Here’s something you don’t need to be reminded of: finals are right around the corner. And if you’re anything like us, you’re on the lookout for anything that will take the edge off in the midst of all the "productivity." To save you the trouble (and the brain power), we’ve compiled a list of the best calming and soothing video games out there. So next time you’ve got a moment of free time, stop wallowing in a pit of anxiety and term papers, and start giving your brain a much needed reboot.
There’s a reason that some snobbery-inclined gamers don’t consider mobile games to be “real” video games: the accessibility of mobile game publishing allows a lot of sub-par content to be pushed to the top of your app store searches. Of course, there are many thoughtfully designed exceptions, a stand out among them being Monument Valley.
If the aesthetics of this pastel-hued Escher-esque puzzle game aren’t enough to draw you in, then the deliberate (but seemingly effortless) puzzles certainly will. Monument Valley uses forced perspective to make its levels both mind-bending and surprisingly accessible. The level difficulty ramps up elegantly, and the controls are so simple that they never need to be explained. In tandem with the clean visuals, the sound design is beautiful enough to actually get you to pause your music while you play on the train. With a four dollar price tag, Monument Valley is the least expensive game on our list, and also the easiest to acquire, given that you most likely already own the hardware required to play. So even if you’ve never considered yourself a “gamer,” Monument Valley is well worth your time.
Before you say it, we know: it might not be the best idea to play such a notoriously addictive game during finals. But while Stardew Valley might be the game most likely to make you forget about the concept of time, the mechanics that make it so habit-forming also make it one of the most zen-inducing games out there.
There’s something about Stardew Valley that separates its gameplay from the repetitive and soul-crushing harvesting loops of so many other farming management games. Its allure could come from the game’s idyllic vision of small-town life, the enticing goal of building your own perfectly personalized dream-ranch, or the satisfying gameplay loops. But there’s no doubt that what really makes Stardew Valley perfectly charming is the huge amount of personality that’s been woven into its pixel populace. Relationships with the townspeople, both friendly and romantic, develop over time in a very manageable and comforting way. It makes it easy to pretend that you really could just run off into the countryside and find a town where everyone knows your name. Just make sure that you don’t get so swept away that you forget what you were taking a break from in the first place.
Is a game that simulates an actual, real-life job not enough of an escape for you? Well hold your horses – and maybe get rid of them – because we still have two games left, and neither require you to manage a farm.
Both Journey and ABZU focus all their gameplay on two things: a singular satisfying mechanic and a beautiful story told through that mechanic. The games each feature a silent explorer who elegantly navigates an unfamiliar environment while discovering the secrets of an ancient culture lost to time. Journey lets you play as a small humanoid creature who can fly in short bursts using a magical scarf. ABZU has you explore a flooded world as an android who gives new life to decimated coral reefs. Both are closer to walking simulators than traditional winnable/loseable games, but the incredible experiences they offer still feel personal and impactful, even if you can’t actually affect the outcome.
With no dialogue and no on-screen text, these two games communicate their stories entirely through sound, music, mechanics, and stunning visual displays. They allow you to explore, discover, and delight in the environment entirely on your own time. They also achieve previously unheard of feats, such as removing the stress from underwater levels and making inverted controls feel intuitive (ABZU), or creating an online multiplayer experience that is graceful, heartwarming, and completely void of toxicity (Journey).
Both games take about an hour and a half to finish, and are best enjoyed when played in one sitting. So next time you find yourself having read the same paragraph three times in a row without remembering a word of it, take a break and escape into one of these stunning stories.