After all the celebrations are done, all the food eaten, all the gifts opened, there is finally some time to enjoy a little bit of holiday leisure, be it alone, or with friends and family.

Catch up on shows, get a few more pages into that book on top of your pile of shame, or finally spend a few more hours playing games, now that you’re not stressed about school or work for a little bit.

To help you with the latter, we’ve prepared a short guide with a few games worth giving a shot over the holiday break. Most of them aren’t this year’s hits (except one, and that one’s a great catch!), but all of them are excellent in their genres, and we’ve made sure to include both nice, friendly games, as wells as some more serious and competitive options, so that many playstyles are covered.

We’re not saying you should get and play them all, but it would be a pretty cool plan for your break.

A Relaxing Adventure: A Short Hike

Release date:2019-07-30

If you want nothing more than a cozy exploration game to play this holiday season, take a look at A Short Hike.

An overwhelmingly cute game about a young anthropomorphic bird, Claire, who’s desperate for some cellphone reception during a vacation on a remote (and quite picturesque) island. And it turns out you can only get a signal from the mountain peak. Time for a trip!

The game’s core experience is based on exploration and finding the golden feathers which improve Claire’s stamina, but once you reach the peak, the game is happy to just let you roam freely, enjoying the side-activities you ignored before, and soaking in the warm, relaxing atmosphere. Low stakes, likable cast, and the serenity of being in nature make A Short Hike a lovely experience.

Key features
  • Friendly aesthetic full of gentle colors and anthropomorphic animals
  • Climb, swim, and glide to get to the top of the picturesque mountain
  • No apocalypse to avert: just young bird trying to get cellphone reception
  • Pleasant adaptive soundtrack

Survival Strategy: Frostpunk

Release date:2018-04-24
Developer:11 bit studios

On the exact opposite extreme, there’s Frostpunk, a game which couldn’t be less cozy if it tried.

Set in an alternate history 19th century, the campaign focuses on a community trying to survive an apocalyptic volcanic winter by a coal-powered heat generator. As the Captain, the de facto ruler of the community you must implement policies which lead to its survival in these harsh conditions.

Finding a balance between having enough resources to power the generator and maintaining the people’s hope is a tough one, and there are many narrative moments in this strategy game, where you’ll have to make the hard choice of doing what will help the city survive, or doing something that will make the people want to still care about survival. It’s hard, it’s morally challenging, it’s excellent.

Key features
  • Brutal, challenging survival strategy game
  • Set in an alternate history world, where Krakatoa eruption caused a new Ice Age
  • You must compromise between people’s hope and survival of the community
  • Several scenarios in addition to the core campaign

Challenging Exploration: Hollow Knight

Release date:2017-02-24
Genre:Action & Shooter
Developer:Team Cherry

Hollow Knight is just as harrowing as Frostpunk, but in a different way.

It’s more personal, more small-scale. The game is set in a gloomy kingdom populated by anthropomorphic insects. What once was a thriving community has become ravaged by a mysterious illness striking at people’s free will. As the Hollow Knight, you have the chance to help the kingdom remove the source of The Infection.

Hollow Knight is a 2D, side-scrolling game with a Metroidvania structure, with new regions becoming accessible once you have the abilities required to get there. It has a challenging combat system, relying a lot on precision and pattern recognition. Exploration is likewise an important part of the game, as the world is populated with many NPCs yielding bits of the story and lore.

Key features
  • One of the best Metroidvania games in the genre
  • Dark, emotionally draining setting that’s worth saving
  • Tight, exciting combat
  • Excellent, hand-drawn 2D aesthetic

Innovative Puzzles: Baba Is You

Release date:2019-03-13
Developer:Hempuli Oy

Do you like puzzle being… weird? If so, you might have a ball with Baba Is You, a game about changing how the game works.

It’s a series of contained challenges, and each level has a few simple rules designing how it work. They are built out of blocks you can interact with, so you might, for example, push “stop” out of “wall is stop” rule to gain the ability to move through walls.

The basics seem simple and straightforward, but don’t let that fool you: after teaching you these basics the levels quickly get complex and convoluted. Completing the game requires a lot of out-of-the-box thinking, as there are more rules active at once, they might need to be activated in a specific sequence, and map layouts get more ambitious. It’s a real brain teaser.

Key features
  • Extremely simple graphics, extremely complex puzzles
  • Logic is just part of the solution; the other part is thinking out of the box
  • Based on modifying the rules, including the win condition, of each level
  • Over 200 levels

Chaotic Co-Op Fun: Overcooked 2

Release date:2018-08-07
Developer:Ghost Town Games Ltd.

Let’s lighten up the mood, shall we? Overcooked 2 is a delightful entry in a series which might just challenge Mario Kart for the status of the most friendship-testing games in existence.

Fundamentally co-operative, Overcooked 2 puts players in a kitchen and asks them to make as many specific meals as possible. Sounds simple, but have you heard how too many cooks spoil the broth?

Preparing each dish requires several actions (like chopping ingredients, making sure the plates are clean, keeping an eye on the stove etc.) and it takes good coordination to handle this even in a calm environment. Overcooked 2 doesn’t have calm environments. The kitchen layouts tend to change and shift, forcing you to adjust your prior plan. It’s fun, hectic, chaotic, and an excellent party game.

Key features
  • Co-op for up to 4 players
  • Over 40 deliciously chaotic levels
  • Several entertaining DLCs
  • A merciless, but highly amusing test of your communication and coordination skills

Immersive Storytelling: Firewatch

Release date:2016-02-10
Developer:Campo Santo

Firewatch is a great game to play if you want to unwind from all the fun and friendly frustration of Overcooked.

It puts you in the role of a man called Henry, who started a job as a fire lookout in a magnificent Wyoming forest. The job is quite easy and lonesome, but the game’s story puts you on track of a little bit of a mystery taking place in the region to keep you occupied.

The story is interesting, with a few twists and turns, but where Firewatch truly shines comes after you figure out what happened and the credits roll. That’s when the forest opens up for you and you can just… explore, free from the plot, just having a nice walk around a gorgeous locale. It won’t replace going on a hike IRL, but it’s the next best thing, and you’ll never run out of snacks.

Key features
  • Great setting: Wyoming’s picturesque Shoshone National Forest
  • A lonesome “walking sim”, with only a walkie-talkie to connect you to the other fire lookout
  • An interesting mystery story in the main campaign
  • You can freely roam the forest after completing the game

Hilarious Multiplayer: Gang Beasts

Release date:2014-08-29

Gang Beasts is a PvP game that is hard to take seriously.

Not in the sense that it’s not a real game, it very much is, but its nature is inherently comedic and it’s hard to be upset even when you lose. How does the game accomplish this? The key is making the “fighters” incredibly clumsy, in the “adorable bag of uncoordinated jelly” kind of way. It makes even gruesome violence funny.

And make no mistake: in a game like Mortal Kombat some arena elements would lead to gore nightmares. Here, a jellybean person getting thrown into an incinerator or bone grinder looks like cruel experiments conducted on a gummy bear. There are no health bars involved, the only way to win is to (clumsily!) grapple your opponents and try to throw them over the arena’s edge.

Key features
  • The funniest PvP fighting game you’ll ever play with your friends
  • Customizable characters
  • Clumsy and imprecise by design
  • Over 20 levels filled with various hazards

Rhythmic Action: Hi-Fi Rush

Release date:2023-01-25
Developer:Tango Gameworks

You haven’t played a hack’n’slash like this one before.

The core combat system is inspired by games like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but everything in the game is synchronized to a steady beat of the main character’s music player. Enemy attacks, environmental hazards, even obstacles in the on-rails sections, they are all subject to the beat. And you can exploit that.

You can attack anytime, but your attacks are much stronger if you match the rhythm. You can dodge, but doing this on the beat lets you chain three dodges at once. You can parry attacks, but perfect parries only happen…you get the gist. The story is appropriately upbeat, featuring a goofball protagonist, a vibrant supporting cast, over-the-top villains, and a strong sense of humor.

Key features
  • Cartoonish, cel-shaded aesthetic
  • A hack and slash game with the world and actions synced to a beat
  • Several licensed tracks, including bands like Nine Inch Nails and The Prodigy
  • Spectacular special attacks, including tag-team moves performed with your allies

Can you fit them all into your schedule?

This concludes our list of games we suspect you would have a ball playing over your holiday break, especially if you’ve got gaming friends or family coming over. After all, there are two great ways to keep warm during winter: the heat of your PC and companionship.