Most of my gaming experience, and most of what I intent to write about, is with the retro era home consoles – the NES, SNES, and Genesis. And, of course, some arcade games, but mostly through emulation. The very first gaming experiences I ever had, however, were with early PC games, from the DOS period in the early and mid ’90s. Since these games are often overlooked among retro gamers, I thought I would write a little about the very first games I ever played.25 Best Arcade Games (1994?)
My dad had one of those early CDs with lots of shareware games and software on it, misleadingly titled “arcade” games. Not only were none of them arcade ports, few of them even resembled arcade-style games. But it was this lowly CD compilation that introduced me to two awesome PC DOS game trilogies – Jill of the Jungle and Xargon. Interestingly enough, they were made by the same studio that developed the Unreal engine, Epic Games. Then, they were known as “Epic Megagames.”
The menu looked just like this
Because we had a Windows PC and not a true DOS PC, some of the games wouldn’t install correctly, or would crash. Or, the sound wouldn’t work. I remember waiting anxiously to see which games would work as we went down the list of 25. Jill of the Jungle (1992)
Jill of the Jungle was possibly the first video game I ever played and definitely the first I ever beat. It was a pretty simple sidescrolling platformer with some puzzle-solving elements, as well as the ability to acquire various projectile weapons. There were three of these games, all pretty similar and with identical graphics, sound, and gameplay mechanics.
Things I remember here were that like a number of platformers at the time, there were different death animations depending on how you died - fire, spikes, projectiles, etc. Which meant that as a kid, you tried to die all the different ways to see the different animations. The other thing I distinctly recall was that there would be certain empty rooms, tunnels, or ledges that were inaccessible, and I always wanted to see what was in or down there. The ending scenes of the games would also feature Jill jumping through landscapes that never appeared in a game, which I always wished I could explore.
I also remember when I got my dad to order the trilogy, it came on a set of diskettes. And finally, while Jill was a pixilated sprite resembling Mario on the NES in the game, she was a voluptuous jungle babe on the manual. Balloonz (Unknown year)
This game, unfortunately, I’ve never been able to find again, even on the old hard drive that it used to be installed on. It was a sidescrolling obstacle game, with a main character that resembled the man from Balloon Fight on the NES. You scrolled through space, avoiding stars which would pop your balloons. You tapped a key to rise up a little bit and let go of the key to fall slowly.
Graphically it was very simple but fun to look at. The background was pure black, and the stars were white, and that was about it. The balloons were red, I believe. It almost looked like one of those early screensavers on PCs. This was one of my favorites, and if anyone has a file for it, I’d love to know.
It looked a lot like this
The Xargon games were a sort of update to the Jill trilogy. Same basic mechanics, but with much better graphics. They looked a lot like SNES or Genesis games. This time, there was also a silly story about the main character, an archaeologist named Malvineous Havershim (say that 10 times fast) falling asleep while excavating and entering the culture he was studying, or something. It also featured a cool overhead map that, funnily, looks almost exactly like the world map from Shaq Fu.
The levels were larger and more confusing here, and I always got stuck somewhere. Back then there was no YouTube to go look up a level trick. However, I loved the adventurous feel of the game, and the fact that when I got stuck on one of the games, I could switch to another in the trilogy. As far as I recall though, I never beat any of them. Time to dust off the old diskettes?Pacific General et. al. (1990s)
Technically I didn’t play these, nor did I particularly like them. I’m talking about those turn-based strategy games with the hexagonal boards, sort of like electronic versions of the old Avalon Hill games. I used to watch my dad play them on the old PC. I don’t remember which titles he had because they all looked the same to me, but they were interesting to watch, especially seeing what the computer’s side did in response. There was one in particular where whenever you blew up enemy assets, it would flash a skull over the destroyed equipment. I used to especially wait to see that.Conclusion
I know there are dozens of other DOS games, like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Commander Keen, Duke Nukem, Jazz Jackrabbit, a number of Star Wars titles, etc, etc, etc. I wish I could talk more about DOS games but I really only played a handful of them.
Still, just comparing the few I did play to the same era’s console games, there were some differences. The DOS games always seemed bigger and slightly less linear to me, and more fascinating. Maybe this was because most of them had very small development teams and so had more personal quirks and visions. I also think PC gaming has tended to be more “intellectual” in some ways, for example with text games forming the basis of PC gaming and lots of early computer research taking place in universities.
And of course there were always lots of puzzle games, point-and-click adventures, and neat interactive stuff like Under a Killing Moon. PC DOS games seemed more diverse as a whole than console games.
Somehow, I miss these
DOS games also feel further away now that most compatible computers are long gone and even emulating them can be difficult. One day I’ll set up a retro gaming PC, but for now I’m content to share and reminisce.
Addison Del Mastro
Video gamer since the '90s and starting as a video game writer. I'm interested in the history, technology, and culture of retrogaming, both now and in the original "retro" era.