The Short Stack #1: Spirited away
Welcome to The Short Stack, a casual new format where we can chat about games, what we're watching and which tech has got us talking
Hello, Shortizens! I’m testing a new nickname for you all, so bear with me until something sticks. (Shortcut Crew? Shor-ciety? We’ll get there.)
I’m also experimenting with a different format today where I ditch the daily rigors of trying to please Google’s SEO algorithms to write something a little more… personal. (Don’t worry, I’m scared, too.) 😱
Welcome to The Short Stack, a place where Matt and I will discuss the latest video game industry news, tell you about a cool Netflix series we’re watching, or simply muse about any tech we’ve recently acquired.
I want The Short Stack to feel like we’re having a catch-up over coffee or whatever beverage fits this analogy best for you. There’s a local jazz musician playing in the corner; someone’s reading a leather-bound book; it’s all very chill. ☕
Anyway, I stumbled across a fantastic little game last night. It’s called Spiritfarer, and my partner has been raving about it since she completed it on Switch many moons ago. The good news is that it’s been on Xbox Game Pass for a while now, and it’s even heading to mobile via Netflix games “soon”. 🤷
In Spiritfarer, you play a young girl called Stella who’s tasked with ferrying the deceased to the afterlife. That sounds rather bleak, dark even, but it’s an incredibly heartwarming game that gripped me with its charming presentation and satisfying gameplay. You’ll need to care for the spirits you take on board – feed them, hug them, complete various relaxing tasks – and build up your vessel until it resembles something out of Howl’s Moving Castle. More importantly, though, you need to learn how to say goodbye. 👋
I’m dreading when I’ll have to bid my anthropomorphic friends a forever farewell, but if I do end up having a big ugly cry at some point – and it will be ugly – Spiritfarer seems like it will have at least earned my tears. It’ll also secure a coveted place on my list of games that have made me weep. In my three decades of playing video games, only two entries have made this list – Ghost of Tsushima and Klonoa: Door to Phantomile. Yeah, I don’t know why those two games got the waterworks going, but there you go. 😅
Dark days 💔
What’s really helped me click with Spiritfarer is that it’s precisely the type of palate-cleansing experience I’ve been craving for the past few months. There’s nothing quite like it – how many cozy management games about dying can you name? I’ll wait. ⌛
Spiritfarer has also served as a timely reminder of why I haven’t canceled my Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription – it’s an amazing discovery platform. Without Game Pass, I wouldn’t have tried half as many genres or independent titles. The fact there are no barriers to entry is incredibly liberating. There’s no harm in trying something and moving on if it doesn’t spark joy.
That’s crucial for me, as I tend to end up in a rut with my gaming tastes. I have a habit of revisiting the same handful of titles ad nauseam, a similar problem that led me to cancel Spotify in favor of YouTube Premium. This problem is exacerbated by the fact many of my comfort food games revolve around competitive online play. Halo Infinite, FIFA 22, Rocket League, and even Fall Guys all pit me against online strangers in a battle to find out who’s best.
That’s fine when I’m in a healthy headspace and can separate losing online with some harmless fun. Still, sometimes my brain will twist it into a damning statement on my character and life choices. (I’m aware of how ridiculous that sounds, but that’s where my thoughts end up when I’m in that mindset; self-flagellating all because my stupidly dressed bean failed to make it through an obstacle course in Fall Guys.) 😖
When I’m in this rain cloud of a mood, trying to conjure up the necessary enthusiasm to give anything remotely new half a chance can be infuriatingly difficult, if not impossible. My desire to play a game can even dwindle during the download process, which means I end up with a hard drive full of stuff to enjoy but with zero impetus to actually boot things up. 😤
But I may have found a novel way to circumvent this, and it’s how I got hooked on Spirtfarer in the first place. 👇
Cloudy with a chance of games ☁️
Before falling into the above trap of downloading a game and then deciding against it, I gave Xbox Cloud Gaming a try. I’ve had mixed results with it in the past, but you can start playing a game almost instantaneously if it’s on the cloud, and Spiritfarer is one of the many compatible games. 👀
Playing games via Microsoft’s cloud solution isn’t perfect, but it’s improved drastically since its launch. For starters, every game now uses Xbox Series X hardware, not Xbox One S, so overall performance is far superior. Image quality was more than acceptable during my playtime, albeit a little softer and more washed out than if I was playing a game natively on my Xbox Series X. Audio was rock-solid, too, with no popping or dropouts – an issue I’ve frequently encountered in the past. 🤞
Before I knew it, I’d sunk enough time into Spiritfarer that a handy pop-up appeared asking if I wanted to download the game. And because I could jump in, no download required, I was hooked on the game’s simple management mechanics, beautiful soundtrack, and unique art style. I was pleasantly surprised by how seamless it all was.
Microsoft is banking on Xbox Cloud Gaming taking off, particularly as new Samsung TVs will have a native client built-in. You won’t need to own an Xbox console – just a compatible Bluetooth controller. As a supplementary service, it’s hugely overlooked, and it’s an area I will explore more in the future. 🕵️
Having the flexibility to play practically wherever I want (connection permitting) and without waiting clearly resonates with my impatient brain. Whether I’m playing on an Xbox console, an Edge browser, or on my phone, I think Xbox Cloud Gaming is becoming less of a “nice to have” and more of a compelling reason to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
‘till next time, Shortizens. (I promise we’ll settle on something better.) 🙏
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