Something recently got me thinking about a lot of the old-skool games I used to play back in my teenage years. Not so much the NES games, since I never owned a NES, although I did rent one from my local Stop&Shop or Blockbuster from time to time in order to play Double Dragon 2 or 3, or go over a friend's house to play Castlevania 3, which was the best Castlevania ever. I'm also not going to talk about the big RPGs of the day such as the Bards' Tale or Ultima Series, or Pool of Radiance and its gold box sequels. They were all great, but they're still well-known enough that I'm going to leave them out to talk about more obscure titles I loved.
Forbidden Forest was a terrific Commodore 64 game. Most free flash games you find on the web today have better graphics, but in its day the game was fantastic. The game had context-sensitive music, which meant that the music would change when you were killed, when you killed an enemy, or upon certain other cues which varied by level.
In the game, you played an archer who had to travel through the Forbidden Forest in order to vanquish some kind of giant evil megalord. The first level involved you fighting giant spiders. The main challenge here came from the fact that if your arrow missed, you had to turn away from the spider in order to flee. And since turning your body was the method by which you aimed, the turn was very slow, and often you'd be caught and killed before you could turn to run away. Yay for pixellated blood.
The next level had you fighting a giant bee. This really wouldn't have been incredibly hard if it weren't for the fact that the bee's movement wasn't really smooth - it sort of disappeared only to reappear right next to where it used to be. And your arrows moved so slowly that you had to more or less guess where the bee would be once your arrow reached that area.
On the next level you faced a horde of giant diseased-looking frogs who would leap at you from out of the sky. In order to kill them, you had to shoot straight up, which made turning and running away a challenge. Once you killed a preset number of frogs, you passed the level.
After that, you faced this phantom-looking guy. The wuss wouldn't attack you directly, he sent his spear-wielding skeletal minions after you. Killing them didn't get you anywhere, it just got them out of your way. To pass this level, you had to wait until this phantom guy appeared and shoot him exactly in dark space under his hood where his face would be before he disappeared again. Tough.
If you got past him, you were up to the dragon. The dragon would come at you either from the left, the right, or from off in the distance where you could see him coming. If he came from the side, you were basically stuck with running away. I'd killed him from the side a couple times, but it was not easy. If he came from the distance, (the background) you could see him coming, juking back and forth, and you could get a shot off. But if you missed, you'd better run.
After the dragon was this pathetic snake thing. Cool Indian-sounding music, but the giant snake was really a wuss.
The final boss was the tough guy. He was INVISIBLE. You were basically stuck firing into the darkness for three minutes, hoping you'd hit him. He'd occasionally appear in a flash of lightning, but using that to hit him was mostly a useless gesture. Generally, I'd hit on a random shot.
The flash intro to this Forbidden Forest site will give you a good overview of the gameplay, and the site also includes videos and music.
Racing Destruction Set was probably the best racing game ever made for the Commodore. It came with a number of prebuilt tracks, but the true beauty of this game was in customization. Firstly, it let you customize your vehicles. You could choose from many body types: The Can-am, Jeep, Baja Bug, Pickup, Stingray, Stock Car, Dirt Bike, Street Bike, Indy/Gran Prix, or the always-useless Lunar Rover. Then you'd choose your tires, which were often restricted based on your vehicle, and which affected your traction on different road surfaces. You'd also choose your engine, having to balance weight with speed and acceleration. If it was a "battle" match as opposed to a "racing" match, you could also mount oil slicks, land mines, armor, and "crushers" (think ram plates) on your car.
One of the best parts of the game was building your own track. You could build in hills, ramps, narrow roads (1-3 lanes), forks in the road, different surfaces (paved/dirt/ice), and change the track's gravity rating - everything from Jupiter to Moon. There are some great screenshots here. There's also an abandoned remake of the game which you can look at here.
World Karate was a simple game, but I got way into it in a way that I never did until I discovered Street Fighter 2, years later. With only a joystick and one button, the moves were pretty limited, but I can still remember all of them. It's beauty was in the intuitive gameplay - after a while, you no longer thought about the controls.
Autoduel has much of the same attractiveness as Racing Destruction Set, but brings it much further. Autoduel had its roots in Steve Jackson's Car Wars game, which I've played on occasion, and the degree to which you could customize a car in this game was revolutionary. You could choose dozens of weapons - machineguns, flamethrowers, rockets, lasers, oil slicks and spike-droppers, and you could mount any of them on any side of your vehicle, which made for some really interesting gameplay. You customized your armor, tires, engine, and body type as well. Mounting a recoilless rifle on the side of my vehicle and driving in circles around someone was always my favorite tactic.
But at its heart, autoduel was a RPG. You could upgrade your character as well as your vehicle, and undertake courier missions to bring packages from town to town, avoiding road-bandits along the way. I never got that far - I stopped shortly after I was contacted by the FBI - but there's no doubt that this was a great game. I'd die for a modern remake of this. They could now include turrets, linked weapons, and much more that the original game never had.
LucasArts had a ton of great games, and I was tempted to include Maniac Mansion, but instead I decided to include its much lesser-known cousin - Labyrinth. This must be one of the few games of all time which was based on a movie and does not suck. I still remember - there were all sorts of tricky ways of getting out of oubliettes. You could call an elephant, (what??) you could drink some weird potion and float out, you could put a quarter in a coin slot. It was a good puzzler in a time before online walkthroughs. If you can get your hands on a good emulator, I'd recommend it.
The Atari 2600 had some surprisingly good games. Granted, there were always the arcade ports like PacMan and Defender, but there were good original games too, like Yars Revenge. Raiders of the Lost Ark was probably my favorite of the adventure-type games. I suppose that games like this and E.T. were the predecessor to the true LucasArts games. You had to do interesting and creative things like blowing a hole in a wall with a grenade, purchasing supplies, taming a snake with a flute, grappling across mesas, and using a timepiece and sceptre to find the location of the ark. It's about as retro as you can get without playing Pong.
Kenseiden was a game on the Sega Master System, and it was a really good game. Years later, I went back and played it in an emulator and enjoyed it just as much - I just wish I had a decent controller. Kenseiden was a side-scrolling action game where you played a samurai fighting all sorts of magical creatures and demons. Each level had a boss, and there was actually a forking path as the game progressed. You could actually revisit levels. And many bosses had scrolls which would give you an additional attack move, which was one of my favorite parts of the game. After writing this, I actually feel like going home and replaying this game in an emulator.
Below the Root was a great game, but it took me forever to beat. The world was huge, and definately had a flavor unlike any other game I'd played. There was no combat - instead you'd avoid enemies when they appeared, using your shuba to glide from tree to tree. There was a lot of running and jumping, and a lot of climbing trees to get items. I don't remember a lot about the game, but I remember enjoying it quite a lot.
This game was highly ambitious and had many subtle and clever details woven into the game's universe. First of all was the social norms of Green-Sky. Theft and violence were nearly alien concepts to the books' characters. Therefore, one could not (as is common with adventure games) simply walk into a room and pocket an unattended object. One had to find the owner of the object and ask permission. Another interesting detail is that the Kindar characters (tree-born) did not get much nutrition out of eating meat, since they were vegetarians. Likewise, Wissenberries were somewhat more health-damaging to Erdlings (ground-born) characters, as Kindar often used them in rituals and ceremony in the books. It was among the first games that offered a choice of multiple protagonists, as well as a choice of gender, age, and race. Furthermore, people treated the characters differently based on your choice of avatar. A child character could be invited to play. Erdling characters could be given a chilly reception at come Kindar houses and vice versa. While the game's technology limited the extent of these features, they were certainly present.
Raid on Bungeling Bay was a very basic game. You have to engage in a war with another country using only a helicopter. Your only controls are flying around, guns, and bombs. You had to bomb weapons factories and airstrips while being attacked by tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, and jets. Those guided missiles were a bitch. And the entire time you played, the enemy was building a destroyer. If you allowed them to complete it, you were in big trouble - that destroyer was tough. To repair your helicopter or reload your bombs, you had to land on your carrier. And sometimes your carrier was attacked by jets - if you let it be destroyed, you could never again be repaired, and no matter how many lives you had left, this became your last one.
The gameplay was simple yet addictive. Great game.
I'm putting this game here at the end not because it was a fantastic game, but because it's a game I remember vividly, and I've been trying to find the name for a long time. This was a shooter where you were given a crossbow and fireballs, both with limited ammo, and put into a huge maze in search of... I can't remember what. At one point I found The Object, but that's when the big baddies came after you, (they looked like giant glowing faces) and I never was able to escape the maze after that, so I never beat the game. Those glowing face guys were tough.