|17 relaxing video games to help you destress
|Posted by: Engadget on Dec 29th, 2023 3:00 PM
Recent years have brought an influx of self-proclaimed “cozy games,” video games explicitly designed to invoke good vibes. That said, being cozy isn’t the same as being good. To aid those who'd like some help winding down after a long day, we’ve rounded up a few chill games that strike the right balance: ones 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. Here are some of the best relaxing games you can play on your Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, PC or smartphone.
Apart from being one of the best couch co-op games, the farming life sim Stardew Valley is famous for its relaxing qualities. It’s a calming game that’s willing to meet you at your pace: If you want to putter around your farm, chat up townsfolk, brew beer or fish for a few hours, you can. (On the flip side, you could also try to turn your land into a model of ruthless efficiency as soon as possible, though the experience will feel more overwhelming as a result.) The game takes a little bit to get going, but there’s no external force rushing you, and its trajectory of progress always points upward. It’s an alternate little life, one that gives you the choice to take it easy.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons might be the most obvious selection on this list, but it’s no accident that this was the game that blew up when the pandemic hijacked modern life in 2020. It’s just about the platonic ideal of the capital-R Relaxing Video Game, a nonviolent escapist fantasy with no fail state, no overwrought narrative and constant progression. It broadly tasks you with developing a deserted island as you see fit. You plant flowers, catch bugs, pave pathways, talk with your animal buddy neighbors, collect a million things and generally hang out.
Everything passes in real time, so sometimes you have to wait to complete whatever little task you had in mind. On the surface, much of what you do is comically unremarkable. (You don’t save kingdoms, but you can buy furniture.) But, like Stardew Valley, the slowness and mundanity is what sells the whole thing. It points toward some of life’s little pleasures — watching things grow, getting to know others, seeing what a new day brings — and gives you a space to enjoy them, at least in some fashion.
Jusant is a quiet, soulful game about rock climbing. The setup is simple: There’s a rocky monolith that stretches up to the clouds; you’re a young person who sets out to climb it. Along the way, you see artifacts of civilizations that once inhabited the tower. There is a story, a somber yet ultimately hopeful tale of environmental ruin, but it’s told through leftover notes and considered set design instead of hacky dialogue. The game's spirit is reminiscent of Journey, another calming yet contemplative title that takes big thematic swings, though it plays very differently.
Jusant works because of its control scheme. Each hand is mapped to a trigger button, so you clasp and release along with your character to move. A generous rope and a set of pitons help you navigate between handholds before your stamina meter runs out. The game is more of a vertical platformer than a sim — there’s only ever one correct path to take — but playing Jusant is strikingly physical. This encourages you to consider each move before you make it, to recognize that you must work with the world to progress, not idly breeze through it. None of it is particularly difficult, as there’s no combat and no way to actually die if you screw up. The latter may be Jusant’s biggest flaw, but it frees you to focus on the climb, bit by bit.
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 soundtrack and themed boards give it an ethereal, almost spiritual quality, one that fits neatly with the trance-like condition Tetris can induce. (This helps explain the title.)
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. Since Tetris comes as second-nature to an unusually large amount of people, we’re making an exception for it here. It can be difficult but, even in failure, Tetris Effect induces a mind-freeing state like few games can.
Dorfromantik is a puzzle game in which you lay down tiles to create an idyllic countryside. Those tiles come in distinct types: forests, fields, rivers, railroads, little houses and so on. The idea is to chain similar pieces together and complete little “quests” to grow your overall stack. Since you can only see a few tiles at once, exactly what your landscape looks like will differ 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 and going at your own pace. There’s no time limit and no way to 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. If you just want to build a landscape without any restrictions, there’s a separate mode for that as well.
A Short Hike is a lovely little adventure game that's 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 required objective across the two-hour runtime 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.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is an adorable puzzle-platformer 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 multiplayer 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.
Desert Golfing is exactly what it says on the tin, 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 an 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 God bless anyone who plays long enough to see it.)
Desert Golfing reads as overly simple on paper, and 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 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.
It takes a moment to get the hang of the controls, but 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. It isn't the “deepest” game by conventional standards; its developer describes it as a “digital toy,” which sounds about right. But what The Ramp does, it does well — and it’s uncompromising in its focus.
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 sim, not a Grand Theft Auto game, so you’re expected to follow traffic laws, refuel your vehicle and complete deliveries on time with as little damage as possible, as you would in reality. It's most fun with a racing wheel, but you certainly don't need one.
Euro Truck Simulator 2 doesn’t have the gentlest learning curve, and its management elements aren’t as interesting as the actual trucking, but its 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.
Art of Rally is a stylish, mostly-top-down racing game with a terrific synthwave soundtrack. Its handling model sits somewhere between sim and arcade racers: It’s not as intricate as Gran Turismo, but there’s a tangible heft to the toylike cars as you slide them through the game’s vivid, low-poly landscapes. The game's playful career mode guides you through different rally car groups, while a free roam mode and online challenges add extra flavor. You can race for top leaderboard times if you want a challenge, but a generous set of assist and difficulty options allow you to make the driving as accessible as needed.
Like many games on this list, Art of Rally is defined by what it omits as much as what it features: There’s no driving line, no overcomplicated HUD, no photorealistic environments, no co-driver and no lyrics in the music — just your car, a timer and a winding road. It organically invites you to enter the zone, that semi-conscious state that quiets the world and leaves you in tune with a digital body. As the name says, it’s concerned with the art of rally more than rally itself. The former is much easier to sink into.
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 can in 50 to 100 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 that as well: Instead of merely controlling a specific character, you’re usually behind the camera, in a sort of director role. This lets you participate and engage deeper with each scene despite having little influence on how the story's events play out.
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.
You know those oddly satisfying YouTube videos of people deep-cleaning rugs, driveways and old electronics? PowerWash Simulator is like 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 with each gig. There’s no time limit or score to meet, and each dirty thing has a corresponding progress bar to fill out.
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 the game's pleasures are layered: the immediate gratification of making a dirty thing pristine, and the larger satisfaction of systematically “working” toward a job well done.
Unpacking is a stripped-down puzzler about unpacking boxes. You methodically work your way through collections 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? But 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.
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 difficult, but the game tells you right upfront that it’s made to be a low-stress experience: There are no timers, and you can readily access hints and a redo button whenever you want.
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.
Like most games in our guide, Zen Bound 2 has a simple premise: You must wrap a rope around a series of 3D structures until they're covered completely, coating each 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 demands slow contemplation, as if you're meditating on the object you’re binding. It's enough to make you 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.This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-relaxing-video-games-140048572.html?src=rss
See Original Article At Engadget
View More Headlines