Baseball

BaseballThe Game: It’s a day at the digital ballpark for two players; the game is very simple – players control the timing of pitches and batting, which will determine how the game unfolds. The highest score at the end of nine innings wins. See the video(RCA, 1977)

Memories: I’m all for a simple game of video baseball. When it got to the point that baseball video games were keeping track of batting averages and other stats, that knocked the genre out of the park for me – I was more than happy to stick to baseball on the Odyssey2 and the Game Boy (the two best video versions of the sport for my money). However, it is possible – even for someone with simple tastes like mine – to go too far in the opposite direction: too basic. RCA’s Baseball for the Studio II goes over that line. Continue reading

Major League Baseball

Major League BaseballThe Game: Play ball! Two teams play until they each accumulate three “outs” per inning. Try to hit the ball out of the park, or confound the outfielders with a well-placed hit none of them can catch. Steal a base if you’re feeling really brave – and then try to cover your bases as best you can when the other player tries all of these same strategies on you. (Mattel Electronics, 1979)

Memories: After Atari’s barely-there VCS baseball title Home Run, and the much better but still graphically simple Baseball! cartridge for the Odyssey2, Major League Baseball was a revelation. This was the moment, for many of us, when video sports games started to look like the sport they represented on home consoles. It almost redefined sports game sound too: the Intellivision has a good swipe at emulating the phrase “You’re out!” at the appropriate moment, an innovation which was nipped in the bud quickly by Mattel Electronics. Why? Continue reading

Checkers

CheckersSee the videoBuy this gameThe Game: The timeless strategy board game of conquest comes to the Intellivision, now with 100% more boopy beepy computerish sounds from the future than any game of Checkers you’ve ever played before! Play alone against the computer, or against a second player. (Mattel Electronics, 1980)

Memories: Almost a prerequisite title for any video game console back in this early days, this version of Checkers is curious in that it devotes a lot of screen real estate to showing you the men that have been taken out of play, and shrinks the board itself down to a relatively small space on the screen. Continue reading

Space Battle

Space BattleBuy this gameThe Game: You command a mighty battleship with three squadrons of fighters at your disposal to fend off five alien attack fleets. You can manually dispatch your fighter squadrons, send them directly into battle, and recall them to See the original TV addefend your ship. When your fighters go into battle, you can assume control personally and engage in a dogfight with the agile enemy fighters, or you can let the computer fight your battles on autopilot (it’ll get the job done, but usually with an undesirable, if not unacceptable, rate of losses for your side). The game ends when your squadrons have eliminated all of the converging alien fleets, or when the aliens have made quick work of both your squadrons and your command ship. (Mattel Electronics, 1979)

Memories: In 1979, Glen Larson’s TV space epic Battlestar Galactica was as hot a property as you could get on the small screen, with its movie-scale special effects (or at least, the show’s underbudgeted and overworked producers and special effects wizards hoped you thought the effects were movie-scale). Having watched rival toy maker Kenner score a major coup with the license to manufacture toys based on Star Wars, Mattel quickly stepped in to snag the rights for Battlestar Galactica. Short of whatever Star Wars sequel George Lucas turned out next, Galactica was as close as you could get to the next big thing. Continue reading

Star Strike

Star StrikeBuy this gameThe Game: Flying low over an alien installation, you are the last hope for the planet Earth. When the alien space vehicle has Earth lined up in the sights of its launcher, the planet will be destroyed. Your mission is to blast alien defensive See the videofighters and bomb their mothership into oblivion before that happens. (Mattel, 1981)

Memories: Star Strike was one of the games Mattel waved in everyone’s face to prove how superior the Intellivision was to its rival, the Atari 2600. But for its time, and considering that Atari’s biggest hits at this point were chunky home versions of Print new overlaysthe distinctly 2-D Asteroids, Missile Command and Space Invaders, Star Strike‘s Star Wars-inspired 3-D animated trench was quite impressive. However, the game was notoriously difficult for those weaned on the excessive simplicity of the aforementioned arcade adaptations. Continue reading

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons CartridgeThe Game: Your quest begins as you set out from the safety of home to look for adventure in mountainous caverns. When you wander into the dungeons and caverns, your view zooms in to the maze See the videoyour adventurer is exploring, complete with treasures to collect and deadly dangers to duel. (Mattel Electronics, 1982)

Memories: Combining sword-and-sorcery – traditionally the territory of paper-and-dice role playing games – with video game action has been one of the more inspired mash-ups to come from the golden age of video games. As combinations go, it was almost inevitable – with Dungeons & Dragons being more geeky than mainstream in the 1970s, it was an activity with which game programmers – another geeky crowd – were likely to be acquainted. With all of that crossover going on, it was therefore inevitable that someone, presumably whoever had deep enough pockets to license the title and game elements, would eventually produce an official video game. Continue reading

Atlantis

AtlantisThe Game: You man three fixed artillery batteries defending the advanced underwater city of Atlantis. Alien spaceships pass overhead, and you have to choose your target – and which of the three guns you’re firing – carefully in order to knock them out. Any ships which survive one pass will drop down one level and make another pass. At the lowest level, the ships will begin bombing the city, knocking out habitation domes, power generators, and even your artillery nests. When the final destruction of Atlantis comes at last, one tiny ship escapes into the sky… (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: Sometimes it just takes a slight advance in hardware to make the same game a whole different game. Atlantis is the proof in the pixellated pudding, for the Intellivision edition not only has you defending the city under the ocean in broad daylight, it demands that you defend it in the dead of night, with only sweeping spotlights panning across the sky to pick out your approaching foes. And that is a whole different game – not being able to see the buggers is tough. 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

Mouse Trap

Mouse TrapThe Game: In this munching-maze game, you control a 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. Occasionally 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, 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. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: Based on the almost-obscure Exidy arcade game, Coleco turned out a faithful cartridge version of Mouse Trap, with one drawback – just as it was in the arcade, the control scheme for opening the color-coded doors throughout the maze wasn’t the most intuitive way that anyone had ever come up with for controlling a game, even if one does have the overlays that fit over the controller keypads. Continue reading

Spiders

SpidersThe Game: Spiders slink down from the top of the screen, constructing an elaborate web and laying eggs as they go. The player, manning a mobile bug-blasting cannon, can take out the spiders, but the eggs are still gestating and will hatch new spiders unless they’re destroyed; new spiders repeat the cycle in rapid succession. Spiders will manage to build their web to the bottom of the screen, restricting the cannon’s movement (and creating zones of the screen where future spider hatchlings can move unimpeded). The game ends when the player loses all of the cannons to the spiders or their incoming fire. (Emerson, 1982)

Memories: In this early epoch of the video game industry, there seemed to be a perception that you simply weren’t taking things seriously unless you secured an arcade license. Witness the Odyssey2, whose sole first-party licensed arcade port came too late in the machine’s library to bolster its popularity, or the Intellivision, which avoided arcade ports at first and then broke through to widespread popularity with a licensed home version of Burgertime.

SpidersNot wanting to be a casualty of the video game wars, Emerson landed a handful of relatively obscure arcade licenses such as Jungler, Funky Fish and Spiders – none of them exactly household names in the coin-op world. (Most people probably can’t even remember seeing these games in the arcade at all; the author of this review barely remembers seeing Spiders and Jungler in the flesh.) Spiders was actually this vague and abstract in the arcade, too, so it’s really not a bad port, especially on the Arcadia 2001.

4 quarters!For such an obscure arcade game, Spiders got around; there was also a fairly entertaining Entex tabletop game, though its matrix of fixed graphics made it much more difficult to figure out what was going on. The Arcadia version is fairly faithful to the original, duplicating the utter strangeness of the coin-op original nicely.

Star Raiders

Kneel to the awesome power of the mighty Atari 2600 Video Touch Pad!Star RaidersBuy this gameThe Game: Zylon warships are on the rampage, blasting allied basestars out of the sky and wreaking havoc throughout the galaxy. Your orders are to track down the fast-moving raiders and destroy them before they can do any more damage. You have limited shields and weapons at your disposal, and a battle computer which is vital to your mission (though critical damage to your space fighter can leave you without that rather important piece of equipment). The game is simple: See the TV addestroy until you are destroyed, and defend friendly installations as long as you can. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: A cult classic on the Atari 400 & 800 computers, Star Raiders was something that the VCS just couldn’t do. 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

Tron Deadly Discs

Tron Deadly DiscsThe Game: You are Tron, a lone video game warrior pitted against three other enemies with much greater armament. You can take a number of hits before you’re “de-rezzed” out of existence, but those hits can pile up pretty quickly. By throwing your disc at certain portions of the arena wall and changing them to the same color as your on-screen character, you can make tunnels for yourself – not unlike the side tunnels in Pac-Man – handy for escape or ambush. Every so often, however, a Recognizer will enter the arena, send out a force field to attempt to hold Tron immobile, and will close off those exits to restore the odds in favor of the house. If the Recognizer crushes Tron, that’ll end the game as quickly as letting the video warriors blast him repeatedly. (Mattel, 1982)

Print new overlaysMemories: Easily the most playable of the three Intellivision games based on Tron, Deadly Discs was also later ported to the Atari 2600, and despite the nice graphical bells and whistles bestowed upon this edition, it’s the 2600 version of the game which is most playable. 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! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: So, there’s this frog, you see, and he advanced from a best-selling Atari 2600 title to the 2600’s bigger, more powerful brother. And the result? Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe 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). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. 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, splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

See the original TV adMemories: One of my favorite games of all time becomes an excercise in massive frustration when played on the Atari 5200. As with the 5200 version of Frogger – also, coincidentally, produced by Parker Bros. – you must press the bottom fire button in order to move, making the game almost unplayable. Continue reading

RealSports Baseball

RealSports BaseballThe Game: Batter up! Take charge of a team on the baseball diamond for a practice round, or a game lasting 3, 6 or 9 innings. And if you think being behind a joystick will save you from hearing from the umpire, think again. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoMemories: In 1979, the mainstay of home video gaming was space, not sports. That’s hard to imagine these days, when you have giants like Electronic Arts dropping the equivalent of some small countries’ gross national debt to lock down entire professional sports leagues. Sure, there was sports games in 1979, but they were at such a primitive level that they just weren’t a match for Space Invaders and Asteroids; the most realistic sports simulations still lived in the arcade. In 1980, Intellivision changed the playing field, literally and figuratively, as Mattel introduced sports games that actually bore some resemblance to their inspiration. A surprisingly aggressive marketing campaign for a relative newcomer to the video game field put Atari on notice: take sports games seriously. Continue reading

Threshold

ThresholdThe Game: Players control a space fighter on patrol as alien attack fleets gather in deep space. Always keeping a wary eye on his ship’s fuel and laser temperature, would-be space heroes must blow away every alien ship on the screen before collecting the reward – See the videonamely, the privelege of blowing away another wave of alien attackers. (Sierra On-Liine, 1983)

Memories: Another of Sierra’s early forays into non-computer game software via its “Sierravision” imprint, Threshold admittedly fills a gap in the Colecovision library – that system somehow managed to avoid accumulating heaps of slide-and-shoot Space Invaders derivatives. But it doesn’t do it particularly well, as Threshold is simply a watered-down Colecovision edition of Astro Blaster. Continue reading

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