Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek V: The Final FrontierThe Game: Sybok, a charismatic Vulcan cult leader, has tried to disrupt the peace process on the neutral planet Nimbus III. Players take control of one Enterprise crewman at a time to: retrieve the Nimbus III hostages (Sulu), save Kirk and Spock from a cell aboard the Enterprise (Scotty), pilot the Enterprise through asteroids and attacking Klingons (Sulu again?), and finally make a mad dash into the heart of the lair of the “god creature” (Kirk). Running out of life energy aborts the mission; fortunately, Dr. McCoy is standing by at all times and the mission can start from scratch. (Bandai, 1989 – unreleased)

Memories: After the surprise hit that was the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Paramount Pictures was ready to entertain any and all licensing ideas for the next movie, 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (which was therefore perversely considered the worst of the original series movies). Bandai bid for the video game rights, and then proceeded to create a rather uninspired run-and-shoot platformer around what would appear to be an early synopsis of the movie’s plot. (To be fair to Bandai, the movie wasn’t exactly the most inspiring entry in the Star Trek captain’s log, so the fault doesn’t lie entirely with the developer.) Continue reading

Super Mario Land

Super Mario LandThe Game: As intrepid plumber (and explorer) Mario, players have to jump through new environments and enemies to help Mario rescue Daisy. Egyptian pyramids guarded by fire-breathing Sphinxes, seaside platforms invaded by space aliens, and the usual Goombas and Koopas await Mario as he tries to reach the end of each level. As always, there are mushrooms, stars and fire flowers to help Mario power up, and helpful hidden chambers full of coins. (Nintendo, 1989)

Memories: One of the original Game Boy launch titles, Super Mario Land was almost the game that was included with the Game Boy itself. And why not? Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 were certified smash hits with the same kind of household-name recognition that had once been the sole domain of Pac-Man. Continue reading

Hyper Lode Runner

Hyper 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 holes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you See the videohappen 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. (Bandai, 1989)

Memories: A nifty revival of the computer classic, Hyper Lode Runner actually manages to pack in a surprising amount of what made the original game so addictive – right down to the “edit mode” that allows players to build their own levels. Continue reading

Dr. Mario

Dr. MarioThe Game: Now that he’s got plumbing and rescuing princesses out of the way, Mario ‘s gone and finished his medical degree. You have to help him dish out just the right pills to get rid of the corresponding viruses, matching them by color. Stacking at least three pill segments of the same color on top of or next to a virus will kill it, but the leftover pill See the videosegments will fall into place, possibly keeping you from treating other problems. (Mismatched pills can be eliminated too, by creating a stack of four segments of the same color.) Allowing too many pills to clog the works will end the game. (Nintendo, 1990)

Memories: Okay, it’s no Microsurgeon (and it’s no Tetris either), but there’s something addictive about whatever pills Mario was prescribing during his brief medical career. Continue reading

Lock ‘N’ Chase

Lock 'n' ChaseThe Game: You’re in charge of a getaway car loaded with crafty criminals. Your job is to sneak around the maze, avoid a bunch of cranky cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another day. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (Data East, 1990)

See the videoMemories: After a quick “training” chase in a small maze – presumably in the vault while you’re making the big heist – the Game Boy version of Lock ‘N’ Chase is somewhat faithful to the original, even though it “zooms in” on the section of the maze surroundng your bank robber. However, while the original arcade game was an obvious attempt to get in on Pac-Man‘s maze-chase, dot-gobbling action without aping every aspect of the game, Lock ‘N’ Chase on the Game Boy makes the comparison obvious. Continue reading

Pac-Mania

Pac-ManiaThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around relatively simple mazes, gobbling small dots and evading five colorful monsters See the videowho can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, larger dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If you clear the maze of dots, you advance to a new maze and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Tengen, 1990)

Memories: Having watched its own home video game unit fall into obsolescence with the rise of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari Games – the original Atari’s arcade division, spun off into its own entity after the Tramiel family split the company – quietly started a new subsidiary to begin mining the NES market. This new division, Tengen, produced only a few games – and in so doing, wound up in big trouble with Nintendo. Continue reading

Qix

QixThe Game: You are 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. (Nintendo/Taito, 1990)

See the videoOne of the few completely abstract arcade games ever to catch on with the public, Qix is very hard to get wrong, and this adaptation – an early first-party Game Boy cartridge patterned after a similarly first-person NES version – certainly doesn’t get it wrong. It’s pure Qix, without any added bull about having to uncover a picture by claiming area on the playfield. Continue reading

Ultima: Quest Of The Avatar

Quest Of The AvatarThe Game: Darkness has fallen anew upon Britannia, and Lord British calls for your service again. You start out alone, accumulating traveling (and fighting) companions along your journey, striving to live by the Eight Virtues that govern conduct in the kingdom. Along the way, numerous creatures, both evil and simply pesky, challenge you. As you go forth on the quest, you must also collect the mantras of each Virtue, travel to the corresponding Shrines, and meditate there until you reach enlightenment. With enlightenment and experience come the strength to rid Britannia of evil – but, to quote a little pointy-eared green guy, beware the dark side… (FCI / Pony Canyon, 1990)

Memories: Where the NES edition of the third Ultima game took place in a compressed version of the original computer game’s expansive world. If the map of the world of Sosaria from the Apple II version of Exodus: Ultima III was printed on one of those squishy little stress balls, the NES version was what you’d see if the ball was squeezed: all the continents, while vaguely similar, were suddenly jammed up against each other. Ultima IV‘s even larger map is surprisingly intact on the NES. Continue reading

Elevator Action

Elevator ActionThe Game: 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, 1991)

See the videoMemories: I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, audiovisually (and, for the most part, game-play wise as well), the original B&W Game Boy’s version of Elevator Action is incredibly faithful to the arcade game. On the other hand, there are major changes to the structure of the game that I’ve never been crazy about. Put simply, Elevator Action on the Game Boy adds some NES-era conventions to a game that just didn’t need them. Continue reading

SimCity

SimCityThe Game: Players start with a blank slate of a land mass, a budget, and their hopes and dreams. The building of a city begins (usually with a power plant of some kind), a delicate attempt to balance residential, commercial, and industrial space, transportation systems, demands from the public, and tax rates. The city will flourish, stagnate, or empty out and completely fail depending upon the player’s mayoral choices. (Nintendo/Maxis, 1991)

Memories: SimCity started out as a computer game, with all that implies – mouse control, keystroke commands, and complexity that shouldn’t be that easy to boil down into console form. This console port for the SNES, published just a few years after the original DOS PC game’s popularity explosion, is more faithful to its source material than anyone had any reasonable chance to expect. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugBuy this gameThe Game: 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, which 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. In New Dig Dug, you guide Dig on a series of subterranean adventures, trying to unlock buried doors by finding some equally buried keys. Pookas and Fygars still stalk the underground tunnels in the new game, only each one that Dig dispatches is replaced by a new Pooka or Fygar from above. (Namco, 1992)

Memories: Okay, so we’ve got arcade-quality Dig Dug on the Game Boy Advance thanks to Namco Museum. But I thought it’d be fun to go back and revisit the original monochrome Game Boy version of Dig Dug to see how close it was to the arcade game. And the answer is…well, not very. Continue reading

Q*Bert 3

Q*Bert 3The Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, arcade- cabinet-shaking splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (NTVIC, 1992)

Memories: Released a full decade after the original game, Q*Bert 3 for the SNES seems to draw its inspiration in equal measure from the 1982 arcade classic and the Game Boy version by Jaleco, which broke the arcade game’s “pyramid of cubes” mold and brought newer, more challenging shapes to the table to confound long-timers who thought they had the game licked. Continue reading

Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship YamatoThe Game: Players assume the role of Susumu Kodai, a hot-headed young recruit unexpectedly thrust into a leadership role on a mission to cross the galaxy and procure a device that can restore planet Earth’s war-decimated ecosphere within a year. As if crossing the Milky Way and returning within a year wasn’t enough of a formidable task, the Space Battleship Yamato faces stiff opposition from an alien race, the Gamilas, determined to seal Earth’s fate by bringing the last-ditch rescue mission to a halt. Kodai and the Yamato’s ailing commander, Admiral Okita, must decide where to commit their forces for maximum effect. Large squarons of Cosmo Fighters can be dispatched to take the Gamilas on head-to-head on the on-screen grid, but Yamato herself can also be ordered into the thick of the action (a strategy that puts the entire mission in jeopardy if the battle is lost). Success means fighting through the Gamilas’ offensive front and reaching planet Iskandar. Failure means death for all humankind. Pick your battles wisely. (Interbec, 1992)

Memories: Space Battleship Yamato is, to this date, one of the best anime series that anyone in Japan has yet produced. First aired in 1974, its meaningful, carefully-paced tale of duty, honor, sacrifice, compassion and rapproachment is one that remains nearly unsurpassed. It’s like the best war movie ever, except animated. The series very carefully laid out the tactical stakes of its frequent battle scenes, and showed how both sides planned their next moves – it’s a fertile breeding ground for tactical action games. And yet, of the few video games based on Yamato, fewer still have done the action and adventure and drama of the series justice. In a nutshell: the games aren’t as fun to play as the show is to watch. Continue reading

Super Mario Kart

Super Mario KartThe Game: It’s a big day at the races, with a field of drivers selected from the Mushroom Kingdom: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Bowser, and even Donkey Kong Jr. are among the racers vying for the top spot. From the grassy Mushroom course to the punishingly muddy Star course to the oceanside Flower course, there are challenges, hairpin turns and obstacles. Whoever can learn to navigate each course the fastest without ending up out of bounds struggling to get back on the course will be the winner. (Nintendo, 1992)

Memories: At a time when Nintendo could’ve been accused of returning to the well too many times for Super Mario, they instead took a racing game and populated it with a cast from the Mario mythos. The characters are more or less incidental to the game, mere window dressing that was actually added months into the development cycle of a game that started off without them – but it was clearly a shrewd marketing move to include them, as Super Mario Kart became one of the SNES‘ most-loved games. Continue reading

Yoshi

YoshiThe Game: Mario has to keep more plates spinning than usual. With a plate in each hand, Mario must be moved underneath a never-ending onslaught of enemy creatures. The object of the game is to stack up identical creatures to eliminate them from play, and, when possible, to stack up the two halves of Yoshi eggs to allow a new Yoshi to hatch. Management of the creature stacks is vital, since a stack exceeding the height of the play area ends the game. In two-player mode, both players simultaneously try to outdo the other. (Nintendo, 1992)

Memories: Yoshi first appeared in 1990’s Super Mario World on the SNES, but Nintendo was keen to keep the character in the public eye. The result is a game for the NES that looks and feels just a little bit rushed. Continue reading

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next GenerationSee the videoThe Game: Captain Picard puts you in charge of a simulated mission aboard the Enterprise. With the helpful advice of Commander Riker, Data, Geordi, Worf and Chief O’Brien, you have to command the pride of the Federation fleet into a number of difficult situations, accomplish as much of the mission objectives as you can, and bring the Enterprise home in one piece. (Absolute, 1993)

Memories: It’s funny how so many of the Star Trek games I actually like can actually be traced back to Sega’s 1982 Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator arcade game. Though Star Trek: The Next Generation tacks on a bunch of bells and whistles, such as consulting the bridge crew about the situation (how Picard Star Trek: The Next Generationis that?) and having to go to their screens to kick in things like the shields, weapons and warp drive, when it comes right down to it, if you strip away these elements, it’s the same basic game: you’re blasting away at enemy ships and hoping to get more clean shots in at them then they get at you. He whose shields fail first gets blown out of the sky. In 11 years, the basic Star Trek game hadn’t evolved that much (but at least The Next Generation doesn’t get the torturously slow “story” scenes of Star Trek: 25th Anniversary). Continue reading

Dune II: Battle On Arrakis

Dune IIThe Game: Three Houses – Atreides, Harkonnen and Ordos – converge on the planet Dune, intending to consolidate their power and eliminate one another from the business of mining the spice melange from the planet’s sandy surface. Players pick a House and then take command of both the mining and military efforts, directing and managing each, and facing stiff opposition from the other Houses. As long as spice is being extracted from Dune, the player can summon or build whatever resources are needed to continue the mission and crush the opposing forces. The only path to victory is the destruction of the other Houses and complete control of the planet. (1993, Westwood Studios / Virgin Interactive)

Memories: The first console adaptation of Westwood’s genre-defining point-and-click real time strategy game released in 1992, Dune II has a strong game as its inspiration and, on the Genesis, a decent platform to bring it to life. The only way Westwood could screw it up would be in the execution – mainly the user interface. Continue reading

Super Godzilla

Super GodzillaOrder this gameThe Game: It’s Godzilla against the world in Super Godzilla, a game that pits the giant green monster against everything from other giant monsters to tanks, aliens, and UFOs. The future of the world lies in Godzilla’s success. (Toho, 1993)

Memories: The 16-bit Super Nintendo (SNES) was light years ahead of its predecessor, the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The Super Nintendo boasted huge improvements in both graphics and sound, which games like Super Godzilla brilliantly demonstrated. Unfortunately all that newfound crunching power didn’t always guarantee better game play, to which Super Godzilla is also a testament. It’s a great looking game that wasn’t much fun to play. Continue reading

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