Internet Archive's Collection of Windows 3.1 Games Lets You Peer Into a Weird Moment in Game History

Internet Archive's Collection of Windows 3.1 Games Lets You Peer Into a Weird Moment in Game History

Windows 3.1 games weren't pretty, but they definitely carried a certain amount of charm -- and importance.

The Internet Archive is more than an in-depth search tool that lets people dig up those embarrassing drunk-tweets you deleted five months ago. It also hosts thousands of old computer games, all of which you can access and play for free with your browser.

In fact, the Archive recently received a very potent nostalgia infusion with the addition of over 1,000 Windows 3.1 games. Now you can play point-and-click classics from that magic era when everyone owned a Compaq, and modems had to squeal like burning rats to access the Internet.

The pre-Windows 95 era of computer gaming was a strange, patchy place, at least in North America. Most of us did our game-playing on consoles (the SNES and Genesis were in the prime of their lives at the time), and computers were reserved for work -- if the household had a computer to begin with.

I personally played a lot of Windows 3.1 games on my brother's 486 (a Compaq, natch), but said games were definitely a distant second choice; a means of killing time while waiting for my father to finish off the baseball game so I could get back to playing Star Fox.

But even though the Internet Archive's collection of Windows 3.1 fare doesn't offer anything as thrilling as barrel-rolling through the poisonous skies of Venom, you'll still find some cool chunks of gaming history on display. You absolutely should take time out of your workday to appreciate this heavily-pixelated era of gaming.

Some personal recommendations:

SimEarth -- If you're one of those SimCity mayors who enjoy letting Godzilla use the town hospital as his own personal kickball, the next step in your grand destiny of destruction lies in orchestrating climactic disasters. If you want to play SimEarth seriously, however, get ready for a lot of micromanagement. It's a deeply satisfying experience once you figure out what's going on, though it needs to be noted the Windows 3.1 version of the game lacks the SNES version's under-appreciated soundtrack.

Wheel! Of! Fortune! -- I actually played the Windows 3.1 version of Wheel of Fortune more than my NES copy. My NES version never worked properly, causing everything to appear as a smear of pixels. Vanna White's stand-in had red hair, and when things got really glitchy, her fiery coif consumed a third of the screen. I can deal with the Windows version's creepy digitized human beings quite easily after suffering through … that.

JezzBall -- Jezzball is a super-fun action / reflex game that lets you carve away chunks of the playing field to trap red bouncing balls. It's particularly memorable for me because my mother would play it for hours when I wanted to get online and read Chrono Trigger fanfiction.

SkiFree -- SkiFree, the action / skiing game starring some very active stick figures, carries a legacy. Even if you've never played any of the games listed above, you've almost definitely played SkiFree at least once. It's remarkably simple and tons of playful fun, even if your score tends to wind up somewhere in the minuses.

But one reason SkiFree remains memorable is because of the inevitable appearance of the abominable snow monster. When you get to a certain point in the game, this voracious yeti will dart out of the trees like a grey streak, gobble you up, and -- as a final insult -- use your ski-pole as a toothpick. You can technically outrun him, but he'll chase you down again and again. It's like a creepy Atari-style metaphor for death.

Once you're done tooling around with the games I recommended, why not see what Mike has to say about the worst DOS games on the Archive? Selections include a game based on Mr Pibb and a Mega Man monstrosity by Hi-Tech expressions (yes, the studio that gifted us with Muppet Adventure).

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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