Gateway Games: Free online games to transition you from a casual to hardcore gamer

There are a lot of people who play casual games but are afraid to take the plunge into more hardcore video games because they don’t feel up to the challenge. Well, what if I told that a lot of the so-called “mom games” like Candy Crush or Farmville are actually a great way to prepare for more traditional video games?

A lot of these simpler games are actually good entry points for playing more complex games. Often times the same basic principles required to play a casual game can be applied to some “big boy” titles. So if you are looking to take the plunge into more intense video games, here are my recommendations for beginners along with free online games to help get you ready.

Trading Card Games

gwg_hearthstoneDepending on how old you are, you might remember a show called Yu-Gi-Oh wherein a bunch of teens played life or death games using cards with various monsters and spells painted on them. Today games like these are more popular than they’ve ever been with Cartoon Network’s Card Wars and the upcoming Gwent from The Witcher series. If you think a competitive trading card game would be fun for you, I recommend trying out Hearthstone. Compared to many other intense TCGs, Hearthstone’s battle system is streamlined and only takes about 20 minutes to understand.

How to Train

You are playing Hearthstone against an opponent, and most times a human one. It is a battle of wit and mental grit because you have to make the most out of the hand you’re dealt to best your opponent. Video poker from a site like M88 online will teach you how to leverage skills like bluffing and knowing when to fold. These techniques are all about getting in your opponent’s head. If you master these skills, you’ll go far in a game like Hearthstone.

Adventure Puzzle Games


The Witness is a highly inventive and wildly beautiful 3D puzzle game where the player walks around the vibrant world solving logic puzzles. We gave it our game of the month back in January. Navigating 3D spaces mean that you will have to learn how to control two joysticks at once, one for moving the character and one for looking around. This is a great game for fledgling gamers because there is no way to lose or “die” in the game and therefore no pressure. You can take your time learning the controls and getting comfortable moving a character around in a 3D environment.

How to Train

The Witness is just a series of logic puzzles so other than learning how to move your character, you really only need to work on your deduction and reasoning skills. A game like Sudoku is great but an even better game for this kind of mental training is Picross Madness. Picross is similar to Sudoku but it is more visually oriented. You’ll have to carefully survey your surroundings in The Witness to solve some of its more complex challenges, so a game like Picross Madness is an adequate teacher.

Multiplayer Shooters


Last year, Nintendo wowed gamers with its creative take on a modern competitive shooter: Splatoon. In this game, teams of children with paint guns battle for control on various stages by trying to cover as much of the map with their own color as possible. Splatoon is very accessible to people who are new to the shooter genre because you don’t have to focus on attacking other players. Beginner players can focus on painting the map while more experienced players battle on the front lines. After you mastered moving in 3D space from playing the Witness, take a dive into Splatoon.

How to Train

Most people think that the way to excel at shooters is to be really good at shooting people. It only makes sense. However, the twitchy finger skill is only half of the battle. To really become a master of shooters, you need to understand the concept of positioning. Good positioning is an acute awareness of the map you’re playing on and where your character is on that map in relationship to your teammates and your opponents. It is just as much about knowing when to back out of a firefight as it is about running in Rambo style.

Believe it or not, the classic game of billiards will mentally train you for even the most intense shooters, if you’re going in with the right mindset. Online pool is good at teaching about positioning because it isn’t just about shooting the ball into the pockets, but also about trying to make sure you aren’t setting up your opponent. Skilled players can set up their balls to strategically block their opponents from clear shots, thus putting them at an even greater disadvantage. This mindset is similar to chess except it also requires precision to pull off these moves. The combination of skill mixed with good positioning and board awareness will translate directly into playing shooters. And after you get yourself familiar with moving a character around in a safer environment like The Witness, that transition will be even easier!

Platform Games


There is perhaps no game more famous than the classic Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The theme song and the iconic jumping noise is burned into millions of people’s minds both young and old. This is also a great game to build up your gaming chops because of its importance in video game and cultural history. Its first level is taught in game design courses worldwide because of how it teaches players the rules of the game in an organic and clever way. Platform games, where you run and jump around obstacles to get to an end goal, are a very popular genre. So if you want to really dive into video games, then there is perhaps no better entry point than Super Mario Bros.

How to Train

One of the keys to overcoming the obstacles laid out in a platform game is to master timing. Jump too late and you may fall to your death. Jump too early and it will look like you jumped to your death on purpose. For newbies, mastering the timing while pressing multiple buttons at the same time can be overwhelming.

An endless runner like Run Pixie Run only requires one button to play but it is very similar to the experience of playing Super Mario Bros. because you are moving from side to side avoiding obstacles and gathering collectibles. Run Pixie Run does a good job of guiding you around obstacles with a trail of goodies to pick up so you learn how to make split second decisions to either duck or jump. When you feel ready try out a platform game like Super Mario Bros that has a couple more buttons and see how you do.

Ultimately, if you’re interested in video games don’t be afraid to try them. Most of them won’t bite and you can usually find videos or written guides to help you get better. I think these suggestions are good jumping off points if you are new to gaming. GLHF! (That’s gamer talk for good luck and have fun)

Written by Marcus Garrett

Marcus created Top Shelf Gaming to celebrate the awesome things about the video game industry while challenging the areas of the video game community that could be improved. He loves playing guitar and eating tacos, but never at the same time.

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