5 fun ways to keep gaming at Whitman ‘on the cheap’

Blair Hanley Frank

Illustration: Binta Loos-Diallo

If you’re anything like me, break is a fantastic time to unwind and enjoy the latest that the video game industry has to offer. But let’s face it: being a Whitman student is a lot of work. I know I won’t have a couple hundred hours this semester to devote to a “Skyrim” marathon. This break, I sat down with some of the best works that indie developers have to offer, in a quest to find some great ways for other folks to keep up their gaming habit over the school year.

In order to narrow down my list of recommendations, each of the games had to be available for less than ten dollars through Valve Software’s Steam digital distribution platform, simple to pick up and play, and available for both Mac OS X and Windows. What follows, are the five best games that fit those criteria.

Beat Hazard Following in the footsteps of games like “Stepmania” and “Audiosurf,” “Beat Hazard” is a top-down shoot-em-up with a twist: its difficulty is determined by what you pick from your music library. Of course, the game itself is better suited to certain genres than others: a library full of Barry Manilow ballads will be significantly less challenging than the latest dubstep, but the game provides radio stations for you to play with if your musical tastes don’t necessarily line up with your level of skill.

Cave Story This run-and-gun platformer has a retro aesthetic reminiscent of early Mega Man games (though without the insane difficulty) and a deep story to match. Its core mechanics are fun and just complex enough to make for a solid challenge. If you’re looking for something to play that’s more long-form than other games on this list, “Cave Story” is great fun to pick up.

Fractal This rhythmic puzzler is at once deceptively simple and deceptively complex. At its core is a simple concept: create a number of hexagonal “blooms” by pushing tiles around a larger hexagonal grid. However, the game quickly adds layers of challenge to make for a truly engrossing experience that will have you scratching your head in a good way.

Poker Night at the Inventory “Poker Night” is a whimsical poker game featuring several recognizable characters, including The Heavy from Valve’s wildly successful “Team Fortress 2” and Strong Bad from Homestar Runner’s “Strong Bad Email” series. While the AI probably won’t challenge a seasoned card shark, the game is visually gorgeous, wickedly funny and decidedly fun to play. What’s more, at a paltry $5, it’s significantly cheaper than sitting down to a real game of poker.

Trine “Trine” is one of the best games I played in the past year, hands-down. Frozenbyte has created a gem of a platformer, which requires the player to switch between three different characters (each with their own different skillset) to solve a variety of puzzles. It’s a lot of fun, with a gentle difficulty curve that will pull you in right from the start, while still providing a challenge later on. The story, while sparse, remains engaging, and the graphics are gorgeous.

It’s worth noting that several really excellent games were unfortunately left off this list due to price, complexity and space concerns. I’d strongly recommend that anyone interested in spending a few more dollars take a look at the other indie titles available on Steam. There are a lot of other gems out there.