You might have heard it said before but it bears repeating: Xbox Game Pass is, hands down, one of the absolute best deals for gamers. I don’t say this as anyone trying to sell you anything or as someone who has “sworn loyalty” to one console over another because, frankly, I find the very idea laughable when just about every console has qualities that set it apart from the rest. No, I say this as someone who loves games and wants you to find the ones you love, too. And one of the greatest ways to discover new games right now just so happens to be Game Pass.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Game Pass, just think of it like Netflix for your Xbox. For $14.99 a month, you gain access to over a hundred different titles — both new and old — that you can play whenever you’d like. Of course, games come go every so often, but for the most part, a lot of these games are staples of this big library you can freely choose from. While you might already know Game Pass comes the ability to play all of the Halo, Dishonored, Yakuza, Mass Effect, Gears of War, Destiny, Battlefield, Dead Space, DOOM, Dragon Age, and a good chunk of the Final Fantasy series (and if you didn’t, yes, those are all included), there are also a lot of hidden gems listed on the service. Here are ten you might want to try if you’re feeling a bit burnt out and are looking for something new.
1. Viva Piñata
If you enjoy simulation games and haven’t played Viva Piñata yet, you’re missing out. In Viva Piñata, you take on the role of a gardener intent on restoring your own slice of paradise to its former glory, and while that all might sound a little Stardew Valley, rest assured the way you go about it is entirely unique. To expand and reinvigorate your tiny sanctuary, you need to attract animal piñatas by planting flowers and terraforming your plot of land to meet their needs. While you start out attracting “whirlms”(worms) and other cutely named insects and woodland animals, you eventually attract larger animals that might feed on your smaller critters or have seemingly outlandish requirements you must slowly work your way up to. Overall, the game is a vibrant time sink folks of any age can appreciate, with adorable animal appearances and nonstop challenges keeping you going even when you start hitting 40+ hours of playtime.
2. A Way Out
While online multiplayer-only continues to soar in popularity, finding a great couch co-op game has gotten increasingly more difficult. Luckily for those of us in need of a great game you can play on the same tv as the person sitting next to you, a new game developer — Hazelight Studios — has taken an interest in creating titles specifically made for local multiplayer. A Way Out is Hazelight’s second game, following 2013’s Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and just ahead of 2021’s surprise hit It Takes Two. A Way Out follows a pair of inmates who decide to escape their sentence through a good ol’ fashioned prison break out. The action-adventure game is intense, tells a compelling story, and is filled with puzzles that demand cooperation and strategizing to get through. If you’re looking for a great game to play with a friend, family member, or even your partner next date night, you can’t go wrong with it.
A recent indie darling, Spiritfarer is a management-simulation-meets-sandbox-action game that will most likely make you tear up a lot. The game follows a woman named Stella after she takes over for the Greek god Charon as the ferrymaster of the undead. With the help of her pet cat, Daffodil, Stella begins her work of guiding the souls of the recently departed to the Everdoor, thus granting them safe passage to the afterlife. As you progress through the game, you can craft and slowly expand your ship, enabling you to pick up different passengers who will regale you with their colorful and oftentimes incredibly heart-warming stories. As the whole game is centered around death and those we leave behind, it can at times be a tough one to play — especially when the time comes to lead your favorite characters through the door to the “other side.” However, despite how grim that might seem, Spiritfarer emanates a tender warmth that makes it so worth playing.
4. Katana Zero
If you’ve ever longed to play a game that feels just like a Tarantino film (or find yourself wanting to now that I’ve mentioned it), Katana Zero is a must-play. The neo-noir and hyper-violent action-platformer follows a katana-wielding assassin named Subject Zero who, to put it lightly, is not completely sound of mind. Zero is given bounties by their psychiatrist, who also supplies them with a drug called “chronos” that enables them to slow down time and is implied to be keeping them alive. As your progress through the story, things slowly become more and more unhinged, until time loops, unreliable narration, and madness take over. When it comes to gameplay, Katana Zero is all about stealth and strategy, as merely one hit will kill the assassin you play as. Therefore, to survive you must scope out an entire 2D area before making any bold moves, and always stay conscious of your next move. Katana Zero a challenging game that oozes style, and is a must-play for folks who like that Hotline Miami feel.
5. Psychonauts (and 2)
When you think of classic, late 90’s and early 2000s platformers, your mind probably goes to Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Banjo-Kazooie, Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, and quite a few other furry friends. However, one of the most overlooked platformers is none other than Double Fine’s Psychonauts, and it’s a real shame because the game packs a whole lot of fun and charm. Psychonauts follows a young boy named Raz who, after discovering he has unique psychic abilities, runs away from his life in the circus to sneak into a gifted summer camp where attendants will be trained to become “Psychonauts,” or spies with psychic abilities — and that’s only where the story begins. Now, back when the game was released back in 2005, it was widely regarded as a commercial failure despite good reviews and attracting a cult following. However, the empathetic game recently got a second chance at life when Psychonauts 2 was released earlier this year, and, luckily for us, both games are available on Xbox Game Pass right now.
6. Darkest Dungeon
If you like grueling strategy games, horror, and art that looks like it was done by comic legend Mike Mignola, Darkest Dungeon is calling your name, and most likely in some horrific manner. Darkest Dungeon is a gothic roguelike turn-based RPG that delves into the psychological effects of seeing unimaginable horrors. In the game, you must manage a party of character who can — and most likely will — permanently die if you’re not careful with them. From ensuring your team has food and supplies, to managing their stress level, vices, and fears, there is a lot of elements at play here and a lot of attention to detail is demanded from the player if you wish to successfully dungeon crawl with your party and cleanse the estate you inherited at the start of the game of all the evil that roams around it. Whether you’re more of a vampire horror person or are deeply into Lovecraftian horrors, the game has a bit of terror for every fan of fright.
Sometimes, games don’t need twists and turns and darkness to be a whole lot of fun. Sometimes, you just need to run around as high school girls kicking ass. Sometimes, you just need River City Girls. River City Girls is a beat ’em up, brawler (think Streets of Rage) that follows two high school girls — Misako and Kyoko — as they undertake a quest to rescue their kidnapped boyfriends. It’s a straight-forward premise with pretty straight-forward controls, but it doesn’t stop the game from being incredibly exciting, with a colorful, Japanese-inspired look and a killer soundtrack that keeps your adrenaline pumping. On top of all that, it’s another one of the games on this list that has local co-op, meaning you and a friend can search for your missing loves and pummel some dudes together.
If you love old-school, pixelated RPGs, the combat of the Paper Mario series, and shows such as Steven Universe and Netflix’s She-Ra, you’ll most likely adore Ikenfell. The game follows an “ordinary” young girl named Maritte as she sets off on a quest to find her extraordinary sister after she goes missing from the magical university she attends named Ikenfell. However, as she begins to track down her sister, she awakens her own powers, finds herself surprised by what she learns about her sister’s life, and is thrust into a much bigger adventure. While the game is fun in itself, what makes Ikenfell truly shine, at least to me, is the lengths developer Happy Ray Games went to to make sure it’s fun for everyone. The game boasts an incredibly charming and diverse cast, touches on sensitive topics with kindness, implements trigger warnings to protect players, and has a ton of accessibility options in its start menu to help players of all abilities play. If you’re looking for a soft, kind, and pastel-colored game that feels like a warm hug, look no further.
Another multiplayer game, Haven is decidedly a bit more romantic than the other games on this list, making it a great date night choice. A third-person survival RPG, Haven follows two lovers, Yu and Kay, who escape an oppressive society called that forces its citizens into arranged unions regardless of their feelings. Upon escaping their former home, the pair head to an uninhabited lost planet called Source. Once they land on Source, Yu and Kay must gather materials for their ship — the Nest — and craft and collaborate in order to survive. The sci-fi game has been compared to the PlayStation classic Journey, albeit with a romantic twist and survival elements. If you’ve got someone to cuddle up against and play this with, it’s definitely worth trying.
10. Signs of the Sojourner
This indie game might be one of the more unusual ones on this list for those more aquatinted with AAA titles, but it’s incredibly smart, sentimental, and definitely worthy of your time. Signs of the Sojourner is a game concerned with how our language, customs, and way of thinking changes as we travel and interact with different people. The game is a deck-builder, meaning you interact with folks using cards you obtain through your travels. However, your deck can only have a certain number of cards, meaning some must be lost in order to pick up new ones. Each person you interact with has their own unique way of communicating — whether it be brutally direct or more cautious of emotions — as well as their own values. While you might be tempted to grab as many cards as you can to talk to the new folks you encounter, doing so results in you losing the cards you once had, meaning when you return home, you might find even your best friend feels like a stranger to you. It’s a game that examines the preservation and loss of culture, and reinforces the idea that there is no singular, correct culture, but rather hundreds simply trying to know one another.