Do you yearn to join the ten million players of World of Warcraft, but can’t stomach the $15/month fees? Check out RuneScape instead. Just as complex and huge as Warcraft, RuneScape features both free and paid membership plans, so you can sink your teeth into its virtual world without expense. It also runs in your web browser, so there’s no need for specialized gaming hardware, either.
Second only to pirates in the hearts of game fans worldwide, ninjas are inarguably cool. The ninja star of N is just a few pixels tall, but thanks to a detailed physics system he’s completely realistic. N’s fiendish levels will have you bouncing all over the place as you try to snag the gold squares that (for some reason) litter N’s world before you miss a jump and plummet to your death. It’s so good, it’s on its way to handhelds and Xbox Live Arcade as a full release later this year, but you can play it right now for nothing. You will die. Oh yes, you will die. But you’ll like it.
Desktop Tower Defense
You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the crippling compulsions of a fully-fledged Tower Defense addiction. Oddly, this desktop delight evolved from a Warcraft 3 map into a web-based tower-placing, creep-fighting game that’s a cinch to learn and harder to quit than meth. No, we’re not exaggerating. Like all good drugs, the first hit’s free – but like no good drugs, all the other ones are, too.
Very likely one of the best Xbox games you’ve never played, the PC version of this 2005 classic is available for free through the GameTap service. It’s a bizarre platform game where you delve into the depths of other characters’ minds, attempting to fix their innumerable (and inevitably serious) psychological problems. It’s designed by master craftsman Tim Schafer (Grim Fandango, Monkey Island), and absolutely drips with his trademark offbeat wit. Sounds odd? You should try playing it. And because it’s free, there’s no reason not to.
Can you make the perfect pizza? Find out with this addictive, quick-to-play hit. It’s simple: just drop the toppings onto the pizza as accurately and as quickly as you can. Hit your targets and you’ll be rewarded – fail, and you’ll, well, fail. It’s the perfect way to fill in a few spare minutes at work. Unless you work at a pizza joint, of course.
Sometimes, the best ideas are the simplest. Reflections will take you back to your physics class, but in a good way: it’s a puzzle game featuring lasers, mirrors, and bulbs. All you have to do is arrange the mirrors so that the lasers light up all the bulbs. Sound easy? Ha! Try playing it first. If you’re looking for something to get your brain working, Reflections is the perfect choice – and did we mention it’s free?
Rose & Camella
“The womanly battle begins!” You’re a young woman who just married into a rich family only to have your new husband drop dead. Challenged for your right of inheritance, there’s only one way to settle matters: a slap fight. That premise hides an elegant game of attack, evasion and counter-attack that would do a pro fencing match proud. With its mouse-driven gesture-based controls, it’s more like playing a Wii or DS game than a browser-based one – you’ll need serious dexterity to keep up with the higher difficulty levels.
“Losing is fun,” proclaims Dwarf Fortress, and is it ever right. Although it looks like someone vomited punctuation marks all over your monitor, and learning the game can take weeks, this indie-developed fortress management game is by far the most fun you can have with a dwarf. Once you’ve accidentally flooded your fortress with lava, cracked open the entrance to Hell, or had your entire dwarf population munched by a bloodthirsty carp, we’re sure you’ll agree. Take it from us: once a major publisher snaps this game up and releases it on the DS – and it’s bound to happen – its developers will be millionaires.
Sense is not a quality with which free web-based games are over-endowed. Nanaca Crash is perhaps the game which best exemplifies this fact. The object is to ensure a man, upon being struck by a speeding bicycle, is thrown as far as possible. Along the way you have to contend with bystanders, power-ups, special attacks, and music that steps beyond the irritating and into a brave new world of infuriating catchiness.
Grand Theft Auto
Believe it or not, there actually were Grand Theft Auto games before number 3. Several of them. Here’s the first, released by Rockstar as a free download. It’s a 2D, top-down action game that, although it doesn’t look much like the more recent 3D console extravaganzas, nevertheless bears many of the hallmarks of the series. Remember: call out Gouranga, and be happy!
Admit it, you’ve always wanted to be an astronaut, you’ve just never got around to filling out the paperwork. No such effort is needed to play Orbiter, and neither do you need to pay an application fee – you just need to download this dauntingly realistic sim. Included are real craft like the shuttle Atlantis, the International Space Station, and the Hubble Space Telescope – everything you need to fly your own NASA missions. Except those cool arm patches. You’re on your own with those.
Fancy Pants Adventure
“Fancy” is right. This superb line-drawn platformer is probably the best presented of all the games on this list, from its painstakingly animated (and stylishly clad) hero to the laid-back, offbeat soundtrack. Maybe this is what Sonic the Hedgehog would have looked like if it had been developed in 2008.
Portal: The Flash Version
Be honest: would you ever have thought you could recreate Valve’s Game of 2007 contender in a web browser? This little masterpiece has it all: all the physics, all the portals, all those cute little cameras that follow you around. Yeah, it starts easy, especially if you’ve played the PC game, but it’ll be kicking your butt before you know it. If you’re stuck at work and jonesing for a Portal fix, look no further.
You remember playing Oregon Trail in school, right? Well, you probably do if you’re above a “certain age.” Thule Trail is a modern interpretation of the concept, but instead of settlers heading across the continent in a wagon, you’re taking a Prius from Chicago to Atlantis for a music festival. Contend with passengers bickering over music, wrong turns, and cool retro sound effects – but just be sure to get there in time.