Some time ago, to commemorate the godawful month of February, I decided to play and review every single game in every one of the four Windows Entertainment Packs published in the early 90s for use with 16-bit Windows operating systems. Why in God’s name would I do such a thing, you might possibly ask. Everyone knows about the Best of Windows Entertainment Pack that was a tie-in with most 90s versions of Windows, but there were quite a few other games featured in the four regular Windows Entertainment Packs that you had to actually buy that didn’t make the cut. BOWEP included some real gems like Chip’s Challenge, SkiFree, and Rodent’s Revenge that I spent some hours playing as a young boy in the distant, mystical past of the pre-internet era, so I wondered whether there were any overlooked classics among the games that were left out.
Turns out there weren’t! Not quite, anyway. But I had to dig through all of the following games to confirm that, and some of them are, if not necessarily good, at least interesting. I threw in the BOWEP games as well because why the hell not – those games will be marked with a + before the title. See if you can find a pattern (i.e. that most of the non-BOWEP games suck!)
I admit that this is going to be of interest to literally no one, but that describes most of the posts I write. Before we get started, I should note that there are 29 games in the queue, far too many to jam into one post and expect anyone to have the patience to make it through to the end without succumbing to a coma, so I’ll be dividing them as evenly as possible throughout three posts – ten games in this and the next post and nine in the last. I’ll be sorting them alphabetically, not by which pack they were in, because I’m positive no one cares about that and I can’t be assed to keep track of such a detail. For the same reason, I won’t be subjecting any of these games to my patented seven-point grading system. You’ll know how I feel about each of them well enough, I promise.
Chess – It’s chess.
No, nothing else to say. It’s just chess. If you like chess, you’ll probably like it. Or not. It doesn’t seem to have a lot of features. Decent enough for a chess game, maybe, though I don’t have the expertise to judge it very well. It’s probably safe to say there’s no reason for anyone to play this version anymore.
+ Chip’s Challenge – Definitely the best game in the pack, with a lot more time and care put into it than any game in a game bundle tied in with a new OS has any right to. It is an absolute classic as far as puzzle games go. See my full retrospective of Chip’s Challenge here. I wrote everything I had to write about the game in that post. Suffice it to say that you should check out Chip’s Challenge if you have any interest in puzzle games.
Cruel – This is a solitaire card game, the first of several in the pack. The icon is slightly interesting – the Windows Solitaire icon with a knife stuck through it – but otherwise, there’s nothing special here. Move randomly dealt cards to complete four suits in sequence from ace to king. Seems to be entirely based upon luck. I don’t know why the icon features a knife or why the game is called “Cruel”, unless the cruelty lies in how boring it is to play.
+ Dr. Black Jack – This is a little more than a plain old blackjack simulator. Dr. Black Jack gives you advice about your game, counseling you about when to hit and stand, and even features advice incorporating card-counting techinques. Kind of like Kevin Spacey in the movie 21, except Dr. Black Jack won’t try to grope you. Not a bad game if you want to play some no-stakes blackjack or need some extremely basic training before you take a trip to Vegas.
+ FreeCell – Another solitaire card game, but this one is special. FreeCell really needs no introduction. It’s bundled with Windows 10, for fuck’s sake. Everybody knows FreeCell. It’s perhaps the most maddening of all the solitaire games because you can see exactly where every card is, including the cards you need that are inaccessible, sitting there buried under a pile of immovable cards, mocking you.
The original FreeCell featured 32,000 different configurations, one of which was famously unsolvable. If you want to read a near-obsessive analysis of the various versions of FreeCell, check out this site. Anyway, as much as I don’t care for most of these solitaire card games, FreeCell is good. You’ve got to respect a classic.
Fuji Golf – Now here’s a shitfest. Fuji Golf tries to simulate an 18-hole golf course and falls flat on its face for the simple reason that the mechanics of the game are ass, relying on finicky as hell mouse controls to make fine adjustments. The only good thing about this game is the opening screen with a nice pixelated depiction of Mt. Fuji for some reason. Other than that – I’m admittedly not good at real golf, but 14 shots on the first round? Fuck you, Fuji Golf.
Go Figure! – This is one of a couple of educational games in the pack. The player has to arrange an equation with the preset numbers to arrive at the solution given by the game. I can’t really fault a basic educational game like this. If you drew a line of educational game goodness vs. shitness with Oregon Trail on one end and Mario is Missing! on the other, Go Figure! would be right in the middle.
+ Golf – Thank the Almighty God this is not another golf game like Fuji Golf. It’s just another solitaire card game. There’s seemingly no lack of solitaire games in this package. Golf isn’t that bad, really – you just select the cards on the top of the piles in sequence and try to complete the sequence without exhausting your turns. A lot more simplistic than FreeCell but not as boring as Cruel. Might kill five minutes while you wait for your porn torrent to finish downloading.
IdleWild – This one was a real surprise – it’s a screensaver pack! Not a very good one, though. Especially if you already had After Dark installed, which you probably did if you were using a computer in the early 90s. Most of the screensavers in IdleWild are either eye-destroying or boring. But it’s something different, at least. And it features a crappy slow-loading depiction of the Mandelbrot set! That might have been impressive when it was released in 1991.
+ JezzBall – I already wrote about the existential nightmare that is JezzBall. I will not write about it again.
That’s it for part 1. Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon! It will definitely be more interesting than part 1, I promise.
Oh yeah, now that I think about it, this is the version of Chess that introduced me to the game. I think it was my brother who explained how it actually worked; before then, I just clicked the pieces at random.
I learned how to play chess on the computer too. Not with this version, but I guess most free versions of PC chess games in the 90s weren’t that different from each other.
Jeez! I only discovered this article now Shame on me.
I love playing on older versions of Windows since there a TON of lovely games on there that I missed when I was a child. Well thank you for making a hole in my budget since now I’m hunting down my own copy of the Windows Entertainment Packs. :3
Ha, sorry about that. I think most of these games are available on archive.org, but I also like collecting physical copies of old games. Sometimes I run Windows 95 or 98 and mess around with them just to remind me of better times, when I was a kid.
No problem mate. Thankfully I found some physical copies for a cheap price on a local second hand website.