1. Murder in Space (1990)
As a teenager, I was obsessed with whodunit mysteries. And so when I saw this retro title on the shelves in 1990, I bought it right away. If I recall correctly, I didn’t even bother to thoroughly read the game synopsis.
My subsequent experience with it? It wasn’t quite what I expected but overall, the chapters were eerie and spooky. There was also an unexpected amount of interactivity for an early 90s title. What I appreciated most back then was that you don’t simply investigate killings. You also get to prevent them from happening.
Intrigued, I persevered to the end, all ready to enact justice on the murderer. Only to discover, oh no, I couldn’t end the game! No matter what I did, what I tried, I just couldn’t finish the game.
And this was not to say that I had no clue as to who was behind the murders. What happened was, there simply wasn’t any way for me to progress beyond a certain point. I spent nearly a year repeatedly struggling, including re-installing and re-playing the whole story, before I surrendered and deleted the darn thing from my PC.
In hindsight, everything was probably something to do with my copy of Murder in Space, or my PC. In other words, some sort of bug froze the progression during the final portion.
Given the game wasn’t that fantastic to begin with, I thus ought to just let it go and forget about everything. Except, I couldn’t. The images of floating corpses in zero gravity lingers in my head till today. This is made worse by the fact that I do have a clear idea as to how the murders were executed.
Thanks to this, I deeply, deeply feel for real-life police officers unable to close the cases they have work on for years. For example, Inspector David Toschi of the Zodiac Killer case. One day, perhaps, I will force myself to replay the game with a proper, functioning copy. Hopefully this time, no bug will stand between the murderer and me. I badly need the closure.
2. Altered Destiny (1990)
Were I to compile a list of weird retro video games, Accolade’s Altered Destiny would surely rank tops.
Similar in format to the popular “Quest” series released by Sierra On-Line during the 80s, Altered Destiny was an interactive graphic adventure in which a mundane man was inexplicably thrown into a bizarre alien world. Following which, he was forced to undertake various arduous (and absurd) tasks to save that world from tyranny.
Sounds great? Well, it was an intriguing premise. Made all the more memorable by the numerous pop culture puns injected into the dialogues.
The huge problem though, Altered Destiny was so incredibly difficult, with so many of the solutions downright illogical, I never made it past a third of the game. (I played this in 1991, so there were no walkthroughs available online) In fact, I remained stuck at the same point despite months of trying.
No thanks to that, I developed a lifelong, terrible habit of “altered destiny-ing” a game whenever I’m stuck. In other words, instead of considering alternative solutions, instead of racking my brains, I immediately dismiss a game as poorly designed when stuck. After which I jump over to Gamefaqs.com for walkthroughs.
Over time, this habit even affected my problem-solving attempts at work or in other forms of play. To give an example, when I was baffled during my only attempt at an Escape Room game, I immediately concluded the session was poorly conceptualized. I just sat there till time ran out, waiting for the doors to open.
3. Wizardry 6: Bane of the Cosmic Forge (1990)
Dungeon crawling in retro video games is a curious thing. A subject well-worth academic analysis and investigation.
In every way, it is such a dreary task, the sort of tedious chore that would immediately bore a gamer.
And yet, once you sink into it, dungeon crawling becomes so incredibly addictive. The simplest game with the most primitive graphics becomes an irresistible magnet. You simply cannot wrench yourself away from those monotonous corridors, if only because you cannot stand the thought of not covering every single inch of them.
This was the case for me with Wizardry 6: Bane of the Cosmic Forge. During my first play, I found everything tremendously boring and repetitive, but very quickly, I became obsessed with investigating every inch of accessible space within the game too. Naturally, I was also obsessed with obtaining new gear and leveling my characters.
Given that situation, I would have long completed the game, difficult as it was, had my PC not then crashed on me after the first dungeon.
Yes, crashed on me. Right after I finally battled my way out of the castle the game started in.
Now, you must be thinking, why didn’t you reinstall? Why not just bite the bullet and start afresh, given you enjoyed it so much?
Well, believe it or not, I just couldn’t bring myself to. Suddenly, I dreaded returning to those repetitious tunnels. I dreaded repeating all that gearing up and grinding too.
Worse, I would nowadays inexplicably think of the game’s name at the weirdest moments. For example, while boarding a plane or when walking into a bookshop. What’s going on here? Is the power of the Cosmic Forge exerting its malevolent draw one me? Mocking me for never recovering it?
Perhaps one day, when I can bring myself to, I will get down to replaying this retro dungeon crawler. I feel some sort of “truth” is still waiting for me.
4. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995)
The only retro video game on this list that I did complete, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream remains stuck in my head because of its ghastly name, and because it was such a grim playing experience.
Based on Harlan Ellison’s eponymous short story, every single bit of this retro point-and-click oozed misanthropic malice. Something that I was constantly reminded of throughout the many macabre trials inflicted by the primary antagonist.
Till today, I still vividly remember the despondency I experienced while playing it in the 90s, and how terribly dismayed I felt when I completed my first run with the most terrible ending.
In addition to which, I developed a lifelong phobia of slugs after playing. To know why, download and play the updated 2016 version for smartphones. Alternatively, google for videos explaining the meaning of the title. Be warned, though, you’re not going to like what you see. You might also be similarly affected for life.
5. The 7th Guest
By now, you must be thinking. What a silly person you are! Why don’t you just repurchase all of these retro video games, spend a day or two hunting for walkthroughs, then complete them once and for all?
Get them out of your system, so to speak.
I could. And with services like Steam and GOG, it wouldn’t cost a lot of time or money too.
Yet, it’s not always about the ability to re-play, yes? Very often, what’s at work is the stigma of being stumped. Or the sting of being denied.
The former was what happened with The 7th Guest, a game celebrated during its time for its graphics and creepy storyline. Never the brightest kid on the block, I was completely stumped at every turn. Actually, I barely made it past the first third of the game, and that itself was after many tries.
Thanks to this, the very word “puzzle” forever became a turn-off for me when buying new games. Worse, after I finally got down to reading the walkthroughs for The 7th Guest, I uncovered a bigger horrific truth.
Even if I were to replay the game today as an adult, I still wouldn’t be able to solve most of the puzzles! I still wouldn’t be able to complete the game without walkthroughs! To say I’m mortified by this reality is a gross understatement.