The best mini-games within games are ones that will stop you in your tracks en route to defeating a big bad, or seeing what's over that next horizon. In all manner of virtual worlds, you can occasionally stumble upon a mini-game that completely consumes you. What starts out as a momentary pause from the action turns into a full-blown detour from the main game, and you just can't pull yourself away from it. There's something so meta about playing a game within a game, and there are so many memorable examples of adventures that offer up some fantastic minigames. While there are all kinds of minigames in games, such as fishing, business management, and more, this list focuses on the more meta kind of minigames within games.
From big, sprawling RPGs that deliver up their own unique analog games, to just having one more try at a minigame on an arcade machine or discovering playable easter eggs, there are so many enjoyable games to play within games. With the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Stardew Valley, the Yakuza series, and much more besides, we've gathered together some of the very best mini-games in games you can discover and play during your adventures.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Gwent
It's not often that you come across a card game in a game world that's so good, it even spawns an entire spin-off of its own, but Gwent did just that. It's not so surprising given just how enjoyable it is to play. We've lost count of the amount of time we've spent going up against opponents spread out across the world in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. With a variety of different factions plucked from the world of Witchers, there's a wealth of different cards and deck builds to play around with. From powerful hero cards to different units with their own spells and abilities, Gwent offers up an entertaining strategic challenge in between your adventures with Geralt.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla - Orlog
When you're not busy trying to take down the Order of the Ancients or growing your settlement in Assassin's Creed Valhalla, there's no better pastime than Orlog. As an entirely original game created for the Viking adventure that draws inspiration from ancient dice games, a round of Orlog plays out like a battle based on dice throws. Each side of the dice has an icon that could deal a blow, defend you against the opponent's attack, or steal tokens used to grant one of the gods favors - useful buffs and moves that can give you an advantage. Your objective is to wipe out all of the opposing side's stones, which act as the player's health. Simple and effective in its design, Orlog is very easy to get the hang of and play, and it's even been made into a reality with a physical version of the game.
Stardew Valley - Journey of the Prairie King
After a long day of tending to the farm, venturing down the cave, or fishing at the beach, there's nothing quite like playing a spot of Journey of the Prairie King at The Stardrop Saloon in Stardew Valley. As a pixelated top-down-style arcade shooter, you play as a little cowboy who gets attacked by a barrage of different enemies from all directions. With different weapons and buffs to pick up including the likes of coffee that makes you go faster, a shotgun that shoots multiple bullets, and the powerful wagon wheel that fires off in many different directions, it's all too easy to while away a lot of time trying to advance through each stage.
Night in the Woods - Demontower
Do you dare climb the steps of the Demontower? Well, you can certainly try as Mae in Night the Woods. When you can access the laptop in Mae's room, you can spend as much time as you like tucking into the 2D game as Palecat. It's actually quite a challenging minigame that can be difficult to best, with all manner of different enemies coming at you. With nine different levels and a boss fight to defeat in order to complete the game, you have to make your way through various rooms in an area until you find a key which allows you to move onto the next level. While it's one of the tougher games you'll encounter in virtual worlds, its multiple endings and design make it one very memorable detour from the main story.
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus - Wolfstone 3D
Is there anything more meta and memorable than finding the older iteration of a game you're playing? As some may remember, you can do just that in Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, where you're able to play the original Wolfenstein 3D on an arcade machine aboard Eva's Hammer. On your ship, you can find a bar known as Club Kreisau, where you'll find the arcade machine with a game called "Wolfstone 3D", which is essentially the classic Wolfenstein 3D game. Essentially it's a bit like getting two games for the price of one, since you can play the classic title in its entirety within the world of The New Colossus… and the graphics "sure are realistic". It's such a fun nod to the series' history, which also makes another memorable appearance as an Easter egg in Wolfenstein: The New Order.
Final Fantasy 8 - Triple Triad
It's all too easy to spend a lot of time playing rounds of Triple Triad, the famous card game enjoyed in the world of Final Fantasy 8. With a range of different player cards, including cards depicting the main characters of the game, every unit has different stats and elements. Played on a 3 x 3 grid, it can take a spell to get used to how it works, but once you get into the flow of how everything works, it can become quite the time sink before you know it. Each time you win, you can also sometimes earn yourself more cards to take on other challengers. Triple Triad can also be played in the more recent Final Fantasy 14, where it's been given an updated look and polish. It's the kind of card game that would be so fun to own and play in real life with fellow Final Fantasy fans.
A Way Out - Grenade Brothers
You know how it is. When you've just broken out of prison and you're on the run, sometimes you just need to cut back and spend far too long playing an arcade game with your pal. As a two-player co-operative experience, A Way Out presents you with all kinds of opportunities to do little side activities together. From sitting on a seesaw to playing a round of Connect Four and arm wrestling, you get some time to really bond with your fellow escapee. At one point, though, you come across an arcade machine for the game Grenade Brothers, which is not unlike Pong in how it plays. It might be quite simple, but it's a lot of fun and we've admittedly spent far too much time playing it against my fellow player; it distracted us from the story for quite a while.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intermission - Fort Condor
Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade brought Cloud's adventures to the PS5 along with a new additional story. Episode Intermission introduced the loveable Wutai Ninja Yuffie and set the scene for the highly anticipated part 2, but it also brought with it the addition of one very fun minigame. Fort Condor sees you battle it out against an opponent on a board. Each kind of board has different powers or buffs, and with a variety of units, your goal is to take out the king piece on the opposing side to win. Each time you win, you'll be awarded more units to test your strategic skills against the next player. Better yet, you get to go up against some familiar faces around Midgar from Cloud's adventure.
Splatoon 2 - Squid Beatz 2
Splatoon 2 has seriously good music, which is partly what makes playing Squid Beatz 2 so darn fun. When you're taking a break from splattering ink with your weapon of choice, you can head over to the Squid Beatz 2 arcade machine in Inkopolis Square. As a rhythm game, you have to hit the right corresponding button in time to the music and enjoy some bopping tunes as you do it. There are also a number of ways to unlock more tracks in-game, so you can try out more songs and see if you can conquer the Beatz. While the first game had Squid Beatz, it could only be unlocked with an amiibo, but happily it's freely available in the second game.
Fallout 4 - Grognak and the Ruby Ruins
As you venture into the decaying ruins of the Commonwealth, nothing takes your mind off all the feral ghouls and super mutants quite like a game or two on your trusty Pip-Boy. There are lots of different minigames to try out in the Wasteland that pay homage to some classic arcade games from the real-world. From Zeta Invaders which puts a Fallout Spin on Space Invaders, to Red Menace which plays like Donkey Kong, you're certainly not short on fun mini-games to play in Fallout 4. But the one minigame I keep coming back time and again on my Pip-Boy is Grognak and the Ruby Ruins. As a text-based adventure, the game is based on the comic book series that can be found in Fallout. It's just such a neat little distraction from the rad-ridden world.
Red Dead Redemption 2 - Five Finger Fillet
Looking to lose a finger? Well, you can try and do just that in Arthur Morgan's cowboy boots in Red Dead Redemption 2. Or, if you'd prefer, you can give it a try in John Marston's shoes in the first Red Dead Redemption. As the name of the game goes some way to suggesting, you'll be putting a knife very close to your fingers in this minigame. Ensuring you hit the right button in sequence, any slip up will mean a knick on the finger. If you beat the other player's speed, you'll win the round. It can get quite tricky to master, but it's pretty satisfying when you manage to do a speedy run and avoid hitting any fingers. Sure, you could play dominos or a round of Blackjack, but there's nothing quite like a round of Five Finger Fillet. Just make sure you've got some bandages nearby.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End - Crash Bandicoot
In arguably one of the most memorable scenes of Uncharted 4, Nathan Drake sits down with Elena near the beginning of the game and plays a level of Crash Bandicoot on the PS1. Of course, as Nathan, you're the one playing. Yep, that's right. You get to play an entire level of the classic platformer in-game, and you can try to beat Elena's high score. It was such a great surprise for players tucking in the fourth entry in Drake's adventures, and brought two of Naughty Dog's famous franchises together in more ways than one - the recent release of Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time paid homage to the famous scene by showing Coco and Crash sitting on a couch playing Uncharted 4. It's always so neat when two game worlds collide with memorable easter eggs.
Yakuza 0 - UFO Catcher
The Yakuza series is filled to the brim with minigames and Yakuza 0 is no exception. From the incredibly fun cabaret club management game, to singing karaoke and dropping some smooth moves at the disco, Kiryu and Majima can keep busy in all manner of ways. As a game released by Sega, you can also go to a Sega arcade and try out a load of real arcade games in-game. But the one minigame that we couldn't tear ourselves away from was the classic UFO catcher claw machine. Yes, the crane game. With adorable toys to try and win, it can be just as frustrating as the real deal to bag yourself whichever cuddly stuffed toy you covet. There are some really delightful prizes to get your hands on, including a Sega Mega Drive plushie we wish we could own in real life.
Celeste - Celeste Classic
Indie gem Celeste sees you try to help Madeleine face her inner demons and climb to the top of a mountain in developer Extremely OK games superb platformer. But it's also hiding one very neat easter egg. Nestled away in a room, you find Celeste Classic, which is the original free version of Celeste that was developed a few years before the full game. Also playable on itchio and Pico-8, once you've found the classic version, you can play from your game's home menu at any time. It's such a memorable moment when you do discover the game and take a little detour playing Celeste… in Celeste.
Homefront: The Revolution - TimeSplitters 2
In another excellent example of hiding a game within a game, Free Radical Design's classic and much-loved FPS TimeSplitters 2 can be found on an arcade machine in Homefront: The Revolution. Tucked away in the Restricted zone known as The Bourse, you can find the game cabinet and play a few full levels of TimeSplitter 2's story mode. Before Dambuster, Homefront was originally developed by Crytek UK, the studio previously known as Free Radical Design - the very same devs who worked on TimeSplitters 2. It's certainly one very fun little easter egg that sees the developer pay homage by letting you play an early '00's FPS in a 2016 release of the same genre. Even after several years have passed, Homefront: The Revolution is currently still the only way you can play the classic title on a more up-to-date console. But with Free Radical reforming, it looks like we could see the series make a comeback soon.
Looking for more adventures? Be sure to check out our pick of the best RPG games you can play right now.