Checkers

CheckersSee the videoBuy this gameThe Game: The timeless strategy board game of conquest comes to the Intellivision, now with 100% more boopy beepy computerish sounds from the future than any game of Checkers you’ve ever played before! Play alone against the computer, or against a second player. (Mattel Electronics, 1980)

Memories: Almost a prerequisite title for any video game console back in this early days, this version of Checkers is curious in that it devotes a lot of screen real estate to showing you the men that have been taken out of play, and shrinks the board itself down to a relatively small space on the screen. Continue reading

Checkers

CheckersThe Game: The classic game of strategy is faithfully reproduced on the Atari VCS. Two armies of twelve men each advance diagonally across the checkerboard, jumping over opponents and attempting to reach the enemy’s home squares to be crowned. Whoever still has pieces still standing at the end of the game wins. (Activision, 1980, for Atari 2600)

Memories: Programmed at roughly the same time as Atari’s consumer division was working on Video Checkers, Checkers was one of the first four games released by third-party software upstart Activision – the first company to focus solely on making software for other companies’ hardware. Continue reading

Circus Atari

Circus AtariThe Game: You control a clown on a moving see-saw, launching your fellow clown into the air to pop balloons and defy gravity. But what goes up must come down, and your airborne clown, if he doesn’t bounce upward upon impact with Buy this gamemore balloons, will plummet at alarming speed. You have to catch him with the empty end of the see-saw, thus catapulting the other clown into a fresh round of inflatible destruction. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: It seems like almost every system has seen a version of this game in some form or other, but you may be surprised to learn that Atari wasn’t the first by a long shot. Circus Atari steals its game play and even its setting, lock, stock and barrel, from the obscure black & white Exidy arcade game Circus (1977). Continue reading

Golf

GolfBuy this gameThe Game: Rouse your caddy, grab your golf bags, and get ready to hit the digital green. A series of crafty virtual courses awaits, with trees, sand traps and water hazards standing between you and the hole. (Atari, 1980)

See the videoMemories: Whoa now, what’s this then? Foreshadowing a trend that would characterize Atari’s sports game output for the rest of the 2600’s life span, a game that had already been issued on the VCS was revisited, with better graphics and game play. Atari already had Miniature Golf on the market, but it was golf-by-way-of-squares-and-rectangles, not something that a casual observer would look at and say, without prompting, that it resembled golf in any way. (I’d say it was subpar, but let’s not putter around.) Continue reading

Haunted House

Haunted HouseBuy this gameThe Game: Old Man Graves may be dead, but his ghost still haunts his spacious mansion, tormenting any treasure hunters bold enough to trespass in search of his fortune. The loot is said to be hidden in a golden urn, and while that seems like a conspicuous enough object to find, beware: bats and spiders will attack any who intrude on their terrifying territory. And even if you light your way with a candle, Old Man Graves may make a return (as in “from the dead”) appearance. If you survive long enough, you may make your money the old-fashioned way – you’ll urn it. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: An early experiment in expanding the horizons of games on the Atari VCS, Haunted House is among the best-remembered original games on the system, right up there with Adventure and Yars’ Revenge. Continue reading

Maze Craze (A Game Of Cops ‘N Robbers)

Maze CrazeBuy this gameThe Game: The goal of the game is simple: race through a twisty maze and beat your opponent to the exit. Some game variations adds randomly moving “robbers” to the maze, in some cases as prey and in other cases as hunters to be avoided. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: A fairly recent transplant from Fairchild, programmer Rick Maurer’s first game for the Atari VCS was pretty familiar to anyone who See the videohad been playing games on the Fairchild Channel F: it was essentially a port of the Channel F’s Maze game on the Atari console. Like its forebear, Maze Craze is a marvelously compact piece of coding, packed into a mere 2K. Like so many early titles for the 2600, it’s a lot of fun with the right crowd. Continue reading

Night Driver

Night DriverBuy this gameThe Game: You’re racing by the glow of your headlights alone – avoid the markers along the side of the road and other passing obstacles…if you can see them in time. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Just as the simplicity of Night Driver in the arcades was necessitated by the hardware limitations of its time, it was a perfect VCS title for the same reason. Though the arcade game boasts a slightly finer visual grain, it’s not by a large margin. The most distinguishable difference is the trade-off of the arcade game’s overlay artwork of the car for a blocky foreground car graphic at home; on the other hand, the home game trumps the coin-op by having color graphics. Continue reading

PBA Bowling

The Game: Your own digital ten-pin alley awaits by way of the Intellivision. Line up your shots on two axes, and then let it fly; you still havepportunity to exert a certain amount of control on the ball as it rolls down the alley, presumably by Intellivision psychokinesis, and a split-screen view allows you to see the result of your play. You even get to see the ball return bring you ball back to you for the next play. (Mattel Electronics, 1980)

Memories: Before the Intellivision Bowling cartridge came along, video bowling games all seemed to be cut from the same cloth: an overhead view of the alley, and very minimal control of your bowling ball. The thing is, even with a horizontally-oriented display, this resulted in a lot of wasted screen space, and nothing that was in any danger of being a satisfying gaming experience. Mattel‘s in-house team took their cues not from those earlier games, but from television bowling coverage. Continue reading

Super Breakout

Super BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: More walls, more balls. The object of the game is the same as the original Breakout, except this time, you face things like moving walls, “cavities” which, when opened, will release additional projectiles that you’ll See the videohave to keep in the air, and more. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: As with the arcade version of Breakout, Breakout on the VCS was one of the better-selling launch titles on that machine, so it made sense in both cases to follow up with a sequel that had a few new twists. Originally unleashed in the arcade in 1978, Super Breakout added those twists, and this cartridge brought them home. Continue reading

Warlords

WarlordsBuy this gameThe Game: Think of it as Pong to the death. Two to four players hurl a fireball around the playing field, smashing the walls to each other’s castles and – hopefully – hitting the other players’ kings and putting them out of commission. Using the ubiquitous Atari paddle controller, you guide a mobile barrier around your castle which bounces the fireball right back at your opponents. Fun for the whole family; based on an arcade game by Atari which is even more obscure than this rather common cartridge. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: What a great party game! With the right group of people, this game can be intense (and intensely hilarious). In this day and age in which much to do is made of internet multiplayer games, I think I’d rather be in the same room with a bunch of friends playing Warlords than doing any of this newfangled online gaming. Continue reading

Bosconian

BosconianBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a well-armed spacecraft (which appears to have been borrowed from Galaga), you weave through an unending barrage of support craft, asteroids, and hunter ships, all of which can kill you. And somewhere on the screen – as indicated by your radar – are several large Bosconian star destroyers (what, did they lease these from Lord Vader or something?). You can blast away at the destroyers’ six outer pods, or you can go for a shot right into the heart of a destroyer, taking the whole thing out by blasting its central pod. A piece of advice: don’t be too close to a Bosconian when you do this…the large explosion can end your space traveling days too. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

See the videoMemories: Wow – a game with big killer space stations surrounded by lots of hostile patrol ships? They must be building Sinistar in the next sector over. But seriously, Bosconian is another game which meets the qualifications of a bona fide classic – easy to learn, hard to master – and, given the shape of the player’s ship (plus the fact that both games were licensed from Namco), I’ve always wondered if Bosconian was intended to be a sequel to Galaga. Continue reading

Colony 7

Colony 7Buy this gameThe Game: You’re in charge of defenses at Colony 7. Even though a shield protects the settlement’s power generators, weapons and populated buildings, the onslaught of alien intruders gradually and inevitably wears that shield down. Once holes have been bored through the shield, the aliens have a clear shot at Colony 7 – and you’re toast. You’re the colony’s last hope, aiming your crosshairs at anything that threatens the surface. (Taito, 1981)

Memories: Does Colony 7 look a little familiar? If so, think of another game from roughly the same era. Not a translation of the arcade game, but an Atari 2600 cartridge with roughly the same style of game play. 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

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

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

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

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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