Astrosmash

AstroblastThe Game: Your planet is under siege by an unending hail of asteroids, bombs, and space debris. Your simple mission? Blast all of this stuff, or dodge it. But you’re toast if a bomb hits the ground. (M Network [Mattel], 1982)

Memories: Not one of Mattel’s finest titles for the 2600, Astroblast is a loose adaptation of Astrosmash, a game originally released for Mattel’s Intellivision console. The graphics are clunky even compared to such bottom-of-the-barrel entries like Atari’s Pac-Man and Combat. Continue reading

Atlantis

AtlantisThe Game: In a conceptually simple but occasionally very difficult game, you man three fixed artillery batteries defending the advanced underwater city of Atlantis. Alien spaceships pass overhead, and you have to choose your target – and which See the videoBuy this gameof the three guns you’re firing – carefully in order to knock them out. Any ships which survive one pass will drop down one level and make another pass. At the lowest level, the ships will begin bombing the city, knocking out habitation domes, power generators, and even your artillery nests. When the final destruction of Atlantis comes at last, one tiny ship escapes into the sky… (Imagic, 1982)

See the original TV adMemories: A pretty simple variation on the Missile Command format, Atlantis starts out exceedingly simple, luring you into a false sense of security. After a while, the game is just about unbeatable. Second only to Activision in its wonderfully crafted games, Imagic made its games extremely colorful, with distinctive graphics and sounds that became an Imagic signature. Continue reading

Barnstorming

BarnstormingBuy this gameThe Game: Players climb into a biplane to race against time to fly through barns and try to avoid geese, who have a habit of finding their way into one’s propellers. Other obstacles include windmills and, well, the broad side of a barn; collisions are a mere setback, not a fiery death. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: As one of the best-remembered early Activision titles, Barnstorming is actually See the videoa very simple game: most, if not all, of the game is based on easily memorized patterns, and the rest is down to reflexes. One element of the game, however, has a surprisingly checkered history. Continue reading

Burgertime

BurgertimeThe 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… (M Network [Mattel, under license from Data East], 1982)

Memories: In an ambitious bid to exploit their Burgertime license on systems other than the Intellivision, Mattel did their best to bring Chef Peter Pepper and that pack of pesky pickles to the 2600, and while the end result fell a little bit short, it also racked up its share of good selling points. And perhaps by virtue of its name alone, Burgertime was one of the best selling M Network titles. Continue reading

Centipede

CentipedeThe Game: Centipedes, spiders and fleas invade your garden of ‘shrooms. Spiders follow an evasive course and can collide with you at any moment. Fleas poison the mushrooms, making them impervious to your fire (and thus giving the Buy this gamecentipede impenetrable cover). And the centipede itself can split into many segments, and if it reaches the bottom of the screen, will turn around and start to move upward again, possibly catching you from behind. Every time you manage to completely “debug” the screen, you move up to a harder level. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: Centipede was a huge arcade hit, so it’s no wonder Atari wasted no time in creating the home translation. Though the Atari 2600 version of the game couldn’t compete with its arcade ancestor’s colorful graphics, the home version did get the point across. Continue reading

Chopper Command

Chopper CommandBuy this gameThe Game: You’re a lone attack helicopter jockey in unfriendly desert territory, trying to stop a seemingly endless attacking fleet of enemy jets from bombing a convoy on the ground. (Activision, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Maybe the best example ever of Activision stealing Atari’s thunder right out from under it, Chopper Command is essentially the same game as Defender, with the singular exception that the enemy is bombing the ground-dwellers instead of trying to abduct them. Continue reading

Cosmic Creeps

Cosmic CreepsThe Game: Aliens are after your kids! Fortunately, you’re armed with a resource that not everyone has: your own flying saucer. In the opening screen, you have to return to the saucer to resume command, and then you signal your kids to come up, one by one, as you try to pick off alien pursuers who are hot on their trail. If you’re See the videonot careful, you can actually zap the kids instead. If an alien manages to reach your saucer, someone else will have to give your kids a ride home from the star academy… (Telesys, 1982)

Memories: It may not have been the biggest, most obvious name in software for the 2600, but I have to give Telesys top marks for coming up with cool ideas for their games. Cosmic Creeps is a great example of what Telesys was best at, and it’s a lot of fun too. Continue reading

Commando Raid

Commando RaidThe Game: Helicopters and planes are dumping paratroopers directly over your land-locked cannon. Your job is to take out both aircraft and paratroopers before the enemy can land on and slowly destroy the rows of buildings on either side of the cannon. Once enemy paratroopers raze a building to the ground, they begin doing something even deadlier: digging tunnels toward your cannon so they can destroy it from below with a giant bomb, at which time your point defense career is over. (U.S. Games, 1982)

Memories: A clever riff on a well-known game, Commando Raid avoids being just another Missile Command clone. At first glance, the element of defending six cities/buildings by covering the entire sky from a fixed position seems familiar, but the gradual enemy occupation of territory beneath the player’s cannon adds an original twist and requires some new strategy.

Commando RaidU.S. Games didn’t exactly make stuff that looked like Activision‘s games, but the audiovisual element of Commando Raid is more than adequate to convey all the information players need. The buildings have several stages of disrepair, from undamaged down to rubble. The sheer twitch factor as multiple incoming targets have to be dealt with is impressive for a VCS cartridge, as is the fact that the barrage of approaching enemies is accomplished with virtually none of the dreaded “flicker” that has plagued countless other games on this platform.

4 stars!Seasoned Missile Commanders looking for a new posting can do a lot worse than signing up to go Commando.

Cosmic Ark

Cosmic ArkThe Game: As the commander of a spacefaring Ark, your mission is to retrieve two members of every species on every planet you visit, in case the constant ruch of asteroids and meteors renders life on those planets extinct. In the initial See the videoscreen, the large Ark spacecraft is besieged by meteors appearing from every direction, and your job is to use the ship’s weapons the destroy the space rock before they destroy your Ark. After surviving this screen, the Ark descends into low orbit of a planet, and you pilot the scout ship, avoiding planetary defenses to grab two specimens of that planet’s dominant life form with your tractor beam. (Sorry, you don’t get to make crop circles while you’re doing your alien abductions.) If the planetary defenses hit your scout ship, you launch another one, but time is running out – eventually another meteor will plummet from the sky right into the Ark, and you can only defend the Ark if the scout ship has re-docked. When the final destruction of the Cosmic Ark comes at last, the tiny scout ship escapes into deep space… (Imagic, 1982)

See the original TV adMemories: Another addictive entry, though a bit simpler than Atlantis, this game was way ahead of its time – an alien abduction game, even one which gives the player control of the aliens, would go over phenomenally with modern-day UFO enthusiasts. Continue reading

Dark Caverns

Dark CavernsThe Game: Robots, spiders and critters, oh my! You’re a lone human in a maze teeming with deadly robots, spiders and other nasties, and your trusty gun – which can dispatch any or all of the above – has only a limited amount of ammunition. You can obtain more ammo by walking over a briefly-occurring flashing gun symbol – but until then, if you’re out of ammo, you’re no longer the hunter, but the hunted. (M Network [Mattel], 1982)

Memories: This was the 2600 version of a similar game that Mattel had released for its own Intellivision console (Night Stalker), and it’s fair to say that this edition was just a wee bit simplified. Continue reading

Demon Attack

Demon AttackBuy this gameThe Game: Demons coalesce into existence in mid-air above your cannon. Send them back where they came from by force – but watch out, as demons in later levels split into two parts upon being hit, which must then be destroyed individually… (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: Ah, the storied history of Demon Attack. Back in the day when the legal game was almost as new the video game, Atari was jealously guarding its See the videoterritory. Now, never mind that Bushnell-era Atari had clearly based some of its cartridge games on arcade sleeper hits – Circus Atari borrowed heavily from Exidy’s coin-op Circus, to name just one – the company was now out for blood under the management of Warner Bros. and Ray Kassar. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: In the rotund plumber Mario’s first adventure, you have to help him reach the top of a perilous scaffolding to rescue a damsel in distress from the dastardly Donkey Kong. (Coleco, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Once upon a time, Nintendo didn’t manufacture its own home video game system. Perhaps games like this convinced it to pick up the habit. Coleco did a very good job of translating Nintendo’s first arcade hit into its first game for the higher-priced ColecoVision console, but truthfully, more people had an Atari 2600 at the time, and this is the version of Donkey Kong they got. Continue reading

Donkey Kong Jr.

Donkey Kong Jr.The Game: As little Donkey Kong Jr., you’re trying to reach the top of a treacherous series of vines and platforms to rescue your dad from Mario. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: I’m a “junior” myself, so I understand that there are certain challenges involved in living up to the name of one’s forebears. And though the little ape was going to have a big task in living up to his dad’s name – after all, Kong Sr.’s game was the foundation of Nintendo’s empire – the original Donkey Kong Jr. arcade game was a great deal of fun. But Coleco did Donkey Kong Jr. a grave injustice in its translation for the Atari 2600. Continue reading

Dragonfire

DragonfireThe Game: Introducing the ultimate in home security systems: a huge fire-breathing dragon. No keypads or extra power sources necessary! The amazing new dragon will repel any looters from the castle he’s guarding by belching See the videounpredictable barrages of fire across the castle drawbridge. And even if an intrepid looter does gain access to the castle, the dragon will fend off the unwelcome visitor’s attempts to grab the castle’s treasure with an endless hail of fireballs, toasting the looter on contact. If the looter should happen to grab all the treasure – which is highly, highly unlikely due to the rugged design of the dragon – an escape hatch will appear and he’s free to try his luck from the drawbridge again. But it’s very unlikely that any looter will survive a second attempt…which is actually rather unfortunate, since you’re the treasure hunter in this game. (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: An addictive little number, this Dragonfire. Granted, the Intellivision version of this game looks fancier – well, compared to the 2600 cartridge, almost every other version of Dragonfire has a little more audiovisual flair. Continue reading

Eggomania (Atari 2600)

EggomaniaThe Game: Which came first: your imminent defeat or the egg? A crazed chicken scoots back and forth across the top of the screen, hurling eggs downward at your suspiciously Cookie See the videoMonster-esque protagonist. Once your monster has captured all of the eggs (missing even one egg results in a lost “life”), you can fire the eggs back at the chicken and try to score a direct hit. (U.S. Games, 1982)

Memories: U.S. Games, formerly Vidtec, is one company that industry insiders single out as a prime example that speculators and bandwagon-jumpers were beginning to dominate the third-party software industry around 1982. U.S. Games didn’t really have a breakout hit or a killer app; instead, they had the distinction of being an upstart video game company that happened to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Quaker Oats – a company with no previous interest in the video game field. Continue reading

The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes BackThe Game: Derived from an action scene in the second of a trilogy of little-known films about a budding Jedi Knight named Luke Skywalker, The Empire Strikes Back puts you in the cockpit of Luke’s snowspeeder in a desperate bid to beat back huge Imperial Walkers – also known as AT-ATs – from destroying the Rebel back on the ice planet of Hoth. The AT-ATs’ heavy artillery can seriously deplete your snowspeeder’s shielding with a single hit, though you must score numerous direct hits before you can even begin to have the same effect on the onslaught of Imperial Walkers, let alone destroy one. Occasionally, a weakness will be exposed in the “neck” region of the huge mechanical monsters, and you’ll have a few seconds in which you may take advantage of that and blow the machine away. And even less frequently, the triumphant strains of John Williams’ Star Wars theme – as squeaked out by the Atari 2600’s limited sound facility – will signal that the Force is with you, rendering you invincible for a short period of time. You’re going to need it. (Parker Brothers, 1982)

Memories: The Empire Strikes Back is just one in a series of excellent Star Wars-themed game cartridges released around this time by Parker Brothers (other titles included Star Wars: The Arcade Game, an excellent adaptation of the Atari vector arcade game, and the intriguing Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle). Continue reading

E.T.

E.T.The Game: In something that would best be described as a very vague homage to the Steven Spielberg film of the same name, E.T. allows you to guide the intrepid (and cute) extra-terrestrial on a quest to find Reese’s See the TV adPieces and transmitter pieces (with which one can, presumably, phone home), while avoiding the threatening (but cute) doctors and FBI agents. If you get into a scrape, the helpful (and cute) Elliott may be able to pry you out of a sticky situation. You may then resume your pointless quest until, inevitably, you wind up withering away at the bottom of one of the many pits in the game. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: A few phrases pop into my head when I think about this game, among them: “waste of time,” “cheap licensing cash-in,” and “was there ever anything nearly this lame for the Odyssey2?” As many have noticed, the vast majority of the effort poured, or dripped as the case may be, into E.T. was spent on the opening title screen. Pretty impressive stuff for the 2600, but the game was much more satisfying if one never got past that title screen. Continue reading

Fast Food

Fast FoodThe Game: You’re a disembodied pair of jaws – sort of like that old wind-up clacking teeth toy, minus the wind-up part. And the feet. Food flies at you from the left side of the screen, and your job is to gobble all of it up that you can reach. (Try not to dwell on the digestive process involved with a disembodied pair of jaws – See the videopresumably there’s a grateful disembodied stomach somewhere in this food chain.) The more snacks you snag, the faster the food flies. Beware of the purple peppers, though – you can only eat so many of them before your jaws erupt in a cataclysmic, game-ending “BURP!” (Telesys, 1982)

Memories: This is another game to file away under the category of “games that simply would not be made or marketed today.” As the healthy living movement (not a bad thing) collides and coalesces with the zombie-like conformity movement (almost always a bad thing) and some collective decision has been taken somewhere that overweight people are now as offensive to the general public as chain-smokers, a game like Fast Food – which congratulates players between levels with the tongue-in-cheek message “You’re Getting Fatter” – just wouldn’t make it to the store shelves today. (At this rate, I’m waiting for Pac-Man, with its unrestrained eating, to become somehow politically incorrect.) Continue reading

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