It’s time to go back to school, and while for most younger gamers, that would mean excitedly sharing stories of summer trips and newly discovered games, for older gamers, it means navigating college campuses, enrolling in courses and navigating timetables. Of course, it’s not all bureaucratic doom—there’s frosh week, meeting new roommates and making new friends. Nothing helps break the ice or pass time in between classes like video games, and we here at CGM have compiled a list of games to help get you back to school.
Here are our favourite video games for back-to-school:
Pokémon – Various Titles
There was an old webcomic I always liked that highlighted how in grade school, every kid loved Pokémon, but once you get to high school, people act like playing Pokémon is for babies, only for the comic to end with how when people get to college, everyone loves Pokémon again. I can honestly say I went through something similar—the biggest reason I missed out on Pokémon Ruby/Saphire because they came out when I was in high school—I remember being on the bus and seeing someone a bit older than me playing Pokémon Pearl, and I thought, “why did I ever stop playing Pokémon?”
The Pokémon franchise is excellent to bring to any college campus. The simplicity of its monster-catching gameplay makes it a perfect way to unwind after class while still challenging you to think a bit. Furthermore, the reality is, everyone loves Pokémon, and the ubiquity of it, especially among gamers, means you’ll always find like-minded people who want to share their past and present gaming experiences with you.
But if you are going to choose Pokémon as your video game for back to school, I would say not to waste your time with Pokémon Scarlet/Violet and try to bring the classics if you can—or at the very least try to get Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee/Pikachu since it’s basically a remake of R/B/Y and has local multiplayer.
Pokémon Scarlet: Nintendo Switch – $59.99
Pokémon Violet: Nintendo Switch – $59.99
Pokémon Scarlet & Pokémon Violet Double Pack: Nintendo Switch – $119.99
Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee: Nintendo Switch – $69.99
Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu: Nintendo Switch – $55.00
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing is another great video game to go back to school with because it is a nice way to unwind since, speaking from my own experience; college/university life can be pretty stressful. Not only is there a lot of coursework to manage, but it’s also made doubly stressful by the fact that none of it is cheap, and failure can mean a lot of wasted money. Furthermore, for some people, it’s going to be the first time they’re on their own, and they have to manage their time and fend for themselves without the aid of familiar support.
This is why I think a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a perfect college companion—or, similarly, Story of Seasons or Stardew Valley. Its laidback atmosphere, combined with its hands-off approach to managing tasks, provides a simple, almost familiar experience which is perfect for escaping from some of the daily grinds—if only for a moment. I know it was a game that definitely helped bring me back down to earth after a long day of classes and schoolwork.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons:
Nintendo Switch – $59.99
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
But of course, college and university aren’t as intense as I’m making it sound—though, mark my words, it is intense. Naturally, you’re going to make new friends, and if you’re living on campus, you’re going to have a lot of fun Friday nights. One of the best ways to do that is with Super Smash Bros.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl actually cemented my place amongst my roommates when I started university, making it a proven great video game for back to school. Through some email technical difficulties, my roommates had been trying to reach me all summer, but I never received any of their messages. Naturally, they all thought I was some kind of a jerk, but after I had moved in and we talked for a bit—also noticing my Nintendo t-shirt—they asked, “Do you like Smash Bros?” When I said yes, they said I needed to play the reigning house champ, and after managing to beat him in a pretty tight game, they said, “Alright, this guy’s pretty cool.”
Super Smash Bros. remains one of the best fighting games ever made and is approachable for players of any skill level. Whether you’re having intense battles with no items on Final Destination, or just having a chaotic blast in “normal mode,” Super Smash Bros. is one of the best games to put on when you’re hanging with friends and having some drinks after a long week of class. And with the incredible breadth of characters, items, stages, and gameplay improvements in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, every game will be a good time, whether for fun or for glory.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Nintendo Switch – $46.90
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
However, by that same extension, Super Smash Bros. can get pretty intense, and I distinctly remember times when my roommates and I needed to take breaks from it because we all got too good at the game. Matches started getting very competitive, and the fun started to wane. This was where Mario Kart Wii came in as the perfect palette cleanser for Smash Bros.
Much like Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart is a video game anyone can enjoy, being a fun and frantic racing game that is easy to learn and difficult to master—though not so difficult to stop being fun. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is even more perfect, feeling the most balanced, having a wealth of stages, both new and old, and providing a lot of accessibility options for new players. This is another perfect Friday night video game for back to school and will surely provide a lot of memorable moments—I’ll never forget when I watched my friend climb from last place to first on Rainbow Road, and I got so invested in his comeback I stopped playing my 3DS and started loudly cheering for him.
While the base game has a lot to offer, I would suggest splurging on the nearly complete Booster Course Pass since it basically offers another game’s worth of content. While you can get it as standalone DLC, getting the Nintendo Online Expansion Pass might be a solid secondary choice since—while I don’t completely feel it’s worth the increased cost—it does come with the Nintendo 64 Online collection, which is also a solid nostalgia blast for older gamers looking to game out on a Friday night.
The Jackbox Party Pack 2, 3, & 5
Of course, not every party-style game need not be competitive, or the competition need not come from who is the most skilled gamer. Sometimes, trying as hard as you can to make your friends—new or old—laugh is the best goal a game can have, and succeeding is the best victory. That’s where The Jackbox Party Packs come in as some of the best video games for back to school. These are especially good for anyone who may be majoring in drama, English Lit or any of those other creative type courses.
My recommendations are the Jackbox Party Packs 2, 3, and 5, specifically for their versatility of games. The Jackbox Party Pack 2 is a pretty well-rounded affair that will most likely see you playing Fibbage—the trivia game where you need to lie to convince your friends it’s the right answer—and Quiplash—which is essentially Cards Against Humanity, where you create the prompts and answers. While there are a few solid titles in The Jackbox Party Pack 3, the standout is definitely Trivia Murder Party—a horror-themed trivia game with hilarious twists and turns.
But the real showstopper, and my personal favourite, is The Jackbox Party 5, which has some of the most fun games and allows for the most creative and comedic potential. Patently Stupid has players creating inventions to solve each other’s problems and then pitching them “Shark Tank” style to the group, while Mad Verse City is a rap battle between giant robots. Some of the most fun moments I’ve had at parties were playing these video games, and I can safely say if you bring these to any Friday night get-together, it’ll be a big hit. While they’re available on all systems, probably the best system to have them on is the Switch for easy pick-up-and-play.
The Jackbox Party Pack 10 releases this fall, so we may see another addition to the video games for back to school list!
Brain Age: Concentration Training
This one’s a bit obscure, but if you can find it, I would say it’s an ace to have. I used to think the Brain Age series was a bit of a gimmick game, mainly comprised of basic math and Sudoku. That was until I realized I was genuinely having trouble focusing in class and even more so taking notes—which is a real problem for a journalist. By absolute chance, I happened upon Brain Age: Concentration Training in a local Gamestop—as if the gaming gods saw fit to intervene in my issue.
I can confidently say that Brain Age: Concentration Training really works. Through its various programs—such as Memory Math, where players are given simple math problems but need to input the answer to previous equations or need to remember keywords in simple paragraph stories—the game slowly helps build short-term memory retention, which can really make a difference while attending class.
Professor Layton Series
I immediately fell in love with Professor Layton when it was first released for the Nintendo DS all the way back in 2008. Its charming art style, coupled with an intriguing story, really brought its simple puzzle-solving gameplay to life. Each entry in the franchise was a perfect test of intelligence and outside-the-box thinking as the late puzzle master Akira Tago helped design puzzles that ranged from brain-teasing to brain-blasting. Professor Layton was always my favourite way to both bolster and refresh my brain during my academic aeon.
While many seek video games as a way to turn their brains off after a long day of studying, Professor Layton was great for keeping it on in a way that was both challenging and fun—you’ll never feel like more of a smarty than when you solve some of the more devious puzzles.
Much like Brain Age: Concentration Training, these video games may be a bit hard to find as most of them exist on the Nintendo DS and 3DS, but if you’re able to track them down, they’ll definitely be an excellent companion for school. I recommend Professor Layton and the Last Specter since it’s a prequel to the first three video games and has one of the most banging intro themes to any game. Also, if you need study music, any of the series’ “Puzzle Themes” are perfect listening.
Buy the latest version now:
Layton’s MYSTERY JOURNEY: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy:
Nintendo Switch – $73.96
Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright
Continuing along the theme of video games for back to school that help you think, Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright is right up there with the best of them. One of the most fun, exciting, and intriguing visual novels you’ll ever experience, Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright puts you in the shoes of the titular Phoenix Wright—a junior attorney who uses cunning, quick wits, and honest judgment to defend his clients.
While not a puzzle game per se, Phoenix Wright uses a kind of puzzle logic as witnesses present false testimony, and players will need to press them and present evidence to expose contradictions. This game is almost a perfect introduction to retention and critical thinking. While some contradictions are more obvious than others, there are moments when the game calls on you to explain certain leaps in logic, and if you can’t put the pieces together, it’s game over.
With almost every Ace Attorney game being ported to the Nintendo Switch, this one’s a pretty easy find, and I’d recommend the first game over all others, specifically for its music, which is, in my opinion, the best in the series. Every theme is perfectly suited to each moment, and when it gets going and you’re hot on the trail of justice, you’ll never want to put it down.
Buy the latest release now:
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles:
Nintendo Switch: $39.99
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
I never actually got into Fire Emblem until I started attending college. I’ve mentioned before how, in my youth, I never quite got into turn-based strategy video games since they conflicted with everything I understood about Starcraft—which was a real-time strategy game but my baseline for the genre. That all changed when, during my first year of college, Nintendo released Fire Emblem: Awakening with one of the most beautiful 3DS I have ever laid eyes on.
I had to have it, and once I started playing, I was hooked. The combination of incredible story, lovable characters, and strategic combat made this a game that required some high-level thought, which was perfect for the new atmosphere of higher learning I was in then.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses would be a perfect choice for the simple fact that it is set within a school and makes holding class and spending your days either studying or pursuing leisure in between the combat a key focus of its gameplay.
While I think Byleth is a pretty bland protagonist and some of the relationship options are a bit simplified, Fire Emblem: Three Houses offers the same high degree of planning that its predecessors had, which, much like Phoenix Wright or Professor Layton, lends itself well to keeping your brain fixed in a learning position, even while you’re enjoying a great videogame. Plus, Fire Emblem is basically just chess, which is the most intellectual game of them all.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses: Nintendo Switch – $59.99
While I wasn’t planning on putting Cities: Skylines last on this list, I wanted to include it for the same reasons I included Phoenix Wright, Fire Emblem, or Pokémon. It’s another example of a game that requires a lot of thought and planning in order to be effective, which is tantamount to being in an advanced learning environment. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how perfect Cities: Skylines works as a chill wind-down kind of game.
Truthfully, it took me a while to understand Cities: Skylines—I would always start off somewhat strong, but then my city would devolve as I quickly ran out of money. It wasn’t until I started playing with some instruction from my mechatronic engineer brother-in-law that I started to get it and was able to slip into a really comfortable groove with it.
Cities: Skylines really is an excellent combination of urban planning and creativity, and while there are some who can build some incredibly intense cities, the game allows you to move at your own pace and assess every need accordingly.
While there is a decent amount of thought required for it, it also allows you to turn your brain off and just vibe with it; which to me could not be a more perfect summation of the college experience. Hell, with Cities: Skylines being on the Switch, it’s even the perfect game to enjoy either solo or with a friend.
Cities: Skylines II is releasing soon, so now is the perfect time to jump in and get some practice or pre-order the newest edition now.
Buy or Pre-Order Now:
Now, this list may have skewed a bit in favour of Nintendo since it was largely based on my own experiences going to college. However, there are a lot of other great video games between PlayStation and Xbox that are great for starting the new school year! If you’re heading off to college, we suggest looking into the online capabilities of your system of choice so you have access to the best video games for back to school!
Gift Cards for Back to School
- 12-month Nintendo Switch Online Family Pass + Expansion Pack: $78.99
- 12-month Nintendo Switch Online Individual Pass + Expansion Pack: $49.88
- Nintendo eShop Gift Card: Varies
- 3-month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: $44.99
- Xbox Gift Card: Varies
- 12-Month Playstation Plus PSN Membership Card: $59.99
- PlayStation Gift Card: Varies