Fantasy

FantasyThe Game: As an unnamed but cartoonishly cute little hero, you are powerless to watch as your girlfriend Cheri is abducted by a boatload of pirates. Only then are you inspired to act, chasing after the heavily armed pirate ship in your defenseless balloon. You dodge cannonballs as you try to reach the pirate ship’s landing pad (what is it, an aircraft carrier?!). Then you have to battle those nasty pirates on the deck of their ship while still dodging that pesky cannon, until you do away with them all and get to Cheri. A bird then scoops her up, leaving you to take a treacherous balloon trip, climb a tree teeming with dangerous critters, avoid tigers in the jungle, and take on an entire tribe of natives (who seem to be in cahoots with the pirates, who now have helicopters and artillery!) to rescue Cheri. Then, of course, she goes and gets herself kidnapped again. (Rock-Ola [under license from SNK], 1981)

See the videoMemories: Why do I like this game? Hmmmmm…I don’t know. I only ever saw one Fantasy machine, at the game room at Gaston’s fishing resort on the White River in Arkansas. I think one of the game’s best qualities was the “continue” feature, which allowed you to pop another quarter into the machine and pick up where your previous game left off within 30 seconds. Continue reading

Frogger

FroggerThe Game: You are a frog. Your task is simple: hop across a busy highway, dodging cars and trucks, until you get the to the edge of a river, where you must keep yourself from drowning by crossing safely to your grotto at the top of the screen by leaping across the backs of turtles and logs. But watch out for snakes and alligators!See the videoBuy this game (Sega [under license from Konami], 1981)

Memories: Frogger is a truly ribbeting game, and very addictive. It was one of the handful of cute action games that arrived around the same time as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, though it was never franchised as heavily as those games were. There was a Frogger sticker set, the occasional T-shirt, and a rockin’ musical tribute from Bucker & Garcia on the Pac-Man Fever album. Frogger also existed very briefly as a Saturday morning cartoon on CBS, in which he and his amphibian pals were reporters on the swamp beat, but this incarnation of Frogger was even shorter-lived than the cartoon based on Pac-Man. Continue reading

Frisky Tom

Frisky TomThe Game: Tom the plumber smells a rat – actually, he smells a lot of them, and they’re all crawling around the plumbing, breaking pipes and planting bombs. While this is generally atypical rodent behavior, Tom only cares about knocking Buy this gamethe rats off the pipes, fixing the broken sections, and making sure the bathtub at the bottom of the screen fills in time for a lovely lady to take a shower. (With her bikini on.) Obviously she isn’t worried about the rats. (Nichibutsu, 1980)

See the videoMemories: This oddball entry from Nichibutsu, a.k.a. Japan’s Nihon Bussan Co., Ltd., is an interesting mix of climbing and puzzle games, once again proving that perhaps Nichibutsu missed its calling to innovate in the coin-op industry. Frisky Tom does, however, include a little hint of the direction Nichibutsu would take in later years: the “bathing beauty” scenes in the game are barely a shadow of what currently makes up the bulk of Nichibutsu’s output – R-rated versions of games like Mah-Jongg for the Japanese market. The hints were always there – Frisky Tom‘s bikini-clad woman, the kissing woman in Crazy Climber 2 – but the bulk of Nichibutsu’s output these days is decidedly adults-only. Frisky indeed. Continue reading

Funky Fish

Funky FishThe Game: You are an unknown species of brightly-colored deep-sea fangly fish who appears to subsist on cherries and has range weapons, radar and a fuel gauge. (I did mention that this was an unknown species, didn’t I?) Smaller critters emerge from a handful of indestructible “spawn points” on the screen, represented by stuff like a star or a floating eyeball, and you must shoot these critters. A direct hit briefly turns the critters into cherries, which float downward until your fish eats them (and, in so doing, replenishes his fuel), or they revert back to being critters. Un-cherry-fied critters can kill your fish, as can physical contact with their spawning points or running out of fuel. (Movement costs fuel, as does firing your fish’s weapon.) You advance by turning every critter in the screen into cherries and eating them. If you lose all of your fish, that’s the end of the game. (Sun Electronics, 1981)

I AM THE FUNKY FISH.Memories: All right then. For those of you who think that Namco’s deliriously strange and yet addictive 2004 PS2 game Katamari Damacy is weird, try Funky Fish out for size. I mean, seriously. What in the world inspired this game? It’s like someone’s head was just swimming with ideas for cross-breeding Defender with Pac-Man. Continue reading

Galaga

GalagaBuy this gameThe Game: Commanding a small fleet of sleek fighter ships, you’re up against an alien invasion, arriving in wave after unfriendly wave. Alien fighters resemble butterflies and bees, but the real prize is the handful of motherships which arrives with each wave. Capable of taking two hits – the first weakens them and turns them dark blue, the second destroys them – the motherships also come equipped with a tractor beam with which to snare your fighters. But if one of your fighters is captured, and you can destroy the See the videomothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

Memories: Where its predecessor, Galaxian, brought “attack formations” to standard Space Invaders-style shooters, Galaga introduced real strategy, and influenced nearly every shooter that came after it. Continue reading

Gorf

GorfThe Game: The evil Gorfian Empire is attacking, and for only a quarter, you can enlist and defend Earth against the vicious (yet strangely cute) little critter with a robotic voice. In the first stage, Astro Battle, you have a defesive shield which is weakened with each shot the aliens fire at you – and every shot you fire back at them. (Truth be told, it’s a very thinly disguised take on the Space Invaders formula.) Then, in the Laser Attack level, the aliens break out heavier, nastier artillery that you have to dodge…if you can. Stage 3 sees a guest star from an earlier Midway game in the Galaxians stage, which is a sort of scaled-down version of the Galaxian game itself. Stage 4 is the hardest, with the Gorfian menace repeatedly spiraling out of a Space Warp, defying you to get so much as a single good shot fired off at it. Finally, if you survive the fourth stage, the Flagship level awaits. The flagship can fire any number of projectiles in your direction through your shield, and you have to not only dodge incoming fire, but try to get your own shot to hit just the right place on the flagship to destroy it. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: Gorf was a minor hit in its time, though this latest attempt to turn the Galaxian format into a franchise fell through the cracks. It didn’t help that the first stage seen in the attract mode was a Space Invaders clone. Continue reading

Hangly Man

Hangly ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters See the videofor a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Nittoh, 1981)

Memories: Journey back with us now to the first two years of the eighties, when Pac-Man ruled the coin-op video game roost, where arcade owners’ demand for the prized Pac-Man machines was high, where players’ skill at winning was increasing and their repeat business was proportionately dwindling, and everyone wanted a piece of that little yellow pie. Continue reading

Kick / Kickman

KickThe Game: In an addictive little number from the height of Midway’s post-Pac-Man arcade empire, you are a unicycle-riding clown who occasionally wears a spiked hat. Your job is to keep any of the balloons falling from overhead from hitting the ground. You can bounce the balloons back into the air – temporarily – by See the videokicking them, but the only way to remove a balloon from play permanently is to catch or pop it on your head. In later stages, other objects fall from the sky, including special guest stars Pac-Man and those darn ghost monsters, and also including bombs which are the only thing you must avoid. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: A wonderfully addictive game with intensely aggravating controls, Kickman has gone down in video game history with unjust obscurity. But perhaps this lack of bona fide “hit” status can be blamed on that wacky lateral trakball control – it was such a pain in the butt until you’d gotten sufficient practice in. Continue reading

Ladybug

LadybugThe Game: You control a nice, big, juicy ladybug waddling around a complex maze, gobbling up food and avoiding your nasty fellow insects. Doors in the maze can throw pursuers off your track momentarily – or they can trap you into an See the videoeven worse situation than whatever you’re trying to escape. (Universal, 1981)

Memories: Like Lock ‘n’ Chase, Ladybug is a fine example of a game which, though clearly inspired by Pac-Man, features enough unique game play elements to make it an individual game. And it’s a rare instance of a game I have to praise for its music and sound effects – they were really rather catchy. Continue reading

Lock ‘n’ Chase

Lock 'n' ChaseThe Game: You’re in charge of a getaway car loaded with crafty criminals. Your job is to sneak around the maze, avoid four colorful cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another See the videoday. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (Data East, 1981)

Memories: Obviously, Lock ‘n’ Chase was yet another variation on the basic game play of Pac-Man, but in this case, just enough was changed to make it a discernably different new game, instead of just another clone. But even the most open-minded player could be forgiven for looking at the maze full of dots, populated by cutesy “cops,” and walking away, thinking, “Yep, it’s another Pirhana.” Continue reading

Make Trax

Make TraxThe Game: You play the part of a free-roaming paintbrush, trying to fill an entire maze with color. Unfortunately, a couple of equally free-roaming (and, apparently, amphibious) fish are out to stop you. You must avoid them at all costs. There are two rollers you can use to squish the fish, but they’re only found in two parts See the videoof the maze – and you can only roll them so far. Periodically, such things as kittens, cars, and mice will run through the maze, leaving tracks in your fresh paint which you must then cover up. You can also stop them dead in their tracks by running over them. (Don’t ask me why two fish are a threat to you when your paintbrush can ice a whole car.) Fill the maze with the pigment of your imagination, and you’re off to the next level. (Williams Electronics [licensed from Kural Electric], 1981)

Memories: One of Williams’ only non-shooter entries (and one of its few games licensed from Japan), it’s easy to see that Make Trax is inspired by Pac-Man, even though the connection is very cleverly covered. Instead of clearing a maze by eating everything in it, you clear the maze by painting it. This makes things a little harder than you might expect – every pixel of the maze has to be filled. In Pac-Man terms, this would be equivalent to the yellow one leaving crumbs in corners of the maze that have to be cleaned up. Messy eating metaphors aside, it makes Make Trax very challenging. Continue reading

Mouse Trap

Mouse TrapThe Game: In this munching-maze game (one of the dozens of such games which popped up in the wake of Pac-Man), you control a cartoonish mouse who scurries around a cheese-filled maze which can only be navigated by strategically opening and closing yellow, red and blue doors with their color-coded buttons. See the videoOccasionally a big chunk o’ cheese can be gobbled for extra points. Is it that easy? No. There is also a herd of hungry kitties who would love a mousy morsel. But you’re not defenseless. By eating a bone (the equivalent of Pac-Man‘s power pellets), you can transform into a dog, capable of eating the cats. But each bone’s effects only last for a little while, after which you revert to a defenseless mouse. (Exidy, 1981)

Memories: Though its seemingly Tom & Jerry-inspired food chain made a cat vs. mouse variation of Pac-Man virtually inevitable, Mouse Trap frustrated that potential with a complex control system – too complex, actually. Continue reading

New Rally-X

New Rally-XBuy this gameThe Game: As the driver of a high-powered race car, you rocket around corners and down straightaways, trying to pick up every yellow flag in the maze-like course and avoiding deadly collisions with pursuing red cars. Special flags (marked with an “S”, of course) offer big points bonuses, while Lucky flags (“L”) give you bonus points based on how much fuel remains in your car’s gas tank, so it’s best to find them as quickly as possible. Watch out for rocks, and use your smokescreen only when necessary to distance yourself from the red cars. (1981, Namco)

See the videoMemories: Not even really a sequel to Rally-X, which hit the arcades at roughly the same time as Pac-Man, New Rally-X was an attempt by Namco to give its cutesy overhead racing game a little more “oomph” to Rally-X in the hope that it might pick up steam during the arcade boom that Pac-Man spawned. Continue reading

Piranha

PiranhaThe Game: As a butt-ugly fish, you maneuver around a simple undersea maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful squids who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters See the videofor a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The squids, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (“GL”, 1981)

Memories: Journey back with us now to the first two years of the eighties, when Pac-Man ruled the coin-op video game roost, where arcade owners’ demand for the prized Pac-Man machines was high, where players’ skill at winning was increasing and their repeat business was proportionately dwindling, and everyone wanted a piece of that little yellow pie. Continue reading

Pleiades / Pleiads

Pleiads or PleiadesThe Game: Earth is under attack, but due to defense spending cutbacks (how much planetary defense can you buy for a quarter?), you’re the pilot of the only vessel responding to the emergency. Try to fend off Buy this gameseveral darting waves of alien ships which are attempting to bomb your base. Some of them may briefly land, wreaking even more havoc, and as you may have guessed, all of them will be firing at you. After you’ve secured Earth, you blast off into deep space to take on a wave of larger, more vicious attackers, and then an assault on a heavily armed alien mother ship. Once you’ve vanquished this foe, you’ll be called back to Earth again – it seems the aliens can’t take a hint. Once you’ve maneuvered your way through the landing runway and lined yourself up to fight the next wing of invaders, the battle begins anew. (Centuri [under ilcense from Tehkan], 1981)

Memories: A rather obscure shoot-’em-up, Pleaides (or Pleiads, as the game proclaims on its monitor, at odds with the cabinet artwork) almost looks like a sequel to Phoenix, though Pleiades originated from a different company. It’s a safe bet that the part of the game best remembered by arcade-goers back in the day is the final stage before the game begins again, the runway screen. You can’t shoot anything, you can only avoid it – and let’s face it, it’s pretty embarrassing if you get yourself splattered in a situation where you have no enemies. Continue reading

Puck-Man

Puck ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Deluxe, 1981)

Memories: Journey back with us now to the first two years of the eighties, when Pac-Man ruled the coin-op video game roost, where arcade owners’ demand for the prized Pac-Man machines was high, where players’ skill at winning was increasing and their repeat business was proportionately dwindling, and everyone wanted a piece of that little yellow pie. Continue reading

Pulsar

PulsarThe Game: You control a tank – though it seems like an awfully tiny one – zipping through a maze teeming with enemies. Three color-coded keys are tucked away in a corner, and after grabbing one of these keys you must fight your way past enemy forces to open the corresponding lock. The process must be repeated until all of the keys on a given level have been used, allowing you to travel to the next portion of the maze – where more keys, more locks and more enemies await. Additionally, shooting some enemies may have an effect on your tank’s speed, causing it to move event faster through the maze (and potentially face-first into trouble) or slowing it down to the point where it’s a nearly defenseless target for the enemy. (Sega, 1981)

Memories: Somewhere between Tank! and Mouse Trap lies Pulsar, an intriguing and oddly compelling hybrid of game elements. If you missed this one in the arcade, don’t worry: you weren’t alone. Given the surfeit of maze games that were marketed to amusement operators as a cure for the epidemic of Pac-Man fever, there were a lot of games that looked like Pulsar. Besides, in 1980, cute was king, slide-and-shoot derivatives of Space Invaders were still “in,” and tank games that happened not to be Battlezone were so 1974. Continue reading

Qix

QixThe Game: In an exceedingly abstract and addictive game, you are a marker, trying to claim as much of the playing field as you can by enclosing areas of it. Drawing your boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves you vulnerable to attack from the Qix and the Sparx, gives you many more points See the videoBuy this gameupon the completion of an enclosed area. If the ever-shifting Qix touches your marker or an uncompleted boundary you are drawing, you lose a “life” and start again. And the Sparx, which travel only along the edges of the playing field and along the boundaries of areas of the screen you’ve already enclosed, can destroy you by touching your marker. And if you linger too long, a fuse will begin burning at the beginning of your unfinished boundary, and will eventually catch up with you. (Taito, 1981)

Memories: Possibly the single most abstract thing to hit the arcade until Tetris, Qix was an underground arcade hit. Its bizarre game play, which defies any attempt to attach a narrative element or even define the Qix and sparx as anything other than “your opponents,” is enormously addictive. To this day, it’s still one of my favorites, but it’s nearly impossible to explain the game to anyone who wasn’t there to see it for themselves. Continue reading

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