You probably subscribe to Game Pass for the blockbusters. As far as deals go, it’s pretty good: The price of one brand-new AAA game gets you several months of access to a digital library featuring hundreds of games, plenty of which happen to be recent zeitgeist-making tentpoles.
But sometimes you wanna go small. Between the marquees, the Game Pass library is full of bite-sized games that are no less excellent than their staggeringly elaborate competitors. Better yet, you could reasonably wolf them down over the course of a weekend, between other responsibilities like chores and pounding so many tequila shots you can’t see your hands. (We’re talking 10 hours or less, provided you focus on the main story.) If you’re looking for a terrific Game Pass game you can download tonight and finish by Sunday, here’s where to start.
If the best puzzle games make you feel like a genius, The Pedestrian belongs in the hall of fame. You, as one of those human-shaped symbols on street signs, must make your way across a series of erratic platforms arranged across said signs. You have to rearrange those signs in order to create a viable pathway to the next level while satisfying a series of increasingly challenging parameters. The platforming is imprecise, but the puzzle-solving’s nothing short of brilliant. And it practices what it preaches, by promoting a car-free lifestyle: Like any good IRL pedestrian, you make your way from level to level by riding the train.
Playtime: 4 hours
Sure, the hit Netflix show Stranger Things has a game adaptation, but it’s not really any good. If you’re itching to play something with similar vibes in game form, allow me to direct your attention to Echo Generation, a turn-based role-playing game set in the 1980s about a child who stumbles upon some baffling sci-fi intrigue. It’s smart, charming, and even features the occasional brain-stumping environmental puzzle. Plus, get a load of that delicious voxel art style.
Playtime: 7.5 hours
Most games task you with killing a monster. In Carrion, a side-scrolling action-platformer, you are the monster. Though it’s at times sickening, even disturbing — you play as a giant mass of flesh and devour humans without a second’s hesitation — there’s an air of grace to the way your grotesque mass rolls and slides through the game’s horror-inspired setting, extending tentacles to all corners of the room to flick switches or tear down grates in your way.
Playtime: 4.5 hours
Boyfriend Dungeon is exactly what the name implies: a dating sim crossed with a dungeon-crawler. The gimmick is that the people you date are all bequeathed a superhuman ability that allows them to transform into various weapons, which you then equip to aid you in battling your way through various dungeons. The enemies within? Manifestations of your character’s deepest, darkest fears. Yes, the metaphor is a tad on the nose, but Boyfriend Dungeon is sincere enough to pull it off (with an irresistibly catchy soundtrack to boot).
Playtime: 5 hours
Far: Changing Tides
Far: Changing Tides is a lovely, contemplative side-scrolling platformer about the end of the world. You’re the captain and sole passenger of a creaky steampunk sailboat, sailing east for unspecified reasons. Travelling demands you raise your mast and catch a breeze or scavenge for burnable salvage to fuel your engine, which requires jumping up and down on an Industrial-era bellows. Sailing segments are punctuated by environmental puzzles that tease your brain but never prod it. Far: Changing Tides offers just enough engagement to distract without becoming overwhelming, hitting that sweet spot for a lazy Sunday.
Playtime: 5 hours
If you’re subscribed to Game Pass’ higher-priced Ultimate tier, you’ll get bundled-in access to the EA Play library, which includes Titanfall 2, one of the best first-person shooter campaigns in history. At first, it doesn’t seem like much more than a Call of Duty copy with a futuristic bent (and giant mechs). But the game quickly opens up, introducing inventive mechanics with every new stage. One standout level gives you a time-manipulation mechanic that allows you to snap between two temporal states — the past and the present — of the same level. It’s mind-numbingly brilliant, hitting a high-water mark that no other shooter has reached since.
Playtime: 6 hours
“Pick things up and put them down.” That’s the pitch, and the extent of what you can do, in Unpacking, an isometric puzzle game with some serious decorating sim bona fides. You play as an unnamed, unseen woman. Every level showcases a different stage in her life — her childhood room, her university dorm, a jackass boyfriend’s sumptuous pad — in which you’re tasked with emptying moving boxes and placing the contents in roughly the proper area. As you see which objects make it from move to move, and which are left behind, you quietly piece together a narrative with astonishing emotional depth.
Playtime: 3.5 hours
What’s that? The best game of 2021? As determined by airtight science? And it’s on Game Pass?
Playtime: 9 hours