Like many children of the 80’s, my first exposure to video games was the ingenious 2-in-1 cartridge of Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt on the NES. However, we didn’t own our own console (we played at our cousins’ house), so most of my early video game play was on the PC. While I enjoyed classics like The Oregon Trail and SimCity, there are several DOS-based games that I absolutely loved which I consider quite unknown or underrated.
With similar gameplay to Dig Dug, the player controls a little digging car and dig tunnels to collect jewels and gold to score points. My favorite thing about this game was always the music. For main gameplay, the background theme is a version of “Popcorn” (1969) by Gershon Kingsley (which I didn’t know was a real song until I was well into my 20s. It completely blew my mind when I heard it in another context!) If you are lucky enough to make it to a bonus mode, Rossini’s William Tell Overture plays, but if you lose the game, you are serenaded by Chopin’s B-flat minor Piano Sonata aka “The Funeral March.”
I think this was the first game that we got for our old IBM PC. It is a side scrolling flying game in which the player controls a WWI-era Sopwith biplane. The goal is to fly from your base and destroy all enemy buildings and aircraft. This game was particularly challenging because it required the skill to balance appropriate speed and lift to get the plane airborne and anticipate missile drops—failure to do so resulted in crashing. Despite its difficulty, the few rare instances of victory were extremely satisfying as the plane would fly off into the sunset.
This game followed the footsteps of the father of go-kart games, Super Mario Kart. However, this game was born out of a controversy. The demo was rejected when first pitched to the software company, Copysoft, and then rights went to Apogee Software, who went on to create the game Wacky Wheels. However, Copysoft (who still had a copy of the game source code) went forward and released the nearly-identical Skunny Kart just prior to Apogee’s release. This is another game that is extremely nostalgic for me because of the music. Something about that particular rhythm just made racing feel so epic. We even made up “lyrics” to the rhythm of the melody: “Get out of my face, get out of my face, get out of my face, I’m awesome!” And thus began my history of trash talking while gaming. How could I NOT trash talk while playing my favorite character, a crocodile named Handbag?!
This game is not really underrated nor unknown, but I had to include it because of the nostalgia associated with it. I think Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy! was the first video game that I actually completed in it’s entirety. How could I not love this game series, as Billy the boy genius transforms into Commander Keen by equipping a Green Bay Packers helmet? And of course the Dopefish, who became a video game in-joke/meme, is one of my favorite video game enemies.