As the gaming medium continues to age and mature, so do the bulk of those who partake in it. With age, generally, comes responsibility, and with that, less and less time to devote to our favorite entertainment hobby. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with average to above average length games, as even those of us with limited schedules generally don’t mind chipping away at them over time, there is an increasingly attractive quality to shorter games that are appropriately priced and can be beaten in one sitting. So let’s talk about ten of those in no particular order.
This is a game that many of us who owned PlayStation 3’s will remember at least vaguely. It’s not the first game from that game company and it’s also not the best, but it is still a rather interesting experience that more than warranted its friendly price tag on the PlayStation 3 and Vita, and does so even better on the PlayStation 4, as many of the gyroscopic controls are improved drastically there. It’s not what I would call action-packed, but it’s not nearly as passive as a visual novel either. It’s somewhere in between. Like many other great artistic games of this type, the story and setting are purposefully vague and invite you to interpret it however you best see fit. That said, there do seem to be some generally hinted at sentiments of the beauty and superiority of nature compared to man-made industrial relics. it stays far away from being preachy about it, but the undertones are there and they’re enjoyable to take in with how gracefully and organically they’re presented.
Arise: A Simple Story
Arise: A Simple Story is a bite-sized adventure from Piccolo Studios that depicts a man that has recently passed away and now is reflecting on that life by platforming around in different environments and influencing the direction of time. Doing this will alter your surroundings in ways that reveal the path forward or sometimes to discover hidden paths or items of interest. The simplistic art style is used to great effect as it complements the simplicity of the story while popping right off the screen. It’s a gorgeous game about self-discovery, self-reflection, that tastefully boils big concepts down into heartfelt, poignant moments that create a vague emotional impact that often comes within striking distance of classics like Journey.
Layers of Fear
Let’s go in as far into the opposite thematic direction of Journey as possible and talk about Layers of Fear; a horror game that is very light on choice and action in exchange for a well-directed and purposeful thrill-ride of spooky visual effects and atmospheric tension. As far as horror games go, this is not going to dethrone any of the classics by any means, but at the same time all horror fans should give it a shot, if they haven’t already. With a campaign that can be beaten within 4 to 6 hours, it’s also a very manageable thrill ride that the vast majority of us should be able to pencil into our schedules with minimal effort.
While I generally try to stay away from the term walking simulator, as it really is not much more than a lazy pejorative, for those that do categorize narrative-driven adventure games that way, I guess Firewatch would fit into that. But just like most games that are called walking simulators, there was a lot more to Firewatch than just walking. There’s a surprisingly engrossing story about a fire lookout in the late 80s who’s fairly mundane day-to-day job turns into something far more interesting in the course of just a few hours. Compelling dialogue options, some light exploring, and a very interesting art style all help make this game stand out in its genre. And of course, it can easily be completed in under eight hours.
A Way Out
A Way Out is a game that surprised almost everyone with how good it turned out to be. We’ve all seen well-told prison escape stories before, but rarely have those narrative devices been mixed so well, and never has all of that been encapsulated in a video game like this. Let alone in a co-op game that actually makes the cooperative gameplay so integral and necessary for the game. It doesn’t just put two people in the game together, but rather, it is designed around two people working together, whether on the same task or on different things, to pull off various stages of escaping the prison as well as fending off those who pursue them after the escape. If it were a single player experience it would still be great, but as a co-op game it’s even better. And it wouldn’t be on this list if you couldn’t complete it in one session.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Simplistic games with striking presentation styles are a dime a dozen these days, so in order to stand out one must do something a little different to stand out from the pack. Sayonara Wild Hearts does just that with its loose platforming and occasionally rhythm-based gameplay. It’s rather lenient with its gameplay, so much so that it could be considered a flaw at times, but given that it only lasts a couple of hours, you’ll likely finish it before it gets too stale anyway. The excellent retro pop synthwave soundtrack, neon laser aesthetic, and exceedingly generous but still technically skill-based gameplay do keep this game pretty fun, and more than worth owning if you’re into this sort of thing.
If being from the creative mind that also brought us Katamari Damacy isn’t enough for you, (how could it not be?), Wattam is also one of the more unique, colorful and delightfully absurd games you’ll find from this generation, if not of all time. While it doesn’t quite have the mass appeal of Katamari, it comes close with an extremely accessible gameplay style that has you running around completing silly tasks and bringing other strange characters into the fold. All of these characters are playable, but some are better suited for certain things. It’s kind of like if one of the main menus of a Katamari game was expanded upon and turned into its own game, and that’s exactly why it’s great. Co-op is also available throughout and it is fairly short experience, letting you complete the main storyline within a few hours. Although given that the world is such a delight to be a part of, you couldn’t be blamed for playing it a few extra times just for the fun of it.
Now here’s a game that anyone who enjoyed Journey and Flower but perhaps would like a little bit more of a traditional 3rd person experience should definitely try. Abzu puts you in an environment arguably more beautiful than anything they could have been above ground. Some really interesting visual effects that wouldn’t make any sense in any other environment are more than enough to keep you interested throughout its brief campaign. Checking out these different underwater environments, experiencing the slightly different vibes of every location, while interacting with the wildlife on occasion, it’s something that no other game has ever really done in this way. It’s a game with a huge amount of reasons to play it and will leave a very small footprint in your busy schedule.
While Dreams is a little bit difficult to categorize as a game that has any sort of length, the pre-made content that was made with the game’s own engine by Media Molecule is worth playing alone even if you don’t get into the game creation stuff, which is admittedly the centerpiece of the game. For fans of Media Molecule-style games, these miniature experiences are absolutely worth experiencing and won’t take you more than a few hours to finish up. Whether you were into creating your own games or not, there’s also a massive catalog of equally interesting short experiences made by other dreamers out there that you can experience at your leisure and whenever you have time for them.
Superhot is a superb entry in the small but still steadily growing list of unavoidable reasons to get into VR. Aside from the obviously striking visual style that looks like some sort of training mission gone berserk, it also has a gameplay mechanic of your movement dictating the speed of time that keeps it firmly in its own little corner of VR first person shooters. If you stand still, everything freezes, but if you move around, your enemies and their bullets resume their pursuit of you. This not only leads to some cool moments visually, but also opens the door to a lot of slick moments that you can’t really do in other games. The length of Superhot is about 4 to 5 hours, and that is a source of criticism from most, but it also helps keep it a fun experience that those with busy schedules can easily appreciate from beginning to end.