The Obscure, Forgotten and Strange Games of the Past

Feb 5, 2019 by

From the deepest annals of our memories and the ancient aisles of electronic retail stores, did these games truly exist, or were they simply phantoms from imagination?

Spoilers: They existed, otherwise they wouldn’t be in this article.

Growing up, video games were a large part of my life. My dad was and still is working in the video game industry, having been a technical director for West Wood Studios, EA LA, 2k Games, and now he owns his own company, Nephilim Studios. So, as you can imagine, there were quite a few video games that graced the family television. And many of these video games were either so strange or forgettable, that now, over 20 years later, I think back and often try to recall what I may or may not have played myself or witnessed one of my parents playing.

A lot of us remember walking the aisles of a Best Buy or Circuit City and seeing all the weird box arts for PC games and wonder what the heck kind of game they could have been (it was the 90s, so probably a point and click game). Many boasted abstract box designs, or disturbing imagery that would intrigue as well as mildly horrify. So many of these games have fallen so far into the deep recesses of my memory, however, that I often wonder if these games actually existed, or if they were strange fever dreams conjured up by the apparently disturbed mind of a 9-year-old.

Well, thanks to the advent of the internet and Google search, a lot of these strange games do exist (I’m not insane, thank God) and hunting them down and shedding a light on the buried memories involving them has been interesting, to say the least.

MDK

MDK is a good place to start, as it is a game that, although I hardly remember (how I don’t remember more about a game called MURDER DEATH KILL is beyond me), is one that I have very distinct points of recollection of. Vivid images of a protagonist wearing a strange flight suit with a pointy helmet and a HUD that seemed very intrusive (although I believe this HUD only appeared when you zoomed in through your scope) were aspects of the game apparently so striking, that they branded themselves into my subconscious.

What shocked me the most about rediscovering this game, however, was that it is was comedic in tone. I remember the post-apocalyptic like setting, with industrial buildings, alien ships and the like, but failed to recall the goofy scientist guy and 4 armed talking bipedal dog person. This baffled me, because I fully expected a game that was gritty and oppressive in its tone. I recall seeing my dad play MDK when it had released on the original PlayStation, a time when the comedic element of the game clearly didn’t resonate with me, because the impression I was left with was being unsettled by the whole presentation. In conjunction to the bleakness of the game world, I was mildly creeped out by the protagonist’s suit, and I love it for that reason. The combination of the skin-tight black spandex and weird, pyramid head-esque helmet looked like something taken straight out of a horror game. Essentially a gimp from Hell– that special brand of 90s weirdness at its finest.

Also, there was this paragliding apparatus that would come out of the protagonist’s suit. It looked cool, but it clearly spat in the face of physics.

This game art was one things I remembered most about MDK. I don’t know what it is, but it fascinated me. It’s undeniably strange, with the main character laid across the title, but at the same time looks rather stylish.

Back in 2000, there was a sequel to MDK titled MDK 2: Armageddon, although I have no memories of it. From looking at pictures of the game and watching a few YouTube videos, MDK 2 is much more vibrant than its predecessor. The environments and presentation seem to be more in line with the quirky tone that the series was going for, and honestly, that kind of disappoints me. The strangeness that came with the juxtaposition of comedy and grimy from the original was a large part of its intrigue for me, and it’s a bit of a shame that the sequel lost that aspect.

Although this may have to do with a change in developers. The original was developed by Shiny Entertainment, known for their Earthworm Jim series, while MDK 2 was handed off to Bioware.

I prefer the art to the original. The vagueness of it intrigues. This takes away from that allure and instead embraces the game’s wackiness.

For me, MDK is ultimately a game that plays out better in my head. I’m sure it was a blast to play and has a deserving cult status, but I prefer my version: In a world distraught by nuclear fallout, a nameless man dressed as a demon gimp must massacre aliens on a post-apocalyptic earth. Not much in the way of quirkiness, just pure 90s unsettling weirdness.

RLH: Run Like Hell

Note, this game was not from the 90s, but can still be classified as thoroughly forgotten

RLH, or Run like Hell, is another game that features an initialism as its title. Personally, I feel like the RLH part is kind of unnecessary. It doesn’t have the same kind of punch that MDK does, nor is Run Like Hell a very good title overall. It sounds like something that screams early 2000s edge lord wannabe, instead of something subtler and more tasteful such as MDK’s MURDER DEATH KILL.

I have never actually played RLH, but for some reason I have always remembered the episode in which this game was promoted on an old G4 show called The Electric Playground. From what I can recall, the episode featured the host, Tommy Tallarico, and what I’m assuming was one of the head developers for the game, sat in a tree as if they had been chased up there by a monster (I’m assuming the one that you’re supposed to run like hell from).

I could not find a picture of the episode in question, but I think this one is better…

Also, as a side note, I wish more media coverage was conducted up in trees.

What followed during the tree interview consisted of pretty standard stuff: Run and gun shooter, scary aliens, outer space, Lance Henriksen– you know, the usual. It’s what happened at the end of the segment that solidified RLH’s place within the annals of forgotten game history.

Which one do you think is voiced by Lance Henriksen?

As the interview came to a close and both Mr. Tallarico and his guest are about to formulate a plan for how to escape the confines of their tree and survive whatever menace may be lurking below, a shoddily rendered monster suddenly jumps up and pulls the poor developer from the tree limb. He is devoured off screen while Tommy’s forced to witness the horrific event. I can only imagine the trauma he has to live with now, reliving the moment over and over again in his nightmares. The crunching of bones, the tearing of flesh, the crappy CGI, the mediocre game that RLH ultimately turned out to be—Tommy was never the same after that… and frankly, neither was I.

MODE

I’m going to start this entry off by making a bold statement, but it is a statement that I wholeheartedly believe in: MODE is the greatest FMV game ever made. Now, this isn’t due to game play or production quality (MODE has a 2.0 out of 10 on GameSpot. Blasphemy, I know), but pure experience. Oh, and what an experience it is.

The game pits you as a faceless party guest attending the elusive Club MODE, a textbook pretentious get-together filled with artsy types, the kinds that would consider a rectangle within another rectangle or Cheerios glued a to a packet of Uno cards as art.

Ten points to whoever can figure out what is going on here.

Upon entering the club, you are greeted by the greatest electro beats to come out of some undisclosed Eastern European country, as a talking head on a series of television screens greets you to what will be the event of a lifetime… or your biggest regret. (Either way, you may feel the need for a shower after playing through MODE) Immediately, you’re probably wondering what the heck is going on. Well, don’t worry, the washed out talking T.V. face tells you exactly what this place is all about: “An interactive installation of fashion and art diversion by Vito Brevis.” So yeah, pretty straight forward stuff. From here, you are informed of your ‘Dome Pin’. A little gray dome that is pinned to your collar, and when touched by another part guest wearing the same pin, you are both granted hallucinogenic, and possibly orgasmic, sensations– No, I’m not making that up. Now, if you do not wish to partake in such psychedelically passionate feelings with other spaced out yuppies like yourself, too bad! You remove the pin, you’re removed from the club!

The game play in MODE consists of speaking with the various personalities around the club based on 3 color coded mood types (this is the only way you can converse). One for neutral, friendly, and angry. Depending on which you choose will depend on the direction the conversation will go in, as well as affect what future conversations can and can’t be had.  The system is simple, but it works, and where MODE might lack in more involved game play, it more than makes up for in its bizarre, dreamlike presentation and off-the-wall characters. The MODE attendees run the gamut from mysterious and sexy undercover cop, smart, shy and sexy I.T. guy, news reporter lady, pissed off manager guy, intimidating drug dealer/bouncer guy, kids’ birthday party story teller guy, some woman you can have a shower with, and the certifiably insane Vito Brevis who wants nothing more than to get METAPHYSICAL!

One of the many conversations you can have with the MODE attendees.

Whether it’s watching a let’s play of MODE on YouTube (I suggest Supergreatfriend’s playthrough. You will not be disappointed) or playing it yourself, I really do recommend that it be checked out. You may be intrigued, you may be terrified, you may be amused, you may feel sensations you’ve never felt before (specifically in your jeans), but one thing’s for certain… you will never forget your time spent at club MODE.

You’re welcome.

I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream

Unlike RLH: Run Like Hell, I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream has to be one of the greatest titles ever conceived by man. If you were to look up the term ‘Metal Sounding Titles’, the definition should just read, “I have no mouth and I must scream”. Now, as hardcore as that title may be, it still didn’t stop my wife and I from giggling like grade schoolers when we came up with our own, very mature, rendition of the title. Only comedic geniuses such as ourselves could conjure up, I Have no Butt and I Must Poo. Mind you, this joke lasted a good hour, and I could not see for the tears in my eyes, nor breathe for the air pulled from my lungs. It was gold and it was undoubtedly parody at its finest.

I’m sure no one else has come up with that joke before…

Based on the book of the same name, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is one of those games that I would see on the shelves at an electronic store and be drawn to its cover art. The combination of the horrific sounding title and the odd, bio-techinical, mouthless face were enough to give me ominous vibes for the duration of my stroll through Best Buy. I had never played through the game, nor did my parents to the best of my knowledge, but later in life I did eventually decide to watch videos on what this game was about. And let’s just say, those feelings of unease just from being within the CD ROM’s presence were more than warranted. I Have no Mouth and Must Scream is that special brand of 90s weirdness that takes a disturbing concept and pushes it another 700 steps further into THAT’S REALLY EFFED UP, BRO domain.

I guess looking at the art now, it isn’t so scary. But something about it really bothered me as a kid.

Much like the last 20 minutes to End of Evangelion, after watching just a few let’s play videos on I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream I was thoroughly disturbed. I didn’t think that point and click adventures could contain such horrifying content. I always assumed they were all relaxing games like Myst, but no. The 90s were a hotbed for nightmare inducing point and click games that guaranteed to keep you up at night, nervously sweating while you tried to fend off the clinical depression caused by their bleak views of humanity.

Yep. That block of text about sums up the experience you will have playing I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream.

I’m going to avoid getting into the story details of the game, as I think people should discover that for themselves (I apologize in advance). But let me just leave you with my final thoughts on I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream… This game hates you. It hates me, it hates your friends, it hates your parents, it hates your cat. It hates all things good and pure about our world, and its ultimate goal is to see humanity crumble before an AI overlord, forcing us to exist despite our pleas for death. All for no other reason than to be entertained by our suffering.

Have fun checking it out!

Chopper Attack

After digging up the what was suppressed torment caused by I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream, I need to take a breather and talk about something a little less deranged for a moment. Don’t worry though, we’ll be diving right back into the realm of effed up 90s point and click adventures in the following entry. For now, though: Chopper Attack on the N64!

As a little kid, I spent as many weekends as I could at my best friend’s dad’s house. Admittedly, the place should have been condemned (have you ever watched that A&E show Hoarders? That will give you a good idea of what the house was like), but to my friend and I, the place was awesome. Never mind the mounds of trash bags and Hustler magazines, there was a fire place in the bedroom and Oreo O’s Cereal!

Yes, we roasted Oreo O’s Cereal over the lit fireplace…

Reunited and it feels so good!

Anyways, what does this have to do with Chopper Attack? Nothing really, other than my best friend’s dad would play the living hell out of that game every time I was over there. Some of my fondest memories involved a hoarder house, a fire place, Oreo O’s Cereal, Chopper Attack, and oh yeah, falling asleep to the Bandits DVD menu and letting it run on loop all the way through the night.

Pew, pew, pew!

To this day, I have yet to discover another person who has even heard of Chopper Attack (not that I ever really looked), but my friend’s dad must have poured hundreds of hours into the game. Every helicopter (one was painted to look like a killer whale. I thought that was pretty neat. I loved killer whales at that age), every enemy satellite dish, every type of missile, every time attack stage, he must have unlocked, destroyed, and beaten every single one of them multiple times over. I mean, what else is there really to say about Chopper Attack at the end of the day? Clearly not much, as I just spent nearly this entire entry talking about a hoarder house and Oreo O’s Cereal, but that’s the point. The game is so forgettable, but it holds such a special and memorable place in my cold, jaded heart. So, in memory of Chopper attack and that old, crummy house down some shady street in Las Vegas, Nevada, I salute you!

Long live the legacy of Chopper Attack and long live the great taste of Oreo O’s Cereal over a gas-powered fireplace!

Harvester

Well, here we are folks. The pinnacle of WTF, the king of you can’t un-see, the vilest of bastard children birthed from the darkest depths of the 90’s point and click adventure womb…

The Clue Finders: 3rd Grade Adventures!

I swear I was ages 7-9 when I played this…

Just kidding, it’s Harvester.

Oh, man, where do I start with this one? Harvester is a cross between FMV live action and pre-rendered backgrounds, where you play as a guy named Steve. The year is 1953, Steve can’t remember anything, and the world around you has gone absolutely insane.  Everyone in town is some form of crazy, all portrayed with awful, or wonderful, voice acting depending on how you look at it. Again, this is not a game I played personally, but like I Have no Mouth and I must Scream, it is one that I looked up later on… oops.

Right on the box art, Harvester totes itself as being, “The most violent adventure game of all time”, and I have to say I’m inclined to believe it. Scenes in Harvester include children cannibalizing their mother, as well as a segment that has to do with what I think was a crushed head–Don’t quote me on that though. Could have been someone’s guts. Hard to tell past all the blood.

See, says it right there under the title. They ain’t lyin’!

Harvester was a game designed to offend, taking a satirical approach to 1950’s America by turning the cheery nature of the decade and twisting it into this gore drenched nightmare of a game. Men, women, children, babies, are all fair game in the world of Harvester. Nothing is too taboo, nothing is sacred, nothing is holy, all will become warped monsters of their former selves!

Seriously, Harvester is %&#$ed up.

Even in today’s gaming landscape with an influx of indie games from smaller, less creatively restricted, developers, the 90s and the strange games that came from the decade are still unique and yet to be matched in their bizarreness. I miss the days of walking through those aisles of PC games and being legitimately traumatized by some of the box arts on display, but at the same time, I’m pleased to see that games like these have been archived on sites like Steam, and through let’s play videos on YouTube (seriously, go check out Supergreatfriend’s playthrough of MODE).

The weirdness I forgot or missed out on as a child (I suppose Chopper Attack and RLH weren’t all that weird, just the circumstances surrounding them were), I can now experience vicariously through others who are actually willing to sit down and play through these games.

So, if you choose to discover these games for yourself, proceed with caution. You may not be the same person as you were before experiencing them…

About Jarreth Golding

Jarreth loves many things: movies, writing, and sculpting characters from his favorite anime out of clay, but most importantly, he loves video games. And more importantly than that, he loves watching his wife play video games because she's better at them than he is.

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