It’s fair to say we all need a break sometimes. Relaxing games fit a niche that is badly needed now, two months ago, basically any time of year. No matter what you’re going through personally or otherwise, the ability for video games to whisk you away and offer you something a little different is unparalleled. Have a look at our pick of the top 10 best relaxing games, pick one at random and you are bound to have a nice chilled evening. Enjoy.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle For Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated
Close your eyes and imagine a lazy Saturday afternoon eating cereal and watching cartoons. Actually, please don’t do that, keep reading. The last few years have been filled to the brim with nostalgic games harking back to long lost years, and Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated is no different. Rehydrated takes the 2003 platforming classic and runs it through 2020 vision, so to speak, with developer Purple Lamp Studios lovingly recreating every last inch of the original to great effect. Anyone who fondly looks back on this gem is sure to be brought back to a simpler time. Expect delightful Spongebob music and the cute views of Bikini Bottom If you can stomach Spongebob’s rather insane laugh, you can expect a nostalgic romp filled with pretty sights.
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch
Any game from developer ThatGameCompany could go here and it would fit the theme of best relaxing games, but Journey feels like the most obvious choice. It has the best controls, most varied visuals and a surprisingly powerful message behind it. Journey's use of small multiplayer ideas and music come together in a way that heightens the experience without distracting from it. Journey's peacefulness is also heightened by the fact it’s entirely wordless, instead opting for visuals and music to express emotions and narrative.
Available on: PS4, PS3, and PC
Murder By Numbers
I know hearing murder in a list about the best relaxing games might be a shock but trust me, you’re in the right place. On one hand, Murder By Numbers is a whodunnit detective experience about exploring murders and finding out the culprit. On the other hand, It is a visual novel / Picross adventure about exploring the depths of humans' low points and what they must do to overcome it. Half of the game is spent reading and the other half is spent playing Picross, an addictive maths game my mother plays on her phone. This dichotomy managed to develop a lovely sense of humour and a constant smile on my face. Murder by Numbers is a joyful, relaxing and unexpectedly thoughtful game that is sure to make your night.
Available on: Nintendo Switch and PC
A simple screenshot does not give justice to what Dreams really is. In its basest form, it is a game engine that is highly community-driven. This doesn’t fully express the pure creative freedom on offer. It’s not bogged down in code or specifics like traditional game engines and offers a more user-friendly experience. If you want to use move controllers like paintbrushes to paint a canvas, do it. If you would like to recreate Fallout 4 in there, aside from copyright issues, go ahead. It all has this wonderfully fuzzy, almost dreamlike quality to it that makes even the most complex offerings weirdly calming.
And if you don't want to create your own games, you can wile away the hours enjoying the fruits of other players' labours.
Available on: PS4, and coming soon to PSVR and PS5
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
At this point, it’s practically a cliche to reduce Animal Crossing: New Horizons to its relaxing nature and comfiness but the cliche exists for a reason. Animal Crossing is one of the most wonderfully soothing games of this year and it came at the perfect time. There isn’t a story, as such, to Animal Crossing but it doesn’t need one. Just you, your tools and a handful of bells are needed to make your crummy little island into a real paradise. As you adjust small things for Nook Miles or relocate villagers for symmetry, you start to care about your island and all the happy little residents.
Available on: Nintendo Switch
If you’ve been playing games for a while, there’s a good chance water in games brings up some scary memories. Barely surviving water levels in Ratchet and Clank, the water temple in Ocarina of Time, and that oh so famous Sonic drowning music. But, Abzu is something very different. It takes the innate fear of what lies in the ocean and turns it into an educational and beautiful experience. Swim with dolphins, look through coral, and learn all you possibly can about your surroundings as you acclimate to and eventually love all that it can offer. It takes very clear inspiration from Journey with lush visuals and a wordless narrative, which works wonderfully for it. You play the role of a diver wandering through the ocean somewhat guided by a great white shark. It offers many little areas to look at and hidden collectables to find, but at its core is a peaceful swim through the beauty of the depths.
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Taking inspiration from the likes of Harvest Moon, one-man passion project Stardew Valley oozes with charm and comfort. This is true from the gameplay to the visuals, to the music. It uses synth violins, harps, and flutes to orchestrate a lazy farming town and does it perfectly. In Stardew Valley, you are given a farm (in one of a few locations) from your grandfather's will, so you decide to uphold his memory by becoming a farmer and connecting with people from the neighbouring town. You can’t get everything done in a day but won’t be required to. Sometimes, you might spend the day weeding, others you might attend the egg festival and get to know your neighbours. This is what is great about Stardew Valley. Try not to put too much pressure on a day and just enjoy it as it passes you by.
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android
Grab the calmer moments of the Persona soundtrack, throw some royalty-free rain sounds over it and you have Coffee Talk’s atmosphere. It combines jazzy electric piano with the gentle beep of text scrolling over the screen. It feels somewhere in the realm of “lo-fi hip-hop beats to relax/study to”, in terms of vibe, which helps earn its place in the best relaxing games list. Coffee Talk isn’t really focused on the gameplay or visuals (although they’re lovely), it instead opts to express a fantastic atmosphere. You are tasked with making coffees and indulging in good conversation often working as an ear to listen to a customer’s woes. Plug in your headphones, turn the lights down low and get lost in subtle conversation and the art of making coffee.
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch
Dragon Quest Builders 2
Dragon Quest Builders 2 almost didn’t make this list. It has some rather tense moments and battles, but the majority of the gameplay is relaxing, calming and downright lovely. Whilst there is a grand overarching story about defeating the big bad and killing monsters, the greatest story Dragon Quest Builders 2 tells is of friendship and building communities once thought as lost. You play the role of a builder, one of few chosen people capable of making great items out of small materials. You go from land to land repairing communities, healing sick people and just generally making the world much better. Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a wonderfully cathartic experience where you can spend hours or days just making a nice town and happy villagers. What more could you want?
Forager isn’t relaxing in the way most games are. It’s not about taking in sights, looking at pretty visuals and having little combat. It is practically the opposite of this and works as a strange diorama of the industrial revolution but it’s relaxing nonetheless. In Forager you play as an adorable little white blob with a pickaxe. You must mine minerals and cut down trees to get materials and experience. This can be used to upgrade certain paths, build from your starting island and make new contraptions. It starts with a fairly slow grind as you build up the materials to get better items but the game opens up as you learn about automation. You can make items to mine materials for you, collect it or purify it. These can then be picked up to further expand. There is little challenge in Forager but going around collecting items and automating machines is infinitely satisfying. You can slouch in your chair, listen to its nice music and watch the figures go up slowly. It’s not a game you’ll spend ten hours at a time with but more a game to check in on every now and then and for what it is, it’s wonderful.
Available on: PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch