It’s the perfect time to pick up and play.
You might be surprised to hear that one of the best ways to take a load off during your mandatory staycation is by banishing demons back to hell, but here we are. Now that we live in a world where it’s hard to not ingest distressing headlines on an hourly basis, turning on your gaming system as a distraction and diving deep into a different reality seems like as good of an escape as you’re currently going to get. So, instead of stepping outside, step toward your console, turn it on, and consider the following games to put your mind at ease (or, well, at least make you forget about everything else for a little while).
Top Picks for You
The Last of Us (PS4)
This award-winning PlayStation exclusive puts you in the shoes of a weathered brute named Joel who ventures across a post-apocalyptic United States alongside a pre-teen named Ellie in hopes of finding a cure for a disease that’s swallowed humanity (and turned a lot of people into zombies). While it originally arrived as a swan song for PlayStation 3, it has since been beautifully remastered for PlayStation 4.
Narratively, it’s a piece of storytelling so rich with emotion that it transcends mediums—there’s a reason HBO has an adaptation in the works—and its controls, visuals, and environments aren’t too shabby either (developer Naughty Dog is famous for its perfectionism). You’ll spot some truly exquisite vistas in your playthrough, including ones featuring striking foliage in Colorado and a breathtaking scene in Salt Lake City where Ellie and Joel encounter giraffes that have escaped from a zoo. Recent (heartbreaking!) news that the sequel has once again been delayed is even more reason to play this masterpiece right now—if it’s your first time, you can be prepared for the follow-up. Or you can take this time to revisit an immersive world and get lost in a riveting story.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch)
OK, so picture something that essentially plays like The Sims, but instead of human avatars you get extremely adorable animals and an aesthetic reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon. Part of a long-running series, the newest iteration of Animal Crossing, much like its predecessors allows you—as your cute animal self—to garden, fish, build and decorate a home, and more. This time around, though, you’ll find yourself on an island with an even more insane amount of customization options (landscaping tools, door wreath decorations, etc.) so that you can truly claim your space. The game is also set in real-time, so while you’re not playing, the world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is still evolving—flowers grow and re-grow, the sun rises and sets, and seasons change; it will be different every time you jump in and play. And that’s what makes the game especially great when you play with other people, either on your couch or online—you can stomp onto their islands or they can stomp onto yours. Chaos has never been so soothing!
Monument Valley (Mobile)
It’s hard to say a lot about this minimalist, relaxing puzzler (and its sequel) because words don’t do the beguiling spell it casts justice. If you’d like some story context, details are sparse and while there are bones of a tale—you lead a princess through a series of mazes—the atmosphere, soundtrack, and style are more than enough to create a world for you to get lost in, right from the palm of your hand. Monument Valley is truly something to behold.
Stardew Valley (PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Mobile)
Much like the aforementioned Animal Crossing, this multi-platform game is a wholesome simulator loved by many. As the player, you’ve inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot in Stardew Valley. You’re equipped with a pickaxe and some coins, and from there, you set out to literally craft your own life. Explore creepy, mysterious caves! Build your dream farm! Fall in love with a local! Since Stardew Valley first made its debut in 2016, there have been several explorable farm maps added to the mix, each focusing on a specific type of task, be it farming, mining, or fighting monsters, so there’s no shortage of stuff to do. If you’re looking for peace and comfort in a gaming experience, look no further. Also, it doesn’t hurt to mention that you can download Stardew Valley for under $20!
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Nintendo Switch)
The most recent entry in Nintendo’s long-running iconic brawler is, plain and simple, the most fun multiplayer game on the market. If you’ve ever played a Super Smash Bros. game, you know how addictive and fun it is, and that feeling was only amplified when Ultimate dropped in 2018. A total of eight people, either online or locally, can enjoy the heck out of this game at one time, so while you may not be able to see your opponents (courtesy of social distancing), you can certainly engage in satisfying, cartoonish combat with them online. The roster of fighters is also now larger than ever—the game has 74 playable characters.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch)
In terms of competitive gaming, it doesn’t get much more wholesome than kart racing and Nintendo. That’s just the facts. It’s also very reassuring to see that the long-running beloved Mario Kart series is stronger than ever, with gorgeous graphics, exciting new tracks, and new online multiplayer modes, including “Balloon Battle,” which, you guessed it, involves popping other players’ balloons. Aw! Additionally, Nintendo just released a version of the signature racing game on mobile titled Mario Kart Tour!
Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)
If you’re a comic book fan, a Spider-Man fan, or just a fan of good stories, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a must-play and one of the best Spider-Man yarns ever spun. It follows a 23-year-old Peter Parker, who has mostly figured out his potential but he’s still as loveably clumsy as ever. In the twisty plot, he faces such threats as a bioweapon, magic, a disgruntled Mary Jane, and a rundown of classic Spidey villains, including Kingpin and Scorpion. Most importantly, perhaps, developer Insomniac Games truly nailed what it feels like to be Spider-Man, providing players with sharp controls, awesome combat (you’ll think about the “spider-sense” and “web-shooter” capabilities on a regular basis), and an amazingly-detailed NYC to swing around in. It’s impossible to say enough good things about this game. If you’ve ever wanted to take a selfie atop the Empire State Building in a Spider-Man costume, well, we have good news.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)
With this game, Nintendo proved (yet again) they have mastered keeping their long-running series fresh and accessible. Breath of the Wild gave fans a version of Zelda that they are still engrossed in and playing through today, despite a 2017 release date. If you’re looking to get lost in a 3D adventure/exploration experience for months, this is probably your best bet of the already extremely solid options on this list. If all this praise isn’t enough to convince you, there are plenty of gamers that are hailing Breath of the Wild, with its brilliant open-world design, puzzles, and combat system, as one of the best games of all time.
Doom Eternal (PS4, Xbox One)
Remember the “banishing demons to hell” bit that kicked off this roundup? That was Doom Eternal—the angry, exhilarating sequel to 2016’s equally angry and exhilarating re-invention of a first-person shooter series where you battle demons who have been unleashed via a portal on Mars. It’s madness and mayhem that’s, much to everyone’s surprise, vibrant and vividly colorful. Maybe it’s because the primary location where the main character (the Doom Slayer) annihilates evil this time around is Earth? Something to think about. Anyway, the recently-released Doom Eternal was tailor-made to be played with nachos and Bud Light nearby and, in this climate, we find that especially heartening.