Good non-addictive arty videogame recommendations?
August 10, 2014 11:35 AM   Subscribe

What are some good videogames for the PC that have the fewest grindy, behavioral "Skinner Box"-y qualities?

In other words, World of Warcraft, Candy Crush Saga, Farmville and other games that are essentially designed for the player to mechanically self-stimulate are the exact opposite of what I'm looking for.

Preferably shorter games, now that I am a grownup with a job I unfortunately don't have forty hours to spare for a single JRPG. I used to subscribe to the indie bundles but now there are way too many of them to keep up.

To give a few examples of games I've enjoyed in the past few years:

Braid - Beautiful art, elegant gameplay, fascinating puzzles
Bastion - Ripping action game, slick, stylish, short
Cave Story - 8-bit aesthetic hides a compelling (and tragic) narrative with very effective gameplay
To the Moon - Amazing demonstration of what can be done with the videogame as a narrative artform
Plants Vs. Zombies 1 - Self-contained, charming, funny, also much shorter than the bloated sequel (which isn't even released for PC anyway)
Portal - What's there to say? A perfect videogame.
Psychonauts - Very funny, ingenuous level design, pushing it a little on the length but easy to put down when needed.
Papers Please - I hate this game in the best possible way, it's literally designed to give you the experience of working in an unpleasant, stressful, morally difficult Soviet bureaucracy and it succeeds in spades.

In other words:

-Has either a definite ending or a good stopping point
-No more than 20 hours to complete
-No pay-to-play
-Minimal grinding
-Generally not first-person shooters, Portal being a notable exception
-Preferably arty but doesn't have to be
-Inventive, clever, novel design is preferred, even if it's unpleasant like Papers Please
posted by Ndwright to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think you will enjoy these games:

Gone Home
Legend of Grimrock - this is first person, but it is grid based and an old school dungeon crawler
Shadowrun Returns
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery
Transistor - 2nd game by company that made Bastion, haven't played but has good reviews

Of those games, I REALLY enjoyed legend of grimrock and gone home. Shadowrun Returns had an eh opening campaign but has a ton of fanmade DLC and also regular DLC that should be great. The engine is definitely there.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:45 AM on August 10, 2014

Best answer: The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead games by Telltale are both great. I'll second the recommendation for Transistor. I'd also add Broken Age and The Novelist to games you should investigate.
posted by shesbookish at 11:53 AM on August 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Are roguelikes ok, or does repeatedly starting from scratch when you die too grindy? Even if you unlock new stuff periodically?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:57 AM on August 10, 2014

What about Fez? Low key puzzle platforming in a cool world with some real conundrums.
posted by selfnoise at 12:00 PM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had fun with Toki Tori 2+. It bills itself as a Metroidvania thing, but it's more on the puzzle-y Metroid side than the hack-and-slash Castlevania side (I can't remember there being any combat, actually). The internet seems to think most people take around 10 hours to finish it.
posted by dorque at 12:05 PM on August 10, 2014

Best answer: Gunpoint is a level-based stealth game, so it has definite stopping points. Play revolves around skulking around and wiring different bits of electrical equipment together. I'd guess around 5 hours of gameplay.

Mark of the Ninja is also a platforming stealth game. Levels are larger but include checkpoints. Art is really excellent. Has about 10 hours of play. There are optional objectives in each level and you can repeat levels to get ones you missed. It won a bunch of awards and is the best platforming stealth game I've ever played.

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a tower defence game. No grinding because resources do not transfer between levels. It has a checkpointing system so if your strategy doesn't work you can hit Backspace and return to a recent checkpoint, or go back all the way to the start of the level. I have 63 hours on it but I also have all the DLC and went back to get medals. The story starts out a little silly and then gets grim.

All of these have stories I found gripping.
posted by squinty at 12:11 PM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Child of Light
posted by MsMolly at 12:19 PM on August 10, 2014

Best answer: Game that respect your time are underrated.

If you liked Portal, you will probably like The Stanley Parable. First person non-shooter about a man who, during a normal workday, suddenly realizes all his coworkers are missing. Easy to play an hour of and then pick back up a week later.

For story: Banner Saga. It's technically a sort of tactical combat narrative-em-up, but it feels like a game about making the wrong decisions, over and over, while everyone is counting on you.

I agree that you'll like Fez. Definitely arty, definitely inventive, definitely easy to put down and pick up. But it could take you a while to beat.

If roguelikes are okay, FTL (tactical) and Rogue Legacy (platformer) are great. Of the two, Rogue Legacy is more compulsive.
posted by postcommunism at 12:28 PM on August 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh another one you might try (that I think is pretty underappreciated) is Closure. Creepy puzzle platformer with a really original concept. And definitely "arty".
posted by selfnoise at 12:46 PM on August 10, 2014

Re: rogue likes, I was also going to recommend FTL, and the platformer/shooter Risk Of Rain which has lovely pixel art with a lot of character.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:10 PM on August 10, 2014

The Swapper (I've played it on Steam, I don't know if it's on any other platform) is a puzzle game similar to Portal. Instead of solving the puzzles by creating portals, you create clones that you can swap into and manipulate levers &c with.

I really did not like Gone Home--it was largely an (to my mind) uninteresting narrative with little engagement for the player. That is, there were no significant puzzles or anything to do, except wander from room to room, reading the story. I played the whole thing--hoping for it to reach the point where I had to *do* *something* but that never came and I was terribly annoyed for having wasted the time with it.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:13 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Starseed Pilgrim is a sort of discovery block puzzle platformer. It's a bit opaque, but it takes some very elegant mechanics and challenges you with every extreme of them in an incredibly rewarding way.

They might feel too grindy, but if you're up for a challenge They Bleed Pixels and Space Chem are brutal platforming and puzzle games respectively.

I'd third Fez too. It has gentle platforming with some pretty interesting puzzles, and the music and visuals are just gorgeous.

You might actually have a couple of those already, if you've been picking up the humble bundles.
posted by lucidium at 1:15 PM on August 10, 2014

Trauma is short, but very arty. You basically click around a bunch of photographs to solve some puzzles and experience the fever dreams of a girl in the hospital after an accident.

There's not a lot of traditional game play--it's mostly an interactive narrative where you unlock bits of information by piecing together other bits of information that the game feeds you. Unlike Gone Home, the puzzles are more complex and more integral to moving the story along. It's a bit similar to Tale of Tales' games (discussed in this FPP), in atmosphere, but more goal directed. But Trauma is very short.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:29 PM on August 10, 2014

> The Swapper (I've played it on Steam, I don't know if it's on any other platform) is a puzzle game similar to Portal. Instead of solving the puzzles by creating portals, you create clones that you can swap into and manipulate levers &c with.

Similarly, Vessel is also a puzzle platformer game that has some fun mechanics to it.

If the thing about JRPGs that bugs you isn't so much the amount of hours of gameplay but the fact that some of them require long sessions because save points are few and far between then Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky might be of interest since you can save almost whenever you wish.
posted by Gev at 1:34 PM on August 10, 2014

kami is great
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:53 PM on August 10, 2014

Road Not Taken has just come out and it's a gorgeous arty puzzler game that inherits from Triple Town (company's previous game) and Glitch (art and music). People keep calling it roguelike but I'm not sure I really dig that adjective.

I have a huge fondness for Hexcells and Hexcells plus--it's like Minesweeper but good. Each level is designed for logical solving and the music is soothing and you can sit there figuring out the puzzle. The only bad thing is there's no saving a particular level's progress and some levels could take a while to crack, but if you can keep the game running that is no problem.

Similar to Hexcells is KAMI, which has this delicious tactile feel to its paper folding area puzzles. Both of those will have definite endings as you will run out of puzzles.
posted by foxfirefey at 2:01 PM on August 10, 2014

posted by melissasaurus at 2:11 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dear Esther.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:35 PM on August 10, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks guys, lots of great suggestions!

To answer an earlier question, no roguelikes please, the unfairness of the randomization drives me nuts, too much like the real world :)
posted by Ndwright at 3:47 PM on August 10, 2014

Knytt Stories!
posted by rivenwanderer at 5:39 PM on August 10, 2014

Kentucky Route Zero
posted by Erberus at 6:34 PM on August 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ndwright - Want a really neat, memorable experience? I TOTALLY have you covered on this.

1. Plug your computer into a big TV in front of your couch.
2. Plug the TV into some good speakers
3. Turn the lights off [ESSENTIAL]
4. Play Limbo.

posted by Alaska Jack at 9:03 PM on August 10, 2014

Coming in to second Kentucky Route Zero; a magical experience
posted by raw sugar at 9:59 PM on August 10, 2014

Seconding Limbo (and the recommendation to set the atmosphere). The Room by Fireproof games was originally for tablets but they made a Windows version. It's better on a touchscreen though. And great. And fits all criteria.
posted by K.P. at 1:24 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by oceanjesse at 6:07 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thomas Was Alone - great stripped-down platformer with a fantastic soundtrack.
posted by paulash at 7:57 AM on August 11, 2014

Best answer: Of games that haven't been listed yet, I'd recommend Papo & Yo. It's a puzzle/platformer set in magic-realistic South American slums. The gameplay is very simple, but the narrative and atmosphere are excellent.

I also second Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery, Fez, Mark of the Ninja, Closure, The Swapper, Limbo, and Thomas Was Alone.

Although they aren't for PC, you should definitely play Ico and Shadow of the Colossus if you haven't already. They're some of the best games ever.
posted by Fishkins at 1:42 PM on August 11, 2014

One that hasn't been mentioned yet: Jazzpunk. Silly, stylish, and short.
posted by zompist at 5:47 PM on August 11, 2014

If you like the previously mentioned Telltale games, but want something a little more puzzle-heavy, their Back to the Future series was excellent, and their Sam and Max series started out mediocre but got better and better with each season.
posted by roystgnr at 6:56 PM on August 11, 2014

The Path is an atmospheric horror game that explores facets of the Little Red Riding Hood story. There are a few puzzles, but mostly you walk around and explore. It's beautiful and unusual, and fairly short.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 8:10 PM on August 11, 2014

Best answer: A few things I've enjoyed that haven't been mentioned yet and seem to fit: Limbo (atmospheric platformer), The Stanley Parable (first person weirdness, not a shooter), Thomas Was Alone (puzzle using blocks with great personalities), Guacamelee! (action platformer).

Just to repeat a few things I liked that were already mentioned: Dear Esther, Fez, Gone Home, Mark of the Ninja, and Sword and Sworcery are all great.
posted by cameleon at 5:02 AM on August 12, 2014

Have you tried adventure games?

Broken Age - a recent game that is a great introduction to the genre, though only part I is available right now.

The Longest Journey - a great old adventure game.

I think you may also enjoy Antichamber - it's a first-person puzzle game.
posted by ohforf at 9:32 AM on August 12, 2014

« Older Can I stream iBooks to my Roku?   |   A Little Blue Enclave To Call Our Own Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.