From The Lost Vikings to Commander Keen, PC gamers have plenty of titles to look back on when rekindling their love for classic titles on the platform. Though the genre was extremely hit-and-miss, more than a few games managed to stand out amidst the din. Here are ten of those games.
Designed by the Bitmap Brothers, Gods cast the player as the legendary Hercules in his quest to achieve immortality. It could be said that the game was God of War before Kratos usurped that throne more than a decade later.
In Gods, the player had to venture through various Greek-inspired environments that seemed to bear a hint of H.R. Giger’s style. The player solved puzzles and acquired various weapons and upgrades throughout the game, allowing the player to defeat each of the game’s four Guardians at the end of every area. In this sense, Gods was very much like Bitmap Brothers’ other title, Xenon 2 Megablast.
“Hail to the King, baby.” Duke Nukem parodied the homo-erotically charged and steroid-laden heroes of 1980s action movies in his first game–a platformer–long before swarms of zit-faced adolescents hailed Duke Nukem as the godfather of first person shooters.
Like many other games at the time, it didn’t take itself seriously. Also missing were the helpless strippers, who were only added in the third and 3D installment of the game. Duke spent most of his time collecting keycards and flying around on a jetpack in this one.
Jill of the Jungle
Released as a trilogy of platform games by Epic MegaGames (now Epic Games) in 1992, Jill of the Jungle put players in the place of an Amazon instead of the typical macho man character. Jill made her way through dozens of levels, using various weapons and she could even transform into various animals to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in a very Castlevania-like manner.
The game poked fun at many competing platform games, with newspaper excerpts lambasting the likes of Commander Keen and Duke Nukem. It was even remade by a Christian game developer to promote bible teachings.
The success of Jill of the Jungle allowed Epic MegaGames to create Jazz Jackrabbit, One Must Fall: 2097 and eventually the Unreal series of games. The rest, as they say, is history.
Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame
Sequel to Jordan Mechner’s classic Prince of Persia game, POP2 builds upon the first game by offering better graphics, better sound and needless to say, it’s better in pretty much every way. With a larger variety of locations and more interesting enemies, Prince of Persia 2 was everything you’d look for in a sequel.
Like the first game, Prince of Persia 2 operates contains a timer that counts down in real time. With unlimited lives, your only opponent (besides Jaffar’s henchmen) was time itself.
Before there were Rabbids, there was Rayman. It was a breath of fresh air, and Rayman 2 brought the series to even greater heights.
Rayman featured a strange, blonde-haired creature with disembodied arms and legs who had to rescue a bunch of wild animals from the clutches of some suitably nefarious villain. Notable for both for its great soundtrack and for Michel Ancel’s creative vision, Rayman had levels made entirely out of music notes and other unique environments.
Jazz Jackrabbit 2
Sequelitis affected games even back in the day, and a popular game like Jazz Jackrabbit was no exception. The sequel added Spaz, who was a Tails to Jazz’s Sonic. Spaz was basically a spastic, drugged out bunny who acted like he was tripping on acid.
As with the first game, Jazz Jackrabbit 2 was a fast-paced platform game with the addition of weapons you could pick up and use against a bunch of evil turtles who kidnapped Jazz’s rabbit girlfriend. I guess it was a twist on the rabbit and turtle fable, and one that came out years before Furries would forever sully anthropomorphic animal characters.
Aside from its wacky story and single player mode, Jazz Jackrabbit 2 had some pretty awesome multiplayer servers where multiple players could duke it out in death-match and even play games of Capture the Flag.
The Lost Vikings
The Lost Vikings was one of Blizzard’s first games, and one that fans everywhere wish would be revived, or simply remade for current generation platforms. In the Lost Vikings, you controlled three separate characters–three vikings, each with a unique ability.
Abducted by aliens, the Lost Vikings had to find their way home, first by escaping captivity and then by exploring the innards of the alien ship. Confronted by a myriad of obstacles, you had to use each viking’s specific ability–either separately or together with the other vikings–to figure out puzzles and bypass traps.
The game mechanic has since been replicated to some extent in newer games like Trine and Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.
Another World / Out of this World
Designed and developed by Eric Chahi, Another World (also referred to as Out of this World, and Outer World) is highly lauded for its (then state of the art) rotoscoped graphics. The game featured a silent protagonist (Lester Chaykin) whose storyline was not unlike that of Gordon Freeman’s in Half-Life.
Transported to another world as an unforeseen consequence to a failed experiment with a particle accelerator that goes haywire during a freak lightning storm, Lester is eventually captured and enslaved by humanoid aliens. With the help of another prisoner, Lester must escape the prison.
Another World is particularly notable for its steep difficulty curve and unforgiving skill-based gameplay.
Update: Apparently, I’m also one of those people who often gets Flashback and Another World confused for the same game.
Abuse was a pretty unique game for its time. Resembling a side-scrolling platform game, Abuse veered away from traditional control schemes by using the keyboard to move the protagonist and the mouse to aim his weapon. It was kind of like playing a side-scrolling version of Syndicate.
Abuse was developed for the MS Dos and eventually ported to the Mac OS by Bungie (Yes, that Bungie).
Commander Keen Series
The only game on this list to have its entire series mentioned would have to be Commander Keen. As far as platformers go, the Commander Keen games were as hard as they came.
Playing the role of 8-year old Billy Blaze, also known as “Commander Keen”, the series spans across 7 games (With Martian Dreams counting as Commander Keen 3.5) across time and space. Developed by id Software and published by Apogee, Commander Keen was the brainchild of Tom Hall and programmed by John Carmack, who later became known for his work on Doom and Quake. The Keen series was developed exclusively as a PC title, and as a response to SNES platformers.
The Commander Keen series surpassed its counterparts on every gaming platform in every way, from core platforming and puzzle solving mechanics and even to its design and writing. Mario may get all the fame for being the first original platform game, but Commander Keen deserves the credit for bringing the PC as a viable gaming platform to prominence.