This MSX conversion of Don Priestley‘s classic Spectrum game, Maziacs, was released by DK’Tronics in 1985. It captures the essence of the original perfectly.
David Crane‘s Pitfall! is a pioneering old game, from way back in 1982.
You control Pitfall Harry and must find 32 treasures in 20 minutes. You run and jump from screen to screen, swinging on ropes, jumping on crocodile heads, and avoiding quicksand. Not to mention: creatures that will kill you if you touch them.
Pitfall! was one of the first games to feature a running man sprite that actually looked half decent. Being able to swing on ropes was not only a revelation, but it felt good too. Somehow, programmer David Crane had managed to push the Atari VCS to unheard of limits and make a playable game out of it too. Which ultimately developed into a famous series.
Nox is an excellent isometric action/RPG created by Westwood Studios and first released in 2000.
Back then, the PC world was going crazy over Diablo II, which had just been released, and Nox no doubt suffered as a result.
The story behind Nox is somewhat trite – you are Jack Mower, a regular 20th Century guy who is sucked into the world of Nox via his TV set – but thankfully the gameplay is more interesting. For starters: it’s fast. Playing Nox is not a race, but you can blast through it quickly if you want (and if you know how). Combat is real-time and involves direction control and mouse clicks and timing. The gameplay also changes dramatically, depending on which of the three available classes (Warrior, Wizard or Conjurer) you decide to play. In fact: the single-player game has three separate storylines – one for each of these classes.
Graphically, Nox is very good. The dynamic lighting effects make the 2D isometric backgrounds come to life in a very atmospheric manner. The dark areas also mask what your character cannot see, so adds tension to the game when exploring. Overall: everything from speech bubbles, to items, to inventories, to shops, are all crisply and professionally-rendered and the overall presentation of the game is top notch.
Although Nox is by no means a particularly well-known game from Westwood Studios, it is definitely up there with their best. It is extremely accessible, and also absorbing and challenging.
Nox is currently (at the time of writing) a GOG.com exclusive, which is good for them because it is a game well worth playing. If you like fantasy RPGs, I highly recommend it.
Rings of Power is an isometric Role-Playing Game developed by Naughty Dog and published by Electronic Arts for the Sega Megadrive in 1991.
Unlike many RPGs of the time, Rings of Power is very open-ended. The game contains hundreds of non-player characters, each with their own individual dialogue options, and countless quests, side quests, and random events. Pretty much every location is available from the start of the game. And – because the game has no quest journal – progress is only achieved through careful reading of everything that is said to you. As a result: Rings of Power is an incredibly difficult game to get into, in spite of it actually being extraordinarily good.
What makes Rings of Power so interesting now, though, is that there are hacks around which allow you to bypass a lot of the game’s frustration. And a hacked Rings of Power is a fascinating thing to experience…
If you like RPGs and have never seen this game: give it a go without the hack, then try it with. You’ll be amazed at the difference.
First released in 1985, Roller Coaster – by S. Brocklehurst – is a fun and jaunty platform game in which you play a small, agile character who has to explore a huge theme park looking for bags of gold.
You play the park’s owner, no less – a person called Colonel G. Bogey – and in order to complete the game you have to collect every bag of gold, without losing the ten lives that you begin with. Some bags are easy to get, and some are fiendishly difficult.
Roller Coaster was a very popular game on the ZX Spectrum, made good by the somewhat forgiving nature of the gameplay, a very colourful and jolly disposition, and the fact that it is a lot of fun to play.
Interestingly: Roller Coaster was re-made for the Nintendo Game Boy, but not in its original incarnation – it was re-skinned as Dragon’s Lair: The Legend and turned into a slightly different-looking game. It retained the original’s gameplay mechanics and “feel” though.
Argonaut Software‘s 1992 release (through Jaleco) – King Arthur’s World – is an interesting and challenging real time action game with strategic overtones.
King Arthur’s World is basically a side-scrolling war game with you controlling King Arthur (and his small army of soldiers, archers and wizards), and who must lay siege to various enemy outposts, and survive to complete a series of tests and missions. Your troops (and King) are controlled via a menu and some icons. King Arthur is the only essential character. When he dies, the game is over, so you have to protect the King at all costs.
The learning curve on King Arthur’s World is just about right, although later missions are very tough. The game is visually and sonically appealing, and the gameplay is compelling enough to warrant attention. If you’ve never played it before: definitely worth a look.
Released in its native Japan in 1992, and everywhere else in 1993, Landstalker is a memorable real-time action adventure in a well-defined fantasy world. The Megadrive‘s answer to Zelda, in some respects.
You take control of an Elf-like kid called Nigel (yes: Nigel), and must search for clues that lead to the treasures of King Nole. And you will find them in various dungeons and landscapes in the overworld as you follow the fairly linear path.
Combat is real time, and mostly about facing the right direction and hitting fire repeatedly. Not easy with the controls being directional, but you get used to it eventually.
Like in most Zelda games, when you leave an area and re-enter it, all the enemies come back. Which can net you extra income, but also means that you generally have to be careful where you wander, because life points are in short supply.
As an action adventure I’d say that Landstalker is relatively light on complexity – compared to something like Zelda: A Link To The Past – but it does have its qualities.
Landstalker was developed by Climax Entertainment for Sega.
The second of two ground-breaking Ultima Underworld games made by Blue Sky Productions (later to become Looking Glass Technologies) and Origin Systems.
Labyrinth of Worlds, first released in 1993, again features a very early (and successful) attempt to create a Role-Playing Game with a fully-explorable 3D environment. Both this – and its predecessor, The Stygian Abyss – were developed concurrently, and were a significant leap forward in terms of software technology at the time.
Both games are still available to buy (for a paltry amount) from GOG.com, and are well worth the investment, in both time and money.
Back in 2002 I wrote an article about the series for PC Zone magazine, called Games That Changed The World, and interviewed programmers Paul Neurath and Doug Church, and Producer Warren Spector. Here are the interviews, if you want to read more.
The first of two ground-breaking Ultima Underworld games made by Looking Glass Technologies (formerly known as Blue Sky Productions) and Origin Systems.
The Stygian Abyss, first released in 1992, is one of the first Role-Playing Games to feature first-person action in a 3D environment. Back then, these games were a giant technological leap forward for the genre, although nowadays the effect is not quite so impressive. That said: play Ultima Underworld now and you will still find plenty of joy in the gameplay. Not to mention: a serious challenge worth undertaking. The Stygian Abyss was followed by the even better Labyrinth of Worlds in 1993. Both games are still available to buy via GOG.com for very little money and are well worth a purchase.
Back in 2002 I wrote an article about the series for PC Zone magazine, called Games That Changed The World, and interviewed programmers Paul Neurath and Doug Church, and Producer Warren Spector. Here are the interviews, if you want to read more. Note to Wikipedia editors: get your facts right. These interviews, conducted by myself, were NOT commissioned or published by C&VG magazine (as you incorrectly state), but PC Zone magazine!
The first game in the famous Elder Scrolls series (Oblivion; Skyrim) was first released by Bethesda Softworks for PC MS-DOS in 1994.
The Elder Scrolls: Arena looks somewhat dated these days, what with its arcane mix of 3D environments and chunky 2D characters (which face you wherever you move to), and it also plays rather strangely too. That said: if you’re an RPG fan then it’s probably a game you must at least have a look at, due to its position as the founding game in the popular series.
Like its sequel – Daggerfall – Arena was released as a free download on Bethesda‘s website, in celebration of the Elder Scrolls series’ tenth anniversary.