Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
It’s been a couple years since Until Dawn, Supermassive’s cabin-in-the-woods horror game, first let players experience the fun of playing mercurial director, deciding who lives and who dies in a stereotypical cinematic setup. And while it earned its fair share of criticism for the stock characters and cookie-cutter writing, I enjoyed the way it toyed with those same conventions, allowing the player’s knowledge of horror tropes to help shape the game, giving you the option to be either earnest stand-in for the characters or sadistic strategist, playing God (and havoc) with the lives of the largely unlikeable cast. (Peter Stormare’s demented psychologist interstitials accounted for a large part of that fun, as he analyzed you in between hours of the game and chewed scenery with glee.)
But recently, my significant other and I have discovered by far a more enjoyable way to play Until Dawn: as a multiplayer melee. Following the advice of this Kotaku article, we divided the eight characters evenly between us—making sure to separate Sam and Mike, the two avatars who get the most screen time—and both committed to a single plan: Keep our own characters alive for as long as possible. Of course, this immediately opens the game up to a whole new world of competitive trickery and friendly backstabbing, as we do our best to sabotage each other’s horny young protagonists while making sure ours get through it in one piece, or at least with a minimum of body parts broken and/or severed. Not only that, but playing the long game is key, we’ve realized. Get too bloodthirsty too quickly, and someone who might play a role in keeping another of your people alive in a subsequent situation may not be there to draw fire. Playing it as a multiplayer, passing the controller back and forth as we try to survive the night up on the mountain with as many of our people intact as possible, has made for great fun, letting us each play both the noble hero and the sinister schemer simultaneously.
Best of all, it’s really come as close as any game I know to what makes the communal experience of watching a slasher movie with other people so much fun. The glee comes from being able to roll your eyes together at the idiotic would-be heroes, groaning as they make dumb decisions or childish statements, and ultimately being the ones responsible for their lives, shouting out advice (both helpful and intentionally not so much) at each other while the night unfolds. And honestly, getting to see their sessions with Peter Stormare—as they in turn witness mine—has been arguably the most entertaining of all, as we submit real-time responses to his digital psychoanalysis and watch the game adjust accordingly. That meta level of silliness, combined with the long-form strategy, has made it a go-to Friday night treat for us. We’re already looking forward to inviting two more people to join in and spread the character control even thinner.
The Elder Scrolls: Legends
I tried to play Hearthstone right after it came out on iOS, but as someone with no particular fondness for the Warcraft universe, I got sick of it almost immediately. That experience didn’t stop me from jumping in when I saw Elder Scrolls: Legends was out on iPhone, and I’m already enjoying Bethesda’s take on the digital card game thing a lot more than I liked Blizzard’s. The game is mechanically similar to Hearthstone, outside of specific abilities and a two-lane battle system, but it turns out that I actually do have a particular fondness for the Elder Scrolls universe—even more so than I would’ve thought.
I’ve been playing Elder Scrolls games since I was a kid who had no idea what to do in Daggerfall, and I really like getting a new card or deck that’s based around a character or monster I actually recognize. Hearing Paarthurnax the dragon give a mighty roar whenever I play his card in Legends is definitely cool, so now I totally get it when Warcraft fans gets a kick out of seeing a card for Slugdork The Orc or whatever in Hearthstone. Also, I should be ashamed of this but, I actually laughed out loud the first time I saw the card inspired by Skyrim’s most famous meme. The game is a heartless battery-killer and it has to reload everything whenever you leave the app, but so far it seems cool enough for me to put up with those minor annoyances.
Mr. Driller: Drill Till You Drop
Never having owned a PlayStation or Dreamcast, Namco’s Mr. Driller is one of those series that completely passed me by. I’ve always had some passing knowledge of its delightful neon visuals and bizarre narrative connections to Dig Dug (yes, the Dig Dug guy, whose official name is Taizo Hori, is the father of the Mr. Driller guy, who’s name is actually Susumu Hori, not Mr. Driller) but I never played it. I was reading about it recently and decided to pick up the best readily available version, Mr. Driller: Drill Till You Drop, which was released on Nintendo’s forgotten DSiWare service back in 2010. (There’s also a version on iOS, but there’s no way I’m messing with touch controls for this.) For a measly $5 you can still buy the game and play it on a 3DS, and it’s about as good an introduction to the series as you can get.
In all iterations, Mr. Driller is about digging to the bottom of a massive hole, dodging the colorful blocks you left behind as they fall, and collecting air canisters along the way. There’s a color-matching element as well, as a single shot from your drill will eliminate any blocks of the same hue that are touching your target. Falling blocks will stop in mid-air to merge with their like-colored brethren, with groups of four or more disappearing automatically. And that’s pretty much the entire game. It’s hard as hell and I’m terrible at it, but I’m utterly addicted. One benefit of nabbing Drill Till You Drop is that once I get half-way decent at the normal beat-the-clock arcade mode, I can move on to Dristone, a more puzzle-like mode where your oxygen meter depletes by 1 percent with every block you drill and you have access to special items with all kinds of helpful effects. Dristone has been a beloved part of the series since early on, but for whatever reason, it was cut from every American release other than Drill Till You Drop.