Thunderbolt logo

Games from the ’90s that you’ve probably never played, let alone ever heard of

So many consoles, so many companies, so many games and so little time. The ‘90s produced an onslaught of titles across multiple platforms; it’s impossible to have played them all. Games for the Amiga would become lost under the constant flood of titles, forgotten before they could even be found. Some console titles were exclusively released in Japan, never reaching the homes of many Western gamers.

We’re proud to present a list of games we loved from the ‘90s that you probably never even heard of, let alone played. And ones, in some cases, we’d almost erased from memory ourselves.

Shane Ryan, Staff Writer

screenshot

Diggers

There’s very little information remaining about this title; a brief Wikipedia page and a link to some screenshots. Bundled with the Amiga CD32 console at release, along with a platformer called Oscar, this is the only remaining artefact that keeps the system in memory.

Set on the planet Zarg, you take ownership over one of four races that are fighting for resources. Each of the races had a strong aesthetic (goblins, dark druids, gnomes and trolls) with varying strengths and weaknesses. The Quarriors (yes, the names weren’t that inventive) are super-strong but slow, while the Habbish dig quickly. To conquer each region you had to control your selected race via direct commands, much like Lemmings, and obtain the required amount of gems before the AI controlled race do the same; or pummelled your workers into dust.

The workers also had personalities of their own, often for the worse. They’d become tired from the digging and take a snooze whilst the opposing race stole gems, see someone look at their pint of ale and start a fight or get sick of it all and dive into a nearby lake and drown. It had a very downbeat and pessimistic feel to it.

Mostly it’s the soundtrack that sticks in my mind. The ambient, soundscapes gave Diggers a desolate atmosphere that matched the lonely planes of Zarg your workers would traverse. Yes, my family were one of the few to own an Amiga CD32 – the world’s first 32-bit console. But it didn’t last long, and the console soon lost its footing in the market, plummeting into the unknown depths of gaming’s graveyard.

screenshot

Legend

My memory is admittedly hazy on this one. And yet, there’s a part of my inner-child that holds a love and respect for it. I can’t remember the music or exactly how it played, but I have little flashbacks of the characters moving around onscreen and the feeling of joy that the game brought at that time.

You control a party of four characters. There’s a Berserker, a Troubadour, an Assassin, and a Runemaster banding together to fight the evil plaguing the land (well, what else?). The classes were preset and only little changes could be made to your band of merry warriors, such as gender and the element they’re skilled in. Once the team is created you enter a map to select your next location.

Dungeons are trawled in an isometric view, directing your unit through each room and corridor. The HUD has always stood out for me. The character models on pillars with health, the creature sat on the side and this isometric viewpoint gave Legend a distinct visual flair.

Apart from that, there is little else I can recall. This is definitely a title I need to pick up and replay one day.

Sean Kelley, Associate Editor

screenshot

The Adventures of Willy Beamish

There were tons of great point-and-click adventure games in the nineties, but one you’ve probably never heard of was The Adventures of Willy Beamish. Rather than dump you in the shoes of an inadequate pirate, or a would be king on some fanciful quest, you were Willy Beamish, an average kid stuck in detention on the last day of school. What separated Willy’s tale from that of his adventure brethren was the plausibility of his situation; although everything in Beamish was slightly exaggerated, it was all something we could easily relate to as adolescents.

Beamish further distinguished itself with the unique ‘Trouble-O-Meter’, that tracked Willy’s standing with his parents. The more Willy was a delinquent, the lower the meter would drop, towards ‘Cadet School’, or military school, which is where you’d be sent, game over. But, then again, if Willy’s a ‘Good Boy’, there were positive consequences, such as an allowance – remember those?

The Adventures of Willy Beamish remains an adventure game still years ahead of its time. If you can, sniff out the superior Sega CD version. The load times will kill you, but the over-the-top, hilarious early 90s voice work will leave you and Willy in stitches.

screenshot

Return Fire

Long before the first-person shooters popularized capture the flag game types, Return Fire was an interesting top-down multiplayer game built solely around CTF. While I’m sure Return Fire supported some extremely early LAN features, my friends and I would cozy up with the same keyboard for some cramped splitscreen PC action.

The premise of Return Fire was simple: get the flag from the enemy’s base, return it to your own. Each player could switch on the fly between a few different vehicles, which have differing strengths and weaknesses. The jeep is speedy and fragile, but is the only unit that can carry the flag; the tank is slow and deadly, but is ideal for clearing a path to the flag; the chopper is quick and versatile, great for chasing down flags that have been liberated from your base; the artillery is essential for dropping choppers. Every piece had its purpose.

Part of Return Fire‘s appeal lies in the antiquated multiplayer setup. Being able to glance over and see what your opponent is up to may be a faux pas, but it goes both ways and creates a friendly sense of competition non-existent in online play. Return Fire was long the hallmark of our childhood sleepovers, which made it all the more disappointing when Return Fire 2 arrived on the PC and PSX, and sucked.

screenshot

Herc’s Adventures

Better known for their adventure games and that other obscure franchise, Herc’s Adventures remains one of the most unique titles under LucasArts’ belt. Developed by the now defunct Big Ape Productions, Herc’s was a two player cooperative action/RPG, reminiscent of Beyond Oasis. To carve out its own place, Herc’s differentiated itself with its bizarre – and often times hilarious – interpretation of ancient Greece. As either Hercules himself, Jason or Atlanta, you and a friend were dropped into the petty feud between the dimwitted Zeus, and his malevolent brother, Hades. As Zeus’ sole hope, an army of deranged mythic creatures – and space aliens! – awaits.

Stew Chyou, Staff Writer

screenshot

Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure

For those who’ve never heard of Apogee, or were’t involved in shareware, this is a PC sidescroller that is sure to have you raising an eyebrow. You play as Cosmo, an alien boy, who travels the stars with his parents to Disney World for his birthday. A stray comet crash lands the family on an unknown planet leading to Cosmo separating from mom and dad. Enter the rescue mission. The game is unique in its many bizarre elements such as dispensing bombs to destroy enemies and obstacles, climbing walls with Cosmo’s suction cup hands, and eating hidden cheeseburgers (one of which is provided by Duke Nukem himself) to increase health capacity.

screenshot

Cosmology of Kyoto

As an unnamed individual, you somehow find yourself thrown back in time to the feudal days of ancient Kyoto. Playing in a first-person perspective, you are given a crash course in the history, religion, philosophy and mythology of that era – you will die multiple times to learn the stages of reincarnation, encounter Japanese demons and ghosts, and witness the sheer brutality of surviving medieval days. One scene that comes to mind was watching a little boy accidentally kicking his ball into the path of noble escorts. As the boy tries to fetch the ball, one of the guardsmen belittles the child and promptly decapitates him, sending his head rolling into the dirt. The game utilizes point-and-click as well as the feature to type responses. The latter can determine one of many outcomes in your journey.

In playing this PC title, Roger Ebert compared it to Myst, but more enjoyable.

screenshot

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Manhattan Missions

When you put ‘Ninja Turtles’ and ‘games’ in the same sentence, many often think of beat ’em ups like Turtles in Time or the classic arcade game. Manhattan Missions is more than likely a title that doesn’t come to mind. While every major TMNT game draws from the 1987 cartoon, this game is modeled from the original works of creators Eastman and Laird, sprinkled with elements from the first TMNT movie. Along with a friend, you pick and choose missions from a map of NYC that corresponds to April’s news reports of Shredder’s criminal activity. Using the keyboard, you can draw or sheath the turtles’ signature weapons, alternate between fight and neutral stances, block and attack from a variety of ranges, and even throw shurikens!

Perhaps the biggest drawback of the game was its use of a picture and number code system that must be dealt with at every startup. Before the internet, you had to rely on the manual to complete this meaningless section, or else, if you had copied the game from a friend and failed to sketch the key, you might as well not play the game.

Is there a title from the ‘90s that you’d like to rescue from obscurity? Let us know in the comments below.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

Gentle persuasion

You should like us on Facebook.