The Apogee Shareware Disc – PC
Platform: PC (DOS)
Developer: Apogee Software
Publisher: Apogee Software
Release Date: 1994
Nerd Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Well, well, well. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? It feels like just yesterday when I decided to start reviewing Apogee games for NerdBacon, and with that last classic review, I had hit the end of my trek to cover every single one of the games on my old shareware disc, hadn’t I? But then I thought, as one last way to send off my compilation series of reviews, and to ring in Retroary the only way I think proper, why not review the whole Apogee Shareware Disc in its entirety? After all, without that disc giving me something to do on those lazy summer afternoons when I could have been going outside and making friends, I would have grown into a very different kind of gamer. Probably a more sports-centric one, maybe even a console lover. But the Apogee Shareware Series reviews were made because this disc is such a vital piece of my formative years in video gaming, and it would be remiss not to give the whole thing one last hurrah. So grab your Gravis Gamepads and 256-color CRT monitors and let’s have one last ride through my gaming past! And don’t worry, you’re getting the full version, you don’t have to call me at home to purchase the other half of the review.
Since shareware as a concept is almost completely dead in this new digital distribution age of video games, I’m going to start by explaining what shareware is and how it worked back in the day. Shareware distribution is the act of providing an introductory piece of your program to the user, free of charge, in the hope that their liking of the program will encourage them to purchase the full version. You could make copies of the shareware version and distribute it yourself, passing it along to friends and family. It’s essentially carrot-and-stick marketing, where you get a taste of the carrot before it’s pulled away and you have to pay to have the whole carrot. You still see it occasionally with limited demos and trials of certain games, but the old shareware, as used in the Apogee Shareware Disc, was basically giving you the first chapter free without making you uninstall it or pay to keep it. Nowadays, you don’t really see anybody doing shareware to the same extent as they used to back in the 90s, which is a shame, but an understandable one. Doesn’t mean I don’t miss it any less, though.
And now, let’s head to the games! I’ll give those who haven’t read the individual reviews a quick sum-up of each one and a link to the full title review. Of course, fans of my series probably already know what to expect is going to hit them in the face when they tap the scroll wheel. After all, Apogee Means Action!
The Apogee Shareware Series, the Full List!
It’s a side-scrolling run-and-gun shooter where you take Snake Logan, CIA agent, on a one-man mission to stop the evil Master Cain from terrorizing the world with his mutant creations! Handles well, colorful environments, secret moves, and Bobby Prince doing MIDI work for the soundtrack. What’s not to like? Try it on easy difficulty, cause it can get pretty dang hard later on, and you’ll probably want those extra lives!
A (very) pre-Doom first-person shooter where secret agent Blake Stone is infiltrating the top-secret offices and laboratories of the evil Dr. Goldstein to stop him from sending his alien armies to invade Earth! It’s good plain fun, like Wolfenstein 3D but with a few helpful add-ons to spice up the gameplay! If a level isn’t beaten 100% yet, remember to keep pushing those walls to find secrets!
Duke Nukem, archetypal 90s action hero, is back with a new adventure, where he has to stop the evil Rigelatin fleet from conquering earth — using his own brain patterns to do the conquering, no less! Fast-paced, adrenalin-pumped, chock full of power-ups and killer Bobby Prince tracks, this run-and-gun title is definitely the Duke Nukem game that proved his staying power! Hail to the King, Baby!
Halloween Harry, the discount rent-a-hero with the confusing name, is tasked to save innocent civilians and blow away invading aliens…that is, if he can actually lift himself off of the ground! Reasonably fun in the right circumstances, and with a kooky sense of humor to boot, feel free to give this run-and-gun a shot just to see if it’s the right kind of game for you! (Seriously though, Harry, those drawn-on abs aren’t impressing anyone.)
To join the Wizards’ Council and live like a posh nob with a hot trophy princess wife, titular apprentice Hocus Pocus must face the greatest threats that torment the Council’s official business, and maybe save the world along the way! A magical-themed run-and-gun with very colorful environments and enemies, lots of fun powerups, and hoards of very sparkly treasure!
Zounds! Those wacky Gruzzles are up to their old tricks, stealing numbers out of everyday life with surprisingly disastrous consequences! But don’t worry, your friend Benny the Butterfly is here to help! A run-and-gun presented in an educational and kid-friendly style, it helps children learn and apply essential math skills through fun gameplay and simple repetition!
Baron Baldric’s evil ancestor Lazarus has been dispatched, but the kingdom of Rimm is in need of his aid once more, as Lazarus’s old towers are still populating the land with hideous monsters! An isometric arcade-adventure game the likes of which I haven’t seen since, you’ll need all of your cunning to best the monsters of these Mystic Towers, destroy the foul monster generators, and get out in one piece!
As pilot of the experimental Raptor jet fighter, your contract is to blow away targets of opportunity on both land and air for your mega-company bosses and make a mint in doing so! An exciting flight sim shooter with nice graphics for its time and catchy music, this definitely brings the arcade feel to the comfort of your own home computer. Hooray for capitalism!
The title that revolutionized first-person shooters and created a wave of imitators, you’re breaking out of Castle Wolfenstein and bringing down any Nazi soldier unlucky enough to get in your way! Full of dangerous enemies, hidden caches of Nazi gold, and Bobby Prince’s amazingly engrossing soundtrack, the only reason you shouldn’t play this is if you faint at the sight of blood. Or you’re German. Don’t play this if you’re German.
Those mean Gruzzles can’t spell, so they don’t think anyone else should either, and are stealing letters and words from around the world! Don’t worry, your new friend Benny the Bookworm will help you take them back! An education-themed run-and-gun, this game teaches the younger kids valuable word association and spelling skills while keeping the gameplay fun and intuitive!
For the most part, the games on the Apogee Shareware Disc are strong standalone games, each one of which would likely appeal to someone’s interests and be worth a deeper look. The disc naturally favors run-and-gun titles, since that was popular back in the mid-90s DOS scene, with a couple of first-person shooters, a flight sim, and the curious one-of-a-kind genre portrayed in Mystic Towers. As you’re trying them all out and playing through their first chapters, undoubtedly a couple are going to stand out as your personal favorites on the disc, and those are going to be the ones you’re the most likely to call in and order the full version for. Duke Nukem II and Wolfenstein 3D seem to me to be the most high-dollar names on this disc, but that itself is a great marketing tactic, since subconsciously most consumers will reason that if there are other games in the same list as these two, they must be as good, and it elevates your perception of them before you even start playing. All in all, plenty of thought was put into this shareware compilation, and Apogee deserves credit for that.
Today, you can’t really depend on shareware distribution to do the advertising work for you, and you don’t really need to, since the video game industry is a big business that’s taken seriously and can afford flashy and expensive theatrical commercials. But in the mid-90s, the public opinion was still that video games were nothing more than a cute distraction and eventually they would be dropped like every other fad that had graced the market. Companies like Apogee Software needed an inexpensive and reliable way to put the word out about their product, so the Apogee Shareware Disc represents the best shot they had at the time of getting new sales, sending out shareware copies through the mail and BBSes (bulletin board systems, which existed before the Internet we use today), and waiting for the fish to bite. This strategy obviously worked, because Apogee Software is still putting out fun titles to this day, and they even keep their old classics available for paid download on their home site. From a marketing perspective, the logic was sound, and the results don’t lie.
And I know that the Apogee Shareware Disc is nothing more than a clever marketing tool when you get right down to it, but honestly, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about that old CD in its translucent plastic case, with the black and white manual giving specific instructions on how to install, configure, and start the games included. To some, it’s just a simple mail-order trick to siphon money out of you for a bunch of similar games, but to me, that disc shaped my childhood and set me on a path to becoming a die-hard PC gamer, and built the strong retro gaming bent that is the foundation of who I am as a gamer and reviewer. Without that CD in my life, I probably would have went out, bought a Sega Dreamcast once my Sega Genesis finally conked out, and probably become one of those lunkheads who think that top-notch 1080p graphics and 60 FPS frame rate are the most important things about gameplay. But when all I had was the Apogee Shareware Disc, I learned that I could have fun without perpetually chasing the cutting edge of video gaming, and I think that’s a takeaway a lot of today’s modern gamers still need to learn.
Where’s that CD now? I honestly can’t say. We have so many discs around the place and knowing my luck, it got lost in a move or it just simply phased out of existence. But the memories I’ll have with that Apogee Shareware Disc are ones I’ll never lose.
Here’s to you, Apogee Software. Thanks for helping make me the man I am today.
~ Action Zero
Share This Post