Get your nostalgia on with these retro time suckers.
It all started with a tweet from a stranger called Jake…
We’re a pack of (mostly) millennial-aged, fairly nerdy folk at BugHerd, so when I posed the question “What was your favourite classic PC game?” in our #random Slack channel, it blew up.
Turns out many of us had some great memories as kids and teens, trying to clock DOS games late into the night.
If clothing trends, the return of the polaroid camera, and Stranger Things are anything to go by, what was cool once will no doubt be cool again. So after reflecting with the team on the hours we spent trying to kill that final boss, we’ve put together a list of our fave classic PC games, and where you can play them.
HOW TO PLAY CLASSIC PC GAMES
Before we press onto the game list, there are a few ways you can access classic games, for free or a minimal fee. We always recommend paying for great software that you love!
- GOG.COM: Chances are the game you want has been remastered and lives on GOG.
- STEAM CLASSIC: Similar to GOG, Steam has a huge library, including many of the classics often cheaper than GOG.
- FROM THE PUBLISHER: If the game has been through plenty of versions, it’s likely the publisher has offered the original version as a free play. Worth checking!
- DOSBOX: If you want to revisit the good old days of DOS commands, you can try this DOS emulator. You might want to consult the PC Gaming Wiki to refresh your memory!
- IN BROWSER EMULATORS: There are heaps of sites like Classic Reload, Classic Games and Arcade Spot let you load and play the game on a browser-based emulator for free. It’s hard to save game progress and the games can be slow to render.
There is no way we could agree on a top 10 or even 20 games. Instead, we’ve grouped our faves into genres so you can skip ahead to your preferred. We’ve also done the homework and popped all the games and links into the below resource for you. Let the games begin!
CLASSIC ADVENTURE / ROLE-PLAYING (RPG)
This was by far the most popular category within our team. Titles like Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island and Sam n Max Hit the Road have warm (sometimes frustrating) places in our hearts…
KINGS QUEST (1984): Top of the list is Kings Quest and its amazing series. It’s a point and click game with a narrative treasure hunt and thousands of things to click on (and die from clicking on). You can play the series on GOG.
MYST (1993): With incredible visuals at the time was the game Myst. Divinely beautiful to look at and divinely difficult. This non-linear sandbox game has so many complex puzzles and pieces to discover it’s a genuine time sink. The developers have offered up a free-play version here.
LEISURESUIT LARRY (1987): This extremely non-PG game was a mission to get Larry laid. Larry died frequently and easily. The game has not stood the test of time in regards to sexual health, treatment of sex-workers and well… anything, but it sure does bring back some memories of playing it (probably) far too young. Grab Larry on Steam.
RETRO PLATFORM / ARCADE
We’ve singled these ones out due to their skill level required, or how much skill you need to develop to complete them. Classics such as Mortal Kombat have continuously evolved to sell new versions today. We wish some of these had joined them…
COMMANDER KEEN (1990): This super addictive, colourful side-scrolling game became a hugely popular series. Your goal is to defend the Earth and the galaxy from alien threats with a homemade spaceship, rayguns, and pogo stick. Simple! Play Commander Keen 1 on Steam.
JILL OF THE JUNGLE (1992): An arcade, Nintendo style game released as shareware (free) version in 1992. To get you hooked, or spiked (which happens a lot during gameplay). Eventually scrapped in favour of the cult-classic Jazz Jackrabbit, Jill was exceptionally fun and quite difficult to master. Play Jill of the Jungle here.
DIGGER (1983): Digger. Is. Amazing. Kind of like an upgraded Pacman, the goal of the game is to dig horizontal and vertical tunnels to excavate treasure, avoiding monsters of course. It’s so much fun. Digger is available to play free here.
CLASSIC 3D FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER (FPS)
The transformation of the FPS genre into 3D took off with the classic Wolfenstein. Anyone who’s played some of these classic games knows the anxiety of turning the next virtual corner. What hazards will there be? Do I have enough ammo? Should I save the game before doing so? Always yes.
DOOM (1993): The first playthrough of this instant gamer hit was utterly terrifying and amazing. The game offered an entirely new vision for 3D gameplay, with visual textures mapped onto 3D objects, a tension raising soundtrack and monsters that moved about and interacted with each other for the first time.
It was epic and utterly addictive. Still is. Buy classic Doom on Steam.
RISE OF THE TRIAD (1995): This successor to Wolfenstein is on the list mainly due to being utterly bizarre. While titles like Duke Nukem 3D should rate a genre mention (there’s one), Rise of the Triad was weird from start to finish. “Dog Mode” turns you into an invincible dog, “Shrooms Mode” makes everything psychedelic and “Elasto Mode” makes bounce off walls. Play Rise of the Triad shareware version here.
RETRO CITY BUILDING / SIMULATION
This is one genre that you can sink days into. Therefore, it’s unlikely you’d want to play a simulation game on a simulator. Lucky many of them are cheap on GOG or Steam. It takes time to conquer the world.
SIM CITY 2000 (1993): There was a Sim City game released by Maxis in 1989, shortly followed by the weirdly occupying Sim Ant and Sim Life. Sim City 2000 was the biggest and best improvement in the franchise. The graphics were better, the controls elaborate and overall a super fun game to build a metropolis.
Also, why was the transport advisor always so angry? Buy Sim City 2000 on GOG.
THEME HOSPITAL (1997): Electronic Arts had a massive hit with Theme Park, in the same vein as the immensely popular Roller Coaster Tycoon, but there’s a weird power in Theme Hospital that lends to its endurance. It’s a little bit crazy, a touch morbid and you definitely can’t play this without a sense of humour. Buy Theme Hospital on Origin.
CLASSIC REAL-TIME STRATEGY (RTS)
Gathering resources, building bases and advancing technology are the pinnacles of this ever-evolving game genre. Earlier RTS games can’t live up to modern standards but they are still super fun to play.
DUNE (1992): The grandfather of many RTS games, this first instalment of the Dune series led to an intensely popular sequel. Based loosely on the books by Frank Herbert, the goal is to destroy enemy fortresses and take over the production of spice in the desert all in real-time (against the clock). The weirdness of the narrative is up there with the book. Play Dune online here.
COMMAND AND CONQUER (1995): Another early entry to the RTS genre is the mammoth game Command & Conquer. Typical of the RTA genre the game requires you to construct a base and acquire resources to win the game. The campaign missions were thrilling, the visuals were futuristic and the multiplayer gameplay was exceptional. Play C&C free online here.
STARCRAFT (1998): With a noticeably later release date than the other games in the list, Starcraft just squeaks in under the date limit (1999). Released by the same team who developed other RTS game, Warcraft, the goal of Starcraft is to defeat opponents by overpowering them, but of course, it’s never THAT straightforward. Blizzard released the original version to play free here.
RETRO SPORTS PC GAMES
The last of the game genres we’ve listed and if you’ve made it this far you’re in for some fun! There are enough sports games to create another massive list, so these are our faves.
CALIFORNIA GAMES (1987): Like other Epyx game titles, the best thing about California Games is that it’s so many games in one. Rollerskating, skateboarding, surfing and more. Plus you could rotate the gameplay to compete with up to 8 pals. It was totally awesome, dude. Play California Games here.
SKI FREE (1991): That bloody Yeti. In a super simple game, the goal is to get the top score for a ski down a mountain to 2000 metres. Avoid the obstacles along the way, as they are point deductions and traps. Be rewarded with… getting eaten by the abominable snowman. Simple. Play SkiFree online.
There you have it. In case you missed it, we have put together a larger list of classic games and where to play them here.
If you love this resource, we’d love your shout out over on our Twitter! Happy gaming.