Retro Rewind: PC Classics

I’ve discussed retro PC games a number of times on this site. In fact, some of my earliest posts were focused on games from the classic Wizardry series. But when I started discussing PC games, I quickly jumped ahead from the 80’s to the 90’s to take a look at titles like Wolfenstein 3D, and Doom. The truth is, PC games from the 80’s deserve quite a bit more attention than I’ve given them previously.

The very first PC game I ever played was called Castle Adventure. I encountered it when I was maybe seven or eight years old.  Now, at this point in my life I was no stranger to video games. I owned an Atari 2600, but I guess I just didn’t realize that you could actually play games on a personal computer. I remember walking down the hall at my friend’s house and seeing his older brother sitting at his desk. At this point, I always imagined computers were exclusively for data crunching and other obscure uses. When I noticed his brother was playing a game, I was a bit puzzled. I stood next to him and watched, completely enthralled.

Now, Castle Adventure was very basic sort of game. It had ASCII graphics so it wasn’t anything particularly exciting to look at. But it captivated me nonetheless. The point of the game is to explore a castle, find treasure, and escape. That simple. But despite it’s simplicity, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring every nook and cranny of the game. I was a fan.

Today, a faithful ground-up remake of Castle Adventure is available here for Windows:  CASTLE ADVENTURE .  It isn’t pretty, but if you’re curious, it’s the purest experience one can get.

Castle Adventure

When my family finally purchased a PC of our own, I naturally asked my father for some games. A few days later, he came home from work with a stack of floppy disks that a co-worker had copied for him. Now, back in those days, piracy was not that big of a deal. Making a copy of a game for a friend was as simple as having two floppy disks and knowing how to type “diskcopy” into the DOS prompt. The stack contained titles like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Battle Chess, etc. All fun, I’m sure, but nothing I saw really caught my eye. That is, until I got to the very last game in the stack. A disk that was obscurely titled “ZORK”.

Of all the games my father brought home that day, ZORK ended up being my favorite. ZORK is an interactive text-based adventure game. It is actually quite a bit older than Castle Adventure. In fact, ZORK is just about as old as I am.  When I say it’s a text-based game, that means exactly what it sounds like. There’s no graphics, just words. For example, the game will present a scenario much like this:

“You are standing in a field in front of a large wooden house, facing south. There is a road leading to the east and west. A forest lies to the north.”

The player then has to type commands to drive the game forward. For example “Walk North” or simply “North”. The game then describes the next set of events. Players can enter command like “Open door” or  “take sword”. The entire game is played in this fashion.

ZORK

I couldn’t began to guess the amount of hours I spent with this game. And I wasn’t alone either, ZORK was extremely successful. Over the years it spawned a slew of sequels. I’m proud to say, I’ve played every entry in the series and despite being extremely “old school”, they are still quite enjoyable. These days, all of the ZORK games are available on Steam and GOG. I plan on reviewing them collectively at some point in the future.

Naturally, as technology continued to improve, this type of game would eventually be combined with visuals. One of the earliest examples I remember playing was a game called Transylvania. Oh, how I loved that game…  It took the basic gameplay elements from games like ZORK and gave you some crude graphics to enhance your immersion. There were three games in the Transylvania series, but sadly none of them are officially available on any platform today. For me, these games were just amazing. What I wouldn’t give to see some sort of remake or re-release. But, considering how I’ve never met another person who’s even heard of them… I won’t hold my breath.

Transylvania

It was games like these that prepared me for a game that might very well be my favorite game of all time, Wizardry. I’ve talked about the Wizardry games in detail on this site. So I won’t be rehashing them again with this post. But, any discussion of old-school PC games would be amiss without a mention of the series. In fact, when it comes to classic CRPGs, old grognards like myself usually fall into one of two factions. The Wizardry fans and the Ultima fans.

Like Wizardry, Ultima is a series of games that has also reached legendary status. Together, these two franchises set the bar for nearly all future RPGs. Games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest would not exist if it wasn’t for these titles.

I could spend hours writing about the impact these games had on me, and I will eventually. In fact, I plan to start a complete playthrough of the Ultima series in very near future. But for now, let’s move on. There’s so much more ground to cover.

The PC played host to countless classic RPGs; Bard’s Tale, Might & Magic, and King’s Quest for example. But RPGs were not the only thing that made PC’s great. Educational games were exceptionally popular on the platform. You’d be hard pressed to find someone my age who doesn’t have fond memories of titles like Where In the World is Carmen Sandeigo? or Oregon Trail. But the PC also played host to a vast library of action games like Commander Keen and Prince of Persia.

Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego?

As part of my Retro Rewind project, I plan to occasionally revisit some of these gems from the depth of the vault and hopefully introduce them to a new audience.  As I mentioned above, I’m going to start with Ultima. This is a game series that I’ve wanted to review for quite some time, but never took the time to do so. When I was young, I played through the first eight chapters in the Ultima saga, but I never finished the entire series.  The time to complete Ultima is upon us! Once I publish this article I’m taking a brief respite from both my Retro Rewind articles and my regular backlog list to focus exclusively on the series. I hope you enjoy it.

Retro Rewind: Nintendo Entertainment System

So far in my Retro Rewind series, I’ve talked a bit about classic coin-op arcade games, as well as some of the earliest home console games made popular by the Atari 2600. But no discussion of retro gaming is complete without mentioning the Nintendo Entertainment System. This is the machine that took gaming and changed it from being just a casual pastime, and turned it into a real hobby.

Now, I’ve discussed the NES and many of its classic games in great length on this site in the past, so I’m not going to rehash any of that with this post. Instead, I want to talk a bit about how best to experience these classic games today.

In recent years, a number of NES titles have been available to gamers through both the Wii/Wii U virtual console service and the 3DS eShop. Sadly, the Virtual Console does not exist on Nintendo’s most recent hardware, the Nintendo Switch. Instead, Nintendo has replaced it with a subscription-based online service. This service features a number of classic games already, with new ones rolling out as time goes on. This is great for some. But many gamers, myself included, don’t like to sit and wait on a specific game to become available for play.  So what’s the best option? Well, if you’re asking my opinion on the best way to experience classic NES games today, I’d have to point you to the NES Classic Edition.

Much like the Atari Flashback console I discussed in a prior post, the NES Classic is an all-in-one box. You simply plug it into the TV and go. It’s just that easy. The system comes pre-loaded with thirty games, many of which are fan favorites. Let’s take a look at what’s included:

Balloon Fight, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania, Castlevania II, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Double Dragon II, Dr. Mario, Excitebite, Final Fantasy, Galaga, Ghost n’ Goblins, Gradius, Ice Climber, Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventure, Mario Bros., Mega Man 2, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Pac-Man, Punch Out!!, Star Tropics, Super Contra, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, Tecmo Bowl, Legend of Zelda, Zelda II.

That’s certainly an impressive list. But one that includes some interesting gaps. For example, the NES Classic features Double Dragon II, but not the original Double Dragon. Same thing with Mega Man. Now, I understand the reasoning behind this. Double Dragon II offers a much better two-player experience, just as Mega Man 2 is a much more iconic game that the original Mega Man. But what if you still want to play these or even other old school NES games? Well, there’s a solution. But, this is where things get a bit shady…

You can put other games on the NES Classic. It is possible, and actually quite easy to load your own ROMs onto the system. In fact, it’s almost as if Nintendo purposely built the unit with this in mind. First off, while the NES Classic only comes with thirty games installed, it actually has enough free space to hold hundreds. Installing other titles is as simple as plugging the system to your PC via USB and moving files over. Of course, actually getting game ROMS is the sketchy part of the whole equation. It’s not illegal to possess, or even use ROM flashes of NES games. But it is illegal to download them without possessing a copy of the same game. Of course, Nintendo ROMS are readily available all over the internet if you know where to look. So, do with this information what you will…

That being said, if you ever wanted to experience rare Japanese-exclusive games like the original 8-bit version of Final Fantasy II or eve the controversial Megami Tensei games without having to resort to setting up emulator software, this is your best solution. No more tinkering with controller settings or setting up the emulator to work with your device. Just drop the ROMs in the directory and go.

For this reason, the NES Classic is what I recommend for everyday 8-bit NES gaming. Now that I’ve taken a moment to discuss this system and its potential, I’ll be using it to fill in some of the gaps in my backlog foir future posts. Thus making Retro Rewind Reviews a recurring feature on this site.