Sometimes the quality of a video game has very little to do with its popularity and historical impact. Okay, most of the time. One of the best ways to ensure a game will achieve a level of infamy is the universal property of proliferation. Here is a selection of the most well know free games that nearly everyone has played, heard of, or, at the very least, even if they didn’t know it, was installed on a PC that they used during the 90s.
The history of primates in video games has quite a long history. Donkey Kong stands as the great grandfather of video game gorillas and was followed by a few imitators like Congo Bongo and Crazy Kong, but even Amidar, released the same year as Donkey Kong, featured a gorilla as a main character (in more of a ripoff of Pac-Man’s gameplay). Add to this cameos in Crazy Climber, Zoo Keeper, Rampage, Tommy’s Gorilla Balls, etc.; the list goes on and on. Ten years after Nintendo found great financial success with the simian formula, Microsoft was on the verge of releasing version 5 of their MS-DOS operating system for IBM and compatible PCs. Microsoft’s stranglehold on the PC market was under attack from such cleverly named rivals as DR-DOS, which were usually superior, but never gained enough of a foothold with consumers or, more importantly, PC manufacturers, most of whom bundled their blocky, beige colored computers with little else other than MS-DOS. GORILLAS.BAS was created by Microsoft as demonstration of their QBASIC programming language which was included with MS-DOS 5. Like most free games included with operating systems, GORILLAS is terrible, but is simple enough to support repeated playing in between rounds of LOTUS Notes. Two gorillas face-off across a city skyline, tossing atomic bananas at specific angles and velocities in hopes of destroying their opponent, or just hitting the sun and causing it to make an “O” face. This game introduced a generation of gamers to the “artillery” style game later perfected by Scorched Earth. It’s been ported to Flash and now rests eternally on Kongregate.com
SkiFree (via Infinite Lives)
Technically not free, and instead coming with the Windows Entertainment Pack released in 1991, SkiFree was “shared” around so much that it certainly bears mentioning. Inspired by the Activision’s Atari 2600 game Skiing (which has a fantastic commercial, by the way), SkiFree is more of an exercise in frustration than a way to relax at your desk in between trips to the office coffee pot. Extremely floaty controls, coupled with masochisticly random obstacle generation (even trees that move!), and an unavoidable abominable snowman that will eat you to death (seen to the right), SkiFree introduced a generation of gamers to rage quitting. Scraping off the centimeter thick layer of dead skin, dust, and dirt from the rollers on the inside of your computer mouse, along with the purchase of a 3M Precise Mousing Surface, was essential for success. You can read the entire, sordid history of SkiFree on its official home page, download it, and even fire off a quick hate mail to the man (woman?) responsible.
One of the few free OS games that didn’t suck, 3D Pinball was, appropriately, not created by Microsoft, but by developer Cinematronics as part of their Maxis published retail game Full Tilt! Pinball. While some die-hard pinball wizards may remember Full Tilt!, again, it was the proliferation of Microsoft’s Windows XP that made sure a large number of people avoided work by going for the high score in Space Cadet. Sadly, with the release of Windows Vista, Space Cadet was no longer included with the Windows operating system. An enterprising individual has ported the game to Windows 7, however, and made it available for download. For added entertainment, there is a graphical glitch with this version that will cause the ball to disappear when it reaches high enough velocity. FUN!