What's the best game I never heard of?
June 4, 2010 1:25 AM   Subscribe

What is the best retro video game that almost nobody has ever heard of?

Many years back, I loved a game called I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. It was almost unheard of when it came out in the 90's and it is certainly unheard of today. This is a shame, because it's a fantastic game.

What other excellent games am I missing? I would love some recommendations for games that never made it into the limelight but really should have done.
posted by giggleknickers to Media & Arts (72 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Alpha Waves
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:30 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a (sometimes) fan of Harlan Ellison, I am very much aware of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Fabulous little game. You've read the story, right?

Another adventure game that nobody I've ever talked to has heard of: The Longest Journey.

Of course, I promise that somebody's going to come in here and say they've played that, too. Which is the difficulty with this question. This is the internet. If something has a cult following, this is where the cult lives.
posted by Netzapper at 1:36 AM on June 4, 2010

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:50 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

CREATURES and CREATURES 2 on the C64. Maybe Mayhem in Monsterland too. They were groundbreaking at the time, but now appear hopelessly retro. However for sheer fun, unbeatable.
posted by KMH at 1:53 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sexy Parodius.
posted by holterbarbour at 2:05 AM on June 4, 2010

Jack Bros. for Virtual Boy.
posted by fairmettle at 2:12 AM on June 4, 2010

Boogie Wings.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:50 AM on June 4, 2010

BRAINDUMP COMMENCES (these are mainly 90s games, the true golden age of PC gaming, but there are a few more recent awesomes)

Magic Carpet, Settlers, Cannon Fodder, Theme Park and Theme Hospital, Syndicate, UFO: Enemy Unknown (the first X-Com game), Beneath A Steel Sky, Lands of Lore, Day of the Tentacle, Brade Runner, Syberia, The Legend of Kyrandia, Shadow of the Comet, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father, Noctropolis, Dark Seed (Warning: Don't play this), The Last Express, The Longest Journey, Little Big Adventure, Dungeon Master, Frontier: Elite II, Master of Orion, Daggerfall, System Shock, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Ultima VIII: Pagan, Jagged Alliance, Silent Storm, Homeworld, Total Annihilation, LOOM, The Dig (was actually really good and I'll brook no argument), Dungeon Siege, Wizardry 8, and that's just for starters oh god what have I done with my life?

Just kidding I loved every second of it and the haters can kiss my 'roids!
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:58 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh and the two Ultima Underworld games. Sheer awesome!
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:01 AM on June 4, 2010

(Other, more obvious answers include Planescape: Torment and the first two Thief games.)
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:02 AM on June 4, 2010

posted by timshel at 3:19 AM on June 4, 2010

Outfoxies was Super Smash Bros like 10 years early.
posted by GilloD at 3:23 AM on June 4, 2010

posted by fire&wings at 3:25 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Psychic Detective.
posted by jbickers at 3:28 AM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: Dark Seed (Warning: Don't play this)

Why not? Too scary?
posted by giggleknickers at 3:29 AM on June 4, 2010

What are your parameters for "retro"? I used to love an almost unheard-of PC game called Scarab, but it came out in 1997 and for me retro means '80s if not earlier.

Going back to '88, there's Armalyte, which is probably unknown to anyone other than religious shoot-em-up fans but is brilliant (there's a recent remake but it's not the same). Can be played on an emulator.

I kind of want to mention God Hand, but that's not really retro and isn't all that obscure either.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:32 AM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: I'm definitely not just looking for 80's games. When I said "retro," I pretty much just meant that they have missed their chance to be in the limelight. So ten years old definitely counts and perhaps even five years.

I'm answering my own question here, but just for the sake of others interested in this question, a friend told me to add A Mind Forever Voyaging.
posted by giggleknickers at 3:38 AM on June 4, 2010

Exile was an open-world game with a realistic physics engine that was released back in 1988 on the BBC Micro.
posted by permafrost at 3:43 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh and the two Ultima Underworld games. Sheer awesome!

and from the same studio:

Terra Nova

Looking Glass . . . I lament your demise :(
posted by protorp at 3:46 AM on June 4, 2010

Your mention of AMFV jogged my memory of Hacker and Portal (not the one with cake).
posted by jbickers at 3:48 AM on June 4, 2010

Dark Seed (Warning: Don't play this)

Why not? Too scary?

No, but it is built around what I guess you would call "invisible timing" and due to its poor design, if you don't do a certain thing at a certain point in the game (we're talking windows of mere seconds), then you can't progress. But it's great to look at at was pretty innovative for its time (Giger did the artwork, after all) so you could do worse than playing it with a walkthrough by your side.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:08 AM on June 4, 2010

Oh and add the Broken Sword games to the list of point-and-click adventures!
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:15 AM on June 4, 2010

This is actually quite hard, most of the games I've loved have also been quite popular!!

But anyway, here's some gems you might not have heard of...

Pushover - puzzle game featuring dominos, but what makes it special is it's perfect balance of difficulty. At the start, it throws easy puzzles at you until about level 35, when it starts throwing tricky stuff at you, and the last 10 levels are truly fiendish, and immensely satisfying to complete. Link goes to a sourceforge remake.
Stunt Car Racer - a little different from an ordinary racing game, this features an elevated track, with plenty of death-defying jumps. Basic graphics, but the graphics and sound combine to give an incredibly immersive experience.
Descent - Like Quake, but in a spaceship piloted down a mine, and with true 6-degrees of freedom movement. Wonderful, and far better than Quake itself
Dungeon Master - nethack with graphics, basically (and some but not all of the complexity gone!). The most popular game ever on the Atari ST.
posted by BigCalm at 4:36 AM on June 4, 2010

Quzatron on the Sinclair Spectrum was a terrific 3d game. You drive a robot around a city of robots, trying to destroy them all. You can just shoot the enemy droids but often you instead go into grapple mode and take them over to steal their parts to upgrade yourself.
posted by w0mbat at 4:39 AM on June 4, 2010

Seconding Mayhem in Monsterland. Best 2d platform game I've ever played (but only if you have unlimited lives, without that it's just impossible).

Also on the C64, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders gave me nightmares.

The ZX Spectrum classic Atic Atac, also awesome.
posted by teraspawn at 4:53 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

You've probably heard of Rogue, but you probably haven't played XRogue (also here), which IMO is a better update to Rogue than Nethack turned out to be. Super-Rogue is also pretty good.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:03 AM on June 4, 2010

I am not sure what counts as obscure or not, but I really loved Boulderdash as a kid. Laura Bow and the Dagger of Amon Ra was absolutely terrifying for me as a kid. All sorts of ways everyone (including you) could die.

I played through all of the Kyrandia games, although sometimes you really needed a walkthrough for those (especially #2).

I also loved Tyrian, mostly because the best ship in the game was a fat carrot. Tyrian is also awesome because the developers allowed people to rewrite it in C with a GPL license and let them use the original graphics. So you can get it free (as in beer) and free (as in speech)!
posted by that girl at 5:18 AM on June 4, 2010

Mindwheel was an interactive fiction/text adventure that I rented for my C64 back in the day. Amazing stuff, or so it seemed at the time. Some scenes have stuck with me ever since then.
posted by jquinby at 5:34 AM on June 4, 2010

From turghid's list, I liked Magic Carpet, XCOM (just played it again a couple weeks ago, still fun!), Day of the Tentacle, Legend of Kyrandia and Loom a lot. And I think it was probably kinda popular, but I loved the Hero's Quest(Quest for Glory) series from Sierra as well.

And there is another game that I can't remember the name of, but you were this guy with a circle head and circle hands (everything was kinda circle-y), and you threw magic balls around to solve puzzles, and avoid the bad guys, who I think were part of some nasty government thing or something, but it was cartoony and fun. This is gonna kill me...
posted by Grither at 5:57 AM on June 4, 2010

Flashback, but you've probably heard of it
posted by bunny hugger at 5:58 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ragnarok (later version aka Valhalla)

Absolutely fantastic game.
posted by wrok at 6:02 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

No Activision Atari 2600 game is exactly unknown (especially in the emulation age), but Megamania is one of the lower-profile ones, and one of my favorites.
posted by box at 6:25 AM on June 4, 2010

When you get through all those, I'm a big fan of Superhero League of Hoboken. It's an amazing adventure game by an obscure company called Legend that mostly made their living adapting books as text adventures.
posted by LSK at 6:27 AM on June 4, 2010

Seconding Dungeon Master. Superb dungeon crawl with fun puzzles and a great magic system, way better than the Eye of the Beholder series (which were pretty good in their own right).

Also, the early Bungie game Pathways into Darkness. Very difficult, scary, tons of fun.
posted by cog_nate at 6:27 AM on June 4, 2010

I spent valuable sleeping in time before school playing Prehistorik. It might not be an outstanding achievement in videogame technology, but man was it fun.
posted by lydhre at 6:28 AM on June 4, 2010

I've got a special place in my heart for Centauri Alliance a Commadore 64/Apple II sci-fi RPG from 1990. Same guy as made Bard's Tale, and available at disreputable Apple II ROM sites everywhere.

Throwing out another plug for Frontier: Elite II. We've got a realistically modeled instance of the entire freaking galaxy on a couple of floppies. It's an actual Newtonian physics model, where ships aren't rated for their speed but for their acceleration, and you have to travel 8-50 AU from your hyperspace entry point to get in-system. It's more a sandbox than a game you can "win" per se, but like its predecessor, Elite, it's been massively influential, and worth looking at for that alone.

Also, for what it's worth, the entire X-COM series is available on Steam for $15. I discovered this a few weeks ago and shortly thereafter discovered that I'd blown an entire weekend. And I'd only touched the first game. You have been warned.
posted by valkyryn at 6:33 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Hunter above, really amazing. Holds up well.
posted by Iteki at 6:37 AM on June 4, 2010

Always room for some Sega 8-bit love:
Girl's Garden
Pit Pot

nthing Hunter too - that consumed weeks of my life in the early 90's, and it still felt is if I had only scratched the surface.
posted by anagrama at 6:55 AM on June 4, 2010

Not sure how unknown it is, but Star Control 2 was an underrated favourite of mine. Nice combination of arcade style spaceship combat and role playing in a vast, explorable universe. You can literally explore hundreds of solar systems in search of minerals and about ten very unique alien species. There's even a decent plot arc. You can play a ported version on Windows or Mac here.
posted by hamandcheese at 7:07 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Proceed immediately over to Racketboy and check out the "Hidden Gems" series. I have found some great games in those. The other retro-game guides are worth checking out as well.
posted by Otis at 7:07 AM on June 4, 2010

Many years back, I loved a game called I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

You and I must be the only two people who bought that game. Played it on my old PowerCenter 150. Interesting game based on a great Ellison short story. Game was buggy as hell, though. I think I finished it, but was never quite sure.

I'll throw in a shout-out for Future Cop LAPD. Great, fun-as-hell robo-shooter. Marred by one real flaw...No save points in the game. If you were killed two steps from the end of a level, you had to start the entire level over.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:18 AM on June 4, 2010

Seconding Little Big Adventure (LBA) and its sequel. ("Relentless: Twinsen's Adventure" and "Twinsen's Odyssey" in the USA)

Star Reach was Star Control in real time with 2-player split screen. I thought it was great at the time. Also, Solar Winds was another top-down space game that was really fun. (more of an action-adventure game)

And of course, there's Jazz Jackrabbit 2, which may have slipped under the radar of more mature audiences. 12 years later and the online community is still going strong.
posted by ropeladder at 7:19 AM on June 4, 2010

Murder on the Zinderneuf
Taipan! (OMG Taipan is so awesome. I'm playing it right now.)

The Neverhood
posted by hot soup girl at 7:21 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I remember these being fun:
Full Throttle
Rainbow Six
Heroes of Might and Magic
posted by o0dano0o at 7:40 AM on June 4, 2010

Psychonauts is only five years old, and it's almost gotten to the point where it's overrated as an underrated game that never made it, but it's brilliant and you should play it (available on Steam, and I believe on Xbox Live as well). It's a fairly basic platformer with some combat, except it has the most creative environments you'll probably ever see in a platformer game, mixed with well-developed characters and a script that is as funny as anything from any medium.

To balance things out with a game from the 80s, Herzog Zwei, one of the first RTS games. It's more of a combination RTS/shooter, in that you fly around the map in a little spaceship-unit and build your structures. Sega Genesis, can be played on an emulator.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:45 AM on June 4, 2010

Seconding Little Big Adventure (LBA) and its sequel. ("Relentless: Twinsen's Adventure" and "Twinsen's Odyssey" in the USA)

The sequel was fantastic. Easy to the eyes, simple gameplay yet enough depth and fun.

Among others, I second The Neverhood.

Sanitarium got released with many bugs, which were later fixed.
posted by ersatz at 7:51 AM on June 4, 2010

It's more of a casual game than one with a plot or anything, but one of my favorite all-time games is Renegade Legion: Interceptor. In fact, I loved it so much, that a while back I actually tracked down one of the authors, Scot Bayless, who was then working as a VP at EA (I think he may be retired now, though), chatted with him about the game, and got him to autograph my game manual :)
posted by Jinkeez at 8:12 AM on June 4, 2010

Not sure if Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo is obscure enough for you, but if not likely Nitrous Oxide and Hello Kitty Cube Frenzy are.

On preview, this doesn't look nearly as obscure as everything else here, but I do love these games.
posted by doteatop at 8:26 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

So when I was a wee thing I really liked this stupid little basically graphics-free game called Pyro 2.2. I have not met anyone who wasn't in my social circle in high school who has ever heard of it. It's dumb and a little juvenile, but deceptively difficult and very, very addictive. It's like a flash friday game that was written 15 years before flash friday existed.

I also enjoyed this game by KOEI called L'Empereur, a historical military game about the rise of Napoleon. I really liked how it started out with you commanding a small army and being mostly concerned with tactics, but ended up, as the field of play gradually expanded, being a large-scale strategic/diplomatic game. I've heard that most people who have played other KOEI games from that era consider L'Empereur much less interesting than their Chinese military history games, but, dammit, L'Emp was the one I bonded to as a kid and L'Emp's the one I still dig out from time to time.

What else? There was this thing called VGA Planets that was an online/PBEM multiplayer thing... I used to play it quite a bit with people from local BBSes, but I'm guessing it's been years and years and years since anyone's run a game of it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:34 AM on June 4, 2010

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:08 AM on June 4, 2010

I feel like I'm the only person who played Nine: The Last Resort.
posted by Lou Stuells at 9:15 AM on June 4, 2010

Two other early Bungie: the Marathon Trilogy (set in the same world as Pathways Into Darkness), and Myth. I don't believe I'd qualify as a 'gamer', but I can and will play Marathon for days on end. Lately people have been looking for things that include puzzles like Braid or Portal -- Marathon is that with FPS thrown in.

And I'll leave out the part about how my husband and I taught our 2 year old to spell Bungie, and how we literally shed tears when they were bought by Microsoft.
posted by MeiraV at 9:18 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

My favorite puzzle game, and one of only 2 shareware games that I ever paid for:

Fairy Godmom

It's a typical maze style puzzle, with things to avoid and things to collect before you can advance to the next gameboard. But you have a magic wand which lets you scan in an image and then temporarily project it onto another object, so you can turn a brick wall into a ladder and therefore climb to the next floor of the castle. But if you are too slow, it turns back into a brick wall and kills you.
posted by CathyG at 9:28 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Alternate Reality
SunDog:Frozen Legacy

And many, many of the previously mentioned. Damn there were some good games back in the day.
posted by ecurtz at 9:32 AM on June 4, 2010

A really good place to find classic games that have been (legally) updated to run on modern OSes is Good Old Games.

See: Arcanum of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Beyond Good and Evil
the Tex Murphy series.
posted by Bourbonesque at 9:39 AM on June 4, 2010

For the NES,

Adventures of Lolo (I, II, & III)
Wrecking Crew
Tecmo Super Bowl (yes, I consider this game obscure, because most people only know the original Tecmo Bowl from 1988 but did not play the vastly superior 1991 version. I think it's the best sports game ever.)
posted by meadowlark lime at 9:41 AM on June 4, 2010

On the C64 (you said retro):


Though those are merely different and decent rather than the best ever perhaps. Though they're definitely obscure.

Also, you played the original M.U.L.E. right? Not that that's obscure in the least, but if you missed it, go back and play it.
posted by GuyZero at 9:42 AM on June 4, 2010

The Neverhood. Terrific claymation and funky music. It's not totally unknown, but was nowhere near the hit it should have been.
posted by sageleaf at 9:48 AM on June 4, 2010

Fear Effect (and Fear Effect 2) was a platform game (PS) that I've always thought was underrated. Dark humor, really neat storyline and very interesting characters with a weird Chinese mythology spin to it. The main character was also lesbian (or at least bisexual), explicitly so in Fear Effect 2.
posted by elendil71 at 10:25 AM on June 4, 2010

OMG PUZZLE FIGHTER. And Project Justice is featured on the racketboy page of Dreamcast games! Those are two of my favorites ever.

Don't ask me how I remember that back in the day, a good friend's favorite NES game was Nobunaga's Ambition.
posted by clavicle at 10:33 AM on June 4, 2010

Dungeon Master - nethack with graphics, basically (and some but not all of the complexity gone!). - Hmm. I'd say that if it's not random, it's not nethacky. DM has it's own charms though, including the awesome magic and potions system.

Nthing Hunter.
posted by Artw at 11:43 AM on June 4, 2010

The Firemen for SNES. Never released in the US. I play it on my Dreamcast through an emulator...great game, great graphics too.
posted by circular at 12:00 PM on June 4, 2010

Hmm...I don't think I've ever met anyone who remembers "The Bilestoad". That was an Apple II game from 1982 that I think might be the great grand-daddy of the ultra-violent genre (e.g. Mortal Kombat). It was a combat game (w/ axes) that included amputation, decapitation, and spurting blood.
posted by madmethods at 4:28 PM on June 4, 2010

In a word... Battlezone

(activation not the arcade game)

posted by bister at 7:14 PM on June 6, 2010

Um. Make that Activision.
posted by bister at 7:15 PM on June 6, 2010

Covert Action. I still play that from time to time.
posted by Glow Bucket at 6:57 AM on June 7, 2010

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