Magic Carpet 2, PC

The full title of this 1995 sequel is Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds, and it is an excellent continuation of the series.

Magic Carpet 2 features exterior and interior (cavernous) levels that are more dense than the original, with more new monsters, secrets, and evil wizards to defeat. It also has a multiplayer mode (which the first game didn’t have).

Graphically, Magic Carpet 2 is more impressive than its predecessor and the use of night and day in the game results in a more varied colour palette – and a more interesting landscape – than previously. Again: the landscape is deformable to some degree by shooting it with fireballs, and various locations hide triggers that spawn monsters, new spells, and bosses. Unlike the first game, Magic Carpet 2 features a useful ‘Help Mode’, that points out what everything is – until you get sick of it and turn it off. It helps get into the game quicker, and not miss any important gameplay features.

The gameplay in Magic Carpet 2 is pretty much the same as before: build a castle; collect mana with your balloon; build your castle up; collect more mana; rid the landscape of monsters; complete any quest objectives.

Most monsters are pretty tough, so the best tactic is to lure them away from groups to deal with them one at a time. The killer bees, for example, will kill you quickly if a number of them swarm you, so it’s best to split them up if you can, which you can do with your deft carpet skills. Mastering the carpet is key to beating the game, and the controls work extremely well, allowing you to perform very tight and precise manoeuvres with just a modicum of skill. You can also fly backwards and sidewards, which helps a lot. The controls are very responsive, though, so do take some getting used to.

There are 25 levels to play through in total – all of which can be completed quickly (by completing quest objectives), or can be scoured for more spells and mana, and a higher completion percentage, if so wished.

Magic Carpet 2 can also be changed to SVGA mode (640×480) ‘on the fly’, meaning: you can switch between the default VGA (320×200) resolution, and SVGA resolution by just clicking an option in the menu, although I couldn’t find a way of making SVGA the default (every time I restarted the game it ran in VGA, and I had to manually change the resolution). The game also crashed quite a bit for me in SVGA mode (usually preceded by graphical glitches), and I had some problems saving the game (and having to restart from the beginning – four times so far). Playing in VGA proved to be more stable (no crashes). And this is the bought GOG.com version I’m talking about… In spite of that I really enjoyed playing Magic Carpet 2 again – it is better than the first Magic Carpet, and it is also a superb game in its own right. Another classic DOS game from Bullfrog.

More: Magic Carpet 2 on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds on GOG.com

Magic Carpet, PC

Magic Carpet from Bullfrog was first released in 1994 through Electronic Arts. It is a DOS-based, first-person action game with you – the player character – flying a ‘magic carpet’ around a series of islands, fighting evil wizards and monsters and collecting ‘mana’ to increase your magical powers.

The game plays a bit like a flight simulator, although obviously flight sims don’t have magic spells, castles and monsters that shoot fireballs at you. Using a mouse and keyboard the carpet flies around very smoothly. Initially it moves quite slowly, but acquiring a ‘boost’ spell helps speed up when necessary. Which is often because the many monsters found wandering the landscape are actually quite tough cookies.

There are numerous spells to collect – usually in the shape of a red jar, and these only appear once you’ve flown near them to disable their “invisibility lock”, forcing you to explore the whole map – or at least certain places – to find them.

The one spell you begin with is the ‘Build Castle’ spell. Fire this into the ground (or sea) somewhere and a castle is created, which then sends out a balloon to collect any mana you’ve claimed. Neutral mana is coloured gold; your mana is coloured white; enemy mana is coloured whatever colour they’ve chosen. Mana can be found for free scattered around the landscape, or can be generated by killing monsters. The basic aim is to collect a set amount of mana on each level in order to progress to the next.

The landscape itself is deformable (to a degree), meaning: you can blast it with fireballs and change the elevation. You have to be careful where you shoot, though. Accidentally blasting friendly villages will usually result in a hail of arrows to contend with – as well as everything else – so is not advisable. What is advisable in Magic Carpet is to learn when to run away. And also how to ‘peck’ at tough opponents, and avoid their shots at you. Becoming familiar to the two-button command system is a must too, but learning how to play Magic Carpet properly is worth it, because it’s still a great game.

By level three you’ll also be up against a rival wizard, who flies out on his carpet, turning any mana he finds his colour. You have to build your castle quickly and turn any mana he’s earmarked as his, to your colour, and fend him off (with fireballs) until your balloon collects the mana. This results in some very exciting dogfights over coastlines. You can even get lucky have monsters kill your opponent – it depends on where he goes. When he dies, though, you get a message on screen. If you die, you start back at the castle and can continue the level without losing progress.

Finally: there are two really weird “3D” modes in the game (toggled by pressing F10), one being red/blue mode for use with cheap red/blue 3D glasses (these were supplied with the original game), and also a Stereogram mode, where a complex pattern of coloured dots are used to create a 3D image. I remember being able to actually see the Stereogram image when I first played this game back in 1994, but trying it now I just can’t see it. It must be age… There’s also a ‘high res’ mode (toggled by pressing R), although it really chugs (or at least it did for me) and I found it best to play in VGA mode for a higher frame rate.

Magic Carpet is a classic MS-DOS game from Bullfrog and is still very much fun to play today. GOG.com are selling the ‘Plus’ version of Magic Carpet, which includes the Hidden Worlds expansion pack, and it’s well worth picking up, as is the even better sequel, Magic Carpet 2.

More: Magic Carpet on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Magic Carpet Plus on GOG.com

IndyCar Racing, PC

Papyrus Design Group‘s 1993 classic IndyCar Racing is a fast, MS-DOS-based racing game with lots to interest petrolheads, sim fans, and geeks.

It features most of the drivers and teams from the 1993 IndyCar season, except Nigel Mansell, his moustache, and a couple of other drivers (probably because of image rights) and it sees you pitting your wits against them in either single events or a championship season.

Graphically, IndyCar Racing looks a little primitive now, but back in 1993 it was pretty mindblowing. Especially the Instant Replay feature, which is much more advanced than the one seen in IndyCar‘s predecessor, Indy 500. IndyCar Racing records up to an hour of race time from different angles and allows immediate playback and cutting between cameras. Watching races in IndyCar Racing is almost as much fun as racing in them…

With realism turned up, IndyCar Racing is extremely challenging (one crash and it’s all over). With realism turned down it’s great to just take it out for a spin. The cockpit looks great with all its instrumentation; the tracks twist, tilt, and undulate beautifully; the speed blur on the tyre logos is superb, and the feeling of speed in general is excellent.

There’s a two-player option, via either modem, or null modem (connecting two PCs together via a serial port). I’ve got no idea if you can play multiplayer via DOSBox – I wouldn’t be surprised if you could – which would be the ‘Holy Grail’ for any IndyCar Racing fans out there.

More: IndyCar Racing on Wikipedia

Thimbleweed Park, PC

Thimbleweed Park is a point-and-click adventure, released in 2017 by Terrible Toybox, and co-created by ex-LucasArts employees Gary Winnick and Ron Gilbert.

In case you didn’t know: both Gilbert and Winnick have been involved in the making of some of the best games of all time, including (but not limited to) titles such as: Ballblazer, Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Day of the Tentacle.

And in 2014 they launched a Kickstarter to fund development of their “dream game”. Well, their tribute to point-and-click adventures of the past, but using modern technology. As a backer I followed the game’s development with interest. A top team of artists, musicians, voice actors, and technicians were assembled, and the game was completed pretty much as planned, taking three years to develop.

Thimbleweed Park is a mystery adventure set in 1987, with five playable characters and a whole load of puzzles to crack. Fear not, though. If you’re weak on puzzles you can play the game in Casual mode just to enjoy the story and pixel artistry. Real gamers will play it in Hard mode, though, to experience everything it has to offer.

First and foremost Thimbleweed Park looks amazing. The graphics really are a work of pixel artistry and they are further enhanced with great animation, silky smooth scrolling, visual effects, and even real-time lighting. Everything about Thimbleweed Park is just so slick; the useful right-click functionality; the way icons jiggle to get your attention; the screen tilting; the alternative fonts; the voice acting; the language support. If I had any niggles it would be that there’s no manual scroll (I wanted one), and… that’s about it.

Story-wise, Thimbleweed Park is hilarious too. It’s basically an X-Files-type scenario, with lots of satirical horror film and video game references. And jokes. The game starts off seemingly innocuously (although smart players will realise that they’re controlling a doomed man), then becomes a murder mystery, before turning into a curse story, and then cutting back to the murder mystery. All the playable characters have their own plotlines going on, and the game cuts between them as flashbacks as the story unfolds.

The playable characters vary quite a bit and all have their own unique charm. The lead – a female FBI officer called Ray – is laconic and easily annoyed; her male partner, Reyes, is an eager rookie. Then there’s a clown, called Ransome, who is infamous for his *beeping* insults. A computer programmer called Delores, and her rather, Franklin, make up the remaining playable characters.

I can’t recommend Thimbleweed Park highly enough. It is a fantastic love letter to point-and-click adventure games of the past and is genuinely funny, absorbing, and challenging. It’s worth playing to see the beautiful art alone, although the writing, music, puzzles, and usability are all significant contributors to the fact that this is a future classic in the making. Which is quite ironic.

Thimbleweed Park is also available on current gen systems, such as PlayStation 4, XBox One, and Nintendo Switch. Plus Mac, Linux and Android.

More: Thimbleweed Park on Wikipedia
Steam: Thimbleweed Park on Steam
GOG.com: Thimbleweed Park on GOG.com

Sam & Max Hit the Road, PC

Sam & Max Hit the Road, released by LucasArts in 1993, marks the video game debut of the infamous dog/rabbit crime-fighting duo.

Created by artist Steve Purcell, Sam & Max are “freelance police” and basically engage in a series of surreal mysteries involving bigfoot, and a whole host of other weird characters and strange situations.

The game begins with an animated cut scene that sets the tone, and then you have to use Sam & Max to find your way into the story. The control system is mouse-based and you use right-click to cycle through five cursor icons – walk, look, take, talk, and use. Left-clicking one of these ‘verb’ icons on a specific object or person on-screen, or in your inventory (a brown cardboard box!), will usually illicit some sort of response. The simplified control system is a joy to use, at least compared to other SCUMM games. Not having the usual verb list frees up the screen to hold more great graphics. And the graphics in Sam & Max, I think, are some of the best, most iconic, and most memorable visuals of the PC DOS era.

Like most point-and-click adventures: Hit the Road is extremely challenging. Playing is easy enough, but solving puzzles and making your way into the game is not easy. But it is very much worth it. The surreal nature of Sam & Max Hit the Road sometimes means that the nature of the puzzles is beyond anything you might have ever seen, but that’s okay. Just go with it…

My favourite parts: “Holy mackerel!” – “I’m a trout, stupid!” – “Holy trout!”, or Max retrieving the message from the cat… And my favourite character has to be the foul-mouthed, spanner-bending, turban-wearing man in the revolving restaurant. He still makes me crease up with laughter today… Sam & Max Hit the Road is packed full of wacky characters, crazy dialogue, and dangerous stunts. There are even a bunch of “minigames” hidden away in there too…

Often referred to as one of the best video games ever made, Sam & Max Hit the Road is probably the best adventure game LucasArts ever produced. It’s certainly one of funniest games I’ve ever played and will appeal to anyone with a sense of humour.

If you’re one of those with a low tolerance to frustration, play it with a walkthrough. There’s no shame in it. 🙂

U.S. Gold published the game in the UK in 1993. A number of sequels have also been released over the intervening years.

See also: Sam & Max Comics

More: Sam & Max Hit the Road on Wikipedia
Steam: Sam & Max Hit the Road on Steam
GOG.com: Sam & Max Hit the Road on GOG.com