A Virtua Vacation: My Top Summer Gaming Destinations

For a hobby that’s secluded me indoors for an indeterminate chunk of my life, video gaming has been oddly synonymous with the summer season. The duet of summertime and gaming has long lulled me in with its siren song. Under its spell, I’ve lost count of the schoolless days spent traversing Arcadia and Vvardenfell; I’ve pored over morsel after morsel of E3 hype; I’ve immersed myself in the bustling spectacle of PAX and other local gaming expos. Following bouts of summer day drinking, my friends and I will often keep the party alive at arcade bars or at my place with Samba de Amigo. Over the years, the medium has begot many of my warmest and fuzziest summertime memories.

And some of them are very fuzzy.

It is in that spirit that I continue to relish in the pastimes of summer gaming. Granted, I’ve grown more cynical over the years and the mass of toxic fandom cesspits, materialistically regurgitated nostalgia, and insatiable hype cycles ring hollower than ever. Still, I’ll take simple joys where I can find them. By wading through several summer-themed and summer-adjacent video games, I’m finding my beach, as they say. Whatever the weather outside — be it heatwaves, wildfire smoke, oppressive humidity, or January in July — I can count on these titles to bring the breezy summer vibes in spades.

At this point, I’ll highlight some of my favorite games to play this sunny season. You can think of this post as an unofficial companion to Oprah Daily’s summer book list or Glamour’s list of summer movies.

Now let this virtual vacation commence…

Beach Spikers

Look. I haven’t written anything for this blog in about a year, and I’m not fully sure I remember how. To ease back into it, I’m just gonna copy and paste some stuff I wrote for a Beach Spikers post last summer…

It’s a bummer that the spirit of the [Olympic] Games are so often diluted by overproduced primetime television broadcasts which play out like emotionally manipulative infomercials and jingoistic highlight reels. There’s also the bribery deals, state-sponsored doping, and the social and economic havoc wreaked on the few cities still willing to host the Games. Further, these challenges are hardly new. Olympic scandals stem all the way back to at least 67AD when the Roman Emperor Nero bribed his way into a chariot race he wasn’t qualified to compete in, lost and nearly died when he biffed it, and then declared himself the winner anyway. And that’s to say nothing of the murder plots he faced from the livid Italians back home. Shit was wild.

From “Soaking up the Sega Summer Vibes with Beach Spikers” | The Virtua Planet

Hmm, so maybe I could’ve chosen an excerpt that was actually about Beach Spikers. My bad.

Beach Spikers is essentially the Virtua Tennis of volleyball, and that’s a wonderful thing. Go play it.

California Games

Yeah, no. California Games is basically the Summer Olympics for beach bums. The title music is literally just “Louie, Louie” and one of the game’s marquee events is hacky sack. It features a handful of sports mini games but the only one I really play is the surfing event. To that end, the Atari Lynx version is delightful and I’ve been enamored with it all week. It’s bodacious.

Belying the depths of its ocean setting, the surfing mechanics are fairly shallow. They’re also absurdly addicting. Each run has me catching waves to build up speed before launching my surfer dude off a Moses-level tidal swell. Then I’ll string together all the 360° spins I can until I’m foiled by my own greed. Inevitably, I’ll attempt one too many rotations and land ass sideways in a glorious wipeout.

And sometimes a seagull flies by to taunt me. He asks if I’m having fun yet…which I am, so joke’s on him.

Uno mas.

OutRun 2 / 2006: Coast 2 Coast

The original OutRun always felt pretty darn summery to me, both thematically and by association. I first played it at a local drive-in joint where the only thing bigger than the plate-sized burgers was the restaurant’s summer energy. It closed about two decades ago and the world has been a drearier place ever since.

…Except for a few weeks each year where they continue to have a booth at the state fair for some reason.

Meanwhile, OutRun’s allure endures. Who doesn’t love cruising the super-scaled coastal highways in a Testarossa and jamming out to “Magical Sound Shower?” Well, me, sorta, but that’s hardly OutRun’s fault. Its only curse is that OutRun 2 exists, which may be the best version of that experience that possibly could.

Released in the aughts, OutRun 2 and its follow up, Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast, are two of the most charismatic racing games I’ve ever played. They build on and amplify the series’ charm through their Tour du Monde of Dutch tulip fields, Californian Redwoods, and Mediterranean villages. It’s a thrill to cruise through the disparate, branching routes, even if the adjacency of their globetrotting locales breaks my brain a little. Intuitive drifting, a remixed Eurobeat soundtrack, and an unlockable medley of Daytona USA 2 and Scud Race courses help round out the immaculate vibes.

There’s really not much else I can say except that the world is a sunnier place with OutRun 2 and Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast in it. Though thanks to global warming, that could also be a coincidence.

Hitman (The World of Assassination Trilogy)

You’d think it’d be enough that the modern Hitman trilogy is the greatest AAA video game franchise today. Most of the series’ locales are infinitely worth revisiting for their incredible spatial design and arresting sense of place, enriched with a robust sandbox for inventive/unpredictable/embarrassing shenanigans. And yet, IO Interactive’s trio of dress-up/murder masterpieces outdo themselves by hosting several of gaming’s most memorable summer escapes.

The Hitman games offer standing invitations to their vibrant virtual destinations. Miami’s speedway is alive with race day festivities, dolphin fountains, and pink flamingo mascots. The Haven Island resort — a tropical getaway in the Maldives — is shady in its clientele, but also in its relaxing cabana bars and groves of palm trees. Then there’s the Argentinian vineyard in Mendoza, with its picturesque winery estate nestled below the dusk-dusted Andes. Each are perfect spots to decompress after a long day of assassination artistry and/or flailing in emergent chaos.

However, when I want to be immersed in gaming’s ultimate vacation destination, you can find me chilling in the Italian coastal village of Sapienza. Modeled after the historic real-world Vernazza in the Chinque Terra, Sapienza is so phenomenally rich and detailed, I feel like I’m saving a ton on airfare whenever I boot up Hitman (2016).

God knows how many hours I’ve whittled away in Sapienza but I find pure, unceasing joy in every nook of its pastel streets, terraces, and town squares. Relaxed, I melt into its riposo vibe like abandoned gelato on the promenade. Curious, I explore its quaint shops, ancient cliffside ruins, and weirdly elaborate church sewers. Mischievous, I take on supplemental missions and wreak Agent 47’s patented havoc on a sci-fi movie set and at a political rally.

And sometimes I dress like Santa Claus and whack the townsfolk with a fish.

Ho Ho Ho! Merry Fishmas!

Sapienza is one of my all-time favorite video game locales, and the joys of inhabiting it were my main inspiration for starting this blog site. 10 out of 10, would recommend. Thank you for reading my TripAdvisor review.

Sonic Adventure

Sonic’s summer snooze cruise.

The original Sonic Adventure has become one of my go-to gaming comfort foods in recent years. Its opening stage — the Emerald Coast — offers a potent hit of summer soul whenever I need it. In the true spirit of the season, I’ll be lazy again and paste the following excerpt from a piece I wrote on the Dreamcast Junkyard a few months back. I think this one is actually relevant:

From “Sonic Adventureland: A Roller Coaster of Love” | The Dreamcast Junkyard
Poor Tails just crashed his plane and Sonic rushes to the scene to…do nothing helpful.

Yakuza 3

Be it family or beach, Kazuma Kiryu lets no vibes go half assed.

It has been over a decade since I’ve played through Yakuza 3 and I just started a new game so I may be going off the cuff a bit on this one. It begins when our boy Kazuma Kiryu — the legendary “Dragon of the Dojima” — escapes the Yakuza life to run a beachside orphanage in the tropical prefecture of Okinawa. Of course, he’s quickly dragged back into the hubbub when a shady resort land deal threatens to displace the orphanage and all the kids who’ve come to depend on him.

Yakuza 3 isn’t always summery, but its laid back island setting offers welcome respite from Kamurocho’s muscle and bustle. When he isn’t going toe-to-toe with a cabal of criminal and political forces, Kiryu savors the reprieve of fishing on the beach and tending to the orphanage with Haruka. He imparts crucial life lessons to the children under his care, but the lessons they teach him are even more valuable.

Throughout his island adventure, Kiryu learns that true strength comes not just from pummeling gangsters with bicycles…

…but also with traffic cones…and punching.

…and the bonds he and his found family forge together.

He also learns how to use a flip phone.

And that’s it. That’s all I can remember.

Wave Race 64

Sometimes a game only needs to do one thing really well to be great. But every once in a while, you get Wave Race 64, a Jet Ski racing game that does most things exceptionally well, and then one other thing so brilliantly, most modern video games cannot even hope to recapture its magic decades later. Of course, I’m alluding to Wave Race’s revolutionary water physics and handling.

I can’t fathom the wizardry the legends at Nintendo EAD had devised, but I’ve never felt more attuned to a racing experience than when I’m bobbing, carving, cresting, and jostling my watercraft through the game’s organically fluid, yet unpredictable wavescapes. It’s perfect to the point that real life water feels less natural, somehow. Infusing that feeling and those physics with the game’s dazzling courses and vibrant aesthetics, Wave Race 64 is an instant recipe for summer vibes.

Today, Wave Race 64 remains wholly unique. For all its design and technical accomplishments, we were never destined to see many games like it. These days, generations of Nintendo consoles come and go without official acknowledgement of its existence, let alone an update or follow up. Was it a dream? Because it still plays like one.

That said, Wave Race 64 continues to hold up so spectacularly well today, it’s probably fine that we never got another one.

That was rude. I’m sorry.
(Blue Storm isn’t that bad, actually)

Hydro Thunder Hurricane

I love the Hydro Thunder series but all this virtual vacationing has tuckered me out. As much as I’d love to ramble on about these awesome games, my brain has run out of juice. They’re pretty neat, though.

Remember when Lake Powell had water?
That was rad.

Well, that’s the list — and those are just the games that I’ve indulged in recently. There are plenty of others I wanted to include but I either haven’t played them in a while (A Short Hike, Super Mario Sunshine, Ridge Racer, Hot Shots/Everybody’s Golf series) or they’re still in my backlog (Abzu, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Vacation Simulator). Then there’re all the ones I’d also recommend but can’t think of anything clever to say about them at the moment (Forza Horizon 5, Windjammers, Sega Rally Championship, Daytona USA, Sonic R, Lake, Pokémon Snap, Ooblets, Breath of the Wild, DecAthlete/Athlete Kings, basically any baseball video game, etc. etc.) — Oh, well. Gotta save some fun for next time.

In the meantime, thanks for taking the time to read this. Also, let me know if you have any fond summer game memories or any favorite titles you’d recommend. I’m always looking for more excuses to keep the sunny spirits flowing.

Anything to avoid going outside.

Stay cool, fools!

– Brian (@VirtuaSchlub on Twitter)

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