The following article(s) are entirely the opinion of the author, and as such do not reflect any official ranking or rating.
Since the 1980s, millions of us have grown up with a PC in the home, and playing games has been a big part of many people's childhood. For a long time I’ve wanted to showcase a top fifty ranking for classic PC games, so please do enjoy the following. Hopefully some of these fantastic games will bring back fond memories, so please continue the list with me, with numbers 40 through 31.
40. Alley Cat
Year Released: 1983
Being the oldest game on this list by a number of years, Alley Cat was created for the Atari 8-bit PC and eventually ported to DOS. It was a basic single screen platform game where you control a small black cat named Freddy in his quest to reach Felicia, his love interest. Throughout the levels, various obstacles uniquely dangerous to a cat present themselves; a ravenous dog, electric eels in a fish tank (and drowning in said fish tank), an annoying and seemingly sentient broom, and a massive spider (bigger than the cat). Successfully completing the levels returns you to the main screen where you must chase Felicia around various windows, and then challenge other cats for her affections. Alley Cat probably wouldn’t win any awards for brilliant level design or stunning visuals, but it was a cute wee title with somewhat of a cult following.
39. Battle Chess
Year Released: 1988
This incredibly polished PC version of one of the world’s most popular games (Chess has been around since the sixth century) showed that chess doesn’t need to be just for adults. Featuring great and varied animation when conquering different pieces on the board and a decent AI, Battle Chess spawned a generation of mildly adequate chess players. Some of the animations even reference Monty Python and Indiana Jones. There was a version of this game for almost every gaming platform of the era, proving without doubt its outstanding popularity and replay value. In 1996, Computer Gaming Worldranked it at #106 in its Best Games of All Time list. Battle Chess was the chess game for the PC.
38. Rescue Rover
Year Released: 1991
Rescue Rover was another brilliant example of shareware from the early nineties and another game id Software created to fulfil their contract with Softdisk (see Shadow Knights). You played as Roger, a young boy whose dog Rover seemed to somehow be captured by robots persistently. So naturally it falls to Roger to rescue him over 30 levels (10 in the shareware version), avoiding such obstacles as lasers and four flavours of robot. Essentially a puzzle game, you would push crates around, reflect lasers with mirrors and open doors with pass cards throughout your quest. Rover was as cute as he was undependable, and you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him when seeing him trapped behind a fortress of steel and hot red beams of death. A sequel, Rescue Rover 2, was created but the original remains the true classic.
37. Ironman Off-Road
Year Released: 1989
My first introduction to Ironman Off-Road came at the local arcade (like many of you, I suspect). Perfectly suited for the wonderful machines with three steering wheels and 6 pedals, you couldn’t get a more complete multiplayer racing experience at the time. Ported onto most popular platforms, the game sold very well, and you could even get a version on cassette tape! The key attributes to Off-Road were the quick response time of the vehicles (even when traversing very rough terrain) and the intelligent track design. Ironman Off-Road was also one of the earlier games to offer upgrades to vehicles (Street Rod was released at around the same time). More than any other game I remember, Ironman epitomises classic multiplayer arcade gaming.
36. California Games
Year Released: 1987
Ah California Games, a classic if there ever were one. One of the most popular games of 1987, California Games was released on pretty much every platform available at the time, and the sales reflected this. With six different sports to choose from including the half-pipe, surfing and BMX, there was always something to do. Those who have played this great game will remember a few of the quirks - kicking the foot bag into the seagull, seeing a shark or dolphin when you fall off your surfboard, or the UFO abducting the Flying Disc athlete. The game also featured numerous sponsors in its game play (depending on the platform) such as Kawasaki, Casio and Milton Bradley.
35. Duke Nukem
Year Released: 1991
Duke Nukem was the game that started it all. Created in 1991 but set in the ‘near future’ of 1997, our favourite self-proclaimed hero of the Earth must stop Doctor Proton from taking over the world with robots. What on the surface was a pretty standard side-scrolling shooter was boosted immeasurably by Duke and his tough-guy persona, as well as fantastic weaponry and enemies throughout the game. The greatest achievement of Duke Nukem however was the platform it created for the future of the franchise, spawning one of the coolest (and most famous) characters in all gaming history. The game was followed by Duke Nukem 2 in 1993 and Duke Nukem 3D in 1996. We do not speak of the most recent iteration.
Year Released: 1995
An adaptation of Terminal Velocity (but not a sequel), Fury3 seemed almost omnipresent on home PCs of the mid-1990s. Like Monster Truck Madness, a demo was offered on the Windows 95 Game Sampler CD which would half explain why. Its popularity was likely strengthened by good reviews, praised for smooth gameplay and furious action. One feature of note, however, was that the game supported only up to 320x200 resolution. Fury 3 was one of the first games I recall that had a truly 3D, entirely explorable environment, especially for a game based in the air. Poor marks would be need to be given for average graphics and repetitiveness. Still, Fury3 will be remembered especially for storming through underground tunnels and dogfighting as well as for being innovative and great fun.
33. Deadly Tide
Year Released: 1996
Possibly more than any other classic game in this list, Deadly Tide was ahead of its time. This popular rail shooter sported graphics that even games from 1999 were struggling to match. Granted, there were two main reasons for this; the levels and scenes were essentially pre-rendered 360º scenes (this is why you couldn’t go wherever you wanted), and also the game shipped on four CDs. This in an era when most games wouldn’t fill even a single CD with data. Based in 2445, in Deadly Tide you pilot the last fighter remaining to protect the Earth (particularly the oceans) from a massive alien invasion. Aliens have caused sea levels to rise covering 88% of the land surface, thus many of the levels are in areas that were once above the sea. Though not necessarily a timeless masterpiece, Microsoft certainly created a game that could only be described as epic.A spin-off movie titled Blue Planet was planned, but this was canned due to funding limitations.
32. Beavis and Butthead in Virtual Stupidity
Year Released: 1995
Yet another title that featured on the Windows 95 Game Sampler CD, Virtual Stupidity was one of the only games (especially for its time) that did its alternative media justice. Crude, hilarious and a down right blast to play, the game garnered a cult following much like the show it was based upon. The theory goes that Highland, Texas is a fictional town somewhere near the border with New Mexico (so says Mike Judge), and couldn’t be a better representation of the character of small town suburban USA for youths in the early nineties. Within the game were mini-games; many will remember the hook-a-loogie game from the roof of Highland High. Virtual Stupidity gets points for not taking itself seriously, and presenting the world of Beavis and Butthead to me before I even knew there was a hit TV show.
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Year Released: 1993
SimFarm wasn’t known for its exciting or challenging game play. Nor was it known for its stunning graphics or sound. Of all the games on this list, SimFarm is probably the least thrilling. But there was something about it, a certain quirkiness that kept aspiring strawberry barons at work. To this day I’m still not sure exactly what the draw was for the young gamer in me. Maybe it was the hundreds of sheep roaming around in a perfectly built paddock, or the crop dusting plane you couldn’t help but crash into these sheep. Maybe it was betting on your cousin at the local rodeo, or meticulously keeping your crops free of pests and disease to ensure a perfect harvest. Whatever it was, SimFarm was a decent spin-off of SimCity, one that went comparatively unnoticed.
Don’t forget to check out the upcoming Part Three, or jump back to Part One as we countdown my top 50 classic PC games.