That important piece of work you have to finish off? That dodgy garage door you were meant to fix? That costume you were going to make for the school play?
Yeah, none of that's going to happen, because we've rounded up the finest browser games floating around in the digital ether, and best of all, they're all free. Sort of.
Some of the games under consideration here are truly gratis, with maybe an ad banner on the page or, in some cases, a pre-roll advertisement every few levels.
Some are free but require an email address so that news about interesting and useful products can be delivered direct to your inbox. And by interesting I mean Viagra and by useful I mean please God make it stop.
Some are freemium - they’re free to try out but all the really sweet add-ons (weapons, cars, whatever) require some sort of payment.
I’ve included games from most of these categories but drawn the line at anything that requires a credit card impression before you start playing.
Most run in your browser using Java or HTML 5. A few require an initial download of game content before playing. I’ve included one or two of those: but in general anything requiring a substantial install has been ruled out. Instant action, and a small hard disk footprint are our watchwords here.
Oh and fun. Above all, fun. So, without further ado, here are (in no particular order) the 30 best free browser games available right now.
Additional words by Sam Kieldsen
Originally a tasty slice of PC freeware, Spelunky more recently became a darling of the PS Vita indie scene. It’s easy to see why: the mix of traps, monsters, route-finding and secrets, and fast-paced classic platforming action across randomly generated maps, is intoxicating stuff.
The original was in 2012 reworked for the browser, and remains one of the very best examples of browser-based gaming around - although you might not agree when your cute little adventurer is suddenly shot out of the air with a poison dart or clubbed to death by an irate caveman yet again.
29) The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
In order to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its release, the BBC “remastered” this classic text-based adventure game by putting it in browser-playable form - meaning a whole new generation of players can die in lots and lots of different ways. Based on the first of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker’s Guide novels (reading it may provide you with some much-needed clues), it even supports game saves, so you don’t need to complete it in one sitting. Which is just as well given how tough it is.
28) Robot Unicorn Attack Evolution
Adult Swim’s endless runner isn’t a huge departure from the countless other endless runners you might have played on your phone or tablet, but succeeds by virtue of its quirky charm: you are a robot unicorn in some kind of dreamland, racing, jumping and rainbow-dashing (yes, that’s a thing) sideways for as long as possible before collision with an object sends you up in a shower of sparks, flames and chrome-plated horse-parts. The Erasure soundtrack only serves to slather another layer of campy charm on to proceedings.
Coma is clearly inspired by indie classic Limbo, sharing a similar art style and even the “find your lost sister” plot-starter – but even if you’ve played through the latter, it’s worth spending some time with the former.
And you won’t have to spend much, either. This Flash-based platform-puzzler can easily be completed in under 20 minutes – by which time you may be a little sick of the keyboard controls, which aren’t quite as accurate as a control pad. Still, a diverting and quite beautiful little game.
26) Kingdom Rush
A tower defence game in which you have to build fortifications to fend off waves of ever-stronger bad guys. There’s a fantasy setting, which means archers, knights, wizards and so on are your staples as you attempt to hold back hordes of goblins, orcs, ogres and bandits, and as you progress you gain stars enabling you to upgrade your towers to counter the increasing threat levels. If you like your strategy games fairly casual and cutesy (not to mention free and not too time-consuming) Kingdom Rush fits the bill like a suit of tailor-made armour.
25) Experimental Shooter
This appropriately named time-sink has a basic enough premise – use your mouse to control a swivelling gun turret and shoot a number of floating balls to clear a level – but goes about each stage in a totally different way, meaning you’ll have to use your wits just as much as your trigger finger. Examples? Well, one level is essentially a big pool table, while another only has your shots count once they’ve rebounded off the arena’s walls.
Note: a mouse is a must for this one, as trackpads won’t give you the degree of control you need.
From the creator of cult text-based title A Dark Room, Gridland superficially resembles a typical match-three puzzler.
The word ‘superficially’ has been used quite deliberately here, because Gridland is in reality something else entirely, in terms of mechanics and structure. This only becomes clear after a few failed attempts to battle through day and night, building structures with your earnings while the sun moves across the sky, and then battling all kinds of evil horrors in the darkness.
To say more would spoil one of the best games of 2014, but there is one tip worth bearing in mind: if you find yourself being regularly defeated, think more about how you’re approaching the game, and recognise day and night are very different beasts.
23) Abobo’s Big Adventure
A glowing, nostalgia-fuelled tribute to the Nintendo Entertainment System, Abobo’s Big Adventure stars one of the forgotten faces of the 8-bit era (the eponymous Abobo, the muscle-bound “sub-boss” from Double Dragon) as he sets out to rescue his son.
But the plot, such as it is, doesn’t matter: what matters is the way the game pays homage to many of your favourite NES games, with characters from games including Donkey Kong, Spy Vs Spy and Super Mario Bros all making appearances – and that’s just in the first stage. The gameplay varies between beat 'em up and platform styles, and it’s unashamedly, unreformed old school in its approach.
22) World’s Biggest Pac Man
Built to promote the original Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary (they grow up so fast!), World’s Biggest Pac-Man makes two major changes to the original title. First, the two wraparound tunnels are replaced by four doorways, one at each screen edge, enabling you to escape to another maze. Secondly, the creators enabled anyone to submit mazes. Within a week, there were over 10,000. Now there are over 150,000 - enough to last even the most ardent dot-muncher several lifetimes.
20) Contre Jour
Originally a hit on mobile, Contre Jour loses a little of its tactile qualities and immediacy in the browser — but none of its charm; it soon sucks you in.
The aim is to guide cycloptic blob Petit to the exit in each single-screen level, manipulating the local environment to do so. You therefore warp the ground to roll him about, swing Petit around via springy ropes, and catapult him across the screen (and, frequently, into painful spikes) with tiny trampolines.
17) Impossible Mission
*Another visitor! Stay a while! Stay FOREVARRRRR!* If you used to own a C64, Professor Elvin Atombender’s deranged rant may well be burned into your brain; even if you’re a newcomer, look past the blocky graphics and you’ll find Impossible Mission is one of the best platform games in existence.
Your aim as a somersaulting secret agent is to search Atombender’s fortress for puzzle pieces that form a password; this is then compiled in a control room, as a means to halt armageddon.
Unfortunately, the agent is a buffoon and his only defence against the deadly robots that roam the fortress’s platforms is to run away or leap over them, rather than blowing them to pieces with a really big gun.
15) Cut The Rope
You’ve probably heard of Cut The Rope. Initially an iOS mega-hit, the game stars grinning green greedy-guts Om Nom, who lives in boxes and demands to be fed candy via ludicrously intricate set-ups. Instead of just handing it to him (although the ravenous creature *would* probably take off your hand), you use ropes, air cushions and bubbles to get candy into his maw. The web version’s a bit hidden these days: click ‘Give it a try’ and it’ll appear at the bottom of the screen.
You’ve probably had your fill of mini-golf games on your PC and handhelds, but give Wonderputt a go anyway, because it’s like someone took the genre, got Escher and Gilliam to bang heads about how to design a course, and filtered the end result through the talents of a first-rate modern digital artist.
Initially, your little ball tonks about a simple hole comprising four discs, but then the entire landscape dramatically shifts and transforms again and again, with some astonishing transitions that will make you grin like a loon unless you’re dead inside.
9) Gods Will Be Watching
Expanded to a full game in 2014, Gods Will Be Watching’s browser incarnation is a stripped-back and decidedly bleak single-scene point-and-click survival tale. A team, on the brink of madness, is stranded, starving and cold. To make matters worse, the radio’s broken, which either means no contacting a rescue fleet or no BBC Radio 6 Music. Horrible either way.
Your aim is to get everyone through 40 days, balancing all their needs (attention; sustenance; warmth; health) through your paltry amount of ‘daily’ moves.
7) Cookie Clicker
It’s hard to know what to make of Cookie Clicker. On one hand, it’s essentially a Skinner box, rewarding players with nothing in particular in return for them clicking like crazy. But it also appears to be an amusing satire on the state of modern ‘idle’ gaming.
Initially, you click and you get a cookie. The more cookies you have, the more power-ups you can afford, including cursors that click on your behalf. Eventually, you’re using time machines to bring cookies from the past, “before they were even eaten” and converting raw light into cookies with giant prisms, to bring in millions of cookies per second. To what end? Stuff’s not sure, but currently has 509 billion cookies in a really big plastic box if you fancy one.
6) Alter Ego
Alter Ego isn’t a pretty game — visually or in terms of content. It’s a browser-based remake of an ancient PC game, dealing with progress through everyday life. It’s about as far from The Sims as you can imagine — instead of cute little idiots blundering about, you get stark icons and multiple-choice text. But there’s depth here, with a clever (if admittedly slightly conservative) script written by a psychologist, which offers branching progress that could lead you to a happy old age or abruptly dying as a toddler, having just necked some bleach found under the sink.
4) Wizard of Wor
Wizard Of Wor appears to be a browser-based remake of a C64 conversion of an ancient arcade game! Which is a bit weird. Its a fantastic old-school title, though, where you roam claustrophobic mazes and blast monsters before they tear your face off. Best of all, there’s a simultaneous two-player mode. Hit Shift and player one (blue) can use AWSD and Shift, while player two (yellow) uses the cursors and Enter. Given that you can ‘accidentally’ shoot each other, too, either of you can then use the entire keyboard to smack your opponent with.
Bonus 2: Game of Bombs
Game of Bombs transforms Bomberman into a massively multiplayer online retro arcade experience. The premise remains the same as ever: amble about, set bombs to take out walls and monsters, get away from the bombs so they don’t blow you to pieces, and collect whatever’s found in the retro carnage. The difference here is in the giant maps, and being able to bomb (or team up with) people from all over the world. And remember: if in doubt, RUN AWAY!