Every May you'll see various organisations, groups and individuals taking the opportunity to raise mental health awareness. It's a topic that now has far more research, understanding and knowledge attached to it, in the process helping people recognise and get help for related issues.
The stigma around mental health issues is thankfully being reduced each year, with popular media also addressing different aspects of the topic. Mainstream movies and TV shows now increasingly portray mental health, and gaming is no different. In the gaming space this is often in the Indie or download space, but there have been some major success stories that show the importance of the subject, and gamers' eagerness to engage with titles that show creativity and emotional intelligence alongside shooty-shooty-bang-bang mechanics and spectacle.
The Switch has a number of games that tackle different aspects of mental health, such as issues of identity, self-confidence, social skills, processing and dealing with trauma, and more besides. This list picks out some exceptional games on Nintendo's system that fall into this category; a number of our team can certainly relate to these games being not only terrific to play, but being emotive and powerful experiences.
Celeste is an exemplary amalgamation of style, mechanics, character and storytelling. A devilishly brilliant action platformer with enough skill required to excite genre purists and the speedrunning community, while at the same time featuring a breakdown of gameplay elements to customize and cater for all audiences. While the game mechanically is great, if familiar, the art style and narrative are truly special, showing both a visual and emotional range and depth that will resonate and inspire. Celeste is the absolute peak of personal exploration and discovery on Nintendo Switch.
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We’re very careful when we use this word, but Gris is a masterpiece. Its jaw-dropping visual style and heart-wrenching score combine for one of the most emotional pieces of interactive art you’ll ever play. It may be too short for some, its puzzles may be on the simple side and the lack of any real challenge may not be to everyone’s taste, but this is a game focused more on fragility than ability and as long as you’re willing to go along for the ride, it’s one that will stick with you for a very long time indeed.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a rather unique experience, as it takes its concept of being a video game pop album literally. Though it'll take time getting gold medals across all levels, an 'Album' mode can see you wrap it up in less than an hour on repeat plays, with the music and gameplay combining together for a unique journey. The journey is special, too, as our protagonist confronts and conquers their past through creative, emotive play and storytelling. Essential music-driven gaming, be sure to pop in some headphones as well.
Less of a game, and more of an interactive story with some light platforming and exploring to tie it all together, Night In The Woods is one of the most rewarding experiences you can play on Nintendo Switch. A curio better played for yourself than described by us, it’s an indie title that will no doubt leave an impression with its enchanting soundtrack, disarming story and instantly identifiable character arcs. Strange and wonderful in equal measure.
In Lost Words: Beyond the Page you play as a young girl exploring her imagination, using words and creativity in very literal ways to shape the world around you. There's some scope for determining the story, too, but the overall narrative is a huge strength beyond the beautiful visuals and gentle platform puzzling. It's a pleasurable gaming experience also suited to less skilled players, too, but it's in the journey of our young protagonist — and the loss she must confront — that the true weight of this experience is to be found.
To have Ninja Theory's Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice on Switch in such fine form is a blessing that you shouldn’t miss out on. The game itself is a psychological sensory experience that we thoroughly recommend, but the fact that it’s been translated to Switch in such a complete fashion is the true surprise here. It doesn’t feel like a downgrade at all – it stands proudly alongside the other ‘miracle’ ports on the system, arguably surpassing them in some ways. It's a game with extraordinary use of sound, some undoubtedly dark and challenging storytelling, and emotional moments that'll stay with you for a long time.
Florence is an evocation of the beauty, sadness and hope that comes from any human connection we make in our lives, whether with art, nature or another person. It's a succinct and incredibly successful exploration of moments you'll recognise from your own life, and the way it mirrors thoughts and feelings through small gameplay mechanics makes it one of the most affecting experiences we've enjoyed on Switch, or any other platform.
A truly pleasant game, Spiritfarer balances undemanding platforming, gentle exploration and forgiving resource management with a beautifully-realised world with a cast full of charming, likeable, memorable characters. It's a pleasure to move around in with an evocative, endearing atmosphere and a succession of gameplay styles that gel superbly and never feel like padding. It's a long game, but its cast and the touching premise will keep many going until the end.
To The Moon is a powerful interactive story. It's a short game but it manages to make its players directly confront uncomfortable situations and emotions with which we'll all struggle at some point in our lives. Mental illness, death, heartbreak, tragedy... it's all in here, and handled honestly within a brilliant narrative setup that allows us to watch a lifetime deconstructed, layer by layer, revealing the very human mistakes and unavoidable interruptions of fate that shape how our lives ultimately turn out. All in a matter of four or five hours.
Unpacking manages to do several things very well, all at the same time. It’s a touching story told through interaction, it provides the creative play space of a great dollhouse game, and it deftly applies established game design ideas from completely different genres. Its only real shortcoming — though not all will see it that way — is the repetition that is a necessary byproduct of landing its message. Effort has gone into making the controls satisfying on Switch, and the visual and sound design are delightful throughout, making Unpacking, like any sane person’s cutlery, absolutely top-drawer.
Disco Elysium's narrative and dialogue, which is already wonderfully compelling on its own, was given a massive boost thanks to the excellent voice acting introduced for the Final Cut. The gameplay features a host of branching paths for you to explore, and while the slow, methodical approach may turn a few people off, this is nevertheless one of the most well-told stories in any medium from the last few years. With incredible writing that tackles the very core of human nature, Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is a triumph and stands as one of the best RPGs available on Switch.
Those are some of our recommended games that address or reference aspects of mental health; be sure to share your thoughts and suggestions for the list in the comments below — we may well add to this selection if we've missed something special.