Variety is the spice of life and right now, trapped in our homes during self-isolation, we're running dangerously low on the stuff. Luckily, we can throw ourselves into video games and escape for a few fleeting moments. But if you tire easily of grinding for gold or chasing down endless plot MacGuffins, even video games can get monotonous.
So, to help you differentiate your days, we've rounded up our favorite games that you can knock out in just a few hours. No real-time open worlds, no endless plots about the power of our hearts, no collectathons. Just direct, to the point experiences that you can pick up, play through, and put on the shelf.
When you're done, check out our games you can play forever.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Evan Rodgers: I absolutely love controller rhythm games. As I just mentioned at the end of my Put.io guide, Gitaroo Man is one of my all-time favorites, and over the weekend I decided I needed a fresh title to mash in time with music. Ryan recommended Sayonara Wild Hearts for the Nintendo Switch, and at $12.99 I can now confirm that this game is a steal.
The game wields a strong narrative concept but deploys it with a light touch, just enough to give it structure but never more than you want. In terms of gameplay, Sayonara Wild Hearts puts you on rails and you react to the environment in time with synthy dream pop. This description doesn’t do the game justice, though, as some of the ways you interact with the environment (which is always gorgeous, by the way) are actually very clever.
You should watch the trailer (above) to get a feel for the music. I reached the credits in just a couple of hours, but the ride was absolutely worth it, and I will definitely be visiting the game again to improve my scores.
Monument Valley II
Craig Wilson: There are two kinds of people. Those who’ve played Monument Valley and those who’ve been waiting for it to go on sale. Well, good news, cheapskates! The sequel, Monument Valley II, is now available for free (instead of the usual $5) for Android and iOS as a “virtual hug” from developer UsTwo Games. You don’t have to have played the first installment, but if you haven’t, it’s another unmissable game you can finish in a single sitting.
The original took home a cabinet’s worth of mobile game awards back in 2014, and deservedly so. Its Escher-like levels of impossible walkways, emotive soundscapes, and simple-but-devastating tale made for an irresistible combination. The follow-up keeps all of the best parts of the formula and adds a new heartstring-tugging narrative along with a couple of fresh game mechanics to the mix.
Though the experience might be over all too soon, and the puzzles aren’t especially puzzling, Monument Valley II is moving, enchanting, and unforgettable. It’s a pitch-perfect, life-affirming digital balm for the current, chronic, panic-tinged hum of lockdown life.
Ray Wong: Okay, so you don't ever "finish" Tetris 99 unless you win. But unless you're, like, really freakin' good at Tetris and manage to beat out 99 other online players, you're going to finish this game multiple times a day in the sense of constantly losing. Tetris 99 is free to download on the Nintendo eShop, but there are two caveats: you'll need a subscription to Nintendo Switch Online (for online play, duh) and the game is only on the Switch which means you better have a one because these things are basically sold out or insanely marked up at the moment.
Cheyenne MacDonald: No game or comparable piece of media I can recall in recent times captures the haunting beauty of solitude quite like Gris. And that makes it perfect for the reality we are all now struggling to confront. This game is stunning, visually, and accompanied by a soundtrack that evokes a bonsai garden. Gris finds you in a colorless world, and you must keep pushing forward to bring its vibrance back. You will, quite literally, float through this game. I played it on Switch but it’s also available for PS4, iOS, and PC.
Cheyenne MacDonald: Inside, much like Limbo before it, is simple to the point of creepy. You are a child, you are alone, and you must keep running — your life depends on it. The feeling of being hunted is constant and unsettling, and will have you hooked right out of the gate. It’s not an uplifting game so proceed with caution if the real-world isolation already has you struggling, but for those who don’t mind the parallels, this game is worth checking out. It will push your brain into thinking a bit but doesn’t take challenging to the point of infuriating. It's available for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
To the Moon
Ryan Houlihan: To the Moon is a beautiful love letter to the 8- and 16-bit RPGs of days gone by. But don't let its looks fool you: It's also a deeply emotional story about artificial memories, longing, and death, that wouldn't feel out of place in a new season of Black Mirror. At a brisk 4-5 hours of playtime, you can dive into this gorgeous game and not lose days grinding yourself towards plot points. A title you'll surely remember!
Night in the Woods
Matt Wille: Night in the Woods is not a difficult game, which makes it the perfect play-in-a-day game. You explore the game’s strange 2D world as Mae, a college dropout who’s just moved back home and is struggling with their mental health. Some very strange things are happening in Possum Springs. The game is narrative-focused and has a fairly linear structure, though your choice of interactions with various players does change gameplay. Plus, the game’s lovely animation style and hot, original soundtrack are there to accompany you on the journey. You can play through the main story in eight hours or so. There are plenty of side quests to bump that playtime up if you choose to take the story more slowly. And you might. You've probably got the time to, after all.
Joshua Topolsky: As we've already covered in these virtual pages, 198X is really a game of mini-games, all taking their cues from some of the most beloved 8- and 16-bit titles of yesteryear. The story is compelling, if somewhat vague — you play as the Kid, "a teenager stuck between the limitations of innocent youth and the obligations of inevitable adulthood." Whatever that means. But nebulous story aside, the just right difficulty, breeziness of the gameplay, and gorgeous graphics make it perfect for a few hours on a quiet afternoon when you don't feel like anything in particular, but want something specific.