In developing the repertoire of games for Multibowl, I played about 1000 games made from 1975 through to about 2000. I found a few gems that are worth playing in their own right, and which I think aren’t all that well known. Of course you’ve played Windjammers, and Street Fighter, and Warlords. But have you played these?
Commodore 64, Amiga 500, MS-DOS
Originally released as a type-in program listing for the C64, published in COMPUTE! magazine. This is the essence of a good party game: you can play with strategy within seconds of seeing it, but it supports quite a lot of depth, even though technically it’s not much more complex than Pong.
This freeware MSX2-DOS game isn’t easy to emulate, but it’s interesting enough to be worthwhile. It’s a freeware game where you play cards in order to drive a Streetfighter-style fighting game. There’s actually a reasonably long history of that style of game in Japan – such as Capcom’s excellent baseball game Dokaben. I like this one because it’s such a labor of intense freeware love.
Daisu Kiss – Konami 1996
Arcade (Konami GX)
This is a game about kissing your schoolyard crush, and it’s kind of amazing in two-player mode. You get to select your crush, and if there’s a conflict, you have to fight over who gets to romance the cutest kid. Reminds me of Nina Freeman’s recent commission for the No Quarter party, Bum Rush.
Musashi No Ken – Taito 1986
Nintendo Entertainment System
This is probably not a deep cut if you’re Japanese, but people in English-speaking countries might be surprised to know that there’s a two-player game that captures some of the magic of the tragically single-player fencing masterpiece Great Swordsman. Of course Blandia is literally a two-player sequel to Great Swordsman, but it doesn’t have the compact elegance of the original… something that Musashi No Ken has at least a little of.
Stone Ball – Art & Magic 1994
This game is an amazing hot mess – the ‘humorous’ voice acting and caveman action recalls the multiplayer Midway games of the 80s, and it’s kind of hard to recommend on that front. But the way it looks! Just look at it. The French team who built it also built the Amiga classics Unreal and Agony, games that are also remembered more for their fantastic art design than their gameplay.
Sum: The Missile Human – Sum Soft 1989
It’s hard to find out anything about Sum Soft, who made several creative but technically simple games for the MSX computer in the 80s. Regardless, this game is hilarious and elegant. You’re a guy with a missile stuck to his head. If you launch the missile, you control both the guy and the missile at the same time, except the missile moves twice as fast as you do. That’s enough of a setup to generate deep tactical play and a constant sense of stress – both from being shot by your enemy’s missile and by your own!
Off The Wall – Bally/Sente 1984
I’m going to keep recommending this until I finally meet someone who has heard of it. This simple tennis game was designed by Atari’s Nolan Bushnell for Bally/Sente, and it’s probably the earliest example of a game that is really a lot like my own work. Unlike every other tennis game, it’s viewed from the side. You have a joystick to walk back and forth and a dial that sets the angle of your arm… the rest is up to you and the very permissive set of tennis-like rules (which allows, for example, bouncing the ball on your racquet repeatedly). You really need an analogue controller to play it properly – a dial is best but a mouse will work at a stretch, and you can set up recent versions of MAME to work with multiple mice.