As the endless gray begins to dominate the Pacific Northwest, "experts" might suggest anti-SAD measures like adjusted bedtimes, vitamin D supplements, or strategically arranged lamps. Pish posh! 'Tis the season to embrace the warming combination of a blanket, a TV screen, and a mildly vibrating game controller.

Sure, it can be tempting to marathon your favorite films or TV series when the weather turns, but games ramp up the getaway factor. With that in mind, we're here to suggest particularly sunny and cheerful fare, tuned to distract you from the increasingly dim light peeking through your windows as of late. 

For Clueless Gamers

Netflix Gaming

If you’re already paying whatever insane price Netflix has risen to, open its app on your phone and look for a whole-ass Mobile Games tab, all included with your subscription. (They don’t advertise this much, so you’re forgiven for having no idea about it until now.) Many of these are legitimately good games that have nothing to do with Squid Game or Tiger King, and they have none of the predatory costs or ads found in most “free” phone games. Recs for sunlight-starved gaming novices: Poinpy, an addictive jump-and-jump-and-jump cartoon-action game; World of Goo, an architecture-with-jellybeans simulator; Storyteller, which lets you remix fairy tales by dragging pictures on your screen to create makeshift comic panels; and Too Hot To Handle, a silly and horny interactive-romance series that’ll heat you up on gloomy days.

Apple Arcade

Another subscription service? Again: Most smartphone games suuuuuck. Paying into a gaming subscription service for your phone or tablet means the games don’t bait-and-switch you the way that free-to-play phone games typically do. Apple’s selection is bigger than Netflix’s, but unsurprisingly, it’s only available on i-branded doohickeys. Its cheeriest games include Grindstone (imagine Bejeweled, only the match-3 gameplay here is attached to an epic, Adventure Time-esque quest), Pac-Man Party Royale (four-player Pac-Man on one screen, which is better if you play on an iPad or Apple TV), Crossy Road+ (an addictive, modern twist on Frogger), Air Twister (a late '80s arcade throwback where you ride a dragon and shoot lasers like a high-tech rollercoaster), and Stardew Valley (a cartoony farming sim made by a single Seattle-area person, also available on other systems in a pinch).


Imagine something like Wordle that updates every day with a bunch of clever, phone-friendly games, plus more ways to interact and compete with friends and fewer tie-ins to the New York Times’ worst op-eds, all for free, and you’ve got Puzzmo. Its daily crossword includes a handy, built-in hint system (no more errant Googling to remember which movie from 1995 starts with an H), and its other games range from placing puzzle blocks to remixed versions of chess. Right now, Puzzmo is in a limited state, ahead of a wider public launch sometime in 2024, but you can get in earlier for free by going to its home page and jumping through a couple of hoops.

The Original Super Mario Bros. (1-3) and Super Mario World

Okay, duh–but there’s gotta be someone out there who only knows about this series because of Chris Pratt. The thing is, it’s tricky to play classic Mario video games if you don’t own some kind of gaming device made by Nintendo, and the biggest exception—Super Mario Run, for iPhone and iPad—sucks a big Koopa shell. The original games are all superb, though, and the easiest way to play them these days is to go on eBay and buy either the NES Classic or SNES Classic, which each comes with at least two very good Mario games built-in. There are other ways to play them on your phone, or on a cheaper, pre-made TV box shipped directly from Chinese retailers, but they’re all legally dubious. (Ask a niece or nephew.)

For Lapsed Gamers

Newer Mario games

Again, duh—but if you’ve skipped a few game systems over the years, you have some delectable options on this front. The easiest modern ones to access are on Switch: Super Mario Bros. Wonder (old-school style with best-in-class weirdness), Super Mario Odyssey (entirely in 3D, so you’ll need to be fluent with two joysticks at the same time, but it lets you transform into a T-REX WITH A MUSTACHE, come on!!), and Super Mario 3D World (somewhere in between, with lots of flexibility if you want to add up to three friends on the couch).

Katamari Damacy

It'll be hard to be unhappy while playing a game this fuckin' cute. PALADIN STUDIOS

The video game equivalent of snorting Fun Dip. You’re a cartoon prince whose father, King of All Cosmos, sends you to Earth to roll up every single thing on the planet via a sticky ball in your hands (basically, Pee-Wee Herman’s massive ball of foil). The soundtrack is legendary for its sheer joy, while the game’s explosions of color and silliness make an average Bugs Bunny cartoon look like a Marxist-Leninist textbook in comparison. You can get at least one version of this series on every modern phone, tablet, computer, or game console.

Forza Horizon 5 and Burnout Paradise

If you reach a mid-winter breaking point and want to feel the sun on your shoulders and the wind of an open road in your hair, any of the Forza Horizon car games will get you there. The newest one, Forza Horizon 5, is arguably the sunniest and cheeriest driving game ever made, except when the in-game calendar decides to switch to winter on occasion. (Even then, it’s a dry chill.) Forza is only on Microsoft-branded systems (PCs, Xbox), so if you’re on some other modern game system, Burnout Paradise is a terrific sunny California backup option for aimless driving, and it includes an amusing tweak where you go faster when you slam other cars demolition derby-style.

Just Cause 4

Land on a generic Caribbean paradise, then use the overkill combination of a super-long zipline and a jacket full of rocket launchers to blast yourself across sun-drenched islands. Just Cause 4 is a way better option for braindead open-world antics than Grand Theft Auto, which has always been on the boring side of misogyny and LGBTQIA+ appropriation.

Rez Infinite

In a past life, I reviewed this series on the old Xbox 360—for this very publication! Rez remains a surprisingly trippy and titillating arcade romp for many, many gaming platforms, including most virtual reality headsets if you decide to tune out the bad weather by strapping an entire game system to your face. Wherever you play Rez Infinite, toggle all of the extra “vibration” options in the menus to make the game physically buzz against you to the beat of its trance soundtrack.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

If you never got into Halo, this single-disc compilation of five classic shooter games is all you’ll need to see why the green-dude-versus-aliens series became a merch-selling phenomenon. For the uninitiated, this neon-soaked series’ “T for teen” rating is a bit overkill, as all the anti-alien violence is tame enough for any 10-and-up kids you might want to share this game with. And every Halo game on this disc scales nicely for two, three, or four space marines on the same screen, so you can team up and save the day instead of going online and shooting anonymous, dingbat teenagers on microphones.

For Savvy Gamers

Alan Wake and Alan Wake II

The video game world has a surprisingly robust interest in David Lynch's filmography, with a few classics cribbing from Twin Peaks in particular. None do it quite like Alan Wake, a series that started on Xbox 360 and returned this year with one of the most jaw-dropping sequels of the current console generation. In these games, when you're not solving a mystery in the woods or getting cherry pie at a particularly styled diner, you're shining flashlights in the dark to fend off ghosts. This whole flashlight system, in either game, is killer on a dreary, real-life day—all crackles and static as your hand-held lantern makes shadowy figures writhe, scream, and explode in beautiful 3D vision. Would that we could all wield such a flashlight on King County Metro from time to time.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 

Similar flashlight-gaming schtick as Alan Wake, and quite a bit of fun as a result. This Nintendo Switch game is more family-friendly and thus less Lynchian—though I'd love if this game’s titular, green Mario Brother spoke backward while letting a bird peck at a tied-up Toad.

Baldur’s Gate 3

The most critically acclaimed quest game of 2023 makes our rainy-day list less because it’s full of sunshine and light, and more because it is so all-engrossing, and so clever, so full of fascinating characters and intrigue and morally unclear decisions that you might get stuck on its 80-plus hours of adventure for the entirety of this winter. Heck, this Dungeons & Dragons-branded game offers so many creative possibilities (and, ooh, romantic options) that you can play it twice over and have a different experience each time. You’ll need the newest console or a decent computer to play it.

Helsing’s Fire

This is one of the best smartphone games of all time, but it launched around the same time as Angry Birds and thus got overshadowed like crazy. And yes, “overshadowed” is the operative word. Helsing’s Fire revolves around shadow and light: place shining beacons on a surface that’s otherwise covered in rats and vampires, in such a way that their colored light beams shine on the correct evil specters to burn them to death. Silly, Stoker-worthy dialogue and unique shadow-and-light gameplay make this a bright smartphone option on dreary days.

Thirsty Suitors

One of the most progressive and emotionally fluent video games of the 2020s was made by a Seattle-centric developer, so I’ll take any excuse to recommend it again. The music, style, and writing of this is all quite positive and optimistic, so I wholly count it as fine entertainment during a crappy week under a blanket. Full review here. Thirsty Suitors is short-and-sweet, easily worth its $30 tag, and it comes as part of a paid Xbox Game Pass subscription if you’re already paying for that on either Xbox consoles or Windows PC.