IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The best video games for beginners and non-gamers

Select staff recommended video games across platforms you may want to consider if you’re just starting out or don’t think of yourself as “a gamer.”
Titles like Candy Crush, Mario Tennis Aces, Cooking Mama and more are easy to start playing if you’re a beginner, according to Select staff.
Titles like Candy Crush, Mario Tennis Aces, Cooking Mama and more are easy to start playing if you’re a beginner, according to Select staff.Getty Images

Video games can transport us into fantasy worlds, allow us to pretend we’re professional athletes, give us puzzles to solve, walk us through theatrical stories and more. And if you’re a new gamer, you’ll quickly learn that video games offer varying levels of difficulty, which is one of the most important things to pay attention to while shopping. Some video games are suitable for anyone to play, while others require skill that comes with lots of experience.

SKIP AHEAD The best video games for beginners | Who is “a gamer”?

To help you find the best video games for beginners, we rounded up a handful of Select staff favorites across genres and types — some are mobile games you can play on your phone, while others require a compatible handheld gaming system or game console. We also talked to experts about what it means to be “a gamer,” as well as how beginners should choose a game to start with.

The best video games for beginners

Below, Select staff rounded up some of our favorite video games for beginners. For each game, we included what platform you can play it on and its maturity rating.

What Remains of Edith Finch

Available on: PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC

Rating: T for teen

What Remains of Edith Finch is a first-perspective story-based game recommended by Select editorial director Lauren Swanson. As Edith, players explore her home and attempt to figure out why she’s the last living person in her family. Each story allows players to experience the life of a new family member on the day of their death. Swanson said the storyline of What Remains of Edith Finch is gripping and feels like watching an interactive movie. And it’s great for beginners since “there aren't any complicated button combinations or challenges — it's really more about uncovering the story of a cursed family,” she added.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Available on: Nintendo Switch

Rating: E for everyone

Rosalie Tinelli, Select’s senior social media editor, said Animal Crossing’s cuteness is only part of its appeal. While playing, you’re able to develop your own island among animal neighbors. She said there’s a business aspect involved in the game — you sell fruit or fish, and use what you earn to buy new outfits, make updates to your home and upgrade the island by building bridges and staircases. Additionally, “the game runs on a real clock, so the seasons change as they do in the real world, making way for lots of seasonal fun like Carnival and summer fireworks shows. Plus, on the Switch version you can play with people all over the world and visit your friends’ islands,” Tinelli said. She noted that the game might feel familiar for fans of the original Sims PC games, and that it isn’t too fast-paced.

A Short Hike

Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, Windows, Mac

Rating: E for everyone

In A Short Hike, “all the characters are cute anthropomorphized animals similar to Animal Crossing,” said reporter Harry Rabinowitz. “You play as a bird on vacation from school, attempting to climb to the top of the mountain. You can tackle that challenge any way you want, leading to fun times exploring the scenery and talking to the other hikers and adventurers around you.” He noted that while the game is short, it offers gorgeous images and is calming.

The Last of Us Part 1

Available on: PlayStation 5 (Coming to PC on March 28th)

Rating: M for mature 17+

“I bought a PS5 last year and The Last of Us was my first game,” said CNBC Select reporter Ana Staples. “It's extremely story-driven, which has kept me hooked.” The Last of Us follows characters Joel and Ellie as they fight to survive in an apocalyptic United States where cannibalistic creatures lurk. Staples added that she’s now playing The Last of Us Part 2, which is available on PlayStation 4 and 5.

The Last of Us is more challenging than our other recommendations. It has lots of quick action moments and shooting mechanics, but is still well-worth your time.

Mario Tennis Aces

Available on: Nintendo Switch

Rating: E for everyone

Mario Tennis Aces allows you to play single or double tennis matches as over 20 different characters. Select editorial operations associate Rebecca Rodriguez said it “combines my love of tennis with a game that was easy enough for a non-gamer like myself to play.” She previously played it on the Wii and now plays on her Nintendo Switch. Rodriguez said she enjoys the story aspect of the game — it starts off very basic and becomes gradually more challenging. Mario Tennis Aces also “does a great job of walking through different techniques, so that you can school all your friends when you play a multiplayer match,” she said.

Untitled Goose Game

Available on: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Windows

Rating: E for everyone

“This hilarious puzzle-stealth game has you controlling a horrible goose with a mischief-filled to-do list,” Rabinowitz said. “It’s very easy to control, has a cute art-style, hilarious music and you can even play it with a friend. It’s pretty short, but attempting to steal a rake from a gardener or lock someone out of their house as a goose is funny and surprisingly challenging.”

Cooking Mama: Let’s Cook

Available on: Mobile

Rating: E for everyone

Cooking Mama was my first ever Nintendo DS game,” said editorial intern Katrina Liu. And while the Nintendo DS is no longer made — similar to the Wii, which is how I played Cooking Mama growing up — you can now play the game on your mobile devices. Liu said Cooking Mama is easy to follow and walks you through making “cool” recipes. You serve dishes to your restaurant customers and can also harvest food, raise animals and compete in weekly events.

Alto's Odyssey

Available on: Mobile

Rating: E for everyone

Alto’s Odyssey is one of Rabinowitz’s favorite mobile games. “You control a snowboarder going down an endless mountain, trying to avoid obstacles along the way. It’s less about getting high-scores or completing challenges, and more about enjoying the minimalist art, music, and sites along your journey,” he said. “As you play, you can upgrade your character with power-ups like temporary flight.”

Candy Crush

Available on: Mobile

Rating: E for everyone

Candy Crush belongs to the “match three” genre of games, Williams said. “You’ve got a field of things and you have to get three of them in a row,” he explained. In Candy Crush, you have to line up three or more of the same candies next to each other, eliminating those candies and making room for more. Each level of the game has different goals you have to reach in order to move up. I love playing Candy Crush when I need to fill time, like while waiting for the bus to come, or when I need a brain break after a long day. It’s very engaging due to the challenge, colors and animations, and you feel accomplished as you reach new levels and catch on to little tricks here and there.

Hidden Folks

Available on: Mobile, Nintendo Switch

Rating: E for everyone

Hidden Folks is “Where’s Waldo?” taken to the next level,” Rabinowitz said. “It’s a hidden-object game with dozens of incredibly detailed levels, where you can interact with each scene by shaking trees, digging holes, unfurling tents and much more. Also, all the sounds are done by the solo developer, leading to a lot of funny mouth noises for things like zippers, umbrellas, campfires and cars.”

Toca Hair Salon 4

Available on: Mobile

Rating: E for everyone

While Toca Boca’s dozens of apps are designed for kids, Swanson said adults will find them relaxing to play. She specifically plays the company’s hairdresser game. “I played it a lot when I was stressed during the pandemic and I needed a moment of distracted meditation,” she said. “It's totally freeform, so there's no scoring and no point system. You just comb hair, cut it, then regrow it — it sounds simple, but that's the beauty of it.”

Who is “a gamer”?

Broadly speaking, a gamer is someone who plays video games, whether that’s a crossword puzzle app or a zombie apocalypse shooter. However, “the stereotype of a gamer is strongly associated with what we’d called a hardcore demographic of young men who are primarily playing action games on a console,” Williams said. “But surprisingly, that has become a relatively small fraction of the gameplay that’s going on.” In recent years, Williams said mobile gaming has become the single largest platform for gaming, and the majority of mobile gamers are older women. 2022 data from groups like the Entertainment Software Association confirm that gamers are diverse across age, gender, preferences and skill. That’s why video game developers create options across genres, difficulty levels and platforms.

How to shop for beginner video games

When shopping for games for beginners, it helps to break them down by skill level: casual games, mid-core (average) games and hard-core games.

Casual games appeal to the largest number of people, are easily approachable and don’t require a huge time commitment. Most mobile games would be classified as casual games, said Dmitri Williams, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication who teaches classes about video games and video game history. He described them as smaller, snack-sized experiences that can be played in shorter segments and fit into daily life. For example, you can play them passively while commuting or during a commercial break while watching TV.

Mid-core games are more complex than casual games and require some strategy or combat, but don’t heavily rely on player reflexes, Williams said. Players usually need to invest more time into mid-core games compared to casual games, but they’re not extremely challenging or lengthy.

Hard-core games involve high, active engagement, lengthier segments – like story chapters or battles — and longer time commitments. They require the most skill and practice.

Casual games are best for beginners to start with. And depending on your interest level and how much time you want to dedicate to playing and developing your skills, you can usually start adding some mid-core games to the mix quickly, too.

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Dmitri Williams is a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. He researches technology and society with a focus on games and community, and is affiliated with the Annenberg Game Lab.

Catch up on NBC Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date.