Satan’s Hollow

Satan's HollowBuy this gameThe Game: It’s the ultimate, cataclysmic battle between good and evil – expressed as a variation on the basic theme of Phoenix! Hellish green flying demons try to formation-dive your well-armed, devil-fryin’ vehicle at the bottom of the screen. Each time you knock one of this gargoylesque beasties out of the sky, they drop a piece of a bridge you must drag over to the appropriate spot on the screen. When you’re close to completing the bridge, the Prince of Darkness sends in some heavier artillery – a spooky floating demon head who spits fire at your cannon – to do away with you. Once you’ve toasted the flying meanies out of the sky and cross the bridge, it’s time to do battle with Satan himself, though he starts out looking a little bit like that cute little mascot you see on cans of deviled ham. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: While it presents some interesting variations – bridge-building while shooting? – Satan’s Hollow really had little to distinguish it from the other dozens of Space Invaders variants which had been appearing in arcades for three years at this point. Continue reading

Scramble

ScrambleBuy this gameThe Game: Once again, you’re apparently the only space pilot willing to take on this dangerous mission – though there’s probably a reason for that. You’re storming a heavily-armed installation which has loads of missiles and other defenses. And there’s one thing you don’t have a load of – fuel. If your gas needle lands on the big E, you’re going to your doom in a big rush. For some reason whose physics I can’t even begin to explain, bombing fuel depots in the enemy base will replenish your tank. Good luck! (Stern [under license from Konami], 1981)

Memories: A fun little Defender-style game, Scramble is a real challenge, especially the pesky, persistent problem of fuel shortage. But it proved to have a pesky, persistent problem of its own in the courtroom. Scramble was the basis of a major landmark copyright case in the history of computer-based works. 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)
See the video
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

Astrosmash

AstrosmashThe Game: The end of the world is near: asteroids and meteors are careening toward the surface of your planet at breathtaking speeds. Manning a speedy mobile laser cannon, your job is to take out or dodge the falling fragments from See the videoBuy this gamespace. Letting stray impactors past your defenses will actually diminish your score, but blasting them while they’re still incoming can create another dilemma: they split into smaller pieces which are still falling toward the ground. You’ll lose a cannon if debris lands on it, and you’ll lose the game (please note the air of certainty there) when you run out of cannons. Apparently this asteroid apocalypse is no force of nature either, as bombs both large and small fall toward you as well… (Mattel Electronics, 1981)

See the original TV adMemories: As was the case with the Odyssey2, some of the early arcade-style Intellivision offerings were near-beer versions of bigger brand-name hits – to which Atari, more often than not, held the rights. Astrosmash is one of the Intellivision’s signature games, and it’s a beautiful example of making a virtue out of not being able to ape a popular game too closely. Continue reading

Freeway

FreewayThe Game: Why the chicken crossed the road is no longer the question. Now the question is will the chicken cross the road? That part is up to you. You are the chicken. You must avoid traffic, but that’s a real challenge when Buy this gameyou’re confined to a straight vertical line from the bottom of the screen to the top. You can’t deviate left or right. You can only charge – or retreat. Getting hit by a car will send you back to your starting position to try again. Getting all the way across the street increases your score by one point. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: An incredibly fun game, and one of a then-dying (well, for that matter, it’s still dying) breed of two-player games, Freeway beat the Atari 2600 version of Frogger to the stores by a year. Continue reading

Ice Hockey

Ice HockeyBuy this gameThe Game: Hit the ice and get the puck outta here. You have control of two players in this scaled-down match: one offensive player and one defensive player who can leave his goalie position (but not without giving the other team a better chance to land a shot). Keep the other team – whether it’s a second player or the “Activision computer” – from getting a goal, while trying to get past their defenses to slam a shot into their net. The holder of the highest score when the clock runs out is the winner. (Activision, 1981)

See the videoMemories: Hockey had been a fixture of the video game world long before Activision released Ice Hockey as one of its earliest titles. Early video hockey was essentially Pong with hockey rules, despite attempts to make the players look more like people than paddles (see the Odyssey 500 console). But Ice Hockey flipped the playing field 90 degrees, and made the on-screen characters look and act like human hockey players – right down to being knocked on their butts. Continue reading

Kaboom!

Kaboom!Buy this gameThe Game: No manifestos, no political agendas, nothing like that – there’s just a mad bomber at the top of the screen, with a seemingly endless supply of explosives to chuck at you. You, on the other hand, have rather more limited resources – namely, three buckets of water. Your job is to keep those buckets right under the bombs and catch them all. If a bomb gets through, it costs you a bucket. If you lose your last bucket, you’ll be going out with a bang and a whimper. Catching all of the buckets in a given level of the game gives you a brief pause to prepare for the next wave – because your adversary’s using that brief pause to go cook up more bombs. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: Another one of Activision’s early best-sellers, Kaboom! is good, colorful fun – and it’s about as original as the concept of a madman with a bomb. As was typical in these early days before look-and-feel lawsuits became almost routine, the basic game play of Kaboom! was “borrowed” from an early black & white Atari coin-op called Avalanche. In that game, the bombs were falling rocks, and the whole thing was essentially a variation on the theme of Breakout. Continue reading

Laser Blast

Laser BlastBuy this gameThe Game: What a refreshing change of pace. This time, you control a wave of spaceships attacking from the sky, and the computer is stuck on the ground firing at you. It’s payback time! Destroy the ground defense positions and guide your flying saucers into attack position. But apparently the three-lives rule doesn’t apply to the computer: you can never completely get rid of the ground defenses…you only encounter more agile ones. So, being the unfair world that it is, the game continues until you run out of ships. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: This craftily subversive title from Activision turns a lot of scroll-and-shoot conventions on their ear, but at its heart, it’s a little bit of Defender and a little bit of Sky Diver and a whole lot of madness. Continue reading

Missile Command

Missile CommandSee the videoThe Game: Tucked away safely in an underground bunker, you are solely responsible for defending six cities from a relentless, ever-escalating ICBM attack. Your missile base is armed with three banks of nuclear missiles capable of intercepting the incoming enemy nukes, planes and smart bombs. One nuke hit on your base will incapacitate one bank of missiles for the rest of your current turn, but one nuke hit on any of your six cities will destroy it completely. (The only chance you have of rebuilding a city comes when a bonus city is awarded for every 10,000 points scored.) And when all six of your cities have been destroyed, the cataclysmic end of the world proceeds. Game over. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: After the runaway success of the licensed Space Invaders and its own in-house Asteroids translation, Atari started mining its own vaults for new cartridges – and Missile Command, the legendary Cold War video game that had given its designer nightmares about nuclear war, was a prime target. Continue reading

Pinball

PinballBuy this gameThe Game: It’s a game of video pinball where you can even bump the table to influence the ball’s path. You can even launch the ball into a second level to score big bonus points. Just don’t let it slide out of the reach of your flippers… (Mattel Electronics, 1981)

See the videoMemories: As a rule, I don’t do the video pinball thing. You can look throughout Phosphor Dot Fossils and you’ll find very few big thumbs-up for video pinball. But so help me, Pinball on Intellivision is rather fun. It takes into account some of the physics (though far from all) involved in a pinball table, even the external factors such as the good old-fashioned, time-honored bump-the-machne maneuver. Continue reading

Snafu

SnafuThe Game: As one of four color-coded player icons on the screen, you begin the round at one edge of the rectangular playing field. Your icon leaves a solid wall behind it, tracing your path. You try to trap other players or computer-controlled See the videoBuy this gameicons in your wake, while avoiding the solid walls tracing their icons and your own trail, which is just as deadly. (Mattel, 1981)

Memories: Look familiar? A year later, and this gem of simplicity undoubtedly would have been titled Tron Light Print new overlaysCycles (and just for giggles, we’ve prepared a special keypad overlay to fit that theme. The light cycle sequence from the movie Tron (as well as the similar screen in the arcade game based on the movie) and the basic premise of Snafu are the same. Continue reading

Space Armada

Space ArmadaBuy this gameThe Game: You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your See the videoonly 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 and more aggressive – appears. When the aliens manage to land on Earth…it’s all over. (Mattel, 1981)

Memories: Sound familiar? It should. This early entry in Mattel’s library of Intellivision games is, rather obviously, a not-very-thinly-disguised version of Space Invaders, the game whose home version had made the Atari 2600 a household name in the home video game biz. Continue reading

Space Battle

Space BattleBuy this gameThe Game: You command a mighty battleship with three squadrons of fighters at your disposal to fend off five alien attack fleets. You can manually dispatch your fighter squadrons, send them directly into battle, and recall them to See the original TV addefend your ship. When your fighters go into battle, you can assume control personally and engage in a dogfight with the agile enemy fighters, or you can let the computer fight your battles on autopilot (it’ll get the job done, but usually with an undesirable, if not unacceptable, rate of losses for your side). The game ends when your squadrons have eliminated all of the converging alien fleets, or when the aliens have made quick work of both your squadrons and your command ship. (Mattel Electronics, 1979)

Memories: In 1979, Glen Larson’s TV space epic Battlestar Galactica was as hot a property as you could get on the small screen, with its movie-scale special effects (or at least, the show’s underbudgeted and overworked producers and special effects wizards hoped you thought the effects were movie-scale). Having watched rival toy maker Kenner score a major coup with the license to manufacture toys based on Star Wars, Mattel quickly stepped in to snag the rights for Battlestar Galactica. Short of whatever Star Wars sequel George Lucas turned out next, Galactica was as close as you could get to the next big thing. Continue reading

Star Strike

Star StrikeBuy this gameThe Game: Flying low over an alien installation, you are the last hope for the planet Earth. When the alien space vehicle has Earth lined up in the sights of its launcher, the planet will be destroyed. Your mission is to blast alien defensive See the videofighters and bomb their mothership into oblivion before that happens. (Mattel, 1981)

Memories: Star Strike was one of the games Mattel waved in everyone’s face to prove how superior the Intellivision was to its rival, the Atari 2600. But for its time, and considering that Atari’s biggest hits at this point were chunky home versions of Print new overlaysthe distinctly 2-D Asteroids, Missile Command and Space Invaders, Star Strike‘s Star Wars-inspired 3-D animated trench was quite impressive. However, the game was notoriously difficult for those weaned on the excessive simplicity of the aforementioned arcade adaptations. Continue reading

Tennis

TennisBuy this gameThe Game: Is it Pong anthropomorphized, or is it tennis rehumanized? Two people dash back and fourth across a court, making every attempt to intercept the incoming ball and slap it back into their opponent’s side of the net. As with so many other things in life, he who drops the ball suffers severely. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: Doesn’t really matter how you dress it up: it’s all tennis. Only Activision‘s Tennis cartridge, programmed by Alan Miller, was the first time someone had tried to make the tennis players look like…well, tennis players, at least on the VCS. As one of the very first titles released by Activision, Tennis broke graphical ground, but kept game play simple, often simulating an existing sport or activity – the salad days of innovation with games like Pitfall! were still to come. Continue reading

Video Pinball

Video PinballBuy this gameThe Game: Pull the plunger back and fire the ball into play. The more bumpers it hits, the more points you rack up. But don’t let the ball leave the table – doing so three times ends the game. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: I’m just not a huge fan of video pinball simulations – see my review of Thunderball! for Odyssey2 if you have any doubts – but having tried out Atari’s Video Pinball, I can say that it’s more fun than Thunderball! Itself a home version of one of Atari’s late 70s arcade titles, Video Pinball offers some finer graphics than you’d expect from the early waves of VCS titles. Continue reading

Yars’ Revenge

Yars' RevengeBuy this gameThe Game: As the last of a race of spacefaring insects, you must defend yourself from a relentless wave of alien attackers bent on ridding the universe of your race. An alien tracer, deadly to the touch, tracks your every move, though it cannot harm you while you’re in the neutral zone at the center of the screen. You must eat away at the aliens’ shield, which not only reduces their defenses, but builds your energy reserve so you can fire your own powerful weapon, which can wipe out the alien, the tracer – or yourself, if you’re clumsy enough to be caught in its path. (Atari, 1981)

Yars' Revenge signed by programmer Howard Scott WarshawMemories: One of the coolest games ever conceived for the Atari 2600, Yars’ Revenge was a brilliant arcade-style game. In fact, I’m amazed that it apparently never made it into coin-op form (like such games as Lode Runner and Pitfall!). In fact, Yars actually started out as an arcade port – though in the end, it differed significantly enough from its inspiration (Star Castle) that it was a whole new game. Continue reading

Black Widow

Black WidowBuy this gameThe Game: You’re a spider whose web seems to be a popular hangout for any number of flies who seem to have an aversion to getting caught there. So you’re left with the only option nature leaves open to a spider in this scenario: you shoot your prey down and eat the yummy grubsteak that’s left behind! Some bugs will have the whaudacity to lay their eggs in your web, which you can either push off the edge (a risky trick depending on how “developed” some of the eggs are) or wait to hatch into more bugs that you See the videocan shoot down. Beware of “grenade bugs” which destroy everything within a certain radius around them when you shoot them; they may take out other adversaries as they go, or destroy you if you’re too close. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: Black Widow is a fun number which smacks of an attempt to do Robotron: 2084 in vector graphics. It’s also one of the handful of Atari arcade games sporting the color vector monitor, which was prone to numerous technical glitches (not the least of which was overheating to the point that capacitors melted off the board). What vector graphics had over traditional raster displays, however, was fast action, and Black Widow is a beauty in that respect. Within only a few levels, the action is almost too much for the average player to handle. Continue reading

  • IP Disclaimer

    All game names, terminology, logos, screen shots, box art, and all related characters and placenames are the property of the games' respective intellectual property holders. The articles herein are not intended to infringe upon their copyright in any way. The author(s) make no attempt - in using the names described herein - to supercede the copyrights of the copyright holders, nor are these articles officially sanctioned, licensed, or endorsed by the games' creators or publishers.