Sometimes I just play games to relax. I'm sure you can relate. It's like my brain turns off and my thumbs work all on their own; meanwhile my ears are listening to a podcast. Any podcast. A comedy podcast. A gaming podcast. Another true crime podcast biting on Serial's style. Sometimes, I just play a game so I have an excuse to do something else while listening to a podcast. Sometimes I just play a game to mindlessly unwind.
2017 was a great year for these sorts of experiences. There were a lot of great time sinking games. Whether you were really into FIFA 18 or cruising along quiet highways of the latest New Mexico expansion in American Truck Simulator, there's never been a better time for podcast games. For me in particular, these were my favorites.
Love Nikki Dress-Up Queen
Love Nikki Dress-Up Queen is the most addictive mobile game I've ever played. Out of all the games I've played this year, I wish Love Nikki had a time counter of some sort. I need to know the probably hundreds of hours I've spent with it since it launched in May 2017. I need to see this unhealthy obsession in tangible numbers that will disgust me and make Siri become sentient and delete it off my phone for my own good. My days open and close with Love Nikki glued to my eyeballs. And over half a year later, I still can't seem to quit it.
Love Nikki Dress-Up Queen is a mobile dress-'em-up game. It's gotten a lot of comparisons to the Style Savvy series, a long-running Japanese dress-up series for the Nintendo 3DS and DS. But unlike Style Savvy, Love Nikki goes where most dress-up games haven't gone before. It has a quest structure, complete with chapters, where you style outfits to fit specific and sometimes extremely bonkers themes. Once I was tasked with wearing clothes appropriate for chasing after a criminal; another time I was set to abandon my feminine whims to dress like another dude.
More than anything, Love Nikki Dress-Up Queen stole my attention away this year, and somehow, I've still never dropped a dime on it. Oh, the pleasures of free-to-play games, and the lost hours we spend playing them.
Destiny 2 is no doubt a flawed game. Its endgame progression grinds incentive to actually play to a complete halt. A lot of its guns just feel like reskins rather than something excitingly new. There's a lot in Destiny 2 that just feels incomplete, or poorly designed overall. And yet for most of the fall season, I couldn't stop playing it. And neither could my friends for a time.
While the endgame gripes and general concerns from its large player base is very real, I already feel like I've gotten my $60 worth out of the game from its launch, and then some. Destiny 2 became the game I solely played with friends; at least the ones who I wasn't already playing PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds with. Destiny 2 became a great podcast game too. I enjoyed blasting across its colorful worlds doing patrols, looting Lost Sectors, taking part in Public Events.
My coworker Mike Williams and I once talked about this too, during a recent USgamer Lunch Hour stream of the game's latest expansion Curse of Osiris. Destiny 2 is sort of like an active chatroom: you shoot, you loot, and you don't have to actively think much about it. And it feels good while you're shooting too. In that way, it was maybe the most podcast game of all the podcast games of 2017. Here's to hoping Bungie finally fixes that endgame in the New Year to bring me back.
Gravity Rush 2
I bounced in and out of Gravity Rush 2 throughout 2017. It was mostly because I kept having to delete it from my PlayStation 4 to make space for other games, but then as always, the itch to fly (or rather, fall) across Jirga Para Lhao would sneak up on me. Even if Gravity Rush 2 has one of the best (and most underrated) scores of the year, composed by Kohei Tanaka of Sakura Wars and One Piece fame, I'd find myself lowering the volume sometimes as I ran through side quests.
Whether Kat was power sliding on the sides of skyscrapers to deliver newspapers, or if she was plummeting to the dense houseboat-islands below the city, there was almost always a podcast chatting softly from my laptop. Considering that the sheer depth of exploring Gravity Rush 2's open world was about 99 percent of its fun, it made for an ideal podcast-tuning game.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
Imagine the following sentence in an extremely Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood voice: I've abandoned my campsite. Yes, dear reader, in only mere weeks since Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp's launch, I've shuffled the game into my "games" folder on my phone, where it will probably collect dust until the end of time.
I have a complicated relationship with the mobile game. While I did enjoy my time with it, I fell off it as I do most mobile free-to-play games. But it wasn't because I hit some arbitrary wall or anything; I just felt like there was nothing worthwhile I was working towards after I got a sick half-pipe.
Yet for just a couple weeks, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp dominated my free time. I had all the best villagers living in my campsite, turning lamps on and off for no discernible reason. I had K.K. Slider there too, who I hope will never stand from his stool ever again. While playing it, I listened to things. Music. Podcasts. Movies my partner was watching and I was too lazy to actually pay attention to. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was the ideal mobile game in a period where I was taking a minor break from Love Nikki Dress-Up Queen. Though when I fell off, I clamored back to the dress-up game like it was an old coat that had come back in style.
I know I said that Love Nikki Dress-Up Queen is probably my most played game of the year, but I still don't know the exact metrics for that. Whereas with Splatoon 2, Nintendo's sequel to the squid-kid multiplayer shooter, I've played "135 hours or more" at the time of writing this. While I definitely waned in the months after launch, wherein I owned all the gear and had my favorites all perfectly geared with abilities, recently I've fallen back into its bath of ink (thanks to a new update).
Splatoon 2, as with Gravity Rush 2, also has great music. But sometimes, I don't need to hear it. Sometimes I kick my feet up on my bed with my Switch portably in my palms. Sometimes I just play a podcast while I'm inking the turf I know so well. Splatoon 2 was really the first game that I truly utliized with the Switch in all its glory, aside from doing something similar for my Arms review (even if I've hardly played the game since). I podcast-gamed from bed, from the couch, from my desk with the flimsy kickstand propped back. Splatoon 2 is the sort of game designed to be played wherever, whenever thanks to its breezy three-minute battles. In 2017, it was my comfort food game because of that.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
I'm not far into Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Yet, as the game's been rolling out layers upon layers of its seemingly complex battle system, I've found myself playing it while listening to other things anyways. Just over last weekend, I was catching up on the teen drama Riverdale, with the extremely anime Xenoblade Chronicles 2 between my hands from the same seat.
While not quite podcasting, it served the same exact purpose: my ears were concentrated elsewhere, while my eyes and hands were lasered onto the hybrid-portable Switch. I think of all the podcast-games I've adored this year, the majority of my most-played seem to come in portable forms, whether they're mobile or on the Switch. Maybe that's the future of solid podcast-abiding games: like a podcast, they're games you can conceivably take anywhere on-the-go. And that's a wonderful thing.
What were your favorite games you played to unwind while you listened to music or podcasts to this year? Let us know in the comments!