My childhood gaming credentials might take a dip when people discover Nintendo was not really part of the equation. The loss was never felt, however, as the PC was rife with all sorts of fine fare. I don't count Mario as a formative genre steadfast as I do Duke Nukem or, hell, even Cosmo. My Mario Kart was Wacky Wheels. My Gradius? Stargunner. I was too busy getting my fantasy puzzle dungeoneering in via Baron Baldric's geriatric ugliness in Mystic Towers to be bothered by what happening similarly on console.
And as such, the mighty 3D Realms Anthology pack has arrived on Steam, to nuzzle my cloaca of sentimentality. Featuring an admirable list of games served conveniently in a DOSBox wrapper, I returned to my roots to see how many of these games stand the test of time. People always carry on in relation to how timeless Nintendo franchises remain, and I wanted to see if my experiences as a young yahoo and his IBM couldn't share a similar story. Worst case scenario, I'd be marooned by the glaring realisation that these weren't the shining gems I had remembered them as.
Luckily, the trip was worth it. I won't touch on all of the titles, merely pick a few from the intro that are really worth a fellow's time in 2015. It's a smorgasbord, and where one title won't appeal, another certainly will. The anthology is a slightly tough thing to review, given the variation and length of time since the original releases, so let this just be a spiel on quality and a smattering of personal highlights.
The platforming set is well-stocked, ranging from earlier works like Crystal Caves and Arctic Adventure to the relatively modern in stalwarts of the era such as Halloween Harry, Bio Menace and the eponymous Duke 2D/2.5 efforts. It's reassuring to go back to these titles and find them mechanically taut. Bio Menace, whose gun-toting protagonist Snake Logan is rocking the finest of moustaches with nary a hint of irony, remains a fun frolic with a smidgen of exploration-lite to each level. Duke Nukem 2 is still the rollicking, somewhat stodgy platformer most people enjoying when it launched in 1993. Others, however, feature the creak of geriatric controls and visuals. Much water has passed under the bridge since the ragged Pharoah's Tomb dropped in 1990. Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure is jarringly stilted, with graphics that barb and burr the optic nerves as one's brain tries to parse character from background. But sentimentality can be a handy crutch, and spartan gear like Paganitzu can be highly entertaining if you're returning to an old stomping ground.
While the platformers take front and center through sheer population in the 3D Realms Anthology, there are a few glorious little curios worth revisiting. As uttered in the opener, Mystic Towers was a firm favourite when I was a young scrub. Now, as an older scrub, I can view the game with a far more refined and experienced palate. It remains a bizarre and highly inspired cocktail of isometric platforming, puzzle-solving and adventure gaming. I cannot for the life of me think of anything quite like it these days, and caught myself wondering if a reboot would a) be commercially viable and b) worth the effort, given how irreplaceable the original is. Mystic Towers is one of those games that might find itself rejigged or pleasantly usurped in effervescent tablet-form. But here it is and here we are and I find the game a bit of a lost classic. Certainly one of the highlights of the anthology.
There's also a smattering of shooters in the mix, both shmup and FPS. Age has not been particularly kind to Blakestone, but it's quite unique and remains a cartoony arcade System Shock, for lack of a better descriptor. The cult-busting grindhouse Rise of the Triad is still exactly as you remember it; a fast, loose-as-a-goose blood-letting, celebrated in the arcing contrails of drunk rocket salvos and scoffed monk's porridge. Duke Nukem 3D is there, although I find myself far less enthused with it now than in the days of squaring off against Quake.
But most impressive is Terminal Velocity, which was as important to me as Rogue Squadron in the Good Old Days. Hellbender, Fury3, Terminal Velocity; these crazy atmospheric dogfighters by Terminal Reality that took as much from Descent as they did from Chuck Yeager were fast and frenzied. Terminal Velocity just might take pole position, despite Hellbender's onboard computer being voiced by Gillian Anderson. It is still markedly playable and one of the strongest in the anthology stable.
Let me curb this caramel-coloured stream of sentiment by suggesting the 3D Realms Anthology and its 32-strong cadre of old dogs wrapped in new tricks comes recommended. Individually, certain games stand taller than others, but a fair portion stack up as worthy retro excursions beyond merely marking the passage of time. Wacky Wheels might not be as exciting as once thought, and the reality of Realms of Chaos being an average platformer may be glaring in hindsight, but the merely pedestrian efforts are matched by stunners like Stargunner or Shadow Warrior. The gaming space is teeming with contemporary throwbacks to the pixelated platformer days of yore, but the relics are still as lively as they were over twenty years ago.
Good stuff. Good stuff indeed.
A review copy of the 3D Realms Anthology was supplied by Evolve PR.