Everyone has that one meal that brings joy and comfort in tough times. It may not be the healthiest food or the “finest dining”, but it always cheers you up and gives you that warm, happy feeling (one of my personal favorites is Greek Spaghetti that my wife makes!). Games are the same way. I think we all have a few titles we come back to time and time (and time!) again when we need a pick-me-up. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all! Just looking at old box art and game inserts provides some nice consolation during hectic times, but nothing quite beats actually playing one of my favorite “comfort food” games, which I want to share in this post.
Having been a gamer since I was a kid, there’s quite a few games that fit this description for me (including just about every game I own for the Super Nintendo!). But I’m narrowing the list down to a few titles that really stand out as triggering a huge dose of nostalgia or very happy memories with friends or family.
Oh, and there are plenty of relaxing games on modern consoles, but for whatever reason the cartridges of older systems make them all the more comforting to me. Alright, hope you brought your gaming appetite, because here are some of the most delicious “comfort food games”!
Super Mario RPG
My best friend Kamal and I talk about this game all the time. Why? Because Super Mario RPG is simultaneously amazing and ludicrously nostalgic, with that special feeling of “magic” that makes it timeless. The characters and graphics are beyond charming. The mechanics are a blend of Mario platforming and a unique and innovative battle system, all with a stellar soundtrack. Such care went into crafting this story and world, and it shows in every aspect of the game. This is Nintendo and Squaresoft firing on all cylinders while at their 16-bit pinnacle; a special snapshot in time we will never see again. A lot of folks think this game is bested by Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. That’s a wonderful title, but my favorite and most comforting Mario RPG will always be Legend of the Seven Stars. Maybe we’ll see a true sequel someday!
Most comforting feature: It’s hard to choose, but I’m going with the characters! Each and every one of them was so cleverly (and often humorously) written and often subverted expectations. I’m certainly a big Geno fan! And let’s not forget the amazing Axem Rangers.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
Every single time I do a “classic game day” with my best friends, we have to beat this game. With good cause! First off, it’s easily one of the best beat-em-ups ever made. I’m not even the biggest fan of the genre but the silky smooth, well-balanced gameplay is simply irresistible. Then add in how Turtles IV is nostalgic in a thousand ways. For the arcade scene in the 90s. The old Ninja Turtles cartoons. For birthday parties and sleepovers as kids where we ate insane amounts of pizza and had way too much soda. There’s just so many memories permanently attached to playing this spectacular title. It’s a beat-em-up and Ninja Turtles experience that’s yet to be duplicated to this day.
I also want to give a quick shout out to Hyperstone Heist, which doesn’t quite reach the heights of Turtles in Time, but I played so much as a kid! It’s a stellar little title that deserves some more love, and is still very comforting to me to play today.
Most comforting feature: The soundtrack. The theme for the first level, “Big Apple, 3AM”, instantly transports me back to being a kid and rockin’ out while beating up some foot soldiers with friends!
Donkey Kong Country
You may already know that Donkey Kong Country 2 is my favorite game in the series, one that I play through every year. But I think the original DKC is the best “comfort food” game, largely because it’s so ubiquitous with the mid 90s! This game saved the Super Nintendo and brought DK back to the spotlight-it was a cultural phenoma that everyone was talking about. The game was clever, easy to control, challenging but not too much so, and bursting at the seems with color and colorful ideas. I distinctly remember sitting down to play this game about a week after my second daughter was born and it was immensely calming. A much needed slice of “comfort food” games!
Most comforting feature: Like Turtles IV, I have to give it to the soundtrack. Tracks like Aquatic Ambience are extremely calming, nostalgic, and also immerse you in the beautiful world Rareware crafted.
Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
My favorite games in the Zelda series are actually Breath of the Wild and Ocarina of Time, but it’s Link’s Awakening I’ve beaten the most. It was a pack-in title with my Game Boy I got for Christmas in 4th grade, and holds a special place in my heart because it was the first Zelda game I actually finished on my own! (this was back in the days before the internet, and I didn’t have a guide, so it took me like two years). The quirky characters and little world of Koholint are so uniquely charming-there’s really no other Zelda like this one to this day. It’s a bit strange with all of the crossovers from other Nintendo series, but everything just works. The tale is also surprisingly heartfelt and dark, especially for releasing way back in 1993.
Oh, and The Ballad of the Wind Fish is a beautiful piece of music that always brings tears to my eyes. A prime example of “comfort food” games in musical form.
Most comforting feature: The sound effects! All of the little chiptune sounds in this game are enchanting and take me back to playing it as a kid under our living room lamp, since the Game Boy screen was so poorly lit.
Super Mario 64
The first post I wrote for The Chozo Project was about my Nintendo 64 nostalgia. That console represents a big transition from childhood to adulthood for me, and I think no game is more strongly associated with N64 nostalgia than Mario 64. The magnitude of the leap forward in game design here cannot be overstated. And it’s possible we may never see another jump as grand again! I was blown away in 1996, and playing it now still brings back that feeling of excitement. When compared to modern games, it’s certainly not without flaws, but it’s one I return to again and again. Every part of the experience is comforting, from the moment Mario pops up on the title screen and says “hello!”, to the nostalgic “Staff Roll” music in the credits. I even ranked the courses during my playthrough in the 3D All-Stars Collection!
Most comforting feature: This might sound odd, but simply running around Peach’s castle. That freedom was unparalleled in 1996 and still brings a wave of comfort today.
Mario Kart 8
This is by far the newest game on this list. There was a lot of craziness happening in our lives when I got a Wii U and Mario Kart 8 (you can all about that in my retrospective) and this game really helped comfort us. It’s my favorite Mario Kart to date, and a crowd pleaser all around for gamers and non-gamers alike! I mean, It’s impossible not to be charmed. The ease of gameplay, colorful graphics, upbeat soundtrack, and homage to Nintendo and Mario Kart history make it an always joyful experience. It’s easily one of favorite more recent comfort food games, and my wife and I still love to play a few courses after a long day to unwind!
Most comforting feature: Playing old Mario Kart courses remastered in glorious HD! I especially like the SNES Rainbow Road and Royal Raceway from the N64 entry.
I’ve completed Super Metroid more than any other game I’ve played. It’s long been in my top 3 games of all time. I love everything about it so, so much. The graphics, the atmosphere, the feeling of isolation, the exploration. The terrifying bosses. The feeling of empowerment as you get stronger. A very understated but emotive story. It all comes together beautifully! And even though the map is ingrained in my memory, every time I play through Super Metroid, I still get a rush of adrenaline and excitement. It’s so brilliantly crafted that each experience is simultaneously thrilling and comforting.
Most comforting feature: I could go into ludicrous depth about how every feature of this game brings some measure of comfort! But I think I can best summarize with “atmosphere”. Each area is so distinct in graphics, gameplay design, and soundtrack, that it’s like “coming home” while traversing the map.
It’s hard to resist a second helping…
I could really go on and on. Games are very ingrained in my upbringing and pivotal moments of my life, and I find myself rediscovering certain titles later with newfound nostalgia (recently, this has been the Sega Genesis and classic Sonic games!). So updates to this post are probably on the horizon!
But in the meantime, I hope you’re able to enjoy a few “comfort food” games yourself. Alright, off to play some Super Mario RPG…
Would you include any of these titles in your own personal “comfort food” games list? What are some additional games you come back to time and time again for comfort? Let me know in the comments below!
9 thoughts on “Favorite “comfort food” games”
That’s a great list. My list includes:
SMB and Faxanadu (NES)
Psycho Fox (Master System)
Ultima series, particularly IV through VI plus Underworld
Final Fantasy IV (SNES version, aka II) and DKC
Golden Axe (I would LOVE to be able to play the arcade versions of GA 1&2 on Switch!)
Sonic 1, Bare Knuckle 3 and Fireshark (Mega Drive)
All excellent choices! I just picked up a loose Faxanadu cart and am excited to play through it soon 🙂
Oooh, I’m excited for you! The jump physics are very heavy and take some getting used to, but the exploration is fun, it moves at a great pace once you get out of the starting town, and the soundtrack is fantastic!
I recommend locating a scan of the manual – it isn’t a complicated game but there are a few mechanics to get across.
I’m so excited to try it out! Thanks for the tips and I actually picked up a cheap original manual too so I’ll be sure to read it before jumping in!
Even better! I love those old NES and SNES manuals. They really feel like integral parts of the experience.
100% agreed! Truly works of art-such care went into making those things and that’s really where you got the main story from too!
You had me at Super Mario RPG and thank you for mentioning it (first!). SMRPG came out at the tail end of the SNES era and I had decided to hold off on purchasing ($70!) and was preparing to sell my collection to prepare for the Ultra 64. I couldn’t rationalize spending $70 when there was a big $250 purchase on the horizon. If money were no object, of course I would have kept my mint CIB snes collection (sold to a friend for $180). I believe I rented SMRPG from blockbuster once or twice before I sold off my SNES and was content – afterall, the 3D revolution of Super Mario 64 was coming and you HAD to be there. Right? I kept returning to SMRPG over the years, realizing how amazing a game it is. I would even rent an SNES system from blockbuster with the game just to try to beat it in one weekend (I never did!). Not until the great emulation progress made in the late 90s-early 00s was I able to finally beat SMRPG (albeit on a usb ps1 knockoff controller on my pentium 4 PC). I kept returning to SMRPG every few years. Not only to experience the music, the beautiful artwork and Geno’s “serving a higher authority” but to also beat the game. Being able to face off against Culex or Smithy was enough motivation to start a new game. What a ride! Anyone who says SMRPG has been by surpassed by any other Mario rpg is unfortunately mistaken (and should have their lunch money taken). I hope one day I’m wrong, but SMRPG has set the bar quite high.
On Turtles in Time, I was surprised to see it one day in an Aladdin’s Castle at the “nice mall” where I grew up. To fully appreciate Turtles in Time, I have to go back a couple years. The 1989 original turtles game was the first arcade game I fondly remember – sure I had played other arcade games before, but there was a marked leap in graphics and sound quality with Turtles 1989. I’ll always have fond memories giving older kids quarters to play the game for me just so I could watch (and my parents explaining it was ok for them to accept my quarters/tokens). Turtles 1989 was everything you could have asked for in a video game adaptation. You got to play a cartoon with up to four players at once!
Turtles in Time came out of nowhere for me (I didn’t catch those issues of EGM which forecasted its release) and it improved on every single facet of the original. Sprites were bigger, the music was louder and the hit box mechanics improved. And holy cow the level variety and rotation/scaling effects were awe inducing (e.g.: getting time warped never got old). I couldn’t put enough quarters into that arcade game.
And then I saw the preview in EGM heard around the world: the SNES was getting Turtles IV: Turtles in time. I was still happily playing on my PAL NES (our family had just moved to the US from overseas) and was happily playing Mario 1, 3 and Soccer (featuring the USSR and East German teams!). So guess what I asked Santa for that Christmas? An SNES with Turtles IV. Turtles in time was the reason I wanted an SNES. Not Super Mario World, not Zelda: A Link to the Past, but Turtles in Time.
I return to both SMRPG and Turtles in Time quite often and I’m glad they’re in this list. All the games you mentioned are great. Shout out to Donkey Kong Country.
Also, nice SMRPG guide!! 😃
I love your epic tale of nostalgia with Mario RPG, Kamal! I similarly only played it off and on back when it released. One of my best childhood friends had a SNES and he kept renting the game until we managed to beat it, but neither of us owned it then! He never added it to his collection, and I didn’t have a SNES until quite a bit later (see my SNES Nostalgia post for those of you who don’t know the story!) But the magic of the game stuck with me long past its release, and it was one of the first titles I picked up secondhand when I finally got a Super Nintendo! I remember playing through it right after you guys helped me move up to Boston years ago…such a comforting and jubilant game when times are changing and stressful! Same for the guide :).
Turtles IV is an interesting one for me, because I grew up largely playing Hyperstone Heist first (I’m sad the prices for it CIB have gotten so crazy!) and didn’t pick it up until I was much older, already teaching. But it’s still insanely nostalgic for so many reasons!