This was originally published in June last year, but since a few console manufacturers are now repackaging ancient games in a little box instead of just re-releasing them on consoles people already own like they used to, here it is again.
The hubbub around Nintendo's SNES Classic (opens in new tab) announcement this week had us wondering: what would an equivalent, retro PC look like if it released today, and what games would you put on it?
It's a fun thought exercise, but it also gets tough as you sit down to do it. How do you define where an era of PC gaming begins and ends? Doing it by calendar year is arbitrary. Distinctions between operating systems are murky. Pre-internet? Pre-CD-ROM? Pre-accelerated graphics? Does the jump to VGA represent a new generation?
After a lot of discussion, we felt that Intel's 486 (opens in new tab) processor represented one of the clearest PC gaming tree rings (opens in new tab). Looking backward from the 486, you've got the golden age of the adventure genre, as well as the introduction of some of PC gaming's biggest franchises. After the 486, Intel's first Pentium processor kicked off an explosion of 3D games in 1996 (Quake, Tomb Raider), as well as the emergence of internet-connected games (Diablo, StarCraft, Ultima Online).
So, our criterion for this 'build' is games that ran on a 486 or earlier architecture, as identified by the original system requirements.
The SNES Classic has 21 games. These are the 21 installed on our Classic PC:
If it has to be one Civ of the original two, it's this one, with its beautiful shift to isometric graphics, hammy FMV advisors (including a fake Elvis as your culture guy) and more complex additions that made it a deeper strategy game. I'd still play this in a browser every lunchtime if it was legal to do so. When you're exhausted by campaigns, you've still got Civ II's ludicrously busy WWII scenario, which is potentially another few hundred hours well spent. —Samuel Roberts
id Software, 1990
Our device needs at least one traditional 2D platformer, and what better game than Commander Keen. Conceived by id Software as a tech demo illustrating a possible PC Mario port, Commander Keen is also emblematic of the 1990s shareware scene, which Apogee’s many platformers (Monster Bash, Crystal Caves, Duke Nukem) dominated. —Shaun Prescott
Day of the Tentacle
The funniest and smartest of LucasArts' many classic adventures, with challenging, mind-bending time travel puzzles and an endearingly goofy, self-aware cartoon style. It's set across three distinct time periods: colonial America, the present (well, the '90s), and a distant future ruled by evil tentacles. And you'll need to hop between the centuries to solve its absurd, long-winded, devilishly clever puzzles. —Andy Kelly
id Software, 1993
Slippery movement, frantic backpedaling, the grunts and wails of demons punctuating Robert Prince's score as you launch rockets in Mars-hell: it's the most '90s game produced by mankind. Doom paved the way for so much of what we play today, but it's held up perfectly with the help of an undying mod community. —Evan Lahti
This is the first game that scared me. The roars off in the distance, even if the ‘distance’ was a squat cardboard maze, felt more real than anything I’d experienced in a game. —Tyler Wilde
Duke Nukem 3D
3D Realms, 1996
I was a huge—huge—Doom fan back in the day, to the point that loving Duke Nukem 3D felt a little like betrayal. But I did love it. I loved the massive, sprawling levels, and blowing up entire buildings, and seeing myself in the mirror, and the machine gun with four barrels, and yes, even throwing money at the strippers. DN3D worked so well partly because the action was so great, but also because Duke himself was still the two-dimensional meathead action hero from his platforming days: Thick-headed and lowbrow, but free from the gross excesses of Duke Nukem Forever. —Andy Chalk
DMA Design, 1991
Just before my fifth birthday, my dad bought our family an Atari ST. At the time my most treasured videogame mascots were Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario, thus convincing four-year old me dozens of faceless and oddly dressed rodents could stand as likeable protagonists was a hard sell. That is, until I played Lemmings.
Even at such a young age, ordering each horde of critters around the puzzler's host of expertly designed levels was a total joy. Builders, bashers, miners, blockers—I took pride in assigning each worker's role and, as a result of my invariably crude puzzle tactics, 'Nuking' the entire lot and starting again was as much fun as sending each blue robe-donning, scruffy green hair-sporting sprite successfully home. I've since returned to enjoy its wonderful soundtrack, and to this day Mayhem mode still kicks my ass. —Joe Donnelly
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge
The continuing adventures of hopeless pirate Guybrush Threepwood are genuinely funny, full of heart, and also—in the best possible way—absolutely infuriating. If you can beat it without glancing at a guide I’ll be amazed. But even if you do cheat, it’s still a joyous, raucous pirate adventure that oozes humour and personality. And there’s always lite mode, which bypasses some of the trickier bits entirely. —Andy Kelly
Cyan Worlds, 1993
The years have not been kind to Myst, with its pixel-hunt format, frustrating puzzles, and endless wandering (looking at different screens) as you try to figure out what the hell you're supposed to be doing. But at the time, wow. It seemed beautiful and alien and mysterious. I'd probably hate it if I ever tried it again, so I won't. —Chris Livingston
Yes, Myst was static and obtuse, and perfectly happy to leave players trapped and baffled by its bizarre, patience-testing puzzles. But it was also unlike anything we'd seen before—beautiful and alien and mysterious, you might say—and while it may seem diminished by the passage of time and the evolution of our expectations, what 25-year-old game doesn't? It was a magical and magnificent achievement in 1993, and it remains one of the single most influential and wonderful videogames ever created. —Andy Chalk
Prince of Persia
"The guy here looks real. No, seriously, he moves like a real dude. Come here, look. Watch! Look at him run. Now see how he slides to a stop, and then turns to head in the other direction? And look, he can jump and catch ledges and stuff. Look! I know, right? I told you, it's like they filmed a real guy or something, and then jammed him into the game somehow. I dunno how they did it, but damn, it's awesome! I just wish I could get past this fat guy with the sword. Man, he's tough."—Andy Chalk, circa 1989
I can’t remember how far I ever made it in Prince of Persia—I think my mom may have actually been the pro—but those jumping animations were almost the whole appeal, as Andy recalls. —Tyler Wilde
Star Control 2
Toys for Bob, 1992
The original Star Control was a Spacewar-style game with 1-on-1 battles, and the sequel expanded on that to include more ships, each with unique weapons and tactics, coupled with a story involving humorous aliens, and a quest to save the galaxy. The core of the game remains the frenetic battles, jockeying for position around a gravity and putting your twitch reflexes to good use. A quick 'melee' mode provides direct access to the battles without the story, featuring split-screen shared keyboard controls. Older keyboards often had issues with too many concurrent keys being used, another form of strategy (aka, cheating) and a great way to start fights. I remember playing the game for hours with friends, 'winner stays' style, cheering and laughing at the spectacle of the gladiator battles—both on the screen and at the keyboard. If you never got a chance to experience the game, the source code was released under GPL in 2002, and has found continued existence as The Ur-Quan Masters, complete with remastered audio tracks. —Jarred Walton
More games on the next page...