Whether or not we’re outside enough to even notice it anymore, the resurgence of Spirit Halloween stores and pumpkin spice everything can only mean one thing: Autumn is unofficially upon us. By now, those of us in school are probably back at it again, smiling sleepily through syllabus week and acclimating to what every last one of our professors refers to as “the new normal.” However, even if this is the case, it still doesn’t feel quite normal, does it? Many students, myself included, tend to avoid online classes due to the lack of structure. I’ve never been the best at creating my own functional schedule—my attempts usually result in too little sleep and too much caffeine. But this semester, the majority of us were forced to make the jump over to distance learning, a change that, while frustrating, I am incredibly thankful for.
But it’s not easy. I think more than anything, now is the time to work on establishing healthy coping mechanisms and self-reliance. One of the best ways to do this, as strange as it may sound, is to firmly establish time to relax and be uncompromising in its execution. I had a conversation with my therapist a few weeks back about my anxiety and how many days I felt completely debilitated by it. I told him most days, I felt so burnt out I was no longer productive but when I tried to relax, I was completely overtaken by guilt and couldn’t do that either. This resulted in me kind of just… existing. So he told me it’s better to formally schedule time to relax or hell, simply panic, than to let it control the entire day. I believe playing games is a perfect method of doing this and wanted to create a list of the perfect ones to take a break with, for your sake and my own.
When creating this list, there were three essential criteria I established: 1) the game shouldn’t be so immersive as to completely derail your studies; 2) the game should relieve stress, not induce it; and 3) the game should be easy to jump into and have natural places to stop. While I initially considered a lot of games, meeting all three requirements quickly cut them down. Darkest Dungeon? Too stressful. The Sims, Stardew Valley and any and every life sim? Way too addicting. After conducting my very scientific research, I was left with five games I feel nail all three requirements—making them definitively, in my opinion, the perfect study break games.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
One of the most frustrating things Gamers™ have a tendency to do is completely dismiss mobile games, and honestly? It sucks. We all need to cut that shit out. But, because of this unfortunate reality, one thing I absolutely love is when a game comes around and reinforces just how incredible a mobile gaming experience can be. Sure, Sayonara Wild Hearts hit consoles and PC as well, but the majority of people I know first experienced it on their phones, and the majority of people I know absolutely adored it.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a loose rhythm game that boasts some of the best pop music to ever grace a game. It’s divided into levels by songs, each around two minutes long, and the goal is to clear the level and obtain the highest score you can while doing so. It’s a great game to jump into, bop along to a few songs and set down again when it’s time to get back to work. Honestly, it’s just great, period—a neon colored, pop music experience about overcoming heartbreak acted out by masked motorcyclists? What more could you ask for?
Another great thing about Sayonara Wild Hearts? It’s available on all consoles and is free with your Apple Arcade subscription.
Super Crush KO
I reviewed Super Crush KO earlier this year and discovered something incredibly important: beat ‘em ups are rad as hell. Furthermore, Super Crush KO is a rad as hell beat ‘em up. Prior to this game, I had never played any sort of brawler. Don’t judge me too hard for saying this but I always thought of the genre as being more catered to men, and to be honest, it was a deterrent. Listen, I know that’s silly. I know games are genderless and will be the first person to loudly proclaim that. But these notions wiggle their way into your brain and are great at subconsciously keeping you out of things. It’s then up to women, and all marginalized folks, to remind ourselves we already have enough people gatekeeping us—we can’t do it to ourselves too.
But all that aside, when I saw Super Crush KO at the PAX East Indie Mega Booth, I was instantly drawn to its pastel, vaporwave aesthetics and Sailor Jupiter-esque protagonist. It just so happened that it’s also incredibly fun and served as a gateway into the genre for me. I think that’s the number one reason it makes the list—it feels truly accessible to all. On top of that, it’s fast-paced, exciting and is a perfect way to fit in some high octane gaming in a short burst. Whereas competing against others can be stressful, in Super Crush KO you compete against yourself as you craft perfect combos and try to best your previous scores. It’s the perfect game to throw on for twenty minutes to punch out some stress before punching out a paper.
Super Crush KO is available on Steam as well as Nintendo Switch.
Reigns: Her Majesty
A long while back, I fell head over heels in love with a game called Long Live the Queen. In it, you play as a princess-turned-magical-girl doing her best to improve her skills and make it to her coronation day both gracefully and, well, living. It’s an incredibly fun experience that I have put countless hours into because it’s the type of game that really sucks you in—which is exactly why I’m not recommending it on this list! However, Reigns: Her Majesty does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of that game without requiring an intense and continuous time sink, which is why I immediately fell in love with it when it launched back in 2017.
In Reigns: Her Majesty, you play as a recently crowned queen who must balance her finances, faith, popularity and authority. Now that might sound a bit complex, but really you only do two things throughout the entire game—swipe right or swipe left. Every choice you make impacts your stats and any one of those stats getting too low or too high results in your death. Once you die, you take on the role of a new queen, retaining all items and knowledge from your previous life. The game is quirky, mystical, hilarious, accompanied by stunning minimalist art and is one of my all time favorite mobile games. It’s a fun way to spend a half an hour, but not so intense as to demand much more time than that in a single sitting.
Bonus: Reigns: Her Majesty is just one version of the popular Reigns series. Reigns, Reigns: Her Majesty and Reigns: Game of Thrones are all available on mobile and Steam.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
I’ll be honest, I considered quite a few games for this spot on the list—a spot I chose to reserve for a short n’ sweet online, multiplayer experience—before settling on Fall Guys. At first I gravitated towards Overwatch, a game I’ve sunk 500+ hours into since its release back in 2016. I mean, despite all my various issues with Blizzard, that game remains one of my favorites of the past decade—I genuinely love it. I also strongly considered giving it to Apex Legends, because I think of all the battle royales that popped up, it’s the one that resonated with me the most. But at the end of the day, this spot absolutely belongs to Fall Guys.
Now, I’ll admit, this is partially because it’s in the zeitgeist right now. When Fall Guys came to PlayStation Plus this month, I don’t think anyone could have predicted it would quickly become the most downloaded Plus game of all time, but here we are. For weeks now, my Twitter timeline has been filled with clips from the game. Hell, it’s nearing midnight and I just checked Twitch to see there are still 75300 people currently watching this game be played. I think part of the appeal—and another one of the reasons it makes this list—is because it’s so simple to pick up. Whereas MOBAs and battle royales require a combination of knowledge, strategy and talent, Fall Guys is significantly more forgiving. You don’t have to know how to play a certain character, you just gotta flail your way to that finish line and watch out for people in pigeon costumes. Everyone knows they’re shady as hell. Just limit yourself to a few rounds and this is a great way to release some steam without getting your blood boiling the way a conventional shooter might.
Fall Guys is available on PC and PlayStation 4, where it is this month’s free game with PlayStation Plus.
Ring Fit Adventure
Time and time again we hear about studies linking improved memory and thinking skills to exercise. We know it’s good for us, we know we gotta do it, but one of the number one reasons we don’t is simply because we feel we don’t have time. However, if we have time for a 30 minute study break, we have time to grab a glass of water, strap on that thigh band and burn off some nervous energy. Whereas hauling yourself over to the gym might sound like too big a commitment for a 20-30 minute long break, it takes hardly anytime at all to jump into Ring Fit Adventure—and that’s just one of its many perks.
Simply put, Ring Fit Adventure takes the work out of working out. It guides you through important stretches, assembles a healthy mix of cardio and exercises and, most importantly, respects your knowledge and boundaries, making it the perfect game for players regardless of their current fitness level. The game is also fantastic at immersing you within its whimsical world, allowing time to pass by more quickly and enjoyably than it does as elliptical your way down to zero on a timer. That being said, you don’t really have to fear getting carried away with Ring Fit Adventure—it is, after all, still exercise and you will tire. Luckily the game is divided up fairly well and a natural stopping point is generally only five or so minutes away at any given time.
Ring Fit Adventure is an exclusive Nintendo Switch title.
Jessica Howard is an editorial intern at Paste and the managing editor at gaming site Uppercut. She enjoys loud music, hot coffee, and games with romanceable NPCs.