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Today, Macs aren’t generally considered to be very good computers for gaming. They’re difficult to upgrade, more expensive than equivalent Windows machines, and don’t have nearly the number of games published for Windows. But that hasn’t always been the case.
In the 80s and early 90s, when the computer gaming scene was really starting to take off, Apple computers were gaming powerhouses. There were a number of Apple exclusives — and exclusives that were later ported to other platforms — that helped define the early days of computer gaming. And you can still play those retro games! Check out these seven titles to relive the glory days of Apple gaming.
One quick note: Some of these games are downloadable, but you’ll need an emulator. For information on emulators, check out this guide from Macintosh Garden, where many of these games are available. A number of the games listed here also note that ActiveGS, a Chrome extension, is required. ActiveGS is used to emulate the Apple II computer, and is recommended by VirtualApple.org, the source of many of the in-browser games listed here.
1. Balance of Power
In 1985, the world’s thoughts were focused on the Cold War — would the U.S. or the Soviet Union be the first to take their brinksmanship too far? Would the world end in thermonuclear war? Or would the politicking and shows of force keep everyone in check? These are the sort of issues that Balance of Power played on.
Players take the role of the President of the United States or the Secretary General of the Soviet Union and attempt to improve their country’s standing in the world while responding to the other country’s actions and not escalating to the point where a nuclear war destroys the world. The graphics are crude by today’s standards, but the themes and tension in the game stand the test of time.
If you’re looking for a similar game with a more modern feel, check out Twilight Struggle on iOS. It’s amazing.
- Download the 1990 edition of Balance of Power from Macintosh Garden.
- Play Balance of Power in your browser (requires ActiveGS extension).
2. Lode Runner
Although Lode Runner was released for a number of platforms, it was originally developed on an Apple II+, making it a quintessentially Mac game. Unlike many platformers, Lode Runner is a bit of a puzzle-solving game. You’ll need to figure out how to collect gold, defeat guards, and escape to the top of the level to progress. Dig holes to trap guards and steal their gold, but don’t get caught!
You’ll need to put your pattern-recognition and timing skills to the test to master Lode Runner, as the guards’ movements aren’t always predictable, and you’ll need to time your movements so you don’t get nabbed. Don’t let the old-school graphics fool you; this is a really good platformer!
- Download Lode Runner from Macintosh Garden.
- Play Lode Runner in your browser (requires ActiveGS extension).
3. Castle Wolfenstein
You’re probably familiar with Wolfenstein 3D, but did you know that the series began as a World-War-II-based stealth game on the Apple IIe? As an Allied soldier in a Nazi-held castle, you’ll need to get past guards using stealth or force to make your way through the castle. Along the way, you can collect ammunition, bratwurst, Eva Braun’s diaries, schnapps, and other curios of World War II.
You won’t find the kill-em-all run-n-gun style of Wolfenstein 3D here; instead, you’ll want to spend as little time in combat as possible, and avoid the S.S. guards, as they’re much harder to kill and they’ll recognize you even if you’re wearing a Nazi uniform. This game was groundbreaking in many ways, from the World War II setting to the digital voices. It’s not as exciting as today’s ancestors, but it’s a great look into where the genre came from.
4. Prince of Persia
The Prince of Persia series has come a long way from its humble beginnings — the series is now known as a great adventure platformer, full of puzzles, combat, and fun features (it also morphed into the highly successful Assassin’s Creed). But in 1989, when the first game came out, it was much simpler. The graphics were revolutionary for the day, having used digital rotoscoping to better capture character movement.
If you can lead your character out of the dungeons and into the tower where the evil Jaffar is keeping the sultan’s daughter hostage within 60 minutes, you’ll win… well, fame and fortune, presumably. On your way there, you’ll need to jump over pits, avoid traps, and defeat guards with your sword-fighting skills. What more could you ask for?
- Download Prince of Persia from Macintosh Garden.
- Play Prince of Persia in your browser (requires ActiveGS extension).
5. Oregon Trail
If you’re of my generation, you don’t need any description of Oregon Trail. But just in case you’re not (or you forgot) this educational game simulates the trip from Independence, Missouri to the Oregon frontier in the year 1848. As a wagon leader, you’ll need to take care of the members of your family by making decisions, managing resources, and hunting to provide food.
Due to its educational nature (it was developed by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium), this game was a staple elementary-school computers for a very long time, which is why thousands of adults now remember naming their family members after their school friends so they could say, “Hey Johnny, you just died of dysentery.”
Turn-based strategy games appeal to the analytical, logical gamers among us, and Taipan! is a great example of an early member of this genre. You’ll need to navigate the waters of the Far East in your ship, buying and selling silks, weapons, opium, and other cargo to increase your wealth. You’ll also occasionally need to pay off the local thugs, outrun pirates, and put up with boardings by the local authorities.
If your net worth reaches one million, you’ll have the option to retire and enjoy life as a former successful trader. The “trade simulator” genre wasn’t a big hit, and has mostly disappeared, but Taipan! is one of the greats from this forgotten pantheon of games.
First released in 1981, Ultima (also known as Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness) is one of the first computer role-playing games, and the influence of tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons is clear, especially in the character-creation process. The story is classic fantasy RPG: an evil wizard is trying to take over the world, and you have to stop him.
You’ll do that by taking on minions, collecting gear, using magic spells, and leveling up your stats and abilities. If you like Ultima, there’s a long series of games that you can take on across a number of different systems.
Your Favorite Old-School Mac Games
These seven games certainly aren’t the only old-school Mac games that you can find out there; sites like Macintosh Garden and Virtual Apple are great for reliving the early days of Mac gaming. From the Halo progenitor Marathon to later games like DOOM, Descent, and The Incredible Machine, you can find them all somewhere online. They don’t match up to today’s games in terms of graphics or video game AI, but there’s something about playing a classic that just can’t be beat.
What are your favorite old-school Mac games? Have you played them recently, or do you just remember them from decades ago? Share your thoughts in the comments below!