in $725 million. That even tops the amount of money earned by Marvel's juggernaut, Avengers: Infinity War. (Though, keep in mind, a $60 video game and a roughly $10 movie ticket can't exactly be compared like apples to apples.)
According to most critics, the success is well-earned. Red Dead delivers a gripping Western tale with a painstaking attention to detail -- so much so that many modern gaming conveniences, like fast travel, have been toned down or even omitted to preserve a more realistic outlaw experience. A simple example of this: You can cut and style your character's hair and beard, but if you want them longer, you have to literally wait for the hair to grow.
There are already dozens of hours of open-world, single-player action to keep you busy in a breathtaking early America, but the promise of an online multiplayer mode coming soon, this is a game that could potentially keep you occupied for a very long time to come.
Soulcalibur IV (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Fighting games are fun, but they can be intimidating. While the Soulcalibur series has a lot of strengths, one of the biggest is that it's approachable. Even someone who just wants to pick up a controller and mash buttons is capable of having a good time, and solid tutorials from the game's developers can help educate those who want more depth from the experience. The newest game in the series is a fantastic return to form, charming the series' hardcore and casual fans alike.
Don't have any friends to play with? Not a problem! While Soulcalibur VI is best experience with competitors of similar skill levels, it's also packed with adventure and story modes that can keep solo players busy for many hours.
One of the keys to the game's longevity, though, might end up being the in-game character creator. With it, fans have been making (and fighting as) a wide variety of beloved characters, including some kind of disturbing versions of Marge Simpson and Pikachu.
Diablo III: Eternal Collection (Switch)
Set aside the massive mobile-phone based Diablo controversy of this month for a minute. Diablo III, which originally hit PCs and Macs way back in 2012, is still a really good game. Moreso, in fact, since it has received years of upgrades and a full expansion.
Available for the first time on a Nintendo system, the Switch port of Diablo III ups the ante by giving you everything the game has to offer and putting it in the palm of your hand. Road trips fly by when you have the ability to slaughter hundreds of demons (and pick up tons and tons of shiny loot) on the go. The Switch port performs great, technically speaking, and loses nothing nothing in the transition from other versions of the game. If you've never played it before, there has never been a better time.
Super Mario Party (Switch)
For some, the Mario Party series (which began on the Nintendo 64, where I enjoyed it at many a slumber party) is an acquired taste. Part digital board game, part minigame collection, Mario Party brings Mario, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong and a whole host of other beloved characters together for a fun time of rolling dice and deviously getting one over on your friends.
While the series has had its ups and downs, Super Mario Party is easily one of the better entries in a good long while. It helps that it's on a system, the Nintendo Switch, that is beloved by players of all ages, and its portability makes it easy to take the party to a friend's house.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
The rebooted Tomb Raider franchise kicked off with a wonderful re-imagining of Lara Croft in 2013, followed that up with a fantastic sequel in 2015 and led to a decent live-action movie starring Alicia Vikander. Shadow of the Tomb Raider isn't quite the pinnacle of this saga, but it's an enjoyable end to a trilogy of solid action games.
Shadow shines with some quiet moments, both in the present day and with flashbacks to Lara Croft as a (highly adventurous) little girl. It's a thoughtful narrative that at least attempts to say some things about Lara's character and her actions throughout the series (particularly in the ways in which she treats other cultures' sacred artifacts), though it doesn't quite stick the landing on that front. Still, it builds on what made the last two games so great, and it's a good time for anyone who just wants another archaeological adventure.
Mega Man 11 (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC)
The first Mega Man game might have been released in 1987, but its fundamentals still hold up in 2018. That's the base on which Mega Man 11 is built -- while it's got some slick polygonal visuals, the gameplay is classic 2D action. Sure, it's got a bunch of bells and whistles courtesy of more powerful game consoles and decades of game design knowledge, but the running and jumping will feel very familiar to anyone who grew up playing the games on the NES.
Fair warning: Unless you opt for the easy difficulty setting (which there is no shame in doing), prepare to die. A lot. Old-school game design stretches into old-school difficulty.
Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox One, PC)
As racing games go this year, Forza Horizon 4 leads the pack. Gorgeous 4K visuals make it immediately striking, sure, but the high-speed driving is what fuels the fun. The open-world setting this time, a fictionalized United Kingdom, provides plenty of picturesque scenery to race your way through or leisurely explore.
While there is a ton of depth available for those who want to customize a gigantic catalog of real-world cars, it's also a very easy game to just pick up and play. If you miss the arcade-like nature of games like Burnout or even Cruisin' USA, Forza Horizon 4 is probably up your alley.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
After a few years of uneven footing (and a very disappointing film adaptation), Assassin's Creed found itself back in the win column last year with Assassin's Creed Origins, set in ancient Egypt. This new entry, Odyssey, may be a successor to origins, but it actually takes things 400 years even earlier in time, to ancient Rome.
In some ways, this is the best Assassin's Creed has been. In others ways, it feels like there is actually too much going on, and after you've been playing for 40 hours you may start to wonder if the game is fully respecting your valuable time. One thing is certain, though: Be prepared for an adventure that is far more mythological in nature, with a protagonist that tends to feel less like a low-tech assassin and more like a superhero.