Groundhog Day-esque time loops are having a moment in video games. In the last year or so, two AAA games (Deathloop, Returnal) and one beloved critical-darling (Forgotten City) have used “time-repeating endlessly” as a central element. But in-game time loops go back to the very first video games. What is a video game, after all, but an endless loop that puts us in the same place to repeat the same actions until we run out of quarters and/or interest?
Try one of these 12 time-repeating games that run the gamut from thoughtful indie art games to big budget shoot-everythings.
Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)
First on any list of repeating-time video games, 3D action game The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask blew everyone’s mind when it came out at the turn of the century. Widely regarded as the best game ever made, Majora’s Mask traps Link in a three-day repeating cycle that ends with the end of the world. The time looping is cool enough, but the fact that it plays out in real time (each “cycle” is about an hour in the real world) makes it even more incredible.
Platforms: Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii, WiiU, Switch
Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son (2019)
Basing a virtual reality video game on a nearly 30-year-old comedy is weird enough, but that it’s actually pretty good may be the most surprising thing about Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son. A direct sequel to the movie, Like Father Like Son puts you in the body of Phil Connors Jr., son of the hero of the flick. Your day is repeating endlessly, too, and you’ll have to do things correctly, become a better person and all that jazz, to restart the cycle.
Platforms: PlayStation 4 VR, Microsoft Windows
This first-person shooter from Bethesda and Arkane Studios casts you as Colt, an assassin who uses stealth, parkour, guns, and magic powers to take out eight “Visionaries” before midnight. If he kills them all, the loop is broken. If he doesn’t, it’s back to square one. Action and time travel are a potent combination.
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows
I love when video games get serious. In this time-looping version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia repeats the same four days in which everyone she cares about dies, but she can alter events to hopefully bring about a less tragic conclusion. There are 13 possible endings to this story, and while Shakespeare wrote the best ending by far, it’s still fun to play what-if with one of the great works of Western literature.
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Macintosh operating systems
This science fiction action game sets the time loop on a distant planet. Selene is an astronaut who crash lands on Atropos. Each time she dies, she ends up back at the crash, but she can keep some of the things she’s gathered. More than just a showcase for a time-travel gimmick, Returnal also features randomly generated content, perfectly tuned action, and some truly creepy horror scenes.
Platform: Playstation 5
I can’t say enough positive things about indie-game Undertale. In this endlessly creative and fascinating game, the ability to save your game and use it to go back in time is the main character’s superpower. The “save game” file is part of the in-game universe, with some characters commenting on the fact that they’ve been through this all before and remembering what you did the last time.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S
Super Meat Boy (2010)
Time looping isn’t an explicit game element in Super Meat Boy, but this punishingly difficult platformer will force you to repeat levels so many times, you won’t be able to help but consider how video games cause time to loop back on itself. Completing a level lets you watch all of your previous failed attempts play out on screen, all at once.
Platforms: macOS, PlayStation 4, Android, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Switch, Wii, Wii U
Life is Strange (2015)
Time travel is a running theme in this thoughtful episodic adventure game. Main character Max can rewind time and replay events, and in Life is Strange’s final chapter, (SPOILER ALERT) Max realises she’s been stuck in a time-loop the whole time. The last scene is the first scene and all the emotionally overwrought gameplay can be repeated again and again.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Android, Switch, Xbox 360, Stadia
The 7th Guest (1993)
When played in 2022, CD-Rom game The 7th Guest is a delightful look at a video game trend — live-action sequences — that ended up in the pop culture trashcan. The plot involves ghost-style time looping, where a tortured specter is forced to repeat the same tragic and horrifying slice of time again and again until they figure it out and set things right.
Platforms: Windows, macOS, iOS, Linux, Android
The Forgotten City (2021)
This critically acclaimed game is based on a mod for Skyrim, and puts the player in a city in a mythical version of Ancient Rome, where the gods have decreed that if anyone commits a sin, everyone in the city will be turned to gold. People can’t keep from sinning of course, and each time it happens, the player is thrust back to the beginning — but they can keep any helpful items or information they gathered the last time around.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5
Outer Wilds (2019)
Outer Wilds takes players to a far-off solar system stuck in a 22-minute time loop, at the end of which the sun goes supernova and everything is destroyed. With each loop, you gain more information about the mysterious history of the place, and learn about the cyclical nature of the universe itself.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows
12 Minutes (2020)
This entire interactive adventure game takes place in a small apartment, over a traumatic 12 minutes that are repeated again and again. In that time, your wife tells you she’s pregnant and a cop bursts in and accuses her of murder then kills you. The tiny apartment and compressed timeframe forces you to notice minute details and use what you’ve learned to solve the tricky puzzle that is the key to averting tragedy.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Switch, iOS, Windows, Xbox Series X and Series S