Good games for non-gamers

With the UK now into its fifth week of the coronavirus lockdown, many of us are turning to our video games for entertainment. But what if there’s someone in your household who hasn’t picked up a controller in years, or even ever, and they need a little convincing?

There are plenty of releases out there to appeal to someone who has limited experience and now is a great time to point them in the right direction. Get them on side and the rest of this isolation period could be spent gaming! The releases on today’s list are great gateway games to help ease someone into our hobby, and this post is dedicated to the lovely Larissa from Games (and Other Bits) who very kindly tagged Later Levels for a Real Neat Blog Award last month.

Coloring Pixels

If the non-gamer in your life has an artistic nature, then Coloring Pixels by ToastieLabs could be something that appeals to them. It’s also great for a gamer who’s looking for a form of digital stress relief (just what we need in these uncertain times). Think colouring-by-numbers: you simply choose an image you’d like to complete, pick a colour and then start clicking away on the pixels tagged with its associated number. You can see my attempt at filling in 40,000 squares to create ‘Ocean View’ in the video playlist opposite.

Eastshade

Eastshade by Eastshade Studios made it onto my favourites list as soon as I finished it in April last year. Think of a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim but without the combat: somewhere you can explore without fear of being attacked, where there are secrets and interesting characters to discover, and plenty of gorgeous artwork to see. It’s an excellent title for anyone who may not yet be experienced to tackle RPG combat mechanics and who knows, it might even get them wanting to try The Witcher or Horizon Zero Dawn next.

Journey

Some people may be opposed to video games because they think they’re all about violence and competition, but Journey by thatgamecompany could be just the thing to convince them otherwise. It was on one of the first titles I played with my stepson and I’d highly recommend it for non-gamers. The controls are easy to learn, there’s no combat and the other players you meet in-game can only communicate with you through musical chimes. When Ethan realised the other characters were real players, he was keen to interact with and help them.

Life is Strange

I finally completed DONTNOD Entertainment’s darling last month and, although Life is Strange wasn’t for me, I can see how it’s a good release for non-gamers who love movies and good stories. Everyone has been through those teenage experiences so its characters are relatable (regardless of any supernatural abilities); and the time-travelling element makes for a few simple puzzles which could inspire players to go on and try more from the adventure genre. There’s also a whole host of other walking simulators to play if they enjoy it.

Little Inferno

I’ve returned to Tomorrow Corporation’s Little Inferno several times over the years because it’s fun and has a lovely message underneath its cartoony exterior. You’re given a ‘Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace’ and must burn items for money, which can then be used to purchase new objects from mail-order catalogues. There’s no scoring system or time penalties which means you’re able to freely experiment in order to find all 99 combinations. This could be a good choice for anyone who likes completing puzzles.

Overcooked

This has to be one of the most enjoyable yet frustrating releases ever published. Overcooked by Ghost Town Games is regularly pulled out at our family gatherings and everyone, even those who don’t usually play video games, want to have a go. It’s a good one for making non-gamers feel as though they’re working together as part of a team and plenty of communication between members is required to fulfil orders correctly and on time. There’s always someone who does nothing except spin around with the fire extinguisher, though.

That’s You!

That’s You! by Wish Studios is another title that frequently ends up getting played at our family gatherings because it’s just so hilarious. It’s kind of like The Jackbox Party Pack games in humour but here, team members take selfies which are then used to answer challenges to find out how well they know each other. During the later stages you’ll find yourself drawing on the photographs so things can get a little risqué if only adults are participating – this is exactly what happened when we streamed it for GameBlast18.

The Room

Do you know a non-gamer who enjoys escape rooms? Then get a copy of The Room by Fireproof Games for them because they’re going to love it. You’re presented with a series of boxes and must solve puzzles in order to unlock them, uncovering a story about their mysterious creator and an element with strange powers along the way. There’s such a sense of achievement when you reach the end. We played the latest release in the series, The Room VR: A Dark Matter, recently and really hope the developer treats us to another instalment very soon.

Thank you once again to Larissa from Games (and Other Bits) for her kind nomination! Hopefully this list will inspire the non-gamer in your life to grab a controller and become your player two. What have you been playing with your friends and family during the lockdown, and do you have any additions for today’s list?

Two can play that game

As well as declaring our love for our backlogs this week, it’s also Valentine’s Day: that time of year when we show our loved-ones just how much we care about them. And seeing how I managed to bag myself a new husband last month (it still feels weird writing that), I guess I should be pulling out all the stops to show him just how special he is to me.

I don’t do red roses, boxes of chocolates and cards bearing statements of everlasting love however. The idea of Valentine’s Day has never held any appeal for me and I find it counter-intuitive: you can show someone how you feel about them on any day of the year rather than waiting for a particular date in February. So I’ve chosen to forego the traditionally-soppy stuff and instead devote today’s post to him, all about the video games we’ve played together over the past few years.

Street Fighter

After moving to a different part of Essex in 2014, someone overheard me having a conversation in a pub about Street Fighter. He introduced himself as ‘Pete’ and started trying to guess my favourite character; and during a conversation over a couple of drinks, we realised we’d grown up in houses on parallel streets and had moved to the same town as adults but never met before. Not long afterwards we visited The Heart of Gaming, where we went head-to-head on the title and I kicked his butt (there’s a chance he may have let me win).

Alien: Isolation

For our first Christmas evening together, the most festive thing Pete and I did was eat an entire tub of Quality Street. The rest of the night was spent playing Alien: Isolation, creeping around the Sevastopol space station in search of Ellen Ripley – and being unable to make our way past a dark corridor because that damn Xenomorph kept dropping through a vent in the ceiling and onto our heads. In a fashion which has repeated itself with horror games since, he was in charge of the controller while I hid behind a cushion.

Journey

In an effort to introduce them both to the indie side of gaming, I re-installed Journey for my other-half and stepson – and Ethan fell in love with it as soon as we handed the controller over to him. After climbing the snowy mountain and reaching the final cutscene, he said: “So I’m the star… and the next person playing right now will see me in the sky at the start of their game. That’s cool.” Getting that opportunity to show him that video games don’t have to be about violence and the fact that he understood that so well made me very proud.

Guild of Dungeoneering

Pete had never been to a gaming expo before so when Rezzed rolled around in April 2015, I bought him a ticket to go with Ben and I. His favourite game of the show was Guild of Dungeoneering; a strange choice for him because neither of us are particularly into card games. The quirky hand-drawn art-style won him over however and we played this title together for a number of weeks afterwards, and even now he bursts out into song because the catchy theme tune has suddenly popped into his head.

Overcooked!

Ethan really enjoys titles where all three of us can play together so Overcooked! seemed like an obvious choice when it was released in 2016. We haven’t managed to complete it yet though and gaming sessions usually end up with my stepson running around blasting the fire extinguisher; but it’s an awful lot of fun and encourages plenty of yelling. We’ve tried increasing our team to four members by including my mother-in-law when she stays with us – but it usually has hilarious, if disastrous, consequences.

To The Moon

Although it’s not the sort of game he’d usually enjoy, Pete was happy to sit and watch while I played through To The Moon once again last year. He may have teased me a little when the tears started falling towards the end but he could see how much this game meant to me. When it came time to pick the music for our marriage ceremony, Everything’s Alright by Laura Shigihara therefore seemed like the perfect choice for one of the songs; and the piano version we went for left our guests unaware that it was a track from a video game.

The Elder Scrolls Online

If adventuring through the Elder Scrolls lands was fun before, it’s even more fun now having Pete there by my side as explained in a post last week. We’ve been levelling up alongside each other and completing all the quests together; and when a solo one comes up, we’ll wait for our comrade by the exit once we’re done. It’s nice having someone there to explore the world with, celebrate in-game accomplishments with, and trade loot with – and it’s an added bonus that he’s sitting right next to me on the sofa.

A Way Out

Pete has participated in the GameBlast marathon stream with me ever since we met, although the event this year is going to be a little different. The other members of our usual crew will be tied up with spouse’s birthdays and new babies so it’s just the two of us next month! The game I’m most looking forward to playing is A Way Out because I love a good couch-coop – and if both of us have a controller, there’s less chance of us falling asleep. You can find out about our 24-hour stream schedule in this post.



With a new year of gaming ahead of us, hopefully there’ll be many more games Pete and I play together during 2019. Are there any titles you’d recommend for couples and friends; and which releases have you played with your loved-ones? Let me know in comments below so we can share the love this Valentine’s Day.   ❤

GameBlast19: game schedule announced!

Here’s the latest on our plans for GameBlast19, an annual gaming marathon for SpecialEffect. This amazing charity puts fun and inclusion back into the lives of those with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games using a range of technology, making a positive impact on confidence and rehabilitation. Take a look at this update on the SpecialEffect website or click on the link to see all Later Levels’ posts about the event.


Unfortunately I have some upsetting news to share in this update: I’m sorry to announce that my PC sadly passed away shortly before Christmas. We had some good times together over the years and, although I maybe should have shown her a little more attention during the past few months, I loved her like she was one of the family. Her memory will forever live on in the digital lands we explored, the characters we met and the games we played together. May she rest in peace.

Pete, Zelda, cat, PC parts, building

Alright, so it’s not that dramatic and it’s not all bad news. Pete and I had been planning to a upgrading to a new machine anyway and this situation gave us the push we needed to finally get around to doing it. The parts for the new addition to our family arrived a couple of weeks ago and we spent a weekend putting it together, taking slightly longer than expected due to a couple of minor issues. After a bit of tinkering and several cups of tea, we had a new PC that’s going to see us through 24-hours of games for GameBlast19.

‘And what exactly are those games?’, I hear you cry. Well now we can reveal all as the results of the GameBlast Bytes Battle are in! We’ve been asking you lovely lot to vote for the titles you’d like to see us play on Twitch since November, and the winners can be found below.

Date Time Genre Game Votes
Saturday, 23 February 2019 08:00 GMT Platformer Crash Bandicoot 73.91%
11:00 GMT Community Overcooked! 52.63%
14:00 GMT Virtual reality Moss 72.22%
17:00 GMT Action Hellblade 73.91%
20:00 GMT Adventure A Way Out 80.95%
23:00 GMT Horror Until Dawn 58.33%
Sunday, 24 February 2019 02:00 GMT Shooter BioShock 73.68%
05:00 GMT RPG ESO 63.16%
08:00 GMT Stream ends Sleep 100.00%

Over the next few weeks, Pete and I will be running a number of test streams so we can properly set up our equipment so we’re ready for February. Drop in and join us in the chat if you’re free – any feedback on how our microphone and camera are doing would be very much appreciated! I need to finish up J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars after the developer very kindly sent me a bug fix recently, and finally get started on Detroit: Become Human, so I’ve got a couple of games to play through before GameBlast19.

All money raised via our JustGiving page goes directly to SpecialEffect, to enable them to continue their wonderful work and help many more physically-disabled gamers across the UK. We’ve already received a few very kind donations and are already at 10% of our £500 target for the charity, so we’re off to a great start!

Beginner’s guide to indie: part one

If you’re a regular Later Levels visitor, it’s obvious I’m a fan of indie games. Starting up a large RPG can be an incredibly daunting experience when you’re short on spare time due to a hectic job and family. But smaller titles can fit in well with a busy routine, and there’s something nice about being able to complete a game within several sittings before moving onto the next one.

During a recent conversation with Dan from Now is Games, he asked if I’d ever written a guide for gamers who were new to indie releases. It wasn’t something I’d ever considered but it seemed like a good idea – so thanks to Dan for being the inspiration behind this post!

A disclaimer before I launch into my list: this contains only titles I’ve actually played myself and, as pretty obvious from the content on Later Levels, I tend to favour adventures or games with strong narratives. However, I’ve done my best to ensure not every entry is a point-and-click (although there are still a couple) and hopefully everyone will be able to find something that piques their interest. So without further ado, here’s the first part of my beginner’s guide to indie…

Adventures

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller remains one of my favourite point-and-click adventures despite being released back in 2012. It features FBI agent Erica, who has the ability of postcognition, while on her search for her brother’s murderer: the Cain Killer. This is a grown-up murder-mystery and not a game for children, and it’s one of those titles that’s so deserving of a sequel. Come on, Phoenix Online Studios – make it happen!

Are you a fan of harmless smut, very naughty boys and humorous tales of redemption? Then Four Last Things may be just the indie release for you, as it’s almost as if The Secret of Monkey Island had been made in 16th century Flanders by a time-travelling Monty Python fanboy. It’s also worth checking out Joe Richardson earlier adventure, The Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything, even if it’s just for the ‘backflip’ button and cat on the title screen.

Action

The next two titles are ones with amazing soundtracks, so I’d highly recommend checking out the music even if you’re not a fan of action games. First up is Bastion and if you’re looking for a beautiful RPG you can get lost in for several hours, then this may just be the one for you. Sure, it doesn’t provide as much challenge as some other releases out there; but does everything really need to be as difficult as Dark Souls?

Next is Hotline Miami and this isn’t a video game for anyone who’s offended by blood – even the pixelated kind – or gratuitous violence. But if you’re looking for vicious enemies, bullets and action, along with a storyline about taking on the Russian Mafia, then it will prove to be right up your street. It’s actually not my cup-of-tea but it generally receives positive reviews and has made it onto my list for the soundtrack alone.

Couch co-ops

Overcooked is a great game if you’re looking for something to play with the family that doesn’t feature anything inappropriate for the little’uns. Players take on the role of chefs in a kitchen and must work as a team to prepare meals, all while under a time limit to complete as many dishes as possible. It’s a lot harder than it sounds – and be careful you don’t spend too long wondering who on earth designs their cooking station like this.

If you’re looking for something a bit more ‘adult’ however, why not give Quiplash a try. Players give answers to prompts such as ‘the worst thing you could discover in your burrito’ and the audience votes for their favourite. There are no wrong answers but it’s definitely necessary to prepare yourself for some rude ones and jokes at your expense; it’s highly likely that ‘Dad’s bum’ always appears on-screen whenever my stepson is involved in a round.

Exploration games

The year is 1989 and Henry has taken on the role of a Shoshone National Forest fire lookout. Why are the strange things happening to him and supervisor Delilah connected to a mystery from years ago? Firewatch is an awesome-looking game with some of the best writing and voice-acting I’ve ever come across… but it’s probably not one to play if you have a fear of being alone in the wilderness while someone is watching you, however.

Gone Home is another title that probably won’t be for you if you don’t like being alone, but there are no jump-scares here despite the abandoned house you find yourself in front of at the beginning of the game. It’s a beautifully-told story: here is a bittersweet tale about love, loss and sacrifice, and it’s very touchingly and expertly written. You’ll probably have a tear in your eye by the time you reach the end so you might want to keep a box of tissues handy.



That’s it for now, so hopefully I’ve pointed you in the direction of something new to play if you’re not already familiar with indie games. But if your favourite genre didn’t make the list this time, come back for more on Friday when part two will be published.