Thu August 9 2018, 12:00am / Darren

There are certain DOS games that most gamers have played, or at least heard about, like DOOM, Raptor: Call of the Shadows, Commander Keen, ZZT, Scorched Earth, and hundreds more.

However there are also many, many games that are virtually unknown, often created by hobbyists in their spare time. These games have a unique charm about them, often bourne out of nothing more than some rudimentary programming skill and a desire to create a game. They are also often the product of their time and the hardware limitations. Sometimes they are produced by a corporation as a promotion for their products.

In any case, here are some "hidden gems" (or just plain weird games) for MS-DOS that you've probably never played.

Yogho Yogho

Yogho Yogho screenshot 1995 - Promotional games (commissioned by a company to market their products) can sometimes be awkward. In the 90's (before the infamous Burger King XBox games) releasing free games to promote a product was common. Chex Quest is probably the most famous example for MS-DOS, but Nestle's Tricky Quiky Games is another good example. Both are pretty good games really. Along the same lines is Yogho Yogho, a game released by European dairy foods company Campina to promote their yogurt drinks. Like Tricky Quiky Games, this is a platforming game where you collect the aforementioned yogurt drinks to refill your health. It's a well designed game with great sprite animations and an easy-going kid-friendly vibe. It's got upbeat, spunky music, too! Definitely worth trying if you enjoy platforming games. Download / play


Helious screenshot 1993 - Probably one of the more well-known games on this list, it's included here because I think a lot of people have still never played it. Helious by Albino Frog Software is an action/puzzle game which is similar to the wooden maze games: Guide your ball to the exit. The twist here is that your "ball" is actually a blue balloon that slowly loses air as you move, so you need to carefully plan your actions and methodically conserve your movements. The game's overall aesthetic is pretty unique, with an interesting graphical presentation, and the tight controls help mitigate the frustration of dying since you know it's (mostly) your own fault. Download / play

Shaw's Nightmare

Shaw's Nightmare screenshot 2013 - It's rare occasion that I play a game and am barely able to comprehend what I am seeing. Shaw's Nightmare elicits just such a response. Created by Mickey Productions using Ken Silverman's BUILD engine, the 3D engine used in Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, and many other games. However the graphics, sounds, and storyline are nothing like what we have come to expect from those kinds of games. The graphics look drawn in Microsoft Paint, the music has a strange sparse sound to it, and the story is bizarre. Even so, it's clear that a lot of time, effort, and custom development have gone into the game and apparently modifying the BUILD engine itself. It's a labor of love that sadly seems to have gone mostly unnoticed and should really be experienced! Download / play

Too Many Geckos!

Too Many Geckos! screenshot 1996 - This is a game with many geckos! No, not Gex, the only famous gecko in video games! But there are many other anonymous gecko-shaped things! I'll stop using exclamation points now. Too Many Geckos! by Anarchy Entertainment Inc is a strange puzzle-type game with great production values. The puzzles involve placing blocks (pyramids) into wireframes and matching the colors and shapes of the various geckos. Presented in pseudo-3D, you can rotate the playing field and zoom in and out to get a better view. Sound confusing? It is, and even the included documentation does a poor job of explaining what the heck is going on. Download / play


Horrorscopes screenshot 1995 - You may have played Hugo's House of Horrors which also has "horror" in its name, but it's much less likely that you've seen this one. Does this even count as a game? I'll say ... maybe. Probably not. But it IS a ... thing that exists! So what is it? If you've ever read horoscopes (with one "r") and thought, "These are waaay too upbeat. I wish I could read some predictions of my untimely death!" Then the somewhat reprehensible Horrorscopes by Colin Gagnon was made for you! This program simply displays ridiculous predictions based on your astrological sign, complete with shoddy graphical design. Thankfully none of these have come true for me ... yet. Download / play

Heavy Water Jogger

Heavy Water Jogger screenshot 1992 - What the heck is a "Heavy Water Jogger"? Well, heavy water is "a form of water that contains a larger than normal amount of the hydrogen isotope deuterium rather than the common hydrogen-1 isotope" and is associated with nuclear power production. (Thanks Wikipedia!) So I suppose a jogger of such water would be tasked with carrying it around? But here it refers to a weird DOS game by Viable Software Alternatives. And it's not weird in a particularly good way. As one YouTuber commented, "This isn't really a very viable software alternative. It's an intentionally-frustrating, not-much-fun DOS shareware game that shouldn't be shared." Oops, errrr, sorry for sharing it. But anyways, the plot involves having to shut down a nuclear reactor or something. Read JOGGER.DOC enclosed in the ZIP file for a thorough explanation and more weirdness. In summary, it's probably not the most enjoyable game you'll play today. Download / play

Prigodi Pionerki Kseni

Prigodi Pionerki Kseni screenshot 1991 - I didn't want to include too many hacks and/or non-English games on this list, but this one deserves special attention. You've no doubt played the original Captain Comic. It's a classic game and early example of how DOS could handle smooth-scrolling platforming action like the NES, even before the first Commander Keen game was released. But this version, titled "Prigodi Pionerki Kseni" on Mobygames, is a hack by Yuri Lesiuk which modifies the game into an almost entirely different game. The title translated to English is supposedly "The Adventures of Ksenia the Young Pioneer". It adds new graphics, levels, and storyline. Supposedly the author intended this game as an example of his reverse-engineering skills. As it is, it's a moderately enjoyable re-imagining of the gameplay of the original with a distinctly eastern-Europe style. Download / play

The Menace of Dr Spoil Sport

The Menace of Dr Spoil Sport screenshot 1992 - Oh no! Dr Spoil Sport plans to destroy the Earth with his super laser on his floating space station! Only YOU can stop him by teleporting there and disabling this fiendish weapon! Your quest: Bumble around in a polygon-filled 3D-ish world, developed by David Leithauser using the Virtual Reality Studio software. Shoot at things with your laser! Wonder where you're going, and why you're dying! Seriously though, this is an interesting short game with an attempt at a plot which tries to use the limited Virtual Reality Studio to its full potential. It's better than most games made with this engine. Really its name makes it seem more obscure than it actually is. Download / play

Crystal Jane

Crystal Jane screenshot 2004 - Crystal Jane by Upr00ted Tree Software (Angelfire websites still work?!) is an example of an obscure game borne out of the "anyone can hack together a game" in QBasic culture of the early 90's. There's really not much special about the game itself: Graphics, controls, story, everything is bland and parts of it barely work at all. But this is exactly the kind of game that so many young programmers made. (The author Joonas was only 17 at the time.) Even if no one else played the game we made, and even if we knew it wasn't that great, it was amazing to us because we MADE this! It's charming in that respect. Probably a lot of today's great game developers and designers got their start with games like this. Maybe you even made some games yourself? You're welcome to contact me if you want your ancient, unknown DOS games included on this website! Download / play

Tournament of Zulula

Tournament of Zulula screenshot 1991 - Released in the same year that Street Fighter II entered arcades and made one-on-one fighting games insanely popular, Tournament of Zulula by Oracle Software (no not THAT Oracle, a different one) is also a one-on-one fighting game. Kinda. First choose your character, from an interesting line-up including Land Octopus, Ostrich, Zombie, Cyclops, or even Human! Afterwards you must battle against another player or a computer-controlled opponent in a fight to the death. The problem is that there doesn't seem to be a lot of strategy to the battles; you mostly attack or block, and it seems like the best strategy is to just hope to win. It's an example of a game with a great aesthetic and an interesting backstory, but the gameplay itself isn't very engaging. Download / play

Have suggestions for other "hidden gems"? If you know a game that should be added to (and it is not commercial, for-sale software) please let me know! Thanks for reading!

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