Good, cheap fun
The Mac gaming library expands with each passing week, bringing an array of new experiences to sink your teeth into—and if you want to game on the cheap, that’s truly no problem at all. Let this collection serve as a prime example: Each game on this list sells for $9.99 or less, and all are certainly worth more than that.
This isn’t a definitive “best of” or even a comprehensive list—we had dozens of games in mind for this, and the selection is far too vast to try and rank them against each other. Instead, consider this a curated starting point: See what catches your eye here, and then go exploring on Steam, the Mac App Store, and other gaming stores. You’ll find a lot of awesome titles that deliver incredible bang for your buck.
Attempting to get around the world in a steampunk version of 1872 sounds like a tough task—one that could power a lively, wild action game, naturally. 80 Days ($9.99; Steam) is lively and wild, but it’s no action game: It’s primarily a text adventure in which your various decisions help shape both the outcome and the journey itself.
Getting around the world requires a mix of transportation types and careful selection of routes from city to city, with time and money both crucial considerations. But there’s more to it than just completing the trip on time, as the conversations along the way entertain and help build out your character all the while.
The Binding of Isaac
For fans of games that are a bit edgy or unnerving, The Binding of Isaac ($4.99; Steam) is essential. Hailing from one of the same minds behind the gruesome but brilliant Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac is an arcade-style shooter… but you play as a naked child who is fighting monsters in his basement as he evades his violent, deranged mother.
Like we said, it’s unnerving to say the least. Between that unique premise and the half-gross, half-gory aesthetic, The Binding of Isaac has a distinctive hook—but it’s also a really fun dungeon-crawling shooter. You’ll shoot your own tears at the creepy creatures within and seek out upgrades as you try to survive the underground labyrinth, and the challenge continually prods you to improve.
Indie darling Braid ($9.99; Mac App Store) looks properly old-school, but has its own unique twist on the classic platform-action formula. While the game uses familiar Mario-esque building blocks for its stages, Braid allows you to rewind time at will—at first to correct mistakes, but eventually there’s much more to it.
It’s clever and downright diabolical at times, but like some other games on this list, Braid is memorable for far more than its unique gameplay design. It has a deeply philosophical edge, and unravels a heartbreaking story bit by bit—plus the dreamy, hand-painted aesthetic really sells the surreal tone of the experience.
Creating Fez ($9.99; Steam) might have been an arduous, overlong endeavor (as documented by the great Indie Game: The Movie), but actually playing through this inventive platform game is largely a total joy. That’s not to say that it’s a total breeze: Some of the puzzles and hidden secrets are cleverly designed to stump and frustrate.
While Fez looks like a retro throwback, it has a very modern, fresh twist: The seemingly 2D pixel settings can be rotated 90 degrees to shift around elements in the world, which is essential to figuring your way through each new area. It’s a crucial mechanic that gives the game a lot of extra depth—in more ways than one.
FTL: Faster Than Light
In space, nobody can hear you scream—but your agonized yelps might wake family, roommates, or neighbors once you start digging into the brutal challenge of FTL: Faster Than Light ($9.99; Steam). Given a spaceship to command and a hazard-filled galaxy to explore, you’ll set off into the tense, randomly-generated areas.
FTL is inspired by dungeon-crawling “roguelike” games, which means there’s plenty of uncertainty found in each new location—and when your crew members die, they’re gone for good. Whether it’s encountering enemies, making decisions to keep your ship afloat, or trying to outrun some pursuing threat, this deep, retro-flavored quest can be utterly enthralling.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Although followed up by a trio of larger, more ambitious games, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City ($9.99; Steam, Mac App Store) remains one of the most iconic entries in the open-world action series, setting a crime tale set against the now-hilarious excess of the 1980s. As Tommy Vercetti, a Mafia hitman just out of jail, you’ll reemerge into a Miami-inspired city to cause a little mayhem.
Endlessly roaming the city—whether it’s to take on missions, lead police on wild chases, or see what other fun can be found—is a blast. And Vice City certainly looks and sounds the part: The pastel colors, amazing era-appropriate soundtrack, and constant skewering of ‘80s culture makes for a hilarious, absorbing experience.
First-person shooters become bigger and brasher with each passing year, yet 2004’s Half-Life 2 ($9.99; Steam) remains a serious benchmark for the entire genre. Valve’s masterwork presents a tense single-player campaign through an alien-overtaken Earth, with the Gravity Gun opening up new gameplay possibilities beyond simply running and gunning.
It’s storytelling that makes just as much of an impact as the action, however, with believable characters that really sell the weight of the conflict. If you dig Half-Life 2, don’t miss the Episode One and Episode Two standalone expansions for $8 each—and heck, the iconic 1998 original is $10, too.
One of the most acclaimed indie games of recent years, Her Story ($5.99; Steam or GOG) is a totally unique live-action adventure game that tasks you with reconstructing a story based on recordings of police interviews. However, the interviews are all split into tiny clips, and you’re given no direction as you sort through this massive archive of footage.
That lack of structure extends into finding meaning in the storyline, as the game doesn’t prod you with objectives or goals, and simply lets you draw your own conclusions based on what you watch and believe. It’s not real police footage, of course, but “Her” performance is compelling and the eventual narrative twists justify all of the digging that ultimately gets you there.
Lara Croft Go
If you haven’t already played the excellent Lara Croft Go ($9.99; Steam) on iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV, then you should definitely check it out on Mac. Croft is the legendary heroine of the Tomb Raider franchise, of course, but this isn’t a vast action-adventure tale set in massive environments—it’s actually a turn-based puzzle game spread across loads of compact stages.
Each level challenges you with overcoming enemies and environmental hazards by figuring out the best path ahead, all while flipping switches and stealthily dispatching foes. Being able to play at your own pace made it perfect for mobile, but the game holds up well on Mac: Lara Croft Go does a great job of transforming Tomb Raider’s essence into something new and fresh.
While not a horror game by design, Limbo ($9.99; Steam, Mac App Store) delivers a pretty powerful sense of dread. The wordless side-scrolling game is set primarily in the shadows, with the main character—a young boy—tasked with solving an array of environmental puzzles as he encounters threats along the way.
Amidst the darkness are real surprises and scares, but also a huge amount of charm: Limbo is so expertly designed that it doesn’t need an overt story or tutorials. You’ll quickly learn the rules of the world and then piece together your own interpretation of what’s happening in the compact quest, right up through the affecting conclusion.
We’ve raved about the iOS version of Mini Metro ($9.99; Steam, Mac App Store, or GOG), but this impressively streamlined subway simulation actually began life on computers—and you’ll find the same great experience no matter where you play. Mini Metro looks like a subway map, but actually running the trains on time requires quite a bit of tactical planning.
Each little shape on the screen represents a station, and you’ll connect them by creating lines. As your transit system thrives, it’ll attract more and more riders—which ultimately leads to overcrowding if you are not careful, or don’t wisely spend your additional resources. How long can you stay in business across these various real-world maps?
Oh… Sir!! The Insult Simulator
We can safely say that you’ve never played anything quite like Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator ($1.99; Steam or GOG). As the name suggests, this silly little game is all about delivering sick burns and devastating slams to an opponent, but it’s not just an excuse to pull your best taunts from the back of your mind—it’s actually a competitive game.
You’ll face off against another player and take turns choosing terms out of a communal pile, attempting to build the best and most grammatically correct attack. It has a strongly British tone to the humor, and while you can play solo against the computer, the most confident and cunning insult artists can hop online for richer competition. And it’s only two bucks!
It’s funny: A game that might sound mind-numbingly dull in its core description actually delivers incredible, gut-churning drama and plenty of opportunity to examine your own morals under pressure. Papers, Please ($9.99; Steam) is, at its core, a game about looking over documents and stamping sheets of paper. But it’s really a game about power, sacrifice, and painful choices.
As a new border agent for a fictional Eastern Bloc country in 1982, you’re tasked with closely scanning immigration documents for errors or red flags, and deciding who gets in. Your choices—and/or precision—may not only determine the fates of those you encounter, but also your own family. It’s shockingly intense stuff.
Long before Peggle ($4.99; Steam) became an ideal iOS obsession, it was a top Mac time sink—and it remains essential after all these years. Despite its light and fluffy exterior, PopCap’s game proves to be a powerful addiction, keeping you in its grip with each barely-missed peg and stage-clearing, “Ode to Joy” blaring fireworks show.
Peggle essentially blends pinball and pachinko, tasking you with shooting a ball into a grid of colorful pegs. The goal is simply to clear all the orange ones before running out of balls—a task that turns difficult before long, and requires a fair bit of strategy to go along with all the lucky bounces you’ll notch along the way. Sequel Peggle Nights is also $5 and just as wonderful.
PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate
It might make you chew your fingernails and throw your mouse, but PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate ($9.99; Steam) satisfies as much as it stymies. This colorful tower defense entry delivers tense action as you build up turrets to protect your little village from the invaders that slowly pour into each stage.
The Ultimate version collects all of the content from the various PlayStation editions, delivering a few dozen stages along with online and local cooperative action. (Side note: The Mac App Store version lacks online play, which is why we didn't list it here.) It sucks you in with its accessible mechanics, great cartoonish graphics, and impossibly catchy soundtrack, but then pummels you with its steep learning curve. Still, it’s the kind of punishment you’ll gladly take time and again as you learn to master its engaging challenges.
Plants vs. Zombies
You might already know Plants vs. Zombies ($4.99; Steam) from its excellent iOS incarnations, but PopCap’s streamlined tweak on the tower defense genre started life on Mac. And if you didn’t already play it elsewhere, this dirt-cheap gem remains one of the best Mac games you can grab for just a few bucks.
As the title suggests, Plants vs. Zombies pits the undead against your army of aggressive plant creatures, as you try to protect your suburban home from invaders. It’s much easier to grasp than a lot of tower defense games, and is simple to start, but before long you’ll need some serious smarts to outwit the ever-stronger (and increasingly hilarious) enemies trampling on your backyard and roof.
Widely considered one of the best games of all time, Portal ($9.99; Steam) puts a brilliant spin on the first-person shooter genre—it turns it into a puzzle game. Rather than shoot bullets, your gun launches portals that can transport you and the items around you to another location. And the game builds some fantastic environmental challenges from that premise.
While that’s all excellent, satisfying stuff, the larger impact of Portal comes from how richly developed the universe feels for such a compact adventure. It’s hilarious, tricky, and completely unlike anything you’ve ever played. And if you love it, the $20 sequel is much larger while still quite fantastic.
Ruling a nation must be tough, right? Well, Reigns ($2.99; Steam or GOG) makes it startlingly easy, although not always with very positive results for your monarchy. You’ll take the throne as the newly-crowned king and face critical decisions that impact your people in different ways—but making a choice is as simple as as swiping (or rather, clicking and dragging) left or right, Tinder-style.
Depending on your judgment, each decision can either empower your reign or lead to your rapidly-nearing downfall, so choose wisely. And when your king eventually dies, a descendent will take his place and you’ll begin anew, with fresh cards, characters, and scenarios appearing over time to shake up the storyline.
Sometimes it’s fun to let loose with a big, dumb action game, and Shank ($9.99; Steam, Mac App Store) is definitely that—in tone, at least. Inspired by Rambo and grindhouse films, this ultra-violent, side-scrolling game finds you slashing foes with all manner of blades, firearms, and even a chainsaw. It maintains its over-the-top nature throughout the compact campaign, which provides plenty of challenge throughout.
But while aggressively silly in tone, Shank is also impressively well-built, packing satisfying gameplay and slick hand-drawn graphics—and it can be played in local co-op with a second player plugging in. If you dig the original, its nearly-as-strong sequel Shank 2 is also available for the same price.
Brick-breaking games like Arkanoid and Breakout have been done to death, but the occasional innovator still comes along to shake up the old design. And Shatter ($4.99; Mac App Store) is one of the absolute best on Mac, adding unique mechanics while disrupting typical stage layouts and pumping in a whole lot of energy.
Shatter delivers small stacks of stages at once—complete with big boss battles at the end—with your ball-batting paddle able to suck in or push away blocks, plus it’s often found in varying locations on the screen. And the game makes a memorable impact not only with its mechanics, but also its glossy graphics and pulsing, perfect background beats.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing
No, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing ($9.99; Steam, Mac App Store) is not the most original game on this list—like the vast majority of go-kart racers starring familiar characters, it cribs a lot of its playbook from the Mario Kart series. And until Nintendo starts making Mac games, it’s the best option we’ve got for the particular brand of arcade racer.
Luckily, what it lacks in originality, All-Stars Racing makes up for in fun and amusing nostalgic tributes. Pulling from all over the Sega universe, including drivers and/or tracks based on niche gems like Space Channel 5 and Samba de Amigo, this colorful option delivers a delightful blast of fan service with every rocket fired.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Star Wars games have been notoriously hit-or-miss over the years, but Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic ($9.99; Steam, Mac App Store) has an undeniable legacy: It’s arguably the first game that tried to match the scale and ambition of the sci-fi universe. And it did so with an epic role-playing quest that made player choice a crucial part of the experience.
Your decisions along the way help decide whether you end up embracing the light or dark side of the Force, and the lengthy adventure is plenty entertaining as you shape your character and engage in combat. It’s a little dated now, but even after all this time, few Star Wars games come even close in terms of quality and impact.
Truth be told, we’d probably have Minecraft on this list if the price were right—but luckily, Terraria ($9.99; Steam) is more than just a poor man’s knockoff. While the games share the same focus on world creation and exploration, as well as crafting your own tools to aid in all of that, this side-scrolling rendition has its own unique flavor.
The loose structure is familiar, but once you start digging into the earth, you’ll find plenty of interesting things below: Distinctive caverns, surprising enemies, and even boss battles to take on. And for a sandbox game, Terraria has a surprising amount of personality packed in. You can easily spend dozens of hours in this one.
If you’ve got a soft spot for old-school role-playing games, you have to give Undertale ($9.99; Steam) a shot. Seemingly inspired by the oddball sensibility of 16-bit classic Earthbound, this indie campaign has a colorful retro aesthetic and plenty of humor, not to mention some interesting gameplay twists.
Rather than grind out hundreds of fights and slay countless enemies, you can actually talk your way out of combat using the game’s one-of-a-kind battle system. And like a lot of more modern RPGs, your choices along the way help shape the adventure ahead. It looks simplistic, but genre fans have fallen head-over-heels in love with this throwback tribute.
World of Goo
World of Goo ($9.99; Steam, Mac App Store) is a fantastic little indie gem that provides a series of increasingly intricate puzzles to complete. Your task? Build structures out of various balls of goo to form a bridge to the suction pipe exit in each stage. As new balls with added abilities appear, the stages themselves become more complex and challenging.
It really scales well over the course of the campaign, with some tricky (but not horribly punishing) levels on the back end—but it’s not just some dry puzzler. World of Goo succeeds in part because of its great personality, whether it’s the cartoonish aesthetic, odd hints of a back story, or the haunting original soundtrack.