Nothing describes Spiritfarer as succinctly as its tagline does: “a cozy management game about dying.” Spiritfarer puts you in the shoes of Stella, a young woman who’s taken over Charon’s famous duties to ferry departed souls into the afterlife. That sounds dark, but all of those lost souls take the form of distinctly personable, irresistibly charming anthropomorphic animals. During their time aboard your ship, yes, as with any other management game, you have to tend to their needs—usually, food—but you can do so on your own schedule. There’s no price for failure. Even Spiritfarer’s resource-hounding mini-games, of which there are many, generally beget some sort of prize. Best of all, you can hug any of your spirit pals if they’re feeling down. It’s impossible to overstate just how nice this is. Throw in some placid watercolor art, some charming animations, and a magical cat and the result is more or less a cashmere throw in video game form. Just heed this one warning: Keep the tissues nearby. Spiritfarer can be heartbreaking.
A Good Match For: Hygge. The over-stressed. Those seeking some peace and quiet.
Not A Good Match For: Those who need their games to be fast-paced and competitive. Anyone expecting an Animal Crossing clone; despite the similarities, Spiritfarer isn’t the type of game you play forever.
Rough Average Playtime: 30.5 hours
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Update 4/13/2022: Nier: Automata and Control are no longer available, so we’ve removed them. The Wild at Heart and UnderMine, both fantastic and still currently available, clear way for Shredders, Tunic, Death’s Door, Lost in Random, Far: Changing Tides, and Norco (the first PC-only game to merit inclusion).
Update 1/7/2022: We’ve removed Celeste, Desperados III, and Yakuza 0, all of which were leaving or imminently leaving Xbox Game Pass as of this update. The Outer Worlds and Haven were also given the boot. New to list are Hades, The Pedestrian, Unpacking, Unsighted, Boyfriend Dungeon, The Riftbreaker, Scarlet Nexus, and Octopath Traveler, plus the return of Outer Wilds.
Update 7/15/2021: Kotaku regulars will notice a total overhaul. We’ve decided to retool this list to largely focus on smaller games you might gloss over that are nonetheless worth your time. Gone, too, is the longstanding limitation of calling out just 12 games. We’ve also pushed off most of the first-party games you’ve probably already played if you have an Xbox (Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Doom Eternal, Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps) and given the boot to Batman: Arkham Knight. Also, Outer Wilds and CrossCode are no longer part of Xbox Game Pass, so they’re no longer part of this piece.
Update 3/10/2021: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Red Dead Redemption 2 clear out for Doom Eternal and Celeste, two games that will kill you more times than you can count.
Update 9/16/2020: Spiritfarer sails onto the list, taking Dishonored 2’s spot—still a great game, just leaving Game Pass at the end of the month.
Update 8/6/2020: Though Life Is Strange 2 is sadly no longer on Game Pass, its departure from our list cleared room for the excellent CrossCode.
Update 5/14/2020: We’ve given Monster Hunter: World and Forza Horizon 4 (both still excellent, both still on Game Pass) the boot to make room for Red Dead Redemption 2 and Nier: Automata.
Update 3/24/2020: We’ve added Yakuza 0 and Ori and the Will of the Wisps. They knocked out Quantum Break and Sea of Thieves, both of which are still on Xbox Game Pass (and still fantastic).