Because even the best vacations have some down time for your phone or Switch.
Generally speaking, you go on vacation to get away from things: work, social obligations, the home you spend every day in. This means that, as much as we like them, you shouldn’t really spend much time playing video games. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for them—vacation might be the only time you get to dip into a game, after all. A good vacation game shouldn’t be too engrossing. It should be a fluid experience, one that can be interrupted frequently and picked up at a moments notice, entertaining enough to keep you busy on a long flight, for twenty minutes on a hammock, or five while you wait for a travel partner to finish getting ready. Here are some ideas:
If you’ve got an iPad, you should have Sunless Sea on it. You play as a series of captains—they don’t have a terribly good life expectancy—in a fantasy setting that imagines Victorian London as an underground city at the edge of a cavernous, subterranean ocean. As a captain, you embark on voyages in search of resources to earn you enough currency to upgrade your vessel, hire more crew members, and eventually, retire, if you’re lucky—but that’s not really why you’re playing. The game’s real purpose is to have you collect stories, and Sunless Sea is filled with great ones, full of wit and character and a little bit of horror. It’s like a novel you can play through, perfect for sprawling out near an idyllic view or killing time at an airport.
Available on iOS and Android, 80 Days is one of the most elaborate choose-your-own-adventure stories you’ll ever see. Inspired by and based on Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, you play as Passepartout, manservant to the eccentric Phileas Fogg—a British gentleman who has made a foolish wager that he can circumnavigate the world in 80 days. As Fogg’s valet, you’re the one responsible for most of the work of actually figuring out how this is going to work: You choose routes, where to stop, and how to spend your limited time in each location. Like Sunless Sea, the joy of 80 Days is in the stories you encounter, and the wealth of them there are to find. No two attempts at making it around the world will play out the same way, and even if you don’t make it, you’ll have a great time. It is, essentially, a game where travel snafus are actually lots of fun. Play it with a friend and see how far you can get together.
One of the reasons Fortnite is possibly the biggest game in the world right now is because it is both free and available on just about everything with a screen. That includes your phone and Nintendo Switch—two pretty solid travel companions we’d recommend having on you. Got a wifii connection? Then you can jump into one of the most compulsively playable games out there for a round or two while you wait for your friends to wake up and pack their beach bags.
If you’ve got a Nintendo Switch (or, as unlikely as this is, a Playstation Vita), Stardew Valley will quickly become one of your favorite games to play on it. A loving homage Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley casts you as a disillusioned office worker who finds they’ve been left their grandfather’s farm, and quits their corporate job to restore the dilapidated place. From their, the game is up to you. Days pass in Stardew Valley over a matter of minutes, and there are many ways to spend them: Getting to know townsfolk, growing crops, working in mines. A video game full of manual labor sounds dumb (I’ve done landscaping, it sucks) but the rhythms of Stardew Valley are soothing, and its pacing makes it easy to pick up for minutes or hours. There’s a simple magic to Stardew Valley and it lies in the notion that even in a life full of routine, you never know what each day brings, and that can be wonderful.
Life Is Strange
There’s a whole genre of games out there that are structured like TV shows, where you play as a character in a five-episode miniseries, and the choices you make carry over into each episode, making it feel like the story is responding to your choices. One of the very best of these is Life Is Strange, a story about a girl named Maxine who discovers she can rewind time, and stumbles upon a dark secret in her boarding school. Awkward at first but quickly gaining confidence (who can relate?), Life Is Strange is a beautifully warm story about friendship in the face of disaster, one that you feel better for having played. Download it to your phone or iPad and give it a shot next time you board a plane.
Board games are making the leap to phones and tablets in a big way, and they’re a pretty great way to while away some idle time on a phone or tablet without getting too involved that you won’t want to get up and go somewhere. As far as selection goes, you can’t go wrong with the tile-laying genius of Carcassone, but rest assured, there are plenty of other choices. Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, you name it. Game away.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
If you’re traveling with something like a Nintendo Switch and you’re also not traveling alone, it’s not a bad idea to bring a game you can play with other people. For that reason, you should have something like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with you. It’s the quintessential party game, instant fun you can whip out at a flight delay or during an unexpected thunderstorm. No one gets mad at someone for bringing Mario Kart.
Overcooked is one of our favorite games to play with others, so it’s worth considering if you’ve got a Switch on you for the same reasons Mario Kart is. But even on your own, it’s a series of clever puzzles that can easily keep you occupied for twenty minutes or an hour, a great solo diversion that can turn into a party game at a moment’s notice.
The Room: Old Sins
Deemed “the greatest iPhone game series in the universe” by our own Drew Magary, The Room games are a series of wonderfully tactile puzzle boxes that are a joy to manipulate on a touchscreen. Play them on a tablet, and you’ve got room to sit next to a friend and solve the puzzles together. And the best part is that there are four of these—the latest title is Old Sins, but I highly recommend starting at the beginning with The Room as the puzzles get more over-the-top and expansive as the games progress.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The one game you must own if you have a Nintendo Switch, Breath of the Wild is remarkable for being one of the most expansive and engrossing games in recent memory, but also somehow accommodating. Doing small things feels just as worthwhile in Breath of the Wild as doing big things. Only have a few minutes? Climb a mountain, see what’s on top. Or solve a puzzle shrine. Or tame a horse. Got a long flight? Dive into one of the massive dungeons. Get lost on an island. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best games in recent memory not because it’s impressive, but because it’s welcoming, and that makes it a perfect travel companion.
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