What exactly makes a game wholesome? Is it the player’s state of mind while playing? Is it an adherence to specific aesthetics or messages? Is it the inclusion of birds? Well, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s the last one, because at least half of the games on this list are about birds specifically, but the idea of a “wholesome” game is a bit more nebulous than that.

It’s more of a feeling, really: a game that you can relax to, that can be challenging but never punishing, with elements of friendship, community, and kindness. But not always — some “wholesome” games (like a certain game about a bad goose) are more about letting the player go a little bit wild, but always in a way that’s gentler and less severe than chopping people’s heads off in a Dark Souls or a Witcher game.

And, of course, there’s always the Wholesome Direct, which is packed full of anthropomorphic animals, cafés, camping, and farming. The difference here is that the Wholesome Direct is indies-only, but our list includes a couple of the big names, too.

Without further ado, here we are: the bestest wholesomest games on the Nintendo Switch.

A Short Hike (Switch eShop)

Publisher: Whippoorwill / Developer: Adam Robinson-Yu

Release Date: 18th Aug 2020 (USA) / 18th Aug 2020 (UK/EU)

A Short Hike has a lot of the hallmarks of a great wholesome indie game: talking animals, a message about stopping to smell the roses, and the kind of soundtrack that you want to listen to in the bath. It’s just downright lovely.

For a game that’s nominally about a “short hike” up a mountain (to get reception on your phone), A Short Hike becomes about a lot more quite quickly, whether that’s finding secrets, helping people out, or just exploring the world on your way up (and down, and back up again).

There’s plenty of joyful, wonderful moments to be discovered in A Short Hike, but the best one of all is when you realise that the journey is sometimes more important than the destination.

Untitled Goose Game (Switch eShop)Untitled Goose Game (Switch eShop)

Publisher: Panic / Developer: House House

Release Date: 20th Sep 2019 (USA) / 20th Sep 2019 (UK/EU)

What do you think of when we say the word “wholesome”? Is it a little family of pigs, wearing knitted jumpers? Perhaps it’s an anthropomorphic fox drinking tea? Well, you’re all wrong. The most wholesome thing is a horrible goose terrorising a village with a chaotic accompanying classical piano soundtrack.

You already know Untitled Goose Game, most likely, since it went very viral when it came out, but in case you haven’t already played it, it’s all about a naughty goose who loves stealing things and honking loudly. It’s daft, silly fun, with a lot of wonderful moments that emerge out of the goose’s antics, like making a man fall down by stealing his chair, or trapping a child in a phone box.

Honestly, Untitled Goose Game’s humour is what sets it apart: it’s the kind of game that’s all about gentle pranks and being very, very annoying, but no one really gets hurt or becomes the real butt of the joke.

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Yoku's Island Express (Switch eShop)Yoku's Island Express (Switch eShop)

Publisher: Team 17 / Developer: Villa Gorilla

Release Date: 29th May 2018 (USA) / 29th May 2018 (UK/EU)

Bugs in pinball might sound more like a job for the vacuum cleaner than a video game, but hear us out: Yoku’s Island Express is one of the most hidden-est gems on the Nintendo Switch. You’re a lil beetle, and you need to deliver post; what better way to do it than to fling yourself around the map in a pinball-puzzle-platformer game?

Along the way, you’ll learn about the inhabitants of the island, their various secrets, and best of all, you’ll find that size is no limit when you’re heart’s big enough for the task.

No bugs were harmed in the making of this game.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch)Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo

Release Date: 20th Mar 2020 (USA) / 20th Mar 2020 (UK/EU)

At a very specifically not-wholesome time in our lives — the beginning of a global pandemic — Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out, and soothed a lot of our worries away with its candy-coloured, animal-befriending holiday island.

Sure, you can play ACNH in a number of different ways, a lot of which are stressful — like trying to collect all the pieces of furniture, terraforming your village, or visiting deserted island after deserted island to try and find Marshal because you NEED him on your island… but at the end of the day, it’s a game all about relaxation, making friends, decorating houses, and placing flowers in a cute little garden that you designed.

With the co-op features, it gets even wholesomer (if that’s a word), as you can welcome people to your island in order to trade, show off your designs, or just hang out in the lovely Museum. If only life were this simple.

Haven Park (Switch eShop)Haven Park (Switch eShop)

Publisher: Mooneye Indies

Just like A Short Hike, Haven Park is all about being a bird. Unlike Untitled Goose Game, you’re not a complete arse — you’re a very cute little bird, named Flint. Flint is the new caretaker of an island camping ground, and players will be tasked with building new attractions, decor, and features to attract new campers.

The side quests are fantastic, adorable little treats, with a range of quirky anthropomorphic animal characters and a wealth of secrets to be found. And there are so many of them; from trying to find someone who’s really good at hide-and-seek to stumbling upon a downed plane called the “Yellow Baron”, Haven Park is full of delightful things to discover.

But the best part? There’s a dedicated button to make Flint say “pew”. Pew pew pew.

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