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NPR's favorite video games for newcomers

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

All right, you all. We are headed into the weekend, and I can give you an idea of something I might be doing.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME SOUND EFFECTS)

SUMMERS: NPR recently polled staff and contributors about their favorite games. And now, James Mastromarino joins us to talk about what made the cut. He edits and contributes to NPR's gaming coverage. Hey, James.

JAMES MASTROMARINO, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: All right. I have to confess, I'm a big fan of this list. And I'm excited to compare notes with you about some of the games that we've both loved. So why don't you start by giving us one of the highlights?

MASTROMARINO: Well, if you've got a Nintendo Switch, NPR staff really loved Kirby And The Forgotten Land. You play as this pink puffball, Kirby. He just turned 30, by the way. His first game came out in 1992. And his signature move is that he can inhale and consume enemies to gain their abilities. But in this new game, he can even possess inanimate objects left behind in this post-apocalyptic world. Now, if it wasn't so cute, that might sound like a horror movie premise, but here's how our own Alba Karuni put it.

ALBA KARUNI, BYLINE: In this new game, you can use mouthful mode to transform Kirby into a car, vending machine, traffic cone, etc. It's a lot of fun, and it's really adorable.

MASTROMARINO: And I'll add that it's also great with two players. My wife and I played the whole game together. And when we were done, we gave it to my 6-year-old nephew, Ollie, and he just adores it.

OLLIE: I like fighting this palm tree monster. I'm using this ability - the purple fire.

SUMMERS: (Laughter) The purple fire. It is a little crazy to think that Kirby and I are around the same age. I cannot believe that Kirby has been around for 30 years. All right. So that is Kirby And The Forgotten Land. But I have heard that there is another post-apocalyptic game on this list that I have been really excited about. It's Stray, and it is about a cat wandering around a robot dystopia. I know why I love this game, but, James, why don't you tell us more about it?

MASTROMARINO: Yeah. So you're right. We've got another kind of gentle, post-apocalyptic setting here. Stray just came out last week, and it had the whole internet gushing over its feline protagonist. Here's how contributor Keller Gordon put it.

KELLER GORDON, BYLINE: You're just a cat - a resourceful, ridiculously cute orange cat looking for a way home. You find yourself in Dead City, a city filled with trash and neon signs and robots. Luckily, you're not alone in the dark. These robots are friendly, and they are quick to offer a helping hand as you slink, meow and scratch your way towards solving an ancient mystery.

MASTROMARINO: Now Stray is out on PlayStation and PC, and it's the most realistic cat simulator/adventure game I've ever played. And even if you're not a cat person, you'll probably fall for it.

SUMMERS: I am absolutely not a cat person, and I can attest to it. This game is so fun and well made. James, we have sadly come to the end. But I have to ask you, if you're someone who doesn't own a gaming console or a handheld, is there a game you'd recommend that plays well on a laptop?

MASTROMARINO: Yeah, a game called Norco really jumps to mind. It's more like an interactive graphic novel than anything else. It's set in a near-future in the greater New Orleans area. It's another game with sentient robots. And if you're sensing a trend, Norco is also apocalyptic, but in the sense that it feels visionary, even mystical. It has really arresting imagery. And it's about an America that's falling apart. And the contributor who wrote about Norco talked about how it evoked the American South he grew up in in all of its beauty and contradictions and how it still feels wholly modern to play.

SUMMERS: All right, this one seems totally up my alley. I've got to check it out.

MASTROMARINO: Oh, you have to.

SUMMERS: Those are three new video games recommended by NPR, all accessible to new gamers. That's Norco, Stray and Kirby And The Forgotten Land. James Mastromarino edited and contributed to the full list, which you can read now on npr.org. James, thank you for this.

MASTROMARINO: Thank you, Juana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

James Perkins Mastromarino
James Perkins Mastromarino is Here & Now's Washington, D.C.-based producer. He works with NPR's newsroom on a daily whirlwind of topics that range from Congress to TV dramas to outer space. Mastromarino also edits NPR's Join the Game and reports on gaming for daily shows like All Things Considered and Morning Edition.
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