Gaming can evoke a wide range of emotions, from fear and stress to exhilaration and empowerment, but titles that convey genuine happiness are rarer than you might think. Typically, with all fun comes a darkness—and it’s hard to find something that’s bright through and through. Even then, some things that should be cheerful end up being overbearing and more successful in creating a migraine than warming your heart.
There are many experiences with a happy exterior, but once you crack the shell, what lies beneath is far from happy. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch has a colorful aesthetic and adorable character designs, but its story is suffused with a darkness centered around trauma and overcoming grief. We don’t want to highlight such games today. The following games can make you happy without the clutter that surrounds them, offering good vibes and happy themes in the foreground. Every title on this list has made me happy and still makes me smile when I think about it.
Astro’s Playroom is the epitome of lighthearted fun without a darker core. If you’re a fan of PlayStation and its rich history, this game will make you smile. It’s loaded with references to both classic and modern Sony exclusives, as well as a collectible section for every piece of hardware the company has ever released. Each soundtrack is upbeat and bursting with fun mechanical sound effects, with one even being accompanied by adorable robotic vocals singing “I’m Your GPU” in a song that’s inappropriately catchy.
What’s particularly amusing is that each area is linked to a piece of the PlayStation 5, taking players through areas like SSD Speedway and CPU Plaza. Considering the game is free and automatically installed on the PS5, it’s a fun way to bring in the latest and greatest hardware from Sony. If you’re in the mood for something that says nothing more than being a love letter to a beloved facet of gaming history, Astro’s Playroom is a solid choice.
Heaven: Children of the Light
Sky: Children of the Light is the only game on this list that betrays my initial promise to avoid funny-looking games with a darker core. While it’s a leisurely foray into a soft, pastel-colored world filled with joyful collaboration and peaceful vibes, the further the player delves into the game’s story and world, the more they’ll understand what really lies beneath.
Sky: Children of the Light is a game about the inevitability of death and the glory of rebirth, propelled by the player’s clashes with a mysterious being shrouded in darkness. The final act of the game sees the player running through a nightmarish hellscape littered with the corpses of fellow players who perished before them, and your only choice is to spend every last ounce of your energies blasting their souls with your light to rescue. There is no way to survive this encounter; your death is inevitable. It’s dark and admittedly not the funniest ending, but every moment before it is the complete opposite.
Sky is a cute little game about silently communicating with others through adorable emotes, little noises you can emit at the touch of a button, and holding hands as you bounce through its cloudy aesthetic. Every animation and shrill sound brought the biggest smile to my face, and working with gorgeous-looking strangers to unlock new areas and discover secrets is unforgettable.
A hat in time
A Hat in Time is a beautiful platformer that draws inspiration from 3D platform titles from the Nintendo 64 era, such as Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie. Though it’s rough around the edges, Gears for Breakfast understands what made games of the era charming, and throws players into stylized and vibrant worlds that perfectly embody the simple beauty of that aesthetic. Movement is key, and controlling Hat Girl feels great as she dashes around on her scooter, double jumps, sprints and slides across areas straight out of Nintendo’s GameCube.
While there aren’t many areas, each is driven by a completely different idea with specific goals. In one level, the player scales an escalating port city occupied by angry sailors, and in the next, they hurtle through a massive movie studio, get thrown onto a train and, in sepia movie style, determine who is responsible for a murder. So much of A Hat in Time is absolutely gorgeous, and each chapter has the weight and variety of its own gameplay.
A short hike
A Short Hike takes players on a journey to the top of Hawk Peak in the shoes of a cute little bird trying to navigate the world. It’s an easily digestible experience that only takes an hour or two to enjoy what the game has to offer. Overwhelmed with anxiety about answering an important call, Claire has to climb to the top of the mountain to get cell phone service. The player can walk around and perform various activities or interact with an endlessly supportive cast of characters. The peaceful winds, atmospheric soundtrack and mellow aesthetic bring a soothing warmth to every moment of A Short Hike.
The day I started A Short Hike was not a good one; I felt dejected, useless, and overwhelmed with the feeling that none of my actions could ever matter. But this is an experience that perfectly balances calm and positivity, managing not to be overbearing with its cheerfulness while also harboring relatable themes rooted in fear and living in the moment. It’s a truly spectacular little game and one of my favorite feel-good experiences in the medium.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing holds an unwieldy hold over my heart. The shortest line of dialogue or the tiniest emote from one of my villagers could easily bring me to tears. There’s something about the ethos of this series that makes every little moment, no matter how little played, pack a bombshell.
New Horizons continues this trend and takes it to a slightly larger scale. Every piece of furniture and tiniest perk feels like it was made with love, and every animation has a tangible joy. From the soft color palette to the diverse character personalities, Animal Crossing can deliver an immersive feeling that’s like a second life.
To see how much emotional investment I have, I forgot to log in on my birthday and missed the party my villagers threw for me. Overcome with heartache and sadness that I did something so horrible to them, I haven’t started the game since.
See our full Animal Crossing: New Horizons review.
Tearaway: Unfolded has quickly become my favorite 3D platformer due to its incredible level design and the creativity behind each paper-like asset and animation. This is a journey that takes the player to a novel origami land, offering unique opportunities for exploration and combat as they progress through each area. It also has an upbeat soundtrack, with frequent percussion and an explosive use of instruments to keep each track somewhere between epic and silly. Unlike LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway doesn’t allow players to delve as deeply into the creative aspects, but there are plenty of ways to customize your character
Tearaway: Unfolded brought a gigantic goofy smile to my face. It’s something special to find a game that puts so much love into every little thing and has as many different looking areas as it does. It perfectly captures the feeling of being created by a child’s imagination and throws you into the clutches of a little child’s origami wonderland.
I will never stop loving Minecraft. Aside from being an absolute joy to play, I have important memories from watching YouTubers like Yogscast, Seananners, and X on their journey in early 2010. And it’s not just a game that stays nostalgic for me, since almost every year I’ create new memories by starting new playthroughs with friends, by trying a new mod or by joining a unique server with special rules.
Significant sections of my life can be linked to a new Minecraft-based memory that could be identified as its own unique gaming experience. Whether you were playing classic Minecraft at launch, storming through the adventure game-like horrors of Yogsquest, being invaded by factions, building a cozy swamp house, participating in Minecraft Hunger Games, or playing wild mods that have you accidentally stepping into other dimensions and tears in space -Creating Time Continuum, Minecraft is the gift that keeps giving.
Little Big Planet
LittleBigPlanet is my favorite game of all time and responsible for my greatest childhood memories. It has had a monumental impact on my life today as I spent thousands and thousands of hours between the first two games over the course of about five years. I met a lot of my best friends through this game; these are people I still hang out with and meet physically quite often.
LittleBigPlanet knows how to spark a child’s creativity perfectly and there’s nothing quite like experiencing it firsthand. And of course I was that kid many years ago. Working on new projects every day and seeing what everyone else in the community was doing was magical. These games became my home and my greatest source of happiness on a daily basis. They gave me the courage to be creative, pulled me up when I was down and reassured me I was safe when I felt the opposite.
I’ve never put so much energy into developing games, music and worlds as I did when I was a teenager playing LittleBigPlanet. The memory of my innocence, joy and confidence brings me to tears.