What's a crow's longest pocket, you ask? It's the pocket that's longer than all the others. What a silly question.
Pocket Monsters - Red Version (GameFreak/Nintendo, 1996, GB)
I got a JP Red cartridge with a Japanese GBC I bought a few months back and the save battery was miraculously still working, so I decided to finally play through the original Gen 1. Despite all the stuff you see online about how different it is from American Red, I honestly don't think I'd have noticed any of the differences aside from the sprites without someone pointing them out. If you've played American Red, you've pretty much played this with fewer bugs and sprites that are usually better. Not always, though - I really like a couple of the original designs and am a little sad that Haunter and Arcanine in particular were changed.
Anyway, it was mostly a good time. My main complaints remain that there's not enough variety in trainer Pokemon, that the movesets are generally almost all from the Pokemon's types, and that the 11 level jump between the strongest wild Pokemon and the weakest E4 Pokemon is ridiculous. Thankfully, there's a somewhat tedious infinite rare candy glitch in this version that greatly speeds up the endgame grind, but it still took almost as long as the rest of the game. Still, it's a Pokemon game. Even if it's a long way from being my favorite in the series, it's a good time.
Time to beat: About 24 hours
MSRP: $10 on 3DS Virtual Console, often under the equivalent of $5 for a real cart
The Forgotten City (Modern Storyteller/Dear Villagers, 2021, PC)
This is very much the sort of game that you want to go into knowing as little about as you possibly can, so I'll keep the details high-level: You're in an ancient Roman city and have been tasked with finding out which of its citizens is planning to break The Golden Rule. No one knows exactly what constitutes breaking it, but anyone doing so will likely result in everyone being killed by a curse.
This has often been the setup for games with interesting mysteries that extend their playtime to about five times what it should be by making you endlessly repeat the same parts of the story until you get everything right, but TFC uses a number of clever tricks to make sure you hardly ever need to do anything more than once unless you want to. It's also almost always very good about giving you enough hints to work with that you always have an idea of what thread to pull on next, and the city is compactly designed to make sure you don't spend too much time just walking between A and B. Add to that some fantastic writing and a remarkable dedication to portraying the time period authentically and you've got something really special. And it all started as a Skyrim mod!
This was really close to being a 100%, but the ending sequence didn't quite fully land with me. That still makes it a must-play if any of this sounds remotely interesting.
Time to beat: 7 hours for all 4 endings
MSRP: $25, but free on Gamepass
Crow Story (Vincent Prom, 2021, PC)
A free platforming game mostly based around momentum and gliding mechanics. It's very short, but there's nothing wrong with that in a free game. Worth a look as long as you're okay with there being a bit of a learning curve on momentum jumps and don't mind replaying variations of levels.
Time to beat: 30 minutes
The Wind and Wilting Blossom (Picklefeet Games, 2020, PC)
FTL by way of a TRPG. What it lacks in innovating in either genre independently it makes up for by combining them in fun ways. Levelling up characters feels more meaningful with this combat system and the quasi-real world setting helps the flow of the story and events. The ukiyo-e style graphics may not be entirely original, but they look great and work better in motion than you might expect.
It won on my third try in easy mode, which mostly reflects the game being less random and having a less unfair final boss than FTL. There are two other difficult levels and loads of characters and loadouts to play with, so I'm not particularly concerned about the difficulty limiting the game's replay value.
Time to beat: 3.5 hours
Vigil: The Longest Night (Glass Heart Games/Neon Doctrine, 2020, PC)
This is a metroidvania/Souls-like that looks like Salt & Sanctuary but, unlike that game, is more parts 'vania than Souls. I've seen some reviews describe it as being as open world as a metroidvania can get, and I'd agree with that - there is an absolutely massive map that almost always has quest objectives in every corner and almost never restricts your exploration beyond what absolutely must be gated by the plot. The task list can be a little overwhelming and at times it isn't clear where you need to go for certain objectives, but most of the time it works great.
It's very easy for this kind of game and I only died twice to one of the final bosses in the playthrough I ended up finishing. That's a fraction of the number of times single bosses killed me in Salt & Sanctuary or Hollow Knight, and anyone looking for something to really test their skills will probably be disappointed even on Hard. Character customization also isn't quite what you'd hope: I stuck with the same equipment for the vast majority of the game and all of the worthwhile skills can be acquired pretty early. On top of all that, it has one of the most impenetrable stories I've yet seen in this genre despite being told directly through dialogue.
I spent a good while thinking that the excellent exploration and boss fights could carry this game near the heights of Hollow Knight, but the flaws become more noticeable the longer you play, and in the end it's an excellent game that nonetheless has quite a lot of room for improvement. I'll be very interested in where Glass Heart goes from here.
Time to beat: 10 hours. Could probably double that for full completion and both endings.