As headline-grabbing as their flaws can still occasionally be, PC ports have never been better than they are today. Most major console releases now make it to PC with significant upgrades, but that wasn’t always the case. The annals of PC gaming history are full of unpredictable, obscure and hilariously busted adaptations from consoles. Here are 10 particularly strange examples exhumed from the crypts.
1. Ghosts ‘n Goblins (1987)
Capcom / Pacific Dataworks International | DOS
Many have heard of the infamous PC version of Mega Man (opens in new tab) and the janky port of Street Fighter 2. Compared to Capcom’s DOS port of brutally tough arcade platformer Ghosts ‘n Goblins, they are works of art.
Ported by the long-defunct Pacific Dataworks International, this is an EGA assault on the senses, with no scrolling, projectile sprites thrown backwards, stuttery movement and an ear-piercing rendition of the game’s theme belted out through the PC speaker. It could be considered a small mercy that this version also doesn’t have the game’s infamous second loop, shrinking an entire playthrough to under 10 minutes if you’re not making too many mistakes. That's only nine and a half minutes longer than you'll want to give it.
2. Panzer Dragoon, Virtua FIghter Remix & More (1995)
Sega | Windows 95
Back in the mid ‘90s, a handful of Sega’s best Saturn games arrived on PC and in fine form. It’s a pity that nobody played them, as they were exclusive to a single GPU chipset; the NV1, the debut product from a plucky up-and-coming tech firm named Nvidia.
The best known NV1 card was the Diamond Edge 3D, one of the best-featured and most expensive graphics cards of the time. It boasted a pair of Saturn controller ports and a built-in sound card. While the six NV1 ports were excellent (even mimicking the Saturn’s weird non-polygon rendering), most figured that buying a regular GPU and a Saturn was cheaper.
3. Cursed Mountain (2010)
Deep Silver / Sproing Interactive | Windows
Sometimes a game is just sent out into the cold to die. Cursed Mountain was a middling survival horror game for the Wii with a Tibetan mountaineering theme, and publisher Deep Silver also rolled out a PC version. Tragically, it was released with no fanfare, no promotion and little hope of survival.
As well as being a barebones port that ran at a locked (and frankly bizarre) 33fps, some of its Wii controller gimmicks didn’t map gracefully to mouse and keyboard. The last nail in its coffin was that it never made it to Steam. It was only digitally available on Gamersgate, but has since been delisted.
4. Hundred Swords (2001)
Sega / Smilebit | Windows
There are plenty of questionable ports of PC strategy games to consoles, but few that came the other way. Hundred Swords was an obscure enough game on the Dreamcast, despite coming from Jet Set Radio studio Smilebit. The PC version is almost entirely unknown, fated to linger in obscurity.
It was a quirky, faster-paced take on standard RTS design, with players commanding squads rather than micromanaging individual units. Smart, given that it was streamlined for a controller with few buttons and just one analogue stick. Hundred Swords was relatively well reviewed, despite a meandering soundtrack and a forgettable steampunk fantasy setting.
5. Hologram Time Traveler (1991)
Virtual Image Productions | Windows
Even on its home turf in arcades, running on custom hardware, Hologram Time Traveler was never good. Starring a cowboy shooting questionable stereotypes through time, it was a Dragon’s Lair-style FMV reaction test with the gimmick of running on a holographic projection screen, which mostly just made it blurrier and harder to play.
The PC port obviously lacked that gimmick, but went one worse: Red/Blue 3D glasses! Only the effect didn’t really work and gave people headaches. PC Gamer even reviewed this one back in the day, giving it a scathing 7% score. Best exiled to a land that time forgot.
6. Dementium 2 (2013)
Memetic Games / Missing Link Games | 2013
Sometimes, less is more. At home on the Nintendo DS, Dementium 2 (originally by Renegade Kid) was a middling survival horror FPS that looked and ran surprisingly great considering the handheld system it was crammed onto. About 70% cliches by weight, it featured spooky mental hospitals and a rusted, decaying ‘otherworld’ to fight through.
The PC port by Memetic Games is closer to a remake, with a wildly different aesthetic and controls. While perhaps a bit easier to play, the grungy, decaying Silent Hill-esque environments of the DS original have been utterly stripped of personality. It’s available on Steam, but not recommended.
7. The Simpsons Arcade (1991)
Novotrade International / Konami | DOS
In the early ‘90s, every cartoon property got tie-in games, no matter how inappropriate. One of the most baffling is Konami’s side-scrolling brawler take on The Simpsons, both for its very existence, and the fact that it was excellent. Marge battering her way through Springfield with a vacuum cleaner was a joy.
Weirder still is that it never made it to consoles, but landed on the Commodore 64 and DOS. Both versions are surprisingly good, featuring full two-player co-op and most of the features of the game respectably downscaled. While missing the vocal samples from the arcade version, the PC’s soundtrack wasn’t bad either.
8. Thunder Blade (1989)
Sega | DOS
Here’s one I have horrifying childhood memories of. In the arcades of the time, Thunder Blade was a technical marvel: a perspective switching third-person/overhead helicopter shooter with silky smooth pseudo-3D sprite scaling graphics. Amazing for 1987, and possibly cooler than After Burner.
Unsurprisingly, the PC adaptation I played was completely rudderless, which is a bad situation for a helicopter to be in. A stuttering, almost uncontrollable mess with hideous graphics, almost unrecognizable enemy sprites and some of the worst noises to ever come out of a PC speaker. The off-key victory jingles if you managed to survive a stage were the best part.
9. RayStorm (2001)
Taito | Windows
I’ve a special place in my heart for Taito’s Ray series of shmups. Great music, cool mechanical boss designs, and a great sense of being in the middle of a massive galactic war. While these games got decent console adaptations, they were always better in arcades, with one odd exception.
Released quietly in Japan and even more confusingly as ‘Operation: Raystorm 2291’ in Europe, the PC version of RayStorm is a direct port of the original arcade edition, featuring better audio, higher-resolution graphics and much faster loading times than console editions. Unfortunately it never made it to digital stores, and the 2010 remaster, RayStorm HD, remains console exclusive.
10. Captain Quazar (1997)
Cyclone Studios / 3DO | Windows
You can’t get much more obscure than the ill-fated 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, a console that failed to find an audience. Captain Quazar was one of its flagships, a ‘wacky’ isometric shooter about a square-jawed space cop fighting space crime in space. It’s a bit like Desert Strike, but more obnoxious.
Just one year after release on the 3DO, it unceremoniously turned up on PC. Perhaps 3DO foresaw the end for their console and jettisoned this game, Superman-like, to a strange new world in hopes of it finding a new home. Unfortunately, nobody cared. PC Gamer UK awarded it a generous 40% score, and the only footage of the PC edition on YouTube is the clip you see above.
11. Genso Suikoden (1998)
One of the best-known JRPG franchises of the ‘90s came to PC before even the Sega Saturn, and unlike most console ports of the time, Konami really put some effort into adapting this one to Windows. The console UI has been completely excised, replaced with a clean (if generic) windowed layout, with separate mouse-friendly panels for the game view, dialogue, character stats and inventory.
As YouTube channel Import Gaming FTW breaks down in the video above, It’s not quite as pretty or nice-sounding as the PlayStation original, but for its time, a shockingly good port. Sadly, this one never made it outside of Japan, but those of us wanting to play Suikoden at its best won’t have to wait much longer. The first two games are getting gorgeous-looking remasters, and they’re coming direct to Steam in 2023.