PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 2 – Physical 2d Games (concluded)

Sorry again for the couple of weeks of downtime.  My site’s hosting issues should have been addressed now, and it should be up long-term from now on!

While the site was down, I completed two updates to my PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries list.  They have been combined into one update here, covering 19 games.  This completes the section of 2d platformers I own physical copies of.  Next time, the few 3d platformers I have physical copies of.

Edit, 11/25/2018: Updated Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure summary slightly to reflect that I learned that the Jaguar version has saving.  Source cited with a link.  I also fixed a few spelling errors I found through the article.

Games Summarized in This Update


Jazz Jackrabbit 2 (1998)
Jazz Jackrabbit 2: Holiday Hare 98 (1998)
Lode Runner: The Legend Returns (1994)
The Lost Vikings (1993)
Interplay 15th: Norse by Norsewest: The Return of the Lost Vikings (1997)
Mega Man 3 (1992)
Mega Man X (1995)
Mega Man X4 (1998)
Mega Man X5 (2002)
Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee (1997)
PCG CGC1: Duke Nukem II (1993)
Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (1996)
Rayman (1996)
Rayman Forever (1998)
Sonic CD (1996)
Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997)
Sonic 3D Blast (1996)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)
Zool 2 (1994)

The Summaries

Jazz Jackrabbit 2 (1998, Win9x) – 1-2 player simultaneous, 1-? player online, saves, gamepad supported. Jazz Jackrabbit 2, developed by Epic MegaGames (later to rename themselves to Epic Games) and published by Gathering of Developers, is a shooting-heavy platformer, and sequel to Epic’s successful Sonic-inspired early ’90s game Jazz Jackrabbit. Epic was the other major shareware publisher on the PC back in the early to mid ’90s, along with Apogee. I preferred Apogee for sure, and in the Apogee/Epic war everyone HAD to choose a side, but Epic made some great games as well, including Traffic Department 2192 and Epic Pinball. Their platformers, however, are okay to good, but just don’t match up to the games Apogee published such as Commander Keen and more. However, Apogee gave up on platformers after 1994 in favor of first-person shooters, while Epic made one last try at a platformer here before they too fully went over to their Unreal FPS games. I played lots of Epic shareware games, but didn’t buy any full versions of their games then, so they aren’t covered here. I did eventually get this game sometime in the ’00s, though, and it’s good, though I still have some reservations about Epic’s platformer design style. This game has an impressive feature-set, with lots of levels, two characters, splitscreen and online multiplayer, a level editor, and more, though, so there is a lot here for those who get into it, and more beyond this base title in the holiday edition, expansion pack (that I don’t have), and downloadable fanmade levels that you can still find on the internet.

Jazz 2 looks fairly nice. The game has cartoony graphics with plenty of variety and lots of obstacles, platform types, and enemies to deal with. The tile-based graphics do show, though, and things often look very similar throughout each stage. Somehow this game has always seemed like a little bit less than the sum of its parts to me. Now, the original Jazz was a fast-paced game where you run around as an anthropomorphic animal, this one a green rabbit, and shoot stuff with a variety of guns. Your high-speed movement was a hazard though, for while running around is fun, it’s far too easy to run into spikes or enemies you never saw coming. Jazz 2 solves this problem by running at a higher resolution by default. While on an older computer that supports it this game will run at 320×240, you really want to play at at least 640×480 so you can see where you’re going. At that resolution everything looks a little bit too small for my tastes, but you won’t run in to nearly as many things because you couldn’t see them. However, due to Jazz’s high speed, running into enemies or spikes every so often is an inevitability; Jazz is often too fast for his own good. Fortunately you do have hit points, up to five at most, and they are invaluable. Health refill items are also easy to find, thankfully. Beyond his high speed and guns, Jazz can also fly with your ears and butt-stomp, and you can shoot up, though not down or at diagonals.

Within each stage, as with many of the games I’ve covered here so far, you run around sizable levels, collecting items for points as you work your way through each stage in this game. Levels are fairly large and are mostly about platform-jumping and occasionally shooting the mostly-not-too-threatening enemies, though there are puzzle-solving elements such as boxes to hit that make blocks or platforms appear or boxes or springs you need to shoot with specific weapons in order to get past them. There are also hidden areas hidden through seemingly solid walls, of course. Most of the trickier puzzle areas are optional sections full of gems to collect for points and weapon ammo for your up to nine different guns, along with some health and extra lives, so it’s useful, but the game isn’t so hard that you must find them all. Indeed, with practice you won’t, as many require specific actions to access and levels are designed with numerous one-way passages, pits, and more, so you can’t just run back and try again once you’ve passed something. That replay value may be the main challenge here, though, because the enemies barely challenge you and bosses aren’t too hard once you learn their patterns. Jazz 2 may be a bit too easy, but it’s mostly good. Still, I just don’t find myself drawn to keep playing this game, and never have gotten even halfway through it; after a few levels I lose interest and don’t go back. I don’t like the jerky movement as you run then stop then run then stop; Sonic does that much better. I like Claw a bit more than JJ2. Still, this is a good game, at least. Also available on Mac. For some odd reason Epic has never re-released any of their old games on digital download platforms, but they should.

Jazz Jackrabbit 2: Holiday Hare 98 (1998, Win9x) – 1 player, 1-? player online, saves. The original Jazz Jackrabbit had two free Holiday Hare demos of sorts released, in 1994 and 1995. Both have a couple of new levels with a Christmas theme, though the gameplay is the same as in the main game. For Jazz 2 the Holiday Hare tradition returned, but it’s a paid title this time, not free. It still is a glorified demo, though, as you get five Christmas-themed Jazz 2 levels for your money in this surely budget-priced jewelcase-only release. The gameplay is exactly as before, so you run, jump, and shoot through large levels, finding secrets and constantly running into enemies and obstacles because you move too fast for your own good. There may not be much content here, and it’d have been great if this was free as before, but even so it’s cool that this exists, Christmas is great and too few games have official Christmas versions these days! Physical release only. This set of levels is also included in the JJ2 expansion pack JJ2: The Secret Files, I believe, which compiles everything into one release. I don’t have that, though; it seems to be a bit uncommon.

Lode Runner: The Legend Returns (1994, Win3.x) – 1 player, saves. Lode Runner: The Legend Returns, from Sierra, is a sequel/remake to Broderbund’s classic ’80s puzzle-platform game Lode Runner. I never did play the Lode Runner games much, but I can see the appeal even if it’s not my favorite kind of game. This game has 150 levels of classic 2d Lode Runner single-screen gameplay to work through. In each level, you need to collect all the gold then go to the exit which then appears. The Mad Monks are trying to kill you before you get it, though, so you’ll need to be clever to survive. Instead of a normal gun, however, the Lode Runner has a beam which can make a hole in the ground, destroying the ground block to your left or right below you. While this title also has some items to collect which you can use here and there, the hole-making mechanic is this is the games’ central focus, as always in the Lode Runner franchise. The gameplay here is pretty much the same as in the original Lode Runner, it’s just a bit better looking this time, controls well, has 10 different environments to play through, and has easy level-saving for levels you make in the included, and easy to use, level editor. Lode Runner gameplay is simple, but the game quickly gets very challenging. Trying to figure out how to get to every piece of gold without being killed can be tough, and you’ll often need to figure out which blocks you need to destroy and when, while fending off the enemies by dropping them in holes as well. And if you really get into the game, its simple design makes making your own levels easy.

The game does have the usual Windows 3.1/9x issues, though, including the requisite “the game can’t see my gamepad even in Win3.1 running in DOSBox”, and also screen-size issues. See, this game runs in a 640×480 box, full-screen with a border around it, in whatever your screen resolution is. Window’s “run this in 640×480” does not work, you’ll need to manually change your screen resolution to run this in a window larger than unacceptably tiny. Win3.1 in DOSBox seemed like a good solution for that, but it crashed DOSBox after I beat a few levels and still had joystick problems, so that has issues too. This game also looks as simple as it plays; Lode Runner: The Legend Returns is not exactly a game that pushes technology, for 1994 or otherwise. And maybe some more gameplay enhancements might have been nice, more block and obstacle types, something like that. Also, you really need to like Lode Runner to like this game, and with its somewhat slow pace, single-screen mazes, and high frustration factor at times, it isn’t a game for everyone. Still, this game is mostly good. Some Lode Runner game is definitely worth trying, but I don’t know which one is best, since I don’t play the series that much. This is probably as good as any, for classic Lode Runner gameplay but with a somewhat newer look than the originals. Also released on Playstation and Saturn in Japan. I have the Saturn version. The console ports don’t have the PC versions’ performance issues, but did not get a US release. The main game is as good or better on consoles, but custom level creation, saving, and trading is much easier on PC; though the ports do still have the editor, you’ve got to use a gamepad with it, and can only fit a couple of levels on a memory card.

The Lost Vikings – (1993, DOS) – 1 player, password save, gamepad supported. The Lost Vikings was Blizzard Entertainment’s first major original title, and it’s a puzzle-platformer starring some silly cartoon-style time-travelling Vikings. This game shows how a game can benefit from a strong focus on one core mechanic, of splitting the usual action-game moves across three characters you control at once. It was a brilliant idea, and Blizzard executed on the concept very well! The game was mainly developed for the Super Nintendo, but also was released on computers. I got this floppy-disk PC version of the game for Christmas in 1993 and liked it a lot, and it’s still a great, great game! I recently covered the very similar Sega Genesis version of this game in my Genesis Game Opinion Summaries list, so read that for more, but this is a great game so I’ll say something, at least, this time. This is the first version of the game I played, after all, and the one I have the most nostalgia for. It’s also a great version of the game, as much worth playing as any.

In this game, you play as Erik, Baleog, and Olaf, the three titular Lost Vikings. Each one has two abilities, and there is very little overlap. Erik can jump and dash, Baleog use a sword and bow, and Olaf can block and float with a shield, and you must use all three in concert to get through each puzzle-heavy level. Each has only three hit points per stage, and all three must survive and reach the exit in each stage to move on. The expertly-designed stages seem perfectly crafted for each character’s strengths and weaknesses, and I love trying to figure out what to do in each stage, in what order. There are many obstacles to tackle, and while hitting switches is a constant and your basic actions stay the same, how you get to those switches, and the obstacles along the way, do change from each area to the next. You’ll constantly need to think, and carefully explore each stage, to get through this game. While you will fight many enemies, this is a puzzle game first, action game second. You are given a continue password on each stage and have infinite tries at each level, so you won’t need to replay much when you do die.

Your basic actions are each characters’ two abilities plus a swap key to change between characters, but each Viking can also carry up to four items, including healing items, keys, and more. You can swap items between characters when they are close enough to eachother. The controls work well, but this is an 8-button SNES game ported to 4-button PC gamepads, so some functions are on the keyboard. You can move, use both abilities, use items, and activate switches on the pad, but switching characters, selecting items other than the selected one, moving items from one character to another, and pausing to restart the level are on the keyboard. It works, but it would be nice to have the character-switch keys on the pad as you do use those a lot. Ah well. Visually, The Lost Vikings is a nice-looking game comparable to its SNES counterpart. Content-wise this is a straight port of that game, and that’s fine. The later Genesis version adds several exclusive levels and a multiplayer mode, but you won’t find those here, understandably; the controls would be a big problem with multiple people on one system, and this game released before co-op online play was a common option. The sprite-art is all fantastic, as usual from Blizzard, and backgrounds are reasonably varied, as you travel through the various time periods in the game. I love the silly enemies and animations you’ll see throughout this game.

The music is also great and has support for Soundblasters and more, though as a kid I never heard most of it, since our computer only had a PC Speaker and with that there’s only an intro tune, then silence and sound effects in the levels. But it is a very good soundtrack, with a memorable main theme. Blizzard soundtracks would get even greater than this later on, but this one’s great. The writing is funny as well, as the three heroes have amusing conversations throughout their adventure. There also are other characters to talk to, and it’s all silly stuff. And The Lost Vikings is an outstanding game all around. The game looks and sounds good, plays great, and has variety and depth. The puzzles are interesting and the game is challenging but rewarding to play. The three-characters system is fantastic, and The Lost Vikings benefits from its strong focus on its core mechanic. This is how you do his genre right, and I’m not sure if any game like it since has topped this great classic. Also available on the SNES, Amiga, Genesis, and Game Boy Advance. The Genesis version has slightly worse graphics, but four exclusive levels and an exclusive 3-player co-op mode. Blizzard released this version of the game for free for digital download on their website.

Interplay 15th Anniversary: Norse by Norsewest: The Return of the Lost Vikings (1997, Win9x) – 1 player, password save. Norse by Norsewest is the sequel to the great classic above. As with the first one, it is a 2d puzzle-platformer, and it originates from Blizzard’s SNES game The Lost Vikings 2, though this version is based on the enhanced Playstation/Saturn edition which adds pre-rendered CGI cutscenes, voice acting for all ingame dialogue, and prerendered graphics, to the 4th-gen original’s core gameplay, writing, and level designs. The original SNES version was apparently completed in 1995 and runs in an enhanced version of the original games’ engine, but for some odd reason Interplay decided to not release it until Beam’s 5th-gen versions had been completed, so all versions released in early 1997. The version of the game I have came in the Interplay 15th Anniversary Anthology, a pretty fantastic retail collection of 15 Interplay games released around the year 2000 that I got cheap sometime after that, which is why the game title is as it is. And I want to mention this first: unfortunately, while the regular retail version of Norse by Norsewest includes both DOS and Windows 9x versions of the game, this Anthology release removes the DOS version and contains only the Windows port… which, of course, has some big problems, like all these Win9x platformers do — fullscreen doesn’t work at all and you can only play in a 640×480 window at most, and you need to turn on 256 color mode and sometimes the colors mess up. And worse, sadly, both this Win9x release and apparently even the DOS version have absolutely no gamepad support, inexplicably; that’s a somewhat unforgivable thing to leave out! You’ll need key-to-joy mapping software to enjoy this game. And why does this Playstation conversion again have password-only saving, but it’s worse now as this time it doesn’t even let you use the keyboard keys to select letters, so you have to flip through with the arrows? The first game doesn’t have this limitation. Thankfully the keyboard controls are reconfigurable, unlike some games mentioned here, so that’s good at least.

Unfortunately, though, that is far from the biggest issue here. Norse by Norsewest probably is a good game, but compared to its all-time-great predecessor it is somewhat disappointing. The game can be fun and amusing, but it does not live up to its great predecessor, either in gameplay or technically. Basic gameplay here is similar to before, so this is a somewhat slow-paced puzzle-platformer, often heavier on the ‘puzzle’ side of things than the ‘platformer’ part. You have many situations to get past, and have to figure out how to get through each stage, get the necessary items, or what have you. The biggest issue I have with this game is, however, that Blizzard decided to add more characters and abilities, but in so doing they messed up the brilliant purity of the original. While The Lost Vikings excelled in setting up puzzles so that each character had to do one specific thing, here multiple characters can do multiple things. First, each of the original three Vikings returns, but with a new ability or two: Baleog now has a grappling hook to swing over pits, Olaf can fart to jump a little, and Erik can double-jump with some jet-boots. There are two new characters, a werewolf and a little dragon, and both can both jump and attack. So, now you have multiple ways to jump, multiple ways to attack, and more. You only have three characters per stage though, and my favorites are the levels with just the three core Vikings. There are still elements that only one character can get past, so this still is a puzzle game, but by adding lots of abilities, they significantly degraded the genius of the original. This game is a good object lesson in the fact that adding more content to a game is not necessarily better, and indeed sometimes is worse. This game is reasonably challenging and fun, but the focused gameplay of the original is superior to this.

Visually, this game looks decently nice, though the prerendered style has aged. I prefer the simpler, hand-drawn look of the original game overall, and would someday like to get the SNES version of this one, which reuses a lot of graphics from its predecessor. The voice-acting and CGI intro cutscene are amusing, though, and the humor at least remains intact from the first game. This is again a pretty funny game at times, and some jokes from this have stuck with me, such as the “do not touch, not doughnuts!” line from the intro. Whoops… :p Just like its predecessor, NWN is a very funny game. The humor may be my favorite thing about this game, in fact. And even if Norse by Norsewest is a disappointment, it still is a good game. NWN is no TLV, not even close, but it’s still a fun, above-average platform-action game, with more action than the first game but still plenty of tricky puzzles and amusing situations throughout. Also available on the SNES (as The Lost Vikings 2; US only), Playstation, and Saturn. The PS1 or Saturn versions are probably the best overall, they don’t have the issues this release does.

Mega Man 3 (1992, DOS) – 1 player, No Saving, gamepad supported. Mega Man 3 for the PC, developed by Rozner Labs and published by Hi Tech Expressions, is an original PC game that uses Capcom’s Mega Man character and license, but has no connection to Capcom beyond that. This is the second and final PC-only Mega Man game, following the first Mega Man; there is no “2” because this game released after NES MM3, so they used the name and cover art of the most recent release. This game is, in modern terms, essentially an indie game that got a retail release and a reskin using a very popular character — Rozner Labs was a team of two American brothers, and Hi Tech Expressions a developer who published exclusively licensed games, most of them terrible. I got this game in ’92 or ’93 because I’d liked the Mega Man games on the NES quite a lot, wanted to play one on a platform I had, and only had a PC at the time. And ever since, I have had mixed feelings for this game. On the one hand, as a Mega Man game it isn’t any good. While this is still a side-scrolling platform action game where you play as the blue robot Mega Man, with somewhat familiar controls and gameplay though this game has some unique quirks, it is very different from any other Mega Man game. The levels here are mazes, not linear paths, you actually swim around in water instead of sticking to the bottom as you do in any Capcom Mega Man game, and the controls and gameplay are a bit clunky and unpolished. However, this is not a bad game. I have thought it’s bad at times, but when I last replayed it several years ago, I realized that no, MM3 for the PC is okay. This is an alright Western-style platformer with large, mazelike levels to explore and a moderate amount of challenge, though not too much. The mazelike levels are a huge change from what you expect from Mega Man, but they can be fun to explore. The bosses in this game are quite easy, but the levels are trickier. The game has decent controls, and you jump and shoot as expected. There is gamepad support, though you need the keyboard to pause to switch weapons, and the keyboard controls are not configurable if you use them; get used to J for jump and space to fire. The game also has six bosses, plus a boss stage at the end after you beat the first six. As in the console Mega Man games, you can play the six levels in any order. However, there is no saving in this game, sadly, so you have to beat the game in one sitting; this is why I never beat it as a kid, only much later. It does have fun gameplay and reasonably solid level designs, though.

Visually, the game looks alright, though this Mega Man is not quite Capcom’s. The game runs in CGA or EGA, and the environments look nice and sprites are decent-looking. The six bosses and final boss are each unique, though they to take design ideas from past NES Mega Man bosses. Five of the six bosses have the same exact attack pattern of just jumping back and forth and shooting at you, though. This game has an environmental theme, as fitting with the times given the popularity of shows like Captain Planet, and apparently originally was going to be a game called Eco Man, before the Rozners were offered the Mega Man license again, since one of them had made the first DOS Mega Man game. So, you’re Mega Man, exploring locations such as oil rigs and slimy sewers. Some popular Mega Man enemies appear, but others are original to this game, such as ubiquitous guys in yellow hazardous-materials suits. Yeah. I like the swimming though, and have always thought that it’d be kind of nice if Capcom had released some main-series Mega Man games where you can actually swim around like you can here. One water level’s mazelike design can be annoying due to the fans pushing you into spikes, but still, it’s a fun stage. However, the game has only basic PC Speaker beeps for sound effects with no music; by ’92 I would have thought a retail title would have Soundblaster support, even most shareware games did by then. Console Mega Man games were known for their great soundtracks, but there’s none of that here. Ah well. Overall, though, this game is alright. MM3 for the PC is a decent platformer with okay graphics, controls, and levels, and I do like it. If you forget the “Mega Man” part and just look at this game as a PC platformer, it’s a fun little maybe-above-average game for platformer fans, and is well worth a try. Physical only.

Mega Man X (1995, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Mega Man X, developed again by Rozner Labs but published by Capcom this time, is, unlike its predecessor, a port of the SNES classic Mega Man X. After licensing out ports of their PC games before, in 1995 Capcom decided to publish some themselves, and the first two were Mega Man X and Super Street Fighter II. Both were available on their own, or bundled with the 6-button Capcom PC Fighter 6 gamepad. I got the gamepad-bundle version of this game, and I do still have that pad. Mega Man X, from 1993, is a great classic, Capcom’s first SNES Mega Man game and a very good side-scrolling action platformer. As with the original series you play as Mega Man, running, jumping, and shooting his way through hordes of enemy robots, but this game is set some time after the original series. Mega Man is the new, cooler “X” version now, fighting evil reploids led by Dr. Sigma, instead of Wily. Unlike the NES games you start out in an intro level here, before moving to a standard Mega Man level select screen with eight stages to choose from. Of course, you need to learn (or look up) the best order to play the stages in, if you want to succeed, because you get a power from each enemy, and each enemy is weak to one of the others’. The controls and level designs are fantastic as always, and the well-polished action feels really good. All of the bosses in this game have memorable stages and character designs, as well. X brings in one big gameplay change versus the original series, though: you can grab on walls and slide down or jump off of them, and also can dash once you get the easy-to-find dash-boots powerup. These changes adds a lot to the game, and the levels really make use of them as well. Still, though this game is great, I have always liked the NES and GB Mega Man games the most, over X. Still, with good to great graphics, music, gameplay, and level designs, this game is really good too. In the ’90s, the Mega Man series was one of the best.

This is a fairly faithful port of Mega Man X as well. Everything except for the robot ride armor is here, and the MIDI rendition of the soundtrack is pretty good. I guess it’s too bad robot ride armor was removed, but they are a very minor part of this game anyway, so I don’t miss them much. The team had to recreate the game mostly from scratch, so it’s impressive it is as good as it is. The game looks good and plays great, but it is true that the graphics aren’t quite at the level of what PC games could do by 1995; it is a SNES port after all. It is odd though that while the game came with a 6-button gameport gamepad, the game only supports four buttons so you need to have either pause or quick-weapon-switch on the keyboard. You can configure the controls, fortunately. It’s probably best to have pause on the pad and pause to switch, classic Mega Man-style. The gamepad, called the Capcom PC Fighter 6, is interesting in that the 5th and 6th buttons actually are a third axis, as DOS only supports 4 buttons, but while SSFII supports all six buttons this doesn’t. But when I got this game back in 1995, I was mostly just excited to finally be able to play a real Mega Man game on the PC, and a great one at that! And the other change from the SNES is an improvement — instead of password save as you needed there, in this version you save to save files instead. There can be up to 15 saves at once, which is plenty. The saves don’t save anything more than the passwords did, so you still need to play the whole final section of the game in one try, but still, it is a nice addition. This is a tough game, particularly in that final stretch, so it’s unfortunate that you need to beat all of the final levels in one sitting; you really should be able to save between them as you can before! Because of that I’ve never beaten Mega Man X, though I have gotten to the final boss. Almost everything else about this game is great, though. For one last criticism, there is no new content here, so while this is a CD game, the game is under 6 megabytes large and most of the disc is empty. A CD soundtrack or something might have been nice, but no, it’s just a straight port. You don’t need the disc in to play, either.

Still, overall Mega Man X is a very good game. It looks good, has a lot of variety between its stages, has some inventive boss concepts each based on a different animal, and plays really well. This game is a classic, and this PC version is very nearly as good as the SNES original. The best classic MM games may be even better, but this game still holds up very well, on the PC or otherwise. SNES port. The SNES version is easier to find to day and has both physical and digital re-releases (on Wii and Wii U Virtual Console and in the Mega Man X Collection for PS2 and Gamecube), but this PC version is a physical-only release. A large part of this game was ported in altered form to the Game Boy/GB Color in the game Mega Man Xtreme. There is also a MMX remake on the PSP titled Mega Man Maverick Hunter X; I haven’t played it, but it has 2.5d graphics and is supposed to be solid. And last there is an apparently bad iOS version with redone graphics. For a little more on this game and PC Mega Man 3, see the Rozners’ interview in John Szczepeniak’s “The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, Vol. I”.

Mega Man X4 (1998, Win9x, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Mega Man X4 for the PC is a port of Capcom’s 1997 PS1/Saturn game of the same name, the fourth game in the the Mega Man X series. This was Capcom’s second 5th-gen 2d Mega Man game after Mega Man 8 (PS1/Saturn), and it’s a big improvement over that game in every way other than the voice acting. X4 is a true classic, a great-looking 2d game with very good gameplay and really nice spritework and backgrounds. I really liked this in the ’90s, and when I saw this game for cheap sometime in the later ’90s, I got it. I remember seeing this, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, and Mega Man X3 for under $10 each, but could only afford two of them, so I got this and the fantastic puzzle game classic Puzzle Fighter. I’ve still never played the PC version of X3… too bad. (Oh, there is no PC port of X2; it went from X to X3.) But after looking at the boxes this one was newer and had better graphics than X3, so I got X4 over X3. Well, that may not be the best reasoning, but I picked well, because Mega Man X4 is fantastic and my favorite game in the Mega Man X series. This is also the only MMX game I’ve actually beaten, sadly enough, though I am glad to have finished this one. Mega Man X4 was great then, and still is great now! In addition to the great graphics, art design, great difficulty balance that is not too hard or too easy, and gameplay, the level designs are inventive and varied and the game controls very well also. The game also lets you play the whole game as either Mega Man or Zero, for the first time in the series. Zero’s fun to play as. The animated cutscenes and charmingly terrible voice acting are also good stuff, though I don’t care for the story; it’s dark as in all MMX games, but this goes farther than most into the realm of the depressing. Everything else about the game is great, though, and the port is even fantastic! This PC version of MMX4 is pretty much a perfect port of the PS1 version of the game, but with almost no load times, which is great. I was quite happy to find that the game runs great on my newer computer, too, as it runs with no issues. It’s even the only Windows 9x or 3.1 game on this list so far that actually natively works with gamepads on my newer computer! That’s pretty awesome. You can redefine the controls, too, thankfully, though you can only use the first 8 gamepad buttons for the games’ 8 functions so pause will be on some random face or shoulder button, probably. Oh well, that’s a very minor limitation.

Visually, X4 is a big step up from X3. The graphical overhaul the series got in this title still looks impressive and stylish, and X4 really is Mega Man X at its best. Sure, this is a low-resolution game for a 1998 PC game, but since it is a console port that is understandable, and I think the great art design and visuals stand out even if it’s not nearly as sharp-looking as some contemporary PC games like Claw; it more than makes up for that with its better art design and gameplay. Every level looks and feels quite different, and the music is good as usual in the Mega Man series, even if the NES Mega Man soundtracks are my favorites. The game is nicely animated too, as your character and the enemies all animate as they move. And beyond the graphics, the gameplay is just as good. As in past MMX games, you can run, shoot, and dash, but this game adds a limited hover that you get if you find the fairly easy-to-find powerup item. The controls are very responsive and are great once you get used to them, though dash-jumping can take some practice to get right. I highly recommend putting the dash button on a shoulder button (and use a gamepad!), so you can more easily use dash, jump, and shoot at the same time. Levels and enemy patterns are crafted around dashing, and you will need to master the dash to get through this game. As usual in the X series, you have an intro level, eight robot masters to beat each with a special weapon you get from beating them, and then some boss levels at the end. Thankfully, this time you can save in between levels of the boss section, so you don’t need to play it all in one sitting like you did in X1 above. That’s a great improvement and surely helped me finish this one. The save system is clearly console-based, as you have two blocks of three save files to choose from, as if you’re selecting one of the PS1’s two memory cards, but it works.

The levels here are built off of past Mega Man games, as always in this iterative series, but they’re probably the best in the X series. X5 would build on this games’ look and design concepts, but it does not manage to improve on them. From the lava level with its rocks everywhere to the cyber-level with teleporters and warping enemies to the lush jungle, the stages are as fun to play through as they are to look at. Each level is broken up into two parts, and if you get a game over in part two and continue from there you only need to redo the second part, which is very nice. If you quit to the menu you will have to redo the whole stage, though. Now, Mega Man games usually either have harder levels, or harder bosses. This one probably has tougher bosses than levels, though with the correct weapon for each boss, if you experiment enough or look up the best route online, it gets easier. Some Mega Man games are too hard, but this ones’ challenge is just right. There is also an Easy mode available, for people who find Normal too tough. For skilled players who find it too easy as gun-equipped Mega Man, though, there’s always also sword-wielding Zero, the other playable character. Zero’s pretty cool, but his very limited ranged options adds to the challenge. I really like that both are playable here, with a full story. But overall, Mega Man X4 is much more than “just right”; it is truly great, one of the all-time best 2d platformers. In graphics, sound, gameplay, levels, bosses, and more, Mega Man X4 is the pinnacle of its series… and the PC port is even fantastic! Get this game for sure for some system, and this one is as good a choice as any. Playstation port, also available on Saturn. The PS1 version is available on other platforms, such as the PS2/GC Mega Man X Collection. Physical only.

Mega Man X5 (2002, Win9x/2000 or above) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. The last of the PC Mega Man games released in the US on store shelves, Mega Man X5 released four years after its predecessor. After loving X4 I really wanted another game like it, but it would be years until Capcom finally released more 2d Mega Man X with this game and X6, both 2001 releases on the PS1. More than a year later, this PC port released in 2002, and I bought it soon after release. Mega Man X5 was originally intended to be the last Mega Man X game, though that was not to be. This is a great game, but in most ways it is a downgrade from the incredible Mega Man X4. The game is a lot better than the highly disappointing X6 and X7, but it’s not quite X4, either. So, as usual in this series, Mega Man X5 is very, very much like the last game, just with new levels and lower production values. Expect more nice-looking 2d artwork, for a port of a low-rez PS1 game, more solidly-designed platform-action levels to blast through, and more tough boss fights. Versus its predecessor, a few things have changed. First, you can now crouch and shoot while crouching, but your bullets cannot pass through walls, unlike all previous Mega Man games. There are also many ropes to grab on to in the game. Levels make use of these things, and it does mix things up a bit from the Mega Man usual, though it’s mostly similar to before. There are also three difficulty levels now, including a new harder option as well as easy and normal. The game also has a time limit, however, and that is annoying, though it’s not as bad as in some games as it’s not a timer so much as a limit to the number of levels you can play before beating all 8 Robot Masters. Thanks to Sigma, a giant space colony is going to crash into the earth and somehow kill all life on the planet in 16 hours, and a virus is turning almost all reploids into mavericks — that is, making them evil. So, X and Zero have to go around killing not-actually-evil reploids, like usual in this series, for the usual overdose of overdone depressing writing. The story in this game feels partially copied out of X4 and partially new, but it’s not particularly good. There are no animated cutscenes and no voice acting this time, though, only static images and text. Budget cuts indeed. The in-level conversations can be annoying and pointless, too. There are three endings, though, which is nice.

Now, the formulaic design here is fine, as the Mega Man series has always had one game create a formula, then its sequels make new experiences within that formula. And as usual, this game is based on a great formula! However, it is impossible to ignore that X5’s levels, bosses, and design here aren’t quite at X4’s level. The box is smaller too, as the game has a smallish box was the unfortunate trend in the ’00s, versus X1, X3, and X4 PC’s big boxes. They thought that it would be a good idea to have a time limit in this game, too: the story is that a space station is going to crash into the Earth, unless Mega Man can stop it in time, so you have a limited number of tries until it crashes. Fortunately stopping the space station is not that hard, and if you beat all eight robot masters you can end the timer, so this is no Prince of Persia kind of situation, but still, it wasn’t a great idea. I do like that now you have alternate robot suits to switch to right from the beginning though, that’s cool. Upgrades for your suit have been a part of the MMX series since the beginning, but X5 lets you play as regular X, Falcon suit X, or Zero right from the start, and you can choose differently in each mission. I like this change, versus having to play the whole game as X or Zero as it is in X4. You can get more suits as well, if you collect the hidden parts for them. The Falcon suit’s hover is great, but the unlockable suits each have a very handy power s well. But once you get into a stage, the issues return. This game is very good and has some fun stages, but they sometimes feel rehashed from the last game. Still, when I got this game back in ’02 I was liking it, and beat the eight Robot Masters. There are some interesting boss fights here, such as the one against the spider-like guy; that’s a cool fight. However, I’ve never gotten past the first of the final set of levels at the end, as its boss, the Black Demon, is absurdly hard unless you use some super-cheap strategies! That boss is a real pain. This game is the most forgiving yet for continues, as if you get game over and continue at a boss you’ll continue right before the boss, crazily enough, but that only helps when the bosses are actually beatable… stupid Black Demon.

The PC port of this game is solid, that bug that requires a patch aside, and the game looks and runs about the same as its predecessor. For 2002 this is definitely a dated-looking game, but it looks fine. The working joystick support is great as well. And the save system is a little bit cleaned up, too — you have a normal save menu, instead of the two ‘boxes’ of three files. Overall, Mega Man X5 plays great, looks nice considering it’s a PS1 port, and has good classic 2d art and animation. However, the stages are not as memorable as those in X4, the cheaper presentation hurts, and the gameplay tweaks don’t all work; I wish you could still shoot through walls, and I never like game-wide timers. The game also may have bugs even after the patch, unlike its predecessor, though they are rare. Still, this is a good game based on a strong foundation, and even if it’s a bit ‘average’ for a Mega Man game, that still leaves it as better than most games in this genre. Mega Man X5 is a pretty good game, but not an essential one. This game is a followup to a great classic, and Mega Man fans should play it because it provides more fun platform-action gameplay to work through. This game has some issues, but it is still mostly good, something that can’t be said about the next two Mega Man X games… but I don’t have those for PC, so those will be for another time. I did cover X6 in my PS1 summaries list years ago, though; it’s kind of bad. Play X4 and X5 instead. This is a Playstation port. The PS1 version is available on other platforms, such as the PS2/GC Mega Man X Collection. As a note, there are PC versions of Mega Mans X6, X7, and X8, but none have US releases; X6 and X7 are Asia-only, and X8 is Asia & Europe only. No PC Mega Man games have digital re-releases.

Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee (1997, Win9x) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee is the first game in what would become a popular, lasting series of very strange platformer-ish games. This first Oddworld game is a slow-paced 2d puzzle-platformer with prerendered graphics and Prince of Persia-style controls, but with added complexity. Unlike Blackthorne, this game has a lot more stealth and much less shooting. In fact, your character, Abe the Mudokon, cannot attack at all, only avoid enemies. You can talk to other characters of your species, Mudokons, though, and possess enemies so long as they aren’t on the same plane as you. You can then have enemies attack other enemies or kill themselves, or tell Mudokons to follow you or wait, as you try to get them to points where you can save them. As in many games in this subgenre, each area is a single screen, and you move between screens from edges or in doors. PoP, Blackthorne, and others work this same way. Unlike those games, though, this game has a larger, inter-connected world, instead of set levels. You do have infinite lives from the last checkpoints, and checkpoints are frequent, but you will often have to redo multiple screens after each death. The difficulty level is high, though, so you’ll need all of those infinite lives if you want any chance of getting through here. Learning the Gamespeak system, the eight phrases Abe can say to other Mudokons, is also key. Puzzles quickly get complex and very tough, but the screen-by-screen nature of the game means that many things, such as enemies, are confined to each screen. Enemies will reset to their default state as soon as you leave a screen, though unfortunately if other Mudokons die they will stay dead until you die and restart the area. Figuring out what to do can be tricky but rewarding.

There are two big problems here, though. First, I don’t like the comedy or humor much, and second, I like the gameplay even less. For the former, this game has a dark comedic tone. Abe is a worker trying to escape from a massive factory run by evil guys who want to turn Mudokons into their next food source. You can just escape, but there are also a lot of other Mudokons to try to rescue along the way. It tries to be funny, but while it can be amusing at times, I don’t particularly care for its comedic style, most of the time; too much off-putitng dark comedy and fart jokes, not enough stuff that actually makes me want to keep playing. The gameplay sure doesn’t help, either; I’ve never gotten much of anywhere in this game, and I doubt I ever will. I know this game is a popular classic, and I can see why, but I don’t care for it. The game does look nice for the time, though. This game has CGI-rendered cutscenes with voice acting, and pre-rendered ingame graphics. It looks nice, though it is a bit pixelated and the bland factory background is somewhat bland. The audio work is good as well. The game also runs well even on a newer machine, and even recognizes my gamepad! That makes three Win9x games in a row with functioning gamepad support… amazing. You’ll really want a pad for this game, too, as it is a console port; the game was also released on the Playstation. My bigger issue is with the controls and gameplay, though. As with all PoP-style games, the controls are clumsy and slow, you move from space to space instead of having free movement, and there are more commands to memorize than any platformer really needs. You’ll need to execute them all with perfect timing to survive, too, which quickly gets very difficult. While trying to figure out each puzzle, which switches to hit, which guys to possess, and such, can be interesting, it also can be frustrating. You need to have a high tolerance for repetition and dealing with PoP-style games’ usual frustrating controls, but worse here in this game with like 20 or more different things you can do, and I quickly lose patience with the game and quit. This isn’t a bad game, I just don’t find it fun. If I must play a PoP-style game, give me the more straightforward Blackthorne over this stealth and puzzle-focused title. I much prefer standard platformers over any of these, though. Still, for those who do like this kind of game, the game does look nice, creates an interesting world, and has plenty of challenging, interesting puzzles to figure out and get past. I can see why some people love this game, and people who like this kind of game might want to check the game out, but I can’t recommend it, myself. Playstation port. There is also a remake, Oddworld: Big ‘n’ Tasty, available digitally only for the PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PS Vita. I haven’t played it.

PCG CGC1: Duke Nukem II (1993, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Duke Nukem II, the second game in this later-to-be-infamous series, is a pretty good side-scrolling platform-action game. This is a shooting-heavy game where you wander around sizable levels, collecting stuff and shooting lots of aliens as you try to find the key that will let you proceed to the next stage. The last level in each of the four eight-level episodes is a boss fight. The original Duke Nukem had plenty of shooting and a bit of attitude, but this game ups that significantly, though it is not the oversexed gorefest of Duke 3D; there is violence here, more than the first game had as enemies do blow up into chunks, but it’s 16-bit-console-style violence, not Duke 3D stuff. Duke is now a narcissistic egomaniac, though, who in the intro is hawking his book “Why I’m So Great” on some TV talkshow, when he is abducted by aliens planning to take over the world, starting with Duke. Naturally, you break out of alien prison immediately and start wiping them out to save the earth. My parents thought Duke Nukem sounded too violent so I wasn’t allowed to play either of the original Duke games as a kid, though I remember trying the first one once and thinking not too much of it. I eventually got this second game in PC Gamer’s Classic Game Collection Vol. 1 disc, included on the disc that came with a summer 2000 issue of the magazine. Duke II is similar to the first Duke game, but this game has much better graphics and sound and better, smoother gameplay, so I’m glad they included this one over the original. Duke II has VGA graphics, unlike its EGA predecessor, and Soundblaster sound and music support as well. The art design is solid, though not amazing, and the music is good.

This is a simple game, and most of the time you just run, shoot, and jump. The controls are okay, but not as smooth as a Mega Man X is, or such. The scrolling is also a bit jerky; it’s not nearly as bad as the first Duke game is, but it is worse than, say, Commander Keen. You have health bar in this game and can take nine hits. You’ll need it. Some powerups refill health. However, in a Gauntlet-like touch, shooting food items destroys them for points instead of a health refill, so watch out! You do have infinite lives from the beginning of the current level, so there is no real game over here, but still health is valuable and the game does get tricky eventually. This isn’t a really hard game, but it has some parts that are a decent challenge. You also get several different weapons, but unfortunately you cannot switch between them during play. Instead, the stronger weapons are just time-limited or ammo-limited powerups, after which you go back to the regular basic gun. I really wish you could switch weapons to save ammo for those, it’d have been great. As for the level layouts, as with many Western platformers of the era, this game has large levels full of enemies to kill and things to collect for points. Exploration is required, as the key and keycard items you will need to get past the laser gates at the end of each stage are usualy hidden off in some corner of the level. Fortunately dead enemies do not respawn, which is great. You will take hits due to the short draw distance sometimes, though; Duke’s sprite is large, so you can’t always see as far as you might like around you. You’ll need good reflexes to avoid damage sometimes. I do like the variety of enemies, though, each of which has their own attack patterns. Enemies do not just charge blindly at you in this game; some crawl on the ground then jump at you and cling to you, some jump between floor and ceiling, others shoot at you, and more. Exploring the levels can be fun, so long as you don’t miss that keycard’s hiding spot. There are also secret areas to try to find. You can also save at any time, though it will pick up from the beginning of the current level, I believe. Now, this is a shareware game, which means that the first episode is available free, and the other three come with the registered version. Shareware games often let you play the episodes in any order, and this one is no exception, though I’d always play them in order.

Overall, Duke Nukem 2 is a decently fun game. It looks alright and sounds good, plays fairly well, has an amusing sense of humor, and has a good amount of content. The levels are interesting to explore and there are various settings to see as you progress. I like the enemy variety as well. I do dislike the jerky scrolling, sometimes nearly-unavoidable hits, and the sometimes too-well-hidden keycard locations, though. And while Duke II is good for a PC sidescrolling shooter/platformer, it doesn’t match up to greats like the three Mega Man X games above. Still, this is a pretty fun little game well worth checking out if you like action-platformers. It’s well designed and fun. Available both digitally and in retail. Also available in an Apogee Anthology pack, digitally. The shareware episode is free, demo-style, so play that to check the game out. This game is PC-only, but Duke Nukem for the Game Boy Color took a lot of inspiration from this title, as immediately becomes obvious if you play it. That game’s good fun too, far better than the awful GBC Commander Keen game!

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (1996, Win3.x) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is an okay platformer from Activision that they seem to have really liked, because they ported it to numerous platforms in the mid ’90s; this PC version is from ’96, but the SNES/Genesis originals released in ’94. Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is a very nicely-animated platform adventure which can be fun to play. You are Pitfall Harry Jr., exploring Central American jungles and Mayan ruins in a search for treasures you need to save your famous father, the Harry from the original Pitfall, from a curse. This game has 14 main levels, plus 3 bonus levels and the original Atari 2600 game hidden on the main menu via a cheatcode, so there’s a decent amount of game here but not too much; this is no Earthworm Jim, it’s more average in challenge, though bosses can be tricky. Most console versions of this game didn’t have saving, so it is playable in one sitting, but this PC release is better, and just like Activision’s other platformer from this time, Earthworm Jim for Windows 95, has a level-select menu that unlocks as you complete stages.  The Jaguar version also has saving, but not any others.  Here on PC the game doesn’t install, it runs straight off the CD, but it will make a file on your hard drive for your options and level-select progress. Unfortunately, as with Earthworm Jim, Pitfall has issues on a modern OS — it won’t detect my gamepad, fullscreen is 320×240 only so it won’t work (remember, Windows Vista and better is 640×480 minimum), and it crashes if I turn on the sound effects, too, though the music works at least. That last one’s an odd one. But when running on my Win9x computer or virtual machine this game will run fine, and it’s the best version of this game so it is worth the hassle if you like the game.

Gameplay in Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure consists of running around collecting stuff while you try to figure out where to go in each stage. You can whip, Indiana Jones-style, jump, and throw rocks at enemies. Thanks to your highly-animated sprite, your movements are a bit restricted, you don’t have totally free movement. You do have a health bar this time, though, so you can take some hits, but you will thanks to the controls and often cheap enemy locations. Still, it is mostly fun once you get used to how the game plays. Levels are large and complex, but there is always a main path to follow, once you find it. There are many side areas to look at and the main path can be obscured, though, so you’ll be bumping around until you figure out the path forwards. Levels are loaded with ropes to swing on or climb, vines to ride down, pitfalls to avoid, and lots of enemies trying to hurt you. One big issue with this game, though, is that you can’t always tell what you can stand on or walk through and what you can’t, so you’ll constantly be bumping into walls or going through things that look like platforms. With some memorization you get used to it, but it can be annoying sometimes. On the other hand, though, the graphics are great, with very detailed backgrounds that even have some animation in them. This is a very nice-looking game, for a mid ’90s 2d platformer that originated on 4th-gen consoles. Of the console versions only the Jaguar and SNES versions also have 256-color graphics like this one, but neither of those have CD audio as well, and the music is quite good and fits the setting well, I like it over what I’ve heard of the chiptune versions. There are also regular checkpoints, and you have three continues per game. This was a much stricter limit on the consoles which didn’t have saving than it is here, but you still do need to replay the current stage if you run out of continues.

So, the game can be fun, but before playing for this list I’d always gotten frustrated in the first level by the somewhat restrictive controls and confusing ‘is that a wall/platform or not’ issues. However, I gave it another try for this, on my WinME machine this time where it runs great, and I liked the game a lot more than I expected to. Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure does have some game-design issues, but running around looking at the environments and figuring out your way through each stage is fun. Overall this is an above-average game which is worth a try, though I would recommend trying it before buying, it’s not for everyone. Also available on the SNES, Genesis, Sega CD, 32X, Jaguar, and Game Boy Advance. The Genesis version is available on the Wii Virtual Console, digitally. However, of all those ports, this is the only one with all the levels (some versions have some stages removed), saving, CD audio, AND 256-color graphics, so this PC release is the best version.

Rayman (1996, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. The original Rayman is a 2d platformer from Ubisoft. This game was a fairly big-budget game for Ubisoft at the time, but it paid off, as the game was a success and went on to be one of Ubisoft’s top franchises. And Rayman is indeed a beautiful-looking game that plays pretty well. It is, however, crushingly difficult, probably beyond the skill level of most people who have played it. Basically, Rayman has everything except for fun gameplay beyond the early levels. The first Rayman game I played is the amazing second one, and I got this game around 2000 because I wanted to try the original. Well, it’s kind of good, but I wish it wasn’t so frustrating. But to start from the beginning, you are Rayman, a limbless cartoon guy who has a body, arms, hands, and feet, but nothing connecting the parts. It’s an amusing look which is distinctive and works well. Indeed, the art design in this game is fantastic, the original cartoon artstyle looks great, both for the sprites and the backgrounds. The CD-audio music is pretty good as well; it’s nice bouncy stuff which fits the settings great. You start out with only a jump, but get more abilities as you progress, most importantly, near the start, the ability to throw your fists as an attack; touching enemies hurts you. Rayman controls well, apart from the slippery levels which can be kind of a pain.

The level designs are good, but difficult. There are 28 good-sized stages in this game, so there’s plenty to do. However, first, due to the beautiful graphics and their very large sprites, you can only see a short distance in any direction in this game. This becomes a big problem at times, so memorization will be key. Between the enemies, spikes, and pits, levels are full of ways for you to die. There are also far too many small enemies you either can’t hit or can only hit if the level is designed with a slope you can stand below them on. Of course, they often aren’t, meaning you have to try to jump over them. You do get three to five hit points, depending if you got a P powerup or not, but still, this can be frustrating. Still, working your way through each level can be fun, if you like a challenge anyway. There are plenty of secrets to find along the way, including seven cages in each level, and some require powers you won’t get until later in the game, so there’s a lot of reasons to go back to each stage later. Adding replay value like that is good. The issues aside above, Rayman’s levels are mostly well-designed, if you like a challenge. Those graphics are also a draw, of course; it’s always great seeing each new type of environment and background. While Rayman did start out as a SNES game, as released it clearly exceeds what any 4th-gen console could do, and it is great to see a 2d game that pushed the genre forward graphically for the new generation. As for running it today, Rayman runs okay in DOSBox, though I have had some issues getting the game to recognize more than two-button joysticks, which is odd; you do need three buttons here, for run, attack, and action. With the right DOSBox configuration it should work fine, though.

Unfortunately, the hard levels are not the only thing making this such a tough game. The game can be fun to play… until you die. Do that a few times and you’ll find out that this memorization and replay-heavy game has limited continues, of all things! Sure, you can save at certain save points on the games’ level-select map, but it saves how many continues you have left. Yes, there are ways around this, such as cheatcodes or copying your save file so you’re always playing the file you didn’t die much on, but still, this continue system takes a tough game and amps up the difficulty to near-unacceptable levels. However, the graphics, sound, and gameplay are all quite good, making this a good game despite its issues. So, is Rayman worth it? For masochists, yes, absolutely. For average gamers… maybe; the game is too hard, but it is good-looking and has some new ideas and lots to do. But know what you’re in for. For something with a similar visual look to this, but a much fairer challenge, try the very good Rayman 3 for the Game Boy Advance. Rayman was successful, though, and was ported to many platforms. Also on Playstation, Saturn, Jaguar and Game Boy Advance as a physical release, and iOS; Nintendo DSiWare (digital download); Playstation 3, PSP, and PSP as a digital ‘virtual console’ release of the PS1 version; and Windows Mobile as a digital download.

Rayman Forever (1998, DOS (game) & Win9x (editor)) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Rayman Forever is a collection which includes both the original Rayman with its 24 stages, a level editor for the game, 40 levels made by fans, and a ‘making of Rayman 2’ video are included on the disc. The levels in this game only use the graphics from the original game though, there is no new visual or audio content here, just lots of levels. The fanmade levels are a mixed bag, but many are good, and you can play all of them at any time so this thankfully dispenses with Rayman’s frustrating continue system. So, Rayman Forever basically is a retail expansion pack packed with the core game, and that’s it… but that’s okay, as Rayman is a pretty good game mechanically. This is a pretty cool compilation disc, and having a level editor is always great! Running physical copies of this game can have issues, though — while the core Rayman game is the same DOS game it always was, the By His Fans levels have a Win9x installer that runs a DOS sound-setup application partway through the installation and then runs as a DOS program, and the editor is a Win9x program that doesn’t run well at all on modern versions of Windows. If you want to play this, you might want to stick to GOG’s fixed-up digital re-release. It is kind of surprising that the core of this is still a DOS game, though; DOS was mostly dead by 1998, so this is probably one of the last retail DOS titles, at least here in the US. But as usual here, the DOS program is fine, it’s the Win9x parts of this disc that have big problems today on modern versions of Windows, unless you use that fixed-up GOG copy of course. As for the content though, this is the definitive version of Rayman. It includes the entire original game, an editor, AND 40 fanmade levels, after all! This is the complete Rayman. Unlike the base game, this title is PC-only, though it is available digitally on GOG. Get it there.

Sonic CD (1996, Win9x) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Sonic CD for the PC is a port of Sega’s Sega CD fast-paced platformer of the same name. Probably the best-known game released for the Sega CD, Sonic CD is a fairly popular classic. It does have its critics, as the game has some design oddities versus the Genesis games, but it’s great. I do really like Sonic CD. I didn’t get this version of Sonic CD until several years ago, so I’ve mostly played the game on Sega CD, but it is a good port of a great game. The main issue here is, though, why get this version? There is no new content here, but there serious issues if you try to run this on any modern version of Windows. On my newer computer this game won’t run at all! Some Win9x games are incompatible with even a 32-bit modern edition of Windows, and this early Win95 game is among them. You’ll need an actual old computer or virtual machine to run this, I expect. This was the first main-series Sonic game ported to the PC though, I believe; they did improve things in the next one, below. On a compatible system the game looks and runs great, though. This is a near-perfect port, and other than some minor graphical glitches you’ll probably never notice, it’s the same awesome game it is on Sega CD. The only other negative is that as with many games on this list so far, there is no pause button on the gamepad; few of these DOS or Win9x games have that feature. You need the keyboard for that. Positively though, the bonus stages, which use scaling and rotation for a SNES Mode 7-esque effect as you run around a small area trying to destroy a bunch of hovering machines, run very smoothly in this version, smoother than they do on Sega CD. Nice.

If you can get PC Sonic CD running, it’s great. I covered this game in my Sega CD Game Opinion Summaries list as well, but I’ll discuss it again. I love the classic Genesis-era Sonic games, and this one is no exception. Sonic CD looks and sounds good for a port of an early ’90s console game, and has some interesting design elements as well. This is a highly-regarded game, though some do dislike elements of it for understandable reasons; the time system is odd. The game has a unique version of Sonic’s spin-dash too, which takes getting used to versus the normal one. Sonic CD was in development alongside Sonic 2, though it released well into the next year, and is from a different team. Unlike the other Genesis Sonic games, Sonic CD is not just a linear title. Instead, there are four different versions of each stage, a Past, Present, Bad Future, and Good Future version. You start in the Present, and can warp between times by touching a signpost for the one you want to go to, then running without stopping for long enough to warp. If you do stop though, you lose that sign and will need to find another one to try again for that warp. If you want you can just run to the end, but if you want the good ending in this game and not the bad one, you need to do one of two things: get over 50 coins enough times and beat enough bonus games to get all the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic 1 style but with a new bonus game, or go to the Past on each first and second round of every stage in this Sonic 1-esque three-levels-per-stage game, find and destroy the machine there, go to the good future, and defeat Robotnik there. Each method has plusses and minuses, as the bonus games get tough, while Past signs are sometimes in short supply and avoiding all those Future signs can be tricky at times, but I like that you have a choice for more exploration or more rings and bonus stages. The levels are all huge and lots of fun to explore, too. This is a fantastic classic Sonic game, and the levels are great as usual! This is a simple game, without the multiple characters or puzzle elements in stages of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but it’s great nonetheless. And anyway, the time system and machine-finding adds plenty of complexity.

However, the rings and some platform elements for all four versions of each level are there for all of them, which makes for somewhat odd, messy-looking stages with rings inside of platforms, random inaccessible blocks, and more. It’s a unique look which works, though the Genesis games’ cleaner styles might be better. The soundtrack here is fantastic, though! This version has the US soundtrack from Spencer Nilsen, and I think it’s great. His Sega CD soundtracks are all really good, the amazing Ecco CD soundtracks particularly, but this is very interesting stuff as well. Make sure to listen to all variations on each levels’ theme, there are different ones for the past, present, and future. On that note, as great a game as Sonic CD mostly is, the decision to have four versions of each stage has a downside: if you play the game ‘right’, you’ll only ever see maybe half of the content in this game. The whole Bad Future, with its machine look, should be completely avoided, and that’s a quarter of the levels in the game! And the Good Future is really only there for you to warp to at the end, too. The time system is interesting, but I might have rather seen maybe fewer versions of each level but another stage or two. Ah well. What’s here is great, and Sonic CD has good graphics, great music, good level designs, a unique time system, and all-around great gameplay. However, unless you have a compatible computer, stick with the other ports of this game that are easier to run on modern hardware. Sega CD port. Sonic CD is also available on the Gamecube and PS2 in the Sonic Gems Collection; it is actually a port of this PC version, not the Sega CD original. Digitally, there is also an enhanced remake available for Xbox 360 Live Arcade, PS3 PSN, iOS, Android, PC (Steam), Windows Phone, Ouya, and Apple TV. I’ve never played that version, but it sounds good.

Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997, Win9x) – 1-2 player simultaneous, saves (save files for Sonic 3 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles, passwords for Blue Spheres) / No Saving (Sonic & Knuckles only), gamepad supported. Sonic & Knuckles Collection is a great package from Sega that includes ports of the Genesis games Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles, and Blue Spheres, the near-infinite version of the bonus game you get if you attached Sonic 1 to Sonic & Knuckles on the Genesis. SO, it’s not quite the complete collection for Sonic 2 and 2 & Knuckles are absent, but that sort of is a separate game, even if S&K is required. What you do get here is a good port of Sega’s best game ever, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. This game was the first Sonic game I owned, when I got it in the later ’90s, and while I had played the Genesis Sonic games quite a bit over the years, it was even better finally owning this myself! I recently covered all the games in this collection at length in my Genesis thread, and this version is largely exactly the same, so I won’t do that again; read those for my thoughts on this great classic. Versus the Genesis originals, really the only changes here are that the soundtrack is now PC MIDI stuff instead of Genesis chiptunes, the game has the usual Win9x performance issues many games on this list have including no fullscreen on a modern computer because it’s 320×240 only, a 640×480 max window size in windowed mode (so run this in 640×480 screen resolution compatibility mode through Windows!), and some performance issues common to many of Sega’s ’90s console-to-PC ports, though. It does recognize my gamepad at least, though, so that’s something. I really don’t like playing games which should be fullscreen windowed, however, so I’d rather only play this on a version of Windows able to run in 320×240 fullscreen. Do know that the game needs your screens’ refresh rate to be 60hz to run right; alternatively there is a patch to fix this issue.

Still, beyond that this is a great version of one of the best platformers ever. Super Mario World may be my favorite 2d platformer, but Sonic 3 & Knuckles is one of the next-best games on the list! This is a fast-paced game which manages to be great fun despite its speed, unlike too many Sonic clones. S3&K has a lot of levels to play through, three playable characters in four modes (with Sonic alone or Sonic with Tails being separate options) each of which plays differently enough to well be worth trying, that great classic Sonic art design, and all the fantastic platform fun of its console counterparts. Sure, the music is a bit off versus the Genesis, and fullscreen is an issue, but this is an exceptional game regardless. The controls are spot-on and levels very well designed. This game has the perfect balance between letting you run fast and learn stages, and has plenty of challenge without resorting to too many cheap traps you’ll need to memorize. Some levels have minor puzzle elements too, and they’re fun to figure out. It’s great stuff. I love the bonus game too; Blue Spheres is easily my favorite Sonic bonus game ever. It’s fantastic that this collection includes the full Sonic 1 lock-on Blue Spheres game, where you can play a near-endless number of Blue Spheres levels. Unfortunately just like on the Genesis you will need to write down long passwords in order to return to a favorite stage, as this is a straight port, but still, it’s great to have. They could easily have left it out, as some subsequent Sonic 3 & Knuckles digital re-releases on consoles do.

Still, overall, despite how great the game is, and how much fun I had with this game in the late ’90s, today this is not the best way to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Unless you’ve got an older Win9x computer to play this on, dealing with this games’ problems will be much more of a hassle than just playing some newer port of the game. It is true that many collections after this one and digital re-releases have not actually included the full Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and thus do not match up to this, but enough do that this has been superseded. There is no new content here, either, and the music is not as good as it is on Genesis. At least one song has been altered, also. Still, on a computer or virtual machine which can run this as intended, the Sonic & Knuckles Collection is a great version of one of the best platformers ever, so pick it up if you see it cheap. Genesis port. This version is PC-exclusive, but all content from this disc is also playable on the Saturn in Sonic Jam and the PS2/Gamecube in Sonic mega Collection & Mega Collection Plus. The Sonic Classic Collection for the DS includes everything except Blue Spheres, though the port is apparently not the best. Digitally, Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles, and Sonic 3 & Knuckles are available on Wii Virtual Console, Xbox 360 Live Arcade, and PC (Steam), but Blue Spheres is not. There is also an iOS port that I think includes everything. Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, but NOT any lock-on games for some stupid reason, are playable in the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the X360 and PS3. Sonic & Knuckles is also included, on its own, in many Genesis handheld and clone consoles.

Sonic 3D Blast (1996, Win9x) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Sonic 3D Blast is an isometric platformer developed by Traveller’s Tales, now known as TT Games, and published by Sega. The game is controversial, and many people don’t like it. And indeed, it is quite different from other Sonic games, with its collection focus, slower pace, and isometric gameplay. However, I do like the game myself, and have all three versions of it, Genesis, Saturn, and PC. Sega ported many of their top console games to the PC in the mid ’90s, and this was among them. The game is similar to the Saturn version, but there are some PC-exclusive changes as well, including saving, finally, and a slightly different version of the bonus game. That’s all pretty good, and feature-wise, this is maybe the best version of Sonic 3D Blast, but like Sonic CD, I can’t get this game to run at all on my newer computer; it needs actual Win9x to work. So, this is another one for people with virtual machines or a Win9X computer only, unfortunately.

And that is unfortunate, because despite its iffy reputation, this game is fun! In Sonic 3D Blast, you explore overhead-isometric stages, trying to find all the small birds called Flickies on each part of each stage. Get all the Flickies and you can move on to the next area. Unlike the main Sonic games, this is not a fast-paced game; you’ll move around somewhat slowly, exploring each level, avoiding the obstacles, and getting those Flickies. Each stage is complex and I like exploring them and figuring out what to do and where to go. The designers knew that jumping in isometric 3d can be difficult, so they accounted for this by having most jumping puzzles be not over death or injury pits, but just areas that make you go back, which is great. Good design elements like that make this game much more fun than some games in this genre. The typically Euro-platformer focus on collecting may get old to some, but only having to get five per area isn’t nearly as bad as some games, and I do find stages fun to explore. The addition of saving is really great too, because with this game’s somewhat slow pace, playing the whole thing in one sitting as you have to do on the Genesis or Saturn is kind of a pain. No issue here! The graphics are quite nice also. This version uses the improved Saturn graphics for the main game, and everything looks pretty good. The bonus game is, sort of like on the Saturn, a Sonic 2-style tube you run down. However, here everything is made up of sprites, not polygons like on Saturn. That change is perhaps a bit unfortunate, as the Saturn one looks pretty good for the time, but it looks fine here, and plays about as well.

Overall, Sonic 3D Blast is a good isometric platformer. This game isn’t quite the great classic of the 2d Genesis and Sega CD Sonic games, but it’s still a good game, mixed critical reaction or no. I certainly recommend trying some version of Sonic 3D Blast, you never know; you might like it. This version, however, due to its technical issues probably is only for fans of the game. It is probably the best version, but you’ll need a computer that can actually run it. This PC version of Sonic 3D Blast is a physical-only PC exclusive. The Genesis version of Sonic 3D Blast is included in the Sonic Mega Collection for Gamecube, Sonic Mega Collection Plus for PS2, Xbox, & PC, and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for PS3 & X360, and digitally on Wii Virtual Console and PC (Steam). The better-looking Saturn and Win9x PC versions, however, have never been re-released.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (sometimes). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the PC port of Konami’s NES game of the same name. This somewhat infamous platformer is well-known for being frustratingly hard and kind of odd. This is a worse version of that game, but unfortunately, while I loved the Ninja Turtles through the late ’80s to mid ’90s, somehow THIS was the one and only Ninja Turtles game I bought that decade. Now there was a bad decision; sure, I loved both arcade games, so I played great Ninja Turtles games, but this… this is not good. As a kid I convinced myself it was decent, I guess, probably mostly because I loved the license, though I never got past level two, because it’s very hard and quite flawed. And yes, it is worse than the NES original, as this version has worse controls; some altered graphics and decent but not-quite-as-good music; the game has been made much harder than it is on the NES as there are more enemies, enemies don’t bounce back when you hit them, and they do more damage; and worst of all, there is a bug which makes one stage impossible in the US version I have unless you cheat to skip that level, but it does add saving. That one positive isn’t worth all the negatives in this port of an already-poor game, but it’s better than nothing, I guess. Still, the graphics really are kind of ugly. The monsters are all misshapen weird things, the game has EGA or CGA support but not VGA, scrolling is choppy, and the Turtles don’t look great either. I don’t have the NES version, but from what I’ve seen it does look a bit better there.

As for the game, though, in this game you play as any of the four Ninja Turtles, going through a series of extremely tough missions. They jump and attack with their weapon, though jumping is awkward and hard to control in this version. The keyboard controls are annoying too, and unconfigurable: Enter to jump, Space to attack. There should be gamepad support, but some versions of the game seem to be missing it, though the one I bought back then does have it. Odd. You can walk around an overhead-view overworld, and from there can enter various sewer or door entrances to play side-scrolling levels. Some levels are necessary, some have useful powerups, while others are just distractions and serve no purpose other than to drain more health than you’ll get back from whatever powerup is there, so you will need to learn where to go and where to avoid as you play. And for another change from the NES, no items spawn randomly or when you kill enemies, so the only powerups in this game are the one-time pickups in pre-planned locations. Between all the enemy-behavior changes listed above and this, this game is quite a bit harder than the already-tough NES version. It’s just too difficult, an issue I see mentioned in pretty much any online review of this version of the game. And you won’t be able to avoid damage, because only Don has a weapon with much range, and it’s not going to be enough. You have a health bar, but enemies drain it quickly and health powerups quickly become few and far between. If a turtle runs out of health there are VERY few ways to get them back, and if all four die it’s Game Over, so this game gets hard quickly. Enemies swarm you, and they take your health bar down quickly. They respawn the instant you leave the screen, too, and levels are designed to force you to go back and forth some and fight the same guys multiple times. The hit detection is iffy sometimes as well; play control here is a mess. The constant swarms of cheap enemies will overwhelm even Don in a hurry, and once he’s low health you’re finished. Level designs are mostly fairly basic corridors and platforms, too. There are obstacles to jump over, ladders, platforms, and such, but it’s forgettable stuff.

And of course, the second level, an underwater level near a dam, is infamously annoying thanks to its tight timer and mazelike layout; you’ve got to find some bombs scattered around, and sure won’t do it on your first try. What’s past level two? Who knows, I never got that far. But level 3 is the one with the impossible jump unless you find a European copy of this game or use a cheat, so there’s that. On the positive side, though, you can save anywhere in this version (press Control+S) and continue from exactly that point if you quit to the menu (Control+Q) and load the game, though there is only one save file so watch out where you save. On the NES you can’t save and have limited continues, and I do like this addition, but as much as I like saving in games, it does not make up for everything else bad about this game. And the NES game isn’t exactly good, either. Also apparently the game gets even more difficult near the end, as the few health powerups drop to almost none. No thanks. This game is mediocre enough in the first two levels, I don’t need to see the rest. Overall, the original TMNT game isn’t the worst thing, but it is bad. This game is too hard, has mediocre controls with enemies you often have to get too close to to hit, poor level designs, annoying enemies, poor visuals and sound, and a pretty bad bug if you have the US version like I do. Don’t play this.

Zool 2 (1994, DOS) – 1-2 player alternating, No Saving, gamepad supported. Zool 2 is a below-average European platformer from Gremlin. This game was inspired by Sonic, but has shooting instead of jumping as your main method of attack. I’ve never really played the first Zool, though it was apparently more popular than this game and was on more platforms, but I got this sequel in the mid ’90s because I thought it looked interesting. I don’t know what I paid, but I hope it wasn’t too much because while games get a lot worse than this, this is one of the weakest games on this list so far. It’s okay, I guess, but never was great and has aged somewhat badly. The game has some annoying design traits common to European computer games as well, including bad controls and no saving. This game is an Amiga port with alright graphics, decent audio with limitations, and large levels to explore and collect stuff in. You can play as Zool or his female counterpart Zooz, and the two are the same gameplay-wise. Your controls are okay, but very fast and bouncy. Your character does not feel good to control and moves or bounces around too quickly for you to keep track of, and avoiding damage is often near-impossible. You do have a life bar and health does drop, but still, it can be a problem. Your fast movement can be fun at times, though, and you can grab onto and climb walls, which is nice, and spin-attack if you hold attack while jumping, but still it’s way too easy to take hits. You also can only jump with the up button or up on your gamepad, which is terrible; this isn’t an Amiga, PCs support more than one-button joysticks! Come on. Gamepad buttons all shoot. And maybe even more annoying, the game does not have both sound effects and music at the same time! You’ve got to choose one or the other in the menu. I usually choose music, so you’re running around grabbing stuff without much sense of interaction with the world around you. It’s weird stuff, in a bad way. I really hope that isn’t common on the Amiga, it’s no good. No other PC platformer I have played is like this. If you want to play a version of this game with both sound AND music, your only option is the Atari Jaguar port, but few people have that console of course. I don’t.

As for the gameplay, it’s okay, but also flawed. “Collect” is the operative term, here, from my description above, as your goal in each level is to get the pickups-collected number in the bottom left up to 99; before that point, even if you reach the end of a level you cannot exit. So, grab everything you can, get up to 99, then go to the exit. The game starts in a candyland world, and perhaps takes that too far, as the game has a license from British lollipop company Chupa Chups, whose logo is all over the game on pickups. It’s kind of silly that this American release of the game still has advertising all over for a company I’ve never heard of here in the US, but it does. The levels themselves are large and full of enemies, lots of small pickups that look like teddy bears, worms, chicken legs, and all kinds of other weird stuff, bounce pads which look like odd things like eggs, and secrets to find behind hidden walls you can break if you attack them. So yeah, this game is for item-collection fans only! Exploring levels, finding secrets, and picking up the mountains of items can be fun, and the game thankfully has few to no bottomless pits, always a plus in fast-paced platformers like this one. The game is somewhat repetitive, however, particularly when you have to backtrack to find more items to pick up to max out that percentage. Oh, and enemies respawn, too, unfortunately. As a result of all this, the game quickly gets hard, and you have no saving in this game frustratingly enough, and only have any continues if you earn them ingame. There are cheat codes for level-skip, lots of lives, and the like, but without them I’ve never gotten past world two in Zool 2. Most PC platformers have saving, so the absence of a save system always has been one of my biggest complaints about this game; it has other issues as well, but saving is the worst one. If I could save my progress between levels, the game would be more fun for sure, it would help reduce the frustration factor. You can cheat, but that’s not as satisfying. There are some good points to this game, including decent VGA graphics with some okay background designs, large levels to explore which can be fun to find the secrets in, and nicely bouncy music. However, Zool 2 has many issues, including the overfocus on collecting, the too-fast movement and jumping, the absence of both music and sound at the same time, the up-to-jump-only controls, and the inability to save your game. On the whole Zool 2 is an okay but below-average game I can’t really recommend except for huge collection-game fans who like European platformer design or for people who want to see all the Sonic-inspired games out there. Also available on Amiga, Amiga CD32 (Europe only), and Atari Jaguar. The Jaguar version is the best as it is the only one with both music and sound at once.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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