Grab a seat, get a snack, and let’s dive into the the best part of the old internet.
10. Universal Paperclips
Yet another idle game, but no wait stop, please keep reading because this one is different. We blogged about it when it first came out because it provided a unique narrative experience so rarely seen in a browser-based click-this-button game. And almost a year later — even after getting to the (spoilers!) very good and introspective ending — Universal Paper clips still holds up; it’s worth revisiting. I know, I just sunk 30 minutes into it by accident. — Joey Cosco
9. Line Rider
Line Rider represents a unique time in the webgame continuum. A lot of people might remember it as that fun, barebones game with just two buttons: “draw” and “undo”. Those people might be surprised to learn the little guy on the sled managed to get around: Line Rider earned real video game titles on the Nintendo DS and Wii. And to this day, the webgame still has a pretty vibrant community. — Joey Cosco
8. World’s Hardest Game
This is the web games version of “I Wanna Be The Guy.” They really aren’t kidding when they say it’s the “World’s Hardest Game.” Here’s a fun thing to do: watch someone speedrun it, and then play it yourself. — Steve Rousseau
7. The N Games
Platforming was never really the speciality of web games. Something about the keyboard just feels clumsy compared to a controller. And yet, The “N” series of platformers, through its artstyle, mechanics and level design, made you want to play a platformer on a keyboard. In fact, it’s so good that you can play the latest installment “N++” on your Nintendo Switch right now. Everything has, apparently, come full circle. — Steve Rousseau
It’s not a web game in the traditional sense. You aren’t controlling anything. It’s not exactly a mindless time-waster, but as something that got you and your friends huddled around a computer for hours on end quiz website Sporcle is definitely one of the best web games. — Steve Rousseau
Dark Souls before Dark Souls was Dark Souls. Playing QWOP is an exercise in both discipline and masochism. It’s also a wild four-finger workout. And if you’ve managed to beat it, you should check out developer Bennet Foddy’s latest game, “Getting Over It With Bennet Foddy.” — Joey Cosco
4. Frog Fractions
An absurdist masterpiece. Frog Fractions perfectly captures the feeling of being on the internet in all its weirdness and humor and unpredictability. Progressing through its vastly varying stages is frustratingly difficult and intuitive and sublime and stupid all at once. To this day I still say something is “like Frog Fractions” if I want to pay it my highest compliment. Check out this documentary on the game’s development here. — Joey Cosco
3. Cookie Clicker
This baby just turned 5 and it’s still clickin’. An icon of the idle game genre, Cookie Clicker is a masterclass in careful game design that combines clever writing, beautiful artwork, endless replay value and surprisingly thought-provoking philosophy. All right in your browser window. — Joey Cosco
In terms of web games, “RuneScape” is easily the most ambitious: an entire massively-multiplayer online role playing game, playable in your browser. First released in 2001, Jagex’s “RuneScape” hit on a lot of web firsts that are still in play today. It was one of the first browser games to use, albeit primitive, 3D graphics. It was one of the first free-to-play games in the model we have come to love or loathe today. It was one of the first games to truly corner the bored teen market games like “Minecraft” and now “Fortnite” would later come to dominate.
Looking at sheer player numbers, “RuneScape” became the “Most Popular Free MMORPG” in 2008 according to the Guiness Book of World Records. In 2013 the game split between the lovingly janky “RuneScape 2” and the updated, more-polished “RuneScape 3”. But based on player sentiment, the game peaked in 2007 — which its culture is still trying to chase those first highs, even a decade later.
While more hardcore fans are reticent to call the officially sanctioned “old School RuneScape” a fully authentic experience, it’s still there for you. And you can still spam “Buying GF” in chat. Because that joke never got old. — Steve Rousseau
1. Helicopter Game
There are plenty of games online that are like the “Helicopter Game.” Simple premise, simple controls, simple graphics. You could argue that there are even some games on this very list that do some things better than the “Helicopter Game.” And we would agree with you.
But when terms of “web game”-ness, the combination of mechanics and visuals manages to do something that not every web game can: transport you directly to the ’00s web. Yes, it still plays great. It still has the ability to waste 5 minutes or 5 hours. It is exactly as you remember it, which, upon revisiting some of your old favorites, is rarely the case.
In putting this list together we learned two things. The number of web games released in the ’00s is a beautiful, raw and sprawling mess of titles that, with each passing day, becomes a little harder to access. The places that once hosted these games are fading away, the archives are crumbling and it’s only getting worse.
“The Helicopter Game” might not be the best web game out there. I’m sure you folks will have plenty of suggestions as to what games are deserving of this spot. But for us, the “Helicopter Game” is the best existing example of everything web games did right. — Steve Rousseau