For the purposes of this article, I thought it would be a good idea to go through all of my rules that I set into motion when drafting this up. First of all when it comes “classic games” I am referring to everything before the PS2 era, which is to say NES through PS2, which gave me a good ten-to-fifteen year window to work with. The reason why I wanted to stick with this period is because it is the perfect era to weigh length next to cost. Do you think $60 is a lot of money to pay for a game today? You bet it is, but at least you can be thankful that that price has not increased for over a decade now. Yes, it can be terrible to put in that much money to then get a three-to-five hour game out of it and even worse if the game wasn’t any fun.
Now think about how it must have felt to both parents and kids of the 80s and 90s. Video games had no set cost. It was like the Wild West sometimes especially when it came to SNES and N64 cartridges. Chrono Trigger was like $80 back then! Now consider this further. As a kid back then, like myself, we only got a handful a year because of this cost. So to get something short was devastating. Does that make sense to you? That’s where I’m coming from, but that doesn’t mean these games are bad. It is just something fun to reflect on so let’s get to it.
25 Super Mario World (5-6 Hours)
Super Mario World is my favorite game in the franchise. I still remember coming home from Kindergarten on my birthday and being surprised with a SNES and this game. I played it for years and years after that. My cartridge still runs too. I never counted how long it took me to get everything originally, but when I replayed it on the SNES mini my final time was 5:43 and that’s with getting all the secrets. Really? That was it? Color me surprised.
24 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time (1-2 Hours)
This shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. After all, arcade games were designed to be tough in order to take your quarters. They weren’t designed to be huge, epic games lasting hours on end. I know that now, but back in the 90s I had no idea Turtles in Time was only an hour long at max. I loved it in the arcade enough to want it on my SNES. When I finished it, it was like my reality came crashing down on me. It was not cheap either.
23 Mega Man X (2-3 Hours)
Mega Man X is my favorite game in the classic style. Overall I think Mega Man Legends is number one, or at least tied. Anyway this is another SNES classic I played for years on end. Even after beating it I still enjoyed going back and still do. Again, I never took notes on how long my time was until I replayed it again for a Mega Man X retrospective I made last year. My time on the SNES classic was 1:39. This tiny console keeps blowing my mind!
22 Super Metroid (5-6 Hours)
I actually never played Super Metroid back in its peak. The first time I touched it was in college wherein I discovered the joys of emulation. I left all of my consoles at home so this was how I got by for a spell. This was the first game I tested out on my Mac. My final time was 6:12, which is a little bit longer than the average times I saw online and nowhere near the speedruns. While short it is still excellent.
21 Dragon Quest (9-10 Hours)
Dragon Quest, or more like Dragon Warrior as we formally knew it in North America, is the longest game on this list. The average is, at most, ten hours. Now why would I put that on here? The answer is easy. It is a great contrast to the current state of Dragon Quest games that average around 80+ hours, which is a great value proposition for your dollar, but the time investment can be heavy. In this case, I’m actually thrilled this is only ten hours. I can’t believe it.
20 Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (7-8 Hours)
Crash Bandicoot 2 was my first and thus my favorite game in the series. There is just something about the balance of everything from the levels to the story that all gels so well. When I replayed it for another retrospective, my final time was a little less than the average at 5:49, but of course I had played it a lot as a kid. Seven to eight hours is nothing to scoff at either since there were tons of extras.
19 Spyro The Dragon (7-8 Hours)
If Crash is on here then I, of course, have to put his fellow PS1 co-star on here as well aka Spyro. Because this was more of an open world where levels were literally, well, more open than the linear paths in Crash, it felt longer to me when I was younger. I was incredibly shocked to finish it, with a good chunk of extras complete, in about four hours for, yes; yet another video project. I’m better than the average, yay!
18 Metal Gear Solid (5-6 Hours)
Would you be surprised to learn that this Solid Snake fan didn’t get started until Metal Gear Solid 2? You would think I would have gone back to the first after completing the second, but it wouldn’t be until after the third entry that I finally started. History aside, this was another case where I thought this game was a huge epic only to uncover later on in life that it is really only like five hours long. That is, if you skip the cutscenes. They eat up a lot of game time.
17 PaRappa The Rapper (1-2 Hours)
The PS1 generation was at least better with prices compared to the exorbitant rates found on the N64. Were cartridges really that much harder to produce than CDs? Anyway, while I couldn’t find an exact price for Parappa the Rapper back at launch, I imagine it had to be between $40 and $50 based on the usual amount for PS1 titles. While it was groundbreaking at the time, and still holds up, one playthrough will take less than an hour. That is crazy for any one of those prices!
16 Pokémon Snap (1-2 Hours)
Pokémon Snap has one of the coolest gimmicks in the Pokémon spinoff universe. Going on a safari to take photos of Pokémon sounds great in real life, or just in this game. And while it may be less exciting compared to battling to become the best, again, it was at least unique. It was also super short too unless you really wanted to perfect your score. I’m still surprised that there hasn’t been a sequel although Pokémon GO is kind of like one, right?
15 Donkey Kong Country (5-6 Hours)
Even though I shouldn’t have known the price of Donkey Kong Country as a child, it is burned into my brain. I found it in my toy chest with the price tag of $70 still on the box. It was a Christmas present my mom thought would be clever to hide in my room. Price aside, I definitely got my, or I guess her, money’s worth since it was brutally difficult. Like Super Mario World it seemed so big, but is only like five hours. My time on the SNES classic was 5:23.
14 Star Fox 64 (1-2 Hours)
I never played Star Fox 64 back in the height of the N64. My friends raved about it, but I couldn’t imagine it being any good since the SNES original never really wowed me. I eventually checked it out with the 3DS re-release and it was great. The thing is that version and the original are, you guessed it, super short. Yes, there are branching paths to elongate your enjoyment, but it really is just an hour, or two each time.
13 Kirby Super Star (4-5 Hours)
Kirby Super Star was my first real introduction to the adorable pink fluff ball. I played the original on my friend’s Game Boy a few times, but that was it. This wasn’t just one adventure either. It was a collection of mini-campaigns and mini-games. It seemed huge, but like Super Mario World, huge in my day I guess meant only a few hours, or so. According to my player data, it was just shy of five hours for me at 4:58 on the SNES mini.
12 Mike Tyson's Punch-Out (1-2 Hours)
Despite the name and sport, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out isn’t really a boxing, or fighting game. It’s more like a puzzle game crossed with a boss rush mode. Except for the lack of exploration, it’s almost like Shadow of the Colossus when you think about it. Anyway, my point is once you figure out the trick to each opponent, the matches will only last between 5-10 minutes and maybe even less depending. It’s basically just an hour once you are good enough.
11 The Great Circus Mystery Starring Mickey & Minnie (1-2 Hours)
First of all, despite the clunky name and the fact that it is a licensed based title, I will assure you this game is awesome. This is back when Capcom had a deal with Disney and almost every game they developed was amazing, or at least good. This falls into the former category. I played this a bunch at my cousin’s, but never beat it. I found a ROM shortly after completing Super Metroid in college and was even more amazed that my recording time was only at 1:23. Hey, it is short, but still good. Trust me!
10 The Legend Of The Mystical Ninja (4-5 Hours)
When you’re a kid you can’t help what games you got sometimes. I’m sure we all have treasurers hidden gems from our childhood that we champion on a regular basis be they good, or not. The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is one of those games for me. I loved the multiple perspectives from 2D to top down and the nonsensical story and enemies. It was sadly too difficult for me to ever finish as a kid regardless of how many hours I sunk into it. When I finally conquered it I was amazed to see it only took me 4:22.
9 Double Dragon (1-2 Hours)
Double Dragon can be thanked for helping create the brawler, or beat ’em up genre. It’s one of those quintessential games most NES owners had, or at the very least had played in arcades. This can also be “thanked” for being the poster child for video games that were incredibly hard just to pad out their short length. This is like an hour at max, or even shorter if you plug in digital quarters into the arcade version via emulators. That is how I recommend experiencing it.
8 Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (2-3 Hours)
Is it safe to say Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the peak of the series? Whether you agree or not doesn’t matter. Here is another question, but one you can’t disagree with. The point of this game is to go fast, right? It was built around the idea of speedruns. While that was unique at the time it also shortened the lifespan of itself. And because it is linear, in that there is no world map unlike Super Mario world, there is even less incentive to go back.
7 DuckTales (1-2 Hours)
DuckTales is yet another classic Disney game Capcom had a hand in. Many regard it as their best collaboration together and it is hard to disagree with that. The non-linear level progression alongside player choice, the music, and the gameplay were all top notch. It is another example of a small game being pretty hard to pad itself out though. Even with that remake a few years ago, it still didn’t check in at over a couple of hours. The new voices were a plus though.
6 Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire (5-6 Hours)
It’s hard to imagine a time period existing without Star Wars, since the franchise is literally everywhere you look nowadays. Well, back in the 90s, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire was the first big rebirth of the series in almost a decade. This game and the toys and book that went along with it were a huge deal. It may have been good back then, but is rough to go back to now. At the very least it’s a somewhat short struggle, but one I actually had hoped was even quicker.
5 Sin And Punishment (1-2 Hours)
I have to indulge myself with one of the best games on the N64. Unfortunately, it was never released outside of Japan initially. Sin and Punishment eventually came to North America via the Wii eShop for a steal at $10. That is the perfect price for this length of game. If you were a Japanese gamer that had to pay full price, or if you imported this game in the states, then I feel sorry for your wallet. That had to hurt.
4 Castlevania Legends (1-2 Hours)
I could pick almost any of the more classic Castlevania games in order to make my point clear. Before Symphony of the Night mutated what Super Metroid started adding in RPG elements, these games were straightforward linear action platformers. They weren’t bad so much as they were short. I landed on Castlevania Legends because it is one of the worst early games out there. Not only is it short and incredibly clunky, but also it had the opportunity to showcase how cool a female protagonist could be. It, unfortunately, faltered.
3 Contra (0.5-1 Hour)
Like Castlevania, Contra titles are equally short. Actually, scratch that. They are a lot shorter and in turn, a lot harder to compensate. There was a reason Konami created that infamous code. Without it, or Game Genie, players had no chance. Despite this, the first game is still a classic in my eyes. Now that I know it was so short I feel pretty dumb obsessing over it as a kid though. You never know what will strike your fancy.
2 Altered Beast (0.5-1 Hour)
I have such an incredible anecdote about Altered Beast related to its length. So one Halloween, while at a bar, my friends started talking about Altered Beast. I never played it so when we got home they decided to download it on their Wii, which took some time because entering your credit card information on the actual Wii is a process worse than filing your taxes. Also, again, we were at a bar before. Once it was downloaded we all excitedly jumped in, then felt robbed 39 minutes later. Yep, that is all it took. Many words were shared.
1 Ninja Gaiden Trilogy (4-5 Hours)
The final spot has to go to Ninja Gaiden as it was and still is one of the most brutal games on the NES. Instead of attacking any one of the three originals I decided to nominate the remake on SNES that came with all three games and adjusted the challenge. Three games for the price of one isn’t bad, right? Well, what if the sum total was less than the average of a single game on this entry. All three can be finished in about five hours. That is really something.