The games that soothed our souls this year

Need to chill out? Here are the most relaxing games we played in 2023.

This year we’ve faced the avatars of malicious gods in Baldur’s Gate 3, dueled with Ganondorf in Tears of the Kingdom, and died far too many times to count in CS2’s online arenas. Video games can be stressful. Paradoxically, they’re also the best way to relax. 

When real-life or in-game struggles took their toll in 2023, we settled down with these games to soothe our wearied physical bodies. So grab a cuppa, take a deep breath, and chill out with these five immensely relaxing games from the year gone by.

Terra Nil

A screen from Terra Nil showing a green landscape with a bar of constructable buildings along the bottom - games that soothed us in 2023
 
© Free Lives

Arriving early in 2023, Terra Nil was the perfect balm for more intense releases like the Resident Evil 4 remake. A reverse city builder, it does away with sprawling metropolises. Instead, there’s a focus on restoring nature to a land ravaged by human consumption. It’s a goal that could really do with more attention in real life, but we’ll take video games as a starting point.

Watching flora and eventually fauna steadily return to the land as you place down toxin scrubbers and conduct controlled burns is immensely wholesome. And when your work is done, the final stage of each level sees you packing up all your gear to depart without a trace. 

A screenshot of a complete level in terra nil with geese flying overhead - Games that soothed us in 2023
 
© Free Lives

One of Terra Nil’s best features allows you to simply sit back and observe when your restoration is complete. The camera steadily pans across the now thriving biome, its new inhabitants scampering across their freshly fertile home. You did that – good job, you!

Cobalt Core

A screenshot from Cobalt Core with two space ships facing each other. The opponent says
 
© Rocket Rat Games

Slay the Spire’s cards are brilliant engine-building components to wrap your head around, but there’s no denying that its presentation can sometimes be a little unwelcoming. This year’s Cobalt Core offers a stellar sci-fi take on the famous deck builder’s formula, and does it all within a cute pixel-art package. 

Attempting to free a spacefaring crew from a time loop, your task is to guide them through combat and event encounters across three sectors, building and upgrading your deck of cards as you do. The systems are satisfying, but the little touches make all the difference. Team members toss out charming quips as you land or avoid shots, and there’s plenty of humor to be found through the other unusual folk you’ll encounter.

Each combat scenario is a compact puzzle. They demand just the right level of focus to distract from other troubles without overly straining an already tired brain. Paired with a delightful soundtrack, they make Cobalt Core runs an ideal way to zone out of the real world in short, digestible sessions.

(Speaking of soundtracks...Why not set yourself up to enjoy the gaming music of 2024 properly by gifting yourself a quality gaming headset like the HyperX Cloud III? Your ears are worth it.)

Dave the Diver

Dave the diver relaxing games 2023
 
© Mintrocket

Running a real sushi restaurant would likely send our cortisol levels so far into overdrive that we’d begin floundering more than the food we’re trying to serve. Thank goodness we have video games to fulfill such fantasies instead. In Dave the Diver, serving up sushi is relegated to the night. By day you’ll be jumping deep into the blue in the hopes of harpooning something to cook up for the evening.

Undersea exploration can often be unsettling in video games, but Dave the Diver manages to make its waters – for the most part at least – a serene and welcoming place. You don’t just have to fish, either. There are plenty of other activities to enjoy like nature photography or seahorse racing. It’s silly, charming fun that, fittingly, provides the perfect holiday break from more involved titles.

Tchia

Tchia games that relaxed us 2023
 
© Awaceb

Tchia’s main story is about thwarting an evil god’s child-devouring plans and freeing your father. An important goal that we’re sure we’ll get to at some point. Probably when we’re done bounding between the game’s beautiful islands. Sorry dad!

Set on an archipelago inspired by New Caledonia, Tchia is a gorgeous adventure game in which you can “soul-jump” into pretty much any animal or inanimate object you can find, possessing them temporarily to enjoy life from a fresh perspective. Sharks, birds, and even old rubber tires are all fair game. You can even chain jumps between objects to move quickly across the land. 

This sense of creative exploration hums throughout the entire game, whether you’re sailing on a raft or flinging yourself trebuchet-style from the top of a palm tree. You can take on the game’s fabric enemies at your own pace, or choose to while away the hours enjoying minigames and chatting to the locals instead. If you’re after a chilled-out alternative to Tears of the Kingdom’s free-form exploration, Tchia is it.

An Arcade Full of Cats

a drawing of an arcade with a number of cats highlighted in blue after being selected - most relaxing games 2023 an arcade full of cats
 
© Devcats

Sometimes all you need to de-stress is a simple assignment that’ll hold your attention. If said task involves cute felines? All the better. An Arcade Full of Cats is a hidden object game in which you try to spot dozens of misplaced moggies in pastel drawings of classic arcades. See a cat? Click a cat. It really is as simple as that. 

There are several levels included based on different years like 1980 and 1985. Each features cattified versions of classic arcade games from the period, delivering a hefty dose of nostalgia for anyone ancient enough to have been around for the real thing. (Don’t worry, you’re always young at heart.) The handful of interactive elements to each scene help add some humor and thankfully break up the eye-scanning process.

An Arcade Full of Cats comes from a solid line of games about finding and clicking on cute cats hidden in drawings of castles and theme parks. Crucially though, the base version is free. If you’ve yet to give the genre a go, there’s no better place to get your claws into things. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a podcast or audiobook, keeping your roaming eyes content while your ears do the real work.


What’s been your gaming chill-out mixtape of 2023? For more memories of the year, check out our roundup of the mind-melting puzzle games that put our noggins to the test in 2023. Otherwise, head over to the HyperX store to secure great deals on even greater gaming gear for 2024 and beyond!

Associate Editor

Henry Stenhouse serves an eternal punishment as the Associate Editor of AllGamers. He spent his younger life studying the laws of physics, even going so far as to complete a PhD in the subject before video games stole his soul. Confess your love of Super Smash Bros. via email at henry@moonrock.biz, or catch him on Twitter.

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