11:30am on Thursdays is a tumultuous time in my life, a little mini financial crisis of economic faith. That seven bucks in my checking account could be a sweet #4 at Taco Bell, or it could be just enough gas to get me back home to ride out the rest of the day till the direct deposit hits; decisions, decisions. Let’s face it, life is expensive; and the life of a pc gamer, doubly so. We have the capacity now to play incredible AAA titles in pants-tightening 4K resolution on jaw-dropping 32′ G-sync/freesync/kitchensink monitors. Not tickling your fancy? How about strapping on a Vive and experiencing the immersive VR gameplay that teased our adolescent minds with totally awesome xtreme 90’s films like Hackers, Lawnmower Man, and the criminally underrated Johnny Mnemonic? Well sorry to disappoint you, but all that PC Master Race glory comes with a hefty price tag attached; one that wage-slaves like myself are hard pressed to justify in light of petty, albeit pressing, biological concerns like food and heat, (the singularity needs to get here already.)
All hope for digital engrossment is not lost though. The thriving indie game community is experiencing a golden age right now and due to the forgiving system requirements of many of these titles, all you need is a basic toaster to partake. For the uninitiated, “toaster” is a term referring to personal computers containing old or obsolete technology, i.e. a computer that’s only redeeming quality is its capacity to warm up its surroundings. It might be an aging custom build you can’t afford to upgrade, a low end rig cobbled together with donated parts, or even a hand-me down laptop that spent the last year gathering dust in someone’s dorm room; regardless of its’ origin, they won’t be running Battlefield anytime soon. So without further ado let’s take a look at some truly fantastic games that don’t require the latest tech to enjoy.
Man oh man I love this game. It’s easy to run, simple to learn, and guaranteed to provide you with hours of entertainment. The premise is simple enough; two pixelated fellas with swords squaring off for the right to be consumed by the mythological Norse serpent and namesake of the game. Guy on the left side of the screen wants to go right, and guy on the right side of the screen wants to go left. Players fight with a basic but sufficient combat system that emphasizes understanding and outthinking your opponent. It will feel instantly familiar to anyone who spent time with the PS1 classic Bushido Blade, with variable attack and guard heights, and quick one hit kills. When you reach the edge of each screen the level scrolls left or right depending on which player “won.” It’s a sublimely fun multiplayer experience best played in tournament mode with a group of 8. You’ll get lured in with its retro Atari style graphics and find yourself instantly hooked. Nidhogg is a testament to how great a game can be when you cut away all the fatty trappings of modern games and maintain a focus on pure, unadulterated fun.
Cat Goes Fishing
Let me preface this choice by saying that I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time playing this game. Its look and feel harkens back to the simpler flash games of yesteryear, but underneath its stylistically minimalist exterior is a fun little time waster that will perform well on the most basic of computers. In Cat Goes Fishing you play a cat…that goes fishing. There are a variety of fictional fish to catch with differing colors and habits. The most important differentiator among your aquatic targets is their size; falling into 4 categories: small, medium, large, and huge. Fish can either be sold for kitty cash, used for upgraded poles and lures, or converted into bait for larger prey. It’s this sell vs bait system that really adds a tremendous amount of depth to the overall experience as it’s really easy to have your bait stolen by inferior fish when you’re hunting for the next Jaws. The music is extremely relaxing and the little sound the cat makes every time he is disappointed by reeling in an undersized catch never fails to make me chuckle. You won’t regret spending a few hours in this adorable world. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the unlockable hats you get to adorn upon your feline angler. Cats in hats! What could be better?
Take the visuals of River City Ransom add in some brain chomping zambos and mix with a dash of roguelike randomizer and you’ve got Dead Pixels. It’s a mindless romp of violence through deserted city streets; a gun gorged loot fest through an 8-bit apocalypse; a comfy couch co-op split screen slaughter party! I also dig the positively groovy 70s cinema style loading scenes. They help enrich the overall saturday night grindhouse feel that the dev seemed to be going after. Kill zombies, grab cash, upgrade your survivor, repeat. This is one those games that’s definitely greater than sum of its parts. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it doesn’t need to. After a long day of work, it’s nice to blow off some steam blowing off some heads. Dead Pixels is a great little pop tart to stick in your toaster.
One Finger Death Punch
Back in the fledgling days of the early internet we were graced with a series of stick figure flash animations going by the name Xiao Xiao. I vividly remember being mesmerized by the smooth kung fu carnage and always wanted a game to duplicate its style. Enter One Finger Death Punch, an absurdly fun two button click fest. OFDP is played entirely with the left and right mouse buttons and will throttle you with a finely tuned combination of speed and difficulty. The stick figure protagonist stoically waits in the center of the screen as enemies approach from the left and right, attacking with a variety of weapons that you can turn to your advantage. As the levels progress and the swarms of baddies become mindbogglingly massive, your reflexes will be tested to the absolute limit. I love games like this that put me in a zen like reactionary state normally reserved for bullet-hells and old school doom clones. OFDP is some of the most fun you can have breaking a computer mouse. Do yourself a solid and pick it up today.