Sometimes, we just don’t have time to play games. Life can become a whirlwind of working, cooking, seeing friends, and dozens of other overwhelming activities that make spending 20 hours inside a digital world seem frivolous. Thankfully, some developers not only understand this dilemma, but create games around it.
That’s right, I’m talking about short games. Those ones that mimic the infamous tweet: “i want shorter games with worse graphics made by people who are paid more to work less and i’m not kidding.” Being bite-sized doesn’t mean the developers put in any less time or effort in these experiences; oftentimes their smaller nature allows for a final product that’s more consistent and polished than games that try to do more.
Luckily for everyone, the deep line-up within Xbox Game Pass doesn’t just include the latest Halo and Forza Horizon games, but a few hidden gems that you can spend an afternoon conquering. So put down Horizon Forbidden West and lock up the Pokémon, and let us here at Paste show you what’s good in the under eight hour hood. It’s time to enjoy the little things.
The largest game on the list, Titanfall 2’s single-player campaign speeds by in a mere six hours. The developers at Respawn Entertainment don’t waste a second though, crafting a tightly knit story built around some of the best controls this side of Call of Duty. Each level utilizes their specific gimmicks to the fullest, forcing players to platform in a sideways city to literally hop between time. The game is an imaginative, addicting thrill-ride that will leave your clamoring for a long-awaited sequel.
From the brilliantly wacky mind of Ben Esposito, Donut County answers one of the world’s most important questions: What if you controlled a hole that swallowed up everything? Players control BK, an anthropomorphic racoon, who goes about sucking up everything around town in an attempt to win a quadcopter drone. Following Katamari rules, the more you suck up the bigger the hole becomes. The levels are full of charm and engaging but simple puzzles while the story weaves a surprisingly poignant tale about gentrification. Annapurna doesn’t miss.
Sticking to the puzzle game genre, The Pedestrian is a 2.5D puzzle platformer that requires players to manipulate the physical space around them to progress. Controlling a man/woman pictogram from bathroom signs, you move among many flat surfaces to find keys, boxes, and parts as you venture throughout the city. The puzzles never feel too complex, keeping the goal neatly in sight but just out of reach. Each new area adds more and more mechanics, culminating in a brain-tickling massive puzzle that puts everything you know to the test.
After being eaten by a whale, broke Lord Faraday awakes in a dilapidated and corroding underworld. With none of his crew in sight, Faraday ventures forth into the world, finding himself embroiled in a prophecy to stop the darkness and find his way back home. With its 8-bit art style and macabre vibe, Olija draws inspiration from Castlevania. Players control Faraday and utilize a magical harpoon to traverse the world and attack enemies. The mostly one man team at Skeleton Crew Studios crafts a slim and touching story that feels great to spend a few hours killing baddies in.
After a handful of astronauts vanish during a mission around Saturn, the lone survivor agrees to fly a highly experimental spherical spacecraft gifted to Earth by aliens to track them down. The journey is lonely and dangerous, the deep quiet punctuated by sharp electric guitars as your sphere rolls through desolate landscapes, gaining speed until you flatten out and catch air. The strong dependence on physics creates an addicting gameplay loop and the ethereal and spoon-fed story entices you to keep venturing to further and further frontiers.
Enter the deep dark of Limbo, the iconic puzzle platformer from developer Playdead Studios. You must find your sister in the creepy and horrifying land of Limbo, escaping giant spiders and other dangers along the way. It is drenched in a tense atmosphere, forcing both player and character alike to come face to face with death and our own mortality. Cheery, right?
The critically acclaimed Undertale is too many things to succinctly summarize: it’s an RPG, a dating simulator, puzzle game, and bullet hell shooter among other things. What can be said is that it is unlike anything else out there. Packed with charm, humor, and heartbreak, you must explore the world of monsters and find your way back home. What more can be said? You need to play this game.
Moving sucks, but Unpacking transforms the titular activity into a calming puzzler that meditates on life and the many homes we will inhabit throughout it. It’s a feat of sound design mixes with pixel perfect art to form a simple but highly memorable experience. Developer Witch Beam Games has made me almost excited to pack simply so I can later unpack, a tall order to be sure.
Firewatch is a game, but it’s not useful to write about it as a game. Who cares what your fingers do while you’re playing this? Yes: it has graphics. The stuff that matters is what Henry and Delilah talk about on their radios. It’s what Henry reads throughout the few campsites and outposts he comes across. It’s what you feel as the story unfolds like a short story on your television screen, visiting the private grief of others who can struggle to communicate just as torturously as all of us in the real world can. And although this dual character study can feel a little slight, and has a few improbable notes that are struck seemingly just to enhance a sense of mystery, that central friendship between Henry and Delilah is powerful. It feels real, and important for both of them.—Garrett Martin
Rooted in Hindu mythology, and with a gorgeous painterly art style, Raji is an action game that looks and feels like no other. It can move a little too slowly, but with a wide-ranging combat kit that prioritizes fluidity of movement, it’s one of those games that simply feels good to play. Light puzzle elements break up the battle, resulting in a well-rounded debut by the Indian studio Nodding Heads Games.—Garrett Martin
Mik Deitz is a freelance writer and Paste intern. They inhale stories in videogames, films, TV and books, and have never finished God of War (2018). Yell at or compliment them on Twitter @dietdeitz.