Slot Machine

Slot MachineBuy this gameThe Game: The one-armed bandit joins forces with the one-button, one-joystick wonder. Place your bet, pull the lever and take your chances; lining up the symbols in the three windows of the slot machine will pay off (in a virtual kind of way). Messing up just makes the house richer. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: An early title by prolific Atari VCS programmer David Crane – still working directly for Atari at this point, well See the videobefore his Activision and Pitfall! years – Slot Machine is an good snapshot of where console gaming was in 1977/78. Console games seemed to fixate, at this time, on simulations (or rough approximations) of existing sports and games that could be played “in the real world” without computer assistance. More fanciful fare – such as space games – were left, for the most part, to the arcade. Continue reading

Speedway! / Spin-Out! / Crypto-Logic!

Speedway! / Spin-Out! / Crypto-Logic!The Game: In Speedway!, one player guides a race car through an endless onslaught of slower-moving traffic, Monaco GP style; colliding with anyone stalls the game for a moment. Two players are required for Spin-Out!, a copycat of Atari’s Sprint 2 coin-op, in which two race cars zip around a convoluted little track in an attempt to be the first one to rack up three laps. Crypto-Logic! lets you type in up to 18 characters on one line, and hit the enter key to completely scramble those characters. A second player then has to figure out what the jumble of letters was with as few misses as possible. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: The Odyssey2 was born from the ashes of Magnavox’s aborted Odyssey 5000 project, which would have housed 24 dedicated games for 2 to 4 players in a large, silvery console – and chances are, a lot of those games would have been along the lines of Speedway! and Spin-Out!. Continue reading

Stellar Track

Stellar TrackBuy this gameThe Game: Welcome to the bridge. Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating alien incursions without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Atari [Sears exclusive], 1978)

Memories: Quite a bit more rare than the VCS edition of Sega’s Star Trek arcade game is this Sears exclusive – and, unless you’re trying to put together an insanely complete collection of 2600 cartridges, don’t sweat it if the rarity of this game prevents you from ever getting your hands on it. Stellar Track sucks like a hull breach. Continue reading

Polo

PoloThe Game: Climb onto your trusty four-legged ride for a good old fashioned game of horse hockey. Try to knock the ball into your opponent’s goal, but don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t defend your own. (Atari, 1978)
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Memories: One of the earliest Atari VCS games to go unreleased, Polo was never intended for general release as its own game; rather, plans were apparently afoot within Atari to offer the game as a premium giveaway item to buyers of Ralph Lauren’s recently-introduced Polo cologne. (If that sounds a little difficult to believe, keep in mind that, in its early heyday, the $200 VCS was very much a high-end luxury item – not unlike Ralph Lauren’s products.) Continue reading

Alpine Skiing!

Alpine Skiing!The Game: Take to the slopes, in a digital sort of way. Choose between the slalom, giant slalom and downhill events, get a partner on the other joystick, and plow through that white stuff like it’s gonna melt tomorrow. And try not to hit any of the obstacles – before you can even say “I want my two dollars!”*, a collision can send you into a tumble that’ll just carry you right into the next one…and the one after that…and the one after that… (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: Athough rather simple video skiing fare, Alpine Skiing! can be good for some laughs with a good second player. The lack of a one-player option limits it a bit, but it’s on par with Activision’s Atari VCS skiing game. Continue reading

Dynasty!

Dynasty!The Game: Purporting to be based on the ancient Chinese game of Go, Dynasty! is actually more of a variation of Othello. The same strategies apply, and can be played with two players, one against the computer, or – for those who are feeling a little bit lazy – the computer vs. itself. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: One of the things I always remember about the Odyssey2 game Dyntasty! – and I’ll admit, this is the weirdest possible thing to remember – is its player symbols. For a human player, you’ll see the stock O2 stick man, while the computer is represented by a unique symbol, uP – not really a u, but the Greek letter Mu, used to represent “micro” – hence, microprocessor. Pretty obscure terminology for a video game, but then again, this is a fairly obscure (though easy-to-find) game on a relatively obscure console. Continue reading

Invaders From Hyperspace!

Invaders From Hyperspace!The Game: One of the earlier Odyssey2 space-related titles pits two players against a pair of pesky alien saucers. (It is theoretically possible to play this game solo, but it’s much more fun with two players, as many See the videoOdyssey games were.) The game play is almost simple: two planets, each with a system of four moons, orbit their way around the screen. The object of the game is to occupy the most territory by shooting the planets or moons until they change to the same color as your ship. The alien saucers, however, are also doing this, making life extremely difficult. They can also set their sights on you, destroying your ship. You can return to the fray if any planet or moon on the screen is the same color as your ship, but if the aliens blast that body before you’ve taken off again, you’re trapped until the next window of opportunity arises. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: The genius of this graphically simple game is that the two players can team up…or they can wage a three-way war against one another and the aliens! Continue reading

I’ve Got Your Number!

I've Got Your Number!The Game: Two characters take up position on either side of two rotating clusters of numbers and symbols. A simple math problem or algebraic equation (nothing too fancy, usually just involving symbol or shape matching) appears in the bottom center of the screen, and you must guide your character to physically touch the appropriate number or symbol to correctly answer the problem. The first player to answer ten problems correctly wins the game (and, somewhat alarmingly, gets to watch his onscreen icon momentarily balloon to twice its normal size with an odd “explosion” sound). (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: A nice, simple little educational game, this one was a bit “young” for me by the time I got an Odyssey2, but I can see where it would’ve been great for younger kids, and would probably help build a foundation for a better understanding of algebra than I was ever capable of demonstrating on paper. Continue reading

Math-A-Magic! / Echo!

Math-A-Magic! / Echo!The Game: Wow! We must be in the future, for we now have electronic flash cards! This is more or less the function fulfilled by Math-A-Magic, while Echo is a slightly watered down version of the classic See the videoelectronic game Simon. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: This may sound a wee bit pretentious, but this “game” – at least the Math-A-Magic! side of things – was instrumental in me getting through some problems comprehending basic math many years ago in grade school. I’m still not a math wizard – I barely passed any applied or theoretical math classes beyond Algebra I in high school and college – but way back when, this actually helped. Who said that video games can’t change anyone’s life for the better? Continue reading

Major League Baseball

Major League BaseballThe Game: Play ball! Two teams play until they each accumulate three “outs” per inning. Try to hit the ball out of the park, or confound the outfielders with a well-placed hit none of them can catch. Steal a base if you’re feeling really brave – and then try to cover your bases as best you can when the other player tries all of these same strategies on you. (Mattel Electronics, 1979)

Memories: After Atari’s barely-there VCS baseball title Home Run, and the much better but still graphically simple Baseball! cartridge for the Odyssey2, Major League Baseball was a revelation. This was the moment, for many of us, when video sports games started to look like the sport they represented on home consoles. It almost redefined sports game sound too: the Intellivision has a good swipe at emulating the phrase “You’re out!” at the appropriate moment, an innovation which was nipped in the bud quickly by Mattel Electronics. Why? Continue reading

Out Of This World! / Helicopter Rescue!

Out Of This World! / Helicopter Rescue!The Game: In this two-for-one game, you take to the skies in one of two different ways. Out Of This World! is a classic lunar lander game, in which you must balance your descent speed and your remaining fuel to make a safe landing on the surface of the moon, and then safely return to dock with your command module in orbit again. Helicopter Rescue! is a simplistic game in which you pilot a helicopter, trying to retrieve as many people as possible from a doomed hotel and take them safely to a nearby ground station. Precision and timing are of the essence. (Honestly, though, we never see what’s wrong with that hotel – there’s no evidence of fire, terrorists, massive fiddygibber infestations…) (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: I grew up a space buff, and by the time this game came around – and keep in mind, kids, 1979 was only the tenth anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing – I thought it was so cool to have even a rudimentary spaceflight simulation on my state-of-the-art Odyssey2. Continue reading

Pachinko!

Pachinko!The Game: In a game that bears some slight resemblence to a Japanese offshoot of pinball, you control – for lack of a better description – a man stuck in a gigantic Pachinko playing field. You attempt to keep your ball in play, scoring points as often as possible by landing the ball in one of five cups marked with a point value – some targets can score zero points, others as high as ten. The other player – either a human being or the computer – can temporarily take over your ball by touching it, just as you can with theirs. (There’s nothing quite like making someone else’s balls work for you.) And a third man roams the playing field as well, grabbing your…well, let’s start that again. If the computer-controlled third man grabs a ball in mid-flight, he’ll relaunch it in a random direction, maybe to you, maybe to your opponent. Whoever accumulates 100 points first wins. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: Hey, we do requests here at Phosphor Dot Fossils, and this one’s overdue. A reader recently wrote to remind me that the Pachinko! review has been “coming soon” for a dog’s age, and wanted to know if “soon” was getting any sooner. I’m glad he wrote in, for I discovered that I had never actually played this game. I’ve had the cartridge sitting on my shelf forever, but I hadn’t plugged it in until now. Continue reading

Showdown In 2100 A.D.!

Showdown in 2100 A.D.!The Game: Get out there and draw! Your cowboy faces off against another player, or the computer, in a fight to see who can draw their gun the fastest – and who can run away the fastest! (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: This strange, slow-moving slice of the wild west seems eerily similar, in a few respects, to War Of Nerves. Take away the robot armies, add a couple of six-shooters, and you’ve got Showdown in 2100 A.D. (a title derived from Magnavox’s attempt to make the gunfighting game family-friendly by explaining that the combatants are, in fact, robots – welcome to Westworld!). It’s also the Odyssey2 edition of the classic arcade shootout game, Gun Fight. Continue reading

Star Battle

Star BattleThe Game: As a lone space pilot flying down a seemingly endless trench, your job is simple – blast or bomb all of the vaguely-bow-tie-shaped space fighters that you see. If your fighter is on the lower half of the screen, you’re blasting See the videostraight ahead/upward; if you move your fighter near the top of the screen, you can bomb any fighters below you. The game ends when you run out of ships; fortunately you never seem to run out of ammo. (Bally, 1979)

Memories: With arcade games such as Star Fire (with its obvious TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers) and Starhawk (with its own animated trench) gobbling quarters, it might just be that Star Battle for the Bally Professional Arcade is where it all begins in the console realm – the sub-genre of the Star Wars-inspired space game. Continue reading

Superman

SupermanThe Game: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a vaguely anthropomorphic heap o’ pixels with a red cape! Lex Luthor has hatched one of his deadly schemes to overthrow Metropolis – and, naturally, the world – starting with the destruction of a bridge in the city. Deal with Luthor’s thugs, save Lois, and put Lex himself behind bars – but keep an eye out for Kryptonite. (Atari [under license from DC Comics], 1979)

Superman adMemories: A product of the corporate synergy between DC Comics and Atari – both freshly acquired by the Warner Bros. empire in the late 1970s – Superman was one of the first attempts at a multi-screen adventure structure on the Atari VCS, something which would be honed more sharply with such games as Adventure and Haunted House (and trashed once again with top-heavy, overambitious later efforts like E.T. and the Swordquest series). Continue reading

Thunderball!

Thunderball!The Game: It’s all the thrills of pinball, minus approximately 75% of the excitement! Use your joystick to control the plunger tension and launch your ball into play. Use the action button to pop the flippers, keeping your ball on the See the videofield and out of trouble. The bumpers and spinner score big points…well, relatively speaking. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: Ya know, I’ve always thought that video pinball was just a bad idea from start to finish. Thunderball! is very much representative of most early attempts at this doomed genre – it’s not exactly a load of fun, and not even remotely exciting. Continue reading

War Of Nerves!

War Of Nerves!The Game: You’re the commander of a small squad of robots, and your opponent – be it a second player or the computer – is commanding a similar platoon o’ droids. Your job is to avoid the enemy’s robots while you wait for your robots to See the videoreach the enemy commander. Of course, the enemy’s robots could reach you first, but that’s another story. The only control you have over your robots is to press the action button and call them toward you. The robots fight hand-to-hand, rather than shooting, and your robots may become incapacitated. You can leap into the fray and touch one of your malfunctioning robots to repair it and return it to the fight, but in so doing, you run a risk of being captured by enemy robots. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: This is a game about the Arnold Rimmer vision of combat.

In the Marooned episode of Red Dwarf, Rimmer says “Generals don’t smash chairs over people’s heads. They don’t smash Newcastle Brown bottles into your face and say ‘Stitch that, Jimmy.’ They’re in the nice white tent, on the top of the hill, sipping Sancerre and directing the battle. They’re men of honor!” Which is pretty much your function in this game. Continue reading

Adventure

AdventureBuy this gameThe Game: As a bold adventurer trespassing a mighty castle in search of treasure, you face a twisty maze of chambers, dead ends aplenty, and colorful, hungry, and suspiciously duck-shaped dragons. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: The first game of its kind to hit the Atari VCS, Adventure scores a first in video game history – and not just because of its huge, sprawling maze.

Programmer Warren Robinett was a little disgruntled during his stint at Atari. He watched as his fellow programmers jumped ship, formed companies like Imagic and Activision, and struck it rich as the third-party software industry took off. Continue reading

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