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

Space Invaders

Space InvadersSee the videoThe 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 and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Is there actually any history to this game that you don’t already know? Space Invaders was what Combat and Super Breakout weren’t – namely, the Atari 2600‘s equivalent of a killer app: a home version of an arcade game that had reached a critical mass of public recognition, even among non-video-game fans. People bought the then-expensive 2600 console just to play this game. 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

Berzerk

BerzerkThe Game: You’re alone in a maze filled with armed, hostile robots who only have one mission – to kill you. If you even so much as touch the walls, you’ll wind up dead. You’re a little bit faster than the robots, and you have human instinct on See the videoyour side…but even that won’t help you when Evil Otto, a deceptively friendly and completely indestructible smiley face, appears to destroy you if you linger too long in any one part of the maze. The object of the game? Try to stay alive however long you can. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: Despite such atrocities as the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, Atari managed to turn out a fantastic version of Stern’s hit arcade game. Almost flicker-free, and lacking only the arcade game’s primitive speech synthesis (not that much of a loss, truth be told), Atari’s Berzerk cartridge was a very good reason to own the 2600. Continue reading

Defender

DefenderThe Game: You’re a lone space pilot in very unfriendly territory, trying to stop a seemingly endless attacking fleet of aliens from kidnapping and “mutating” hapless innocents on the ground into new berzerker opponents. (Atari, See the video1981)

Memories: Though a bit more faithful to its source material than, say, the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, this first home edition of Defender suffered from many of the same problems, namely an intensely annoying “flickering” effect that affected virtually everything on the screen, from the scrolling “mountains” to the player’s own ship to the enemy fighters. 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

Skeet Shoot

Skeet ShootThe Game: Line up moving targets in your sights and blast ’em away. The more targets you hit, the more points you get. Simple enough, eh? Just don’t expect everything to travel in a straight line – and keep in mind that something like 80% of the time you won’t have a chance of hitting anything at all due to where you’re positioned. (Games By Apollo, 1981)

Memories: The 198384 crash of the home video game industry has often been blamed on an unstoppable tsunami wave of lousy games being produced by companies that had never before shown an interest in the field. Some pundits point at Activision‘s defeat of an Atari lawsuit – which claimed that third-party games would be unfair competition, as they alleged Activision‘s four principal programmers were using Atari trade secrets – as the first crack in the dam. And maybe they’re right. But at first, with Activision and Imagic releasing well-programmed, colorful, cutting edge and most of all fun games, it was all good – and Atari was still selling hardware, so how could they prove they’d lose out on the deal? Continue reading

Spacechase

SpacechaseThe Game: Piloting a lone spaceship zipping over a planet’s surface in a low, fast orbit, your mission is to kick some evasive alien butt. Drawing a See the videobead on the aliens is much harder than it looks, and they arrive in waves of four. Naturally, it seems like it’s much easier for them to target you… (Games By Apollo, 1981)

Memories: Quite an improvement over Richardson, Texas-based Games By Apollo’s first game, the disastrously bad Skeet Shoot, Spacechase isn’t going to blow the doors down in the game originality department, but it wasn’t bad for the VCS at all. The scrolling planetscape beneath the player’s ship may look like an artist’s vague impression of some Arizona landscape, but with games like Defender struggling to get the side-scrolling thing right, it was quite an accomplishment. 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

Infiltrate

InfiltrateThe Game: You’re trapped in a multi-story building with hostile forces all around. Your infiltration mission has gone from mere espionage to a battle for survival – a battle you’re probably not going to win. Board elevators to reach the opposite level of the screen to retrieve enemy secrets, all while avoiding enemy agents and trying to shoot them down. (This spy business would be a lot easier if the enemy couldn’t shoot back, but generally they’re better shots than you are.) Then a new prize appears at the opposite end of the screen, sending you on yet another dangerous mission. (Games By Apollo, 1981)

Memories: A simple Atari 2600 port of the popular computer game Spy’s Demise, Infiltrate simplifies things a bit more than the computer version and keeps players constantly running for their lives. There’s really no win condition – just a grim countdown to the point at which the player is worn down. Continue reading

Adventures Of Tron

Adventure Of TronThe Game: As video warrior Tron, you scale the heights of the MCP’s domain, avoiding Tanks, Recognizers and Grid Bugs, and trying to collect Bits. You can occasionally hitch a brief ride on a perpetually airborne Solar Sailer on one level, allowing you to fly over your opponents’ heads for a few seconds. (M Network [Mattel], 1982)

Memories: Though formatted like one of the numerous platform adventure games that would one day become associated with Mario, Adventures Of Tron, while quite challenging, is frustrating since there seems to be no actual goal to reach. After a few levels, it becomes extremely repetitious. Continue reading

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