It’s no use pretending things aren’t a little scary right now, and chances are that no matter where you live, you’re being somewhat affected by quarantines and event cancellations. As someone who deals with a hefty amount of anxiety at times like these, I’ve actually been sitting on this list for awhile, and now seems like a great time to dust it off. Afterall, games are a great way to socialize, have fun, and get some stress relief. So how about some good games to play when you just want some comfy, low-key relaxation?
So while a lot of us are spending more time inside, and facing sparse calendars, here are some of my favourite indie games that are great to pick up after a stressful day at work, during lulls in thesis-writing, or on a rainy, lazy Sunday with plenty of time to spare. You won’t find heavy combat, stressful challenges, or unwelcoming difficulty spikes here!
Puzzle With Your Friends (Skycat Games)
If you like jigsaw puzzles, this game will be right up your alley – and you won’t have to protect pieces from dark corners or curious kitties! Puzzle With Your Friends offers up 19 unique puzzles featuring gorgeous art from various indie games. While there is a timer, your time doesn’t run out, meaning that you can relax and take it at your own pace (I don’t think I’ve ever met a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast that didn’t get up and walk away here and there, leaving their progress for just a little bit later). Feeling like a challenge? There are also leaderboards where you can compete to beat top completion times!
Unfortunately, puzzle pieces aren’t randomized, so there is some limit to immediate replayability, but with a relaxing soundtrack and its come-and-go atmosphere, this is probably one of the most relaxing games I’ve ever played. The best part? You can co-op with a friend as well! There are options for challenging or working together. It’s a great way to spend a calm morning with a friend, or alone.
Find it on: PC, Mac, Linux
Stardew Valley (ConcernedApe)
Stardew Valley is pretty well-known by now, so it’s likely you’ve at least heard of it, if you don’t already own it yourself. In this pretty, expansive farming (and life) simulator, you’ve just inherited a cute little farm on the edge of a charming little town in the middle of nowhere. Welcome to your new life in Stardew Valley! This game offers a whole lot of freedom in how to move forward. You can build a small, idyllic farm, work on completing the run-down community center, delve into deep underground caves filled with both monsters and treasure, meet wizards, and even find love as you immerse yourself into the tight-knit community. Feeling extra-evil? Side with the huge corporation, Joja Mart, for an entirely different kind of experience.
Stardew Valley is notorious for being a massive timesink, and can be a lovely way to file away an evening or afternoon. Play it alone or with friends if you need some farming buddies. You can even find numerous mods online to help customize your playthrough, but the vanilla version is pretty fantastic as-is.
Find it on: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch, PS4, XBox One
Night in the Woods (Infinite Fall)
I do have to be upfront that Night in the Woods packs a hefty emotional punch – when Mae’s anxiety and depression drive her to drop out from college, she returns back home ready to reconnect with the friends she left behind. But things are different now – including some creepy happenings out in the woods, strange dreams, and some unexpected drama.
NITW’s story is lovely, but its atmosphere is what makes it extra special. I loved freely exploring town and talking to friends as Mae. So many of the conversations felt incredibly relatable. The art and soundtrack are both gorgeous. There are also some fun hidden features – you can play music or immerse yourself in a rather difficult mini-game. It’s also a “play at your own pace” game for the most part – you won’t have to worry about combat or rushing against timers. There was maybe one moment where I remember having to run away, but it didn’t feel intense or stressful. It’s a great story to immerse yourself in if you’re wanting something a little more serious and true to life.
Find it on: PC, Mac, PS4, XBox One, Linux
GRIS (Nomada Studio)
One of my favourite games over the past few years, GRIS is essentially playable art. Dropped into a seemingly post-apocalyptic world, empty of nearly all life, you find yourself with nowhere to go but forward. As you solve puzzles and explore the world, you’ll unlock new colours, which completely change how you see the world and the pathways that appear before you. It’s a stunning piece with about 3-4 hours of gameplay. While not overrun, there are some puzzles. Most of them aren’t too challenging, but should still require you to think a little about your environment and abilities. A gorgeous, playable painting about finding one’s voice, GRIS is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
Find it on: PC, Mac, Switch
Mutazione (Die Gute Fabrik)
Mutazione is another recent favourite, featuring a young girl who heads to a remote, reclusive island village to help her ailing grandfather. When 15-year old Kai arrives in Mutazione, she immediately gets pulled into the close-knit community and learning more about everyone there. Meanwhile, she’s being plagued by strange dreams – it seems like something is happening in Mutazione, but what? And what does it have to do with her grandfather’s illness?
Mutazione, for all its fantastic nature, is a stunningly accurate peek at village life (trust me – I’m from one myself). I adored learning about the dreams and dramas of the residents and exploring the island. You can choose when to take the actions that will progress your day to afternoon, night, or morning, allowing you to move at your own pace. One of the most interesting features is Mutazione’s unique gardening mechanic. Using songs and seeds collected from your conversations and exploration, you can grow gorgeous gardens throughout the village. Different plants thrive in different spaces, and are encouraged by different melodies. This lovely adventure was the first game I’ve ever been late on reviewing primarily because I was so enamored with it that all I wanted was to slowly be immersed, garden, and explore.
Find it on: Steam, Mac, PS4
My Brother Rabbit (Artifex Mundi)
Hidden object games are an underrated gem in the video game world – especially if you’re looking for something to calm down with and explore at your own pace – and Artifex Mundi’s offerings tend to be the best. Out of all the HOGs I’ve ever played, My Brother Rabbit has remained my absolute favourite. My Brother Rabbit tells the story of two siblings, one of whom becomes very ill. Created without words, it’s immediately approachable to everyone regardless of language.
As you move through each world, you’ll be tasked with finding hidden objects across scenes. As you find them, you’ll unlock puzzles to solve. Each of these puzzles has a fairly unique mechanic from the rest, keeping the game constantly fresh and varied. With gorgeous music and fantastic environments, this charming, heartfelt adventure can be played in one 3-4 hour sitting for most players (less if you’re fast enough). I would recommend this game to anyone who likes HOGs, and to anyone wanting to try them. It’s a gorgeous experience and something I love to revisit even after playing it numerous times.
Find it on: Mac, PC, PS4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch
Got a game you love to relax with when times are tough? I’d love to hear about it!
Order Up! is a weekly column featuring indie-focused reviews, news, or interviews! We like old games just as much as new ones and are always looking for something to check out. Have a game recommendation, a project, or a company you want to talk about? Email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @ArcanaChance