Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: Who said landscaping was easy? 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, See the videowhich 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 a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (Atari, 1984)

Memories: Still clinging tenaciously to a licensing agreement that gave it the right to publish Dig Dug in the U.S., Atari dug in its heels and released Dig Dug for the Atari 7800. Fortunately – for Atari, that is – Namco opted not to issue the same game in that territory, leaving it an exclusive for owners of the Famicom, Japan’s equivalent to the NES. Continue reading

Asteroids

AsteroidsThe 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 See the videoBuy this gamelittle 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 likes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: So you thought Asteroids didn’t become a creature of slick full-color graphics until the Playstation era, eh? Or maybe you didn’t think that. First off, Atari rehashed the game in colorful raster form as Blasteroids in the arcades, and then it included a copy of this rendition of Asteroids with every Atari 7800 console it sold. Continue reading

Galaga

GalagaThe 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 See the videowith 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 mothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: It took three years for anyone to bring this game to any home video game or computer platform. Who knows why? I never thought it was all that complicated, but apparently not even the ColecoVision or the 5200 were up to the task. Continue reading

Food Fight

Food FightBuy This GameThe Game: Poor Charley Chuck. He just wants to make it across the screen and eat that big, inviting ice cream cone before it all melts away. But there are a bunch of chefs who want to stop him. This, of course, means war – an all out food fight breaks out. Charley and the chefs can both grab whatever morsels are at hand and fling them at each other. If Charley beans a chef, that chef temporarily disappears, but if Charley gets nailed too many times, he’s force-fed a solid diet of game over. (Atari, 1984 – released in 1987)

See the videoMemories: Food Fight on the Atari 7800 almost has an unfair advantage: both the coin-op and this home version were programmed by General Computer, a subcontractor which handled many of Atari’s better home ports of arcade games. In addition to their usual skill in transferring arcade games to home consoles, this time they had intimate knowledge of the original too. Continue reading

Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-ManThe Game: As the bride of that most famous of single-celled omniphage life forms, your job is pretty simple – eat all the dots, gulp the large blinking dots in each corner of the screen and eat the monsters while they’re blue, and avoid See the videothe monsters the rest of the time. Occasionally various fruits and other foods will bounce through the maze, and you can gobble those for extra points. (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: I know I keep repeating this theme in the Phosphor Dot Fossils coverage of the Atari 7800, but the Tramiels did their new company – and gamers everywhere – a grievous disservice by putting the 7800 on ice until the NES was on top of the world. Continue reading

One-On-One

One On OneThe Game: Dr. J and Larry Bird take to the hardwood for one-on-one half-court basketball action. Each player has his own signature moves, from lay-ups to three-point shots to steals. One or two players can play to a predetermined score or to a time limit. See the video(Atari [under license from Electronic Arts], 1987)

Memories: Having already become a hit on such home computers as the Commodore 64 and Apple II, Electronic Arts’ One On One ushered in a wave of celebrity-driven sports games that would eventually lead the company to a far more profitable franchise in the Madden [insert year of your choice here] football games. Atari had courted (no pun intended) EA as a potential developer of games for the Atari 7800, and while that courtship was short-lived, it did result in one of the better looking iterations of One On One. Continue reading

Pole Position II

Pole Position IIThe Game: It’s your big chance to qualify for the big race at one of four tracks: the oval test track, Seaside, Suzuka, and the Mt. Fuji track from the original Pole Position. First, you try to get through the qualifying heat, racking up laps around the track as fast you can and accumulating as few wrecks as possible. If you pass muster, then you get to try it again with other cars on the track! (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: Until the Namco Museum series came along for the Playstation, featuring true emulation of the original arcade code and graphics, this is as close as we were going to get to the finesse of an arcade Pole Position game at home – at it wasn’t too far off the mark. Continue reading

Robotron: 2084

Robotron: 2084The Game: In the year 2084, all hell has broken loose on Earth. Robotic servants, created to perform dangerous tasks and defend their human creators, have decided they can do without their masters. The robots have evolved into new and terrifying varieties – the ever-multiplying Ground Roving UNit Terminators (GRUNTs), indestructible Hulks, self-replicating Quarks and Tanks, and most horrfying of all, the Brain robots, which capture humans and reprogram them into super-fast killing machines. And the only thing protecting the last remaining survivors of homo sapiens is your strength, endurance and cunning. (Atari, 1984 [released in 1987])

Memories: Robotron, like Zaxxon, was one of those holy grails of the early home video game industry, a game that seemed almost impossible to translate to a home console properly, and yet would reward anyone who succeeded in that endeavour with a legion of satisfied consumers. Continue reading

Xevious

XeviousThe Game: As the commander of a sleek Solvalou fighter, you’re deep into enemy territory, shooting their disc-shaped fighters out of the sky, bombing ground installations and artillery nests, bombing tanks, and trying to destroy the See the videomothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and deadly ground-based defenses become the norm. Also look out for tumbling airborne mirrors – they’re impervious to your fire, but you’re toast if you fly right into them. (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: Y’know, the more games I get for my trusty little 7800 – admittedly a recent acquisition in my gallery of classic consoles – the more I’m convinced that the Tramiel regime at Atari did the video game indsutry (and the consumers and players) a vast disservice by mothballing the 7800 and then not unveiling it until the NES had dominated the landscape. 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 attempt 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. (Atari, 1988)

Donkey KongSee the videoMemories: Before Nintendo made its own inroads in the American home video game market, it happily let homegrown companies take the license and run with it. Coleco won the license for Donkey Kong for the cartridge-based console market, while Atari snagged the rights to release Donkey Kong for various computer systems. When Coleco folded (after the expensive Adam Computer debacle), Atari did the corporate equivalent of going through Coleco’s wallet and picking up its licenses. Continue reading

Dark Chambers

Dark ChambersThe Game: You control a lone adventurer on a quest through twisty mazes and open battlegrounds, descending through the dungeon depths in search of treasure (and a chance to escape in one piece with that treasure in hand). Zombies, See the videoghosts, and monsters naturally roam through the dungeons as well, more than happy to attack any treasure-hunting interlopers such as yourself. (Atari, 1988)

Memories: Released on both the 7800 and 2600, Dark Chambers was an attempt to cash in on the “action RPG” genre that had recently been made popular by Nintendo’s The Legend Of Zelda. Atari’s arcade division happened to have a hot arcade property in that genre already, but since the arcade operation – now called Atari Games – and the consumer division were now two separate entities, Dark Chambers winds up being a “near-beer” version of Gauntlet. Continue reading

Ninja Golf

Ninja GolfThe Game: You face a test of your skills in the time-honored way of the Ninja: you must survive a game of golf. But you’re not the only Ninja on the course, and apparently you are the only Ninja who’s got a bullseye painted on his back. Before you can say “Crouching Tiger Woods, Hidden Dragon,” you must fend off See the videoattackers, including pesky gophers and alarmingly large frogs, in between putts. When you reach the green, a large dragon will attack you, as large dragons are wont to do on the green. Defeat the dragon and you advance to the next hole; do not defeat the dragon, and it will leave a hole in you. (Atari, 1990)

Memories: This utterly bizarre little game is almost like somebody’s idea of a spoof game, something you’d see if there was a Weird Al Signature Series for the 7800. But no, Ninja Golf was an actual mainstream 7800 title – well, that is, if you consider the 7800 mainstream – and proof that someone, somewhere at Atari, was thinking way outside the box. Continue reading

Klax

KlaxThe Game: It is the nineties, as the intro screen says, and there is time for this home version of Klax, in which players try to stack colored bricks according to on-screen instructions: horizontal, vertical and diagonal rows may be required. The conveyor belts carrying the bricks gradually speed up until the bricks are zipping toward the bottom of the screen at a dizzying pace. Allowing too many bricks to slide off the bottom of the screen without catching them will forfeit the game, as will failing to come up with the configuration of stacked bricks demanded by the on-screen instructions. (Atari, 1990)

Memories: A late attempt to keep the Atari 7800 relevant in an age where the NES had firmly dominated the home video game landscape (even the Sega Master System enjoyed a larger market share than the 7800), this adaptation of Atari Games’ arcade sleeper hit Klax seems fitting somehow in retrospect: Klax was a puzzle game also-ran, trying to catch up with Tetris. And Tetris had already been snapped up by Nintendo, which was handily beating Atari with both the NES and the new Game Boy, making the 7800 an also-ran too (and let’s not talk about that whole dust-up over Atari Games’ arcade Tetris and the Tengen version of the game for NES). As if there needed to be a way to make Klax even less relevant in Atari’s fight against Tetris, there’s one more wrinkle: this version never actually hit the stores. Continue reading

Moon Cresta

Moon CrestaThe Game: As commander of the three-stage fighter rocket Moon Cresta, your job is to ward off endless varieties of evasively weaving space attackers. Every time you knock out two consecutive screens of assailants, you’ll have an opportunity to dock your ship to another one of Moon Cresta’s three stages, until all three See the videoportions of the ship are combined to create one bad-ass weapons platform. But you can also lose stages very quickly, ending your game – a bigger ship makes a bigger and easier target. (AtariAge.com, 2011)

Memories: Quite simply one of the most superb arcade-to-console ports ever made on an Atari platform, whether cranked out professionally or as a homebrew, Moon Cresta is a knockout on the Atari 7800. Continue reading

K.C. Munchkin

K.C. MunchkinThe Game: As a small blue spherical creature whose sole sensory organs consist of two eyes, two antennae and an enormous mouth, you are on a mission to eat twelve dots which are floating around a small maze. Pursuing you are three multicolored jellyfish-like horrors who will gobble you up on contact. (AtariAge.com, 2015)

Memories: The Atari 7800 was the Rip Van Winkle of the classic console world. Put into deep freeze by the incoming Tramiel administration, the 7800 was awoken by that same management regime when the whole “Atari does computers now, not video games” strategy didn’t work out; when the 7800 – developed and market tested in 1984 – was revived, it was thrust into a late-‘80s world where it had the more powerful Nintendo Entertainment System for competition. Continue reading

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