Does a game need to be long to be good? The answer is different for everyone, with many factors at play. Some need an open world with question marks everywhere on the map. Some are fine with the equivalent of a long movie. For some, it depends on what you actually do in those hours, whether it be constant button-pushing or interactive novel choice-making.
I find great joy in small stories, short games that make a point and let you get on to the next thing. Many people believe these are not games in the same way a massive adventure like The Witcher 3 is a game. While inherently the value proposition for a 100-hour game is better, I would argue there is value of a different kind in short, meaningful experiences. So let’s discuss, and feel free to get into the responses to tell us about your favorite short games!
The game that comes immediately to mind is Journey. People talked about it being an incredible experience, though it was years before I finally took the plunge. It truly is a wonderful example of what gaming can be in short form. It will take you no more than about 3 hours, and a minimalist control scheme makes it incredibly accessible. Not a single word of dialogue exists in the game, spoken or otherwise, yet the game packs such an emotional punch that players report being moved to tears by the end of the experience.
Thomas Was Alone is another game that is short in length, but towering in stature. No more than two hours from front to back, it is ostensibly a puzzle game about moving different sized blocks from one side of the screen to the other. The magic comes from the narration, where the themes of friendship, cooperation and triumph through struggle shine through brilliantly. Simplistic, accessible, but arguably one of the best experiences that everyone can play.
If atmosphere and world-building are your things, Little Nightmares is well worth a look. You play a tiny character trying to escape from a comparatively massive and terrifying world. Few games are able to evoke the sense of place that this title does, again with a minimum of dialogue of any variety. The size of your enemies, combined with the stop and start terror of sneaking and running to escape, make for a harrowing adventure.
Although the game was no more than 4 hours long, I was completely exhausted by the conclusion, sharing what the character must have felt in her scamper to freedom.
Short games are wonderful experiences on their own, but they serve other purposes as well. They can be a palette-cleanser, bridging the gap between games with longer campaigns. As they are often more casual fare with easier gameplay mechanics, they can be a mental break from more grueling titles, or the continual grind of online gaming. They are especially important in terms of backlog management, where knocking a few smaller adventures off the list can give you the willpower to tackle the rest.
So give a short game your attention today, and you just mind find as much to love there as you do in the bigger worlds.
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