Merry Christmas! Congrats on making it through the year! Enjoy the presents! Now that we're into the doldrums of the year, between Christmas and New Year, you might be feeling very cooped up. Extremely cooped up, given the state of 2020. And while there's nothing going on, nowhere to go, just endless amounts of holiday candy and pastries and leftovers to eat, it might be the perfect time to go on a virtual journey. The 12 days of Christmas (from now until January 6) are the perfect time to escape your home through your console, PC, or mobile screens, so here are some short games you can play each day to take you on a magical journey.
The 12 (short) games of Christmas
What shorter game could there be than one where you only live for a minute at a time? Don't let that simple premise fool you though, each minute you'll explore a little bit further in this self-contained world, discover a new area, unravel a secret, gain a new power, and move one step closer to saving the world from a cursed sword factory. A great way to spend day 1 of your journey.
A Short Hike
After the high-stakes, minute-long rushes to save the world, kick back with an aimless amble through a tiny woodland island. Not getting to go on hikes through national parks this year has been hard for some people, but after playing this you'll either scratch that itch or develop the bug yourself. So much to discover out in nature, and being able to fly and glide around it makes it even easier to explore.
The Last Campfire
The latest game from No Man's Sky developers Hello Games is a palette cleanser after recreating the entire universe. A much (much) smaller, curated experience, as you journey around and solve puzzles from outlandish magical creatures with a cute aesthetic. One of the best games on Apple Arcade, where you can play quite a few of these short games, so a 1-month sub can go a long way over these 12 days of Christmas.
Also on Apple Arcade, and made by darlings of the App Store ustwo games (Monument Valley, Assemble With Care) is Alba, which will take you on a wildlife adventure. This is no safari though, just a laidback photography trip through some suburban outskirts. Very summery, and on Steam there's a 20% discount if you can't take advantage of a free Apple Arcade month.
Over The Alps
Yep, another Apple Arcade game (also on Steam) and of more prestigious App Store pedigree. The narrative designer behind a classic of the mobile journey genre, 80 Days, takes you on another whirlwind adventure over public transport. This time with undercurrents of espionage and beautiful, postcard landscapes in the style of those travel posters you used to see all over European train stations. Plenty of branching points in the story, so you can replay this until the cows come home, presumably from the alpine mountainside you left them in.
This short Humble original puts you in the shoes of a Japanese kid, eager to go to the amusement park with their family one summer day before the heavens open and those plans are laid to bed. Japan's rainy season is notorious for being consistent for weeks on end before the sun returns, and this game captures the melancholy boredom of a child whose plans are thwarted by it, and the magic of imagination that helps them escape from it. The atmosphere, sound and environment design are so engrossing that it will completely transport you to another country during another season for the hour it takes to complete the story.
This mind-bending puzzle game will take you through dimensions of reality you've never conceived before, all on a journey tied together through its comic-book-like framing in panels telling stories. It's an artsy affair, but not too tough on the old brain, so you can spend an afternoon swiping and tapping away on a tablet (or console, but the touchscreen format is very pleasing).
Another of the Annapurna Interactive stable, this space adventure is full of charm and heart as you track down musicians out among the floating rocks in your tiny solar system. As a race of aliens obssessed with space travel, enough to send themselves out into the unknown with limited protection and primitive engineering, you'll be having the time of your life.
What better way to get out of the house than to get on a train for your daily commute! This isn't your everyday average commute, though, as you happen to be a robot. This short story set on a subway train comes from Mike Bithell, the mind behind Thomas Was Alone, and is a great proof of concept for other dialogue choice-laden games with multiple outcomes. We don't recommend playing the spiritual sequel, Quarantine Circular, for obvious reasons (we are living in it, that is not a journey to escape reality).
Fall into a new world full of memorable, madcap characters and hundreds of objects to hoover up with your hole device. This is as satisfying as powerwashing a grimy sidewalk but without any of the dirt or water involved. The Katamari-like gameplay of swallowing objects to make the hole bigger adds a bit of a challenge but not enough to take you out of your post-Christmas brainhaze.
Perhaps, like us, you've been sad this year about Campo Santo's follow-on game In The Valley of Gods going on indefinite hiatus after the Valve-acquired studio ended up helping to get Half-Life: Alyx through the door. But we'll always have Firewatch. If we're to be in isolation any longer, we'd like to at least experience it beneath those gorgeous sunsets and calming forest canopies.
Abzu from Giant Squid, makers of the recently release The Pathless, is one of the standout examples of the genre of games that take you on a beautiful narrative journey. Alongside its spiritual predecessor, Journey, they embody everything about what makes these short games so magical to experience: colorful environments you just want to dive into, and in this case you can. Go swimming with whales and jellyfish and all manner of sea creatures, and feel those winter blues washing away.