Here’s a challenge for you. Think back to the era of gaming from the mid-2000s and work backward. The challenge is, can you think of any games that don’t involve some form of combat, conflict, or violence? There aren’t many that spring to mind, right? Well, that’s because there wasn’t really a market for games that didn’t offer non-stop action, thrills and spills aplenty, and usually an arsenal of guns to choose from.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I hold lots of the games of that era in very high regard, but I wouldn’t go out on a limb and call many of them wholesome. However, as the term ‘Indie Gaming’ became commonplace within the industry, I began to see a change in this regard, and a swarm of cute, cozy games started appearing all over the place.
We began to see games that had no death or consequences, games that had cute, minimalist art styles, with little creatures with eyes about the same size as their body, and games with an overall vibe that just made you feel warm and fuzzy inside. In fact, I’ve recently been suffering from cozy-game fatigue because there have been so many new and exciting games of this ilk, but that’s a nice problem to have.
There have been so many titles over the years that have warmed our hearts, helped us collectively chill out after stressful moments, and it would be a shame if I kept this list of cozy titles up here in my noggin.
So with that in mind, I want to share with you some of the most wholesome, mentally restorative, and calming adventures you can go on within the world of gaming. Titles that can help you switch off, unwind and recentre, you that when Monday rolls around, you are recharged and ready to go. Okay, enough preamble; this is our list of the Most Wholesome Indie Games ever made. Enjoy!
Hey, you can get comfy in a second, just set the blanket and hot water bottle to one side a second. We need to lay down some ground rules. We need to establish what constitutes a ‘wholesome game’ and what makes a game like that worthy of a place on this list of greats. So here are the considerations I took into account when piecing together this list:
- All games need to be of high overall quality, so all games need to have a 70%+ aggregate Metacritic score.
- All games need to avoid harsh mechanics like heavy consequences for failure, extensive violence, combat, etc.
- All games must have a warm and inviting art style and a general theme
- All games should be a relatively casual experience
- Games must be accessible to all levels of gamer
Okay, time to snuggle up, pull that duvet to your chin, and get to know all of these cozy titles!
- Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
- Metacritic Score: 84%
It’s literally in this game’s tagline. A cozy management game about dying. Spiritfarer is a title that takes the topic of mortality. A topic that sends a shiver up most people’s spines, and with that, it provides one of the most wholesome, calming, and serene gaming experiences ever crafted. In this title, you play as Stella, the new Ferrymaster taking over from Charon, who must guide spirits to the Everdoor and send them to the great beyond.
Then in the parts in between, you’ll need to house them on your ship, feed them and give them big squishy hugs to keep them in top form.
The soundtrack by Max LL is one of my all-time favorites, the gameplay offers slow, relaxing tasks where failure simply isn’t possible, and you get to meet an unforgettable cast of characters that will stay with you long after you send them off on their final journey.
I will warn you, the emotional moments hit like a punch in the gut, but overall, this is one of the most wholesome games you will ever encounter, and is a seminal indie experience. Also, if you want more of a deep dive, check out our podcast on this game!
- Developer: Monomi Park
- Metacritic Score: 81%
If you have seen one farming sim, you have seen them all, right? Well, maybe you haven’t encountered Slime Rancher yet, as while this game borrows all the typical mechanics found in a farming sim, this title mixes the format up to great effect, offering a fresh take on the genre, with enough cute slimes to ensure a cuteness overload on your part.
In this game, you farm little sentient slimes, like a cattle farmer, but with primordial ooze. It sounds kind of gross, but thanks to a burst of vibrant colors everywhere you look and the satisfying pseudo-FPS mechanics, this is far from the case.
This title is a perfect game for switching your brain off as you enhance your base, build new advanced structures to house your slimy pals; and while it can get a little repetitive, you can essentially play this game forever, which is great for those that want bang for their buck. Oh, and surprisingly the story is deeper than you would expect and quite heartwarming. Overall, this is a great indie well worth your time.
- Developer: Toby Fox
- Metacritic Score: 92%
Hey, wait a minute, can’t you do a mass genocide run in this game? Okay, yes, but hear me out. Undertale is Toby Fox’s magnum opus and serves as one of the most scrappy but incredibly successful indies ever made. Undertale sees you play as a young child called Frisk, that falls below the earth, crossing into a world of monsters trapped by a magical barricade, and you must navigate this strange world to find a way back to the surface.
Along the way, though, you’ll meet a cast of colorful characters, be placed in some truly surreal scenarios, and get to enjoy Toby’s Chiptune assortment of musical oddities in the process.
Why is it wholesome? Well, because of the cute pixel art style, the minimalist design, the accessible gameplay, and the fun satirical writing to name a few things. However, what’s most prevalent is that you can play this game as a complete pacifist, satirically casting aside all the established RPG tropes set in place by the decades of games that preceded this one. This one is an absolute joy from start to end and a perfect cozy title to try out!
- Developer: Matt Makes Games
- Metacritic Score: 92%
Wholesome games tend to have a habit of being titles that aren’t difficult or punishing, and generally let the player set their own pace. However, there are some games that don’t quite follow this script but still manage to fall into this category anyway. Celeste, a 2018 hyper-intense platformer, manages to do just that, and it’s mainly down to the overall narrative premise and message of the game.
In this game, you play as Madeline, who aims to climb Celeste mountain to prove she can and achieve something monumental. However, as the story unfolds, your wrestle with your demons in a story that deals with the topic of depression and anxiety in a simple, but effective way.
The message is wholesome, as is the brilliant soundtrack by Lena Raine, and the retro visual display. However, you may need to sit up in your seat and give this your all, as this is one of the most challenging platformers to ever grace screens, and you’ll need to master this game’s tight mechanics to reach the summit.
You’ll have to accept your demons and learn to live with them, but that’s life, isn’t it? A wonderful message, a wonderful game, and another title we have podcast coverage for; check it out!
- Developer: That Game Company
- Metacritic Score: 91%
When people ask me, can games be considered art? This is the game that I bring to the table every time. That’s why I have it forever inked on my arm. Journey is a game with a simple premise. You begin in the desert with the mountain on the horizon, and your goal is to get to the tippy-top. That’s the journey, and on this journey, you will have to do some simple platforming, puzzle-solving, and sneak around in some rudimentary stealth sections to reach the summit.
From a gameplay perspective, Journey is far from complex. In fact, all you can do is walk around, jump when your scarf is powered up, and use the speak function to interact with certain objects. Yet despite this simplicity, the game has a way of sinking its hooks in and never letting go.
The wholesome vibes come in the form of a narrative told through open-ended metaphors, serene environments, and visuals, and an award-winning, atmospheric soundtrack. Not to mention the multiplayer aspect of this game that allows you to share your journey with a complete stranger, who you can only communicate with via movement and the burst of sound from the speak function.
It’s emotive, touching, and unforgettable, without so much as a single word of dialogue, and again, it’s a seminal indie you need to check out.
- Developer: Witch Beam
- Metacritic Score: 86%
Speaking of games that can tell a profound story without any dialogue, enter Unpacking. A game that literally has you move from home to home throughout stages of the protagonist’s life and unpack their belongings. Sounds mundane, right? Well, I’ll admit that the slow pace might not suit everyone, but placing each item where you believe it should go is deeply satisfying; the puzzle element of fitting all these items into cramped spaces at times is somewhat challenging.
However, the crown jewel with regards to this game is how these items tell a story, serving as a time capsule for these eras in history, and showcasing how people mature and change in the space in between each relocation. It’s cute as a button, a perfect game to play if you want to switch off, and if you are willing to read between the lines, it has a very cute story to tell.
- Developer: StudioInkyFox
- Metacritic Score: 82%
While I’m a huge advocate for Journey, I realize that some players just can’t get behind the clunky platforming and the lack of traditional gameplay. Well, for those players, I usually redirect them to Omno, a game much like Journey that has you play as a silent protagonist that must uncover the secrets of a lost civilization.
You do this by doing some simple platforming and puzzle-solving, but this title offers a lot more traversal mechanics, making getting around these vast areas much more satisfying. Plus, you have a lot more direction within this game by comparison.
It’s another title where failure simply doesn’t feature, and you have all the time in the world to explore each new biome, test out all the different movement skills, and eventually, you will learn of the society that has been left behind. Give this one a try; you won’t regret it!
When the Past Was Around
- Developer: Mojlken Studio
- Metacritic Score: 79%
This is a game that hit me right in the feels, as much like Spiritfarer; this is a game about life, death, companionship, and letting go. In this title, you work through a series of point-and-click puzzles to progress the story, so it’s a love letter to games of old like Grim Fandango, Escape from Monkey Island, and the like, but with a unique art style and a modern twist.
The gameplay is straightforward, and the puzzles, while taxing, aren’t tough to the point of frustration. However, the story is by far the most compelling aspect of this short title.
Within the short space of three hours, the game plays out a silent story where you piece together this narrative through flashbacks, and the ultimate goal is to put the past in the past so that you can exist in the future.
It tugs at the heartstrings, looks adorable, and the soundtrack, which uses the same riff over and over in new and interesting ways, is one of the most clever OSTs I’ve ever come across. This is a hidden gem you must try!
- Developer: Something We Made
- Metacritic Score: 80%
Regular subscribers to PS Plus will probably be aware of this one by now, but I have been a huge fan of this title for quite some time. Toem is a monochromatic photography-based game, where you must take pictures to solve puzzles in a series of different levels.
All the while traveling to see this universe’s natural phenomenon, Toem. It’s a game that marries together aspects of Pokemon Snap, Super Paper Mario, and a few other big-name titles, to offer a cohesive, laid-back puzzle-solving experience.
It’s the cute world full of fun characters and creatures you get to take snaps of, the satisfying camera controls, and the ability to set your own pace that make this game a perfect sleepy title that serves as the ideal companion for a lazy Sunday afternoon in bed.
Whether you are an aspiring photographer, or just a keen fan of simple puzzlers, this is a game you have to check out!
Chicory: A Colorful Tale
- Developer: Team Chicory
- Metacritic Score: 90%
If you are looking for a game that brings you back to a time of childish whimsy, where your only academic responsibility was to try and color inside the lines, then Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a game for you. This game is a Zelda-like title where you play as the janitor of this world’s deity, who paints the world in color to keep the dullness of the black and white away. However, they are missing in action, so you take up the mantle of master painter and begin to restore the world with vibrancy and hue.
It’s a game that is jam-packed with silliness, moments that will make you smile from ear to ear, and equally, it’s a game that deals with rather deep themes of imposter syndrome and self-doubt in a very competent way. It’s a title that will give you the warm fuzzies, and it’s also a very unique puzzle-adventure game akin to Okami in a lot of ways. Pick this up and play it when you can!
- Developer: Pixel Opus
- Metacritic Score: 76%
So you like games where you can paint to restore the world, huh? Pretty niche, but here’s another game to add to your list, Concrete Genie. In this title, you play a young boy who lives in a seaside town, which was formerly a beloved tourist attraction, but has seen better days.
He dreams of becoming an artist, and also dreams of saving the town, and stopping the rot. Well, through the power of a magical paintbrush, you can call upon sentient paint creatures called Genies to help add some color to the town, and you even get to reform your bullies in the process.
I’ll concede that the controller-based motion controls and fidgety, and that’s generous, but if you can get past this poorly implemented gimmick, you’ll encounter an underdog story that shows just why bullies become bullies, and how, with a bit of love, consideration, and a pop of color, you can change the world for the better. Now that’s a wholesome message.
- Developer: Eric Barone/ConcernedApe
- Metacritic Score: 89%
As if we would see out this list without throwing in the most wholesome, inviting farming sim to ever grace our screens. Stardew Valley is the labor of love of Eric Barone, a man that epitomizes wholesome vibes.
This, in turn, has translated to his game through lovely pixel visuals, characters that are diverse and relatable, a soundtrack that makes each new area and season feel unique, holiday festivals that showcase the sense of community found in Pelican Town, and gameplay that is as meticulous and challenging as you want it to be. If you just want to farm a 9×9 plot of crops forever, you can. It’s up to you.
It’s no coincidence that we have seen tonnes of copycat games try and capture the pure and wholesome vibes found in this title. However, even though games like Super Zoo Story, Potion Permit, Coral Island, and many more have their place, I believe that Stardew Valley will forever exist as the king of the farming sim genre.
- Developer: Mobius Games
- Metacritic Score: 85%
There are very few games out there that give you an entire universe to explore and simply nudge you as if to say, ‘off you go, you’re on your own.’ That’s what Outer Wilds does, but not in a way that makes the player feel pressured or overwhelmed. You see, the player is stuck in a time loop, and with each death, you will return to your warm, toasty campfire and begin again.
So the impetus is on following your curiosity, exploring, finding clues that will help piece together the puzzle, and with a little luck, you’ll be able to break the loop.
Thanks to a folksy soundtrack, unique visuals, an impressive sense of scale, and an overarching lack of urgency. The player can explore an entire pocket solar system at their own pace, and believe me when I say, it’s an experience I wish I could experience for the first time all over again. Do yourself a favor and play this one!
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure
- Developer: Ustwo
- Metacritic Score: 80%
Our penultimate entry is a game that many might have slept on, partly because it looks like a ‘My first unity game’ sort of visual display. However, behind these rubbery, cookie-cutter graphics is a game about environmentalism, animal welfare, and a quaint little town that needs you to be the best activist you can be. You might think that this game comes across as preachy, but on the contrary, this game is a very laid-back, jovial, and vibrant experience that just oozes cute.
Now, I will admit, it’s probably one that hardcore gamers will find a little dull, as the gameplay is perhaps more geared toward children and teens, but this accessibility means that just about anyone can enjoy the story, take pics of the wildlife in the region and save the town from a major in the clutches of the corporate world. In a word, it’s lovely, and even though I’m still mad it didn’t offer a platinum trophy, I still recommend this highly.
Stories of Blossom (2023)
- Developer: Soft Leaf Studios
- Metacritic Score: TBD
Then lastly, I’ll leave you with a game that is penned in for a 2023 release, Stories of Blossom. This game is an anthology of short stories, told through the medium of point-and-click gameplay. So much like the aforementioned When the Past was Around in a lot of ways.
The visuals are reminiscent of children’s book illustrations that you would have gathered on the carpet in Nursery/kindergarten with your peers to enjoy. The gameplay is simple enough that all levels of gamers can hop in and understand what is expected of them. Plus, the characters and creatures are so cute you just want to reach into the screen and hug them.
However, the most wholesome aspect of this game, above all else, is the level of care that has gone into making this game disability accessible. Many folks don’t realize how difficult it is for a less able child to enjoy interactive media such as this, but Soft Leaf has taken the time to make this game fun for all. With groundbreaking audio aspects that cater to the deaf gaming community. If you have kids, this is one that you will want to bookmark for the future.
There are hundreds more games that I could have jotted down here, but they just fell short of being part of this elite selection. Fear not, though, as I have added a quickfire list of these titles so that you don’t miss out on these experiences either. Here are the best of the rest:
- Garden Story
- Potion Permit
- Donut County
- The Last Campfire
- Summer In Mara
- My Time at Portia
- Bear and Breakfast
- Tchia (2023)
- Shumi Come Home (2023)
- Never Alone
- Little Witch in the Woods (Early Access)
- Core Keeper (Early Access)Like A Big Digital Hug
As you can see from the list of stellar indies above, there are countless titles that will warm your heart, and give you more than a few ‘aww’ moments. This new trend of cozy gaming looks like one that is here to stay, and if you want to play all the classics that paved the way before the new generation of cozy indies took over, then you’ll need to get cracking.
I hope that this list has given you more than enough to keep you busy as you sit in front of a roaring fire with a hot cup of cocoa. As always, thanks for reading Indie Game Cultunre!
Question: What Does Wholesome Actually Mean?
Answer: By definition, wholesome means “conducive to or suggestive of good health and physical well-being.” So within the context of gaming, this is a title that has a strong moral message, or a game that feels emotionally, mentally, or physically restorative.
Question: What is Wholesome Direct?
Answer: As you would imagine, with the rise of ‘cozy games,’ there have been some companies that have leaned into this phenomenon to cater to gamers who love titles like this, and WholesomeGames decided to do an entire direct event showcasing upcoming wholesome titles. You can check that out, right here.
Question: Can AAA Games be Wholesome
Answer: Due to the production value, the level of nuance, and the pressure of the majority of gamers to include traditional gaming tropes in titles, it’s rare that you see AAA games have this same ability to produce warm, compassionate titles. That being said, it happens on occasion. Here are a few that spring to mind:
• The Last Guardian
• Mario Oddessey
• Life is Strange
• Pokemon Snap