I don’t have much time for computer games these days, so I tend to go for games with the following qualities:
1) Short – If I get a couple of two hour gaming sessions a week, I am lucky. I don’t want a game that takes me months to get through.
2) Straightforward – Sporadic play makes it tough to get proficient with complex controls. I want something that I can pick up quickly and not have to waste time getting back into the groove each time I come back to it.
3) Different – There are plenty of short, simple games out there… if I’m investing my limited free time, it needs to be in something that is distinct from everything else.
For those of you in the same boat, who are thinking that sounds like a sensible set of criteria, here are five games that I have thoroughly enjoyed over the last couple of years. All are available on Steam, though I’m sure some of them are also available via other routes as well.
Limbo – This game has become relatively well known, due to it’s unique visual style and creepy atmosphere. It generally flits back and forth between platforming sections, requiring timing and practice, and puzzle sections, requiring logic and patience. The difficulty level is not too hard; even the tougher sections will typically only take two or three attempts at most, which is good because you tend to suffer a grizzly death for failure. Worth checking out for the atmosphere alone.
The Binding of Isaac – Unlike others on this list, this is not one that is done in a few hours; instead it’s one that I can pick up and play when I have a little time to spare. It’s a top down, randomly generated dungeon that the eponymous hero must attempt to negotiate. I’m sure there are similar variations out there, but this one plays quite nicely and the fact that Isaac is a baby, attempting to escape his homicidal mother through a hell dimension in the basement, gives it a weird macabre fascination.
Mark of the Ninja – A stealth-based platform game, based on the traditional ninjas of myth. The stealth mechanics are decent and the acrobatics you can perform are relatively easy to master… it’s a game that rewards patience and planning, rather than fast reflexes and button combos. It also has decent replayability; you wouldn’t necessarily start a new game immediately, but you might well return at a later date to try a pacifist run or to play the early levels with items you unlocked in the later ones. Check it out if you enjoyed Thief and similar games.
Stick It to the Man – A puzzle game of the Monkey Island variety (finding items and using them in the appropriate places to advance the story) – though dressed up as a platformer, rather than point and click. The actual gameplay is very simple, but the game stands out for its bizarre premise and offbeat sense of humour. It does require a certain amount of patience, as to get the most from it, you have to be willing to interact with every available NPC.
Papo and Yo – A puzzle/platformer, involving the manipulation of scenery to get where you need to go. You also have a companion, named Monster, who will help you out, but who has a dangerous addiction to poison frogs. The platforming aspects are enjoyable enough (the game wraps up before they get too repetitive), but it’s really the characters’ emotional journey that makes it worth playing.