The idea behind the Short Play column was to recommend games that anyone could finish in a weekend, because people finishing games turns out to be a surprisingly rare occurrence. And the longer a game gets, the more difficult it becomes.
We’ve recommended 26 different short games over the last year, but if you are looking for the best of the best, here are six games that have stood out from the rest for one reason or another. And they’re short enough that you might even be able to finish them all before the end of the year. (Unless it’s December 31st, then I can’t really guarantee that.)
Video games have long tried to adapt techniques from film for storytelling purposes to varying degrees of success. 198X is effectively the opposite. While it looks like a game, it is more a movie with interactive scenes where the audience plays classic-style arcade games as though they were the character. But these moments aren’t just an interactive respite, they help build on your understanding of the character and story. To quote my original review, 198X “creates a meaningful difference in the experience between someone playing it versus watching it. That’s not something you can say for a lot of storytelling in video games.”
198X was created by Hi-Bit Studios. You can get it on Steam and GOG (Windows only) or on PlayStation 4 for $9.99. It takes an hour or two to finish.
A Short Hike
A Short Hike can be finished pretty quickly as your only real objective is to climb to the top of the mountain of a wildlife park island. But it’s much more about the journey than the destination. There is more to do than you might expect. The island is full of scenic views, is fun to explore, and has lots of interesting characters to interact with. Its relaxing nature is reminiscent of running around in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but without all the Moblins and world-ending threats.
A Short Hike was created by Adam Robinson-Yu. You can get it for $7.99 on Steam or Itch.io (Windows, macOS, and Linux). It takes about an hour or two to finish.
The game marries mini-golf and card games into an incredibly delightful and fun puzzle game. Each hole has a specific set of cards that act as the only ways you can hit the ball, and so figuring out how and when to use what cards becomes the crux of what you are trying to solve. It is also quick and easy to undo moves or restart levels, making failed attempts less disheartening. Golf Peaks launched on the Nintendo Switch this year, but it’s perhaps best enjoyed on an iOS or Android phone for those times when you need a distraction for a few minutes.
Golf Peaks was created by Afterburn. You can get it for the Nintendo Switch for $4.99, Windows and Mac on Itch.io or Steam for $4.99, or on the iOS App Store or Google Play Store for $2.99. It can take about four hours to finish.
While at first blush it seems to be an adventure game about gardening strange plants on a mutant island, it is more of a fairly chill soap opera about the lives of a small, isolated, tight-knit community of outcasts. It’s also a community with lots of issues that have gone unaddressed for so long that they are causing discord. The gardening at the core of the game serves as a metaphor for finding ways to tend to the individual needs of the community.
Mutazione was created by Die Gute Fabrik. You can get it on Apple Arcade with a subscription or for $19.99 on Windows and macOS (Steam, Itch.io, and GOG) or PlayStation 4. It takes about seven hours to finish.
Tangle Tower is a game I still think about. It’s not because of the story or gameplay — which are both very good, don’t get me wrong — but because of how much charm and character oozes out of every inch of its presentation. The voice acting and character animations convey so much about the cast, breathing so much life into them that it can feel more like playing a cartoon than a standard visual novel. Throw in a fascinating murder mystery and interesting puzzles, and you have one of the most memorable games of the year.
Tangle Tower was created by SFB Games. You can get it on Apple Arcade with a subscription, or for $19.99 on Nintendo Switch and Steam (Windows and Mac OS). It takes about five to six hours to finish.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
I accidentally played Sayonara Wild Hearts in one sitting. It hadn’t been my intention, I was just looking to play it while I waited for my roommate to get home. But then they were running late, and I just kept playing — and couldn’t stop. It is an absolutely engrossing experience visually, audibly, and interactively. I never really understood the way some people talk about the last level of Rez as almost a religious experience, but after Sayonara Wild Hearts, I feel like I better understand that now.
Sayonara Wild Hearts was created by Simogo. You can get it on Apple Arcade with a subscription, or for $12.99 on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. It takes about two hours to finish.