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Flipper Slipper

Flipper SlipperThe Game: The water is rising! You’re all that stands between the animals and rising floodwaters. Using a pair of paddles, you have to keep a projectile moving without letting it knock a hole in the seawall behind you; if too many holes See the videoare blasted through the wall, the game will be over and the water will pour in. (Spectravideo, 1983)

Memories: Of all the places to find an oldie-but-goodie game concept. Flipper Slipper is a game that plays very similar to Cutie Q – i.e., the last game designed by Toru Iwitani before he created Pac-Man for Namco. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss See the videoout on the subsequent race. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: When Atari announced its home versions of Pole Position, its first-person racer licensed from Namco, there was rejoicing (for the 5200 version) and scoffing (for the 2600 version). As it turns out, both expectations may have been off the mark: the 2600 version was unexpectedly good for what it was, and by comparison the 5200 version seems at times as though it’s not all it could have been. Maybe the biggest surprise is that these two interpretations of the game weren’t wildly different. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss out on the subsequent race. (GCE, 1983)

See the videoMemories: When GCE (and, briefly, the eager-to-get-into-the-video-game-business Milton Bradley) debuted the Vectrex, any argument that there was another system better-suited for home ports of arcade vector graphics games was over, period. With willing licensing partners like Cinematronics, Vectrex was a shoo-in. There’s only one problem: by 1983, vector graphics were rapidly falling out of wide use as more advanced raster graphics technology, driven by faster processors, came into play. What games would Vectrex play then? Continue reading

River Raid

River RaidThe Game: You’re piloting a fighter jet on a canyon run through enemy territory. You can’t fly outside the canyon walls, so stay over the river and blast everything See the videoin sight. Well, almost everything – flying your plane on top of “FUEL” buoys instead of shooting them puts a little bit of gas in the tank, and if you run out of fuel, you might as well just swallow the next enemy bullet, because you’re goin’ down. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Early in Activision‘s foray into publishing games for the Intellivision, the company issued a strange edict to its programmers: if it was a port of a game also released for the Atari VCS, don’t make the game look significantly different from the Atari version. River Raid is a good example of what happened once Activision abandoned that extremely odd policy. Continue reading

Super Cobra

Super CobraThe Game: You’re piloting a heavily armed helicopter straight into a heap o’ trouble. Ground and air defenses have been mounted in this enemy installation to stop you at any costs. Missiles, anti-aircraft turrets, and even other vehicles will See the videodo anything to knock you out of the sky – and given the chunky terrain, the odds are in favor of the house. Your only saving grace is that you’re armed to the teeth. But, as you may have guessed by now, even that may not be enough to save you. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Parker Brothers may have been an old hand at board games, but it was a youngster in the video game business. Still, all that clout from its industry-dominating board game operation didn’t hurt, helping Parkers secure major hit licenses that no other young video game operation could’ve scored: Frogger, Q*Bert, and let’s not forget the very first Star Wars home video games. In the middle of this stellar line-up was… Super Cobra. Continue reading

Happy Trails

Happy TrailsThe Game: Players control a lawman hot on the trail of a notorious bank robber – a notoriously messy one, it should be noted, since his loot is scattered all over the place. Using the controller, pieces of the maze can be shifted (even while one of the characters is on it) to allow the sheriff to recover the money and capture the bad guy, but while leaving a character going in circles momentarily, letting him wander into the open gap in the maze will cost a precious life. Clearing the maze will restart the chase anew, on a bigger and more complex maze. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: The first Activision title for Intellivision that wasn’t simply an Intellivision version of an Atari 2600 game, Happy Trails raised some serious hackles with the makers of the machine it on which it was designed to run. Continue reading

The Dreadnaught Factor

The Dreadnaught FactorThe Game: Piloting a series of solo space fighters, you’re humanity’s last hope against a fleet of gigantic, triangular wedge-shaped battle cruisers bearing down on Earth. Launching from a staging area equipped with a hyperspace See the videogate to fling your fighters into the void at top speed, you must strafe these cruisers in your fighter, bombing and blasting their gun emplacements, engines, and an assortment of weak spots on their ship. The enemy cruisers also have defensive fighters that they’ll launch to keep you from getting the job done, and of course the cruisers themselves are bristling with enormous laser cannons. Hitting all of the guns, engines and other “soft targets” on a cruiser will destroy it, giving you a momentary reprieve until the next cruiser arrives. If you run out of ships or fail to stop the enemy, they’ll wipe out your planet – game over, indeed. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: Further proof that long before Lucasfilm ever entered the video gaming arena, George Lucas was having a massive ripple effect on the medium: the dreadnaughts in Dreadnaught Factor are – and let’s not kid ourselves here – clearly Star Destroyers. They’re shaped and laid out like them, right down to the control tower. If you ever wanted to see what would’ve happened if Han really had taken the Millennium Falcon into a head-to-head battle with a Star Destroyer, or if that poor sap in the A-Wing hadn’t been out of control, this is your game. Continue reading

Archon

ArchonThe Game: What if chess pieces were living creatures, each with its own unique abilities? And what if, every time to pieces met on the board, they had to fight amongst themselves to occupy the square in question? That’s Archon in a nutshell. (Electronic Arts, 1983)

Memories: Whoever came up with this game is a total genius. This is the sort of game that won lots of fans in the early days who may not have necessarily been computer or video game afficionados – a modern variation on the game of chess, with arcade-flavored action segments to determine control of contested territories. Continue reading

Cavern Creatures

Cavern CreaturesThe Game: Why do mountain climbers climb mountains? Because they’re there. Why are you flying a spacecraft into a vast complex of subterranean caverns? Because they’re there, and apparently because you want to blast the multitudes of critters who lurk there. The bad news: there are a lot more of them than there are of you. The good news? Your ship’s cannons fire in four directions simultaneously. Given that fact, and your ship’s maneuverability, you might just survive this little bit of aerial spelunking. (Datamost [designed by Paul Lowrance], 1983)

Memories: These days, the ‘net is loaded with tributes to video games past and present. But Cavern Creatures was one of the first tributes to classic games, and it’s an interesting tribute – it too is playable. Continue reading

Lode Runner

Lode RunnerThe Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the See the videoholes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you happen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Broderbund, 1983)

Memories: Surely one of the “killer app” games of the early home computer era – right up there with anything in the Wizardry, Ultima or Infocom series – Lode Runner rocked my world way back when. I have to limit myself on praising this game, or this page is never gonna finish loading: it buries the needle on the excellence meters in both the action and puzzle genres, makes some of the best use ever of the Apple II’s hi-res graphics mode, and it even sounds good on the Apple (which is no small feat). 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, See the videobombing tanks, and trying to destroy the mothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and deadly ground-based defenses become the norm. (Mindscape, 1983)

Memories: In the arcade, Xevious ushered in a whole new genre of vertical-scrolling shooters, a category that would grow to include hits like 1942, Dragon Spirit and Exed Exes – it would actually become a pretty crowded field. But the graphics and sound hardware of the Apple IIe, using a command set grandfathered in from the late ’70s, wasn’t exactly ideal for this new genre. Continue reading

RealSports Basketball

RealSports BasketballThe Game: Two players each control one man in one-on-one, full-court action. Whoever has the highest score by a predetermined time limit wins. (Atari, 1983 [unreleased])
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Memories: Atari’s RealSports series was created to challenge the upper hand Intellivision’s sports games had gained over the blocky, primitive virtual versions of the same sports on the Atari 2600. The RealSports brand was extended into the 5200 line as well, and did manage to score some firsts, including the first home video game to offer speech without additional custom hardware (RealSports Baseball). But for some reason, neither the 2600 nor 5200 versions of RealSports Basketball ever saw the light of day. Continue reading

Power Lords: Quest For Volcan

Power Lords: Quest For VolcanThe Game: As superhero Adam Power, you’re the pilot of a space sled on patrol around the explosive Volcan Rock, and what better cover for the bad guys? An enormous laser-eyed space serpent is coiled around the mountain, and you have to take it down single-handedly. Once See the videoyou’ve baked the snake, you land your sled on the surface and have a shootout with Gryptogg, Raygoth and Arkus. Once you’ve beaten them back, you can explore the underground caverns, collecting their instruments of evil and exchanging fire with them again. When you escape from their maze, you advance to the next level and begin the fight anew. (North American Philips / Probe 2000, 1983 – unreleased)

Memories: This Colecovision adaptation of the Odyssey2 game (now there’s a phrase you’re never going to see again), based on a less-than-blockbuster-successful series of comics and action figures, adds more depth to the game than the dear old Odyssey ever could’ve managed. But it’s hard to tell how much depth, as the game was never completed. Continue reading

Tempest

TempestThe Game: As a strangely crablike creature, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and purple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things which See the videospin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should avoid spikes. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: The above description barely fits this game because it only exists in an unfinished form, with just a few bare essential elements of the game in place. You can shoot stuff and score points, but there isn’t much “game” there – the collision routines don’t exist that would determine whether or not your on-screen flipper “dies” by touching an approaching enemy, or an enemy’s incoming fire for that matter. 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 mothership. 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, 1983)

Memories: Based on a Namco import distributed under Atari’s banner in the U.S., Xevious may be about as close as one could get to replicating the arcade game with the 5200’s hardware. Curiously, though the copyright on the main menu screen is a year later than that on the unfinished 5200 Tempest proto, Xevious is a more complete game, fleshed out to a fully playable state. Continue reading

Circus Charlie

Circus CharlieBuy this gameThe Game: As Charlie the circus clown, you undertake numerous hazardous activities to wow the big-top audience, including ridng a lion as he jumps through flaming hoops, walking a tightrope also inhabited by numerous monkeys over whom you must jump, leaping around on a series of trampolines (and hopefully over fire-breathers and knife-throwers who happen to be displaying their circus skills in an upward direction between trampolines), and finally a death-defying flying trapeze act. You only get three opportunities to strut your stuff, and then the show’s over. (Konami, 1984)

It’s really like Track & Field with clown makeup, which in itself is somewhat disturbing. However you slice it, Circus Charlie is good clean fun, sort of the un-cola of sports games – there are a number of events (the game’s various “difficulty levels”), and the structure of the game is even the same, though here the action is confined to side-scrolling levels and it doesn’t feel like a sports game. Continue reading

Lode Runner

The Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the holes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you happen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (IREM [under license from Broderbund], 1984)

Memories: Lode Runner is right up there with the Ultima series and SimCity in my personal hall of fame of the coolest games ever to originate on any model of personal computer. Continue reading

Pac-Land

Pac-LandThe Game: In a total break with any and all previous Pac-Man games, Pac-Land puts the yellow one onscreen as a very good homage to the Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon based on the original game, complete with the show’s bubbly theme song. You wander down the streets of Pac-Land, avoiding those nasty Ghost Monsters and hoping to find Power Pellets, all before your time runs out for that phase of your journey. Ghost Monsters may attack from the ground, or try to bomb you from the air; either way, chomping a Power Pellet will relieve them of their altitude and put them on the run. You may have to jump over them or duck under them until then – and be very careful in the forest, where Ghost Monsters may lurk behind trees. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1984)

Buy this gameMemories: It may have been well-drawn and animated, but Pac-Land really stuck out like a sore thumb to me – in hindsight, it was more like Super Mario Bros. than Pac-Man. Still, for those few of us who initially liked the Saturday morning cartoon, this game was a lovingly crafted valentine to the TV version of Pac-Man – a very roundabout example of a video game inspired by a licensing spin-off inspired by a video game. Continue reading

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