The Garden

A blog by Marijn van Hoorn

I can't stop playing Hades

Marijn van Hoorn
The title screen of ‘Hades’.

I have found myself unable to finish anything today; if this post is rough around the edges, that'll be why; i'm pushing myself to just get the damn thing down on paper. “If i had more time, i would have made it shorter.”

I am not much a fan of video games. I don't have any opposition to video gaming as a medium, but whereas i will enjoy upward of 80% of all the film or music i consume, it is vastly less likely that i will enjoy any given video game i purchase enough to play it to completion. Maybe it's just that games necessarily require a greater time investment than other media: an album or a film can be comfortably consumed in a single sitting, but a good game takes days, weeks, or even months to complete, depending on how much free time one has.

It's not surprising, then, that — discounting multiplayer games where the main fun to be had is the group of friends you play with, and the Pokémon games i devoured as a child — there are only a few titles on my PC that i can comfortably say i enjoy enough to come back to again and again.

There are some notable ommissions out of the games in my library. Baba is You's mechanics are fun, but the puzzles require obtuse moon logic that i just couldn't wrap my head around. Cuphead was a pain in the ass. Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV are widely renowned within my online circle of friends, and although staring at a map for too long is entirely my idea of a good time, i'm just not cut out for the sort of attentive thinking and strategising they require. Finally, but probably most famously, Undertale is a game i got into entirely too late, and i just couldn't justify continuing to play to myself, given i already knew how the entire story went via osmosis.

I would also like to provide an honourable mention to a few games which i won't elaborate upon for no fault of their own. Universe Sandbox and Space Engine are great fun to play around in, but i would hesitate to call them “video games” in the traditional sense. I enjoy Human: Fall Flat but also have literally nothing to say about it. Not for Broadcast and Papers, Please are excellent, but they're a lot more difficult to jump in and out of, hence why i've slacked off on completing them.

So, excepting all the above, there remain just three titles in the highest echelons of games i unapologetically and absolutely love.

A screenshot of a city built in ‘Cities: Skylines’.

I have been entranced for months on end by building my own miniature metropoleis in Cities: Skylines (Colossal Order, 12015); playing in sandbox mode, usually, without a care in the world for monetary or other concerns. I've always been a nerd for public transit and such things, so its inclusion here is completely unsurprising to anyone who knows me well. Unfortunately, an update and botched mod installation broke almost all of my saves a few months ago, which seems to have killed my enthusiasm for coming back. Sorry, Skylines. It's not you, it's me.

A screenshot of a city built in ‘Minecraft’; to the left is skyscrapers, in the middle is a modest housing estate, and on the right is a Greek-style temple.

Minecraft (Mojang, 12009) is the best-selling video game of all time. It needs no introduction, and if you were alive in the 12010s you're probably as hopelessly addicted to it as i am. There are two main ways i enjoy it these days. Usually, i play in creätive mode with friends on small, private servers with literal years of history, builds, and folklore. One server tends towards building vast cities and towns, all with their own distinct styles. Another is more anarchic; though it remains organised into clusters of towns, there are more spread out and anarchic builds than the tightly-packed houses of its counterpart. I love them both the same, and on both i've become known as the main architect of intricate, wide-spanning transport systems; it seems to run in the blood, as every other British person in the community has also been accused of being a “rail dictator”. (We're still recovering from the trauma of the Beeching Axe; this is our way of coping as a nation.) I prefer survival mode as a singular endeavour; this isn't because of an antipathy towards the idea, rather, it's because i had an early traumatic encounter with the (frankly a little horrifying) squid mob, and prefer to use command blocks to keep them at bay.

A screenshot from the game ‘Celeste’.

The last title on the list is Celeste (Maddy Thorson / EXOK, 12018), which i picked up as part of Itch.io's Racial Justice Bundle back in June. I bought it because, even though i knew full well i'd likely end up never playing it, it was only 5 quid and it was going to a good cause, so what was the harm?

Anyway, then i started playing and couldn't stop. Celeste is a goddamn delight to play; the controls are buttery-smooth, the graphics are gorgeously rendered, the story is touching and just as present as it needs to be (and no more), and the stages are challenging, but — and this is key — not bullshit.

The game teaches you how to play as it gets more difficult; the difficulty isn't just throwing unfair puzzles or enemies at you just because, it's legitimately more difficult than the previous stages, and you can tell. You'll come back to a level later on and then wonder how on earth you ever found it difficult. The deaths are quick, too; no game over screens, no buttons, you just die and you're back in action to try again. I beat it on assist mode (no shame!), but god damn it, you bet your ass i went back and 100%'ed that thing on regular mode once i was confident. The soundtrack, too, is just lush, and— you know what, i'm going to stop myself there, because this post is about a different game entirely. Suffice to say i go back and try to speedrun it a lot. Moving on…

A screenshot from the game ‘Hades’.

I had nothing better to do in self-isolation, and i'd heard good things about it, so a few days ago i decided to get Hades (Supergiant, 12020), an action RPG where you play as Zagreusα — here depicted as son of Haides — trying to fight his way out of the underworld. It wasn't my usual fare; if my memory hasn't gone demented, it was actually the first Rogue-like i'd ever played. I'm usually terrible at combat in games… and yet, the second my hands got into position on mouse and keyboard, i couldn't let go.

Dionysos, as depicted in ‘Hades’.

The game's interpretation of the underworld is lavishly rendered; each character has their own custom art, quirks, personality, and even voice acting, even if the British accents are of dubious quality. The core gameplay loop feels great; you pick a weapon at the start and just go to town on hordes of enemies, picking up collectibles used to level up and unique God-boons along the way. (The game's interpretations of the Gods are charming; the team at Supergiant have done at least enough work to go beyond the usual “Zeus horny xdxdxdddddd”, and even primordial Chaos gets a look in as a granter of powerful buffs that come at a cost.) I'm not even halfway finished (i don't think), but it just feels so good to play that i have no qualms in placing it in the same league as Celeste and Minecraft.

I might not be a fan of video games, but i'll be damned if buying them isn't worth getting the occasional gem like the above.