Christmas is a special time of year when families take time out of their busy lives to gather and remember the important things in life. But there’s a big difference between loving your family and being able to tolerate them for days on end.
Sweeping the nation is a hot new trend that is revolutionizing how families spend Christmas. Whether the conversation has taken an awkward turn because your aunt said something casually racist or your brother and his wife just had a full-blown fight in front of everyone, join the millions of people surviving the holidays this year by whipping out that smartphone and ignoring your family entirely.
I always advocate being prepared, which is why you shouldn’t intend to weather the holidays tweeting passive aggressive statements or obsessively browsing Reddit. Instead, I’ve rounded up some of the best games for both iOS and Android that’ll help pass the time each day until you can reasonably justify having a drink. Or ten.
As much as you love your family, everyone needs space now and again. During the holidays, finding a quiet place to relax and unwind after back-to-back viewings of Christmas Vacation complete with commentary can be a tricky thing. Fortunately, Alone will do just the trick—mostly because it’s so intense you’ll have to block out everything just to survive.
Alone is a simple game about navigating your rocket through a collapsing tunnel, avoiding rocks and chasing that ever elusive high score. It’s elegant, and the quick pacing and short play sessions are perfect for those moments where you’re still feigning interest in the conversations happening around you. If you like games that require quick reflexes and aren’t opposed to becoming hopelessly addicted to its highly replayable challenges, Alone will help you reclaim some small sliver of peace.
6. 'ALPHA BEAR’
Like a reimagining of Scrabble, Alpha Bear is a game where you’re given a board full of letters that you’ll need to try and string together into words. It can be challenging, but the plucky bears you collect along the way can help out by giving you various bonuses to certain letters or offering you an extra few precious seconds on the countdown timer.
Alpha Bear is the kind of endlessly charming game that just about anyone with a heart can enjoy. So when someone in your family inevitably starts to shame you for spending so much time on your phone, flash this cute sucker in their face and within minutes you’ll have them staring at their own phone trying to remember how to spell “Hanukkah”. With a little luck and some strategy, your whole family could be gathered around the fire, fixated intently on this cute little word game for hours and chuckling at their clever word choices.
The best part is at the end of each level when Alpha Bear randomly inserts words you spelled into sentences. With a little wine and a twisted mind, who knows what kind of sick shit you can make those innocent bears say?
If there’s one thing worth hating about Christmas, it’s the hollow feeling you get when you realize that no matter how hard you try you will never rekindle the feeling of being a child on Christmas morning. In fact, you’ll probably never be as excited for anything ever again. So while you take a tumble down that pit of existential despair, pulling yourself out of bed before dawn to go fawn over the presents in some ritualistic attempt to recover your poorly spent childhood, play some Downwell to help distract you from the numb feeling in your heart. It’ll help, I promise.
Styled like the old 8-bit games you grew up with, Downwell beautifully mixes retro aesthetics with modern design, making it the perfect game that manages to feel both old and new at the same time. The challenge is likely to give you flashbacks too, and before you know it, you’ll feel like you did as a kid getting destroyed by ruthlessly difficult arcade games.
4. 'LARA CROFT GO’
There are going to be times during the day, maybe during that afternoon White Christmas viewing (which you should watch since it’s the best Christmas movie ever), where you’re going to want something to play that doesn’t demand your full attention. That game is Lara Croft GO.
Following in the footsteps of the wildly popular Hitman GO, Lara Croft GO distills everything great about Tomb Raider into an elegantly simple board game. You guide Lara along a predetermined path, which sounds easy, but when you mix in a steadily growing amount of traps and enemies, the challenge can become very satisfying. Enemies only move when you do, which is what gives Lara Croft GO the feel of a single player board game. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is Monopoly for your phone, Lara Croft GO is serene and beautiful and the perfect way to spend a quiet, lazy afternoon.
3. 'BENEATH THE LIGHTHOUSE’
Eventually you’re going to come out of that afternoon rum and eggnog induced haze and want something a little more involved than the calming Lara Croft GO. That’s where Beneath the Lighthouse comes in. Don’t be fooled by the cutesy visuals and disarming music, Beneath the Lighthouse is a tough as nails puzzle game that will really push you to the limits with some of its tougher levels. It’s not unfair, it’s just really unforgiving.
Beneath the Lighthouse really makes excellent and inventive use of a touch screen like few mobile games manage. You rotate levels around with your finger, which causes the little round character to roll about the obstacles and maze-like passages. But things quickly become more difficult when all sorts of dangers are worked into the equation like spikes and collapsing bricks.
Though Beneath the Lighthouse is certainly a challenge, retrying a level happens almost instantly. The free version of the game doesn’t offer unlimited retries and will instead require you to take breaks once in awhile to watch advertisements in order to keep going when you inevitably fail. It’s not too intrusive, but I’d recommend trying it first and then purchasing the “premium unlock” to remove the ads altogether. It really makes the game feel better paced. However you decide to play it, Beneath the Lighthouse is one of the best games to make use of a smartphone’s unique controls.
2. 'YOU MUST BUILD A BOAT’
Puzzle games that require you to match three types of block together have existed for probably as long as Christmas itself, but You Must Build a Boat adds a unique twist to that time worn formula by forcing you to build a boat. Why must you build a boat? Who knows. It’s the same reason you have to wait until the morning to open up presents when we all know you’d rather your family just ship them directly to you from Amazon so you can open them as they come.
And like opening presents, You Must Build a Boat is scarily addictive. Once you start, you’ll have a really hard time stopping. Your intrepid adventurer sets out to gather resources to help build his boat, recruit crew members, and build new facilities aboard your ship, and while he does that you help out by matching various symbols together to help him on his journey. If he encounters a monster, for example, you can match sword blocks together to unleash attacks. If you’re successful, you’ll score a bunch of treasure that you can use to, well, build your boat. Shocking.
It might just be about making arbitrary numbers go higher, but You Must Build a Boat is so charming you won’t pause long enough to consider that.
1. ‘ALTO’S ADVENTURE’
$2.99 (iOS only)
For some, winter might be a good excuse to hide inside for several months and hibernate in front of Netflix like a bear. The rest of us, however, are looking forward to spending time outside enjoying all the awesome activities winter offers. If you’re stuck inside over the holidays and feeling a bit stir crazy, Alto’s Adventure is a great remedy.
While this snowboarding game isn’t exactly groundbreaking—there’s a good chance you’ve already played something similar—Alto’s Adventure is one of the most visually captivating games you can play on a phone. Its gorgeous art style will remind you of the bliss you feel when it’s just you and the mountain. Pop in some headphones so you don’t miss out on the enchanting soundtrack and watch how much time melts away.
The holidays are great, but that doesn’t mean you should be a fool and go in unprepared for the times when you aren’t full of warm and fuzzy feelings—and trust me, those times will come. Take some time before you head off for the week and download some (or all) of these games. Seriously, when your four year old nephew forces the entire family to watch The Grinch for the fifth time, you’ll thank me.
Steven Messner is a freelance writer with a zealous passion for good beer and good video games. He also enjoys taco night, games about space, and forgetting to take out the garbage. You can find his work at *GamesRadar, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and PC Gamer. Also, you should add him on Twitter @stevenmessner and say hello. He likes that.*
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