Including beginner-friendly, ones to play with kids and even games based on your bookshelf…
From reading to baking, lockdown has seen many pastimes surge in popularity. Engaging and escapist, solitary or social, it’s unsurprising that video gaming is right up with them.
With a dizzying choice of games split across multiple apps and consoles, however, this vast entertainment industry can be overwhelming for newcomers. Enter our ultimate video game guide: a hattrick of roundups from family-friendly to great for beginners and even games based on your bookshelf.
With many leisure activities still off limits, we've got a game for everyone to enjoy during downtime at home. Time to whip out those controllers…
The ten best video games…for beginners
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch)
The latest in Nintendo’s most wholesome franchise, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an engrossing experience and ideal for newcomers. The goal of the game is simply to exist - make friends, water the flowers, fish for rare catches - as you help your island become a charming place to live. The game is set in real time and moves at a slow, measured pace that’s perfect for new starters who want to avoid pressure.
Portal (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Don’t be put off by the first person perspective and the gun - Portal is a puzzle game through and through. It even has fun with physics (blimey) and is designed to get you thinking outside the box. An added bonus, the witty writing and voice acting on antagonist AI GLaDOS makes this a hit.
Stardew Valley (PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
The ultimate escapist fantasy, Stardew Valley is a low-key, relaxing combination of farm simulator and role-playing. Like Animal Crossing, there’s no real pressure, and you’re free to progress at your own pace. Work on your farm in a beautiful valley, befriend villagers, feed animals, tend to your land and complete simple missions to upgrade your property. A small but perfectly formed gem of a game, Stardew Valley is available on most consoles and also has a multiplayer mode.
Flower (PC, PS4)
Originally on the PS3, Flower has been recently remastered and is perfect for newcomers who want to use video games to relax. You play as the wind, blowing petals through the air, and the focus on simply enjoying - rather than winning - makes this the ultimate de-stressor.
80 Days (Smartphone)
Inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World In Eighty Days, this beautiful narrative-focused adventure sees you plot your own route around the world - by train, steamer, gyrocopter and more - and watch as the story unfolds. A surprisingly engrossing game for its size, 80 Days has the benefit of being on smartphone, making it easily accessible.
Minecraft (PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
A familiar name even amongst non-gamers, Minecraft is the best-selling game of all time and has become something of a cultural phenomenon among younger audiences. Minecraft has two main game modes, survival and creative, and it's the latter that suits newcomers; allowing you to shape the world as you see fit. Build mountains, towers, forests, castles and let your imagination run wild. The PC version literally has no limits either so there’s nothing holding back your creativity.
Civilization V (PC)
Some of the best games for beginners are those that let you shape worlds, without the pressure of hitting objectives or fighting off hordes of monsters. Civilization V does just that. Build your own civilization over time, starting with a small roaming tribe before progressing to a high-tech society. As you learn about science and culture while watching your world develop, you can even pretend you’re doing something productive.
Monument Valley (Smartphone)
You play as Princess Ida in this stylish and masterfully constructed little puzzle game. Guide the Princess through a series of shifting worlds, with architecture inspired by M.C. Escher’s iconic staircases. This is great for players who love Sudoku and crosswords, and want to use gaming as a new way to exercise their brains.
Rayman Legends (PC, Xbox One, PS4, Wii U)
Bursting with humour and silly surprises, Rayman Legends is unashamedly good fun and very accessible; handy for newcomers who want to start playing platform games but find the mass of Marios and spiral of Spiros a little overwhelming. Many platformers are easy to get into, hard to master, but Rayman Legends paces itself (and the player) well. You’ll feel like a pro gamer in no time.
Threes (Smartphone, Xbox One)
This smartphone puzzle game sounds simple on paper - you move tiles around a board to generate and combine multiples of three. What you won’t be prepared for is how addictive it is. Easy to pick up, but very hard to put down. You’ve been warned…
The ten best video games…to play with your kids
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch)
With the newly introduced multiplayer function, the whole family can now experience Animal Crossing: New Horizons together. Show off your island utopia to family and friends or pack your bags and visit theirs; even without hopping on a flight, you’ll meet a cast of charming animal residents bursting with personality. The overall experience is a wholesome and entertaining one for everyone, whether young or old, experienced or not.
Minecraft (PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
So handy is Minecraft for all ages, it gets used in schools to help with creativity and problem solving: ideal for downtime and for home-schooling alike. Smaller children can play the sandbox ‘creative mode’ and you can build worlds together while older children can play the survival mode; which sees users fight, dig and explore to stay alive.
Mario Kart 8 (Nintendo Switch)
An updated version of the family classic, Mario Kart 8 features new maps, cars and characters to choose from, allowing you to design the perfect character to race with. With one gaming console, four can play at once; with multiple consoles, up to twelve players can battle it out for the title of winner of the race.
Overcooked 2 (PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
Overcooked sees you take on the role of cook in the kitchen, and teamwork is a must. Just like in a real kitchen, you must deal with problems like bumping into each other, lack of space, running out of time and ensuring that none of the food burns. So aside from being a blast, it's got some real timely skills to teach. For families that like to compete, there’s a competitive mode too.
Snipperclips (Nintendo Switch)
A cooperative puzzle game, Snipperclips sees users play as pieces of paper and try to solve puzzles by forming certain shapes. Additional modes include party and blitz, which offer players opportunities for four-player mode and light competition in minigames such as basketball or ‘snipper deathmatches.’ Easy to understand for all family members, Snipperclips is also a fun way to build communication.
Murder by Numbers (PC, Nintendo Switch)
Don’t let the name put you off, this is the perfect family whodunnit. The story follows detective Honor Mizrahi as she attempts to solve a series of different murders, but there’s a catch: not only must you interview suspects but, to find clues and answers, you must solve a series of puzzles to unlock the keys to move forward.
Super Mario Party (Nintendo Switch)
Super Mario Party is a modern take on a Mario-themed monopoly. Each player rolls the dice and decides which direction to move in but, depending on where you land, you’ll be given different challenges and minigames to play. These are easy to follow, from memory puzzles to reaction challenges, making this great fun for all generations.
Sonic Mania Plus (Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
A throwback to the Megadrive classics of old, Sonic takes on a new challenge in Sonic Mania Plus, which comes with a competitive multiplayer option for all the family. Choosing between Sonic, Tails and Knuckles, players travel fast through various zones to tackle an array of adventures.
Lego Worlds (PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
A Minecraft-style game, Lego Worlds drops players into a massive open world and lets you team up, build structures and enjoy free reign to explore. The Lego element, meanwhile, should appeal to young and ‘young at heart’ alike.
Rocket League (PC, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
Rocket-power cars playing football… Do we really need to say more? Rocket League is an all-round pleaser.
The ten best video games…based on your bookshelf
Love supernatural thrillers? Try playing: Oxenfree (PC, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
Told through dialogue, Oxenfree is a single-player game that’s part coming-of-age story, part supernatural thriller. You play as Alex, a headstrong and rebellious girl, who visits a decommissioned military island with her friends and unwittingly opens a ghostly rift from the island’s sordid past. Unlike novels, how you deal with this supernatural fallout is up to you; your choices affect the fates of each character, not to mention which ending you’ll receive.
Oxenfree plays with time in the way other horror writers play with space. Like House of Leaves, it’s built on loops and patterns repeating, confusing the player as to what (or when?) is truly going on. Like a great book, the game sticks with you long after you’ve unravelled its chilling mystery.
Play if you loved reading: Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Stephen King’s The Shining and The Body, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca
Love reading fantasy? Try playing: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)
Zelda is often maligned for its story; some say this is unfair, arguing that the series has crafted fantasy tales to rival the best books of the genre. Regardless, The Legend of Zelda certainly has many of fantasy’s most iconic ingredients: princesses, castles, ancient and all-powerful artefacts…
Like many fantasies, the game also takes place in the distant past and sees good and evil battle it out via an unlikely protagonist; in this case Link, who is thrust into an epic adventure culminating in a fight for Hyrule against the power of Ganon.
Play if you loved reading: Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire
Love reading cyberpunk noir? Try playing: Neo Cab (PC, iOS, Nintendo Switch)
The best cyberpunk noir stories often have one foot in the mundane and one foot in the fantastic. Philip K. Dick’s Ubik for example, follows the dull lives of office technicians who just happen to work at a psychic agency. Neo Cab reflects this duality, making it perfect for fans of the genre.
In this game, you play as futuristic taxi driver Lina; cruising the streets of a neon-soaked city as she picks up passengers, takes on jobs and investigates the mysterious disappearance of her best friend - because all good cyberpunk noir stories need a crime to solve. Like many sci-fi stories, which explore contemporary issues, Neo Cab also features themes such as our relationship with technology and the isolation that comes from living in big, modern cities.
Play if you loved reading: Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and A Scanner Darkly, Isaac Assimov’s The Caves of Steel, Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon
Love reading objectivism? Try playing: Bioshock (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Objectivism is a form of philosophy literature pioneered by author Ayn Rand, which basically says individuals should be free to follow their own self-interests. Sound a bit heavy? It is. But Bioshock is built on it.
Playing Jack - who stumbles upon Rapture, a lost Art Deco city hidden beneath the sea - you’ll notice numerous references to Ayn Rand and her philosophy. Even the name of Andrew Ryan, the game’s antagonist, is inspired by the pioneering writer and thinker. Ryan created Rapture as a super-society where people are free to run wild with their ideas. As you explore the city, however, you’ll soon realise everyone in it has gone completely insane…
Play if you loved reading: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead
Love reading magical realism? Try playing: Kentucky Route Zero (PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
In this point-and-click adventure, you play a truck driver navigating eerie highways on a road trip across America. Developed in chapters over almost a decade, the game is something of a modern fairy-tale; fantastical and haunting, with an imaginative nature undercut by dark cynicism.
Magical realism is all about wonder and curiosity, but often uses surrealism to comment on real world issues. Set in an America where no-one has a house, in which the housing association is run by senseless bears, Kentucky Route Zero is a silly and sad indictment of modern US society.
Play if you loved reading: Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84
Love reading classic literature? Try playing: Sunless Sea (PC, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
In this gloomy and haunting tale of sea-faring exploration and adventure, the player must trade goods and battle enemies - all with the goal of building enough wealth to put their lifestyle behind them. Already sounds like a Dickens novel right?
Like many tales of the era, Sunless Sea is also epistolary, told through fragments of letters and diary entries. What the game really captures, however, is that sense of an epic new world. If you’re a fan, make sure to check out the sequel Sunless Skies.
Play if you loved reading: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Dickens’ Great Expectations, George Elliot’s Middlemarch, Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Love reading satire? Try playing: Grand Theft Auto 5 (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Rockstar’s GTA series has always had a wry eye on current culture, and fans of satire novelists like Heller and Palahnuik should get themselves a copy of GTA 5.
Released back in 2013 and set in Los Santos - a warped mirror version of Los Angeles - the game takes nihilistic glee in tearing down the culture of mid-2010s America. Michael, one of three main characters, is obsessed with pop culture and movies. We see barbed commentary - often in the form of radio adverts as you drive through the sun-drenched streets - on the horrors of celebrity fixation, political apathy and vapid self-obsession. It’s a Bret Easton Ellis novel in game form.
Play if you loved reading: Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Chuck Palahnuik’s Fight Club, Bret Easton Ellis’s Glamorama and American Psycho
Love reading war stories? Try playing: Titanfall (PC, Xbox One)
In his Vietnam short-story collection The Things They Carried, Tim O Brian’s highlights that the fact of war pales in comparison to the feeling it evokes. This can be felt when playing Titanfall. The game has a less grounded approach than O Brian’s bestseller (you’re fighting in giant, mechanised exoskeletons for one) but, with you and your friends on the virtual battlefield, it powerfully simulates the emotions of war.
Play if you loved reading: Tim O Brian’s The Things They Carried
Love reading dystopia? Try playing: Blackbar (PC, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
The creators of Blackbar called it ‘serious, artsy, and texty’ - which makes sense because, unlike all the other games on this list, Blackbar is all text.
Set in a bleak dystopia, this puzzle game challenges the player to decode a series of personal letters blacked out by the sinister Department of Communication - which could have walked right out of Orwell’s 1984. Also echoing Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451, it’s designed to get you thinking about the nature of censorship and control, and how powerful forces use language as leverage and power.
Play if you loved reading: George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451
Love reading adventure? Try playing: 80 Days (iOS)
Loosely based on the Jules Verne classic Around the World in Eighty Days, this small-scale whimsical adventure sees the player (as Phileas Fogg naturally) plot and plan his way around the globe by steamer, express train, airship, hover-car, and gyrocopter.
The game harks back to that simpler time when the world still felt huge, but the advent of technology was just starting to creep in. Like any great adventure novel, the game offers something a little different every time you play it.
Play if you loved reading: Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
These roundups were compiled with price comparison site Uswitch, which has also compared video game download times around the world