Ever since I was little I've loved Greek mythology. And I've also always loved video games. So it's no surprise that some of my earliest memories include playing titles like The Battle of Olympus and Kid Icarus. It's also no surprise that I am fanatical about the God of War series and played Rise of the Argonauts despite several people warning me not to.
Since I've been thinking about it a lot lately, I thought I would write up a list of video games that involve Ancient Hellas (Greece) in some way or another for my readers. Enjoy!
1) Kid Icarus (NES, 1987)
Almost 25 years before Kratos, there was Kid Icarus. This FRUSTRATING platformer stars a boy who must rescue the Goddess of Light from the evil Medusa. Although most of my memories involve BLOOD THIRSTY RAGE and a lot of cursing for a 9 year old, this game seems to have inspired a cult following among gamers. And there are some unmistakable references to Greek mythology. Obviously the title character is one of them and Medusa the other, but there are weapons and items that will remind you of Greece, even as you are falling off of things and cursing the whole way down...
2) Legendary Wings/Wings of Ares (NES, 1988)
This hilariously awful game is a shooter that takes place in the future but is infused with Greek mythology. It starts off like 1942 but quickly turns into Contra (that's not as cool as it sounds, btw). It's pretty laughable, but I have to admit the idea of a future involving Icarus wings and the slaying of dragons is an interesting concept. I didn't get very far in the game, and I don't think it accurately reflects Greece OR mythology, but if you really bend your brain you can kind of see some references.
3) The Battle of Olympus (NES, 1989)
Despite the odd slime, medieval knight (???) and its suspicious similarity to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, BoO is a pretty good game for what it is. It follows the story of Orpheus, who is attempting to rescue his beloved Eurydice from Hades after she is bitten by a poisonous snake. Along the way he receives the help of the gods who give him useful items likes sandals that allow him to walk on ceilings and an ocarina that summons a dolphin. Orpheus also battles everything from a large Hyrda to Gorgons. The constant backtracking in this game is a nightmare, and the music and backgrounds are bland at best, but the game still has some merits. Maybe we'll see this one on Wii VC?
4) Altered Beast (Genesis, 1989)
This game barely touches on Greek mythology, but it does so just enough to qualify it for this list. As a Centurion (which is actually a rank in the Roman army) you are called upon by Zeus to rescue his daughter Athena from an evil sorcerer named Neff. And that's about as Greek as it gets. You see, for whatever reason the game features gothic crosses, a Nosferatu-like boss and a variety of weird enemies not found in any mythology I know of. Still, there is the occasional ruin of a Doric column and the main character wears a tunic, so there you go. Also, the underlying concept of a man who can turn into different creatures does sort of remind players of stories from mythology, like how Zeus turned into different animals while in pursuit of various women. The gameplay is messy at times and the music is silly, but no matter how many people say they don't like it everyone loves "Wise from your gwave." If you have [i]Sega Genesis Collection [/i] it's a good way to play the Altered Beast without having to actually pay too much for it.
5)Zeus: Master of Olympus (PC, 2000)
This ten year-old game got an impressive 9.1 from IGN which makes me want to find a copy so I can try it out. Here's a description right from the review: "[In the game] you need to build vineyards and wineries, olive orchards and presses, colleges and podiums, theatres and drama schools. You'll need to set up farms and fisheries to feed people, allocate pasture land to provide fleece, mine bronze, silver and marble to produce armor, coins and temples." It actually sounds really fun, and is apparently a very in-depth game with good sandbox elements. Good times.
6) God of War (PS2, 2005)
It's no secret I LOVE this game...in fact I love the whole series! It's not just because of Kratos, the Spartan who once served the God of War Ares and is now on a path of destruction that will eventually lead to another Clash of the Titans. It's because the game offers fantastic action, interesting puzzles, amazing music, awesome graphics and a solid storyline. The mythological references in God of War are actually fairly accurate for the most part(although one could nitpick about the historical aspects of the game) and the developers manage to come up with some clever ideas based on these ancient stories. If you haven't played GoW I or II, I suggest getting the new PS3 compilation in HD. It's worth it.
7) Rise of the Argonauts(PS3, 2008)
WOW, this game is awful. Period. No redeeming value what-so-ever. It's so unfinished and terrible it baffles me. The only reason I'm including it in this list is to warn people to stay away from it. I mean, I wish I could say it's accurate in terms of mythology or history---or ANYTHING, but it has too many issues. Scary issues. Like clunky gameplay, half-assed graphics and cringe-inducing voice acting. My advice? Skip it. Yes, it's about Jason and the Argonauts and that SOUNDS cool, but when I say this game is terrible, I mean it. How the developers thought this would rival God of War is beyond me. Jason deserved better; hopefully some game studio someday will due him justice.
8) Heroes of Hellas (PC, 2008)
This puzzle game is a PC download where you must help Zeus get back his stolen scepter by solving levels full of sparkling elements that need to be eliminated from a honeycombed game board. Along the way you will have help from famous heroes, earn trophies, collect wallpaper and learn about the more famous stories from Greek mythology (a pretty cool feature). Gameplay revolves around linking different tiles and jewels together to make a chain with three or more links. You can link as many elements as you want so long as they make a cohesive, unbroken chain. Heroes of Hellas is pretty addictive and if you're not willing to scoop out $9.99 for it you can at least play the demo for free and see how far you get in an hour's time.
9) 300: March to Glory (PSP, 2008)
This game got a 5.7 from IGN and I think I know why: it turns the story of the heroic 300 Spartan warriors and their stand at Thermopylae into a mess. The imposing Spartan phalanx turns into a conga line and the gameplay seems clunky, cheap and pointless. To be fair I haven't played it, but I can only imagine that Greg Miller is telling the truth when he says it's a mediocre action title. Still, if you enjoyed the movie and don't mind stealth attacks that don't really work and a game with visual flair that only appears outside of gameplay...enjoy?
10) Hero of Sparta (iPhone, 2009)
A 9/10 for an iPhone game? It happened with Hero of Sparta. Sure, it looks like a little-known title called God of War, but considering that there are no Gow games available on the iPhone (at least for now) it's forgivable. Although I have to wonder: would the Spartans really accept a king named Argos!?
Other games with Ancient Greek references in them:
Athena (NES, 1987)
Ancient Wars: Sparta (PC)
Invictus: Shadow of Olympus
Hero of Hellas 2: Olympia
Zeus -- Official Expansion: Poseidon (PC, 2001)
Glory of Heracles/Hercules no Eikou (DS, 2010)
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (Nintendo 64, 2000)
Hades Challenge (PC, 1998)
Rome: Total War -- Alexander (PC, 2006)
Gates of Troy (PC, 2004)
...and there's plenty more.