Which Apple II games are timeless?

Filed under Game trail;

Canadian comedy troupe LoadingReadyRun, true to their eponymous C64 roots, often includes retrocomputers in their weekly news report. This past week was no exception:

Although this news, citing a blog post by Internet Archive employee and KansasFest regular Jason Scott, is specifically about MS-DOS, the concept applies to the Apple II as well: there are at least 3,170 Apple II games currently playable in the Internet Archive — far more than any of us have ever played in our lifetimes or likely ever will.

But how many of them stand the test of time? As Brendan John "Beej" Dery notes in the above LRR report, games aren’t always as fun as we remember them being as kids, when basic inputs returned minimal rewards conveyed with simple graphics and rudimentary sound. Cumbersome controls and user interfaces that we tolerated when we didn’t know any better have evolved into more elegant designs and complex narratives. What games still hold up and can still be fun, with our without a healthy dose of nostalgia?

Instead of focusing on games that haven’t aged well (such as some text adventures or RPGs), I’d argue that these games remain fun:

  • Lode Runner: When I was a guest on the New Game Plus podcast three years ago, I invited its hosts to play Lode Runner. Having never played the game before, all three found it enjoyable. Recent iterations of Lode Runner have introduced new graphics, but the core gameplay remains as fun today as it was upon its debut.
  • Shadowgate: This point-and-click gothic adventure game was worth remaking in 2012, which improved not just the graphics but also the interface. It would’ve been for naught if the original game weren’t fun. It still is!
  • Prince of Persia: While the battle system is somewhat rudimentary, the dungeon platformer is still challenging for those who want to rescue the princess within the allotted time.
  • Snake Byte: Variations on this game have appeared on countless devices (especially mobile) for decades — a testament to the basic gameplay’s staying power.
  • Arkanoid: Not only does this successor to Breakout stand the test of time — we need more games like this. Paddle input devices have practically gone extinct; while mobile devices seem well-suited to movement on one plane, something is lost with a touch interface.
  • BattleChess: Creative animations injected this serious game with levity. The computer’s time to make each move and then draw the animations was tedious; a CPU accelerator fixes that, but it also speeds up the animations, which should be savored.
  • DuelTris: The Apple II was young enough that most of its games were original, rather instead of improvements on existing franchises, of which there weren’t many. DuelTris is an exception, taking the basic rules ofo Tetris and adding power-ups, a two-player mode, and a rocking soundtrack. DuelTris struck just the right balance of classic and enhanced gameplay; mess with Tetris more than this, and you ruin it.
  • Othello, mahjongg, and other tile games: These classic games feature timeless mechanics that don’t significantly benefit from faster computers or better graphics.

This list is by no means exhaustive; such an undertaking could span an entire website, with one game per blog post! But I would love my readers’ help in filling in the gaps. What are some Apple II games you’ve revisited and found to still be fun, all these years later? Leave a comment with your recommendations!

  1. Difficult to admit it, but very few Apple ][ action games hold up. Here’s what I would add to the list:

    1. “Beyond Castle Wolfenstein” – The Wolfenstein sequel fixes many of the annoyances of the original (waiting for chests to open, seizure inducing wall contact). Still requires the manual to know all the controls such as switching weapons or bribing guards. A modern version of the game would include a few tutorial rooms before the game really gets started.

    2. Dung Beetles – Pacman clone with enough of a difference to make it feel fresh even today.

    3. Old Ironsides – Arcade style, 2 player naval battles. Plays much like the classic Atari 2600 game Combat with the added challenge of navigating wind direction and positioning your ship to fire broadsides perpendicular to your ship’s movement.

  2. A couple of different possibilities:

    Wavy Navy – would also be well suited to mobile platforms.

    Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego – aged, but would likely still be just as fun to people who have never played it before. Potentially also mobile adaptable.

    Wings of Fury – still a challenging game after all these years, although some refinement wouldn’t go astray to the original. Has had a couple of modern enthusiast remakes, but I prefer the Apple // version even with its flaws.

    One different game that was ahead of its time, Earth Orbit Stations. The hardware just wasn’t powerful enough to make that game genuinely enjoyable back then. Now it would be peanuts, but probably wouldn’t have a great audience with players more interested in fun Sims-like games.

  3. Avalon Hill – Galaxy.! – 1981

    Strictly text based strategy – sort of like Risk is space, but paved the way for many following strategy, trading and adventure style games.

    Still fun to play today., IMHO

  4. Agree with Wings of Fury and just about anything else made by Broderbund, including Choplifter and Karateka.

    Defender of the Crown for the IIgs is a game I continue to play to this day.

  5. +1 on “Wavy Navy” Forgot about that one.

  6. Ed Eastman says:

    I have recently introduced my son Tongan in on the Apple II. He likes the above mentioned games as well as Karateka, Castle Wolfenstein and Bolo. As we explore the hundreds of games I have in my collection I expect more old favorites to come to light. -Ed

  7. Nice post.

    For me, definitely Conan: Hall of Volta, Falcons (awesome Phoenix clone), Situation Critical, Drol, Goonies, Dung Beetle, Karateka, Rescue Raiders, Wings of Fury, Lode Runner, Bruce Lee, Dino Eggs, and that’s what I can think of right now.

  8. Daniel McLaughlin says:

    I always think of Gumball as timeless, in design and game mechanics.

  9. Don Holmberg says:

    My top two timeless Apple games:

    1. Oregon Trail
    2. Lemonade Stand

  10. Aztec is brilliant and is still playable with its action, discovery, sandbox type of mechanics.