The 80s was a great time for DOS gaming since it was the premier PC operating system back then. You had a massive selection of games spanning across a wide variety of genres, from platformers to shooters. And these days, the retro gaming craze has taken over causing a lot of people to install DOS emulators in order to play those good old games.
So which are the best DOS games for a new retro gaming enthusiast? I made a list containing the top 50 DOS games of the 80s that you must play. If you are new to retro gaming, check out my article on top DOS emulators because you’ll need one to run these games.
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
One of the earliest and most in-depth RPGs ever designed for a home computer, Ultima IV delivers on both gameplay and story. It’s a much larger game than its predecessors, thanks to a giant map filled with countless dungeons. Ultima IV also features improved dialogue and travel options over Ultima III, which results in a much more immersive roleplaying experience.
Do you remember Atari’s megahit arcade game called Breakout? Arkanoid is basically a block breaker game modeled around that same concept with a couple of new mechanics sprinkled in for people playing at home on their computers. For its time, Arkanoid is an incredibly colorful and vibrant game featuring gameplay that is simple to learn but hard to master.
If you still don’t know how to play video games, check out my other article How To Play Old DOS Games On Windows 10, Mac Or Linux?
SimCity is the original city-building game that inspired a ton of copycats who still continue to use its gameplay systems nearly 3 decades later. In SimCity, you play the role of a city planner/ mayor who is responsible for all new infrastructure development. From malls to police departments, you must carefully manage construction work to ensure low crime rates and citizen satisfaction.
The original Tetris was a smash hit, owing to the fact that it hides incredible gameplay depth behind a simple interface. In theory, you just have to align a bunch of falling colored blocks so that they disappear. But in practice, getting a good score in this game requires significant thought and forward planning.
A lot of kids who grew up in the early 2000s will remember playing variations of digging puzzle games on their phones. Basically, you are armed with a shovel and dig your way through multiple levels filled with everything from enemies to hidden treasures. Digger basically invented this entire genre, and it’s still a lot of fun to this day.
If you are intrested in MS-DOS Games than you must check out my other list Top 20 MS-DOS Games That You Must Play
A game in which you operate a fixed anti-aircraft turret that’s tasked with shooting down incoming waves of air transport carrying paratrooper forces. If you fail to shoot down the aircraft or the paratroopers who are descending, your turret will take damage from bombs planted by these paratroopers. You gain points by shooting paratroopers/ aircraft, and these very points are consumed as ammo (so try not to miss).
This is a space trading and combat simulator featuring wireframe 3D graphics. Elite singlehandedly inspired a ton of space exploration and combat sims such as Wing Commander, No Man’s Sky, EVE Online, etc. In Elite you start out with a small ship and collect resources through various means.
You can be a bounty hunter, pirate, mercenary, trader, or any combination of them all. And the money you gain from these activities lets you upgrade your ship with better armor, firepower, etc.
Sid Meier’s Pirates!
If you want an entire game dedicated to pirate life and ship-based combat, this is it. And the really fun part is that you can play roles other than being a pirate leader. For instance, you can be a privateer or pirate hunter and command your very own frigate as it takes down pirate ships.
Plus, this game doesn’t force you down a scripted path. You can look for treasures, raid towns and ports, recruit new crewmembers, etc. Depending on the choices you make along the way, you can end up a wealthy individual or just another beggar on the streets.
If you already know how to run old dos games but looking for the best emulator, check out my other article Top 20 DOS Emulators For Windows, Android, Mac, Linux
Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.0
Yes, this is the very first MS Flight Simulator and one look at the game shows you how much PC technology has advanced. The graphics are quite rudimentary and everything looks pixelated. But the realism and simulation are still on point, which is why this old gem can still give modern flight sims a run for their money.
The Ancient Art of War
It’s a raging debate as to who really invented the RTS, with some people saying Dune II did it. However, The Ancient Art of War was released in 1984- 6 years before Dune II. And it features many elements that would go on to be staples of every future RTS.
This game has multiple unit types with a basic rock, paper, scissor dynamic that determines who counters who. The terrain has a lot of variety, containing everything from bridges and towers to wide-open grasslands. Combat is squad-based, meaning you fight with groups containing several warriors of each type.
Pool of Radiance
A roleplaying game built directly on the foundation established by Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It uses a first-person view for regular tasks (such as exploration and leveling up), while the combat takes place from a top-down perspective. At the start, you can create a party of up to 6 characters by selecting the gender, race, stats, etc. for each one.
Imagine snakes and ladders combined with Donkey Kong, that’s Lode Runner in a nutshell. It’s a basic 2D puzzle platformer in which you try to collect all the treasures in each level while dodging monsters. You can climb ladders and dig traps to defeat your enemies, while also solving time-sensitive puzzles that get more difficult at higher levels.
King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella
A mish-mash of fantasy tropes and mythology, King’s Quest IV is a graphic adventure in which you play as a princess. Your mission is to save your dying father by getting a magical fruit from a fairy in a far-away land. However, this quest is put to an abrupt halt by an evil witch who plans the kill the fairy and uses you as her own servant.
Earl Weaver Baseball
Don Daglow, the designer of this game, is credited with many industry firsts. For starters, he created the first-ever computer baseball game way back in 1971. The only issue was this game ran on a mainframe computer the size of a small bus.
When Daglow made Earl Weaver Baseball, he consulted with Hall of Famer Earl Weaver to program the game’s AI. This was the only computer game that could simulate an entire season’s worth of matches in the background without showing each match in real-time. This is also the first baseball game to have both arcade mode (where you go out on the field as a player) and manager mode.
I know a lot of you reading this article are huge Fallout fans, which is why it’s important to understand where Fallout originated from. Wasteland is the original post-apocalyptic roleplaying game set in a world destroyed by nuclear war. You have character stats such as speed, strength, charisma, luck, etc. that decide how proficient your player character is at various tasks.
Wasteland has features party mechanics, letting you recruit certain NPCs. The NPCs themselves have a mind of their own, and won’t always follow your commands (especially if it puts them at risk). Wasteland is also one of the earliest games to have a persistent game world.
In this game, you control a teenager on a mission to save his girlfriend who is being held captive by an evil scientist. Oh, and the scientist isn’t normally like this. He is doing all of this at the bidding of a sentient meteor that’s controlling his mind.
Yeah, the story is absolutely wonky but you’ll still enjoy how everything is presented. It feels like reading an interactive comic book. The point-and-click gameplay is rudimentary but engaging.
The Seven Cities of Gold
One of the earliest open-world games, The Seven Cities of Gold is based around an ancient myth circulating among the Spaniards. They would talk of cities located amidst deserts, filled with riches that human minds can’t even comprehend. And the game sends you on an exploration mission to find these cities.
It’s a good old adventure game with an open-ended world. You don’t have to complete missions in any particular order, and there are tons of side activities to keep you busy. You can trade with native people, set up bases in the foreign land, interact with NPCs, etc.
One of the earliest street racing games, Vette! features the Chevrolet Corvette. You are put in San Francisco, and the locale looks fairly realistic if you can ignore the unshaded streets. Vette! has fairly realistic car handling with decent audio (this game doesn’t support sound cards).
Car models can take damage, and you can even use the driver’s seat view which shows a dashboard complete with all the necessary dials. Pedestrians can be run over and there are fuel refilling stations sprinkled across the entire city. If you drive like a complete maniac, you risk running into cops who will pull you over (at which point you must choose one out of 8 excuses).
Originally, this game was intended to be a licensed adaptation of Rambo 2 but SNK had trouble acquiring the rights. Nevertheless, it’s Rambo in spirit. You play as every badass 80s action hero stereotype ever, complete with a mustache and giant oiled-up biceps.
In Ikari Warriors you shoot your way through wave after wave of disposable cannon fodder, using machine guns and explosives. The thing that separates Ikari Warriors from competing shoot ‘em up games of its era is the 2-player cooperative mode. On arcades, this game used dual rotary joysticks which were a first back in 1986.
Space Quest: Chapter I- The Sarien Encounter
It’s like King’s Quest but in space. You play a nameless protagonist who is only referred to by his callsign “Roger Wilco”, a janitor on the spaceship Arcadia. The game takes plenty of inspiration from Star Trek, pitting you against comic-book-style villains as you try to escape one evil plot after another.
Prince of Persia
Prince of Persia is a series that has endured countless sequels, prequels, and reboots. It even formed the basis for Ubisoft’s next-gen open-world stealth-action game (Assassin’s Creed). But what about the very first Prince of Persia, the one where you rescue a princess from an evil vizier?
One thing that makes Prince of Persia stand out is its rotoscoped animations that look far better than the janky conventional animation of that time. Real people were told to do certain actions like jumping, running, etc. and their movements were traced over from video into the game. The result is character movement that flows naturally and smoothly.
Combine this with excellent action platforming, and you have a game that’s just as fun today as it was in 1989. Yeah, the DOS version of this game was released in 1990 which means it isn’t technically an 80s game. But the original was released for Apple II in 1989, plus this game is so good I have to make an exception for it.
Unlike a regular strategy game, Populous puts you in charge of managing your very own world. Not an island, or nation- the entire world is in your hands. You’re basically God, and Populous is the first game to use such a concept.
You can create and demolish entire civilizations within seconds, and natural disasters are merely another toy for you to play with. You can be benevolent and merciful, or a ruthless overlord who squashes humans like bugs. As a divine being, your goal is to defeat enemy followers who are worshipping another god.
The Oregon Trail
A game that’s simultaneously a historical lesson and an excellent visual novel on the hardships faced by emigrants on the Oregon Trail. A trail that stretches over 2000 miles long, filled with dangers. You choose your profession at the start and manage various resources within your convoy as it journeys from Missouri to Oregon.
Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
Widely regarded as the first true party-based roleplaying game, Wizardry is set in a fantasy universe that’s inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. It has multiple races such as elves, dwarves, gnomes, etc. You can choose a specialization for each race (fighter, mage, etc.), and an alignment (good, neutral, evil).
Once you create your character, you descend into a dungeon with 10 levels that become progressively harder. The term “dungeon crawl” was coined to describe the style of combat and world design found in Wizardry. You collect treasures, fight enemies, and make your party stronger before facing the final boss.
Zork- The Great Underground Empire
Zork is like an early version of Tomb Raider. But instead of playing as a beautiful and charming woman armed with exotic weaponry, you are just a regular dude looking for treasures in caves.
There are 20 treasures in total that should be collected and placed in a trophy case. To find these treasures you must solve puzzles and navigate through mazes.
Back in the day, Chris Jones designed a series of neo-noir games featuring a private investigator called Tex Murphy. Mean Streets was the first in the series, and it establishes the basic premise of the entire series. You’re a cynical and jaded detective who has been tricked and betrayed far too many times to trust anyone.
And it’s a post-nuclear world you’re living in, filled with shady characters who will do anything to survive. Mean Streets is a visual adventure game in which you solve mysteries by visiting locations and questioning people. Occasionally, there are action sequences that involve piloting your flying car or engaging in shootouts with groups of enemies.
Test Drive II: The Duel
The first Test Drive was a good attempt at creating a fast-paced street racer, it tried many novel ideas but failed to execute them properly. However, the developers got it just right with the sequel which features multiple sceneries in the background and much more varied tracks. You also have the option of competing against the clock in a timed run or racing against an AI.
Originally released on arcades and home consoles, Altered Beast is a primitive beat ‘em up style game featuring characters from Greek mythology. You are a Roman Centurion chosen by Zeus himself to rescue his daughter Athena. She has been trapped by Neff, the ruler of the Underworld.
Since you have been blessed by Zeus, you can transform into powerful beasts. Using your powers, you must defeat the waves of creatures sent by Neff. Some of the transformations are truly awesome, like a dragon that can shoot lightning bolts (and a fire-breathing tiger).
It’s like chess, but a lot cooler since there are animated chess pieces that actually fight as if they are on a battlefield. Later in 1991, an enhanced version of this game was released for PC. It featured VGA graphics and digital symphonies that would play off a CD-ROM.
Battle Chess follows all the regular rules of chess, with the same 8 x 8 square board. But the units themselves have very interesting animations. For instance, your rook turns into a golem and smashes enemy pawns with a large boulder.
Hey, is chess too simple for your elite tastes? In that case, put aside that ancient board game and give Archon a try. This is a turn-based strategy game with multiple unit types who fight on a square board.
The board even has light and dark squares just like chess. But that’s where the similarities end. Because if your unit moves to a square of their own color, you get bonus health.
And every time you land on the square of an enemy, instead of having a simple elimination you two fight like it’s a boxing match. The winner eliminates the loser from the board.
MechWarrior is a game about piloting giant war robots in space, which already makes it super cool in my book. From the first-person perspective, you control a futuristic war robot that’s powered by a miniature nuclear reactor. There are different types of robots, and each one is equipped with a wide variety of weapons ranging from missiles and machine guns to lasers and cannons.
And MechWarrior is part of the BattleTech universe. BattleTech started out as an exciting tabletop roleplaying game and expanded into having its own arcades, games, novels, etc. It even got an animated TV series in 1994.
One of the earliest roguelike games, NetHack is an open-source text-based dungeon crawler. You select your character’s race, gender, profession, etc., and give them a name. Then, you crawl your way through various procedurally generated levels filled with treasures and monsters.
Your goal is to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor which is located in the final level. And you will also find buildings such as shops, altars, fountains, etc. along the way.
A very unique vertically scrolling shooter in which you control a spacecraft called Silpheed. You’re the last hope of planet Earth and its only chance at surviving an invasion by interplanetary terrorists. Silpheed uses a tilted screen, which means enemy units become smaller at the top of the screen (your spacecraft can move freely around the screen).
Those among you who have played Burnout know that you don’t necessarily have to be the first guy at the finish line in order to win. You can also knock out every other racer so you’re the only one at the finish line. DeathTrack is basically Deathrace in a video game format, featuring cars that can be equipped with upgradable armor and weapons.
JetFighter: The Adventure
A very early combat flight simulator that laid the foundation for games such as DCS. While this game isn’t visually impressive, it makes you feel like you’re flying a modern fighter jet loaded with realistic weaponry. You have both training missions as well as actual missions which get more difficult as you progress towards the end.
Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards
A comedic visual novel with some really wacky plotlines, Leisure Suit Larry tells the tale of a 38-year old male virgin. He lives in his mom’s basement and is mocked by all of his peers. One day he grows tired of his constant failures at “scoring” and decides to visit the city of Lost Wages (a parody version of Las Vegas).
A maze game about a little yellow sphere with a really big mouth who goes around eating little colored dots. But he isn’t alone in the maze because there are 4 colored ghosts chasing him around. The cool thing about Pac-Man is that each ghost has its own unique AI, some try to flank you while others take a more direct approach.
A simple puzzle game in which you are put inside a maze that has walls and pathways containing boxes that must be put in designated storage locations. Your player character can move vertically or horizontally, each movement covering a fixed distance. Your goal is to get all boxes to their storage location using the fewest moves possible.
A game about Freddy the cat who has to sneak into the homes of random people on his quest to find Felicia, the love of his life. And you do this by strolling around in an alleyway, looking for open windows to jump through.
Along the way, people will throw out random objects which attract dogs. If a dog comes sniffing around, try not to touch it. Or else you’ll get into a fight and lose a life.
A simple platformer game in which you try to avoid a bunch of elevators that are traveling up and down. Your goal is to get to the top of a building by climbing floors and collecting points. However, getting hit by an elevator will knock you back to the start.
Levels get progressively shorter, so it becomes harder to dodge each elevator. The higher you climb, the bigger your score will be.
A fun game about a bartender who works at 4 different places, trying to serve customers as they slowly approach him. You juggle between lanes with conveyor belts that carry drinks to the customers, if they reach and grab you your life is over. While sliding mugs, you need to make sure that the customer in that lane isn’t already drinking otherwise the mug will fall and you lose a life.
This is a martial arts game that came out well before Street Fighter or Tekken, in 1984. Originally released for the Apple II computer, Karateka would eventually find its way onto other platforms such as DOS, Atari, C64, etc. (even the NES). Karateka is different from Street Fighter or Tekken because instead of fighting 1 v 1 inside an arena you make your way up a castle (like Castlevania).
But you don’t fight waves of enemies like you would in a beat ‘em up. Instead, you fight one bad guy at a time on your way to rescue Princess Mariko from an evil supervillain.
Well, what can I say about this game that hasn’t already been said? It’s as ubiquitous as Mario and is one of the establishing titles for the entire platformer genre. In fact, Donkey Kong introduced us to Mario because he is the player-controlled character.
In Donkey Kong, Mario was originally called Jumpman (and yes, he jumps). You climb up a series of platforms to rescue a lady called Pauline who has been kidnapped by Donkey Kong. And our favorite ape won’t make it easy because he constantly drops barrels down at you while you’re climbing up.
A game that’s similar to Digger, but also unique in its own way. Boulder Dash puts you in control of an underground explorer who searches for diamonds by digging vertically and horizontally.
You have to be mindful of objects like boulders which can fall on you if you tunnel underneath them. Plus there are certain hard rock barriers that you can’t dig through.
King’s Quest I
King’s Quest isn’t the first graphic adventure game. But it certainly is the first one to have interactive visuals as opposed to its predecessors which used pre-rendered portraits or images that never moved. Because of this feature, the first King’s Quest was a revolutionary title for its time and felt way more immersive than any other visual novel/ adventure game.
Strip Poker II
Well… it’s a game about strip poker where you take your pick of opponent from a collection of really cute girls. Strip Poker II is sure to be a ton of fun for those who are looking for a more “sensual” experience from their video games. Win at poker, and you get rewarded by some very gracious women who remove an item of clothing for each round they lose.
Originally, this game was supposed to be an officially licensed James Bond adaptation. But things fell apart during production and it ended up being a copycat instead. Just like James Bond, you play a spy who drives fast cars and uses cool gadgets.
Minus all the hot women and martinis, because the game didn’t have enough budget or time to accommodate that signature James Bond feature. In Spy Hunter, you drive an interceptor car that can transform into a boat. It is equipped with upgradable weapons and advanced armor (if only it had a super-advanced AI).
A side-scrolling shooter in which you pilot an advanced combat helicopter. This particular helicopter looks a lot like the US Apache gunship, and it is equipped with a fearsome arsenal of weapons. Your goal is to advance as far as possible while avoiding all the ground-mounted AA guns and missile launchers.
Back in the days of WW1, there was this extremely famous single-seat British biplane called the Sopwith Camel. A champion at low-altitude dogfighting, Sopwith aircraft were often used as bomber escorts. They would also be used for dropping bombs in a ground attack role.
In the game you pilot a Sopwith, starting with takeoff from a runway. The plane you are given is equipped with bombs and machine guns, your goal is to attack enemy ground targets and destroy them.
It’s one of the earliest two-player coop games ever. Joust is basically a fantasy version of the actual medieval sport known as jousting. In which two knights on horseback armed with lances would charge each other head-on.
But there are no horses in this 2-player game. Instead, one guy gets an ostrich while the other gets a stork. And instead of level ground, there are floating platforms on top of a lava floor.
The original arcade version of this game was created way back in 1981 by Namco, and ports for home computers would arrive later. Dig Dug is a digging puzzle game. Your player character kills enemies by blowing them up with an air pump or dropping rocks on top of them.
Enemies can move freely through the rocks but become attackable when they get into the air spaces dug up by your character. Then, you can use your air pump or dig underneath rocks to crush anyone chasing you.
So, what did you think of my list? I bet there are a bunch of games in here that caught your attention. After all, which true PC gamer wouldn’t be interested in playing classics such as Paratrooper, Digger, and Lode Runner?
As is the case with every era of gaming, you’ll find both excellent and terrible games released within the decade. The same is true in the case of DOS games. That’s why I created a list of the best ones so all you have to do is try out games you see here.
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