The 23 best bite-size games for busy lives

1 of 24

I am dad, hear me whinge. Too many games, not enough spare time, for all my non-work hours are spent kissing grazed knees, explaining why you cannot eat the food in that cupboard, constructing awful Lion King dioramas out of toilet roll tubes and being terrified that the next jump from the sofa to the armchair will go fatally wrong. I’m lucky in that my job to some extent involves playing games, so by and large if there’s something I really want to check out I can find a way to, but I appreciate that there are many long-time, older or otherwise time-starved readers for whom RPS is a daily tease of wondrous things they cannot play.

Now, clearly I cannot magically truncate The Witcher 3 into three hours for you, but what I can do is suggest a few games from across the length and breadth of recent PC gaming that can either be completed within a few hours or dipped into now and again without being unduly punished because you’ve lost your muscle-memory.

These are a selection of games that will give you a decent working sense of what’s out there these days, but don’t demand 20+ hours of your time to complete, or a daily investment to be any good at. Games you can start playing knowing that you’ll be able to finish them – I don’t know about you, but I have so many abandoned open-world games littering my hard drive. I never uninstall them, convinced I’ll come back –
but the time the chance arrives, a dozen more have been released.

So these, instead, are games which actually fit into an adult life. Clearly, these are not the only ones – suggestions below are entirely welcome.

Use the arrow keys above/below the images to navigate the list, or the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard.

From this site

60 Comments

  1. Canadave says:

    I like this list, speaking as someone who rarely spends more than an hour or so at once playing any one game. It’s missing a couple of my go-tos for when I want to kill a little bit of time and want to jump in right away, though: Cook, Serve, Delicious and Race the Sun. Both are easy to play for 15 minutes if that’s all you want, but require just enough skill to make you want to keep improving over a longer session, as well.

    • Scurra says:

      Race the Sun is fabulous. It’s just hard enough to mean that you feel satisfied when you crack another level, but not so hard that it’s impossible to get to the “end”, and random enough that you can blame the game when your otherwise perfect run crashes out…

    • icarussc says:

      I also am a Dave from Canada! Greetings, long-lost twin!

      And it’s missing my go-to short game: the current incarnation of Magic: the Gathering (called Magic Duels, I think).

  2. Faldrath says:

    Weren’t you guys going to hire someone to review Tolva? Did I miss it, or did it end up not happening?

  3. skeletortoise says:

    Good list, but I’d say it’s a little deficient in roguelikelitebright (I’ve lost all sense of genre lately) games. Something you can boot up for a half hour and have one or two unique and fun adventures with, but you can also drop at a moment’s notice and not care. I’d recommend:
    Spelunky
    Curious Expedition

  4. Martijn says:

    Good article. I am not a dad, but I am old and I only recently started playing computer games again. I can agree with most of these titles. I bought Overwatch, but I still can’t get into it; too much buttons to learn. It’s also much more expensive than most of the other games, so a bit trickier to recommend.

    Since I grew up in the 2D world of the Commodore 64 and SNES and I have very bad spatial insight (it that the English term?), I still have major problems with that require quick thinking in 3D, like Overwatch and Devil Daggers. Worst is that I always forget enemies can come from behind too in 3D; often I die in Devil Daggers and I takes me 20 seconds to realise I was killed from behind. More leisurely paced 3D like Portal, Abzû or The Witness gives me no problems.

    My personal recommendation for a ‘Mario Kart-like’ is the free Asphalt 8: Airborne, although the microtransaction psychological warfare can get annoying.

    In the “easy to learn, hard to master, lots of fun”-category of Devil Driver, I’d add Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV and Super Hexagon.

    Some other stuff I’d recommend: Boor, Papers, Please, Hearthstone, Thimbleweed Park (I have to admit I was a huge Maniac Mansion-fan and notice and like most of the inside jokes, although it’s been decades since I played the game) and Bucket Detective, although that last one is not for everyone.

    • Viral Frog says:

      “I have very bad spatial insight (it that the English term?)”

      I know what you were trying to say but, since you asked, the correct term would be spatial awareness.

      You may not be a dad, but you sound exactly like my dad explaining why he doesn’t like most modern games. LOL. He always had the same experience playing exclusively 2D games. The switch to 3D graphics never clicked with him.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Yeah, I wouldn’t call Overwatch a game you can have fun with if you play badly. Especially if you are playing with randos. You might have fun at first but the slow creep of matchmaking will eventually screw you over.

  5. mgardner says:

    Portable systems (3DS and Vita) and tablets are also great when you need to be able to quickly interrupt play or make room on your lap at a moment’s notice.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      One of my favourite things about the DS is that Nintendo insisted that every single game had to pause as soon as you shut the lid. So it’s perfect for just picking it up, playing for a moment, and then putting it back down in a second if you need to.
      More PC games should have a “Save and quit” function with an associated “Continue” function when you start it back up. Pausing (and skipping) cut-scenes and dialogue should be mandatory too.

  6. Flopdong says:

    I recommend Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as well. The central mechanic of controlling two characters at once is pretty unique. The puzzles are also well done, always requiring some thought and skill, but never feeling punishingly difficult or obtuse.
    It’s also one of the best examples I have ever seen of using gameplay to make you feel emotions in a way that no movie or book could ever do.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      Hear, hear!! I was surprised not to Brothers:A Tale of Two Sons on the list. But, not to be spoilery, I think I understand why a father might not wish to play this.

      I’d include The Talos Principle in this list, as, with exceptions, most of its puzzles can be solved within a hour.

      • icarussc says:

        Gotta disagree with you there: as a dad, I played this game as a literal series of bedtime stories, with my kids sitting on my lap. It was a fantastic experience. They loved it. I found it … emotional.

        • Ignorant Texan says:

          icarussc says:

          …as a dad… I found it … emotional.

          Thank you. You have conveyed what I was attempting(and failed) to convey about B:AToS. I was too timid to admit that the air became very, very dusty at two points during the game.

    • 9squirrels says:

      Yup. I’m a dad and I played through Brothers in a single sitting. Very emotional game. I actually reckon that playing it in one sitting is the best way, because in the last stage the muscle memory really hammers that climax home. I got a little teary, but it felt good.

  7. Shinard says:

    Ooooh, I’d also recommend Renowned Explorers: International Society. Partly because it’s just a great game, but it’s also very easy to either play for a full campaign or half an expedition and still get a good time. Takes a bit of time to get to grips with, mind, deceptively complicated behind the fun cartoonish artstyle, but if you can put down five minutes to work out the combat you should be fine, it’s a game you learn by playing more than anything.

    • Caiman says:

      Yes! It’s a series of brief, delicious dinners broken up into bite sized pieces. I can load this up, do an encounter or two for 5-10 minutes, and quit for the night. It’s great to wind down after a long day when I’m too tired for anything else.

  8. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    Nice list, with some of my favourites.

    I would also add –
    Oxenfree
    Renowned Explorers
    Don’t Starve
    FTL
    Neo Scavenger

    • Themadcow says:

      I can only assume that this is part 1 of a two part series, and part 2 is just FTL. As a full time worker / parent / husband type person its still the perfect “hour or two” of gaming story. Rocket league is my “go to” if it’s just 20 minutes spare.

  9. Darth Gangrel says:

    When I think about games I can play endlessly, without needing several hours at a time, I think of FPS games and similar. The Serious Sam games and others with separate levels gives you much fun in a short while.

    Dark Messiah is one of my favorite games, yet still one of my least played ones in terms of hours. I’ve saved the game at various places that offer fun and varied combat. Even after a dozen reloads of the same area, it’s still fun to play around with the physics and melee/spells.

    • Catterbatter says:

      Agreed! I’m in a similar position to Alec, with only maybe an hour here and there, and I’ve been back into Doom. Multiplayer, too. There are usually at least 100 players on, so you can pop into a co-op game and play a little while then be done. I know Alec has tried to feature current games on this list, but good ol’ Doom works for me.

  10. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Stardew Valley: each “day” takes about 20 minutes to play.
    Brigador: high learning curve but short punchy missions.
    Downwell
    Metal Slug 1/2/X/3: allows for infinite quarters mode so you can beat the whole game in about 30 minutes. Good mindless shooty bangs.
    Westerado
    Soma: takes about 10 hours to complete. Very good writing and atmosphere.
    Titanfall 2: also about a 10 hour campaign.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Heck, how did I forget Gunpoint? It’s a puzzle game. A puzzle game where you play as a private eye with jump boots.

  11. indociso says:

    I enjoyed Pony Island. Steam says I only played it for 2 hours though and I’m not sure I’m going to have any urge to go back to it. It was fun while it lasted though

  12. StevieW says:

    I always find Door Kickers is good for a quick 30 min blast.

    • Jerkzilla says:

      Agree on Door Kickers. I also want to suggest Insurgency, if tac shooters are anyone’s thing. I would play it on and off with little to no other shooters and still do ok/good first round in, sometimes worse the more I play. I guess it helps to get at it with a fresh mind, you can go about it in a tactical (but kind of stressful) sort of way and it pays off, little to no memorising or absurd reflexes required, unlike Counter-Strike for instance.

  13. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    Maybe it was just too obvious but you’re missing GTA5, especially the PC version with its silly mods and trainers and (single-player only, of course) hacks. I still fire it up every week at least just to mess around with invincibility cheats and leaping off buildings in first-person.

  14. Cookymonster says:

    Now THIS is my kind of list :)

  15. Cvszn says:

    Town of Salem

  16. Derpkovsky says:

    Man, Virginia Needs to be on this list. It’s a bit like Firewatch in that it’s short and mostly about story, but unlike Firewatch, this game is a) criminally overlooked and b) there is not a spoken word in the whole game. It leaves it all up to you to think about and make sense out of what happened which really makes it stick in your head after you’ve stopped playing. Now that I think about it, it could be argued that because “thinking about what you saw” is the biggest thing you do in the game, you’re still playing the game if you’re nowhere near your computer but still thinking about what you saw. I digress, the main point is: Virginia fist this list perfectly and you should play it.

  17. The Bitcher III says:

    I really enjoyed Life Is Strange’s episodic format. 2-3 hours over five nights is absolutely ideal for me.

    • Kristen.maxwell says:

      My wife and I dug Life is Strange, and the episodic format worked well, fitting nicely in the time after putting the short people to bed and before tucking ourselves in.

  18. icarussc says:

    Enter the Gungeon is a great short game, since I’m terrible at it and always die on floor 2.

    Fantastic list, though: we need more like this!

    • April March says:

      Oh wow, you manage to get to floor 2 reliably? I wish I was that good…

      (Also, you can save at the end of each floor now. I think that’s a new addition.)

  19. Kristen.maxwell says:

    Love the list. I’m a dad who now has way too little time to ever consider tackling my immense Steam pile of shame. I’m hoping my offspring may some day complete my life’s work.

    I’d also recommend Rogue Legacy, as a game ideally suited to playing in short, controlled bursts, but offering a cumulative sense of progression. Bonus points for the ability to exit the game entirely from the pause menu without having to first return to the main menu!

  20. hoho0482 says:

    I’d strongly recommend ‘save the date’ for an hours or so gameplay. Free as well.

    link to google.co.uk

  21. Nixitur says:

    Gotta agree with the people recommending FTL. Even if you manage to get all the way to the end (which is by no means a given), it’ll rarely take you more than two hours.
    Apart from that, my go-to game that I always like to replay even though it’s just puzzles is Gateways. It’s basically Portal, in 2D, but swaps physics puzzles for multiple different portal guns (including a time travel one) and much harder puzzles. The puzzles are very clearly sign-posted and can be seen on the map, so you can just solve one or two and feel like you’ve really made some progress. And if you want a challenge, Difficult mode ramps up a lot of the puzzles to be far more complicated. The final one had me stumped for quite a while.
    Other than that, I always enjoy replaying Bleed 2 and it’ll only take you between one and three hours. You’ll feel like a badass even when you’re new to the game and it’s an exhilarating romp, but Very Hard is a treat.

  22. Tomo says:

    Heh. I’ve played a LOT of these games, especially in the last year or so. Which is mildly depressing tbh.

    Anyway, my recomendtions:
    – FTL
    – Spelunky
    – Everybody Rapture
    – Hotline Miami 1 and 2
    – The Witness
    – Braid
    – Toki Tori

  23. GameCat says:

    I think this list is wierd/wrong. Or it at least has wrong title.

    When I think about games for busy people I think mostly of something that can be fired up in seconds (so every online game is a no-no already), can be put away in seconds without any major repercussion and can be finished in mere minutes.

    I think there’s only a handful of games like Hexcells and Devil Daggers that really qualifies as short-burst games.

    • 9squirrels says:

      I think that it’s right. I’ve got two small kids so my gaming time has been cut down to a few hours on a Friday night and maybe a couple of hours another night. I don’t need a 5 second fix, but do need games that don’t need massively skilled reflexes and hours of practice and remembering where you are in the story and what you need to do next.
      I’ve played a few of these, I also dip into Paladins fairly regularly when I need a fix.

  24. identiti_crisis says:

    I would mention the Trials series of games.

    I have been playing them since they were still Java applets, and find them perfect whenever I need to “fill” a minute or ten. The well-judged controls and zany-realistic physics (and the slapstick humour) make for a nice way to wind down, at least on the easier tracks.

  25. Chorltonwheelie says:

    Hitman is a massive, obsession building, time sink.
    Apart from that, great list for Dad’s, mam’s and tired workers.
    I’d add Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture if you want to see what that swanky graphics card can do as well as chill the heck out.

  26. Premium User Badge

    magnificent octopus says:

    I just finished Aviary Attorney, and I think it would qualify. It takes about 3/4 hours to get to the end, more if you want to see every ending, and leaving it for a few days won’t do you any harm. The only thing I’d say is against it is that it only saves at the beginning of each game day, so some of the trials can go on for a long time with no save points.

    It also lets you click through dialouge at your own speed, which is a huge plus in the visual novel format.

  27. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    “These are a selection of games that will give you a decent working sense of what’s out there these days, but don’t demand 20+ hours of your time to complete, or a daily investment to be any good at. Games you can start playing knowing that you’ll be able to finish them ”

    “The Binding Of Isaac: Rebirth/Afterbirth”
    “Devil Daggers”

    So, kinda more like guidelines then eh?

  28. Dilly says:

    Shameless plug:
    NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics.

    Every jump takes less than a minute. :)

    PS: Its on steam! :D

  29. duncvis says:

    Some good stuff here, Mini Metro is one of my go to games when I only have 30 minutes, along with my suggestions to add – Papers, Please belongs on this list, and for short bursts you can’t beat Canabalt. I have two recent favourites for dipping in and out of – Waveform and Ellipsis.

  30. lglethal says:

    I’d like to suggest Blood Bowl as a good game in this category as well. Or I suppose Blood Bowl 2 now. A single game (in BB2) will take you about 1hr. And I find the AI to be fine to play against (I’m not a fan of playing against other people), it’s fun, silly, you will pull of stupid movesd and then rescue them (hopefully). It’s just so much fun! :)

  31. 9squirrels says:

    I’d recommend Paladins as an alternative to Overwatch. Similar style of game, but free to play makes it a little more palatable to someone that might only be able to rack up a few hours a week (And of you get hooked, you can drop some cash in their coffers and get an XP boost and unlock all the champions which is what I did)

  32. Siimon says:

    Where is the “Print” view that lists all of it on one page? clicking through 24 images is the worst format ever :(

  33. Incerto says:

    Nice list, some games I like:
    -Botanicula and Machinarium (light and fast adventure games)
    -Door Kickers
    -Deep Dungeons of Doom
    -FTL
    -Gunpoint
    -The Last Door (great and quick adventure game based on Edgar Allan Poe stories)
    -Papers Please
    -Reigns
    -The Room
    -World of Goo
    -Plants vs Zombies
    -Titan Souls (hard game, but short)

  34. mookie says:

    Steamworld Heist is also good for playing a single, quick mission.

  35. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    I’d suggest the Blackwell adventure games – none of them are really that long.

    Personally I like picking up retro shooters, such as Parodius. Sometimes tricky to master, but to complete doesn’t take that long and can be picked up and put down.

    Also, VVVVVV. Probably worth dragging out the original Prince of Persia (old, available on everything), or its enhanced revamp available on XBox Live and Android.

  36. Neutrino says:

    Papers Please and Sir You are Being Hunted both good candidates.

  37. soco says:

    I’m going to save this page and keep coming back to the article and comments for ideas…thanks!

    One option I don’t think has been mentioned that I sometimes dip in and out of is One Finger Death Punch.

  38. zipdrive says:

    Thanks for writing this, Alec. I really am at the place you’re describing…and while I bounced off Issac like a rubber duck off a trampoline, I’m very fond of Hexcells and Trackmania and will try some of the other suggestions.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>