12 of the best games for your Linux netbook

Why should Windows users have all the fun?

Frets on Fire Defcon

We recently had a look at games that run smoothly on Windows netbooks, proving that Atom powered machines pack enough punch to be handheld console killers, much to consternation of the laptop industry.

The myths persist, however, when it comes to their Linux-based brethren. The operating system is perceived as largely functional and, importantly, free rather than any fun at all, restricted purely to office tasks and web browsing.

Saving money doesn't mean banishing all joy, though. In fact, nearly every game in the Windows list will work just fine on a Linux netbook using the Windows emulation utility, Wine. Then there's all the Flash gaming content and browser-gaming sites out there that will run perfectly, too.

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More important, though, is the wealth of free and open source games that are available, many of which are coded specifically to run on low end hardware. There are hundreds, of varying quality, which are worth checking out, and we've picked 12 of the best.

A quick note before we begin our rundown. The customised Linux kernels that many netbooks run - like Xandros on the Eee - are brilliant for quick booting and utility use, but they can prove tricky to install new software on. If you're not already running one, you'll have to consider installing something like Eeebuntu or one of the low overhead Mandriva distributions on your netbook to make the process of adding games to your collection pain-free.

12. You Have To Burn The Rope
Free - www.mazapan.se/games/BurnTheRope.php
A good place to start looking for innovative games that won't stress the system is the short-list of the Independent Games Festival awards - the event that spawned the incredible Portal. Not everything is of that quality, but YHTBTR shows off the kind of quirky thinking of many indie developers well.

11. MAME
Free - mamedev.org
One advantage of using a full Linux distribution is that you'll find many games and apps in the standard repositories, which are a one click download and install. The MAME project (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) has been going on for years, and can allow you to play arcade and console games from the 90s (including Atari ST and Amiga classics) if you have the original game code handy.

Free - torcs/sourceforge.net
You can't mention Linux gaming without mentioning TORCS, The Open Source Racing Car Simulator. It may not be quite as slick as the latest Need For Speed, but neither do you need an uber-rig to run it - indeed you'll get it going on low settings on an Eee.

9. Super Tux/Super Tux Kart
Free - supertux.lethargik.org, supertuxkart.sourceforge.net
Again, we can't not mention these stalwarts of Linux gaming, although they've been around seemingly forever. Super Tux is a clone of the Italian plumbering platformer, Super Mario. Guess what Super Tux Kart is a bit like...?

8. Coil
Free - komix-games.com
Another of the finalists from the Independent Games Festival, Coil is a bizarre art-meets-gaming-with-haunting-music-Flash affair. The chances are you'll sit at a blank screen as there's no instructions and what you to do is fairly odd, but the clue is in the title. Give it a go for something different.

7. LinCity NG
Free - lincity-ng.berlios.de
Another Linux essential is this spin on SimCity. Just like the Maxis title of yore you have to build and maintain a thriving metropolis. Winning the game can be achieved by colonising space, and version 2.0 was released just last month.

6. Defcon
£6 - www.introversion.com
There's a fully working Linux client for this beautifully simple strategy game - based on 80s movie WarGames - from Introversion. All you need is a CD key from the Windows game to start nuking the world.

5. Dyson
Free - www.dyson-game.com
The last of our picks from the Independent Games Festival, Dyson is a strategy game that involves conquering asteroids using... well... it's hard describe as everything is highly abstracted, but it comes together beautifully well and has a Linux native installer.

4. Darwinia/Multiwinia
£8/£16 - www.introversion.co.uk
As a developer, Introversion specialises in games that are rewarding to play rather than look fancy. The genre-defying Darwinia runs natively on Linux, but its lightly coded follow up is so good that we've included it as the only game requiring Wine on the list, too.

3. Warzone 2100 Resurrection
Free - wz2100.net
One of the best RTS games ever released, Warzone 2100 looks and plays like a modern game, not something from the late 90s - which it actually is. Saved from oblivion by a dedicated team of programmers who've kept it alive, updated it and released the source code for Linux.

2. Frets on Fire
Free - fretsonfire.sourceforge.net
You know you can get a Wii controller working with a Linux PC, right? Stands to reason you should be able to get a Guitar Hero instrument working to play this awesome clone on your EeePC too. Arguably better than the real thing, Frets On Fire can import songs from your own sources.

1. DooM Legacy
Free - sourceforge.net/projects/doomlegacy
It probably shouldn't be top of the tree, but netbooks are so good at retro that not installing DooM Legacy and reliving the game that basically defined shooters as we know them today would be a crime. Even though it looks basic, it's still incredibly good fun to play and the in-game sounds have become part of our aural lexicon.