As my disability progresses, I find it cumbersome to navigate a keyboard and mouse simultaneously in computer games. PlayStation or Xbox controllers are inaccessible for me right out of the box, so I’ve gravitated toward mouse-only games in the past few years as my primary source of computer entertainment. I can still enjoy the occasional first-person shooter if the keys are remappable, but even then, it’s hard to manage multiple buttons and engage in quick mouse reflexes. Even worse is when designers insist on using button mashing as a mechanic, like in the Telltale Walking Dead games (seriously, stop), which frustrates abled and disabled gamers alike. While mouse-only is a great alternative for disabled individuals, it also creates a streamlined user experience for those who don’t require accessibility hacks.

Below you’ll find some of my favorite mouse-only games I’ve played recently, all available on Steam. Let me know what you think of my picks, share your own in the comments below, or send a tweet to @geekygimp!

Rusty Lake screenshot, the family tree with small pictures of family nailed to itRusty Lake: Roots

Developed and published by Rusty Lake

Initially, I was attracted to this game because of its historical content and muted colors in the trailer. At its core, it’s a simple point-and-click puzzler, but the story and its twists save it from the monotony present in similar games. In Rusty Lake: Roots, you play through a series of story-driven puzzles on a family tree, while learning the history of this unsettling, macabre family. Every time you complete a level, the tree branches off and introduces new family members with their unique sets of mysteries. There were moments in the story that were too disturbing, and sometimes I had to pull away to recoup before playing again. But otherwise, I devoured this game and would recommend it to anyone with a gothic streak. I also suggest Rusty Lake Hotel, its predecessor – a shorter but equally intriguing game.

Aviary Attorney screen grab, two birds drawn in 19th century styleAviary Attorney

Developed and published by Sketchy Logic

Sparrowson and Falcon are lawyers in 19th century Paris, inspecting murders and other crimes at high-profile spots like the Louvre and Notre Dame. These two attorneys are also birds. Like, real birds, but ones that make hilarious puns and riff on each other when investigations get dangerous – as they often do. Aviary Attorney is a more of a visual novel than a game, with choose-your-own-adventure mechanics that lead to unique endings for our feathered duo. There are four chapters, each one tying into the overarching narrative, and each one ending in a humorous (but difficult!) courtroom scene. The in-game world isn’t just populated with birds, as there are cats, hippos, rabbits, and other creatures around. Adding to the charm of this game are beautiful illustrations from a 19th-century caricaturist; there’s also a classical soundtrack that builds on to the atmosphere. Enjoy talking birds in your games? Try Hatoful Boyfriend, a romantic twist on the aviary genre.

The Charnel House Trilogy / Richard & Alice

Developed and published by Owl Cave

I’m lumping these two games together since they are by the same studio and offer a similar experience. The Charnel House Trilogy is an indie horror game that frightens through theme rather than jump scares or gore tactics. You play as a young woman traveling alone on a train to Augur Peak, recovering from a break-up. The actual meaning behind this trip unveils slowly, building suspense and manipulating the player’s headspace to buy into the unsettling theme. Like Rusty Lake’s games, Charnel House is disturbing in unexpected ways. Richard & Alice is a different story, involving a man and woman trapped in a run-down prison, cut off from the outside world. As far as they know, everyone they loved is dead, succumbing to the unending blizzard Richard and Alice sought to escape. Most of the story takes place in Alice’s flashbacks, which set the pace of the game; the use of dialog and timing was engrossing, making you anticipate every moment. While somewhat predictable, the story stayed with me months after playing.

Screen grab of JULIA Among the Stars, a ship headed toward an orange planet surrounded by rocks field J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars

Developed and published by CBE Software s.r.o.

While I haven’t completed this game yet, I had to highlight it in this post. It’s a brilliant use of point-and-click, stretching the mechanic to cover a diverse set of puzzles and story. You play as Rachel, an astrobiologist who wakes up in a panic after being frozen in a cryogenic state on a space probe. Within moments, you realize you are the last survivor; your only companions are the probe’s AI and a talking exploration rover. There’s a solar system awaiting discovery, and your crew of three travel to different planets, completing quests and investigating what went wrong. The user interface makes J.U.L.I.A. feel like a richer game than traditional mouse-only titles; rather than relying on one type of puzzle (like hidden object), there is a smorgasbord of objectives wrapped in breathtaking cut scenes and detailed environments. My only complaint is the text size – it’s small, without a way to make it bigger. It wasn’t a problem for me, but it will prove troublesome for those with vision-related disabilities.

Screen grab of two claymation people sitting in an empty room, a cardboard box as their tableThe Dream Machine

Developed by Cockroach Inc., published by The Sleeping Machine

This entire game is a stop-motion masterpiece built by two indie designers using clay and other objects. The Dream Machine is a point-and-click adventure that travels between a mundane yet mysterious reality, and a dream world filled with a spectrum of characters and narrative-driven puzzles. You play as Victor, a young man and soon-to-be father trying to save his girlfriend and the rest of the world from The Dream Machine, which allows a powerful being to infiltrate anyone’s dreams and alter them indefinitely; that’s all I can say without spoiling it. The art and music here are charming, and even creepy when the plot calls for it. If you’re looking for a unique style, The Dream Machine is it.

What are some mouse-only games you’ve enjoyed? I’m always looking for recommendations, so please share those titles in the comments!

4 thoughts on “The Accessibility of Mouse-Only Games, and Five Favorites

  1. I love turn based strategy, and most of those I use nothing but mouse controls. I love all of the Sid Meier’s Civilization games, and I’m also a big fan of the King’s Bounty franchise as well.
    Both offer tons of replayability and fun!

    • I’ve tried getting into turn-based strategy, but I haven’t found anything that grabs me. But yes, they are usually mouse only, which is awesome. Thanks for reading!

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