In recent years, we’ve seen an influx of self-proclaimed “cozy games,” video games explicitly designed to invoke good vibes. Being cozy, however, isn’t the same as being good. To help those who could use some help winding down, we’ve rounded up a selection of games that purposefully deemphasize fail states, violence, overwhelming grinds, intense competition and other aggressive urges, but aren’t overly cute for the sake of it or so stripped-down that they’re boring.
Apart from being one of our favorite couch co-op games, the farming life sim Stardew Valley is also notable for its relaxing qualities. It’s a game that’s willing to meet you at your pace: If you want to putter around your farm, casually chat up townsfolk, brew beer or fish for a few hours, you can. (On the flipside, if you want to turn your land into a model of ruthless efficiency as soon as possible, the experience will be more overwhelming, and the story will have a darker undercurrent.) It all starts a bit slow, but there’s no external force rushing you, and the game’s trajectory of progress always points upward. It’s an alternate little life, one that gives you the choice to take it easy.
Buy for: Switch, PS4, Xbox, PC
Length: 90 hours
Tetris Effect is, in essence, a prettier version of the falling-block puzzle game that has compelled the globe since the mid-’80s. Its spacey pop soundtrack and themed boards have an ethereal, almost spiritual quality, one that fits neatly with the trance-like condition Tetris can induce. (This helps explain where the title comes from.)
To be clear, Tetris is not the most relaxing game in the abstract. The way it makes you scramble to fix your past decisions is part of its magic, and several modes in Tetris Effect specifically thrive on stress. Others, however, are explicitly designed to tap into the game’s zen aspects. “Chill Marathon,” for one, simply resets your score upon failure instead of giving you a game over. And since Tetris itself comes as second-nature to an unusually large amount of people, we’ll make an exception for it here. It can be difficult, but even in failure, Tetris Effect induces a mind-freeing state like few games can.
Buy for: Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC, Meta Quest
Dorfromantik is a puzzle game in which you lay down tiles to create an idyllic countryside. The tiles come in distinct types: forests, fields, rivers, railroads, little houses and so on. The idea is to chain similar pieces together, and the game will give you little “quests” to connect a certain number of matching tiles to grow your overall stack. Since you can only see a few tiles at once, exactly what your landscape looks like differs from game to game.
The need to keep gaining tiles creates a contingent sort of pressure, but even still, Dorfromantik is a game that encourages slowness. There’s no time limit, and no way to even really “win.” You’re led to consider each piece, look at the land and see how it all fits. When the tiles run out, you’ve usually created a beautiful little scene. And if you just want to build a landscape without any restrictions, there’s a separate mode for that.
A Short Hike
A Short Hike is a lovely little adventure game that is completely in tune with itself. You play as Claire, a young bird in a world of anthropomorphic animals, who is staying in a small yet bustling provincial park. Something is weighing on her, and she needs to make a phone call, but the only place with cellular reception is the top of the mountain at the park’s center. Your only real objective in the two-hour game is to get her there.
There is a conventional core to A Short Hike that involves doing light fetch quests for other park-goers and collecting golden feathers to climb higher and double-jump more. But most of these tasks are straightforward, and it quickly becomes apparent that you can (literally) soar around most of the park as you please, taking in the sights and interacting with the other park visitors as they go about their lives. Apart from simply feeling nice, this freedom ties beautifully into the game’s themes: That mountain is calling, but you don’t have to climb it right away. When you do, the world will still be there for you to explore.
Buy for: Switch, PS4, Xbox, PC
Length: 2 hours
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is an adorable puzzle-platformer from Nintendo that has you navigate a series of contained, diorama-like levels, each with a gold star at its end. It’s technically a spin-off of the Super Mario games, but here, you can’t jump. Instead, you need to explore the game’s densely-packed spaces from new angles, shifting the camera to find hidden pathways and bonus treasures.
The whole thing is neither overlong nor super difficult, but it is determined, in that delightful Nintendo way, to constantly hit you with new ideas, each as playful and meticulous as the last. While it doesn’t reach the creative heights of the best Mario games — some of which were developed by the same team — it is similarly amiable and more easygoing.
Buy for: Switch
Length: 11 hours
Desert Golfing is exactly what its title says and nothing more. There is a ball, a hole, and some procedurally generated desert land in between. That’s it. No par, no club selection, no music, no items, no pause menu, no restarts, not even a physical avatar. Only dragging a cursor back to determine the next shot’s angle and power, and an attempt to get A to B. Once you do, a new hole appears, and you go on, infinitely. (The game technically has an “ending,” but may God have mercy on anyone who plays long enough to see it.)
Desert Golfing reads as overly simple on paper, and sure, it makes sense as a sneaky critique of time-sucking, player-debasing mobile games. Actually playing it, though, borders on meditative. The game’s radical minimalism makes everything and nothing matter all at once. There’s a shot counter at the top, but it’s functionally meaningless, merely signifying how long you’ve played. You may spend 60 shots on one hole, but there’s no invisible eye judging you. Instead, you’re allowed to focus entirely on the simple pleasure of arcing a ball through the air, seeing it kick up sand and eventually making it plonk in the hole. It’s about the act of play more than the rules of a game: golfing, not golf. And when something new does pop up — a well of water, a setting sun, a cactus — it feels momentous.
Much like Desert Golfing, The Ramp is a successful experiment in minimalism. It’s a skateboarding game, but its approach is a far cry from the Tony Hawk series. It doesn’t burden you with high scores, skill points, objectives, camera adjustments or a HUD, and it respects you enough to unlock all of its courses and characters after a brief tutorial.
While it takes a moment to get the hang of its controls, The Ramp excels at conveying the joy of motion and momentum in vert skating, from launching at speed, to that brief moment of weightlessness in the sky, to the rush of gravity pulling you back down. There’s a handful of tricks to pull off, some chill music to help set the tone, and no real penalty for biffing it.
The Ramp doesn’t have much “depth” by conventional gaming standards; its developer describes it as a “digital toy,” which sounds about right. But what it does, it does well, and it’s uncompromising in its focus.
Euro Truck Simulator 2
Euro Truck Simulator 2 lets you drive a bunch of big trucks across a condensed version of Europe, delivering cargo and eventually growing your own trucking business. It’s a simulator, not a GTA game, so you’re expected to follow traffic laws, refuel your vehicle and complete your deliveries on time with as little damage as possible.
It doesn’t have the gentlest learning curve, and its management elements aren’t as interesting as the actual trucking. But Euro Truck Simulator2’s pleasures are similar to those of real-life driving: cruising down a long road, tapping your thumb to the radio, checking out the scenery, going where the route takes you. You’ll get there when you get there. As an aside: All of this is most fun with a wheel, but one isn’t required.
Wide Ocean Big Jacket
There’s been no shortage of easy-to-play “walking simulators” in recent years, but Wide Ocean Big Jacket stands out among them for telling a particularly warm short story. It’s crudely animated and maybe an hour long, but it develops more identifiable and human characters in that time than most big-budget games do in 30 hours.
The story follows the camping trip of a young couple, Brad and Cloanne, their 13-year-old niece Mord and her friend Ben, and the subsequent lessons they learn about love and each other. It has the air of an indie comedy: a little quirky, funny but not mean-spirited, honest but not long-winded, and moving when it’s time to bring the story home. Its world isn’t ending, and there’s no combat. It’s a game about these characters in this specific moment, and it’s presented like a series of memories, something its bold colors amplify.
The game’s approach to interactivity plays a big role in selling all of this. Instead of merely controlling a specific character, you’re often in charge of the camera, a sort of director role that brings you closer to each scene but distances you, the player, from the action (or what qualifies as action in this case).
Buy for: Switch, PC
Length: 1 hour
Hidden Folks is like a digital take on those Where’s Waldo? puzzle books you might’ve had as a kid. It presents you with a series of living scenes, each brimming with detail and micro-narratives. You get a set of things to uncover, and once you find enough, you can move to the next stage. The monochrome art is hand-drawn, and all the sound effects derive from people’s voices. It’s cute, intimate and often funny.
Trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack may get frustrating if you’re in the wrong headspace, but this is a game that demands you slow down and be patient. There’s no rush; nobody on the screen is going anywhere.
Buy for: Switch, PC, iOS, Android
Length: 6 hours
You know those oddly satisfying YouTube videos of people deep-cleaning rugs, driveways, old electronics and the like? PowerWash Simulator is the video game version of those. You take on a range of power washing jobs around the town of “Muckingham,” slowly but steadily erasing the grime from various objects in each gig. There’s no time limit or score to meet, and each dirty thing has a corresponding progress bar to complete.
There’s more meat to PowerWash Simulator than you might expect: You can earn money to spend on upgraded power washing equipment, and there’s a narrative mode that goes places, literally and metaphorically. It probably doesn’t need to do quite as much as it does, but PowerWash Simulator’s pleasures are layered: the immediate satisfaction of making dirty things pristine, and the larger one of systematically “working” toward a job well done.
Buy for: Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC
Length: 43 hours
Unpacking is a stripped-down puzzler about unpacking boxes. You methodically work your way through each collection of knick-knacks, placing them around different rooms in a sequence of homes. The game is nearly wordless, but it manages to tell a story almost entirely through its isometric environments: The boxes you unpack all belong to the same character, and each move takes place in a different year of their life. This, combined with the pixelated visuals, gives the game a vaguely wistful tone.
Unpacking is still a puzzle game, so it’ll make items glow red until you put them in a “correct” location. This feels like a misstep: If I want to leave my bookbag off to the side of my bed and just be done with things, why can’t I? Isn’t moving messy? Still, even if Unpacking is a bit too gamified, there’s a quiet catharsis to its fantasy of putting everything in its right place. If nothing else, it’s far less stressful than moving in real life.
Buy for: Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC
Length: 4 hours
Please, Touch the Artwork
Please, Touch the Artwork is a set of three earnest puzzle games, each inspired by abstract art. The specifics of the games differ: One has you mechanically recreate Mondrian-style paintings, another turns Broadway Boogie Woogie into a little love story, and the third reframes New York City as a metaphor for adjusting to life in, well, a big new city. Only the first can get particularly difficult, but the game tells you right upfront that it’s made to be a low-stress experience, with no timers, and hints and redo buttons there if you need them.
What intrigues about Please, Touch the Artwork isn’t what it says about De Stijl and abstract art (as if such works could ever be “solved”). Rather, it’s what it conveys about the experience of taking in art itself, and how close it brings you to the lone developer (Thomas Waterzooi) behind the game. The whole project has an intensely personal feel, like peering into someone’s brain and seeing how this kind of art speaks to them. Some may see that as unbearably pretentious, but even on a mechanical level, Please, Touch the Artwork is welcoming, bold and sincere.
Buy for: Switch, PC, iOS, Android
Length: 4 hours
Zen Bound 2
Like most games on this list, Zen Bound 2 has a simple premise: You get a rope and a series of 3D sculptures, and your goal is to wrap the rope around each sculpture until it’s covered completely, coating it with paint in the process. The sculptures themselves can be more difficult than they first seem, however, with many hidden gaps and sharp angles.
Playing Zen Bound 2 demands slow contemplation, almost like meditating on the object you’re binding. This, in turn, may lead you to reflect on the physical nuances of the things you tie yourself to in real life. But even if that sounds pompous, just know that Zen Bound 2 offers a thoughtful way to zone out.
Buy for: Switch, PC
Length: 8 hours
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-relaxing-video-games-140048572.html?src=rss
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