Gaming on the Cheap

The gaming budget is usually one of the first casualties of a financial crunch. It’s tough to justify $60 for entertainment when times get tight, but ironically, that’s just when we most need gaming to take our minds off our real-world worries. Here at The Escapist, we’d like to offer a compromise: 10 titles that deliver top-shelf gaming at bargain-bin prices.

You’ll likely notice the lack of console games on this list. There are certainly many excellent low-cost console games to be had, but when it comes to gaming on the cheap, there’s just no beating the PC. Most of the games on this list can be purchased for less than a latte, and several are completely free. This list doesn’t just save you money, though; it also introduces you to games you may not have heard of or simply missed their first time around. Take a look, and post your favorite gaming bargains in the comments!

1. Loom (Steam, $4.99)

Loom is an old-school adventure game from the heyday of the genre. Guide lead character Bobbin as he tries to discover what has happened to the other Weavers on Loom Island. Loom will have you scratching your head and thinking laterally as you use the musical magic of the Weavers to overcome the obstacles that Bobbin faces on his quest. Loom is available on Steam for $5.


2. Fool’s Errand (, Free)

Fool’s Errand (pictured) is a wonderfully tricky assortment of word and puzzle games based loosely on the Tarot deck. The first few challenges are pretty simple, but they soon turn quite devious. You’ll have to install an emulator (included on the site) to run it, but it’s well worth the effort. If you’re a fan of Professor Layton, you’ll likely enjoy joining the Fool on his errand.

3. Zork, Zork II, Zork III (, Free)

No introduction to text adventures (also known as “interactive fiction”) would be complete without a trip to Zork‘s Underground Empire. Fiendishly clever and with a sly sense of humor, these games are shining examples of their genre. They’re primitive by modern standards – not a hint of sound or graphics to be had – but their gameplay is just as brilliant now as it was way back when. Also, those of you who don’t know what a grue is will finally find out.

4. Ghost Master (Steam, $2.49)

Ghost Master is pretty much the opposite of Ghostbusters: Using an assortment of ghosts, specters and poltergeists, your goal is to set enough scary traps to frighten the annoying humans out of the house. You only have so many spooky resources at your disposal, though, so scaring the bejeezus out of each and every one of your intended victims will take some careful planning. Is it worth a couple of bucks to frighten obnoxious frat boys? Yes. Yes, it is.

5. Cactus Arcade (Cactus Software, Free)

Do you like shmups? What about vector graphics? Have you ingested any hallucinogenic substances in the last 24 hours? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, consider picking up Cactus Arcade, a collection of mini-games of varying degrees of polish from Swedish indie-savant Cactus. Highlights include Seizuredome, which is “kind of like Sumo wrestling except you have a gun,” and Mondo Agency, perhaps the first and only videogame inspired by the films of David Lynch. They’re not all winners, but when all they cost is a few minutes of your time, what have you really got to lose?

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6. Simon the Sorcerer (GOG, $5.99)

Simon the Sorcerer is your standard point-and-click adventure game. You play as Simon, the unwilling, teenaged hero as he is transported into a fantasy world and must save the good wizard, Calypso, from the evil sorcerer. However, Simon is not your typical, dashing hero yearning only to do good and set things right. In fact, he’s sort of a jerk. No, make that: A colossal jerk. He insults both friend and foe alike, and will often make a rather simple task increasingly complicated. This series is like Monkey Island meets Discworld, with just a dash of old-school graphics.


7. Spelunky (Spelunky World, Free)

Depending on your attitude toward spectacular failure, Spelunky (pictured) could either become your greatest pleasure or your chief torment – maybe even both. The vast cave system of Spelunky is unrelentingly cruel: You’ll find yourself blocking arrows with helpless damsels and sacrificing fresh yeti corpses to an ancient god just to have a shot of making it to the final level. But you don’t play Spelunky to feel like a hero; you play it to feel like an explorer. I’ve made over 600 trips into those infernal caves, and I still haven’t seen everything. Not bad for a freebie.

8. Audiosurf (Steam, $9.99)

Audiosurf fuses standard color-matching gameplay with your Mp3 library, creating levels based on any song you give it: High-speed rock for an intense rush, quiet jazz for an easy and relaxed ride. It’s almost infinitely replayable, it’s a game that is literally tailored to your unique tastes, it makes listening to your favorite tracks an interactive experience, and it will set you back no more than $10.

9. Plants vs. Zombies (Steam, $9.99)

For years we’ve assumed that the most effective weapon for dealing with the undead would be a shotgun or, barring that, a chainsaw. But no, it turns out the most effective weapons for the undead are based in horticulture. A quirky and addictive tower defense game from PopCap, there’s not much to say about PvZ that we haven’t already: It’s great, it has an awesome theme song, and it’s just $10 on Steam. What are you waiting for, the actual zombie apocalypse?

10. Osmos (Hemisphere Games, $10)

Imagine you’re a molecule, drifting languidly in a vast sea of other molecules. Your only task is to absorb other molecules to grow, and avoid being absorbed by larger molecules yourself. With such simple gameplay, controlling your molecule becomes a natural, organic experience, which allows you to become fully immersed in the ambient music and soothing visuals. It’s meditation in game form. The developers claim that “good things will come to those who wait,” so float around and see what happens by.

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