Now, my family was always very tech oriented, but we didn’t always pick the most popular systems. Oddyssey2 instead of Atari 2600? Yep. TI-99/4a instead of an Apple II? You betcha!
Still, I’m not going to complain. Everyone else had the common stuff, so I got to see more than my share of it, and I got to see the less well known but often amazing games available for the underdogs. In the case of the TI-99/4a, some of those games were actually pretty good, and at least looked better than the damn C64 stuff.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get emulated games for the system, and legal to boot. I guess the Texas Instruments folks realized they weren’t about to get a huge Jakk’s Pacific deal for their stuff? If you download Classic99, it comes with ROMs for many of the most classic games.
But wait, there’s more! This “Dreamcodex” fellow (a Mr. Howard Kistler) has ported some of these games to Java, complete with fancied-up graphics! Let’s see what he’s done.
This has always been one of my favorites. It’s simple, challenging, and very logic based. He got the basic gameplay here fine, which isn’t too much of a task, but where he really knocked it out of the park was making it look pretty with all new graphics without tossing the appeal of the nice basic circular room layout. Even his all new death and victory screens manage to be unique without losing the charm of the classic. My heart used to skip a beat when I accidentally walked into the Wumpus, and I find myself equally startled and terrified by the updated monster face.
I know this game originally existed in text form, and there have been a dozen variations on it each with their own ideas, but I grew up on this one. It’s the version I know and love, and I don’t adjust well to change! Don’t ask me to change! Here I have the version I want with nice new pretty pictures, and I can even play it right in my web browser! This has definitely replaced minesweeper as my time-wasting puzzle game of choice.
The game does leave out the classic blindfold mode (where the map only shows the current room you are in) but I can live without that. At that point I’m sure I could just go back to the basic text adventure version of the game.
Tunnels of Doom is a game that even now seems way ahead of its time. The graphics may be poop, but so was everything then. The real meat, the gameplay, was still basically valid in the later Ultima games in the end of the 80s.
That’s right, while bogged down crawling through dungeons in Ultima V, I had a flashback. The dungeons worked nearly exactly the same as this 82 classic, down the “3D” dungeon movement and the overhead tactical combat. Of course, Tunnels of Doom lacked a huge epic story and a massive overworld and quests and NPCs, but the dungeon crawl bit was pretty much the perfection of a formula that worked up until “real-time” took over even the beloved RPG genre.
In addition to neat, pseudo-3D dungeons and real time combat, the game featured unique things like an excellent vault-cracking minigame (not unlike mastermind) and the ability to bribe your enemies for safe passage. You were also battling a timer in some quests, as well as the need to keep fed. Fortunately, the update gives you a nice bar on each side so you can always track your characters’ stats, as well as time and rations. A nice change, because you had to expect to return to the store fairly often for upgrades and supplies.
Now, due to the control options available at the time, both the original and this remake require memorization of a lot more specific key combos than anyone is used to by today’s standards, but at least the remake effort included a snazzy, comprehensive manual and benefits from modern interface decisions and larger keyboards. Also, those who remember the original game may remember having to load and save your games with a clunky audio tape drive (ok, there was a floppy, but nobody could afford it). It is a huge blessing of modern computers to no longer have to wait for up to an hour listening to “The Greatest Hits of 1200 Baud Modems.” This is one game where the original is a little too much of a pain by modern standards to sustain the nostalgia, and I’m glad the remake takes it to a bearable level.
The really hardcore amongst us may remember that you could make your own custom dungeon scenarios, complete with custom classes, monsters, and weapons. The remake comes with amazing set of tools that allow you to actually import those old scenarios. Mostly I just played the original quest, but that’s a great feature, and it’s nice to see someone put the effort into making those files available to a modern audience.
Munchman (the remake is called Munch Mates) isn’t really a classic to me as I never played it much. I’m more of a Chisolm Trail kinda guy, but as far as Pac-man clones go, this one is pretty solid. In this one, you fill in spaces instead of clearing them out, but the end result is the same. I wouldn’t say it’s as creative as K.C. Munckin, but it’s good fun.
Here we have an above and beyond kind of situation, where the remake brings in a new maze for “Munch Missy” and a version of the maze based on the prototype of the original game. Oddly enough, this runs unplayably fast on my Vista machine , but this is probably an issue with my Java install itself rather than the game (it works fine on my laptop with XP).
Now, if these newfangled graphics are too much for you, or you miss some of the other TI-99/4a games, you can always check out Classic99 (linked above). I’m mostly going to stick with these, because Tunnels of Doom and Hunt the Wumpus were always my classics, and it’s nice to be able to play visually solid versions of them without loading up an emulator. But hey, if anyone decides to update Parsec or Chisolm Trail, let me know!