20 Games That Play Just Fine On A Laptop Keyboard

When you're away from home or travelling for work, sometimes you just need a quick gaming break. But it's not always practical to whip out a laptop or carry a Switch around, and touchpads often aren't ideal. So if you find yourself on a plane, the train or somewhere else where only a keyboard will do, here's 20 games that play just fine.

This story has been updated since it was originally published in September 2016.

Shovel Knight

While not all platformers lend themselves well to a keyboard-only setup, there are plenty that do. Retro-inspired games that don't lean on advanced aiming mechanics tend to have the best of it, and amongst those Shovel Knight is one of the best games you can get.

If you're picking up Shovel Knight now, you'll be able to get all of the DLC with Treasure Trove. That's the original game, plus Specter of Torment, Plague of Shadows and Shovel of Hope. Plenty of levels to smash through on the plane or train.


Available for only $US5, BallisticNG is an ongoing love-letter from fans to the original WipEout games. Most people will instinctively want a controller for this sort of game, but it's perfectly playable on keyboard - and with cracking results too:

Once you've got the controls down, there's plenty of content to work your way through. 17 tracks, six different modes, a full singleplayer campaign and a low-poly style that runs perfectly on integrated graphics.

Epistory - Typing Chronicles

Epistory stars a girl and a giant fox, who journey together trying to battle a corruption throughout the land. It's an adventure game controlled entirely by typing the words on screen, wrapped around a colourful paper world.

Released last year by Fishing Cactus, whose since moved on to Shift Quantum, the action/adventure has a 96% user rating from almost 700 reviews on Steam. Mikey also played it on release, and you can read more about what that's like here.

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In development for almost a decade, Owlboy finally landed in November 2016. It's very much a throwback to retro platformers, with a simplified story (save the world from robot pirates) and an overarching world that's reminiscent of Zelda.

Also, the opening is killer.

The game plays just fine with a keyboard, although those playing with a mouse (or controller) will have it a fraction easier. If you have a controller plugged in - for whatever reason - it will mess up some of the button prompts though.

Risk of Rain

A great action roguelike with permadeath, Risk of Rain is an amazing mix of "explosions and stupidity", to quote one Kotaku reader. Grab random power-ups, blow everything up in your path, and try to finish the level without getting slaughtered.

It's a great game that's available for cheap, and will also run on a potato. It's also designed with the keyboard in mind - the game only has partial controller support to this day - which is a lifesaver for those with a laptop glued to their knees. Not literally, obviously.

Swords of Ditto

A cutesy top-down RPG, Swords of Ditto is designed to be a short-run cyclical RPG where you are given four days to face off against the evil wizard Mormo. The game is built to support controllers, but works with a keyboard just fine (provided you can ignore all the Xbox/PlayStation button prompts).

Ditto is built to be replayable as well, with the sword retaining its level and power from each hero that carried it before, a Rogue Legacy-esque trick that helps if you don't have a great deal of time to invest in each play session.

One Must Fall: 2097

True story: Epic's classic robot brawler was the first thing I installed when I bought my first proper laptop. (My actual first laptop was a Chromebook, which couldn't run DOSBox.) I've made sure there's a copy on every laptop I've ever owned since, because it's the perfect travel companion.

It's the best fighting game released on PC, period. If you wish to argue, continue so below.

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Endless Sky

A 2D space trader that's reminiscent of the classic Solar Winds shareware game - but on a substantially larger scale. It's basically your standard rags-to-riches space trader story, with the player kicking off with a crappy shuttle before working their way up to owning a fleet of freighters or warships, while working your way through the web of mysteries and pirates that envelop the thousands upon thousands of planets and stars in the galaxy.

Super Hexagon

If you're after modern games that only use keyboard controls, indie platformers are usually the place to go. Super Hexagon has been around for years, so you can pick it up - at full price - for a measly $US2.99.

It's a game about handling pressure, maintaining your grace while under the pump. Be warned: it's pretty addictive.

Crypt of the Necrodancer

A roguelike game where you move - and attack - to the beat of the music, Crypt of the NecroDancer is just really, really clever. The core mechanic means the player and enemies get to move with every beat, but if you skip a beat, then different penalties start to come into play.

The footage above is a good indication of how a regular NecroDancer run can go. Make sure you watch through to around 6 minutes 35 seconds in the run when the player meets the shopkeeper for the first time. It's brilliant.

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Cook, Serve, Delicious/Cook, Serve, Delicious 2

Image: Kotaku

If you're the kind of person who gets super stressed by timers and deadlines, Cook, Serve, Delicious! is probably best avoided. But if you're the kind who relaxes through a lot of fast paced repetition - like typing or lots of rapid button presses - then the chef's life is for you.

Both CSD games are on Steam, and the first is on mobiles. Neither requires any mouse input. The game is really about pattern recognition and remembering what buttons equate to what ingredients every time an order comes in. Everything is clearly explained, but the quicker your memory, the easier you'll deal with orders.

Cook, Serve, Delicious 2 Is Bonkers

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PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX+

I mean, it's Pac-Man. But if you're going to play any PAC-MAN, Championship Edition DX+ is as solid as they get. There's a free demo on Steam as well, if you don't want to invest in the full thing.

Burnout Paradise

Modern racers are better with a controller, but you don't play Burnout Paradise to hit every apex perfectly. Paradise will run on integrated graphics reasonably well with the settings down, and there's plenty of billboards to smash and races to bugger up to last you many, many train trips or flights.

Typing of the Dead: Overkill

It goes without saying that a game reliant on typing words to kill zombies doesn't really need a mouse.

Even still, everyone really should play Typing of the Dead. The only thing that could make it better would be, well, more Typing of the Dead.

Terminal Velocity

Sure, you could play this with a mouse. But you can also play the ancient shoot-em-up just fine with a keyboard, the way most people did back in 1995.

Terminal Reality's classic is on phones as well, but it's best played when your thumbs aren't blocking half the screen.

FlatOut 2

If you're at a LAN in Australia, and your mouse is buggered, never fear. Because as soon as the sun starts to drop, you can bet the house that someone in the room will eventually fire up the time honoured classic, FlatOut 2.

I've actually only ever see one person play this with a controller at LANs. I'm sure it's probably better, but when you're trying to t-bone a ute with a school bus, that's not really the point.


Like Super Hexagon, there's a ton of platformers over the last few years that can be played rather competently with just a keyboard. Campbell from Gizmodo suggested Super Meat Boy, but something that's even more native to the SHIFT and SPACE keys is the Japanese indie Downwell.

If you're the kind of person who enjoys Spelunky, Nuclear Throne or action roguelikes in general, this should be in your Steam library. You can play it on phones as well, and so it just depends on what experience you like. Personally, I'd rather not be stressed while sitting on the loo.

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Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

The story of Binding of Isaac's ARG is perhaps the best when it comes to ARGs, second perhaps only to Trials. And while you don't have to play the game to enjoy the amount of detail behind McMillen's mysteries.

But Isaac a ferociously tight action RPG. And the more you play, the more enjoyment you'll get out of this insane tale.

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Raptor: Call of the Shadows (1994 Edition)

If you're stuck to keyboard controls, retro games are generally your best bet. They were designed with the keyboard in mind, but not all of them play that well in 2017.

Case in point: the recent remake of Raptor: Call of the Shadows. Another title published by Apogee back in the day, it's the original version of the top-down shooter that plays best. Good Old Games only sells the updated version, but you can buy the original for bugger all on Steam.


A mini-car racer in the style of Micro Machines, but set outdoors, Ignition is one of those top-down, fast paced arcade racers that you see very little of these days.

As you'd expect from a more classic game, it's perfect on the arrow keys. You unlock different cars and cups as you progress, although you'll have a much easier time if you ignore the school bus and just focus on the cars with the fastest speed.


    I've also played World of Warcraft with what appears to be people exclusively using their keyboard...

    I also raided with a guy who played with a guitar hero controller

    I think the opening paragraph might need a bit of editing.

    Man I love ignition. I wish they made a new one.

    I imagine Swords of Ditto will run fairly well on a Surface Pro 4?

    Owlboy can't be played without a mouse, it always involve aiming and shooting....

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