Top Pick: Celeste (Nintendo Switch) | $20 | Amazon
It feels like only yesterday we entered March, mostly because that’s where time ceased existing for most people once the pandemic forced us into our homes. Now, we’re here in December and winter is about to begin. The weather is getting colder, the days are getting shorter, and the holidays are fast approaching. While winter can be depressing at times, it’s also a comforting season if you’re prepared for it. Warm winter clothes and heavy blankets can help you feel like a human burrito when the outside world is covered in snow. This year, there’s another essential aspect to our impending hibernation: games.
Video games have played a huge role in our quarantine days, giving players something to do while cooped up inside. While the situation will hopefully wind down next year with vaccines finally getting shipped out, we’ll likely be stuck inside through the winter. It’s going to be a season full of ennui, so finding a cozy game to fill the time is as important as getting a big stockpile of hot chocolate. What’s the criteria for a good winter comfort game? That’s entirely up to you. For many, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is sure to fill that void this year with its relaxing island management. Others may find solace in the quiet world of Death Stranding. Hell, maybe Shadow the Hedgehog is your comfort game because you grew up with it and it reminds you of home. No judgment here.
To help you find your own cozy winter game, The Inventory staff put together this list of our own go-to’s, illustrating just how eclectic the notion of comfort can be. If you’re looking for a way to chill out through the cold months, check out any of these games. Or just keep playing Shadow the Hedgehog.
Celeste opens on a snowy cliffside, which already makes it a perfect fit on this list. The indie platformer features cool colors and pixelated winter backdrops to evoke the stillness of the season. More importantly, Celeste is a game about depression, which can be an especially prevalent feeling as the days get darker and colder. If there’s any game that accurately captures what it’s like to fight through seasonal depression, it’s Celeste.
But Celeste isn’t a depressing game. It’s specifically about learning to live with one’s emotional state and find ways to press on despite the odds. That’s a perfect thematic pairing for its forgiving mountain climbing gameplay, which always encourages players to get up and try again with generous checkpoints and a wealth of accessibility options. That makes Celeste a genuinely comforting experience, especially for those who grapple with the same feelings as the game’s protagonist.
Batman: Arkham Origins is the Die Hard of video games. But unlike Die Hard, which only happens to take place at Christmas time, Arkham Origins takes every opportunity to remind you it’s a Christmas game. From the seasonal trimmings adorning its modest open-world depiction of a Gotham City overrun by criminals and inhabited by no one else, to the riffs on classic Christmas carol parody “Jingle Bells Batman Smells” (I’ve heard two references from two different characters so far), the forgotten third installment in WB Interactive’s Batman Arkham quadrilogy sets the table for an evening spent indoors knocking out—and definitely not killing—stand-ins for New York Italian mobsters who sometimes wear Santa hats. A few old friends return, too, albeit with bootleg voice actors doing their best Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammill impressions.
Batman: Arkham Origins is far from a perfect video game. It’s buggy as hell, the overarching plot is mostly forgettable, and man, Unreal Engine 3 doesn’t hold up, does it? But it’s a fun ride nonetheless. All the mechanics you know and love from Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are there, trendsetting combat included, and unchanged for the most part. If, like me, Arkham Knight didn’t do it for you, maybe it’s time to give Origins another shot. Or, in the likely event it flew under your radar back when the game launched in 2013, make yourself a cup of Baileys-infused hot cocoa and dive-bomb into Batman: Arkham Origins for the first time to get yourself in the holiday spirit.
Hilariously, you can only buy Arkham Origins on a disc, as it was never released digitally on PS3 or Xbox 360. Also, for whatever reason, the PS3 version is $10 on Amazon while an Xbox copy will set you back $60. Microsoft fans will have to look elsewhere, like GameStop, for their dark winter knight. It’s worth noting that Batman: Arkham Origins is backward compatible with the Xbox One X|S and Series X|S consoles; however, PS4 and PS5 owners are out of luck as it was never re-released for either platform. The five people who still own a Wii U can rejoice since it’s also still available on their esoteric console for $5. PC gamers, on the other hand, can just buy it on Steam for $20.
Look, we know this isn’t what a lot of people would call cozy, but there’s something undeniably comfortable about revisiting a game you’ve played countless times before. There’s also something reassuring about everything having its own place and rhythm. Dark Souls III is a hard game, but it’s one that moves to a beat, and you can learn every step of the dance in the game and move along with it.
The best thing about it is that while the game appears to be fast, you can force your own cadence onto it by simply taking your time and being cautious. If you can master your weapon and keep calm, you can waltz through it comfortably. Overcoming this kind of a challenge is something that grants an immense amount of joy, and it ends up being rather serene as long as you don’t mind the initial bout of frustration you’ll undoubtedly feel when a new enemy type or boss takes you out.
Sure, it’s not the kind of game that everyone is going to play to relax, but you might have your own version of this. Just because a game is hard doesn’t mean it can’t be like a digital hug for your soul, and sometimes you just need somewhere familiar to wander around and explore.
If thoughts of winter point turn your mind towards cozy sweaters, and cozy sweaters get you thinking about fabric, then boy do I have the video game for you. Kirby’s Epic Yarn first released a decade back on the Nintendo Wii and it’s an absolute gem, weaving that solid pun of a title into an utterly charming Kirby quest in a world made up of fabric and other crafty bits.
Kirby himself is composed of yarn, and he can whip out a strand to pull zippers, swing on buttons, and lasso up foes, as well as transform into a living car or flying saucer. The world looks positively soft, with the ground gently budging under your feet and backdrops bunching together like curtains when you tug on them. It’s been ages since I played Kirby’s Epic Yarn, but I loved it back when and now I can’t stop thinking about it. I think I’ll dust off the ol’ console and finally introduce this one to my seven-year-old son. It was also ported to the Nintendo 3DS last year as Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, in case you’re looking for an easier way in on a more recent console.
I was talked into Animal Crossing: New Horizons during lockdown by Gizmodo’s own Victoria Song. She didn’t steer me wrong. It quickly became a way to not only suppress my boredom but channel a bit of my anxiety and depression while dealing with :gestures to everything:. Since then it’s been my nightly tune down. Getting to visit friends’ islands is fun too, but for me, it’s more about the scrupulous maintence of Terrier Bay. There is something so remarkably soothing about watering virtual flowers as a little blue penguin chats with you.
Animal Crossing is adorable in every way, it’s painful how cute the residents are. It fulfills my addictive personality and serves as a healthier alternative to my real-life hoarding impulses. (I still play Pokemon Go for this reason, too.) While the tasks may seem aimless, I cannot stress enough how calming it is to get into bed with my dog and spend the night deep-sea diving, or picking weeds, or building wood furniture. It’s a real Ron Swanson-meets-Hello Kitty experience and I’m here for it. I’ll collect all the bugs and fish eventually, but at my own pace and that’s okay. P.S.—K.K., please come visit!