As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate a relaxing gaming experience far more than ever before. When I was young, I liked challenges and objectives but now, after a long day of life just exhausting me in a myriad of different ways, it’s amazing to just sit and get lost in a low-stakes, not-overly complex experience. Gaming provides a perfect escape for this thanks to the fantastical worlds it is able to create – I think I realised this as a teenager playing World of Warcraft when I would just zone out in areas like Nagrand or Winterspring with their gorgeous rolling vistas and ambient music, an experience few other forms of media were able to emulate.
Vita of course has its fair share of relaxing games too and being a handheld console, these are even better as you can play them in bed to unwind before you drift off to sleep. I’ve compiled 10 of my favourite calming Vita this titles into this article but rest assured there are plenty more beyond this – what is chilled for one person may not be for another, but the picks here I feel could be universally agreed as some of the most zen that Sony’s handheld has to offer.
Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Venus
There aren’t many top 10 lists for Vita which would see Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 included, but it has kept a place in my collection despite a somewhat critical review I wrote on it for exactly this reason – it’s a relaxing title unlike any other I’ve played on the handheld. Take part in various mini games such as volleyball or flag racing as the girls from the Dead or Alive fighting series, chill in the evening in the casino or unwind by the beach while giving them gifts. It’s the closest you’ll get to a gaming vacation and although the main purpose of your time is to get creepy voyeur pictures of the characters, it’s still a great title just to take it easy with.
Farming Simulator 14/16/18
I used to scoff at the thought of Farming Simulator when I first heard about it – “why on earth would someone want to play a game where you’re working a job?”. Like most things, these thoughts just came from ignorance as I didn’t understand what makes it so compelling. Running your own farm, growing crops and livestock then selling them for profit creates an addictive gameplay flow not dissimilar to Harvest Moon, except here you can just drive your vehicles around your land and surrounding areas which is therapeutic in itself. The three entries on Vita are interchangeable – 18 has the most stuff in, but if you prefer a gorgeous green landscape to the more harsh desert then try 16 instead (or 14 if you want the cheapest).
I’d imagine selling the pitch of a game as “you control the wind and blow around petals” was quite difficult for thatgamecompany but I’m so glad Sony bought into it, because Flower was one of PS3’s finest experiences that translated beautifully into Vita. Part of its charm is how open everything is – although there’s a route through the level and an end goal, you can generally explore and take things at your own pace (there’s no major penalty for dying) making it an incredibly laid back experience. The fact it’s so audibly and visually gorgeous to boot just makes it even more mesmerizing and a worthy inclusion on this list.
There was a time when Sony were all about producing artsy indie titles like Flower above and Hohokum is another game very much in this vein. You play as a long snake like creature and move through environments at your leisure with no set objectives, merely interacting with whatever objects you can and absorbing your surroundings. It’s colourful, whimsical and a great one to unwind to as you can simply bob in and out of it at your own pace. Critics commented that its lack of objectives let it down, but as gaming experiences go that just makes it all the more charming and relaxing.
Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
It wouldn’t be a kresnik258 list article with at least one game that I know most people will disagree with, but hear me out on this one. Jak & Daxter is a challenging 3D platformer that gets tremendously frustrating in its later levels – not something you’d think would be included in a list of relaxing Vita games. Where The Precursor Legacy shines is in its opening hours – the first hub world you visit (Sandover Village) is this gorgeous area full of straw huts and quirky villagers, after which you head out into Sentinel Beach with its gorgeous ocean views and ancient architecture. Throw in a full day/night cycle and you have a world that it’s just fantastic just to exist in and is one I regularly return to so I can chill and unwind in those first couple of chapters. It reminds me of Cinnabar Island from Pokemon Red/Blue in a way in that it’s a gaming town I can imagine myself retiring to!
Much like Jak & Daxter, the inclusion of Minecraft here is not based on its experience as a whole, where you’ll often panic after being trapped outdoors far from safety knowing you’ll be inevitably ganked by creepers, but for one specific section – creative mode. In this, you can build and craft to your heart’s content without worrying about anything destroying your creations and combined with the low poly aesthetic and charm of Minecraft, leads to a game that it’s easy to get swept up in and unwind while playing before bed.
Walking simulators (as they’re commonly known these days) seem to get a bad rep for effectively being ways to tell a story without giving the player much control, which is why Proteus is such an oddity as it doesn’t have any narrative while you’re looking around. Instead, you merely walk though four different seasonally-themed environments taking in all the sights and sounds along the way, before entering a portal at the end to go to the next area. It seems to exist solely to give you a relaxing walk through the countryside and as such I can think of no game more deserving of a place in this article than Proteus.
The Quiet Collection
In The Quiet Collection, you play as a young girl across a series of four different adventures as she seeks to get some peace and quiet so she can unwind. The very premise of this one shows how relaxing it is and like many other titles included here, has a laid back approach to objectives where you can play at your leisure as you figure out the puzzles and progress. Some of the settings are inspired too – I particularly loved the vacation level where you’re in a little seaside town trying to deal with the residents issues so you can read a book by the beach. It has that same chill vibe as Sentinel Beach from Jak & Daxter and I’m all for this in my games.
The Harvest Moon franchise has long been the go-to series for relaxing farming/life sims and while Vita didn’t get any of its own native entries (it does have three available via backwards compatibility including Back to Nature and Hero of Leaf Valley), you’re more than covered by Stardew Valley that seems to have overtaken Harvest Moon in the market. Take over your grandfather’s farm and choose to expand it however you like – plant crops, adventure through caves, interact with the inhabitants of a nearby town, everything is up to you. This chilled structure ensures it’s a great title to unwind with at any time of day – even if this isn’t the most updated version available.
Much like Jak & Daxter, this 3D platformer has its share of frustrations at points, but its breezy tone and not-too-difficult challenges make it extremely soothing to play. Part of this is because Tearaway is a papercraft world that you’re viewing inside your Vita and the developers play up this, encouraging you to just soak in the sights of squirrels throwing acorns at each other or interact with its oddities like Elk asking you to create a new pattern for their coats. It’s all very laid back and is a fantastic game for newcomers to consoles and this accessibility lends itself well to providing an incredibly relaxing experience.
When preparing to write this article, I conducted some research to see what titles other Vita gamers found relaxing and read a wealth of answers, including some I certainly wouldn’t include in my own list like DJMax or Hotline Miami. Some games that just missed the cutoff include Atelier Shallie Plus, Entwined, Flow, Roommates, Sound Shapes, Terraria and The Unfinished Swan all of which are definitely worth your time if you want to kick back at the end of a long day.
So if you’re looking to unwind on a beach this summer, don’t forget to take your Vita with you and please let me know in the comments what your own favourite relaxing Vita titles are!