Summer Games

Summer is slowly approaching. In May, warm days still descend to chill, but that will slide up soon until the sound of the cicadas in the still air will permeate in certain parts of the Country. Heat waves will rise off parking lots. Sun hats and summer dresses and flip flops will appear. I used to hate this weather. I love it now because some of my fondest memories mingle with Summer.

Some of my favorite games, too, evoke the warm months. I don't just mean Marco Polo, or Kick the Can, or Slip N Slide, or a day at the water park. Those are all good ones, but sometimes, oddly, it's video games that really prepare me for Summer.

I have such sensitive skin that I must severely limit my sun exposure on hotter days. Sometimes I have to stay in. On some days, sitting in a cool interior while playing the games that evoke the hottest of days and the warmest of seasons, gives me a lot of joy. There are a few - from the 8-bit era to the Present Day - that especially evoke the hottest of days. Playing these games stokes my passion for putting the controller down and getting outside and jumping in the nearest ocean or lake.

T&C Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage
NES, 1988 (LJN)

The circa-1988 graphics of T&C Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage evoke that sense of being out at the beach boardwalk better than any of its current generation successors. Sure, the game is just a simplistic surf and skate simulator. Sure, there is something kind of odd about a surfing gorilla and a skateboarding tiki man. T&C still manages to turn a cluster of pixels into the foamy crest of a wave, and takes an assembly of heavy processed 8-bit tunes and evokes Dick Dale. I play this game and I feel the sun on on the back of my neck and the salty slap of the water as I bail out on my board, again and again.

Super Mario Sunshine
Gamecube, 2002 (Nintendo EAD)

The bright grey, green and yellow colors of this game's Isle Defino are deliberately processed to look sun bleached and washed out. Constantly immersing your on-screen avatar - in this case, Mario - into a cool pool of water is not only invited, it's required. You must wear a backpack full of salty ocean water, which you can replenish at will and either spray on walls or people or graffiti, or tilt down and use to hover above the ground on a strong stream of water. It's an almost ceaselessly consistent representation of Summertime in a game I've ever seen. In fact, this lack of deviation from the theme is at best bold, and at worst, boring.

ATV Offroad Fury
2001, PS2 (Rainbow Studios)

Rainbow Studios loves Summertime. Fury was the first, and arguably the best, in a long string of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) racing simulators released for the Playstation 2 console back in the early aughts. You needn't race to enjoy this one. In fact, I spent most of my time in 'free mode,' riding around a massive landscape in search of hills to jump and climb.  Ride under a string of electrical towers and they buzz like a hive of angry bees. The land not only looks parched and desolate, but the static graphics make the air look still. Riding the landscape, with nothing but the angry growl of the motor, I thought of countless days I'd hiked through the afternoon, and that weary, rested and hungry feeling I had as evening sets in. To this day, I look out over real electrical towers on the scorched hillsides around the valley and I think of this one.

Wetrix/Aqua Aqua
Dreamcast, 2000 (Xicat Interactive); PS2, 2001(Zed Two)

Aqua Aqua is the sequel to Wetrix, and aside from some thematic changes, there are identical. You control a flat square of land, which tilts as you angle a unit of land from above and aim it onto the landscape. With the land, you can make mountains and valleys. Soon, water begins falling from the sky as well, and as it hits the surface, it disperses. You must aim the water into the valleys you have created from the falling land, or else the water will seep over the edge and you will very quickly lose the game. Making things worse is the ever-present 'Earthquake' meter, which fills up far to easily, upon which a massive temblor pocks the slice of land with holds and rivulets, quickly ending your game if you don't have nerves of steel.

Harvest Moon / Alice Greenfingers / Rune Factory / Farmville
1996 - 2011 (Marvelous / Arcade Lab / Neverland / Zynga)

Why so many games lumped together? It's safe to say, that aside from the game-changing social functionality of Zynga's crop simulator, that these games appeal to the same exact crevice in the brain that whispers 'I must cultivate that last valuable row of eggplants so I can upgrade my simple white fences to electrical charged ones.' Crop simulators have been around for a long time, and while they all take place through changing seasons, there is something Summer-y about cultivating crops. I grew up aside a pretty awesome cornfield, which still happens to be there, and I recall walking with the family through the grounds on hot Summer days, and seeing the tall corn and walking by what looked like an aluminum well, which sloshed water along the ground and down through the field.

Banjo Kazooie - Click Clock Wood
N64, 1998 (Rare)

I've saved my sentimental favorite for last. While the eclectic style of this classic platformer covers a range of terrain and season, the level 'Click Clock Wood' is at the top of my Summer game list, due to it's multi-season conceit. Enter the level in either Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter. The Summer level, in particular, not only evokes walking through golden fields and hearing the crunch of weeds under your feet, but the music is a breezy, daytime jaunt sung by bees! Water pools are shadow and dried out, and hungry birds scavenge for worms. It's also a game that I cut my teeth on while braving a particularly warm summer!


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