Most gamers get kind of upset when a game they like is too short. They feel cheated. But there’s nothing that says shorter games are worse games. Most of us lead busy lives. If you’ve got kids and day jobs and spaghetti to make and crayon to wash off the walls…well, let’s just say you may not be looking for the epic, time-consuming experience some titles promise.
Here are some of the best short games out there. And skeptics? They’re not just the best short games—they’re some of the best games, period.
Gone Home is an unusual game in that there isn’t really any element of difficulty in the gameplay—the focus is the story, and it is indeed a fantastic story. Players return home one day to find their family missing, and must find out what happened. The result is a mechanically easy but emotionally riveting experience. It’s also easily playable in a single sitting.
It’s almost impossible to talk about short-but-brilliant without discussing both Portal games. These puzzle games are both quite short—provided you get the hang of it, of course. Portal clocks in at around four hours. Portal 2 is a bit longer at 10.
The Walking Dead and/or The Wolf Among Us
Each episode under 10 hours
This one’s a bit of a cheat, but I think it still counts. Both of these Telltale Games popular series come in short “episodes”—each well under 10 hours of play. The episodes are entries in a longer ongoing story, but they can be purchased and played individually. You might find it tough to set aside the riveting stories in between episodes, but you won’t completely lose your place. Each comes complete with a “previously on…” intro, and they wrap up sub-plots pretty nicely before you move on to the next entry.
Journey is a very short, mechanically simple game with gorgeous graphics and music. I can’t say much without giving it away, but it’s one I’ve played many times over and never gotten bored with.
Monument Valley is a touchingly simple game in which the player must guide a tiny princess through Escher-esque landscapes. With gorgeous level design and a brief yet poignant story, it is one mobile game that is not to be missed. At only 1 hour, it’s by far one of the shortest games on this list.
Mirror’s Edge is a first-person platformer based on free-running (or parkour). It emphasizes nonviolent means to the end, and it doesn’t include any Mature content, but its gameplay is a bit on the tougher side.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
This one definitely isn’t for the faint of heart, but at around 10 hours, it makes for an extremely engaging short game experience. Shattered Memories is a pseudo-remake of the original Silent Hill, featuring familiar characters and a similar plot, but the departures from the original reinvigorate the horror series. (Note: the first three Silent Hill games are also fairly short, but may be tough to find for current-gen consoles.)
Child of Eden
Child of Eden is a unique rhythm game in which players use color, light, sound, and vibration to hit moving targets. The goal is to save the endangered “Project Lumi” from a virus attack. The game is highly praised for its beauty and ingenuity. Child of Eden can be played with Kinect or with traditional controllers.
Asura’s Wrath is a mixed bag gameplay, anime-influenced game loosely based in Hindu myth. While some feel that it can be classified as more multimedia than video game, gamers looking for a story-heavy experience will enjoy Asura’s Wrath.
Spec Ops: The Line
Spec Ops: The Line is a third-person shooter set in a post-catastrophe Dubai. Although the game is set up like a traditional military shooter, its story is more in-depth and complex than most. Game critics have often written about The Line’s use of game mechanics to subvert the genre’s usual assumptions about the West’s technological and ethical superiority.
Tearaway is a very kid-friendly platformer game, and it isn’t too difficult. I like to think I—at 24—had just as much fun with it as your average 8-year-old, so it’s a good option if you’re looking for something every family member can take turns with. Depending on how much of each level you want to “complete” (i.e., collecting every single paper scrap or just hitting the necessary checkpoints) the game can take anywhere from a couple of hours to 10+. The only major downside is that it’s PS Vita only, so if you don’t have the hardware, you’re out of luck.
Vanquish is a fast-paced Japanese third- person shooter in which the main gameplay mechanic is a high-tech suit that gives the protagonist special abilities. Vanquish is notable for its improvement of the traditional cover system; players are penalized for spending too much time behind cover, and the objects used to hide the player can be destroyed by enemies.
Braid is a puzzle game where time manipulation is a central component. Its subversive themes and unique game mechanic, wherein players must reverse their progress in order to find out how to solve puzzles, make it well worth its 5-hour gameplay.
Bastion is a gorgeous RPG, notable for its soundtrack, design, and the multiple levels of difficulty players can pile on if they want to up the ante. The game stars a young boy who wakes in the midst of destruction, immediately tasked with the mission to repair his fractured world.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Praised for its beautiful environments and unique gameplay, Brothers is a great option for time-pressed gamers who like puzzle strategy games. The player controls one brother with the right hand and one with the left. The brothers—or hands—must work together to move past obstacles in an effort to find a cure for their injured father.
An abandoned space station, a person trying desperately to escape the station, and a tool that allows the player to make up to four clones of the protagonist make this game an interesting take on your typical sidescroller puzzle platformer. The Swapper’s atmosphere and visuals have been critically acclaimed.
Some quick notes to follow up: if you’re looking for the treasure trove of shorter games, the Indie scene is where it’s at. Many of these titles clock in under 10 hours, and it’s not unusual to find games under 5. What games did we miss? Let us know in the comments!