When current events feel too chaotic, there's nothing quite like getting lost in the most relaxing video games.
Sure, shooters and brawlers offer plenty of stress-relieving action, but what if you just want to build your own town, solve a few puzzles or tap along to some serene music to escape the realities of the real world?
Relaxing video games span a range of genres, from chill life simulators like The Sims and Animal Crossing to immersive audiovisual masterpieces like Tetris Effect and Journey. If you need a change of pace from the intense violence of most AAA games and want to kick back and clear your head, here are our favorite video games to chill out with. Oh, and if you'd also enjoy something more analogue, check out our guide to the best board games.
Pokémon Sword and Shield
Pokémon games always provide a fun, pleasant escape, and the latest core entries in the series do it better than any before them. Pokémon Sword and Shield's colorful, cartoony Galar region and inviting turn-based combat let you discover, battle and catch Pokemon at your own pace, even if you're a novice trainer. And while there's plenty of depth for folks who want to play competitively or catch rare Pokémon in raids, you can surpass most of the game's single-player story without much trouble. Whether you want to get lost in the expansive Wild Area or just want to explore the game's many vibrant towns while collecting Pokémon and wearing cool clothes, Pokémon Sword and Shield is one of the best ways to unwind if you're a Switch owner. - Mike Andronico
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a chill, serene runner game that has you fly, cycle, skate and dance your way through beautiful electronic music in a series of equally beautiful, neon-soaked game worlds. Picture Temple Run in a psychedelic pop music sci-fi world blended with some soothing narration from Queen Latifah, and you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect. Sayonara Wild Hearts is available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and even Mac and PC via Apple Arcade, making it the perfect way to unwind either on the couch or on the go. - Mike Andronico
Built by the team behind LittleBigPlanet, Dreams is a gorgeous and inviting PS4 creation suite that lets you make objects, songs, short films and entire games and share them with the world. For more casual players, Dreams offers an endless serving of excellent fan-made creations, from platformers and puzzle games to immersive first-person adventures. And if you take the time to master its creation tools, you can lose hours making the sculpture, movie or game of your dreams. But no matter how you enjoy Dreams, the game's cutesy art style, serene music, helpful tutorials and inviting narration give it an accessible, warm aesthetic that's built to make you feel good. - Mike Andronico
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons just launched for Nintendo Switch, and it truly couldn't have come at a better time. Nintendo's latest life simulator is the most adorable, charming and relaxing entry in the series yet, with a vibrant tropical art style, pleasant character dialogue and a satisfying progression loop that will have you addicted to customizing your own getaway island. With online multiplayer and tons of collectibles and customization items to obsess over, New Horizons is the perfect virtual vacation from the chaos of everyday life. - Mike Andronico
Tetris might not sound particularly relaxing, but then Tetris Effect isn’t like other Tetris games. Designed by Tetusya Mizuguchi, the same mind that brought you the likes of Rez and Space Channel 5, Tetris Effect is a synesthetic experience that melds the world’s favorite puzzler with interactive musical and visual elements, culminating in a title that’s equal parts demanding and therapeutic. It’s not hard to lose track of time once you’re fully immersed yourself into Tetris Effect’s hypnotic rhythm and arresting, dreamlike manifestations of worlds beyond your imagination. It’s as transcendent an experience as Tetris ever could be. — Adam Ismail
Persona 5 Royal
If you've never jumped into the world of Persona 5, there's never been a better time to become a Phantom Thief. In this JRPG, you're a new student in a new town, and jumping into the minds of the corrupt adults in your neighborhood. And while that dungeon-crawling can have its tense moments, the game's amazing chill soundtrack might be my favorite in all of gaming. Just listen to this loop of the game song "Beneath the Mask," a video I've had one one monitor or another for a while. Also, in between the Palace dungeons you explore, you get to live the life of a student in Japan, wandering around the Shibuya district and going to diners and stores. — Henry T. Casey
Video games have always offered ways to unwind, but Journey made that its focus. As you direct your scarf-donned protagonist around winding desserts and puzzles, the game's calming score, lush graphics and low-pressure gameplay ease all of your tension. Monsters may rear their head, but you can handle them, and they're not going to leave you throwing your controller on the ground. — Henry T. Casey
Alto's Adventure / Alto's Odyssey
Infinite-runner games often operate by placing the gamer in increasingly difficult situations, with more and more chaotic hazards that can each take you out in one hit. The Alto's Adventure and Odyssey games work in the other direction, as the serene soundtrack backing the adventures of the titular snowboarder stays calming throughout your quest, and hazards are manageable and not frustrating. The just-released sequel, Alto's Odyssey adds even more charming elements, with beautiful, layered backgrounds and the ability to grind on walls and bounce on balloons. — Henry T. Casey
While the number-matching action of Threes will give you a mental workout, there's something incredibly soothing about sliding together the game's colorful, cute rectangles. This simple, yet addicting mobile puzzler lets you play at your own pace, so you can take all the time you need to mull over the perfect number combinations as you kick back with your favorite tunes or podcasts. — Mike Andronico
Running a farm, spending days in the mines and maintaining a social life are hard work, but not in Stardew Valley. Pelican Town is a surprisingly serene place, and once you get into a routine of farming, mining, fishing and going out to romance the locals, the hours pass by faster than you could have expected. Despite including just a few activities, the game has endless collectibles to find, errands to run and baddies to battle, so your stay in Stardew Valley will be a long one. — Andrew E. Freedman
Sega Ages: Out Run
The faint breeze rolling in from a nearby shore, the wind in your hair, the love of your life by your side and the intoxicating buzz of a 4.9-liter flat 12-cylinder engine and 385 Italian horsepower thrusting you through a palm tree-lined paradise. Out Run is the most relaxing racing game ever made, and M2’s remastered Sega Ages port is the best version of it yet — both because you can play it on the big screen or on the go, and also because it has a number of exclusive bonuses, like new songs that perfectly complement the legendary trio of Splash Wave, Magical Sound Shower and Passing Breeze. It’s a must buy for any retro gamer looking to bolster their Switch repertoire with blue-sky driving bliss. — Adam Ismail
Remember how Finding Nemo, amidst all of the drama about parenthood, was one of the most beautiful animated films you'd ever seen? I'd bet that the makers of Abzû also remember that, as this game — which has been referred to as "Journey, but underwater" — is a serene deep-sea exploration, with all the colors of the world and tons of aquatic friends. Just don't expect much in the way of storyline, as you could finish the game twice and still not understand much of the "why?" behind the adventure. — Henry T. Casey
The Sims 4
One of the best signs that a game is relaxing can be that it's addictive, and such is the case with the life-simulation franchise The Sims. As the series nears the end of its second decade in action, it seems like people can't get enough of making life choices for their awkwardly squawking characters, or of buying items for Sims houses and decorating to their heart's content. And unlike real life, which can be a source of tons of stress, as your choices have direct, often irreversible consequences, you can simply junk your Sims characters' lives if you make a mistake, and start over again. — Henry T. Casey
Monument Valley 1 & 2
The puzzles in Monument Valley may confuse, but its serene soundtrack and minimalist art style will keep you from stressing out. Every time I completed a puzzle in the game, I felt like I had worked out a knot of stress in my brain. The series' second edition, Monument Valley 2, upped the stakes with its storyline, in which the mother/daughter duo of Ro and her nameless child work together to solve the puzzles and need to reunite after getting separated. — Henry T. Casey
We Love Katamari
You'd have to be a monster to not count yourself amongst the "we" in the name of this game. The Katamari game franchise is built on the most delightfully inane premise: The King of the Cosmos has tasked his son, the Prince (you), with collecting all the items the king's accidentally knocked out of place during a drinking binge. To do so, you use a Katamari ball, which collects everything it touches. Everything about this game screams "fun!", including its exuberant Japanese pop soundtrack and a cooperative mode that asks players to roll their huge ball together, with each controlling one half of the Katamari sphere. — Henry T. Casey
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