The largest Wholesome Direct dropped a few days ago, and it was the biggest yet. As a franchise of showcases, it is absolutely amazing. I truly love the work this group is putting on display for the wider public. The simple fact is we need more optimistic vibes these days. As such, I implore you, check everything out.
Wholesome Direct demonstrates how diverse a range of experiences can be. There are so many happy things that these games share in common and it’s interesting to see. So let’s look at a few personal highlights and see what they tell us about the bigger picture of wholesome games.
Lake – Escapism and Community
First and foremost, what most people want from a wholesome game is escapism. I’d list what we need to escape from, but we’d be here a long time. The feeling of escaping to a small town is present in some of the biggest wholesome titles ever made. It’s all about dropping the pressure of a big faceless company and shrugging off the drama of a big city that dehumanises you.
Such is the way of Lake. It stars Meredith, a big-shot career woman who returns to her hometown to work as a mail carrier. Like many games of this type, the day-to-day work is a nice little thing to keep things moving. However, the real story seems to unfold in the interactions you have with the various townspeople. People are happy, sad, struggling and everything in between. Whether friendships or romantic relationships blossom is entirely based on how players bring Meredith into the humble lakeside community. Lake is currently slated for a 1 September 2021 release.
KeyWe – Cooperation
Games, as a medium, have an unfair reputation of isolating people. As such, co-op games are going through a revival across both the AAA and indies. All manner of chaotic multiplayer task games has come out of all kinds of studios. The latest iteration is a quirky little title, the debut of dev studio Stonewheat & Sons.
In KeyWe, two players control a pair of kiwis that give a whole new meaning to the phrase “hunt and peck”. Tasks range from typing messages letter by letter, word by word, getting letters into the right slots, affixing postage stamps, and much more busy postage mayhem. It’s the kind of ridiculousness that really helps bring people together. David got a sneak preview of KeyWe’s antics not too long ago if you want to know more. Go postal with Jeff and Debra when KeyWe releases 31 August 2021.
Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan – Empathy
I really think people underestimate how video games can allow you to explore topics safely. There’s an opportunity to put yourself in the shoes of others. With all the talk of how people believe shooters cause violence, there is relatively little talk about how games can make us kinder.
We can connect with a character so different from ourselves, but wholesome titles push it even further. Games like Undertale completely invert the basic concept of enemies in video games. Whilst I think there is no weight in saying violent video games are always bad, it does the medium well to question these norms and expand what video games do. Such seems to be the case of Rainbow Billy.
Manavoid Entertainment’s latest offering has all the super cute Sunday morning cartoon vibes you can desire and an adorable amount of cheese to the story. The titular hero must return the world to its vibrant colours after The Leviathon casts the world into monochrome. Billy must befriend the affected residents by helping them work through their personal issues. It’s just a pleasant game about seeing the problems of others, helping them rather than fighting them. It looks so charming and cuddly; I want a taste of this cotton candy world.
Passpartout 2: The Lost Artist – Creativity
I still credit Dropmix with getting me back into making music, and I am grateful. A good creative game tries out new ways to experiment with your creativity. A new game, one could say, is a blank canvas on which to paint your masterpiece. There are so many that fall into this category even within this presentation. I will at least mention the fantastic abundance of cooking games. Yet, I think it would be a mistake not to mention one of the more well-known titles in the indie sphere is getting a sequel.
Passpartout 2: The Lost Artist is a classic case of an upgraded sequel. Of course, as it stands, there only a single pre-rendered trailer to its name, from the Wholesome Direct. But, a game of this prestige and level of creativity getting a sequel is enough to say it needs to be put on the pinboard.
A Walk with Yiayia – Melancholy
The final flavour of the Wholesome Direct that deserves attention is paradoxically the bittersweet note. There is usually an implication of simple undiluted joy, but you can go full circle on wholesome content.
Perhaps the best example is Spiritfarer, a beautiful game of love and friendship except you and all your friends are already dead. It makes it all the more poignant. The best wholesome games are in some way undercut with hardships, with sacrifices, with loss. One of the games I didn’t list, Hot Pot for One, is explicitly about making comfort food for yourself on a lonely Christmas night. However, the most melancholic game is easily A Walk with Yiayia.
Trent Garlipp introduced this game with his grandmother, on which the game is based. It is a simple game about walking around town with your Yiayia. However, this isn’t just a random meander around town. You are walking with her to regain her confidence after a scary fall. It’s a tiny premise in truth, but the possibilities for the conversations are so deep.
Like so many others, I am terrified of whether we have the emotional resources to help our elders. Are we able to coach them through such a paralysing part of their lives? These are important conversations. The fact that the questions are so scary belies the gravity of their answers. The fact that we ask those questions belies the love we bear for those in our lives. It’s only with understanding how bleak and scary elements of our lives are that we can truly appreciate the random, fleeting, beautiful moments scattered throughout.