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Jin

JinThe Game: The player controls a marker, trying to claim as much of the playing field as possible by enclosing areas of it. Drawing boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves the marker vulnerable to attack from the Jin and from the enemies in hot pursuit of the marker’s every move, is worth many more points upon the completion of an enclosed area. If the ever-shifting Jin touches the marker or an uncompleted boundary it is drawing, a “life” is lost and the game starts again. (Falcon, 1982)

Memories: Not content merely to copy Donkey Kong in the form of Crazy Kong (though that game was actually Nintendo-licensed for distribution in Far East markets outside Japan, and never intended to wind up in North America, though it did anyway), bootleg maker Falcon diversified its offerings by copying another Japanese game maker, unapologetically turning Taito‘s Qix into Jin. But for some bizarre reason, Falcon used a different game’s hardware to do this. Continue reading

Mine Storm

Mine StormThe Game: An alien ship zooms into view overhead, depositing a network of mines in deep space. Your job is to clear the spaceways, blasting each mine and then blasting the smaller mines that are released by each See the videosubsequent explosion; there are three different mine sizes, and blasting the smallest and fastest ones finally does away with them. In later stages, there are homing mines, mines that launch a missile in your direction when detonated, and other hazards. Smaller alien ships periodically zip through the screen, trying to blast you while also laying fresh mines. (GCE, 1982)

Memories: Obviously the Vectrex answer to Asteroids, Mine Storm wins about a zillion bonus points just for being drawn in honest-to-God vector graphics – and for being built in to the Vectrex’s circuitry. If you power the machine up without a cartridge plugged in, you get Mine Storm, and it’s a gem of a game. Continue reading

Microsurgeon

MicrosurgeonThe Game: Ready for a fantastic journey? So long as you’re not counting on Raquel Welch riding shotgun with you, this is as close as you’re going to get. You control a tiny robot probe inside the body of a living, breathing human patient who has a lot of health problems. Tar deposits in the lungs, cholesterol clogging the arteries, and rogue infections traveling around messing everything up. And then there’s you – capable of administering targeted doses of ultrasonic sound, antibiotics and aspirin to fix things up. Keep an eye on your patient’s status at all times – and be careful not to wipe out disease-fighting white blood cells which occasionally regard your robot probe as a foreign body and attack it. Just because you don’t get to play doctor with the aforementioned Ms. Welch (ahem – get your mind out of the gutter!) doesn’t mean this won’t be a fun operation. (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: Microsurgeon, designed and programmed by Imagic code wrangler Rick Levine (who even put his signature – as a series of slightly twisted arteries – inside the game’s human body maze), is a perfect example of Imagic’s ability to get the best out of the Intellivision – it’s truly one of those “killer app” games that defines a console. Continue reading

Omega Race

Omega RaceThe Game: In an enclosed track in space, you pilot a sleek, lone space fighter up against an army of mine-laying opponents. In early rounds of the Omega Race, only a few minelayers activate at a time…but in later rounds, they all deploy their full arsenal at you at once, leaving you to dodge through a deadly maze in zero gravity while trying to turn to draw a bead on your opponents. You can bounce off of the walls of the track, but anything else is deadly to touch. (CBS Electronics, under license from Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Cashing in on Omega Race‘s cult following in arcades – it was Midway‘s direct response to the Newtonian physics of Atari‘s AsteroidsCBS gave its home version of Omega Race the dubious distinction of being playable only with the included Booster Grip joystick “enhancer” – and as many second-hand copies of Omega Race have circulated on the collectors’ market without the Booster Grip, some gamers have been scratching their heads in bewilderment. Continue reading

Qix

QixThe Game: You control a “marker,” trying to claim as much of the playing field as you can by enclosing areas of it. Drawing your boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves you vulnerable to attack from the Qix and the Sparx, gives you many more points upon the completion of an enclosed area. If the ever-shifting Qix touches your marker or an uncompleted boundary you are drawing, you lose a “life” and start again. And the Sparx, which travel only along the edges of the playing field and along the boundaries of areas of the screen you’ve already enclosed, can destroy you by touching your marker. And if you linger too long, a fuse will begin burning at the beginning of your unfinished boundary, and will eventually catch up with you. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: One can think of no better early 80s platform for Qix than the Atari 5200, and it almost manages to pull off a perfect translation. Qix is another case where the infamous 5200 joysticks can confound your efforts to draw a straight line, but a lot of games have that problem, and I can’t really hold the grudge against anyone but whoever it was who designed those controllers. Continue reading

Shark! Shark!

Shark! Shark!The Game: Would you rather be a small fish in a small pond, or a big fish in a small pond? If you’re going to survive in this game, you’d better think big. Sharks and larger fish swim through the water, and if they’re bigger than you, you See the videoBuy this gamehave to avoid them or be eaten. You, on the other hand, can feed on smaller items which are below you on the food chain – and the more you eat, the more you grow, and this means you can eat more of the fish on the screen at any given time. But growth has its price: the bigger you get, the slower your fish becomes and the harder it is to get away from the shark. You can try to nibble the shark to death by biting his tail, but beware…he can bite back! (Mattel Electronics, 1982)

Memories: One of the Intellivision’s more unique titles, Shark! Shark! is literally a cool little game about the food chain – and it’s an addictively fun one too, perfect for the whole family. The first time I set eyes on the game, I had no manual – and it took me the loss of just one of my fishy lives to suss out how it’s played. Of course, every so often one still gets a little too brave and drives the poor little fish right into some blatantly obvious hazard because it looked like it might be small enough to eat… Continue reading

Tron Maze-a-Tron

Tron Maze-a-TronThe Game: You are Flynn, the hero of the movie Tron. In phase one of the game, you navigate a maze of circuitry, avoiding Recognizers, and trying to, as the manual puts it, “gather zeroes to clear the RAM chips.” In phase two, you’re up against the Master Control Program itself, and you can beat it by matching pairs of numbers in the “bit stream” to pairs in the nearby “bit stack”…or something like that. (Mattel, 1982)

Memories: Maze-a-Tron never got around to impressing me. The rule book is thicker than I could imagine the program would be, and the needlessly complicated game play really doesn’t inspire me to come back for more. And in a way, it almost seems like a game that had little to do with Tron, but was barely similar enough that it merited the grafting-on of elements such as the MCP and the Recognizers from the movie, and voila, instant licensed product. Continue reading

Tron Solar Sailer

Tron Solar SailerThe Game: In the third and final game of the trilogy of Intellivision games based on the movie Tron, you’re piloting the solar sailer vehicle stolen by Tron and Yori about 2/3 of the way through the movie. You ride the light beams through the digital realm, avoiding deadly (but dumb) grid bugs and pursuing Recognizers. You can fire weapons at both of the above, but doing this and keeping yourself on a clear path is the real challenge. (Mattel, 1982)

Memories: Of any of the Tron games Mattel manufactured for its own Intellivision platform or the Atari 2600, Solar Sailer is probably the one which is most closely related to a scene in the movie. It may also be the hardest. Continue reading

Cliff Hanger

Cliff HangerThe Game: You’re Cliff, a lovable rogue who’s just pulled off a major heist. But as you’re high-tailing it for your hideout via your getaway car, you encounter another crime even more heinous – a carload of armed thugs pursuing a young woman. You have to rescue her as soon as possible – and since she already has mobsters and other villains after her, the danger just piles on from there. (Stern, 1983)

Memories: Another exponent of the laserdisc genre that begat Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, Cliff Hanger was Stern’s entry into the then-crowded field. But rather than create new animation from the ground up – a costly endeavour for those aforementioned games created by Don Bluth – Stern simply licensed footage from a couple of classic animè movies from the Lupin III series, drawing primarily from The Castle Of Cagliostro (whose DVD these screen captures are from). Continue reading

Discs Of Tron

Discs Of TronBuy this gameThe Game: It’s the final confrontation between good and evil in the digital world! As video warrior Tron, you unleash up to three deadly discs in the direction of your arch-enemy Sark, who can return the favor in kind – with interest, since he has a larger arsenal at his See the videodisposal. All the while, you must also avoid falling off of the floating platforms, and try to keep a good aim on your opponent. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Midway’s second salute to Tron, that 1982 cult-classic film favorite among computer users and video game enthusiasts alike, took the form of a positively enormous “stand-in” wraparound cabinet with a large screen. (Not seen in the ubiquitous MAME-generated series of screen shots is the colorful background artwork, which was a scene from the movie.) Continue reading

Elevator Action

Elevator ActionThe Game: Love in an elevator, it’s not. As a daring spy, you break into a top secret enemy facility, trying to grab vital secrets and evade or kill as many enemy agents as you can. Your only means of getting from floor to floor through most of the game is via the elevator – which gives you an advantage and also makes you vulnerable. (Taito, 1983)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: This neat little entry from Taito wound up eating a lot of my allowance money back when I was eleven years old. There was a genuine sense of trying to reach a goal (though, to this day, even with emulation and official retro collections, I have no idea what lies below, say, the 20th level of the enemy compound). Elevator Action is also a real test of one’s mental multitasking abilities: agents closing in on all sides, elevator going down…do you jump? Duck? Shoot the agents? Shoot out the overhead lights? Some combination of the above? Whew. Continue reading

I, Robot

I, RobotThe Game: A huge, Big Brother-like head pops up and says “The law: no jumping!” to your little robot, and naturally, the cocky little automaton has other ideas (replying “Oh yeah!”). And so your mission begins, guiding the robot over See the videoramps, around narrow catwalks, and leaping across huge chasms. If the all-seeing eye opens while your robot it jumping, however, a blaster turns your hero into a heap of spare parts. If you successfully claim all of the red area on the screen, you have a narrow “launch window” in which to jump across to the eye’s platform and destroy it. The your robot launches into space, blowing away obstacles in his path, avoiding saucers and solid objects, and eventually landing on another series of ramps and catwalks to begin the quest anew. And if that doesn’t do it for you, you can put in another quarter and relax in Doodle City. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Once arcade games caught on as the profitable concern of the 80s, it seemed like everyone who had even the tip of a single finger in the electronics or coin-operated business glutted the market with barely-disguised riffs on the Pac-Man or Defender or Space Invaders concepts, saturating a previously innovative market with cheap copycat games (or, in a few cases until the attorneys caught up with them, outright bootlegs). In many ways, this parallels the Atari-era crash of the home video game cartridge industry, and it’s hardly a coincidence that both industries suffered simultaneous catastrophic shakedowns. Continue reading

Major Havoc

Major HavocBuy this gameThe Game: Journey through space, visit free-floating outposts, and raid ’em in search of oxygen. Then you just have to get back out with your precious loot – and that’s the hard part. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoMemories: Introduced to much fanfare in 1983, Atari’s Major Havoc may well have been the last of the red-hot vector graphics games – and truth be told, it didn’t catch on like the wildfire their marketing materials seemed to be hinting at. It was a really challenging game too – it was easy to lose a lot of quarters to this machine. Continue reading

Motorace USA / Traverse USA / Zippy Race

Motorace USAThe Game: As the lone motorcyclist in a cross-country car race, you have to dodge your opponents at high speed, one two-ton vehicle at a time. You drive through city streets, highways, and through the rough desert, trying to reach See the videoyour goal without running out of gas or getting splattered across the asphalt. (Williams Electronics [under license from IREM], 1983)

Memories: Whatever you called it, this was one of my favorite driving/racing games, combining the best elements of both maze games and scrolling obstacle course games, and handling things differently from the Pole Position and Turbo formula which dominated this particular genre at the time. Continue reading

Sinistar

SinistarBuy this gameThe Game: In a lone space fighter, you’re on the most dangerous space combat mission this side of Luke Skywalker. While evading or destroying drone robots and gunships in a hazardous asteroid field, you’re trying to mine the raw materials needed for Sinibombs, your only defense against the huge, terrifying space See the videostation, Sinistar. You can bomb the components of Sinistar as they are being put in place, but as a last resort, your Sinibombs can damage it in its complete form as well. If you should happen to find yourself within range of the fully-operational Sinistar without the armament needed to protect yourself, there are snowballs in hell that stand a better chance of surviving than you do. (Williams Electronics, 1983)

Memories: A truly intimidating and challenging game, Sinistar‘s only drawback is a slightly aggravating control system; since it doesn’t quite adhere to the physical rules of bodies, motion and inertia that were so interestingly utilized in such games as Asteroids, Sinistar is a bit more difficult to get a handle on. Continue reading

Super Bagman

Super BagmanThe Game: As in the original Bagman, you’re a crook trying to heist all the gold out of an underground mine as a bunch of pesky cops try to catch up with you. What’s different in this sequel? You can also find a loaded gun in the subterranean caverns and take out your pursuers…but this only intensifies their determination to find you. (Stern/Seeburg [under license from Valadon Automation], 1983)

Memories: This is an “enhancement” we didn’t need. The original Bagman is a total hoot without the gunplay. Now, I’ve played Berzerk and Robotron and Wizard Of Wor and dozens, if not hundreds, of other games in which one shoots at one’s adversaries…so why do I object to the gunplay in Super Bagman? There’s a simple reason. Continue reading

Tropical Angel

Tropical AngelThe Game: You’re a water-skiing bikini babe who’s trying to stay above water; the problem is that the water’s full of rocks that can cause you to take a painful tumble if you hit them, and the even bigger problem is that the guy driving the boat that’s pulling you along seems to have it in for you! The boat seems to be deliberately See the videotrying to pull you into harm’s way, and only fast joystick work and a sharp eye will keep you from winding up on the rocks. (IREM, 1983)

Memories: Man, whoever’s pulling that boat is just a misanthropic jerk. If you imagine that there’s a Tron-like world beyond the screen, I can only hope that the bathing-suited honey in this game finds herself a better boat driver after the game’s over. Continue reading

B.C.’s Quest For Tires

B.C.'s Quest For TiresThe Game: As beleaguered caveman B.C., you’ve just discovered the wheel. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, on the same day that you harness mechanical motion for the first time, you’re also going to discover the traffic See the videoaccident. Jump over holes in the ground, rocks and rolling boulders, and duck under tree limbs – and then you’ve got to survive showing your new evolutionary step off to the Mrs.! (Sierra On-Line, 1983)

Memories: B.C.’s Quest For Tires is one of those games that immediately brings the word “Colecovision” to mind – it was a striking game for its day, and this was the platform where it truly excelled (though it was also available on several home computers as well). Johnny Hart’s comic strip wasn’t quite in the Garfield stratosphere of daily newspaper comics, but it was popular enough that its characters would seem familiar. Continue reading

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