Video games keep getting bigger and bigger. Massive open-world titles like Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla aim to keep players occupied for as much time as possible. With play times ballooning, major video games releases are becoming a serious time commitment that can take up to 100 hours of free time.
With those daunting numbers, compact games that can be completed in under 10 hours are becoming oddly refreshing. There’s no better example of that than Nintendo’s new game, Bowser’s Fury. The new Mario adventure is a pack-in title that comes bundled with the new rerelease of Super Mario 3D World. While the open-world game is much smaller than Super Mario Odyssey, it provides a short but sweet adventure that takes a manageable six to eight hours to 100% complete.
Bowser’s Fury isn’t just a breezy game that provides a bite-sized dose of fun; it’s a proof of concept that shows how the video game industry can create shorter experiences without compromising quality.
Less is more
At its core, Bowser’s Fury is an open-world Mario game where players fluidly travel from one platforming challenge to another without so much as a load screen to stitch areas together. It’s a similar idea to Super Mario Odyssey, but with more explicit platforming challenges that place it somewhere between that game and Super Mario 3D World. The main quest can be completed in three hours, but finding every cat shine requires a few extra hours of exploration.
Like other open-world releases, there’s plenty of little secrets to uncover throughout the game. When players beat the campaign, they’ll even get a bunch of objectives added to their map, not unlike a Ubisoft title. The difference is that it won’t take 80-plus hours to see everything.
The brevity ends up being one of the game’s best qualities. Without a – list of tasks to complete, Bowser’s Fury avoids ever feeling like a chore. Getting all 100 cat shines remains pleasurable from start to finish. Rather than reserving 100% completion for the most devoted players, it feels like an attainable goal for anyone who’s enjoying the game. It’s all fun, no filler.
This isn’t the first time Nintendo has experimented with shorter adventures. In the Wii U era, the company was especially experimental in that regard. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a small-scale spinoff of Super Mario 3D World that can be completed in five to seven hours. The game is an absolute delight full of creative puzzle design and a surprising amount for completionists to do. Best of all, the game retailed for $40, making it a more budget friendly Nintendo release.
Captain Toad is the finest example, but not the only one. Star Fox Guard is a clever tower defense spinoff of Star Fox Zero that only cost $15 for five hours of content. NES Remix was another notable budget title that turned NES classics into enjoyable, little micro games.
The strength of these games is that they don’t overstay their welcome, unlike many AAA titles. Rather than trying to force in $60 worth of value into one package, these games are as long as they need to be. Bowser’s Fury follows that same path, creating a concise Mario adventure that’s not burdened by the time expectations of a “full game.”
Time for a change
While many games keep getting larger, there’s reason to think that smaller AAA releases could become more normal with time. Sony has been especially open to the idea in recent years; both Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and Spider-Man: Miles Morales offer shorter takes on their high-budget counterparts. Miles Morales in particular achieves the same entertaining heights as Marvel’s Spider-Man with a much shorter completion time. There’s less to do in the digitized city, but that means less glut as well — a fair trade-off.
Studios like Naughty Dog and Insomniac are able to accomplish that by using preexisting game engines and remixing assets rather than building everything from scratch. That means that games can be developed in a shorter time frame with less costs. Bowser’s Fury uses the same method by cleverly recycling Super Mario 3D World’s characters and enemies.
With shorter timelines and smaller budgets, games don’t necessarily need to cost $60 to break even. And that means that they don’t need to have $60 worth of content either, whatever that means.
On some level, studios are going to need to become more comfortable with this idea. If nothing else, Cyberpunk 2077’s messy launch serves as a cautionary tale about how unsustainable the current industry trend is. The game was in development for eight years as CD Projekt Red tried to create something bigger and better than The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The studio crunched its developers to get everything functioning in time, which resulted in a messy launch full of bugs and glitches. The game’s big selling point quickly became its Achilles’ heel.
This isn’t to say that a game like Cyberpunk 2077 shouldn’t exist at all. Just as Bowser’s Fury benefits from its brevity, some games need dozens of hours of playtime to get the right experience across. Persona 5 likely wouldn’t be able to tell such an intricate story without its 100-hour runtime, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is built on its giant open-world gameplay.
But Bowser’s Fury simply shows that there’s a different path forward for major studios. Rather than making experiences bigger and bigger, games can just as easily benefit from reduction. It opens the door for more clever concepts and bolder swings that studios may not take otherwise. I’d take another adventure like Bowser’s Fury over the next Assassin’s Creed game in a heartbeat.