All The Delicate Duplicates reminded me this week of the joys of playing really good short games, and so I figured I’d focus this week’s top five on some of the best games you can finish in one sitting. Of course, there are absolutely loads. I’ve focused a little more on narrative adventures for this one rather than going back to retro titles like Metroid that were built for speed runs. Of course, that didn’t really help narrow things down very much.
Honourable mentions this week go to Limbo, Thomas Was Alone, The Stanley Parable, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Hotline Miami, and actually Spec Ops: The Line, which can be clocked in a few hours if you breeze through the generic cover shootybangs. It also has Nolan North’s finest performance in a video game. Yes, that includes Uncharted. Anyway…to the list!
Gone Home wasn’t the first game to have you piecing narratives together from snippets of discoverable info, but it’s certainly one of the best. Kaitlin Greenbriar returns to an empty family home and takes the opportunity to rumnmage around a bit, piecing together the familial dramas and tragedies that she’s missed from the past few years. Despite the other members of the family never showing up, you get to know them rather intimately, with the game delivering a warm and moving narrative through wonderful creative detail.
80 Days is a brilliant, steampunk adventure loosely based on Jules Verne’s classic, and you can probably fit a couple of playthroughs into the time it might take to complete a few other games on this list. A gamebook of sorts with a deliciously tactile interface on mobile devices, 80 Days is a choose-your-own-adventure with plenty of surprises amongst its branching narrative weave. It’s masterfully written and gorgeously designed, with players poking and prodding their way across the globe, hoping that each of the many choices made will bring Fogg and Passepartout closer to home. But it is the manner by which you can shape Passepartout’s character through your interactions with others that proves the biggest joy.
To The Moon
To The Moon is all about changing people’s memories so that they can die with no regrets. It’s like altruistic Inception, but with less violence and Hans Zimmer and more space shuttles. Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in RPG Maker, but with more trauma and tears. John is dying and his last wish is to go to the Moon, but he can’t remember why he wants to do that, so its up to two scientists to go sifting through John’s life to try and find the source of this desire. Exploring the memories of a dying man leads to the discovery of lives never led, potential never realised bathed in repression and regret and trauma. To The Moon is one of the most deeply emotional games I’ve ever played, and it manages to squeeze every tear you can muster out of you in under 4 hours.
Portal is a modern classic. The surprise element of The Orange Box, it swiftly outshone its companions to become the best thing about that bundle, boasting a narrative as clever as its puzzle design. Although its sequel would expand upon Portal’s central premise in more expansive fashion, the original provided the perfect blueprint for how to create a tightly-focused game with innovative design and a whip-smart, incredibly funny story. In lesser hands, this string of puzzle chambers might have descended into increasingly complex tedium, but Valve know that the best games are only ever as long as they need to be. Portal gave us just enough to fall madly in love with its premise, to come away absolutely satisfied in rapturous applause, but still up for more.
As a solitary experience, Journey is a powerful, personal, utterly consuming piece of interactive art. Like the finest feel-good films, or those books you read again and again until the title on the spine is illegible from creasing, Journey is a game that exhibits pure joy. It plays with it, subverts it, threatens to take it away at times, but the end result is something inherently euphoric, deeply personal and, dare I say, even a little bit spiritual as well.
For me, Journey is a reflection of life itself. The beauty, the vibrancy, the fluid nature of things. How we all start off not really knowing who we are, but our march towards our end is inexorable, tumultuous, filled with both light and dark. That those who take the time to delight in the world around them will find joy, that those who persevere will find reward, that sometimes you have to travel the lowest depths to reach the highest peaks.
That’s just me, though. What are the short and sweet games that float your proverbial boat?