15 Years!

Ideas for Games with Limited Controls

General tips:

  • You can move freely in 4 directions with only 3 keys if you have gravity. Obviously, this could easily be out-of-place or cheesy, but it could lead to interesting things. It might be a better idea to use the mouse or to limit the player’s movement.
  • Button combos can be used to do more specialized actions, although it’s best to make them intuitive. Crypt of the Necrodancer does this, although it comes up a bit short on the intuitiveness.
  • You can also double-tap, press-and-hold, and do all sorts of other stuff.
  • You can get even more mileage from buttons by making them context-sensitive. Zelda games were the first to make extensive use of this, but just about everything has a generic “use” button now.
  • You might need to automate some parts of your game. Automatically running, jumping, or doing other actions will allow your controls to be used more economically. Zelda games are a good example of auto-jumping being used well, and many endless runners demonstrate the use of running.
  • You can, if you really want, make a bunch of on-screen buttons and click them. I don’t recommend this approach in general, but it might be appropriate for certain games, like strategy titles. The Civilization series takes this approach.
  • Mice are good for more than just pointing. You can incorporate gestures, velocity, dragging, or other kinds of mouse input.

Ideas for 2D Games:

  • Platformers with left, right, jump. Alternatively replace jump with whatever you like. In games like Sonic and Mario, jumping used as an attack itself. You could also incorporate attacking in other ways, such as through the environment, or abandon attacking altogether in favor of an original mechanic. Platforming can also be done with only the mouse, as in Poptropica.
  • Point-and-click, dialogue-driven or adventure games.
  • Rhythm games? You totally could make that work.
  • Top-down games using the mouse to move (character walks towards the mouse) and using the button to either take some action or toggle to an alternate control mode such as aiming.
  • Endless runners like Canabalt, Robot Unicorn Attack, the classic Copter, or Flappy Something. Also, arcade games like Super Hexagon. You could make a mouse-controlled endless runner, which is something I haven’t seen a whole lot of.
  • Puzzle games like Nitrome’s Onekey and Rustyard where you manipulate the environment around an AI character with either the keyboard or the mouse.
  • Strategy games of every kind would work well with the mouse, or even with the keyboard if you design it carefully.
  • Some other popular mouse-only games include: Papers, Please, Don’t Starve, and FTL

Ideas for 3D Games:

  • Anything you can do in 2D you can also render in 2.5D, while potentially adding verticality or (literal) depth to the gameplay. 3D offers strictly more options than 2D, even with limited controls.
  • Flying games. As a bird, you can bank left, bank right, and flap with three buttons. Land in certain areas to talk to NPCs and make dialogue choices with the same buttons. You can also make a great flying game with mouse movement only, as evidenced by games like Air Brawl.
  • Racing games. Two keys, mouse, or accelerometer to steer, and a gas button (or brake instead, with automatic gas)
  • Frogger 2: Electric Bug-aloo with turn left, turn right, and hold and release to charge and hop. You would probably want to incorporate a guide line so the player knows how far they’ll hop with a certain charge time.
  • Any kind of runner (endless, on rails, or otherwise), where the terrain automatically scrolls in one direction and you either move within the screen space or turn. Think Temple Run, the Blue Sphere minigame from Sonic, or Star Fox 64. Interestingly, very few of these kinds of games incorporate 3D space into the gameplay very much, so there is some space to innovate there.
  • A grid-based game like Legend of Grimrock or Undercroft (although the latter is technically 2D), where you move and turn in discrete steps.
  • A room- or scene-based game. No reason you can’t make a point-and-click in full 3D – just put left and right arrows on the sides of the screen or turn when the player moves the mouse to the sides automatically. You could either click spots on the floor to walk to them, or you would walk to a fixed pivot point in each room.
  • Games like Neversoft’s Spiderman or Metroid Prime, which used a single control stick for moving and turning. You could use the mouse to emulate this behavior, although you could also use a controller or joystick.
  • A Fez-like game where you can only move in 2d or 1d, but you rotate the space via either touching in-game switches or pressing a button so that you can move in other directions.