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So Many Games, So Little Time: Short Video Games for Busy People

Updated on April 19, 2014

Super Nintendo as a Kid

Me playing Super Nintendo as a kid.
Me playing Super Nintendo as a kid. | Source

Short Video Games for Busy People

Gone are the old glory days when games could be played through in one sitting, and winning your way through the very first Street Fighter was just a few minutes away. The golden age of the arcade has gone, and now the gaming culture dictates that the only games worth buying are those that take days to finish. But for busy people, balancing a full-time job and a healthy social life, holing up at home in a darkened room with nothing but chips, water, and the controller is not at all viable. Especially when you have a littl’un crawling around crying every 15 minutes, you’ll find that long games just don’t have enough space in your life. Still, we all need that stress relief every once in a while, as well as that gaming fix the hardcore just can’t shake off. Here are a few games that’ll feed your hunger, but still keep the hours short for you to keep your life sane.

Game Overview...

Plays Like
Original or Best System
Space Invaders
Street Fighter II
Classic Fighting Game
Arcade, SNES
Star Fox
Aerial shooter/Rail shooter
StarCraft II
Command & Conquer
The Walking Dead: The Game
Resident Evil
XBox 360 & PS3
MarioKart Wii
Fun Racing Game
Robot Unicorn Attack 2
Platform Runner
Disney Hidden Worlds
Hidden Object Adventure
Device 6
Mystery Adventure
Sonic Dash
Platform Runner
Exploration Adventure
PixelJunk Shooter
Lemmings with Wings

Galaxian in '79


Galaxian (Arcade)

First, we are going to cover a genuine classic for arcade, back when the idea of an epic, immersive (and time-consuming) video game did not exist. Back in these days, games were designed to do one thing and one thing only: eat pocket change.

Galaxian was a logical continuation of the classic, Space Invaders, but had many enhancements. For one, the graphics featured multi-colored sprites, which was a first for video games of the time. The scrolling background of stars was also a graphical achievement.

Galaxian was followed by Galaga, also a good game, but the reason that Galaxian takes the prize is because of its simplicity. Levels started out slow and progressively got faster and faster but the general “flow” of the game stayed the same. The player’s single ship had to destroy all of the enemy ships on the other side of the screen and once that happened the player progressed to the next level. Galaga added enhancements such as the ability to get dual ships and more enemy patterns, but this overcomplicated matters and distracted from the key gameplay components of accuracy, positioning, and intuition that made the gameplay of the original so enjoyable.

Street Fighter II

Street Fighter II (Arcade, SNES)

The reason this fighting game was so popular is because it was one of the first arcade games that had a truly engaging “simultaneous” multiplayer experience. Also, the SNES port of this game is considered to be one of the best arcade ports of all time in that it was able to replicate the original much better than other ports of the time.

The game was also revolutionary because it allowed the player to choose from many different characters and it was the first game that (through a glitch) enabled the player to perform “combos” of attacks to the other player. All of these elements made for a fighting game that has been emulated by all of the modern fighting games, but the simplicity of this game is why it remains a good choice for a simple game-playing experience without a large time investment.

Star Fox (SNES)

Star Fox (SNES)

Focusing on the SNES, the aerial shooter Star Fox was one of the most revolutionary games of all time even though many may beg to differ with that opinion. For one, it was the first console game that “felt” like a true 3D game. Sure, there may have been feeble attempts at 3D elements such as the original Contra game, but Star Fox was truly a 3D game, which was a remarkable achievement on a 16-bit system. I also believe that this is the game that was the turning point in the battle between Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.

Once again, many may disagree but I thought that the gameplay of the original Star Fox was fantastic. The cutscene at the beginning of the first level where the ship flies through the space tunnel was inspiring to me as a kid and engaged me in the aerial warfare. The elements of teamwork with other computer controlled characters also was a first for me (even though I would have appreciated a little more help at times).

Future editions of the Star Fox franchise were good too, but the complexity took away from the excellent gameplay that made the original such a classic.


StarCraft II (PC)

For the more diehard gamers, it may be difficult to jump right into casual games when all you’ve done all your life is glue your eyes to your screen. Nobody should have to quit cold turkey, but a good adjustment period would be to shift to online games for the PC. The internationally-acclaimed StarCraft II is a war-strategy game that can be played in separate missions in the single-player campaign, where you can control your army and guide your army through the battles in strategic combat. One mission can be finished in a single playthrough, so you can stop and get some fresh air when you’re done. Two campaigns have currently been released—Wings of Liberty commands the Terran campaign, while Heart of the Swarm lets you take the role of the Zerg race. Each game has about 20 or so missions, so there’s no need to worry about running out of missions too early. The third installment, Legacy of the Void, is still yet to be released, so we’re all at the edge of our seats for that one!

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: The Game (Xbox 360 & Playstation 3)

This amazing graphic adventure boasts of a deep storyline interwoven into impressive graphics, and a rousing gameplay. The third-person perspective controls Lee Everett as he makes his way through the ravaged world of the zombie apocalypse, working with survivors and learning difficult life choices along the way. With over 80 Game of the Year Awards under its belt, The Walking Dead: The Game and its bite-sized short episodes provide an ideal avenue for busy bees who can only play an episode every one or two days.

MarioKart in the arcade


MarioKart Wii (Nintendo Wii)

No matter what generation, Mario games never get old. That lovable Italian plumber has been jumping around on unsuspecting evil turtles since who-knows-how-long, and with MarioKart being a refreshing break from all the princess-saving, it’s undeniable that it would become a fan-favorite.

MarioKart Wii is a third-person racer that features all the beloved Mario characters and pits them against each other in a wacky world of winner-takes-all mayhem. Obstacles range from harsh terrains to exploding bombs to a horribly frustrating banana peel. Players can take on the computer or each other in quick bursts of fast-paced sprints, made all the more fun with power-ups and that ever-present Mega Mushroom. The motion sensors of the Wii wheel accessory make this an incredibly enjoyable game without taking up too much of anyone’s time. If you’re up for a few laughs and just need something bright and colorful for the day, this is your best bet.

Mario Kart Wii

Mario Kart Wii with Wii Wheel
Mario Kart Wii with Wii Wheel

Here you can download "Flow" from the Amazon store.


Robot Unicorn Attack 2

Robot Unicorn Attack 2 (mobile)

For both the iPhone and Android devices, there are loads of really cheap (or even freely downloadable) games that everyone can enjoy. The original game that drilled Erasure’s song "Always" into the minds of the world is now back with a sequel. The effect of the "last song syndrome" never really wears off and stays with you as you play a robot unicorn charging through who-knows-what, send out sparkles and bursts of color and psychedelic love all over the place. This endless runner game is hypnotic and will keep you running from platform to platform seemingly forever, but it’s still a good casual game with a feel-good 80’s soundtrack and a dazzling Lisa Frank-ish high.

Disney Hidden Worlds

Disney Hidden Worlds (mobile)

There are a lot of free games out there, but nothing can compare to the classic joy that comes from Disney. Mini-games inspired by Snow White, Beaut and the Beast, Aladdin, and Tangled come together in a hidden object adventure both kids and busy adults will love.

Device 6

Device 6 (mobile)

Arguably one of the most popular mobile games right now, Device 6 takes the horror genre and takes it up a notch. A haunted novel set to a mystery, this text adventure comes equipped with sound effects, typography, images, and the works. Turn your device around as you turn dark corridors in this immersing tale of nightmarish puzzles, until you finally reach the intriguing ending to this unique game. Nothing like this has ever been made on phones before, and it certainly deserves being IGN’s Best Mobile Game of 2013.

Sonic Dash

Sonic Dash (mobile)

Temple Run was a hit for a reason, and now, our favorite hedgehog employs the same controls in Sonic Dash. Players can swipe left, right, up, and down to let Sonic dodge and dash through enemies and loops. Of course, every Sonic game needs that hunger for rings, so don’t forget to stop and collect them.

Sonic Dash

Playstation 3 – Flow

Flow (Playstation 3)

While built mainly for extremely long hours of gameplay like the Final Fantasy series and Skyrim, the PS3 still has a few short but sweet games up its sleeve. Flow is an unconventionally exhilarating experience as you try to control an aquatic organism. The surreal atmosphere of this gaming world lets you consume multiple organisms until you evolve, floating around and enjoying the game at your own pace. The SIXAXIS controller of the PS3 is ideal for maneuvering the organism as you flow through your world. It takes a few minutes tops, and will immerse you in the deep blue where you’ll come up as a rejuvenated new person. Check out the video to the right to get an idea of the gameplay.

PixelJunk Shooter

PixelJunk Shooter (Playstation 3)

PixelJunk Shooter allows players to pilot subterranean vehicles in rescue missions to search for survivors underground. You can go on short missions with every sitting anytime you need to take a quick gaming break, using missiles, water, magma, and even magnetic black fluids to save victims. With a total of three episodes and 15 stages, Gamespot commented that it was “ultimately too short for its own good, abruptly ending just when you're getting into a groove.” This makes it a perfect option for those who can’t afford to stay put during long hours of gameplay. Just one stage a day will do just fine.


Shatter (Playstation 3, PC - Steam)

Shatter at its most basic is a modern-day Breakout clone. For those of you who don’t know, Breakout was a game originally released in 1976 by Atari and it was heavily based on Pong; in short, this game traces its routes to the very beginning of video games.

In that original game, there is a layer of bricks at the top of the screen and the goal is for the player to use his paddle (at the bottom of the screen) to continually keep a ball up in the air. It is the ball’s job to hit the bricks, which makes them disappear one by one. The player loses a turn when the ball passes the paddle.

Shatter takes Breakout to another level though because there is the ability to make blocks disappear with the paddle itself, such objects towards the paddle, and gain powerups that aid in gameplay. Amazingly, all of these additions do not detract from gameplay because the player can just as happily continue the game in a simple vein and intuitively pick up gameplay tactics as they progress.

Favorite Platform

Which gaming platform has the best games of all time?

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    • SimilarSam profile image


      4 years ago from Australia

      I love the shift to shorter games as someone who is super busy. I found Rogue Legacy, Faster Than Light and Papers Please all very short for the amount of enjoyment they gave me, strongly recommended!

    • tommylop profile image


      4 years ago from Colorado.

      Dr. Mario, Tetris, and super mario are great short games

    • benjaminbarry profile imageAUTHOR

      Benjamin Barry 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      @Liam - Depends on what you're looking for but I think PixelJunk Shooter is a really top-notch game. I was aiming for a diverse list so I included a lot of genres and platforms in here but some others I was considering were Fifa for mobile, Bejeweled, and Flappy Bird. Thought I already had too many mobile games mentioned though.

    • Liam Bailey profile image

      Liam Bailey 

      4 years ago from England

      What is the best short game to play in your opinion?


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