DOSBox is the open source, cross-platform DOS emulator which has done more to preserve gaming history than just about any other software. In fact, it preserves computing history in general; there’s more than a few legacy DOS apps which would be lost in time if it weren’t for this application.
I’ve done a lot of poking around in old DOS games archives. After all, I lived through this era firsthand. Along with the nostalgia kick of revisiting a timeless classic, I’ve explored archives to find all the games that I missed the first time around. Here, I’ll share a few:
Archive.org MS-DOS Software library – You can emulate these games right in a web browser using the embedded DOSBox app. Pretty cool, but the performance is likely to be wonky even on the best machine.
DOS Games Archive – Downloadable files, reviews, categories, and also hosts an emulator embedded.
Abandonia – Large donation-funded archive focusing mainly on the “abandonware” titles for DOS.
Abandonware DOS – An archive, collection, and review site which also hosts vintage Windows 3.1 games on the side.
Home of the Underdogs – A legend in its own time, this site is old enough to buy a beer now. Very complete archive of games ranging from DOS through the Windows 98 era, although not all of them are available for download if they’re still copyright-bound.
There, that’s enough to get you started. ANYWAY…
There’s about a zillion websites out there that will tell you the top DOS games to run today – The classics like Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein, Apogee games, Duke Nukem 3D, and so on. But nobody warns the curious explorer about the stinkers they’re better off avoiding. That’s what I will do today.
I discovered and played (or attempted to play) these games so you don’t hare to…
If you Google this title, one of the first things you’ll notice is that it’s featured on the Crappy Games Wiki. Then you’ll marvel at how you never heard of the Crappy Games Wiki before. Another thing you’ll notice is that it’s also featured on the Furry Wiki. Followed by cringing at the sting of shame for knowing that a furry wiki exists now. You see, it’s a typical 1-vs-1 fighting game where all the characters are fuzzy woodland critters – bears, rats, lions, and whatnot.
Brutal: Paws of Fury started out as a Sega CD exclusive before getting ported to other consoles and DOS. I can’t speak for other platforms, but there’s something bad wrong with it on DOS. Its speed is determined by the hardware clock, which somehow falls through DOSBox’s emulated environment. So it plays way too fast. If you try to play it, it launches you right into the first round fight with the AI, which is always a humiliating defeat at the flying fists and feet of the most coked-out bunny you ever saw, followed by “game over.”
The cigar-chomping corporate kingpins of gaming were sitting around in their star chamber after a fun lunch of cocktails and nyotaimori. The topic for the day was “How do we get more girls to play video games?” The solution was not to make games just as fun and playable as “boy games” but with empowered females in the lead roles. It was to make games be all cloying pink hearts and diamonds and glitter and bouncy techno music.
In Barbie: Super Model, Barbie must train to be a super-model. This means that she’s going to ride a motorcycle through flaming hoops, wrestle crocodiles, beat a Kung-Fu master with nunchucks, and take off her belt so she can use it to whip the flaming, weeping Jesus out of cigar-chomping corporate kingpins of gaming. You wish! Actually, it involves doing “The Catwalk.” You want to do The Catwalk? It’s Alt, Down, Alt, Left, Control, Up, Control, Up. Better practice that a dozen times so you don’t blow it in front of the crowd. GiantBomb mentions some other parts to the game too, but who can stay awake for those?
Cartooners isn’t a game, but instead a drawing and animation studio. This is a kids’ doodle toy to make your own cartoons, plain and simple. Click and drag backgrounds, props, actors, and speech balloons to create little frames, which you can then animate and add music to and so on. You’re seen this exact same application a million times, especially in Flash form. This is just the more primitive option, while being ten times less fun since it doesn’t even have licensed characters like Mario or Pokemon.
You’re not going to believe this, but this app was produced by Electronic Arts, Inc. in 1989, and also ported to the Apple IIgs. Yes, that Electronic Arts! This may make the program worth checking out for completist collectors, or anybody else interested in making generic pixely animal characters with bland personalities doing nothing interesting at all.
Of course, your life was not complete until you could simulate various colors of 1992 Ford model SUVs. Actually, the term “SUV” didn’t come along until the turn of the century, so back then these were “minivans,” AKA “peoplemovers.” To be fair, you can also simulate 1992 Mustangs and Tauruses too. Can you stand this much excitement? There were a whole series of these released in the early ’90s, as very obvious sales / promotional material for Ford. You can explore the full specs for each model, change their paint jobs with a click, and watch them slowly turn around in a virtual showroom on your computer. Who needs Microsoft Flight Simulator when you can play “Look at all these Fords?”
Ford Simulator II also has a driving simulator included. Cool your jets and put down the pompoms, because this is no Grand Theft Auto, and in fact is not even as good as Pole Position. You literally just drive on a road, with some basic scenery and primitive graphics, on a trip to Lake Wakatonka. No really, there’s a story and everything. You can even get pulled over by a cop, who just tickets you and lets you go without giving you a chance to steal his squad car or anything.
This game sucks. It’s the sole title released by a company called “Asciiware,” which immediately went out of business after releasing it. It’s a letdown because the title and screenshots lead you to expect some RTS or action RPG akin to early Warcraft, but with cool wizards and fireballs. Instead, it’s mostly a crafting game, made before software developers understood the concept of “cognitive load.” You want to go right out and zap dragons with fireballs, don’t you?
Well too bad, because first you have to choose from four schools of magic, and then you have to track down all the spell recipe books, and then you have to collect 137 thousand ingredients from a million scattered chests, and then assemble them all on an 8×6 grid in precise order while filling out your IRS tax forms and juggling chainsaws left-handed with one leg tied behind your back. Your reward will be a single charge of fireball which has a 93% of failure because you’re not level 89 million yet and meanwhile a rogue sneaked into your study and clonked you over the head from behind. This is why there are no wizards today.
Where to find more?
Few other geezer gamers like me have thought to make lists like this one, so I found these titles. You’ll want to check your volume before playing these. Those 8-bit beeping songs in the pre-Soundblaster days can curdle your blood.
DOSBox is a fascinating little microcosm of computing to explore in the modern day, even if you aren’t old enough to have seen the early days of DOS the first go round. Not only is there a vast library of games to discover, but a whole generation of applications too. It’s till possible to develop for DOS systems from within DOSBox, and even possible to run Windows 3.1 within DOSBox, as well as all the software which was made for it too.
This comes in handy for people who have to support legacy software and systems, as well as the tinker hobbyist crowd. We’ll be back to revisit the DOS era some more, because – as the above video points out – DOS was a whole decade of childhood for most users now.