If you like playing video games but have a hard time fitting them into your schedule, you’re not alone. We’ve found that instead of engaging in hours-long sessions late into the night, sometimes the only chance we get to play a game is the 30 minutes we’re hanging around waiting for something in the oven, or the hour until the laundry is done. When you rarely get to dip in, it can be an honest challenge to remember the nuanced plotlines of certain games, which quests you were pursuing, or even just what buttons do what.
We’ve gathered four great options to try if you’re short on time this month. Whether you play once a week or once a month, or can’t remember the last time you had a moment to yourself, these games are easy to jump into and out of whenever you’re ready to.
Do you have a game you love playing 30 minutes at a time? Leave a comment or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can consider it in the future.
If you’ve got some time to kill: Hitman 3
If you’re looking for something you can enjoy occasionally, the Hitman series is an excellent option. It doesn’t require that you pay attention to its story, and you can reference the tutorial mode and plot recaps anytime you need a refresher. And because of its wide range of gameplay options, it offers enough challenge and nuance to entertain for months.
In the Hitman games, the goal is to sneak through different world destinations, from mansions in England to crowded nightclubs in Berlin, to eliminate specific targets. Pulling off risky assassinations in heavily trafficked—or heavily guarded—places is a true puzzle. Each game offers only a handful of levels to play through but gives you hundreds of different challenges and methods for how to beat them. I’ve spent hours tailing targets and trying to figure out how to isolate them for long enough to take them out, as well as stealing disguises from unconscious guards and experimenting with varying ways to kill discreetly. I’ve snuck into staff-only areas and poisoned drinks, tampered with chandeliers to crush targets at the perfect moment, and failed dozens of times in the process by getting caught red-handed. It’s exhilarating to nail the timing and technique of every elimination.
We recommend Hitman 3 because it’s optimized for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, but if you see Hitman or Hitman 2 on sale, get whichever one is cheapest instead. All three titles are more or less the same, with the first installment being my favorite for its collection of destinations, targets, and potential solutions to its murderous puzzles—like electrocuting a rock star with a faulty vintage microphone in a Thai hotel. You don’t need to play the games in order unless you’re truly interested in the story. And you can select any of the destinations individually, so you can easily jump in and out of a mission whenever you have a couple of hours to spare.
A cloud-based version of Hitman 3 is available on the Nintendo Switch, but we found that its poor performance made the game unplayable. We recommend avoiding that version for now.
For a whole game in a few hours: Alba: A Wildlife Adventure
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Apple Arcade
Price: $20 for console versions, included with Apple Arcade subscription ($5 per month) at the time of publication
ESRB rating: E
If you want a full experience that you can complete in one small session, check out Alba: A Wildlife Adventure. Just two to three hours long, it’s a little game with a big message about protecting nature, respecting the planet, and empowering people to make a difference.
Alba takes players to a colorful Spanish island, where the titular main character is visiting her grandparents on vacation. When she arrives, Alba learns of the town’s plans to demolish the local nature reserve in favor of constructing a new luxury hotel. With the help of her best friend, she pledges to protect the wildlife she loves by gathering signatures for a petition against the project. Though the story mostly concerns environmental preservation, it also explores the impact of tourism in small communities.
Gameplay in Alba is simple, with controls that are easy to grasp and a small range of missions. I skipped around the island with my clipboard and smartphone in hand, using the phone camera to scan different species around the map. In no time, I found myself identifying birds around the island without the camera’s help. In addition to scanning and learning about the local fauna, I picked up litter, healed animals that had been poisoned by oil spills and pesticides, and gathered signatures after helping out with community beach cleanups. Alba’s wholesome dialogue, adorable artwork, and themes of preserving community and protecting the environment are uplifting. Plus, for every download the game receives, a tree will be planted in Madagascar (in collaboration with Ecologi and the Eden Reforestation Project).
If you want to play with a buddy: It Takes Two
It Takes Two is a charming co-op adventure (you play with a partner as teammates) about two parents trapped in the bodies of their daughter’s dolls—it’s essentially what you’d get if you could play through a Pixar movie, and it’s filled with kooky characters and cinematic cutscenes. Whether you’re spending a few hours with a partner, family member, or friend, this game is a worthwhile way to end a busy day.
We love It Takes Two because it’s a true co-op experience. You’re not just running through a level or fighting alongside another person—you have to work together to succeed. Whether you play the game locally on the couch or online, you take on the role of the mother or the father, each player utilizing their own tools and abilities. In one level, my partner and I fought off hordes of giant wasps using different guns we had received: I’d douse them first with flammable sap, and my partner would blow them up. The game’s demand for teamwork applies to more than combat—a major aspect of each level relies on the two of you combining your tools to solve puzzles, move objects, and traverse tricky rooms. Wirecutter senior editor Mark Smirniotis just played through the game, too, and said, “I normally wouldn’t mention it, but the voice work from the actors behind the two main characters made this game for me. I found them natural, charming, and believable, even when the game gets a little hokey.”
It Takes Two is fun and endearing, but it also respects your time. Cinematic cutscenes clearly break up the levels, making it easy for you to find points to put down the controller for the day. The game takes somewhere around 12 hours to complete, and even after my partner and I took a few months off from it, we returned to it without any confusion about the controls.
If you don’t have someone in your household to play with, don’t fret: Purchasing the game grants you a Friend’s Pass, which means you can invite a friend to play the whole game online with you for free, so long as they’re using the same type of console.
An interesting game on the go: Overboard
Overboard is a choose-your-own-adventure-style game you can finish in about 30 minutes. Only, that’s not quite accurate. Overboard is a replayable visual novel and detective game where you try to solve a murder. But that’s not quite right, either. The game is hard to define, but that’s part of its draw.
Placing you in the shoes of a woman who murders her husband (don’t worry, he was bad!), Overboard asks you to find a way to cover up that murder. Think ’90s adventure game, not Call of Duty. The gameplay consists of clicking on different people, each with their own schedule, and puzzling through conversations with them to produce different results. You can “complete” a run of the story in about 30 minutes (or less), but the story can play out in many different ways. On one playthrough, you might bribe someone to work with you. On another, you might kill other passengers so they can’t snitch. Or perhaps you’ll attempt to frame a little old lady.
It’s the perfect game to play while you’re waiting for a plane to take off or sitting in a waiting room, or at any other point where you have 20 to 30 minutes to kill (or attempt to get away with killing, as it were). If you’re anything like me, you’ll start over the second you complete it, trying to suss out new ways to get yourself out of the murderous pickle your character is in.