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.
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, and in my opinion is still the best Metroidvania game created. 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. 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!