Summer is normally a time for exploration and discovery. Traditionally, this is the time we head outdoors to spend time in nature spots, visit the beach, go camping, hiking, fishing, biking, and more. With the pandemic forcing us to stay indoors this summer for the second year in a row, video games have become a reprieve and outlet to replace the usual summer activities and our social life with friends.
Here are a few recommended games that manage to capture the essence of summer and which you can play while staying safe at home.
Genshin Impact is an anime style action role-playing game that features an open-world environment and action-based battle system using elemental magic ang character-switching. The game, which takes inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, was released worldwide for free on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Android and iOS in late 2020 and will be released on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5 this year.
The game takes place in a fantasy world home to seven distinct nations, each tied to a natural element and ruled by a god associated with it. The story follows a twin, referred to as the Traveler, who becomes separated from their sibling by an unknown god. As the Traveler, your mission is to search for your lost sibling as you become involved in the affairs of the other nations, gods, and the world.
For a free game, the world is surprisingly huge and well-designed, with peaceful and idyllic landscapes. Exploration is a joy, and you'll be rewarded for poking around. The game features a lot of classic RPG features like hunting for treasure boxes and campfire cooking, where you unlock recipes as you explore. Lakes are full of fish, you can pick fruits from trees or flowers in fields, and gather ore from rock formations. Everything has a use in cooking, alchemy, or quests.
The game has received generally positive reception, with critics praising the combat and open-world. The game is online-only and features a limited multiplayer mode allowing up to four players to play together across platforms, making it a good choice for those who want to play with friends online.
Valheim is an upcoming survival and sandbox game that has become one of the most played and has garnered rave reviews after its early access release on Steam this year. The game takes place in a world where slain Vikings go to prove themselves fit for the halls of Valhalla. As fallen Vikings, players must thrive in the Viking afterlife by gathering resources, crafting tools, building shelters and fighting enemies to survive.
The world includes several biomes, namely Meadows, Black Forest, Swamp, Mountains, Plains, Ocean, Mistlands, Deep North and Ashlands. A unique food system makes in-game hunting, foraging and farming key to progression: the amount of health and stamina available to a player is dependent on the variation and quality of the food that is eaten. To stay alive in Viking purgatory, you need to level up your culinary skills and constantly upgrade your tools.
Co-operative gameplay with up to ten people and optional PvP gameplay is supported in Valheim.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a life simulation game released exclusively for the Nintendo Switch in 2020 that's become wildly popular during the pandemic era. In the game, the player controls a character who moves to a deserted island filled with adorable creatures. You can play the game in a nonlinear fashion and develop the island as you choose, gather and craft items, customize the island, and form it into a community of anthropomorpic animals.
With its never-ending gameplay loop of fishing, catching bugs, improving your home and making friends, it’s no wonder the gloriously peaceful and comforting game is a breakout hit due to social distancing and stay at home orders.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a 2016 action-adventure game released for the Nintendo Switch and Wii U consoles that sparks a sense of wanderlust and adventure.
Similar to the classic 1986 The Legend of Zelda, players are given little instruction and can explore the open world freely in Breath of the Wild. Tasks include collecting multipurpose items to aid in objectives or solving puzzles and side quests for rewards. The world is unstructured and designed to reward experimentation, and the story can be completed in a nonlinear fashion.
Super Mario Sunshine
Super Mario Sunshine takes place on the tropical Isle Delfino, where Mario, Toadswroth, Princess Peach and five Toads are taking a vacation. A villain resembling Mario, known as Shadow Mario, vandalizes the island with graffiti and leaves Mario to be wrongfully convicted for the mess. Mario is ordered to clean up Isle Delfino, using a device called the Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device (F.L.U.D.D.), while saving Princess Peach from Shadow Mario.
The game, which was originally released in 2002 for the GameCube, was remastered and re-released for the Nintendo Switch in 2020.
Summer is synonymous with beach trips and water activities like snorkeling and diving. If you enjoy scuba diving during summer months, Abzû offers a short and sweet underwater escape at home.
In this unique non-violent game from the same team as the desert-themed Journey (2012), you play a diver exploring the ocean and restoring life. The gameplay allows the player to freely navigate underwater environments ranging from open water and natural caverns to ancient ruins. It’s all about swimming around underwater and exploring beautiful subaquatic scenes full of the fantastic colors of the sea and all kinds of ocean life. You can catch rides on different fish and meditate on statues you find.
Originally released as a digital title in 2016, Abzû is currently one of the free games recently offered this April 2021 to PS4 players as part of their Play at Home initiave. The game has also been released on the Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Amazon Luna.
Flower offers breathtakingly beautiful visuals and music for a deeply meditative gaming experience. In Flower, the player controls the wind, blowing a flower petal through the air and lush grasslands using the movement of the game controller. You just fly, glide, and react to the world around you. Flying close to flowers results in the player's petal being followed by other flower petals.
Approaching flowers may have effects on the game world, such as bringing vibrant color to previously dead fields or activating stationary wind turbines. The game features no text or dialogue, with a narrative arc primarily done through visual representation and emotional cues which provide a blissful experience.
Flower was originally released back in 2009 for the PlayStation 3, but versions of the game were also ported to the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and most recently iOS and Windows. In case you haven’t played this yet, it’s definitely worth checking out amid the pandemic.
The Witness is an introspective and subtle first-person exploration puzzler video game released in 2016 that was inspired by Myst. Similar to the ’90s classic, you are dropped on a mysterious island without any instructions.
The game involves the exploration of a summery open-world island, with intricately interwoven puzzles hidden all around the environment. The game provides no direct instructions for how these puzzles are to be solved, requiring the player to identify the meaning of symbols in the puzzles. With a whopping 523 puzzles, not to mention side quests and environmental puzzles hidden around the world, it may take a while for completionists to finish the game to 100 percent.
The Witness is another free game up for grabs for PS4 players this month. It’s also available on Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Nvidia Shield, macOS, and IOS.
Melbits is a colorful and kid-friendly 3D puzzle-platformer video game with 6 different worlds, many challenging levels and crazy power-ups.
Melbits are modern-day pixies, the cheerful creatures who live inside gadgets. Your mission is to “spread the Internet's good vibes” by neutralizing the evil glitches that cause everything in the digital world to become malfunction.
This deceptively simple-looking game involves a lot of focus and multi-tasking as you help the Melbits through 72 challenging levels to restore balance on the world wide web. You can also customize the main characters through costumes, which adds to the fun.
Melbtis SEA, a customized free-to-play mobile game for Southeast Asia was just recently released on the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store. The collaborative platform puzzler is also available on the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows.
Summer Catchers is a retro-styled arcade video game where you embark on an epic road trip adventure of a life time.
You play a northern girl on a trusty wooden car, embarking on a quest from the frozen north to distant lands full of mystery and strange creatures who ready to both help, and stop you from completing your quest of finally seeing summer. The satisfying side scroller released in 2019 features a quirky cool art style in a colorful world that mixes racing, story, rhythm and puzzle elements.
Summer Catchers is available on Steam, Nintendo Swtich, Android and Apple.
Miss traveling to amuseument parks? Disneyland Adventures might be the next best thing. This gentle exploration and adventure game allows fans of all ages to explore a virtual Disneyland park, enjoy adventures based on 18 popular attractions, engage in 100 challenging quests and interact with 35 beloved Disney characters.
The game features a park-accurate map and mini-games based on the attractions, such as the Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.
The game was originally released in 2011 for the Xbox 360, but you can now team up for some couch co-op play, in the remastered version for the Xbox One which features both Kinect support and 4K visuals. Disneyland Adventures is also available for Microsoft Windows 10 via Steam.
A Short Hike
As the title suggests, A Short Hike is a little exploration game about hiking up a mountain.
In this indie game developed by a Canadian programmer, you hike, climb, and soar through the peaceful mountainside landscapes of Hawk Peak Provincial Park. The open world exploration game tasks the player with reaching the summit to get cellphone reception.
You have to follow the marked trails or explore the backcountry as you make your way to the summit. Along the way, meet other hikers, discover hidden treasures, and take in the world around you.
A Short Hike was released for Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux in July 2019 and for the Nintendo Switch in August 2020. It’s also available on itch.io, Epic, Steam and GOG.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill
Channel your inner Danny MacAskill with a thrilling ride down an unspoiled mountain landscape in this fun low-poly style mountain biking game that captures the essence of summer.
In Lonely Mountains: Downhill, you have to make your way through thick forests, narrow trails and wild rivers. Race, jump, slide and try not to crash—all the way from the peak to the valley. You can also compete with friends and prove your speed-running skills on the leaderboards.
The game was released on the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh operating systems, and Xbox One in October 2019 and Nintendo Switch on May 2020.
Vacation Simulator is a VR title where you’re supposed to discover the true meaning of time off. The game is all about learning how to relax and enjoying simple pleasures like playing in the sea, throwing snowballs or admiring the local wildlife. All taken care of by lots of friendly bots.
The colorful, kid-friendly game is described as “a rough approximation of vacation inspired by real human not jobbing” brought to you by the same robots behind the Job Simulator.
In Vacation Simulator, your mission is to reallocate your bandwidth and get ready to splash, s’more, snowball, and selfie your way to optimal relaxation on Vacation Island. The game is currently available on PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, and Android.
(Banner image from Valheim, Genshin Impact & Animal Crossing)