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Quest For The Rings

Quest For The RingsThe Game: In the opening screen – the mists of time, so the rulebook tells us – two players pick their characters’ classes. Warriors are sword-wielding strongmen, wizards can cast spells from a distance, phantoms can walk through solid walls (but not lava formations), and changelings can become invisible when they move. The two intrepid adventurers then set forth on a quest to retrieve the ten rings of power from randomly selected dungeons and filled with randomly selected horrors. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: According to the rulebook, a third player (whew, is anyone else beginning to figure out why these games never caught on?) – acting as a dungeonmaster of sorts – selects the combination of mazes and monsters to challenge the players, based upon their position on a map (the aforementioned gameboard). Continue reading

Space Invaders

Space InvadersSee the videoThe Game: It’s quite simple, really. You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Is there actually any history to this game that you don’t already know? Space Invaders was what Combat and Super Breakout weren’t – namely, the Atari 2600‘s equivalent of a killer app: a home version of an arcade game that had reached a critical mass of public recognition, even among non-video-game fans. People bought the then-expensive 2600 console just to play this game. Continue reading

Take The Money And Run!

Take The Money And Run!The Game: Two little white robots represent assorted economic woes, and they drain your cash rapidly if they catch up with you. The object of the game is to come out with the most money left at the end of the two-player game.

You couldn’t really do anything about the robots. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: A bizarre little maze game purporting to be a somewhat educational game about economics, Take The Money And Run! really only managed to be a bit confusing. Sometimes it seemed as though Magnavox’s game group couldn’t really figure out if it wanted to come down on the “edu” or the “tainment” side of edutainment. Continue reading

Astro Blaster

Astro BlasterThe Game: Another day, another alien invasion. But this time it won’t be so easy to fight the aliens off: your ship has a limited supply of power, and See the videoyour guns can overheat if you force them to spend too much time blazing away. You have to be judicious with your firepower, dodge incoming fire, and hold out long enough to dock with your own mothership and refuel between waves. (Gremlin/Sega, 1981)

Memories: While Space Invaders “inspired” a glut of knockoffs since 1978, several games tried to improve upon the slide-and-shoot formula in later years: Namco‘s Galaxian and Nintendo‘s Radar Scope introduced dive-bombing attacks, Moon Cresta by Nichibutsu replaced the standard “three lives” system with a three-stage rocket, and Gremlin/Sega‘s Astro Blaster brought something else to the table to up the stakes: the game was based on the premise that any spaceship would have limited fuel and ammo. Continue reading

Bosconian

BosconianBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a well-armed spacecraft (which appears to have been borrowed from Galaga), you weave through an unending barrage of support craft, asteroids, and hunter ships, all of which can kill you. And somewhere on the screen – as indicated by your radar – are several large Bosconian star destroyers (what, did they lease these from Lord Vader or something?). You can blast away at the destroyers’ six outer pods, or you can go for a shot right into the heart of a destroyer, taking the whole thing out by blasting its central pod. A piece of advice: don’t be too close to a Bosconian when you do this…the large explosion can end your space traveling days too. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

See the videoMemories: Wow – a game with big killer space stations surrounded by lots of hostile patrol ships? They must be building Sinistar in the next sector over. But seriously, Bosconian is another game which meets the qualifications of a bona fide classic – easy to learn, hard to master – and, given the shape of the player’s ship (plus the fact that both games were licensed from Namco), I’ve always wondered if Bosconian was intended to be a sequel to Galaga. Continue reading

Cosmic Avenger

Cosmic AvengerThe Game: You pilot a space fighter, bombing and blasting away at enemy ground installations, ships, and missiles. Strafe away! (Universal, 1981)

See the videoMemories: Okay…it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what Universal was copying here. Cosmic Avenger is a somewhat more colorful ripoff of Williams’ 1980 hit Defender, and Universal wasn’t entirely nuts for trying to copy that game – Defender was raking in huge amounts of dough. There were also numerous elements which were strikingly similar to Vanguard. Continue reading

Colony 7

Colony 7Buy this gameThe Game: You’re in charge of defenses at Colony 7. Even though a shield protects the settlement’s power generators, weapons and populated buildings, the onslaught of alien intruders gradually and inevitably wears that shield down. Once holes have been bored through the shield, the aliens have a clear shot at Colony 7 – and you’re toast. You’re the colony’s last hope, aiming your crosshairs at anything that threatens the surface. (Taito, 1981)

Memories: Does Colony 7 look a little familiar? If so, think of another game from roughly the same era. Not a translation of the arcade game, but an Atari 2600 cartridge with roughly the same style of game play. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps Mario’s girlfriend and hauls her up to the top of a building which is presumably under construction. You are Mario, dodging Donkey Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and “foxfires” in your See the videoattempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Kong. You can actually do this a number of times, and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Nintendo, 1981)

Memories: Make no mistake about it, Donkey Kong is the point of origin of one of today’s largest video game empires, both fictional and real. The character of Mario appeared again in numerous arcade games. Continue reading

Fantasy

FantasyThe Game: As an unnamed but cartoonishly cute little hero, you are powerless to watch as your girlfriend Cheri is abducted by a boatload of pirates. Only then are you inspired to act, chasing after the heavily armed pirate ship in your defenseless balloon. You dodge cannonballs as you try to reach the pirate ship’s landing pad (what is it, an aircraft carrier?!). Then you have to battle those nasty pirates on the deck of their ship while still dodging that pesky cannon, until you do away with them all and get to Cheri. A bird then scoops her up, leaving you to take a treacherous balloon trip, climb a tree teeming with dangerous critters, avoid tigers in the jungle, and take on an entire tribe of natives (who seem to be in cahoots with the pirates, who now have helicopters and artillery!) to rescue Cheri. Then, of course, she goes and gets herself kidnapped again. (Rock-Ola [under license from SNK], 1981)

See the videoMemories: Why do I like this game? Hmmmmm…I don’t know. I only ever saw one Fantasy machine, at the game room at Gaston’s fishing resort on the White River in Arkansas. I think one of the game’s best qualities was the “continue” feature, which allowed you to pop another quarter into the machine and pick up where your previous game left off within 30 seconds. Continue reading

Frogger

FroggerThe Game: You are a frog. Your task is simple: hop across a busy highway, dodging cars and trucks, until you get the to the edge of a river, where you must keep yourself from drowning by crossing safely to your grotto at the top of the screen by leaping across the backs of turtles and logs. But watch out for snakes and alligators!See the videoBuy this game (Sega [under license from Konami], 1981)

Memories: Frogger is a truly ribbeting game, and very addictive. It was one of the handful of cute action games that arrived around the same time as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, though it was never franchised as heavily as those games were. There was a Frogger sticker set, the occasional T-shirt, and a rockin’ musical tribute from Bucker & Garcia on the Pac-Man Fever album. Frogger also existed very briefly as a Saturday morning cartoon on CBS, in which he and his amphibian pals were reporters on the swamp beat, but this incarnation of Frogger was even shorter-lived than the cartoon based on Pac-Man. Continue reading

Frisky Tom

Frisky TomThe Game: Tom the plumber smells a rat – actually, he smells a lot of them, and they’re all crawling around the plumbing, breaking pipes and planting bombs. While this is generally atypical rodent behavior, Tom only cares about knocking Buy this gamethe rats off the pipes, fixing the broken sections, and making sure the bathtub at the bottom of the screen fills in time for a lovely lady to take a shower. (With her bikini on.) Obviously she isn’t worried about the rats. (Nichibutsu, 1980)

See the videoMemories: This oddball entry from Nichibutsu, a.k.a. Japan’s Nihon Bussan Co., Ltd., is an interesting mix of climbing and puzzle games, once again proving that perhaps Nichibutsu missed its calling to innovate in the coin-op industry. Frisky Tom does, however, include a little hint of the direction Nichibutsu would take in later years: the “bathing beauty” scenes in the game are barely a shadow of what currently makes up the bulk of Nichibutsu’s output – R-rated versions of games like Mah-Jongg for the Japanese market. The hints were always there – Frisky Tom‘s bikini-clad woman, the kissing woman in Crazy Climber 2 – but the bulk of Nichibutsu’s output these days is decidedly adults-only. Frisky indeed. Continue reading

Funky Fish

Funky FishThe Game: You are an unknown species of brightly-colored deep-sea fangly fish who appears to subsist on cherries and has range weapons, radar and a fuel gauge. (I did mention that this was an unknown species, didn’t I?) Smaller critters emerge from a handful of indestructible “spawn points” on the screen, represented by stuff like a star or a floating eyeball, and you must shoot these critters. A direct hit briefly turns the critters into cherries, which float downward until your fish eats them (and, in so doing, replenishes his fuel), or they revert back to being critters. Un-cherry-fied critters can kill your fish, as can physical contact with their spawning points or running out of fuel. (Movement costs fuel, as does firing your fish’s weapon.) You advance by turning every critter in the screen into cherries and eating them. If you lose all of your fish, that’s the end of the game. (Sun Electronics, 1981)

I AM THE FUNKY FISH.Memories: All right then. For those of you who think that Namco’s deliriously strange and yet addictive 2004 PS2 game Katamari Damacy is weird, try Funky Fish out for size. I mean, seriously. What in the world inspired this game? It’s like someone’s head was just swimming with ideas for cross-breeding Defender with Pac-Man. Continue reading

Galaga

GalagaBuy this gameThe Game: Commanding a small fleet of sleek fighter ships, you’re up against an alien invasion, arriving in wave after unfriendly wave. Alien fighters resemble butterflies and bees, but the real prize is the handful of motherships which arrives with each wave. Capable of taking two hits – the first weakens them and turns them dark blue, the second destroys them – the motherships also come equipped with a tractor beam with which to snare your fighters. But if one of your fighters is captured, and you can destroy the See the videomothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

Memories: Where its predecessor, Galaxian, brought “attack formations” to standard Space Invaders-style shooters, Galaga introduced real strategy, and influenced nearly every shooter that came after it. Continue reading

Hangly Man

Hangly ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters See the videofor a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). 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 cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Nittoh, 1981)

Memories: Journey back with us now to the first two years of the eighties, when Pac-Man ruled the coin-op video game roost, where arcade owners’ demand for the prized Pac-Man machines was high, where players’ skill at winning was increasing and their repeat business was proportionately dwindling, and everyone wanted a piece of that little yellow pie. Continue reading

Ladybug

LadybugThe Game: You control a nice, big, juicy ladybug waddling around a complex maze, gobbling up food and avoiding your nasty fellow insects. Doors in the maze can throw pursuers off your track momentarily – or they can trap you into an See the videoeven worse situation than whatever you’re trying to escape. (Universal, 1981)

Memories: Like Lock ‘n’ Chase, Ladybug is a fine example of a game which, though clearly inspired by Pac-Man, features enough unique game play elements to make it an individual game. And it’s a rare instance of a game I have to praise for its music and sound effects – they were really rather catchy. 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 four colorful cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another See the videoday. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (Data East, 1981)

Memories: Obviously, Lock ‘n’ Chase was yet another variation on the basic game play of Pac-Man, but in this case, just enough was changed to make it a discernably different new game, instead of just another clone. But even the most open-minded player could be forgiven for looking at the maze full of dots, populated by cutesy “cops,” and walking away, thinking, “Yep, it’s another Pirhana.” Continue reading

Make Trax

Make TraxThe Game: You play the part of a free-roaming paintbrush, trying to fill an entire maze with color. Unfortunately, a couple of equally free-roaming (and, apparently, amphibious) fish are out to stop you. You must avoid them at all costs. There are two rollers you can use to squish the fish, but they’re only found in two parts See the videoof the maze – and you can only roll them so far. Periodically, such things as kittens, cars, and mice will run through the maze, leaving tracks in your fresh paint which you must then cover up. You can also stop them dead in their tracks by running over them. (Don’t ask me why two fish are a threat to you when your paintbrush can ice a whole car.) Fill the maze with the pigment of your imagination, and you’re off to the next level. (Williams Electronics [licensed from Kural Electric], 1981)

Memories: One of Williams’ only non-shooter entries (and one of its few games licensed from Japan), it’s easy to see that Make Trax is inspired by Pac-Man, even though the connection is very cleverly covered. Instead of clearing a maze by eating everything in it, you clear the maze by painting it. This makes things a little harder than you might expect – every pixel of the maze has to be filled. In Pac-Man terms, this would be equivalent to the yellow one leaving crumbs in corners of the maze that have to be cleaned up. Messy eating metaphors aside, it makes Make Trax very challenging. Continue reading

Mouse Trap

Mouse TrapThe Game: In this munching-maze game (one of the dozens of such games which popped up in the wake of Pac-Man), you control a cartoonish mouse who scurries around a cheese-filled maze which can only be navigated by strategically opening and closing yellow, red and blue doors with their color-coded buttons. See the videoOccasionally a big chunk o’ cheese can be gobbled for extra points. Is it that easy? No. There is also a herd of hungry kitties who would love a mousy morsel. But you’re not defenseless. By eating a bone (the equivalent of Pac-Man‘s power pellets), you can transform into a dog, capable of eating the cats. But each bone’s effects only last for a little while, after which you revert to a defenseless mouse. (Exidy, 1981)

Memories: Though its seemingly Tom & Jerry-inspired food chain made a cat vs. mouse variation of Pac-Man virtually inevitable, Mouse Trap frustrated that potential with a complex control system – too complex, actually. Continue reading

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