In the days before constant PC ports, the divide between PC and console gaming used to be cavernous. Seemingly insurmountable. Times have changed, thankfully, but history has left many games trapped stubbornly on the consoles of yesteryear—even some that feel like they actually belonged on PC in the first place. Whether it was technical ambition or an interface screaming for mouse and keyboard, some console exclusives just strained against their one and only hardware home.
Here’s an assortment of such misplaced games through the ages that we reckon would have found a fine second home on PC if things had played out differently—and perhaps hardware better suited to their needs.
Shadowrun: Super Nintendo, 1993
Developer: Beam Software
One of the most PC-styled console RPGs of the ’90s. With tactical, pausable isometric combat, crunchy character building and no shortage of point-and-click adjacent stuff, this was the best way to experience Shadowrun’s tabletop world solo. While it never made the official leap to PC, a recent mod allows for easy mouse control when emulating.
Interestingly, the Mega Drive/Genesis also got its own, totally different iteration of Shadowrun. A top-down open world action RPG with procedurally generated missions, nearly as PC-oriented as the SNES version. It too has attracted modders, the greatest among their works being this ambitious overhaul, expanding, enhancing and bringing it more in line with the tabletop ruleset.
Carnage Heart: PlayStation 1, 1995
Artdink was a studio with a knack for bringing complex, technical stuff to consoles, but Carnage Heart went possibly a little too far for its time. A gritty hex-based strategy game where you assembled armies of mechs, negotiated with corporations for new tech licenses, and then programmed the AI for all your own units using an immensely complex flowchart-based interface. This was all before analogue controllers were even a thing on PlayStation. Hardly ideal controls, and crammed into a 320 x 200 image with chunky console fonts, too. Oof.
Just to make things even weirder, the game got a revised re-release (which never made it out of Japan), a PSP-exclusive remake (which never made it out of Japan), two sequels, one of which was released on PC (which never made it out of Japan) and a heavily cut-down spinoff that let you just manually pilot your mechs in arena battles (which, somehow, DID make it out of Japan).
Arthur and Astaroth’s Mysterious Demon World Village: PlayStation/Sega Saturn, 1996
Developer: Magical Formation
Despite still being bad at puzzle games to this day, I grew up a huge fan of Dynamix’s Incredible Machine series, and especially the wackier spinoff Sid & Al’s Incredible Toons. Only recently did I discover that the series had an obscure Japanese-exclusive console-only cousin published by Capcom and based on the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series. It’s a charming little thing, and still clearly a PC game at heart.
It plays just like the rest of the Incredible Machine series. You’re given a Rube Goldberg style machine with an end goal, and a stack of loose components to complete it and make it do the thing. This time, a bunch of GnG characters join the cast as cartoonish puzzle pieces, including death-prone (and boxer-clad) knight Arthur and his demonic nemesis Astaroth.
Ring Of Red: PlayStation 2, 2000
Gritty alt-history WW2 with mechs, Maschinen Krieger style? There’s no way that should remain stuck on consoles, and yet Konami never saw fit to grace PCs with this underrated strategy game. About half of the game is carefully maneuvering your diesel-powered walking tanks around the map, each one supported by a unit of infantry. The other half is real-time action.
The real-time battle scenes played out a bit slower than they should (something a PC port could perhaps speed up), but they were a tense bit of design as you and the enemy mech jockeyed for optional firing ranges, and then slowly stabilized your weapons to increase the percentage chance of hitting. Just make sure your infantry aren’t within range of any explosive shells that might hit your hull.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Zeonic Front: PlayStation 2, 2001
Developer: Sunrise Interactive
Yeah, I’ve got a bit of a mech theme going. Zeonic Front’s not the greatest Gundam game ever made—a bit clunky, and plagued by performance issues—but it is one that would have been far more at home on PC. One of many Gundam games of the era, it blended mech combat with the mission planning of the early Rainbow Six games. Every mission you spent at least half of your time (probably far longer) planning out exactly the path your squadmates should take through the battlefield, and what streets and hills they should scour for contacts.
Once in the field, you had to constantly keep an eye on your own mech, but also the map and mission status, issuing Go Codes and other orders to have your squadmates carry out the next phase of the operation as you move to manually support their efforts. With a better UI and smoother controls, this one could have thrived. Instead, it’s a largely forgotten anomaly.
The Seed: War Zone: PlayStation 2, 2001
Another immensely complex strategy game from Artdink, and once again, it feels like it started life on the wrong platform. The Seed: War Zone was a very ambitious pausable RTS about aerial naval combat. Commanding fleets of aerial battleships and their escorting fighters and bombers was interesting enough, but the game also asked you to design your own units from scratch using a complex block-based ship-building UI.
It was very complex, poorly tutorialized and extremely clunky to play with a PS2 controller. Apparently it did support USB mice, but I never thought to try it at the time. Perhaps it’ll be worth experimenting with next time I play around with emulating my huge, dusty PS2 game library.
Steel Battalion: Xbox, 2002
Developer: Capcom/Nude Maker
A legend amongst mech games. Only playable with an absolutely enormous bespoke sim controller, so big and wide that it came in three modules you had to assemble IKEA-style with an allen key and a set of bolts and linking segments. It was also vastly out of its depth on the original Xbox, crawling along at painful framerates and at a resolution so low that it reduced the already-claustrophobic viewing window of your mech’s cameras into a muddy, indistinct smear.
But it felt so good to play when it worked. Slow, and stompy, more ponderous than even Mechwarrior. It was an experience like none other, and then they doubled down with the standalone multiplayer expansion Line Of Contact. With even worse performance, almost unusably bad Xbox multiplayer infrastructure and a tiny global audience, it was doomed for sure, but could have been a timeless classic on PC.
Graffiti Kingdom: PlayStation 2, 2004
A brilliantly creative action RPG that always felt like it was straining against the hardware limitations of the PlayStation 2. Graffiti Kingdom had some fantastic technology, letting you doodle your own 2D critters and extrude them into the third dimension, defining what limbs and traits they had to give them moves and procedural animations, and then taking them off on a platforming, brawling adventure.
Of course, drawing things with a gamepad is hard enough at the best of times, and worse when you’re trying to do it in 3D. While some people managed to create impressive creatures, most felt like horrible lumpen messes, flailing wildly at the world around them. Mouse or (ideally) tablet controls would have elevated this one so much further, along with removing memory limitations.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater: PlayStation 2, 2004
For all the jokes about Hideo Kojima wanting to just make movies, there are few game franchises as aggressively systems-driven as the Metal Gear Solid series. With a finely tuned stealth game core wrapped in countless obscure mechanics that most players will never encounter on a normal playthrough (ever try throwing live poisonous snakes at guards?), MGS3 is a classic, and one that has stubbornly remained console-bound. Until right now, at the time of writing.
While relatively easy to emulate, an official PC version of MGS3 is finally on PC now via Konami’s new Metal Gear Solid Master Collection. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a new definitive edition of the game once modders get some time with it, but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if the Guy Savage hidden minigame makes the cut.
Project Sylpheed: Xbox 360, 2006
Developer: Game Arts/SETA
For all its over-the-top anime stylings (and possibly the most ridiculous protagonist name ever: Katana Faraway), Project Sylpheed is one of the most PC-like space combat games I’ve played on a console. Intensely complex controls (every button and modifier on the controller is used to the fullest) allow for inertial drifting strafing runs and targeting key components on larger ships. It had a real learning curve to it and many bounced off, but there was real depth if you were willing to put in the effort learning it.
Project Sylpheed also had one of the most entertaining New Game Plus modes I’ve played. Over the course of the campaign, your experimental fighter grows into an absurdly powerful engine of war, capable of one-shotting capital ships that were untouchable at the beginning. On a second playthrough, you can destroy these forces, prompting new (and very surprised) enemy combat chatter as they call in increasingly grand reinforcements for you to also crush as bonus objectives.
GRiMgRiMoiRe: PlayStation 2, 2007
While I’m firmly of the opinion that all Vanillaware games should come to PC, this one is particularly absurd. GrimGrimoire (you cannot make me capitalize it like that again) was a full-blown real-time strategy game, played from an intriguing side-view perspective as your armies of magical monsters climb the floors of a gigantic tower, capturing points, building bases, gathering resources and clashing with enemies. It also helped that it looked and sounded like a storybook come to life, often with huge, detailed unit sprites.
GrimGrimoire recently saw a remake on the Nintendo Switch, but there’s still no sign of it ever leaving consoles, or allowing us to control its oversized hand-style cursor with a mouse instead of cumbersome analogue sticks.
Dreams: PlayStation 4/5, 2020
Developer: Media Molecule
If there is one game on current PlayStation consoles that’s screaming to be let free, it’s Dreams. Sony might have given us God Of War and Spider-Man, but the tactile, hand-crafted creative sandbox that is Dreams is just begging to go multi-platform. It’s LittleBigPlanet without the restrictions: an intuitive game-making toolkit that looks great and is a dream (heh) to use, despite running badly on PS4 and not so great on PS5 either.
Even Sony doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to do with Dreams and the studio behind it. While the game supports PSVR, plans for a PSVR2 upgrade have been dropped. Not even showcasing Tren, a charming little train-based action puzzler made entirely in Dreams, seems to have moved the needle. Set Dreams free, Sony. Please? If we can get Sackboy, why not this?
Mario x Rabbids: Kingdom Battle: Nintendo Switch, 2017
XCOM in dungarees. It’s still hard to believe that this strange little gem of a game even exists. Ubisoft dusted off their most-maligned property (although I must admit a little soft spot for those screaming lagomorphs), gave Mario a gun, and convinced Nintendo to let him unload on rabbids in a series of exceedingly Firaxis-inspired XCOM-style tactical battles.
Kingdom Battle being so overtly inspired by a pillar of PC gaming should make its inclusion here obvious enough, and it remains a great way to introduce the younger or less experienced to the genre. Plus, you don’t have to worry about a few dead rookies putting you into a long, painful death-spiral. Its sequel moved further off in its own direction, ditching grid-based movement, but the first retains a charm of its own.
The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom: Nintendo Switch, 2023
An obvious final game for this list, but it’s surely a crime (and if not, then it should be) that the world’s highest-budget and most technologically ambitious immersive sim remains chained to rapidly aging mobile hardware, putting arbitrary caps on its item persistence and brilliant hot glue crafting and construction system. Tears of the Kingdom is a fantastic game where almost every problem can be tackled dozens of different ways, and the only real critique I have of it is that it’s stuck on the Switch.
Those willing to risk Nintendo’s ire by emulating ToTK can experience a close approximation of what a native PC port might have looked like, assuming you’ve got a beefy enough rig. Perks include an uncapped fps, improved graphics, ultrawide support and modding, allowing you to bolt a rapidly expanding library of extra gubbins onto the game to further elevate what’s already very special.
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