How Nintendo Saved My Housebound Holiday

This year has been, if nothing else, at least consistent. Unfortunately, said consistency came most often in the twin forms of anxiety and isolation. I had assumed that now, during this most joyous holiday season, my family might finally get some small respite from 2020’s lingering coronavirus drama, but, alas, I was mistaken.

Instead, that narrow window between Thanksgiving and Christmas has offered only more of the same. For us, that meant some medical close calls—although at present we are all healthy and COVID negative—as well as a slow advance back up the phases of our county’s coronavirus protocol.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but we continue to make do, thanks in no small part to a well-worn selection of self-care options tempered in the crucible of the 2020 trash fire.

Nintendo to the Rescue

The Nintendo Switch is, hands down, our family’s MVP for 2020. It allowed us to connect with each other and the wider world during a lengthy lockdown, and it gave us each a myriad of more private worlds, from madcap to meditative, to escape into when times got particularly trying.

When Nintendo recently sent out our “Year in Review” messages, I was not even remotely surprised to see that I’d logged nearly 900 hours of cumulative playtime across more than 100 different titles. (With Borderlands, Animal Crossing, and The Witcher at the top of the heap.) However, as my household transitioned from a sweltering summer to a blustery fall and, finally, a somber winter, our list of go-to games and activities has changed somewhat.

Here is a look at our current favorites—some brand new and a few perennial picks—that continue to keep our spirits up as we navigate the toughest year in recent memory.

Multiplayer Family Fun

We have, for the most part, migrated to Nintendo Switch Lite systems from the original Switch, but there are still a number of titles that remind us why we hold onto our dear Joy-Cons. One series that keeps us running back to these motion-enabled controllers is Just Dance.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone whose look falls somewhere between “oddly non-threatening biker” and “the littlest lumberjack,” I am not much for a dancer. I am, however, the father of a teenage girl, so shaking my groove thing is never entirely off the table.

While not quite as far-reaching an experience as the previous 2020 release, Just Dance 2021 is another solid entry in the fan-favorite rhythm game franchise. With 40 new dance tracks—the bread and butter of the property—as well as various multiplayer modes, smartphone support (in case you don’t have enough Joy-Cons to go around), and a one-month free trial of the Just Dance Unlimited service included, it still has a lot to offer.

It turns out the one thing that doesn’t change in a global pandemic is shared custody, so, when the kids and I can’t cut a rug in the living room listening to Lizzo, we can still rely on our longtime favorite Animal Crossing: New Horizons to bring us together—even from afar.

While the recent winter update isn’t as exciting as the pumpkin-heavy fall update, we are all enjoying trudging across snow-covered islands, catching snowflakes, and preparing for this week’s Toy Day celebration.

Even in a house full of longtime Animal Crossing aficionados, it’s almost impossible for me to overstate how important New Horizons has become to us over the last year. In a world that (still) feels largely out of control, it provides each of us a much-needed space where we can cultivate a little quiet normalcy. I mean, aside from the odd late-night specter or shipwrecked pirate.

Good-Natured Competition

If my daughter reigns supreme in Just Dance, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is where her older brother shines. While we’ve long enjoyed the title’s couch co-op, we recently picked up a second copy so that he can continue to mercilessly destroy his father even when we’re not in the same house.

Despite its 2018 release date, Nintendo’s ongoing support (not to mention that if its rabid fanbase) continues to make Ultimate a premiere Nintendo Switch experience—no matter how you choose to play it.

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Officially hitting the roster this week, Sephiroth arrives just in time for the annual Christmas throwdown.

A much newer addition to the Switch library is PC phenomenon Among Us. It landed on the eShop the very same day it was announced, December 15, and I immediately picked up a copy for each of us. With support for 4-10 players online or via local Wi-Fi, it’s the perfect spontaneous purchase for its slim $5 price tag.

Work with fellow crew members to root out the dangerous imposter in your midst. Or, as the imposter, do everything in your power to turn those foolish crew members against each other as you sabotage their vessel and pick them off one by one.

Either way, it’s an incredible gameplay experience worthy of all the recent hype.

Real-World Interaction

Despite a flurry of more recent releases, a title we’ve circled back to is Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. While lots of other mixed reality toys-to-life series quickly fell by the wayside, this unique AR racer still manages to satisfy.

Setting up and customizing waypoint gates makes for limitless fun as you create your own Mario Kart courses around your home, with hidden shortcuts and real-world obstacles spicing things up even more. My only warning—which I’ll repeat from my earlier review—is to beware of your house pets.

They may not appreciate the game in quite the same way you do.

While not a Switch title itself, LEGO Super Mario has a similar slant; you can craft real-world LEGO constructions in the style of Super Mario Bros.‘s levels and take your own brick Mario through endless coin-collecting adventures.

A sensor in Mario’s feet recognizes the codes on various enemies and environmental hazards, providing all the music, sound effects, and dialog you’d expect from an SMB title. My family has had tons of fun building and rebuilding coin-runs, battling Bowser Junior, and even just giggling madly as Mario reacts to the red lava bricks. (Ok, admittedly, I was the only one giggling at Mario’s toasted tootsies.) 

Motion Gaming for Physical Fitness

While gaming with the family has kept my mind sharp and my spirits up, that hasn’t exactly warded off the quarantine pounds. I tried to stay on top of Ring Fit Adventures, but after a while, it became obvious that I needed a new and different challenge. Enter Fitness Boxing 2: Rhythm & Exercise.

The sequel to last year’s Fitness Boxing adds a robust two-player mode and the ability to turn off specific boxing moves. Plus, you can bring your save data over from the previous game to help continue your health and fitness adventure.

You can customize your trainer and your workout, all while participating in rhythm-based workouts to a pounding pop soundtrack. Best of all, it’s available on your schedule, which is more than I can say for our local gyms. 

Review and promotional materials provided by Nintendo of America, most of which arrived in a special family game night kit at what I can only describe as the perfect time. This post contains affiliate links. Yellow is sus.

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Z. is a proud father of two, Managing Editor of the GeekDad blog, a multiple Parsec award-winning podcaster, and a lover of nerd music and culture. At this moment, he is likely thinking about clothes or playing video games. Possibly both.

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