Happy… summer… I guess. Let’s talk about games that remind us of summer, that are best enjoyed in summer, and that give us those summer vibes we crave.
What games do you most associate with summer?
Melissa Brinks: Kingdom Hearts 2! I don’t know if it came out in summer, or if I first played it in summer, or if the overall feel of the wonderful friendships in Twilight Town gave me the impression of summer, but the moment I wrote this question I knew what my answer would be. The soft, warm lighting, the repeated mentions of sea-salt ice cream, and the feeling of the world being promising with no obligations and a lot of time to spend with friends just screams summer to me.
Nola Pfau: I don’t know that I associate particular games with summer? I wasn’t a very big gamer until the latter half of my teens, and I’d moved up to Washington by that point. Summer is legally the only time you’re allowed to go outside in WA, so I didn’t really play a lot of games during that time. They were always a fall/winter solace.
Emily Durham: This might be a weird one, but… Mafia. In middle school and high school, my friends and I would go on summertime forays into the woods and sit in a circle on fallen trees and play Mafia (or Werewolf, depending on how dark we wanted our theming to be). Group bluffing games really put me in that summer hangout frame of mind. So nowadays, board games or group games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf or Secret Hitler really remind me of those summer Mafia days.
…Also Mario Kart.
Cole Henry: Growing up forced to play sports meant that my summers were often spent sweating on some field while counting down the minutes until I could get home and hang out with my friends. Yet oddly enough, the game that reminds me most of summer is NBA Street Vol. 2—an arcade basketball game that never left my GameCube. My friends and I would play it day in and day out, only ever taking breaks to go swim in the creek in my parents’ backyard (ew) or to walk to Taco Bell. Just thinking about that game brings to mind July evenings where summer showers afforded a thick humidity to settle in all across Georgia.
Naseem Jamnia: Ooooh, Emily, you just brought back memories of being a kid in the Chicago Park District’s summer day camp, where we played games like Mafia all the time. I suppose that’s not what I associate with summer games now, though… I have two answers for this question: games that I historically have played over the summer (Wind Waker, the Dragon Age trilogy, Persona 5 and now Royal), and games that make me think of summer. The latter tend to be games you can play with friends, actually. Magic, for example, or, for me and my friends right now, the no-longer-made Warcraft card game.
Melissa: Ooh, Mafia is a great one! I have so many fond memories of playing that with large groups at camp or youth group or whatever weird communal thing I ended up doing with friends during the summer.
Maddi Butler: The last time I went to the beach with my family, I took my PlayStation and played games instead of sweating and frying into a crisp on the beach. I played both Nier: Automata and The Witcher 3, and I’m always going to associate those with summer. (And because they both have white-haired protagonists, my grandfather thought Geralt, 2B, and 9S were related.)
What games do you think are best-suited to playing in summer?
Melissa: It’s not necessarily best-suited, but D&D always reminds me of summer—my friends gathered around the table, windows open because of the heat, all of us whining about wanting food but it being too hot to cook. Even if we’re always playing on weekend days, gathering together with a group to play a game always gives me that sought-after “summer vacation” vibe I don’t usually get as an adult.
Nola: That’s true, I think TTRPGs are definitely the thing that give me that vibe the most. Sometimes we’ll take actual games along camping, like Munchkin or whatnot; stuff that lets us sort of enjoy that camaraderie without struggling with a mass of loose papers in the form of character sheets.
Emily: Man, Monster Prom really strikes me as a good summer game. Even though you’re playing as high schoolers actively attending high school, it’s so lighthearted and funny in a way that I definitely associate with summer. Just the carefree associations I have with high school breaks—even if high school itself kind of sucked. Listen: once I graduated high school, “summer” became more of a temperature and less of an idle time for hanging out with friends, so if I’m being honest, most of my summer game associations are less about the games themselves and more about the feeling of being surrounded by friends and having a good time.
Cole: This is a hard question! Part of me wants to say that any game with a tropical setting is a good fit for summer, but I know where my heart lies. Couch co-op games, any of them, are perfect summer games, but to really specify I’m just going to say Pandemic’s Star Wars Battlefront 2 is the perfect summer title. It is both very fun to play huddled around a TV with friends and fun to play alone at two in the morning stuffing handfuls of Goldfish (the cheddar snack, not the fish) into your mouth. Summer is the season of gaming and snacking—do not let anyone convince you otherwise!
Naseem: I’m gonna second Monster Prom and TTRPGs! Since I’m still (somehow) an academic, summer always makes me think “yessss no school let’s ignore my summer homework and PLAY GAMES!!!!!” (Even though I do have work I should be doing…) And since games are always fun with friends, anything that allows me to hang with them is dope. My friends and I might be starting a new 5e campaign (probably without my spouse, who is a TTRPG snob and hates D&D combat), but in the meantime, we’ll be continuing with our Dragon Age tabletop campaign, which is filling my need for Dragon Age now that I’m done with the trilogy.
Maddi: For whatever reason, I always seem to play AAA games during the summer. Maybe like Naseem I just associate summer with “no school!” even though I haven’t been in school for a few years. Or maybe I’m feeling the same pull people feel for the summer blockbuster—there’s an element of spectacle to it all as opposed to the often cozier (for me, at least) nature of indie games. The past couple of years I’ve played various entries in the Final Fantasy series. This year I’m finally planning to play God of War.
In our current, uncertain situation, where many people remain isolated, what games are bringing you that summery vibe? Any recommendations for people who need an escape right now?
Emily: I’ve been playing a lot of Horizon Zero Dawn lately, and while it’s not giving me beach-time sunshine relaxing vacation vibes, it is giving me beautiful vistas and long backpacking trip vibes. I’ve been missing the outdoors, since summer is usually the time of the year when I have the time and energy (and weather) to justify going on big camping trips, so the “hiking” I get to do in Horizon Zero Dawn is (sort of) scratching my travel itch.
Nola: Honestly, D&D and Pathfinder, when I’m not actively risking myself in the pandemic to protest instead. Like Melissa said above, it just really creates that togetherness feeling, that carefree vibe of hanging out with friends.
Emily: Yeah, that too. I’ve been playing a Monsterhearts campaign with my tabletop group for a couple years now, and transitioning to playing TTRPGs like Monsterhearts online (although tbh that transition happened awhile before COVID-19 hit because someone moved to New York, Zora [Editor’s note: 😎]) has been getting me through all the coronavirus bullshit. If you have some folks you can wrangle to play TTRPGs with you online, it’s a great way to pass time and feel connected to others in this seemingly infinite isolation hell-year.
Also, here’s another coronavirus-specific recommendation: tabletopia.com is an awesome online board gaming platform that’s pretty much a cross between Tabletop Simulator and Board Game Arena in terms of UI learning curve, and it has an amazing number of games that you can play with your friends. I’m really loving Wingspan right now, and 7 Wonders is an old standby. Really, it just feels great to be able to play a dang board game with a group of friends, even if it is from a distance.
Cole: Sea of Thieves has been one of my most played games since lockdown started, and it is also a great summer game. Nothing says summer like swashbuckling on the high seas, and the community platform can be as intense or chill as you want it to be. Using it as a means to just hang out virtually with a few friends has been so perfect right now, and while this summer will assuredly be spent practicing social distancing and lockdown, messing around in Sea of Thieves will genuinely feel like a vacation. It is just an absolute blast and one of the few multiplayer games that you and your friends define, rather than being locked into a few specific modes of play.
Lastly, Skate 3 is always my go-to feel-good recommendation. It is an endlessly fun game that imagines a city as a skater utopia!
Naseem: I’m surprised no one has said it, even though the craze seems to be dying down a little, but Animal Crossing is great for this—you’re on a beautiful island (or a trash island; who am I to judge) and you can chill with your friends there in a way you can’t IRL! But if you’re past that hill and want to jump into something new, I think this is prime time to launch into long games you can really throw yourself into, like… wait for it as absolutely zero people are surprised by this rec… Persona 5. Or Royal, actually, which is even better (somehow!!!) than the original.
Melissa: I recently started playing Overcooked with my husband in super short sessions. The weather here has been all over the place, temperature-wise, but Overcooked is cheerful and bright, and getting to play with my husband rather than just in his vicinity is giving me that fun, easy summer vibe I’d usually be getting from going out to eat or having a backyard barbecue with my friends. Now I made myself sad that I’m not doing those things, which is itself a whole 2020 mood.
Also, yes, agreed, D&D. I miss seeing my friends a lot, but getting to holler and roast one another virtually is giving me the rowdy summer feeling I’m missing right now, even if it’s not quite the same. Even if you haven’t played a TTRPG before, I think now’s a great time to start, and getting things wrong is half the fun. Ask my friends about their five-player, no-healer pro strat.
Maddi: Final Fantasy X is a perfect summer game. It’s bright and cheerful (I mean until it’s tragic, it’s still a Final Fantasy game), the soundtrack is amazing, and if you can’t go to a beach right now Final Fantasy X brings the beach to you. There’s also XV, if you’re more into a road trip than a beach vacation! Or if you’re looking for something on the shorter side, Wide Ocean Big Jacket is a super heartfelt game about a camping trip that plays in about an hour.
Madison Butler writes about advertising by day and about video games the rest of the time. She can usually be found crying about Final Fantasy and Nier: Automata on Twitter @madisonrbutler.