When you find something good, you want as much of it as you can get…right? That might be true for some video games, but some of the greatest games are way shorter than you’d expect. The games on this list—all of which can be completed in under 5 hours—make up for their short length with tremendous gameplay and stories.
Most of the games on this list are indie games. With few people on the developing team, the games are understandably short. Many avoid voice acting—a move which reduces costs yet also leads to amazing gameplay. Since so many video games rely so heavily on text and voice acting, we’re impressed when silent games achieve the same level of emotion as word-filled games.
Some games listed below were developed by large, extremely popular companies, including Nintendo and SEGA. These companies recognized the importance of quality over quantity. Any game can have bad moments regardless of length, but the games on this list make every second and pixel count. These games are perfect for players with little time, but you should play them no matter how much spare time you have. With amazing, innovative gameplay and relatively low costs, these games are far more worthy of your time and money than the lengthy games on the market.
Portal more than makes up for its short length with incredible puzzles and a hilarious villain. GLaDOS leads you through a series of tests with the portal gun, a device that lets you create two portals to pretty much anywhere in the test room. She provides wonderful commentary at the beginning and end of each level, giving you the perfect incentive to continue to the next room.
With the portal gun, Portal expands the boundaries of 3-D puzzles. You must approach velocity and directions from an entirely new perspective—and you’ll feel immensely satisfied when you solve puzzles you’d never see in real life.
If you want to try more of these puzzles (as well as a few 4-D puzzles) with a friend, you can also play Portal 2—but Portal packs the same amount of fun into a shorter campaign.
14 Monument Valley
Monument Valley takes optical illusions—which are already puzzling and mentally interactive—to a new degree of interaction. The mobile game consists almost entirely of optical illusions, most of which resemble the drawings of M. C. Escher (the creator of the endless staircase illusion). Monument Valley balances its otherworldly, gorgeous visuals with a short length and fairly simple puzzles. Optical illusions are sometimes frustrating and nauseating; Monument Valley carefully avoids such extremities, instead, using simple illusions that invoke glee and wonder. When you pause to consider a puzzle, you’ll find yourself admiring the level design even after you’ve solved the puzzle.
Monument Valley captures the mind-boggling yet peaceful feeling that accompanies optical illusions. If you enjoy optical illusions, you’ll love how Monument Valley not only embraces optical illusions but also carries them forward in a new medium.
13 Sonic The Hedgehog 2
As the best game in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 shows how incredible 2-D platforming can be. With amazing music and level design the game thoroughly entertains anyone who plays it. You’ll love racing through the beautiful stages—but be careful not to sprint into a wall of spikes. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 balances speed with precise platforming and dangerous bosses, creating a challenging and infinitely satisfying campaign.
Despite its short length, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 provides endless fun. You can challenge yourself by avoiding Rings (which protect you from attacks), or you can collect as many Rings as possible. The game introduces multiplayer to the franchise, allowing you and your friend to save the world together as Sonic and Tails.
12 To The Moon
The gameplay in To the Moon may not be particularly difficult, but the story will challenge your views. You control two scientists capable of changing memories; they must help a dying man go to the moon in his new “memories.” To the Moon carries you through Johnny’s memories—leading to an emotional and philosophical rollercoaster that questions the meaning of memories, happiness, and death.
Despite his unhappy marriage, Johnny subconsciously wants to travel to the moon because he and his wife promised to reunite there (although Johnny doesn’t consciously remember this promise). Johnny’s subconscious devotion will make you love him—but you’ll also hate him because Johnny consciously chose to change his memories. He could lose any memory in the process, including memories of his wife. Through its bittersweet story, To the Moon makes you consider whether we should delete or preserve bad memories.
With surreal settings that are simultaneously creepy and beautiful, LIMBO provides a unique adventure with brilliant puzzles, terrifying chase sequences, and thought-provoking imagery. You’ll sympathize with the monsters and people you encounter even as they try to destroy you. After all, you’re trapped together in purgatory. You’re just as scared and distrusting as the people you meet, yet you want nothing more than a friendly face in this dark, strange world.
LIMBO tells an incredible story without explaining it. With absolutely no dialogue or text, the game allows you to interpret its haunting images and surreal settings. Because of recurring images and themes, you should consider playing LIMBO all at once. The game’s short length enables you to complete it in a single session—but you’ll love it no matter how you choose to play it.
10 Star Fox 64
Star Fox 64 is one of the most widely acclaimed games on the N64—and for good reason. The game perfects its style of rail shooter: the camera moves straight forward as if on a rail, and you have to use quick, accurate reactions to avoid or destroy approaching enemies.
A lot of older games force you to completely restart a game when you lose all your lives. This always frustrates players, but Star Fox 64 balances this mechanic with a short campaign. The game tests your reaction time as well as your memory, rewarding players dedicated enough to beat the game. For players who want more gameplay, you can explore the game’s multiple paths, try to protect all your teammates, or challenge your friends in multiplayer.
Braid launched today’s indie movement when it released in 2008. Although excellent indie games released before then, Braid popularized an artistic, simplistic approach to video games. Braid revolves around a single mechanic in which you rewind and fast-forward time, leading to a variety of excellent puzzles. Since you can’t die in a game where you control time itself, you get to enjoy Braid’s puzzles and aesthetics without fear of death. Peaceful music and vibrant colors inhabit each world, creating one of the most sublime experiences in the gaming world.
If you have trouble solving puzzles, Braid may take you longer than 5 hours. In general, though, the game lasts 4-5 hours. No matter how long it takes, you’ll enjoy every minute.
8 Thomas Was Alone
With great platforming puzzles, Thomas Was Alone would work well as a silent game. You control squares and rectangles, which sounds perfect for a mobile game. However, Thomas Was Alone distinguishes itself through excellent narration and music. Danny Wallace provides hilarious narration throughout the game: he describes the emotions and motives of the game’s four-sided characters. The narration combines with powerful music, turning a game about rectangles into a compelling experience.
Every character will entertain you, particularly when the shapes join forces to solve puzzles. With wonderful narration and interactions waiting at every level, you’ll never want to put the game down. Thomas Was Alone generally lasts 3-4 hours; if the game addicts you as it’s addicted so many players, you could easily finish it in a single night.
7 Sin & Punishment: Star Sucessor
While Star Fox 64 perfects a couple types of gameplay, Star Successor fully explores the rail shooter genre without spreading itself too thin. Treasure created the perfect balance within a short campaign by including a variety of camera angles and gameplay styles. Whether you’re sprinting across exploding trains, carefully maneuvering past lasers, or kicking missiles back at your enemies, you’ll enjoy every moment of Star Successor.
Star Successor is also a lot of fun to replay. You can challenge yourself with Hard mode or search for the secret medals in each stage. Only the most dedicated players discover every medal. The game rewards players for thinking outside the box instead of mindlessly shooting everything they see, making Star Successor one of today’s greatest shooters.
6 Dear Esther
A lot of critics question whether Dear Esther should be considered a video game or a movie, but none doubt the power of its story and atmosphere. You follow a linear path around a beautiful, desolate island, listening to a man’s heart-wrenching letters to Esther. You’ll be immersed from the beginning—and you’ll have a hard time letting go when the game ends an hour or two later.
Even though it has the length and linearity of a movie, Dear Esther is amazing because of the video game medium. You move through the story at your own pace; you can rush ahead to hear the next letter, or you can pause to ponder the story and enjoy the view. Though it lacks challenging gameplay, Dear Esther illustrates the power of interactivity.
5 Titan Souls
Titan Souls’s name and gameplay are largely derived from Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus—and the game is just as amazing as its influences. You wander a lonely but beautiful land of forests, snowy mountains, and underground caverns. 19 Titans await you—and that’s all you know as you defeat these bosses and absorb their souls. With almost no text or cutscenes, Titan Souls lets you interpret its story.
The 19 boss battles are difficult but extremely satisfying. You’ll feel extremely epic as you and your single arrow take down massive Titans that can crush you with a single hit. Amazing music completes the game: every setting has its own musical style, and each Titan’s thrilling song fits perfectly into that style.
4 Gone Home
A single voice actress guides you through an abandoned house in Gone Home—creating one of the most immersive and relatable stories in gaming. You discover Samantha’s diary entries as you explore her lonely house—and you won’t be able to put the game down until you’ve explored every nook and cranny. Gone Home makes full use of its medium by rewarding interaction and exploration. Mysteries and compelling relationships hide throughout the house, and every photo, note, and crumpled magazine helps solve the narrative puzzle.
Gone Home gives amazing weight to the most mundane aspects of life. Whether you’re discovering a teenager’s romance, a father’s crumbling career, or a potential affair, Gone Home hooks you with its depiction of everyday events.
A lot of horror games benefit from a variety of monsters and settings, but P.T. uses a single setting and enemy to build one of the most terrifying experiences in gaming. You repeatedly walk through an L-shaped hallway—a hallway that changes every time you enter it. The changes can be massive or subtle: the game keeps you guessing throughout its short duration. No matter how different the first part of the hallway seems, you’ll always dread turning the corner.
P.T. uses surrealism to its full potential: the endless hallway and its strange voices, lighting, and paintings will terrify you with your own imagination. The game’s, unfortunately, hard to come by nowadays, but you’ll be rewarded with an amazing experience if you find it.
2 Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Many games on this list convey emotion through silent actions; Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons instead uses incomprehensible language. Characters hardly speak. When they do, they converse in a fictional language unique to the game. Brothers illustrates how powerful actions and emotions are compared to words. We don’t need to understand their language to see how much the two brothers love each other.
You move through a beautiful world with the loving brothers—but you also encounter plenty of depressing moments. When you prevent a man from killing himself, you can save him—but you can’t tell him why. The man cries and, no matter how much you want to communicate with him, you can’t learn his motives or explain your motives. Brothers teaches us the simultaneous uselessness and usefulness of language—all without a word of explanation.
Journey uses silence and beauty to create one of the most magical gaming experiences in the world. This short indie game leads you through short cutscenes and a mountain that towers above the desert around you. You run and fly through the dessert, the snowy mountain, and mysterious ruins—all at your own peaceful pace. Journey rewards explorers with beautiful, artistic settings and longer scarves (the longer your scarf is, the longer you can fly through the air).
You can complete your virtual pilgrimage alone, or you may discover other players along the way. If you play the game online, you encounter other players—all with the same, speechless avatar as you. Players only communicate through song: if you sing beside another player, their scarf regenerates at a quicker pace. Whether you work alone or with others, you’ll go through an incredible, powerful journey where experience speaks louder than words.