The Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss out on the subsequent race. (I’ve always wondered anyway: why are there billboards around a racetrack? Are race car drivers a desirable demographic to advertisers? Can they actually read those signs at 200+ MPH?) (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)
Memories: First off, a note to our loyal readers: I hope you’re happy! Pole Position is, by a vast margin, the single most-requested, most-asked-about game ever at Phosphor Dot Fossils. You should see some of the mail I’ve gotten regarding this game’s absence in the past few years – accusations of everything from bad taste to just plain incompetence. Well fear not, faithful Phosphor Dot Fossils followers, for I actually love this game.
Pole Position is a rare, serendipitous thing of beauty – and has anyone ever noticed how many such gems spring from Namco? – where the graphics, the handling of the controls, and the sound and music are perfect. I still find myself humming the high score music lately. (Not that I’m so good at the game that I’ve memorized it – my older brother was always much better at Pole Position than I was.) It could be argued that Sega’s competing racing game Turbo, which hit arcades at roughly the same time as Pole Position, had better graphics, a point I’m willing to concede…but Turbo was much harder for me to control, so if it came down to a choice between the two racing games, Pole Position would get my quarter every time.
What an excellent game. As I’ve pointed out, Pole Position is still a jewel in Namco’s crown, and you can still play it on nearly every modern console in existence. Atari held onto the license for the game for its 2600 and 5200 consoles, as well as marketing home computer versions through its Atarisoft division. The Atari 2600 port of Pole Position was surprisingly good, all things considered. In the arcades, Atari bought the U.S. rights to Namco’s sequel, the even more polished Pole Position II, of which Atari created a decent home version for its doomed Atari 7800 console.