It's summer, so it's a great time for fun, sun and... wait, no, this is Texas, so sometimes it's actually more fun to avoid the heat and stay indoors for a bit. What's a good way to do that? Video games.
A lot of 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.
Super Mario Maker 2 (Nintendo Switch)
One of the few problems with classic, 2D Super Mario games is that they, like all good things, eventually come to an end. Super Mario Maker 2 helps alleviate that problem by giving the tools of Mario creation to the masses, allowing fans to supply each other with a seemingly endless supply of new stages to play through.
The creation tools are amazingly easy to use, and the in-game tutorials actually serve as a stellar intro to game design. Even if you're scared of making your own creations, though, there is nothing (well, except an affordable Nintendo Switch Online subscription fee) stopping you from hopping on the internet and downloading levels from fellow Mario fans.
Some will be great. Many will be good. Some, frankly, will only be decent. And a lot will range from fiendishly difficult to downright evil in their design. But if you're the type of person who can never get enough 2D Mario gameplay, this is well worth picking up.
Outer Wilds (PC, Xbox One)
Outer Wilds is an early contender for 2019's Game of the Year.
Set in a small-yet-huge solar system, it's a game all about exploration and discovery. While there is a mystery to solve and a story to experience, Outer Wilds begs you to simply hop into a space ship, take off, point in a direction and say, "What's that planet like?" Every planetary body you land on -- each of which is so small you can easily traverse its equator within a few minutes -- is a fascinating little world packed with things to discover, forcing you to ask, "How does that work?" once you've stopped marveling at the spectacle. It's not a game about fighting enemies or conquering worlds. You can calmly, peacefully explore it all at your own pace.
Oh, and it's all set against the backdrop of a Groundhog Day-esque time loop. Did you accidentally misjudge your trajectory and fly yourself straight into the sun? No problem. You'll wake up exactly where you started, and your next destination is only a short flight away.
Combining some of the best parts of games like Myst, No Man's Sky, Return of the Obra Dinn and even The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Outer Wilds is a beautiful adventure that is going to stick with me for awhile.
Cadence of Hyrule (Nintendo Switch)
Nintendo allowed a small, independent developer take a crack at making a very different style of Zelda game, and the result is beautiful. The creators of the cult classic Crypt of the Necrodancer have taken that game's winning formula and blended it with beloved Zelda elements to make something unique and amazing.
Cadence of Hyrule has a lot of the trappings of a classic Zelda legend, a la A Link to the Past, with one major twist: It's a rhythm game. Both you and your enemies move along a grid in time with the beat, forcing you to think differently about how and when you're going to approach your enemies. Pattern recognition becomes important as different foes move in different directions with an almost chess-like variety. For instance, some enemies might attack you diagonally on the grid while others only make their move when you get right in front of them, meaning you're better of positioning yourself at their side.
Want to tap your foot alongside a friend? A second player can join you co-cooperatively at the touch of a couple buttons. Don't have a good sense of rhythm? You can actually turn off the requirement to move to the beat.
One of the only problems is that the game is very short by Zelda standards, clocking in at just a few hours long. Its randomized nature makes it replayable, but it's a shame there aren't more modes and secrets to encourage you to come back.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4)
The creator of some of the most beloved Castlevania games has returned to create a game that's pretty much a Symphony of the Night successor in all but name. Do you like games like Metroid or the Castlevania games that were on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS? You're in luck! This is basically one of those.
Note that as of this writing, the Nintendo Switch version is far less than perfect, but the developer has publicly committed to fixing many of its rougher edges in the near future.
Warhammer: Chaosbane (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
If you're looking for something new to scratch that Diablo itch, you could do a lot worse than this action RPG set in the Warhammer universe. In true ARPG fashion, it's a top-down adventure filled with increasingly powerful loot to encourage you and your friends to keep playing through just one more dungeon.
That said, it's also shorter than many other games of its ilk, with a far less impressive end game loop than Diablo III or Path of Exile. So you might like playing through it once or twice, but it may not have the staying power to keep you coming back for years.
Samurai Shodown (Xbox One, PS4)
A lot of one-on-one fighting games tend to feel fast and frenetic. Samurai Shodown feels deliberate. It's slow (perhaps painfully so, for some players), but its hits are heavy.
Of course, this will be nothing new to those who fondly remember the early '90s arcade series that this game is rebooting. This new Samurai Shodown does a pretty good (but not perfect) job of recreating the feeling that those classics delivered. It's not a fighting game for the masses, but at the very least it delivers something different than other games in the genre right now.