Steam Deck the halls, it’s festive season once again. Thankfully, dragging yourself into social situations for the holidays has gotten a little easier over 2023 with the release of so many great gaming handhelds. This year, we got an update from Valve in the form of the Steam Deck OLED, so now’s a great time to put that portability to good use as you delve into the realm of actual human interaction once again.
Whether you’re feeling sentimental this year, looking to tiptoe into your own personal winter wonderland with cozy, nostalgic vibes and emotionally charged storylines, or you’re just looking to absolutely roast your siblings’ goose with some sage banter, the list below has something for every Steam Deck-wielding would-be merry and bright gamer.
Every game in this list is verified on Steam Deck, though some will require the use of a Steam Deck dock for maximum ease, and quite possibly a couple of the best controllers if you fancy teaming up this Christmas.
Arise: A Simple Story
(Image credit: Piccolo Studio)
A solo adventure by Piccolo Studio, Arise is a 3D narrative masterpiece that’s just as glorious to watch as it is to play. It begins in a snowy wilderness—so appropriate for this time of year—and will tug on your heartstrings while giving you the power to manipulate time and terrain to push through the underworld and reunite with your lost loved ones. It’s solemn and a little bit dark, but sometimes the holidays are the perfect time to let yourself feel a little vulnerable.
Moving through beautifully designed levels, you’ll unravel a tale to warm your cockles, and serve up a deeper appreciation for the loved ones around you. Just make sure you’ve got a cuddle buddy at the ready for this one. Right now Arise is 80% off on Steam, too.
The Jackbox Party Pack 5
(Image credit: Jackbox Games)
In jarring contrast to the first game on this list, Jackbox is a multiplayer game of ultimate banter. It’s fast-paced, competitive, and great for when there’s a big group of people that feel like getting in on the action. No controllers necessary, players need only a smartphone or something that can access a web browser to join. I’ve picked The Jackbox Party Pack 5 as it has some fantastic games that fit right into the holiday festivities.
Patently Stupid sees players drawing up the blueprints for odd inventions in order to solve nonsensical problems of the other player’s design, then each player stands at the front and pitches their design to the rest of the party, Dragon’s Den style.
If designing freaky products isn’t your style, there are plenty of other games to get the party going. I personally love the jaunty, lyrical Mad Verse City minigame, where you dunk on your opponent by filling in the blanks for a rap battling robot.
(Image credit: Don’t Nod)
The makers of Life is Strange, Don’t Nod, have a propensity for emotionally charged narratives. Jusant is no different. It’s a meditative journey with simple mechanics that’ll see you climbing through intricately designed levels, ascending with grace and in ways you’ve never dreamed of. It won’t take up too much of your precious storage space, either.
This atmospheric vertical platformer takes cues from the likes of Journey and Abzu, and will undoubtedly leave you with a sense of achievement and lingering awe. Its reception on Steam has been Overwhelmingly Positive, and we gave it an 89 in our Jusant Review. The main takeaway being that “its meditative simplicity and clean presentation make Jusant a standout game.” Certainly a good one to keep you amused but not overly distracted during the holidays.
Yuligans: Christmas is Coming!
(Image credit: The Worst of Friends)
A slightly more on-the-nose choice, here. Yuligans by The Worst of Friends is a festive frolic through a branching narrative that follows a team of elves on the leadup to Christmas. Your choices really matter, and deciding to be naughty could cost everyone Christmas as the Krampus rises to the occasion instead.
Will you peek inside his golden box that holds the source of all the world’s naughtiness? Or will you mediate arguments between Santa’s reindeer, for the greater good? This one you can play with up to four players, too, so get some controllers and a dock ready to beam it on the big screen. I quite enjoy having players take it in turns to read out the text boxes to tell their own personal christmas tale. Yuligans is also a free adventure, so that’s cool.
It Takes Two
(Image credit: EA)
It Takes Two is a journey for, well, two players in case that wasn’t obvious. You can play together in split screen or via Remote Play Together (no purchase necessary for your friend), as a married couple who seriously need to work on their relationship, but have to do so in doll form.
It’s one of the best couch co-op games around. It’s a real joy not just watching the characters connect as the story unfolds, but also the players as they work together to hash out puzzles and make death-defying leaps to get their lives back to normal. The description says it contains a “huge variety of gleefully disruptive gameplay challenges”, and it isn’t kidding. It’s a platform puzzler packed full of cooperative challenges to bring the family closer together… hopefully.
EA did make the game un-launchable on Deck for a bit, but provided you enable Proton Experimental it should work just fine. You can also download a Friend’s Pass from the Steam store.
(Image credit: Polygon Treehouse)
Polygon Treehouse really hit atmospheric solo adventure out of the park with this one. Röki is a snowy tale based on Scandinavian folklore—perfect for a Pagan Christmas if that’s your bag. It’s a magical, mystical tale of curiosities that’s full of interesting puzzles. It’s set in a white wonderland full of trolls, and traps, and four story houses that look like they were designed in Valheim.
It’s a melancholy tale, but as former PCG writer Emma Matthews said in her preview “it’s the glimmers of kindness sparked from her interactions with others that gives me hope that everything is going to be okay, despite the darkness you can feel brewing beneath the story’s surface”. Any of your little cousins who like to watch you play over your shoulder are sure to be enthralled with Röki.