Compact Wonders: The Quintessential Short Games That Deliver Big Experiences

  • 25-03-2024 |
  • Sofia Carvalho

As the gaming landscape evolves, with sprawling open worlds and endless quests, sometimes the most memorable experiences are the ones we can enjoy in a single evening. Amongst the plethora of games vying for our attention, a select few stand out for their succinct yet fulfilling adventures. These are tightly-crafted experiences that respect your time and leave a lasting impression long after the credits have rolled. Today, I dive into the top 5 games that deliver phenomenal experiences in under five hours.

1. Journey - A Soaring Adventure

Journey - A Soaring Adventure

In the world of compact gaming experiences, Journey stands tall as a beacon of artistic expression and minimalist design. Players glide across sandy dunes and soar through ancient ruins, guided only by the game's hauntingly beautiful music and visual cues. The anonymous multiplayer component — where you may encounter a silent companion on your travels — adds depth to the simple yet poignant narrative.


  • Visual Artistry: Stunning landscapes and an emotive soundtrack offer an unparalleled feast for the senses.
  • Silent Narrative: The game communicates its story through environment and music, eliminating the need for dialogue.
  • Serene Multiplayer: The chance meetings with other players create unspoken bonds and enhance the bittersweet exploration.


  • Too Abstract for Some: Players seeking a more traditional gameplay narrative may find Journey's interpretive style too vague.
  • Short Replay Value: Once the adventure is over, some may find little incentive to return despite the game's beauty.

2. Firewatch - The Serenity and Mystery of the Wilderness

Firewatch - The Serenity and Mystery of the Wilderness

Set against the backdrop of a Wyoming wilderness, Firewatch tells the story of Henry, a man who seeks solace in nature only to be swept into a web of intrigue and emotion. The scenic vistas and voice performances are sublime, driving the narrative as much as the dialogue between Henry and his supervisor, Delilah. What begins as a lookout for forest fires quickly morphs into something much more profound and introspective.


  • Immersive Storytelling: An engaging plot with well-developed characters that players truly care about.
  • Aesthetic Charm: Gorgeous art style and atmospheric setting that transports the player into its universe.
  • Player Agency: Dialogue choices shape the experience and lead to a personalized emotional payoff.


  • Minimal Gameplay: Those looking for action or complex puzzles may find the gameplay too straightforward.
  • Limited Exploration: While expansive, the environment has boundaries that prevent true open-world exploration.

3. Inside - A Dystopian Puzzle Platformer

Inside - A Dystopian Puzzle Platformer

From the creators of Limbo, Inside drops players into a dystopian world shrouded in secrecy and silent storytelling. This puzzle platform deftly combines environmental hazards with a subtle, dark narrative that crescendos to a climactic finale. Its monochromatic palette compliments the game's atmosphere, creating a mysterious and sometimes chilling adventure that hooks players from the start.


  • Engaging Puzzles: Each challenge feels well-integrated into the world and contributes to the unsettling atmosphere.
  • Artistic Presentation: The game’s art design and muted colors set the perfect tone for this chilling tale.
  • Thought-Provoking Story: A non-verbal narrative that stimulates conversation and interpretation long after it ends.


  • Brief Even By Short Game Standards: Some players might feel the experience is over too quickly.
  • High Entry Barrier: The opaque storytelling and lack of guidance aren't for everyone and might frustrate some players.

4. A Short Hike - A Breathtaking Trek

A Short - A Breathtaking Trek

A game as charming as its title suggests, A Short Hike casts you as Claire, a bird on a mission to reach the summit of a mountain. But it's not about the destination; it's about the journey. The game is a treasure trove of delightful characters, hidden paths, and tranquil moments amidst serene backdrops. It combines exploration, light platforming, and the occasional humorous banter to create an experience that's heartfelt and refreshing.


  • Lively World: The park is brimming with vibrant characters and side activities that add substance to the hike.
  • Relaxing Pace: Players are free to explore at their leisure, experiencing the joys of the park without pressure.
  • Emotional Impact: Though brief, the narrative and interactions leave an undeniably warm feeling upon completion.


  • Limited Challenge: Those seeking a more traditional platforming challenge may find the game lacks difficulty.
  • Short Lifespan: Due to its brevity and ease, some players may not find it worth revisiting once completed.

5. Unpacking - Making Order from Chaos

Unpacking - Making Order from Chaos

The concept of unboxing one's possessions may sound tepid, but Unpacking manages to weave this mundane task into a story about life's transitions and the weight of personal belongings. Through the meticulous placement of items, players gain insights into the protagonist's life, relationships, and growth. It's a puzzle game at heart, but one that tugs on the strings of nostalgia and curiosity with remarkable finesse.


  • Unique Gameplay: Who knew unpacking boxes could be so reflective and absorbing?
  • Subtle Narrative: The game tells a touching story without a single line of dialogue.
  • Intuitive Design: Easy to pick up, with the complexity coming from trying to figure out where everything goes.


  • Simplistic Mechanics: Those expecting traditional gaming action may find the pacing too slow.
  • Niche Appeal: The uniqueness of the premise isn't for everyone, and its charm may not resonate with all players.

These five short games pack more emotion, creativity, and satisfaction into a few hours than some do in fifty. Each offers unique story-telling methods, breathtaking art, and gameplay that both challenge and entice. It's often not the length of the game that determines its value but the memorable experience it provides. Notwithstanding other formidable nominees on this list, Journey soars as the crowning jewel, capturing players' hearts with its simple yet profound adventure underscored by awe-inspiring landscapes and a stellar score. User reviews rave about the emotional resonance and the unique multiplayer component that makes this brief voyage through the sands feel like an odyssey for the ages.