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Breakout

BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. Missing one of your precious balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1978)

See the original TV adMemories: Breakout is a fine adaptation of the game created by a one-time early Atari employee named Steve Jobs (who got a lot of help from his friend Steve Wozniak; these two later founded a computer company named after a common fruit). As the original arcade game wasn’t all that complex, the VCS version doesn’t need to overcome any technical hurdles. And yet it does! Continue reading

Casino Slot Machine!

Casino Slot Machine!The Game: You pays your money, you takes your chances. Pull the lever (or, in this case, the joystick) and try to get the fruit to line up. If you succeed, you’re in good shape; if you don’t, well, you’re out some more change. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: While I actually rather enjoyed the Odyssey2 Las Vegas Blackjack! cartridge, I have a hard time gleaning even the slightest measure of enjoyment from Casino Slot Machine!. Continue reading

Computer Golf!

Computer Golf!The Game: As man eked out his existence in the dark ages with only his animal cunning and the brutal power of the club, so do you in this golf See the videosimulation, in which you putter around nine different courses in an attempt to make a hole in one – or simply to stay under par. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Though Baseball! was a better-playing game, Computer Golf! must be, quite simply, the most memorable Odyssey2 sports game there was. Continue reading

Football!

Football!The Game: Woooooo, Packers. Classic pigskin comes to sluggish life in this over-complicated video game edition. Despite the Odyssey’s full keyboard, the game forces players to look up plays in the manual and execute them with joystick commands. After that, aside from some minimal control of whoever has the ball, it’s a bit like watching an ant farm. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Granted, Atari’s black & white arcade football game didn’t exactly conjure up a pixellated Howard Cosell, nor did any of the attempts to adapt that game for Atari’s own VCS. But when one looks at what an improvement Intellivision’s NFL Football was over either the VCS or the Odyssey2’s football games, one wonders what the Odyssey designers were thinking. Continue reading

Home Run

Home RunBuy this gameThe Game: From the great American pastime to the great Atari pastime, the sport of baseball is boiled down to its bare essence in this early game for the Atari VCS. One or two players can play. In a one-player game, players start as the pitcher/outfielders (selecting different game variations will provide a different number of outfielders; the default is a single pitcher/outfielder), while the second player starts as the batter in two-player games. The rules are simple: three strikes mean you’re out, three outs mean it’s time to change sides, the player who gets more little digital dudes across home plate wins. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: In the context of RCA‘s Studio II Baseball cartridge, Home Run is actually quite the improvement. Rather than abstract rectangles and squares, Home Run‘s baseball players actually look, well, humanoid. But much like its predecessor, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Home Run wasn’t that much of a home run. Continue reading

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)
See the video
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

Basketball

Atari BasketballThe Game: It’s a one-on-one hardwood hoedown as two players control tank-topped, gym-socked hoops stars in an effort to bank the most baskets. Whoever buckets the most balls by the end of the game’s preset timer wins. (Atari, 1979)

Memories: Since the previous year’s Football lost its quarter-eating steam after the end of football season, Atari decided to take a swipe at other popular American sports. Taking another cue from Football, Basketball used the trakball controller – two of them, actually, meaning the cabinets took a real beating in arcades. The result was a simple enough one-on-one game – something which had been done as early as 1974 by Midway, Atari’s chief U.S. competitor – though this was the first time basketball had gone 3-D, courtesy of four simple diagonal lines. Continue reading

Bomb Bee

Bomb BeeThe Game: Video pinball is back, and now in more than one color! Bomb Bee takes the game mechanics of Gee Bee and makes them noisier and brighter, adding “bumper traps” that can keep the ball bouncing in tight cul-de-sacs, racking up massive bonus points with every strike. (Namco, 1979)

See the videoMemories: When Namco introduced the world’s first arcade game with a full-color monitor, Galaxian, it was still fairly experimental, and some other Namco releases in 1979 were still in black & white. One of the first color games to follow Galaxian was Bomb Bee, Toru Iwitani’s reworking of Gee Bee, now in brilliant color. Continue reading

Galaxian

GalaxianThe Game: In one of the most seminal variations on the Space Invaders format, Galaxian was among the first clones to introduce attacking formations that would break off from the usual rows and columns of See the videoBuy this gameinvaders. Though Galaxian‘s use of this innovation was minimal, it was a drastic change from the usual slowly-advancing target gallery. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1979)

Memories: Galaxian may not be as well remembered as the much more strategically challenging Galaga, but it ultimately added a vital new twist to the Space Invaders-inspired genre, a format which was badly in danger of becoming stale. Galaxian was also the first arcade video game to use a color display instead of a monochrome monitor with translucent colored overlays. Continue reading

Star Fire

Star FireThe Game: This may sound awfully familiar, but you’re the lone surviving pilot of a space squadron decimated by enemy attacks. The enemy’s bow-tie-shaped fighters are closing in on you from all sides, and you must keep an eye on your own fighter’s shields, weapon temperature (overheated lasers don’t like to fire anymore), and ammo, all while trying to draw a bead on those pesky enemy ships. You’re also very much on your own – nobody’s going to show up and tell you you’re all clear, kid. (Exidy, 1979)

Memories: It didn’t just sound familiar – Exidy’s 3-D blast-o-rama Star Fire looked familiar – its TIE fighter-shaped enemies and the typestyle seen in its attract mode were straight out of Star Wars. How it escaped a legal dogfight is hard to fathom – unless it has something to do with George Lucas and 20th Century Fox not wanting to remind everyone that the only other exponent of that galaxy far, far away in 1979 was the Star Wars Holiday Special. 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

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

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