One of the great overlooked eras of gaming is the early PC years. While largely inferior to home computer and console cousins, the library of MS-DOS games is considerable. For many years the domain of flight sims and god games, later MS-DOS games included arcade conversions and driving games.
As PCs were largely limited to workplace environments until the early 2000s (particularly in the UK) there is a vast selection of great MS-DOS games that you probably aren’t aware of.
What are MS-DOS games?
For those who lived long enough to be during MS-DOS’s timeline, you already know what it does and its purposes. For those who don’t, allow me to briefly explain.
MS-DOS was an operating system for x86-based personal computers and was developed by Microsoft for use on IBM compatibles in the 1980s and 1990s. It was the precursor to Windows, and remained available in Microsoft’s operating system up to Windows XP. It went through many changes before being discontinued in 2000.
Back then, I was mainly an arcade and console gamer but I was always fascinated by computer games and how they operate. I still remember that very day when a long-time cousin of mine from Bangladesh showed me a cool MS-DOS game (mentioned below) and I was wowed by its graphics and gameplay. It really showed me that the PC games of the 90s can stand toe to toe against the arcade and console games which were hugely popular at that time.
My cousin showed me several other MS-DOS games. I don’t know where he is now but I would really like to thank him for giving me some great MS-DOS game memories.
Thankfully, MS-DOS emulators exist which can play MS-DOS games on modern PCs (and mobile devices). Most of these are based on software called DOSBox. If you’re looking for some recommendations for games to run on DOSBox, here are my 5 favourite MS-DOS games in no particular order.
1. Eojjeonji Joheun Il-i Saenggil Geot Gateun Jeonyeok
A Korean-made beat-em-up based on the manhwa ‘Light Out’ by Lee Myung-jin, you play as Nam Gung Gun andbeat up thugs and bosses before proceeding to the next stage. Only published in Korea, the game’s plot is entirely in Korean language.
I was never able to complete the game because of the language barrier (English menus but not dialogue).Despite that, I still keep coming back to play as it looks great and features some good moves. You can also gain experience points for each bad guy you defeat and use them to level up your stats (entirely in English).
2. The Eye of Typhoon
Another South Korean MS-DOS game, The Eye of the Typhoon is a fighting game made by Viccom, the same studio behind the Korean Neo-Geo title Fight Fever. It also appeared in the 3DO. It was supposed to appear in the Neo-Geo which was their main release but that never happened, leaving just the 3DO version and the MS-DOS game.
The MS-DOS version has fewer animations than the 3DO version and also has some awkward hit detections. In addition, the intro menu cannot be skipped and the quotes on the winning screen come too fast to read before the screen returns to the character selection.
Despite that, I really enjoyed the game. With 12 characters to choose from, two bosses, and various specials and combos that work on the keyboard, this is good fun.
3. Hanna-Barbera’s Cartoon Carnival
If you grew up during the golden age of television, you would certainly recognize classic Hanna-Barbera characters.
Hanna-Barbera’s Cartoon Carnival is a children’s game comprising various mini-games from several Hanna-Barbera properties. You may think that it will be boring but it isn’t. To add replayability, each mini-game has 10 levels with increased difficulty and if you beat them all, you unlock a letter to eventually spell ‘Cartoon Carnival’.
Arguably more importantly, success means you can unlock a cartoon to view for enjoyment.
It may be a kids’ game but I still enjoy it because of my familiarity of these wonderful Hanna-Barbera characters. The mini-games are enjoyable enough, and I still play this game from time to time. It’s fun!
4. Tough Guy
A Taiwan fighting game Panda Entertainment Technology Co., Ltd, Tough Guy is an excellent fighting game. This is saying something, considering the state of PC fighting games at that time. The game offers eight characters and three unlockable characters (11 total).
With crisp animation and graphics, many special moves, a fun mini-game to play and characters from different countries, this is a good fighter. Characters hail from Taiwan, Romania, and Nepal, which is unusual in gaming. Fans of old fighting games should give this game a chance.
5. World Rally Fever: Born on the Road
Created by Split and Team17 and published by Team17 in 1996, this game ‘World Rally Fever: Born on the Road‘ will forever have a special place at my heart.
This is the first MS-DOS game I had ever played, the first computer game I had ever played, and the first ever game that I had played at my cousin’s house in Bangladesh.
This arcade racing game has a lot in its favour. Anime style art and characters, the unprecedented speed and arcade-feeling, the many different tracks you can race in and the different race conditions that you will face, the power-ups you can collect and the reflexes that are needed to avoid obstacles. It truly is one of the best MS-DOS racing games that I have played and is one you can play over and over again without getting bored.
It is safe to say that my opinion regarding computer games would had been a mix of cautious and distrust if it wasn’t for that game so I thank the developers who had made this wonderful game and proved me wrong.
Remember the MS-DOS games!
MS-DOS gaming was far more than F117A Stealth Fighter, Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon, and chess games. In the mid-to-late 90s in particular, MS-DOS games were among some of the best in the world, with regular arcade and console conversions finding their way onto PC.
While the graphics and audio may not have been great at the time – this would be due to your PC’s GFX card and sound card – thanks to DOSBox and other MS-DOS emulators, you can specify the best quality settings.
It’s time to revisit MS-DOS games – why not start with this list?