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The best games for Steam Deck

The Steam Deck is the newest handheld to hit the market and aims to compete head-to-head with the likes of the Nintendo Switch. Unlike the Switch, the Steam Deck isn’t meant to double as a home console, but is more like the Switch Lite in that it is only usable in its handheld form. Also unlike the Switch, this little machine is a beast in terms of power. With access to your Steam library, there needs to be a lot of processing and graphical power to make these games run as well as PC gamers expect.

While not every game you have in your library is available to play via the Steam Deck, a good number are. If you have a Steam library as large as most people do, then sifting through all those titles in your backlog to see what to play on your brand new device might take all day. Instead, we’ve gone through all the currently verified games that play on your Steam Deck and selected the best ones to try out first.

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Tetris Effect: Connected

Four tetris wells being played.

What better way to kick off your new handheld gaming experience with most people’s first-ever handheld game. Whether it was for the original GameBoy or one of those early old cell phones, Tetris is the essential puzzle game to take on the go, and Tetris Effect: Connected is the latest and greatest the game has ever been. The sights and sounds of this game make it a complete sensory overload, yet somehow never distracts you from the actual placement and strategy of lining up the pieces just right. It is a game that will grab you and bring you into that flow state so effortlessly you’re likely to lose track of time.

Tetris Effect: Connected also includes a multiplayer component. Tetris games have tried this in the past but to mixed success. In this case, the co-op and competitive modes are both smartly designed and take advantage of what people love about playing Tetris the most without complicating things. Even if you’ve played Tetris Effect: Connected on other consoles, even the Switch version, it is never a bad time to boot up this seminal puzzle title, and it being on your Steam Deck is the perfect excuse.

Crypt of the NecroDancer

A dungeon full of monsters and treasure.

Indie games were most people’s idea of what the Steam Deck would be used for, and there are certainly plenty available to pick from. This won’t be the last one we choose, either, but why not kick it off with the rhythm rogue-lite hit, Crypt of the NecroDancer? Just like Tetris Effect: Connected, Crypt of the NecroDancer relies on music and feeling the beat, but to an even greater degree. A good pair of headphones will be essential here, since every move and attack you make, as well as the enemies, all need to follow the beat of the song.

Crypt of the NecroDancer is also a robust rogue-lite adventure. Each level you travel down is randomly generated, and there are hundreds of things to discover, unlock, and challenges to overcome. Just be warned, Crypt of the NecroDancer is a hard game. You need to be able to think and act fast, but also be strategic about when you’re acting too. It’s almost like a game of speed chess, but once you get the feel of it, it becomes incredibly rewarding. Having it on the go makes doing “just one more run” all the more tempting.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Fighting a boss in greed mode.

Speaking of indie games, specifically rogue-likes, there’s no way to ignore the king of the genre. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is unfortunately not the latest update to the game, which will hopefully be coming soon, but is some people’s favorite. Just because it doesn’t have a few of the newest features and items, that doesn’t mean this version is not worth your time. In fact, you will need a couple of hundred hours to properly see and unlock all the content in this game. The room-based progression is also perfect for the Steam Deck’s screen, as is the cute but simple art style.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has a bit of crude humor and style to it, but mechanically is a marvel. You start out each run picking your character and, typically, just having your normal tears as projectile weapons. By the end of a run, though, you might be a flying cat monster shooting electric bolts with an item that summons pillars of white light that damages enemies. Somehow all the hundreds of items all have a use and combine in crazy ways that might make you an overpowered, nearly unkillable monster, or kill you on the spot. Either way, you’ll love diving deeper into this strange game.

Cuphead

Cuphead and Mugman facing a mean flower.

Not all games need to be easy to be a good fit for a handheld. That’s not to say we haven’t listed some tougher games before this, but Cuphead is notorious for its difficulty just as much as it is for its unique art style. Based on the old cartoons of the 1930s, Cuphead is such a treat to look at that just being able to bring it with you on the go is almost enough to recommend it for your Steam Deck for that reason alone. The fact that it’s also one of the most satisfying and challenging 2D platformers, on the other hand, will either turn you off completely or be the reason you finally overcome that tough boss.

Cuphead, for as hard as it is, doesn’t have an overly complex control scheme to worry about. You are essentially just running, shooting, jumping, and parrying for the most part. The Steam Deck’s control options work wonderfully here, and might even feel better than a traditional controller. It is also a game you can play in quick bursts or long stretches depending on the situation since bosses, which will be the majority of the experience, are over fast. Either they wipe the floor with you in a couple of seconds, or you best them in a handful of minutes. Cuphead is certainly one worth showing off on the go.

Read our full Cuphead review

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Geralt looking at mountain in The Witcher 3.

The promise of the Steam Deck was that even big-budget, high graphic, hours-long adventures could also come with you via the Steam Deck. That is true right out of the gate with several titles, but by far the best has to be The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. This game was one many people were curious about seeing on the Steam Deck ever since they managed to port it to the far less powerful Switch. This version, though, will look and play far better than that, and also have the benefit of easily transferring progress between your PC and Steam Deck. There’s also not a lot in the game that requires extreme precision or spotting tiny details that might be harder on a small screen.

Being a potentially hundreds of hours long RPG, the option to take bites out of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt while on the go, or even just take it with you to bed, might finally make it conceivable to finish this massive game. Even if you would rather keep the story and action side of the game for the big screen, there are tons of other activities you can do that would be perfect in handheld. Gwent, for example, seems like it was made for the Steam Deck.

Read our full The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review


Hollow Knight

The knight fighting a giant armored bug with a hammer.

What left is there to say about Hollow Knight at this point? If you somehow haven’t heard of this beautiful, haunting, and tough-as-nails (slight pun there) Metroidvania, there are no more excuses not to play it. Hollow Knight was perfect for the Nintendo Switch, not to say it isn’t just as good on a TV or monitor, but feels so much more at home on a portable machine. Now that we can run it on the Steam Deck, you can explore the creepy, moist, and deadly world of Hallownest wherever you like.

Being a Metroidvania, Hollow Knight is all about exploration. Team Cherry went above and beyond when designing the map of this game. It is so vast and varied yet organic, and never feels too difficult or tedious to get where you need to go. The platforming feels tight and precise, as does the simple combat mechanics. Bosses will put you to the test just like a Souls boss, but all have tells and weaknesses that make them fair once you recognize how to respond to each of their actions. Hollow Knight is the shining example of a modern Metroidvania that begs to be played on the go.

Celeste

Madeline swimming near blue and green blocks.

The Steam Deck doesn’t have Mario, but you almost don’t need him when you have a game like Celeste. This pixel platformer has a simple look but is one of the most highly regarded games of the genre for both its mechanics and story. That being said, just because the art style is old-school doesn’t mean it isn’t a beautiful game. Each screen is lovingly crafted, and the animations are fluid and appealing. It will not be impacted in the slightest by being put on a smaller screen, and may even benefit in some ways. On the gameplay front, this is another 2D game that will easily translate control-wise onto the Steam Deck.

While Celeste is known to be a pretty hard game, it is also one of the most accessible. There shouldn’t be a reason you couldn’t effectively play it on the Steam Deck as intended, but all the ways you can modify difficulty will still be there if needed. The Assist Mode options can let you tweak the game speed, how much stamina you have for climbing, the number of dashes, invincibility, and even letting you completely skip chapters. Celeste gives you all the tools you need to enjoy the story, and the screen-based challenges will be a blast to play handheld.

Persona 4 Golden

Yu about to use a skill in battle.

It all comes full circle here. Persona 4 originally hit the PS2 exclusively, with the expanded version, Persona 4 Golden, only launching on the PS Vita. Over a decade later, it finally came to Steam so PC players could enjoy one of the best JRPGs ever made. Thanks to the Steam Deck, this once handheld exclusive can once again be played on the go. Even though Persona 4 Golden is the only game in the series to be fully portable, the format and pacing of the games all feel tailor-made for being played on the go. It might not be the latest and greatest Persona game, but the characters, story, and gameplay are still some of the best in the genre.

The format of a modern Persona game is split between daily life and social simulation, and the combat dungeons. Persona 4 Golden runs on a calendar system where you have a set amount of time each day to do different things, and a set amount of days to accomplish each main mission. Each day is bite-sized, where you can choose to hang out with a friend, go to work, study, and complete other tasks to improve your character in different ways. Or you can go into the dungeon and start working your way towards the boss, fighting and capturing new Personas on the way. Combat is turn-based and completely tactical, so you won’t have to worry about getting distracted or having to suddenly stop while playing out and about.

Into the Breach

A mech looking at a ruined city.

From the makers of FTL, Into the Breach is a dangerously addictive tactical rogue-lite. Even when the game first came out for PC, people immediately asked when it would be available on mobile devices, and while it eventually did come to Switch, the new Steam Deck version will be the definitive way to play it. The game is focused around a time loop, as many rogue-lites are, where you play as a team of soldiers piloting various mechs that need to protect humanity from an invasion of alien bug creatures called Vek. If, or rather when, you lose, your main pilot travels back in time to try again. Similar again to Persona 4 Golden, Into the Breach’s structure is absolutely perfect for the Steam Deck.

Combat is completely turn-based, but more than that, you also get to see what the enemy will do next turn. This information makes it possible, if you’re clever enough, to move, attack, and reposition the enemy during your turn so that the enemy’s turn doesn’t deal any damage to you or the civilian buildings you need to protect. Between missions, you will need to select what missions you want to do from the map, upgrade your mechs with the limited resources you get, try and make it through each of the game’s islands, and defeat the Vek once and for all. Unlocking new mech teams with new powers changes up your strategy on a fundamental level, so there’s a lot to ponder when diving Into the Breach.

Slay the Spire

Using a zap card to hit an enemy with lightning.

We mentioned Gwent when talking about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but for a full-on card-based experience that has already proven to be perfect for handheld gaming, Slay the Spire might just be the best ever made. Card games are a natural fit for shorter playtimes, or times when you might get distracted periodically, thanks to their turn-based nature. That’s all true for Slay the Spire, but the additional rouge-lite elements keep every run unique and genuinely addicting. The controls and UI are simple, especially once you get a feel for them, so it will only be a matter of time before you can fly through commands, play cards, use items, and slay enemies on the Steam Deck controls.

Like Into the Breach, Slay the Spire shows you exactly what each enemy you’re facing intends to do before they do it. What cards you get is random, though you can build and cut your deck as you go to improve it, so there is a major element of adaptability. You will also need to plan your route through each act, deciding how many enemies you want to risk fighting, campfires you want to rest at, and shops to visit. There are unlockables galore, including characters that all play so differently they might as well be bespoke card games at that point. If you haven’t already lost dozens of hours to Slay the Spire, you certainly will once you can bring it anywhere with the Steam Deck.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Wolf stepping on a samurai's spear.

Finally, because we know someone is going to do it, there are the Souls games. Of the ones available to start, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will put you to the test most, even if you’re a Souls veteran. Before getting too deep into it, this pick is probably only for those who want to show off. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, in the most ideal situation, is not an easy game. Combat is faster than any other Souls title, but just as deadly and unforgiving if you panic or try to brute force it. Learning and reacting to your enemies, especially bosses, is the only way you can overcome it since there’s no way to grind or power up your character artificially. There are also no other builds or range of weapons to try out. It’s just you, your sword, a prosthetic tool, and your foe.

Parrying is the name of the game in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which means timing is more important than ever. As long as the Steam Deck is responsive enough, there’s no real reason it should hold you back from being able to play at the top level, with the only exception being if the screen is too small to read an enemy’s attack animations properly. However, unlike the other Souls games, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice does lend itself better to the mobile format since it is the only mainline game where you can actually pause the game. In the mainline Souls games, pausing doesn’t actually freeze the world outside the menu, meaning you can still get hit and killed, but thankfully that isn’t true here. If you’re brave enough, put your patience and Steam Deck to the test with this ultra-tough action game. Just be careful not to throw it out of frustration.

Read our full Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice review


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