Bust out those sweaters and puffy vests: fall is officially here. Sure, it might be 90 degrees in Atlanta as I type these words, but you can still feel that crispness in the air at night, with the cool bite of another cozy autumn on its way. Fall’s our favorite season for a number of reasons: the foliage, the weather, the football, the drinks, and, yes, even the videogames. And not just the new videogames that get pumped out every year between Labor Day and Thanksgiving (the fall is the season for new games), but the many games of the past that have been able to channel the essential nature of fall—that combination of comfort, mystery, and loss that make it the most evocative and emotional of all the seasons. Here are 10 games that tap into what makes the fall so special.
How much more typically fall can we get than the man with far too many jackets stumbling his way through a town haunted by his own literary demons? It’s no surprise I associate the fall with games that are tinged with horror, but few of them feel as in touch with the spirit of autumn as Remedy’s Alan Wake. There’s a small town, a creepy forest, and a haunted writer, providing a setup ripped from the pages of a Stephen King book or an episode of Twin Peaks, which also line the hallowed halls of my working canon of weirdo autumn stories and are direct inspirations for the game. You prance around the woods at night defeating the forces of evil with a flashlight and collect thermoses, which are likely filled with coffee, even if I’ve always imagined it’s hot cocoa. A sequel that’s supposed to come next year looks like it’s going to lean even further into horror, and I for one can’t wait to see how it sits alongside the first.—Moises Taveras
Sure, every season gets its due in Nintendo’s adorable life sim, but none comes to life as vividly or memorably as the fall. Perhaps that’s because it’s the very first season I ever experienced in the game, all the way back on the GameCube 20 years ago last week. (Which, uh, hey, time, wanna cool it just a little bit? You’ve already made your point.) When the leaves turn orange and brown and start to flutter to the ground, and all the various wolves, pigs, and bears in my village don their sweaters, Animal Crossing starts to embody that amber-hued warmth and coziness the season is known for. And the best seasonal decor across the whole series are the sets based on autumn holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving. What’s better than the original game’s turkey-feathered TV that shows a constant loop of football highlights? Not much, I tell you what. Animal Crossing and autumn are a perfect match, each calm and comforting above all else.—Garrett Martin
Fall might be the coziest season, but it’s also the creepiest. The temperature starts to drop, the days run short, and by the end of October ghosts and goblins start to haunt front yards throughout the country. And when you think of ghosts and goblins, what videogame series do you immediately think of? Besides, uh, Ghosts ‘n Goblins? That’s right, Castlevania, the game all about goth boys whipping scary monsters and super creeps into pieces inside the ostentatious home of an evil but extremely sexy older man. If you’re looking for a game that captures the frightful side of fall, almost any Castlevania will do (skip the Nintendo 64 one, of course). If we had to pick one, it’d be Symphony of the Night, naturally, but the first three NES games are all crucial in their own way, as is the PC Engine’s beloved Rondo of Blood.—GM
There’s an inherent mystery to the fall that other seasons lack. Again, a large part of that is how it gets dark earlier and earlier as the weeks roll on, with the unknowable chasm of night devouring what’s left of the day. And as gorgeous as the fall foliage gets, it’s still a stark reminder of death and how we know nothing about what comes next. Cardboard Computer’s brilliant Kentucky Route Zero taps into a similar vein of unexplained and unpredictable mystery, with seemingly mundane scenarios spiraling out into the bizarre and ineffable. It’s like a road trip deep into the autumn of the soul, which I realize is a deeply pretentious statement, but one I am not ashamed of writing.—GM
Maybe it’s because I’m still fresh out of school, but with the advent of fall comes a rush of complicated feelings: excitement at the prospect of a fresh start or the ability to have new experiences, as well as the sometimes-crushing anxiety of new people to meet and pressures to confront. In other words, big “new kid in school” energy. Life is Strange has always felt like the embodiment of that sentiment. The first game’s Max returns to Arcadia Bay after being away for years and True Color’s Alex is a young adult who goes to Haven Springs looking for a new life. While the writing has gotten better over time, one thing that’s never changed is how much Life is Strange loves cool autumn tones and settings that reek of the season, even if the games don’t necessarily take place then. This all makes the series the closest thing we have to a perennial fall in games, and I think that’s beautiful.—MT
College football isn’t the only sport that starts up in the fall, but for millions of fans throughout the country (and especially in the south), it’s the one that matters most. The SEC’s renewed dominance of the NCAA is as much of an annual fall tradition as Halloween and raking leaves. Issues with player rights and payment made EA Sports’ series go dark almost a decade ago—the last new college football videogame came out so long ago that none of the eight finalists for its cover are still playing football at any level. (That last game, NCAA Football 2014, has actually become a rare and expensive collector’s item.) Modders have kept the series alive for years with updated rosters, but college football fans who don’t play on PC and aren’t into the mod scene have had to make do with thoroughly out-of-date games from two generations ago. EA has announced a new series expected to launch in 2023, but for now to get your college football fix in videogame form you’ll need to look back to the past—and that kind of reflection upon the passage of time is totally a fall kind of thing to do, too.—GM
Night in the Woods is my favorite game to revisit. Every fall, I inexplicably have the desire to jump back into it and live through Mae’s season of malaise and subsequent self-discovery. It dovetails nicely with my own depression, and I never fail to come out feeling lighter on the other side of Night in the Woods. Not because its conclusion isn’t quietly grisly, or because it posits neat answers to my own struggles, but because it reminds me I’m not alone at the time where I typically feel most shut-in and vulnerable. I also now exclusively think of fall as “weird autumn.” So thanks Mae, for all you’ve given me. Hope you’re hanging in there, cause I sure as hell am.—MT
I love a good ghost story, and though I’m no horror savant, few spooky stories have nailed quiet, otherworldly dread like Oxenfree has. And let’s be honest, this list and season aren’t complete without something more outwardly scary. I know those Halloween decorations are already going up, after all. Taking place on the clearly haunted Edwards Island, Oxenfree follows a bunch of teens talking their way through a descent into hell that defies all reason. Time loops and transdimensional radio signals that rip open geometric tears in reality are merely the tip of the iceberg for a story that is approachable, novel, and lowkey horrifying. Like the best campfire stories, Oxenfree’s story twists local history into something entirely more terrifying and then brilliantly brings it to life. A sequel is due out relatively soon and this has got to be the first time in my life I’m itching to go back to a haunted island.—MT
Adam Robinson-Yu’s relaxing little stroll of a game might be set in the summer, but it definitely looks like it’s fall at Hawk Peak Provincial Park, with beige and amber foliage regularly poking through the verdant fields of green that you’ll float over while trying to get to the top of the park’s central peak. Spiritually and thematically, A Short Hike is 100% autumn, with that bittersweet combination of coziness with an almost unplaceable sense of loss and decay that defines the season. It’s not a sad game throughout, but its emotional climax can leave a mark, especially if you’re sensitive about parental relations. (And hey, who isn’t, right?) It echoes elements of so many other games on this list, from the adorableness of Animal Crossing, to the anthropomorphic bildungsroman of Night in the Woods, to the familial drama of Life is Strange and What Remains of Edith Finch, and the result feels downright autumnal.—GM
I don’t read as much as I used to, but as a kid, you couldn’t pry a good book out of my hands if you tried. Every fall, I was the kid who finished up his schoolwork as quickly as possible, hauled a grimoire out of his bag, and hovered over it as long as God and my teacher would allow me. What Remains of Edith Finch reminds me of plunging into a literary world that blends my reality with the magic of the world that seemed to evade me. Though its tale of a family curse can be utterly dour in places, What Remains of Edith Finch’s tender exploration of life cut too short, as well as its visual poetry, feels like a warm jacket on a crisp autumn day. It helps that it also takes place in the positively autumnal Pacific Northwest. Maybe you’ve caught on that I associate the fall with some kind of magic or otherworldly weirdness, and as What Remains of Edith Finch darts between the fantastic scenarios it has imagined for the family at its heart, I can’t help but think its creators agree with me.—MT
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.
Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.