With the day divided up between classes, homework, jobs and drinking, getting some free time to play a game becomes pretty difficult — especially difficult if that game has complex controls and systems and requires hours of play to make significant progress. When you’ve only got a few minutes between classes or before work, playing those kind of games might not be the best way to spend them.
To help maximize your limited amount of time, here are four great (and cheap) games that are easy to play and make progress in with just a few minutes.
“Rogue Legacy” (PC, 2013)
An indie game homage to classic action platformers, “Rogue Legacy” has you play as a knight trying to traverse four unique, interconnected areas, defeat the boss located in each and then take on the big baddie at the end of the castle. The catch is that you are guaranteed to die — a lot. While your character’s death is permanent, their stats, money, weapons and armor are passed onto an heir, who you choose from a randomly generated set of three. You can use any money you collected in your previous life to permanently level up your stats, weapons and armor and then take another run at the castle. It’s “Mega Man” by way of “Infinity Blade.”
The castle’s layout is randomly generated each time you start a new character, so the game’s environments never get old. The simple controls (you basically need three buttons: jump, attack and magic) and constant character progression keep the game from getting frustrating, and because of the game’s difficulty, most characters won’t live past 15 minutes, making “Rogue Legacy” perfect in short bursts.
“Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time” (iOS, 2013)
The original “Plants vs. Zombies,” with its simple-to-learn, hard-to-master tower defense gameplay, is back with three new worlds, more plant types and a whole host of mini games and bonus challenges. While the game is free to download, some of the plants from the original game are blocked behind a pay wall, and real money can be used to buy in-game coins.
As a horde of zombies approaches, you must use a variety of weaponized plants to take them out. Sunflowers absorb the Sun’s energy so you can buy more plants, cabbage-pults hurl cabbages at zombies, and bok choy punch anything that gets too close. There’s no tedious management of resources, and the sheer variety in the plant and zombie types allows for a number of different strategies.
The game’s three worlds (Ancient Egypt, Pirate Seas and Wild West) each contain 10 campaign missions and a litany of unlockable optional missions. Whether you win or lose, none of the levels last longer than a few minutes, so it’s easy to make multiple attempts at a level in just a short amount of time.
“Super Meat Boy” (PC, Xbox 360, 2010)
This 2D platformer is almost legendary for its difficulty. Death comes frequently and quickly, and the game knows it too. Once you finally beat a level, the game replays all of your previous attempts and deaths at the same time so you can see just how badly and how often you failed. But the precise controls may be the best in the genre, and the gameplay is as simple as it gets.
But it’s “Super Meat Boy’s” difficulty that makes it perfect for squeezing in a level or two when you’ve got the chance (especially during the easier, early stages of the game). Time-wise, most levels are extremely short. Meat Boy doesn’t have very far to go to rescue his damsel in distress. If you do know how to get through a level without being splattered, most levels would take less than a minute. On the other hand, if you find yourself dying over and over, you won’t spend most of your time playing just looking at a respawn screen. The game instantly restarts the level the second you die, so you can make multiple attempts in just a short amount of time.
“Mirror’s Edge” (PC, Xbox 360, PS3, iOS, 2008)
While the other games on this list are smaller games, Mirror’s Edge is a full-blown AAA title. Set in a future dystopian city where all electronic communication is monitored by the government — what a far fetched setup — an underground resistance movement uses “runners” to relay messages the old-fashioned way.
The story in “Mirror’s Edge” isn’t that important. It’s a first-person parkour/action game where you run across rooftops, leap between buildings and use wall runs to evade the police and reach your destination. The feeling of speed and movement is incredible. Thanks to a unique and surprisingly intuitive control scheme (L1/LB jumps and L2/LT slides), being able to maneuver through an environment with ease is incredibly satisfying in first-person.
Since the game’s emphasis is on speed, it’s a natural fit for short game sessions. The first time through the game, each level is about 45 minutes long, not counting cutscenes, but the real fun is trying to complete the levels in the shortest amount of time possible.