Space Invaders

Space InvadersBuy this gameThe Game: It’s quite simple, really. You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster See the videoand more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Midway [under license from Taito], 1978)

Memories: Three buttons, three colors (if one includes black), all for 25 cents. And thus began the video game boom that made Taito a major manufacturer, with dozens of other companies – Atari, Bally/Midway, Namco, Nintendo, Sega, you name it – riding the large wave launched by Space Invaders. There was indeed an invasion underway…but it didn’t originate from space. It was launched from Japan and Silicon Valley, and for a while…it did take over the world. Continue reading

Asteroids

AsteroidsBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of free-floating asteroids, but the job isn’t easy – Newton’s laws of motion must be obeyed, even by asteroids. When you blow a big rock into little chunks, those chunks go zipping off in opposite directions with the speed and force imparted by the amount of energy you used to dispel them. To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable hyperspace escape mechanism and a pesky UFO that See the videolikes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. (Atari, 1979)

Memories: Easily the most “physics-correct” space video game ever made, Asteroids was also one of the coolest. It was equally fun to play it real safe or, as in the example animation seen below, to just go nuts and live on the edge. Continue reading

Galaxian

GalaxianThe Game: In one of the most seminal variations on the Space Invaders format, Galaxian was among the first clones to introduce attacking formations that would break off from the usual rows and columns of See the videoBuy this gameinvaders. Though Galaxian‘s use of this innovation was minimal, it was a drastic change from the usual slowly-advancing target gallery. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1979)

Memories: Galaxian may not be as well remembered as the much more strategically challenging Galaga, but it ultimately added a vital new twist to the Space Invaders-inspired genre, a format which was badly in danger of becoming stale. Galaxian was also the first arcade video game to use a color display instead of a monochrome monitor with translucent colored overlays. Continue reading

Crazy Climber

Crazy ClimberBuy this gameThe Game: You control a daredevil stunt climber on his trip up the side of the Nichubutsu building, using no ropes, no nets, and nothing but his hands and his feet. Obstacles such as a large stork with (apparently flaming) droppings and a large gorilla (perhaps on loan from the Nintendo building) can cause you to plunge to your See the videodeath several stories below, and even minor things such as annoyed building tenants dropping potted plants at you from above can have the same disastrous effect. When you reach the top – if you reach the top, that is – a helicopter lifts you away to your next challenge. (Taito [under license from Nichibutstu], 1980)

Memories: A bit of a cult favorite that never achieved a major following, Crazy Climber was a staple of many arcades and game rooms in the early 80s. The two-joystick control scheme took a little bit of practice, but once players got used to it, it was a major and unique part of the game’s appeal. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManBuy this gameThe 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). See the videoPeriodically, 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… (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

Memories: It began in 1979 when a young Namco game designer named Toru Iwitani made his fourth video game. Fascinated with pinball, Iwitani had created a series of games combining pinball physics with Breakout-style brick-busting elements, and while Gee Bee, Bomb Bee and Cutie Q were moderate successes for Namco, enough to keep Iwitani employed and developing new titles, the designer himself was finally ready to move beyond video pinball. Cutie Q was one of the first hints as to Toru Iwitani’s next project, with its colorfully cartoony monsters. With a small team of developers at his disposal, Iwitani – supposedly inspired by the shape of a pizza with one slice removed – set about creating a new game with nearly universal appeal. Continue reading

Phoenix

PhoenixThe Game: In a heavily armed space fighter, your job is pretty simple – ward off wave after wave of bird-like advance fighters and Phoenix creatures until you get to the mothership, and then try to blow that to smithereens. All of which would be simple if not for the aliens’ unpredictable kamikaze dive-bombing patterns. The See the videoBuy this gamePhoenix creatures themselves are notoriously difficult to kill, requiring a direct hit in the center to destroy them – otherwise they’ll grow back whatever wings you managed to pick off of them and come back even stronger. (Taito, 1980)

Memories: Phoenix is one of my two favorite games to emerge from the shooting game genre which emerged from the success of Taito’s own Space Invaders. Most shooter games involve chance, luck, and precious little skill, and very few of them give you the chance to try to work out any kind of strategy. Two exceptions I can think of are Midway’s Galaga and this game. Continue reading

Tempest

TempestBuy this gameAs a strangely crablike creature, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and purple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things (swirly thing alert!!) which spin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should avoid spikes. See below. (Atari, 1980)

See the videoMemories: Tempest is a bizarre little game to crack. Since you spend your time rolling around a vaguely tubular structure, the game is controlled with a knob only, and surprisingly, the speed with which you move the control is reflected in your onscreen speed. With some practice, Tempest was a truly addictive, engrossing game, one of the arcade’s best. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps Mario’s girlfriend and hauls her up to the top of a building which is presumably under construction. You are Mario, dodging Donkey Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and “foxfires” in your See the videoattempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Kong. You can actually do this a number of times, and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Nintendo, 1981)

Memories: Make no mistake about it, Donkey Kong is the point of origin of one of today’s largest video game empires, both fictional and real. The character of Mario appeared again in numerous arcade games. 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

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

Stargate / Defender II

StargateSee the videoThe Game: The alien abductors are back. Their henchbeings are back. And fortunately for the hapless humans on the planet’s surface, you’re back too, in a fully armed warship with a belly full of smart bombs. But the aliens have brought new and unusual reinforcements, and now the ultimate X-factor is seen visibly floating in the night sky – a stargate which could deposit your space fighter anywhere, delivering you to safety…or a rendezvous with a swarm of aliens. (Williams Electronics, 1981)
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Memories: This sequel to Defender was a game I positively hated way back when. Why? Because I just flat-out sucked at the controls of Defender, so Stargate showed me no mercy whatsoever. With an even more complicated control scheme than its ancestor, I didn’t stand a chance at Stargate. But watching the people who had learned how to really make the game theirs? That was something else. Continue reading

Turbo

TurboThe Game: It’s pretty straightforward…you’re zipping along in your Formula One race car, trying to avoid other drivers and obstacles along the way while hauling a sufficient quantity of butt to win the race. (Sega, 1981)

Memories: Ah, the driving game wars of the early 1980s. Remember when everyone was ga-ga over this game and Pole Position, which were both essentially very pretty remakes of Atari’s old Night Driver game? Though, to be quite honest, both of the early 80’s driving game staples were graphically impressive. Turbo reached the checkered flag first, though – Pole Position was released the following year in the U.S. Continue reading

Venture

VentureThe Game: Trapped in a maze full of HallMonsters (TM, pat. pend.), you are adventurer Winky (TM, pat. pend.), on a mission to snatch incredible treasures (TM, pat. pend.) from hazardous underground rooms inhabited by lesser beasts such as re-animated skeletons, goblins, serpents, and so on (TM, pat. pend.). Sometimes even the See the videowalls move, threatening to squish Winky (TM, pat. pend.) or trap him, helpless to run from the HallMonsters (TM, pat. pend.). The deeper into the dungeons you go, the more treacherous the danger – and the greater the rewards. Just remember two things – the decomposing corpses of the smaller enemies are just as deadly as the live creatures. And there is no defense – and almost never any means of escape – from the HallMonsters (TM, pat. pend.). (Exidy, 1981)

Memories: Okay, maybe I went a little too far making fun of Exidy’s hopes that Venture would become a Major Video Game Franchise (TM, pat. pend.), but this game is peppered with trademark symbols – a sure sign that Exidy was banking on this game being the kind of breakthrough licensing windfall that Pac-Man was for Bally/Midway and Namco. Continue reading

BurgerTime

BurgerTimeBuy this gameThe Game: As Chef Peter Pepper, you climb around a multi-level factory whose sole function is to make some really big burgers. We’re talking about some BIG burgers here. But your ingredients aren’t exactly cooperating with you. Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Egg and Mr. Pickle are doing their best to keep you from making those big See the videoburgers, but you can turn the tables on them and put them in your edible creations! You have a limited supply of pepper which you can use to stun your tasty stalkers (and keep in mind, this was years before Mace). Or you can simply lead them across one of the yummy ingredients, and they’ll become part of the burger. (Which is a rather disturbing thought when it comes to to hot dogs and eggs in a hamburger.) Also, you can walk across a bun or a slab of meat on the level above them, and the falling ingredients will squash them on the way down. (Bally/Midway [under license from Data East], 1982)

Memories: BurgerTime was a cool twist on the climbing genre, but it had one main problem – oh, boy, was it ever slow! I t took forever to climb ladders, and on those later levels where there were huge, dangerous stretches of ladders, this slowed the game down to an annoyingly slow pace. Other than this, though, it was a nifty little game, and just playing it and writing about it has made me hungry for something from Burger King… Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if Buy this gamea Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. Who said landscaping was easy? (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: Dig Dug, with its animè-inspired cutesy characters and exceedingly simple game play, was a wonderfully easy game to learn, and it didn’t take much effort to reach a high score. (Dig Dug II, on the other hand, relied on a strange pseudo-3D, slightly-but-not-quite-overhead perspective which added to the difficulty, creating problems similar to playing Zaxxon or Congo Bongo.) With its simplicity and cuteness, Dig Dug was big with the younger set. Continue reading

Donkey Kong Junior

Donkey Kong JuniorThe Game: Mario, in his second-ever videogame appearance, has Donkey Kong in captivity, and it’s up to Donkey Kong Jr. to rescue his dad by scaling vines and chains, avoiding nasty-toothed traps and pesky birds, and reaching the key to free the great ape from Mario’s clutches. (Nintendo, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Donkey Kong Junior was a really cool game, because it added new ideas to the same general concept as Donkey Kong, resulting in a game that those proficient at the original game wouldn’t find difficult to learn. It was also unique in that the character that you played in Donkey Kong – the hero – was suddenly the villain in this game, and you were out to defeat him. Continue reading

Jungle King / Jungle Hunt

Jungle HuntThe Game: You are the king of the jungle! Swinging from vine to vine! Swimming through crocodile-infested waters! Jumping and ducking huge rolling boulders! And vanquishing spear-weilding natives to rescue the damsel! (Taito, 1982)

Buy this gameMemories: Not that Jungle King was an incredibly simple game – the above description is supposed to be a little bit humorous, if oversimplified – but Jungle King‘s most infamous footnote in video game history is the lawsuit that it drew. The original Jungle King game opened with the sound of a sampled “Tarzan yell” – and the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs was not amused. Continue reading

Millipede

MillipedeBuy this gameThe Game: Once more unto the breach, your garden of mushrooms is now under attack by a millipede, and the big bug’s even nastier insect entourage has come along too. The spiders, scorpions and fleas are now joined by mosquitoes and inchworms, among others. The only advantage you have? Occasional containers of DDT (can you tell this was the 80’s?) will allow you to wipe out all targets within a given radius…but use them wisely! (Atari, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Another rare Atari sequel – from a company that tended to at least try to stay away from repetition – Millipede of course picks up where Centipede left off – in the same garden, with lots of bugs. A major ad campaign kicked this one off, with Atari using the then-world-champion of Centipede as a spokesperson to verify that this game was, indeed, fun and challenging. Continue reading

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