A calm, beautiful game that rewards patience, curiosity and wonder, The Gardens Between tells a bittersweet story with no script and only three buttons. While this time-travelling puzzler does not revolutionise the swelling wave of "chill out" games, it is essential playing for the genre. It will no doubt become a reliable go-to for enticing people of all ages into video games, but it's also a pleasure for regular players craving something original. The Gardens Between's child protagonists are neighbours who escape drab homes using a rope ladder and plastic chair to get to their favourite play area. Here they flee rainy suburbia for adventures in a beaten-up treehouse.
When Nicole Stark set about writing a new video game, she took inspiration from an unusual subject: her autistic teenage daughter who was battling bullies. "I was fed up with power fantasies for male teenagers," says Stark, one half of Noosa-based family studio Disparity Games. Sick of seeing female protagonists who behaved "exactly like the male character but with large boobs", Stark, with help from her daughter, created Gemma, a 16-year-old ninja pizza delivery girl who must navigate a dystopian world of sky-high slums, exploitative mega-corporations and the cruelest of adversaries: her own peers.
A frenetic, over-the-top action game about sexy demon hunters, in which you are assaulted by hellish creatures, flashy visual effects and absurdly energetic rock music all at once. It is sensory overload, and an absolute blast. What we said: "It's bloody, spectacular and irresistible, all cheesy one-liners, guns, swords and explosions while guitars scream in the background, and it plays like a dream." A brilliant remake of the 1998 survival horror classic, providing series heroes Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield with terrifying new challenges as they explore the zombie-infested Racoon City police station. What we said: "The rhythm, gradually building from many minutes of quiet exploration and puzzle-solving to gigantic, pulverising boss battles, is exact and beautiful, like some monstrous Wagner opera."
The pencil-and-paper logic puzzle is arguably Japan's most successful cultural export of recent years. Look inside almost any daily newspaper and you will find at least one number puzzle with a Japanese name; sudoku most commonly, but there are many others, such as kakuro and futoshiki, to mention only the ones that appear regularly in the Guardian. Shelves stuffed full of these exotic-sounding, square-gridded, numerical brain-teasers fill every newsagent and bookstore. I visited Tokyo to try to understand why Japan dominates the puzzle world. I discovered a country with a unique puzzle culture.
Remember when friendships were easy? You hung out with the kid down the block'cause they had whatever Nintendo or Sega system you weren't allowed to have. You'd bond over shared taste in music or humor. Not so easy anymore, is it? We still live in nostalgic moments, reminiscing about simpler times, before video game criticism was tarnished by empty arguments over graphic wars, before political tensions made the worst Thanksgiving dinners worse.