If you haven't heard, the Internet Archive has over 2,200 classic DOS games available to play right in your web browser. Nothing to download, just click and go. This collection of titles includes fan-favorites like The Oregon Trail, Prince of Persia, Wolfenstein 3D, Dune 2, and Sim City. It also hosts some of the earliest games from your favorite developers of today, like Keef the Thief from Naughty Dog (Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin) or Jazz Jackrabbit from Epic Megagames (Arjan Brussee and Cliff Bleszinski).
The problem is the use of "classic" is a stretch for some of these titles. Like any platform, MS-DOS played host to a whole mess of horrible games. These are just a few of those tainted gems. They aren't the absolute worst games in the entire collection, just the ones I happened to find and play. (Some looked really bad, but I couldn't get them to work.) Join me on my own personal trip into the heart of digital darkness.
Bloodlust Software, 1996
Time Slaughter is a digital version of the things you drew in your class notebook as a high school freshman. Time Slaughter begins with a lengthy cutscene setting up the game's backstory: an inventor named William Spade builds a time machine, which allows aliens to come back in time. They want his time machine, despite it being in what looks to be the same room. They torture him because that's what evil beings do, cutting off his arms in the process, but he shuts the machine down with his nose (yes, the absolutely what happens). The newly-armless Spade then builds himself cybernetic replacement arms and swears revenge.
After building this backstory, Time Slaughter promptly drops it for a Time Killers-style fighting game with horrible characters like Mojumbo and Jinsoku. Despite the previous voice acting the sole female character, Spice, seems to have her sounds all pulled from porn; her character design is equally as bad. Time Slaughter is ultimately juvenile-level humor and gore, in a fighting game that's cheaper than the titles that potentially inspired it.
Hi-Tech Expressions, Inc., 1990
If there's one thing I will not abide by, it's lying. This is not Mega Man. Sure, it may look like you're about to rock it on DOS with the original Blue Bomber, but that's just a cruel joke.
If you decide to boot it up, let me help you with the controls: Space is Fire and J is Jump. Not that it matters, because you won't get anywhere. Your first enemy is a knockoff of Transformers' Ravage that kills you no matter what you do. If you make it through the intro level, you're greeted by a choice of three Robot Masters: SonicMan, Voltman, and Dynaman. Each one has a stage that's just as uninspired as those first few minutes. The worst part? There's no music whatsoever. In a Mega Man game!
If you like pain, you can also try Mega Man 3: The Robots are Revolting.
Ocean Software, 1987
Top Gun for the NES is hailed as one of the worst games of its time. Top Gun for DOS is worse. There's no Tom Cruise or sweaty volleyball here. Instead, the entire game is a dogfight. You can either shoot down another player, or the computer. Most of the time, you're just staring at a blank black-and-white background. Fly too low and your plane spins out of control before crashing. Fly too high and... oh, there is no too high. You can keep flying upwards and when you release the controls the horizon line snaps right back into place.
When you do finally get into a dogfight, the other player is represented as a flickering, slow, blue wireframe. Take down your foe and the dogfight starts again. That's it. It's about as exciting as it sounds. On the bright side, you never have to land. Take that, NES Top Gun.
Brian A Rice, Inc., 1989
This was actually published by Activision and some classic gamers may know it as Slaughter Sport on Sega Genesis. When you boot up the game, you're met with the ugliest man alive, Mondo, who welcomes you to the Fight Palace. In this bloodsport arena you can choose between three character classes: human, blue human, and polygon human. Once you've picked your poison you can bet on fights, check your opponent's bio, and equip weapons. So good so far.
The problem is the actual fighting game is beyond painful. Time Slaughter above is at least playable; Tongue of the Fatman can't even claim that. The controls are horrible, hit detection is a joke, and winning any particular fight is based on luck, not skill. It's a shame, because Tongue of the Fatman actually has decent presentation, it just couldn't back it up with actual gameplay.
Alternative Software, 1992
"Oh hey! A Doctor Who game!" I said to myself. "That's pretty awesome. It's probably going to be a thoughtful adventure game or maybe a platformer of some sort. Is that the Seventh Doctor? Cool, I'm looking forward to this."
My naive hopes were dashed on the sharp stones of reality. Instead, you have a side-scrolling shooter, with the Doctor and his chosen companion (Ace or the Brigadier) riding Dalek-style transports to shoot at whatever comes their way. It's not even a good side-scrolling shooter, because the movement is floaty and lacking in precision. Dalek Attack is a game that misses the point of The Doctor and the point of being a shooter.
This travesty is only for the first level, because the second level is a side-scrolling platformer. Sadly, not a very good one. True to the spirit of the show, The Doctor leaps about like Nathan Drake, dispatching foes with his laser-like Sonic Screwdriver. It was on my third or fourth death that I packed up shop. I did learn something though: water hurts the Seventh Doctor. It's true because the game said so.
Wow, here's a developer that didn't try to hide behind a creative name. Mr. Pibb is a game published by the Coca-Cola Company, but without the bare minimum of care and effort that went into Cool Spot for Sega Genesis. The game's "plot" involves a mad scientist turning everyone in the player's school into zombies. You're supposed to rescue the school with help of Mr. Pibb!
You do this by drinking copious amounts of Mr. Pibb and then burping on the zombies. Doing so turns them back into people, which frankly would raise a bunch of red flags in my head. The game is you wandering through the school, burping on the same two zombie sprites, which turn into the same four citizens again and again and again. I actually think I hate Mr. Pibb more after playing this. BrandGames also developed Taco Bell: Tasty Temple Challenge if you want to play an equally bad game.
T&J Kauppinen, 1993
I assume this was someone's first stab at making a game ever. Slicks 'n' Slide is the slowest top-down racer I've ever played. It's just you and three other AI racers going around a non-descript 2D track, sliding around like a madman. The sad part is the AI is about as bad at driving as you are.
This is the only game in this article that just feels me with a profound sense of sadness. Just watching these tiny pixel people drive endlessly and aimlessly around this track just filled me with a sense of ennui. The third AI racer had lapped around the track four times, but the game only counted one complete lap. What am I supposed to do with that? I can't communicate with it and let it know the race is futile.
This game makes me want to drink.
Box Office Software, 1987
Remember Alf? One of those 80's sitcoms that probably shouldn't have survived? Alf was an alien from the planet Melmac who lived with a human family and always wanted to eat cats. It's about as heartwarmingly horrific as it sounds.
Alf the DOS game is a maze game where you play the disembodied head of Alf himself, wandering the streets in search of cats (you need pizza to catch them for some reason), spaceship parts, and keys. While you're doing this, you also have to avoid the dog catcher, because the man is an idiot and thinks Alf looks like a dog. Alf is boring, it's rote, and the things you're chasing are just static sprites twitching from place to place. I feel sorry for the children of the 80's that had to play this.
Special Mention: Revenge of the Mutant Camels
You play a camel running and jumping across water, while shooting at birds that are trying to kill you with 1 ton weights. At one point, I was fighting rainclouds that dropped cat and dog heads on me. I got nothing for this feverdream.