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12/15/2020

Top 111 PC Games, #111-101

 This was a challenging list for me to come up with, as I've never really been a die-hard PC gamer by any means. However, I was always fascinated by how different its library was from what I had gotten used to on consoles - for the most part, games on computer platforms, particularly in the '90s era, were a very different experience in that they had so much more ambition to them. Like most of the best-known console developers, they were always pushing technology to its limits, but they also had to contend with a huge variety of different hardware setups and operating systems, which made their games considerably more difficult to develop and run. Still, it was all worth it to play some very in-depth and interesting experiences that consoles simply couldn't deliver, whether due to a more limited player interface or just not having the technological capabilities computers could provide. And of course, it is quite nice to still be able to play nearly all of them today, even if many do require fan patches or virtual machines or some other emulation option in order to run on modern hardware.  Still, with things like DOSBox and PCem or a little fan-patching for newer Windows stuff, a lot of them are still very playable.

The only criteria I chose for this list is that all of my picks must have been designed with a computer platform as its primary release (and have a release gap of at least three months between any console ports), or be PC-exclusive.  Oh, and they have to still be fun to play today, too.

As ever, keep in mind that this are my personal picks and no-one else's.  Oh, and these are by no means the only PC games I like.  Trust me, I had no shortage of trouble sticking to my rules and narrowing this down to only 111!

But I did list off a few honorable mentions if that's your sort of thing.

111. Commander Blood (Cryo Interactive, 1994)

The sequel to the 1988 cult classic "Captain Blood", a game as well known for its trippy writing and outlandish premise as for its exploration-driven gameplay.  That definitely returned for the sequel, being amplified by the advent of CD-based FMV.  A combination of CGI animation and practical effects are employed to portray all the strange alien locales and characters, and the absurd and flighty dialog only adds to the surreal mood.  Top it off with a funky and original eurobeat soundtrack, and you get an unforgettable experience of pure spectacle.  There was one more game in the series - Big Bug Bang - but as it's only available in French, few gamers outside that part of the world have experienced it.

110. Alone in the Dark (Infogrames, 1992)

A rare example of a 90s western-developed game that made a big splash in Japan; in fact, nearly all of the tropes defined here (tank controls, fixed camera angles, limited items and tons of inventory puzzles) would later become popularized by Capcom's Resident Evil series, which would go on to become one of the most successful horror franchises of all time.  Alone in the Dark wouldn't fare nearly as well, though, with each game in the series seemingly just getting worse and worse.  The original was still a fun one, though, with some nicely creepy moments even with the comically crude 3D models, a clever storyline steeped in the Lovecraft mythos, and and plenty of traps and horrors waiting to kill you.

109. Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo's Curse (Viacom New Media, 1994)

A tie-in to the Nickelodeon horror anthology show, which plays out much like an episode of it, even featuring the Midnight Society for the framing device around the story (with the player telling the Tale of Orpheo's Curse in hopes of becoming a member).  The game itself is also a surprisingly good point-and-click adventure, with environments rendered from still photos and CGI, a lot of bizarre sights to see and some eerie music making for a surprisingly creepy and tense experience.  Even the acting in-game is surprisingly good and the puzzles actually make sense, so it's a good experience despite being a horror themed title for kids.  Sadly it hasn't resurfaced on any digital platforms owing to licensing issues, but it's still relatively cheap if you can find it secondhand.

108. Round 42 (Elven Software Company, 1986)

Computers in the '80s were mostly still thought of as "business machines" and as a result weren't really built for the kind of fast-paced action and animation seen in arcade and console games.  Several games tried to replicate that style anyway with varying degrees of success, but one that really did succeed was Round 42.  Distributed as shareware, it ran in an obscure CGA mode (160x100 resolution) that allowed up to 16 colors onscreen at a time and for the animation to be much faster and smoother.  Taking advantage of that, you progress through 42 stages of increasingly bizarre action, shooting down everything from birds to hopping faces to spheres.  A fun little callback to simplistic Atari games with all the surreal atmosphere and bloopy sound effects, and just a damn good way to kill a few minutes even today.

107. Magic: The Gathering (aka Shandalar) (Microprose, 1997)

Magic: the Gathering is the granddaddy of all collectible card games, and it began all the way back in the early '90s.  As popular as it became, a number of video game adaptations would naturally follow, including an online game launched in 2002 that continues to this day and incorporates new expansions as they are released.  But before all that started off, Microprose created a version of Magic that proved to be quite a bit of fun.  Not only did it let you build your own decks to duel against computer opponents and feature extensive tutorials (with gloriously cheesy FMVs that combined CGI and live actors), but it even had a full-fledged RPG mode where the player tried to save the land from five evil mages, and make no mistake, it was an RPG; defeated opponents would give currency to let the player buy new cards, they would ante up new cards or clues to puzzles as a reward for victory, there were a number of dungeons to earn rewards from (usually in the form of temporary advantages for the next few duels), and one could even upgrade their own character with more starting Life Points and other advantages.  There were even a few expansion sets (Spells of the Ancients, Duels of the Planeswalkers and the unofficial ManaLink) that added new card decks, online multiplayer support and fixed various bugs in the original release. Really cool stuff on the whole, and it still holds up surprisingly well today.

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

The first game to bear Sid Meier's name right on the cover, and it was also a pretty unique and innovative game for it's time.  Taking place in the age of piracy, you pick a nationality, a time to begin your career and a skill for your character, and from there, you're pretty much left to your own devices.  You can become a pirate, a privateer, a pirate hunter, a treasure seeker, or any combination thereof.  You can also seek prestige and favor from any of the major powers, and once your career has ended, you get a score based on how much land, prestige and wealth you accrued, how many of your lost family members you rescued and whether you successfully wed a governor's daughter.  A pretty clever early take on sandbox gaming that's still fun today.  It also had enough of a following to get a multi-platform remake in 1993 (Pirates Gold) and another remake in 2004 for Xbox and PC with a heavier focus on minigames.

105. D/Generation (Robert Cook, 1991)

An action-puzzle game with nicely-detailed isometric graphics and smooth controls, D/Generation also had atmosphere in spades thanks to its bleak cyberpunk setting, a surprisingly good storyline (revealed through NPC dialog and computer files) and a huge variety of traps waiting to nail you.  At first they're relatively self-explanatory - electrified floor tiles, turrets, land mines, et cetera, but they quickly get more and more devious as you go.  Probably the worst are the shapeshifting enemies, which can disguise themselves as hostages or even just as mundane objects in the environment, quickly making the game a much more tense endeavor.  One can also find the occasional bomb to blow down doors and skip some puzzles, though as these tend to be rare, they should be used sparingly.  The game never got a lot of attention in its day, though it has acquired enough of a cult following over the years to get a re-release on the Nintendo Switch (as well as a 3D remake, released at nearly the same time).  No matter what platform you visit it on, though, D/Generation is a game worth your while.

104. Beavis and Butt-Head in Virtual Stupidity (ICOM Simulations, 1995)

Beavis and Butt-Head were a pretty big cultural phenomenon in the '90s, with an animated MTV show that was crude, tasteless, endlessly stupid and yet uproariously funny.  They had a number of video game adaptations of varying quality, but this one surprised me when I saw it; after all, ICOM are best known for creating well-regarded 80's point-and-click adventures like Shadowgate, Deja Vu and The Uninvited.  They'd mostly lapsed into mediocre licensed tie-ins by the time the '90s rolled around, but Virtual Stupidity showed that they still had their talent. It captures the spirit of the show flawlessly (having Mike Judge writing and reprising his role as most of the show's major characters certainly plays a big part there), and even includes a couple of minigames to change things up or just provide a brief break from the main game.  Hell, they even stuck in a few of the duo's famous music video commentaries as a very welcome bonus.

103. MDK (Shiny Entertainment, 1997)

A downright surreal action-shooter-platformer hybrid that could only have come to us from the company that created Earthworm Jim.  The Giger-esque visuals and story about enormous alien mobile cities strip-mining the planet make it sound pretty grim and nightmarish on paper, but the quirky humor throughout adds plenty of levity, with shooting galleries of aliens that childishly taunt the player, clever moments like having to disguise yourself as a robot to sneak through a heavily guarded corridor, and outlandish powerups and weapons like "the World's Most Interesting Bomb" and "the Very Large Hamster Hammer".

102. Crystal Caves (Apogee Software, 1991)

Platformers were not an easy thing to do on computers in the '80s and early '90s; most IBM-compatibles weren't really designed for the type of smooth scrolling and animation consoles could produce, and of course keyboards weren't built for the type of fast-paced twitch gameplay seen in games like Super Mario Bros or Mega Man.  Some attempts were made regardless, though, and Crystal Caves is certainly one of the more memorable outings.  Starring the bumbling Mylo Steamwitz throughout his journeys to build a fortune, you ventured through various mines, dodging enemies, collecting treasures and trying to avoid various hazards or, in a pinch, destroy them with your rocket launcher.  In 2020 an HD remake was released, adding a new episode to play through as well as a level editor (with Steam Workshop support!) to let you build and share new levels with your friends.

101. Silpheed (Game Arts/Sierra On-Line, 1986-1989)

Originally released for the PC-8801 in Japan,  then ported to other computer platforms by Sierra On-Line, Silpheed was a pretty awesome game for its time, with smoothly animated, fast-paced shoot-em-up gameplay that was a pretty rare sight on home computers, as well as some innovative features like interchangeable weapons and even a crude damage model - once your shields were depleted, subsequent hits would damage your engine (slowing your movement and making it more jittery) and even disable one of your weapons before another hit took you out, which helped ramp up the tension during those crazy battles.  It even had some good, kickass music in its later ports - so kickass that Sierra released a cassette tape demo of how good it could actually sound on a sound card and even included a $20 coupon for an Adlib card in the box.