We’re heading into the cozy months now, all pumpkin-spiced and swaddled in scarves, and a trio of comfortable-looking games are poised to drop just in time for you to retreat into the warmth of your winter sanctuary. Each is cozy its own way: Tomb of the Lost Sentry provides a comforting hit of 8-bit nostalgia; Len’s Island whisks you away to a sunny island where cabins need building; and Moncage dims the lights and hands you a pretty puzzlebox to spin in your hands like a Rubik’s Cube. Put a kettle up to boil and prepare a teabag while you add these games to your wishlist.
For the last five years, indie developers have scrambled to produce the next Stardew Valley: A back-to-nature experience built around farming, crafting and fighting; pleasingly chill; modest in scope; and (most importantly) beloved by millions. Welp, look no further: Stardew creator Eric Barone just announced that he’s working on his followup, a mysterious project called Haunted Chocolatier. Until that game drops (no word on release date) we’ll have to content ourselves with more Stardew-alikes; and Len’s Island looks like a suitable solution. You wander a bucolic island, farming crops and upgrading your shack and occasionally fighting in caves. I showed the trailer to a friend, and when he saw the player bonk a tree and turn it into collectible planks of wood that could be turned into furniture, he was like, “oh, one of those.” Yup, one of those. I’ve played a lot of terrible attempts at this genre, and Len’s Island stands out above the rest with a lovely polished art style that makes the game look like it was assembled from a toychest. Made by a team of just two people, this is as polished an entry into the farm/craft/fight genre as I’ve seen in some time.
Release date: November 26
Platforms: Steam for PC and Mac.
TOMB OF THE LOST SENTRY
Available to play now as a demo, Tomb of the Lost Sentry offers your standard beep-boop lo-fi pixel-art platforming and puzzle-solving. You are a cultist, recently separated from your cult, fleeing through an extremely hazardous 2D dungeon. The game’s retro style is so convincing that I keep having to remind myself that it doesn’t come on a bulky plastic cartridge that I have to blow into before inserting into a spring-loaded console that plugs into the back of a CRT TV. Nicely-designed puzzles and chill-vibe music make up for my one minor quibble, which is that the art is so dark you may have to fiddle with your monitor brightness. But a little squinting is a small price to pay if you're hooked on the 8-bit platform-hopping of your youth. Another plus: It’s made by a Washington-based developer. Nice.
Release date: November 15
Platforms: Steam for PC.
Spin a magic cube to reveal various scenes that, when viewed from juuuuust the right angle, solve little puzzles. Is this an inventive mechanic or an idiosyncratic gimmick? I’m a little dubious about whether this will be fun for a prolonged period of time; but for now I’ve been won over by the cozy art style and my own personal affection for cute dioramas. Relaxing and inventive, there’s also a story hidden behind the puzzles and a hint system to keep you from getting too stuck. (The Steam forum features many a post from playtesters unsure how to proceed; the developers have added video walkthroughs to help guide you past the tricky bits if you want.) The game evolved out of a student project at NYU that sought to "leave the players in a mood of awe and wonder," which seems like a very fine state in which to enter these coming dark wintery months.
Release date: November 15
Platforms: Steam for PC, and the developer said at one point that they’ll have an iOS and Android version but I haven’t seen any recent confirmation of that.