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New year! New games! New brief distractions from the horrors of reality!

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Delightfully, 2022 is getting off to a good start with a bunch of fun indie titles hitting consoles and PCs this month — a giant-robot shooter called Blackwind, a tech startup sim called Startup Panic, and a tactics game called Reverie Knights Tactics that looks like particularly strenuous brain-exercise.

But my eye has been caught by three relaxing titles, each optimized for a different form of unwinding. There’s Pupperazzi’s serotonin-releasing dog-photo mechanic, Aery - Dreamscape’s stoner-flight vibe, and then the chance to return to optimize college with Two Point Campus. Take a deep breath, settle your mind, and choose the form of meditation that works best for you:

PUPPERAZZI

Oh, so you say you love dogs? Well PROVE IT by taking pictures of them. Lots and lots of pictures, of dogs bouncing around a beach, of dogs having a dance party, of dogs wearing hats, of dogs in space. Yes, you’re allowed to pet them too. In a world populated entirely by various breeds of pups, you are given assignments like “find me the dog with the freshest fashion” and set loose in a park with a camera. Wonderful. As you complete your assignments, you level up with fancy gear — a lens that allows you to slow down time, filters to get ~artsy~, and so on. I’m a sucker for any game that has a take-pictures mechanic, and in fact will usually abandon the main quest in favor of photography — so it’s a pleasure to see games in which photos ARE the main quest. What bliss. Now I want a sequel where you are a dog and you have to find photographers and pose for them.

Release date: Jan 20, 2022.

Platforms: Itch.io and Steam.

AERY - DREAMSCAPE

Oh, that bird inside your head? Don’t worry about it, it’s just exploring your secret desires. In Aery, you play as a gliding bird that zaps into the minds of humans to glide around manifestations of their inner psyche, collecting shards of memory to advance a story. A chill exploration game full of cute cozy environments, this one looks particularly compatible with indulging in a relaxing substance of your choice before picking up the controller. No fast twitchy combat, just cooooool bird vibes. The latest installment in a series of similar games (Aery - Sky Castle, Aery - Calm Mind, and so on), all of which have proven to be effective meditation tools for those of us whose minds just WILL NOT SHUT UP whenever we try to unwind.

Release date: January 14, 2022.

Platforms: Developer EpiXR is frustratingly opaque about this — Switch and Steam for sure, and maybe possibly XBox, Playstation, and some VR???

TWO POINT CAMPUS

A followup to 2018’s hit Two Point Hospital, this college-focused sim has players creating a goofy fantasy school, tasked with keeping students happily occupied, socialized, and educated from enrollment to graduation. You design the campus and curriculum, with each “year” lasting about 20 minutes. The landscaping options look delightful as well, with options for laying down paths, hedges, and fountains between academic buildings. As many have observed, one reason Americans get so nostalgic for their college years is because it’s the only time in their lives they have an opportunity to experience living in a sustainable, pedestrian-scale community. I’m expecting this one to catch on with the college & just-post-college crowd — a nice escape from the realities of school with a more zany sim where majors can include jousting and wizardry. Players will likely be tempted to recreate their own college campuses from memory, testing their ability to create a better experience than what was real.

Release date: Sometime in 2022

Platforms: PC and all consoles