For some, nothing was more exhilarating in high school than playing a cool calculator game right in front of the teacher’s face while she thinks you’re graphing some crazy parabolic curve. Every kid who’s privy to the beat on the street knows that the first thing to do after persuading your parents to buy you a $100 Texas Instruments graphing calculator is to grab a link cable and get some Space Invaders and Final Fantasy on that sleek machine.
Some might ask, why play games on a graphing calculator with rudimentary graphics and no sound, when there are superior portable gaming options these days? That’s like asking a mountain climber why he climbs Mt Everest when there are easier mountains to climb. The climber will answer: because it is there. Thus we program and play TI-83 games because we can. Some do it for the sheer rush of subverting a learning tool for gaming purposes, while others revel in the glorious union between serious math and utter frivolity.
The TI-83 (including the TI-83+ and TI-83+ SE) is one of the most criminally overlooked gaming platforms in all of so-called games journalism, and its gaming powers aren’t just limited to the RPGs we’re covering today. For more TI resources, including basic tutorials and game downloads, head to ticalc.org.
And for the record, this article’s affiliation with GamesRadar’s so-called “Week of Geek” is tenuous at best, since the broad appeal of TI-83 gaming is undeniable.
While not truly among the top five TI-83 RPGs of all time (other serious RPGs like The Verdante Forest or Shadow of Narkemen are technically superior), Drug Wars must be included here simply because it’s the quintessential TI-83 experience that everyone who’s anyone with a TI graphing calculator has played. As the drug dealer protagonist, your goal is simply to buy and sell enough drugs to pay off your loan from the loan shark with some cool change to spare.
Drug Wars has spawned many variations and clones, including Dope Wars, Drug Lord, Hobo Wars, Whore Wars, Nerd Wars and so forth. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for DS even features a version of Drug Wars in the form of a persistent, interactive drug-based economy where the player must smuggle limited inventory while balancing a risk-to-reward ratio.
This is one of two amazing series to make our list by BASIC programming mastermind Kevin Ouellet, who is truly a pioneer in his field. Not only do both of these grayscale marvels astound with their gorgeous graphics, but both boast thoughtful design as well, packed with tons of puzzles along with tense battles.
Above: Reuben Quest: The Lost Mirror - Final area (WARNING: SPOILERS)
With its open world, non-linear story and several possible endings, Dying Eyes could be called the Chrono Trigger of TI-83 games. Here’s a brief plot set-up in creator Alex Highland’s own words:
“You are Kurai, a horrible murderer who ravaged the countryside. You got thrown in prison, and expected to rot there forever. The only reason you didn’t take to the knife or noose and end it all, is your lover Akara, a single thread to the outside world. Then one day...”
Are you hooked yet? If not, you’re probably one of those people who doesn’t have any interests in life.
Above: Dying Eyes is available in English and French
Another Kevin Ouellet masterpiece, the Reign of Legends series is still one of the most impressive examples of BASIC programming to date on the TI-83. Each entry in the ROL series is comprised of fairly typical RPG fare, but what makes the series so special is simply the robustness of the experience compared to other TI RPGs.
With its moody, Alien-esque sci-fi atmosphere and eerie sense of mystery, Desolate had to take top honors here. You start out waking from cryostasis after your spaceship was heavily damaged during a severe meteor shower, and while you seem physically unscathed, you were somehow left with total amnesia. The other passengers have perished gruesomely, and you must gather the courage to explore the ship to unravel clues about who you are and exactly what happened to the ship.
Above: Desolate - beginning
BONUS: Three ways to thwart your real-life enemies using a TI-83
1) Keep a special set of programs for when that insufferable meathead invariably comes up to you five minutes before the math test and asks you for a program that he thinks will magically allow him to ace the test. Instead of giving him the legit quadratic formula program, give him a special doctored one that only outputs the correct answer half the time (or none, if you’re brave). If he calls you out on it later, it should be easy to convince him that he inputted the numbers wrong. Ask to see his calculator under the guise of checking the program and delete the evidence.
2) If a jerk comes up to you in class and asks you how to use a particular calculator function, tell him you don’t know how even though you really do, just to be unhelpful.
3) To thwart those ruffians who aim to steal your valuable calculator in order to sell it on the black market, decorate it with all manner of stickers and flair unappealing to thieves, like Sailor Moon stickers and educationally motivating stickers that say stuff like “COOL AND CALCULATING.” A calculator like that can rest easy sitting out in the open without fear of ending up like this.
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