Whether you’re gaming on the go or waiting for that fancy gaming mouse to ship, it’s pretty difficult to game on just a keyboard and touchpad alone. To combat this heartbreaking situation, we’ve compiled a list of the best games you can play with just a keyboard.
We had to put some limits on certain genres, like fighting games. But this list is still tailored to represent the best fighting games, platformers, MMORPGs, and, yes, even typing games.
In the endless wave of Dragon Ball video games (seriously, there are like 70), Dragon Ball FighterZ is arguably the best one out there. From the accurate art design to the tight combat, playing as your favorite Super Saiyan has never felt so right. It has an original story with a brand-new villain, Android 21, who was supervised by none other than Akira Toriyama. And since it’s a 2.5D fighting game, you can toss that mouse aside and embrace your keyboard-button-mashing to pull off those epic combos easily with the game’s auto-combo feature and special move inputs. — Rami Tabari
This Kickstarter-darling-turned-indie phenomenon is one of the best side-scrollers on PC, and is still getting free DLC campaigns like Plague of Shadows and Specter of Torment (And there’s even more on the way). This 8-bit, tough-as-nails, 2D platformer wrecked my soul when I was on a controller, and it doesn’t discriminate, so it’ll be happy to wreck yours while you’re on your keyboard. — Rami Tabari
LEEERROOOYYYY JENNNKIINNNNNS! Who doesn’t want to participate in one of the oldest and most well-known MMORPGs from Blizzard? With the newest Battle for Azaroth expansion and WoW’s latest patch notes, it’s virtually impossible to play effectively on a controller. Enter the keyboard. Working as both a controller and a communication tool, you won’t be missing out on questing, dungeon crawling and raiding with your friends and guild members. You can even move, attack and navigate without using the mouse! — Catherine Strachan
If you thought getting your cup handed to you with a controller was hard enough, just try this 2D bullet-hell nightmare with a keyboard. But doing so may actually be easier for some players, especially since you can remap all the key bindings to your liking. Once you master Cuphead’s controls, you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful visuals, all meticulously hand-drawn to match the ’30s cartoon aesthetic, and embrace that awesome jazz soundtrack. After you overcome the Devil himself on the superior keyboard, get ready for The Delicious Last Course expansion, featuring a new playable character, Ms. Chalice. — Rami Tabari
Fantasy Strike boils down the fighting-game genre to its bare essentials, with a simple, keyboard-friendly control scheme that lets you focus on outsmarting your opponent rather than wrestling with complex combos. With normal attacks, special moves and super-moves all relegated to single button presses, you can be competitive in Fantasy Strike even if all you have to work with is a laptop. Don’t let the inviting gameplay and colorful art style fool you, though — succeeding at Fantasy Strike takes just as much strategy and smarts as any other top-tier fighting game. — Mike Andronico
While many of the games on this list work well enough on a keyboard, this infamous House Of The Dead spinoff is really only playable with a keyboard. Typing of the Dead: Overkill is a revision of the Wii classic House of the Dead: Overkill, except instead of using a Wii Remote or Zapper, players type out words as quickly as possible to fire off shots. It’s an absurd concept, but one that actually won over gamers and critics alike, and produced a lot of speedy typists in the process. It also helps that the 2009 reboot of Sega’s shooting-gallery classic is a send-up of exploitation films at heart, making it a hilarious change of pace from the outrageously campy earlier titles. And for what it’s worth, the very first Typing of the Dead appeared in the arcades, fitted in a cabinet flanked by two keyboards. No, we’re not making this up. — Adam Ismail
Like many other games on this list, The Messenger is a tight 2D platformer that feels great even if you’re relying on nothing except your spacebar and WASD keys. A loving homage to both classic NES action romps and epic SNES Metroidvanias, The Messenger offers airtight platforming, delectable pixel graphics and chiptune music, and a quirky sense of humor that makes its mysterious ninja world a joy to explore. — Mike Andronico
Motion Twin developed Dead Cells with a controller in mind, but there’s no real reason why you need one. In this side-scrolling Metroidvania, you take control of a disembodied head that has to find his way out of a deadly dungeon, armed with an endless supply of disposable bodies. The twist? Each time you die, the dungeon will shift its entire configuration, complete with new secrets to find and different enemy combinations to defeat. All you need to play are four directional buttons and a few extra keys for weapons and platforming skills, so using a keyboard is not a real impediment. Don’t expect it to make the game easier, though; Dead Cells will test your skills, every procedurally generated step of the way. — Marshall Honorof
Puzzle games are a natural fit for the keyboard, and Puyo Puyo Tetris is one of the best games in the genre on PC right now. As its name suggests, the game mashes up the timeless action of Tetris with Sega’s color-matching Puyo Puyo series, resulting in an addicting concoction that’s fresh, familiar and challenging all at once. Puyo Puyo Tetris offers a wealth of solo and multiplayer modes, and you’ll need little more than your arrow keys and a handful of buttons to dominate them all. — Mike Andronico
You can finally get the entire Mega Man X series on PC, where you can master any of them armed with only a keyboard. (Except for Mega Man X7 — but let’s be honest, you’re probably better off skipping that one.) This series of challenging action/platformers casts you as X and Zero: combat androids who hunt down evil robots called Mavericks. Except for X7, every game is a side-scroller, so keyboard controls work fine for running, gunning and thinking your way past each game’s eight animal-themed bosses, then adding their weapons to your ever-expanding arsenal. There’s also a pretty decent ongoing story about war, peace, friendship and all that good stuff. — Marshall Honorof
OK, it isn’t the best way to play one of the latest and greatest Sonic adventures, but a keyboard will still do the trick. And if that’s all you have at your disposal, you should give Sonic Mania and its recently released expansion, Sonic Mania Plus, a whirl. Mania combines some classic zones from Sonic’s 2D history (you know, when Sonic was fun) and mashes them up with new zones, new gameplay elements and the best 16-bit-style visuals we’ve ever seen in the franchise. There are loads of references to classic Sega properties tucked away as well, from a satellite truck inspired by Daytona USA’s Hornet to a slot machine with Club Sega branding, just to pay tribute to the company’s arcades in Japan. That makes Mania not only the ultimate Sonic side-scroller, but the ultimate fan service for Sega loyalists, too. — Adam Ismail
The shmup (shoot-em-up) genre is a natural fit for keyboard players, as all you’ll need is some arrow keys and an action button to fly and shoot your way through waves of enemies and projectiles. And if you’re craving some shmup action on PC, Ikaruga is about as good as it gets. This dazzling arcade shooter offers five challenging levels, complete with screen-filling boss fights, local two-player multiplayer and a variety of difficulty settings. Just don’t blame us when your fingers get sore from playing for hours on end. — Mike Andronico