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12/15/2020

Top 111 PC Games, #90-81

90. The Incredible Toon Machine (Jeff Tunnell Productions, 1994/1996)

The Incredible Toon Machine (originally released as "Sid and Al's Incredible Toons") is an offshoot of the Incredible Machine series which adds cartoon logic into the mix, pitting the titular characters against one another on the backdrop of a series of puzzles.  To this end, you'll fire catapults, utilize lights and magnifying glasses to burn things, use elaborate systems of ropes, pulleys and conveyor belts to transport objects, and, of course, cause mayhem with anvils, dynamite, revolvers and bombs.  The between-level cutscenes in the CD release were also a lot of fun, having Sidney Mouse and Al E. Cat (voiced by Rob Paulsen and Jim Cummings respectively) explain your objectives with bits of animation and plenty of jokes.  Oddly the game also had a Japan-exclusive reskin for the Playstation and Sega Saturn, changing the objects and characters to ones from the Ghosts n' Goblins franchise.

89. One Must Fall: 2097 (Diversions Entertainment, 1994)

Fighting games were definitely the hot genre throughout the '90s; Street Fighter II was a huge hit in the arcades, so everyone was trying to make their own similarly-styled fighters to cash in, sometimes quite successfully (Mortal Kombat and King of Fighters being two prominent examples).  The PC didn't get too many well-received fighters of its own, but One Must Fall: 2097 definitely stood out from the pack.  It had style to spare with its anime-inspired characters and story and smoothly-animated combatants, and quite a bit of gameplay variety - there were ten robots to choose from, each with their own sets of special moves and flashy combos, and your choice of pilot would tweak their parameters, changing up how they play.  There were stage hazards too (like jets that fly overhead and bombard the arena with bullets), which definitely kept you on your toes.  The game was released as freeware in 1999, so you can check it out for yourself at no cost.

88. Abuse (Crack dot Com, 1996)

A run-and-gun shooter that plays like one part Contra, one part Doom and one part Smash TV, Abuse was like nothing else on PC at the time.  Basically a 2D platformer with 360-degree movement and aiming via the mouse, the game took advantage by having enemies be fast and ruthless and come at you from every angle, quickly overwhelming you if you weren't careful.  Of course, it also took cues from games like Doom with multiple hidden secrets and powerups to find in each stage and even a few alternate pathways to discover. Its source code has also been released, allowing it to get ports to multiple platforms, so there's no excuse to not check out Abuse. 

87. SimTower/Yoot Tower (OpenBook/OPeNBooK9003, 1994/1998)

Despite the name, SimTower technically isn't part of the Maxis software toy line.  Rather, it was developed by Yutaka "Yoot" Saito, released in Japan as "The Tower" and published by Maxis in the rest of the world using their Sim brand.  It was an easy mistake to make though, considering it can aptly be described as "SimCity fit into a single building".  You build an ever-expanding tower, provide it amenities like condos, apartment buildings, fast food chains, offices and so forth, keep them all connected via stairs and elevators, and try to manage the chaos that inevitably results.  Tenants complain about noise, lengthy trips to their dwellings and roach infestations (and may move out if they're not fixed) and various disasters can strike at random, like fires or terrorists planting bombs and demanding a hefty ransom.  The sequel, localized by Sega as "Yoot Tower", is more of the same, though with new amenities to build and several scenarios with distinct goals, like a tourist resort at Kegon Falls and a Hawaiian hotel.  A number of expansions were released in Japan centered on new locations like the Statue of Liberty and Kyoto Station which likewise have their own amenities and sets of goals to meet, but sadly none of these ever got brought over.  An unfortunately never-patched bug in the Windows version also causes the program to crash whenever you load a save for the Kegon Falls scenario, so play the Mac version of Yoot Tower if at all possible.

86. Shadowgate (Zojoi, 2014)

An updated remake of the classic point-and-click adventure game from the 1980s, Shadowgate's 2014 iteration was downright inspired.  The game's narrative was significantly expanded over its predecessor, new puzzles and obstacles were added, and elements of the original were changed up a lot, meaning that the old solutions to  puzzles no longer work (and, in fact, will frequently result in your death).  The game also features multiple difficulty levels that further shuffle puzzles and clues as well as lend some replay value to a genre largely lacking in it.  And of course, the remixed music and updated visuals effectively portray a grim atmosphere that only makes the game's story even more compelling.  Bring on the remake of Beyond Shadowgate!

85. Epic Pinball (Digital Extremes, 1993)

While I'm not really a big fan of video pinball games, a few have managed to grab my attention over the years due to their brilliant execution.  Epic Pinball is definitely one of them; a huge mainstay on shareware discs and even having limited versions included with some OEM computers back in the day, it certainly impressed me with its high-fidelity and colorful graphics, fantastic music and the sheer variety it brings to the proceedings; the CD version of the game includes a whopping 13 tables to play on.  They also match a variety of themes, from race cars to futuristic androids to a bizarre, threadbare table called the "Enigma" that awards bonuses based on a cryptic set of conditions.  Good stuff all around, whether you're a pinball fanatic or not.

84. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (CyberDreams, 1995)

A point-and-click adventure based on the Harlan Ellison story, which sparked quite a lot of controversy for its twisted themes that depicted all the worst elements of humanity.  While the protagonists are far from innocent (one notably being a Nazi doctor with a story set in a death camp), its themes of redemption and overcoming failure won out, turning it into a very compelling story even if its puzzles were not always the best and the voice acting was, as per the period, mediocre (save for AM, voiced by Ellison himself, who is clearly having a lot of fun with the role).  It's recently gotten a number of modern ports thanks to Nightdive, and the original is playable in both DOSBox and ScummVM, so it's well worth a look for fans of good stories.

83. Organ Trail (The Men Who Wear Many Hats, 2010)

A game which is very clearly a parody of/tribute to the classic "The Oregon Trail", though it does much to set itself apart too and become a fine title in its own right.  Visually it resembles its predecessor with its low-color visuals and hatched graphics to simulate shading in particular scenes, but gameplay-wise it's a very different beast.  Instead of a wagon you drive a beaten-up car, and you'll frequently have to choose between different routes, fend off attacking bikers or hordes of zombies, and occasionally shoot it out with bandits.  Radiation, infection and vehicle breakdowns are constant threats, and scavenging enough supplies to make it to the end are an endeavor in themselves.  A game that melds humor, grim atmosphere and a constant sense of unease and uncertainty together in perfect fashion, Organ Trail is a fine homophonic homage.

82. Castle of the Winds (Saadasoft, 1993)

Dungeon crawlers have always been a pretty PC-centric genre; various attempts at creating them on consoles have usually been met with relatively lukewarm reception or relegation to cult classic status at best (Atlus's Etrian Odyssey being one of the more well-known examples).  Out of all of the games in this vast genre, though, Castle of the Winds has to be one of my favorites, in no small part because it manages to be relatively easy to pick up and play while retaining the challenge the genre is known for.  Simplistic yet charming Windows 3.1 visuals, a window-based interface and a relatively bare-bones yet still captivating story also make it an enjoyable experience, and let's be honest, it's always fun carving your way through an entire swath of ogres or giants and emerging victorious with enough loot to buy a luxurious mansion, only to spend it on some better equipment instead.

81. Sid Meier's Pirates! (Microprose, 1987)

Sid Meier's Pirates! is one of the first sandbox games I'm aware of, putting you in the role of a would-be captain in the Caribbean who seizes a ship with a small crew, and from there, you're pretty much just left to your own devices.  You can curry favor with any of the four nations by becoming a privateer, hunt down pirates for money and status, capture ships and raid towns for loot to sell at a profit, seek out enormous treasure troves, track down your abducted family members, or just make money through honest trading.  Once you choose to retire (or are forced into it by age/declining health), your score gets tallied up and you learn just how successful you were.  The heavily-randomized and dynamic game world also made every playthrough distinct, so there is no sure-fire strategy for getting a top score.  It also had a remake in 1993 called Pirates! Gold which added more content, and another. more minigame-focused remake for consoles and PC in 2004 under the same name.