Visit These Atmospheric Video Game Worlds From The Comfort of Your Own Home

Photo Courtesy: Campo Santo, Ltd./IMDb

We’ve all been spending a lot of time indoors recently; since March 2020, we’ve worked, learned, and possibly even dated from home.  These practices protect us, our communities, and our loved ones, especially in areas affected by the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus. Still, you can only watch paint dry — and marathon so many shows — before you start to pine for a change of pace. Might we suggest video games?

Games are incredibly detailed and varied these days; relaxing life simulators, breathtaking action-adventure quests, and mind-bending puzzles are just a few keystrokes away. The following titles all present unique, immersive worlds that are easily worth the visit. September 12th, 2021 is National Video Games Day. Get lost in the following atmospheric games.

10. Tetris Effect

If you’re familiar with the original 1980s version of the tile-matching puzzle game, then you might be baffled as to how Tetris and its frenetic music fit in with the “relaxing” part of our list. Enter Tetris Effect, which takes its name from a real-world phenomenon wherein players’ brains are so riveted by the iconic “Tetrimino” blocks that they actually linger in players’ vision, thoughts, and dreams.

Photo Courtesy: steamXO/flickr (see below)

Tetris Effect finds inspiration in this sense of immersion and augments it. Everything from the three-dimensional backdrops to Tetris playing pieces reacts to how you play, making this an audiovisual experience like no other. The game transports you to neon-lit oceans and the far reaches of star-riddled space, but, as Eurogamer puts it, this dreamier take on Tetris is a “genuinely inspiring and uplifting experience.” Tetris Effect: Connected will add more cooperative experiences to the game in the latter half of 2021. 

Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR, Xbox One & Windows.

Tetris Effect | Public Domain

9. Monument Valley

In this indie puzzle game, you lead Princess Ida through a series of mazes. Sounds straightforward, right? Think again. Those mazes are constructed from a series of optical illusions and seeming impossibilities, so it’s up to you to manipulate the world around the princess in order to conquer the mazes.

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The scant bit of narrative behind the game is that Princess Ida is on a journey to be forgiven for something, so it’s the M.C. Escher-esque look of the puzzles that pulls the player along. Inspired by the minimalist nature of Japanese woodblock prints, Monument Valley is a real feast for the eyes (and ears!). Although this impossibly beautiful, BAFTA-winning game may have a short run time, nothing beats the pocket of handheld serenity it provides. Plus, the sequel, Monument Valley 2, is also well worth it.

Available on: iOS, Windows Phone & Android. 

8. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The long-awaited Nintendo Switch installment of the acclaimed Animal Crossing arrived last spring — and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. As is the case with previous entries in the series, New Horizons is a nonlinear life simulation game that you play in real-time. Translation: If you’re sheltering in place, you can get your fix for the great outdoors right here.

Photo Courtesy: Nintendo/IMDb

For those who are new to the series, here’s a quick rundown. In Animal Crossing, you play as a human character who moves to a new town — in the case of New Horizons, your character moves to a deserted island at the invitation of series regular Tom Nook, a raccoon “entrepreneur.” While exploring the island, you collect items, furnish your home and build a community alongside anthropomorphic animals. Ah, the simple life. 

Available on: Nintendo Switch.

7. Alto’s Adventure & Alto’s Odyssey

In an infinite-runner game, your goal is to dodge obstacles — which will otherwise instantly K.O. your character. Meanwhile, said character continuously moves through the level, leaving no time to pause. All those split-second decisions can end in frustration, especially for newcomers to the genre.

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While we love a good game of Crash Bandicoot or Temple Run, they’re undoubtedly stressful, which is why Alto’s Adventure (and the sequel Alto’s Odyssey) makes our list. Backed by a serene soundtrack, the game centers on a snowboarder who’s coasting along through an ethereal atmosphere. Performing tricks is fun and satisfying, making this game the perfect handheld blend of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater-meets-spa day. 

Available on: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire & Linux.

6. Abzû

Abzû tells the story of a deep-sea diver who journeys through the ocean and, thanks to a magical spring, restores underwater life. The environments range from sea caverns and ancient ruins to coral gardens and sunlit swathes of open water. As you can see, every ounce of this cel-shaded world is gorgeous.

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Inspired by the game director’s love of scuba diving, Sumerian mythology, and cosmic ocean motifs, Abzû has a very distinct feel. “[It’s] a mechanically simple game, but a pleasurable one,” Eurogamer‘s review noted. Sure, the game’s camera can be occasionally wonky and the story isn’t super-rich, but you’ll be charmed by the colorful, fish-filled world. 

Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows & Amazon Luna.

5. Firewatch

The first-person adventure game Firewatch is equal parts relaxing and thrilling — a potentially perfect mix when you’re stuck inside. Taking place in 1989, the game centers on Henry, a man who takes a job as a fire lookout in Shoshone National Forest in the wake of his wife’s early-onset dementia diagnosis.

Photo Courtesy: Campo Santo, Ltd./IMDb

At first, you explore the beautiful scenery, scrambling up rock faces and hiking through the pine forest. Your only source of human contact comes in the form of Delilah, your fellow lookout and supervisor who’s only reachable via walkie-talkie. Soon enough, strange things start happening to Henry, and he and Delilah work to unravel an ever-growing conspiracy. Tense, unsettling, funny, and relaxing — the woods evoke so much in this character-driven game about self-imposed isolation. 

Available on: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows, OS X & Linux.

4. Katamari Damacy REROLL

Back in 2004, Namco released Katamari Damacy — which translates to “clump of souls” — on the PlayStation 2. Since then, the third-person puzzle-action game has been re-released on PS4, Nintendo Switch, X-Box One, and Windows under the aptly chosen name Katamari Damacy REROLL. Bright, colorful, and full-on weird in the best way, Katamari Damacy tells the story of a young prince who must rebuild the stars and moon after his father, the King of All Cosmos, destroys them in a drunken stupor.

Photo Courtesy: instacodez/flickr (see below)

In order to recreate those stars, you roll a magic, super-adhesive ball, or katamari, around various locales. At first, small objects like candy and thumbtacks stick to the katamari, but, as you progress, you roll up increasingly larger things, like people and furniture, into your sphere of junk. Bizarre, heavily stylized, and not interested in reality in the slightest, Katamari Damacy REROLL is a near-perfect, addictive escape for gamers of all skill levels. 

Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, & Windows.

Katamari Damacy REROLL | Public Domain

3. Portal 2

Developed by Valve, the folks behind Half-Life and Team Fortress, puzzle-platformer Portal 2 is arguably their best title. The original Portal, which was just tossed into a compilation of games called The Orange Box, was a surprise runaway success, prompting Valve to create a standalone sequel.

Photo Courtesy: Valve/IMDb

Like the original, this entry asks players to solve puzzles by placing portals around the “test chamber” environments so that they may teleport between them. All of these mental puzzles are set up by the mysterious Aperture Science Enrichment Center’s supercomputer GLaDOS, who tosses a few new elements, from tractor beams and lasers, into the gameplay. Thanks to its dark humor, fun mechanics, and great voice cast, Portal 2 has been dubbed one of the greatest games of all time. 

Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, OS X & Linux.

2. Journey

In Journey, you control a robed figure who is traveling a vast desert, nearing a mountain that looms off in the distance. You can meet other players on your journey, but you cannot communicate with words — just a musical chime, which has the power to transform dull cloth into a shade of vibrant red. This mechanic also impacts the world around you and adds to the game’s progression.

Photo Courtesy: Thatgamecompany/IMDb

The music, which was composed by Austin Wintory, responds to the player’s actions and builds to a single theme that feels mimetic of the game’s emotional arc. The score was nominated for a Grammy — a first in video game history — and the game earned five BAFTAs for its audiovisual splendor. Often called one of the greatest video games of all time, Journey has a relentless beauty that’s easy to get lost in — and those startlingly emotional moments are a real bonus. 

Available on: Windows, iOS, PlayStation 3 & 4.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Hey, listen — The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild still places you firmly in the boots of a hero-in-training, but this game departs from the series’ long-running linear-style narrative and returns to the franchise’s open-world roots. Breath of the Wild encourages players to take their time and explore the breathtaking world around them. Better yet, experimentation is encouraged.

Photo Courtesy: Nintendo/IMDb

With its incredible attention to detail and multi-faceted innovations when it comes to open-world design, Breath of the Wild has already been hailed as one of the greatest games of all time. Although you’ll square off against enemies with your sword, bow, and other armaments, the game isn’t combat-driven. Long story short, this epic lets you blow off steam with a lance and climb mountains for hours just so you can enjoy some astonishing vistas. Who could ask for more? 

Available on: Nintendo Switch.