Gravitar

GravitarThe Game: Various worlds lie near a powerful gravitational vortex. From the moment you leave your launch pad, you’re in trouble – the vortex will draw you in if you don’t act quickly and fire your thrusters to take you to one of the planets. On each planet, you arrive in a deadly free-fall, requiring you to point your ship Buy this gameupward and fire retro-thrust, all the while turning to blast cannons which are attempting to shoot you down. Your fuel supply is also dwindling all this time, requiring you to find enemy fuel depots and siphon energy away from them. If you succeed in destroying all enemy installations on one world, there are several other planets waiting – with the deadly gravity vortex in the middle the whole time. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Damn, but this is a tough game! Tough but fun. It’s pretty embarrassing to get oneself iced on what basically amounts to the menu screen. Sheesh. Not that I’m saying that’s happened to me lately, of course. Continue reading

Professor Pac-Man

Professor Pac-ManThe Game: The denizens of Pac-Land must surely know how to do something other than just devour dots and munch monsters. And they learn from Professor Pac-Man himself, the dean of dot-gobblers. Professor Pac-Man poses questions See the videoof all kinds to you (and an opponent, if you have a second player), including visual recognition tests and matching puzzles. A Pac-Man gobbles a row of dots from left to right, counting down the seconds you have to correctly answer the question. Correct answers gain points and fruit, while incorrect answers will cost you. Lose more points than you have to spare, and the game’s over. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: This is one of those games where you can just picture someone in the marketing department saying “How can we exploit the Pac-Man license from Namco in a way that’s never been done before?” Video trivia games were nothing new, but the Professor Pac-Mantalent assembled to produce Professor Pac-Man was appropriately prodigious. Marc Canter and Mark Pierce, both Midway staffers, went on to form their own company in 1984 called MacroMind; a few changes in direction and a few strategic mergers later, MacroMind became none other than creativity software powerhouse Macromedia, and Canter and Pierce, along with longtime Midway veteran Jay (Gorf designer and Bally Astrocade console creator) Fenton, had a hit on their hands with a little software package called Director. You may have heard of it. Just about anyone who has ever slapped a Flash animation onto the web certainly has. Continue reading

Track & Field

Track & FieldBuy this gameThe Game: It’s time for the 1984 Olympics! Qualify and compete in such events as the 100-meter dash, the long jump, javelin throw, and the shot-put. (Konami, 1983)

Memories: Though the above summary of Track & Field may seem unjustly short, that really summed up the game, which was actually quite fun, especially if you could get a second player to compete against you at the same time. Very rarely have I given a sports game the time of day unless it was a good one (such as Atari’s Pole Position) or a game so goofy that it transcended its genre (i.e. the hilarious Odyssey2 Computer Golf! cartridge). Track & Field was a true rarity – a decent sports game. Continue reading

Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Orbit

Space ShuttleBuy this gameThe Game: You’re the pilot of the space shuttle. And the mission specialist too, apparently. (Hey, everyone’s making staffing cutbacks these days.) You must keep the orbiter on target during launch, not allowing it to drift off course, and then you must retrieve, repair and re-deploy a satellite. Then augur the shuttle in for a smooth landing – and then get in line for your next mission, which begins almost immediately after your previous one. (Did we mention that, in this game’s universe, you’re NASA’s only shuttle pilot and mission specialist?) (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Activision‘s excessively cool shuttle flight sim piqued my interest just as a later Apple II resource-management game, Project Space Station, did. I’ve always liked the idea of a modern-day (or five-minutes-into-the-future, as was the case with Project) space sim that doesn’t involve blowing stuff up. Continue reading

Spike!

Spike!The Game: Poor Spike – his girlfriend Molly has been snatched by a beastly enemy, and it’s up to Spike to rescue her (after, of course, declaring “Darnit!”). Spike must climb his way up several ever-moving platforms. He can change the position of the ladders he uses to climb up these platforms, but it’s not as easy as simply reaching the top: to advance to the next level, Spike has to See the videograb a key. Beastly henchmen scoot along the platforms to bump Spike off to his death, but Spike can kick them away momentarily. (GCE, 1983)

Memories: The first voice-synthesis game for GCE‘s already wildly innovative Vectrex console, Spike missed being the first home video game to produce voice synthesis without additional hardware by mere months (wait for it, wait for it… “Darnit!”). (The prize, if anyone’s counting, went to Atari‘s RealSports Baseball for the Atari 5200.) But that’s not the only neat trick Spike! brought to the table. Continue reading

Ghostbusters

GhostbustersThe Game: The only video game in history that turns you into Bill Murray, Ghostbusters gives you a taste of the lucrative franchising opportunity that is supernatural paranormal investigation and elimination. You start the game out with a supply screen and – naturally – a limited budget. Pick up all the ghostbusting gear you can afford and get to work. Much of the game is played out on a map of several city blocks of the Big Apple, where haunted buildings will flash red. You respond to each call by going there, which takes you to a brief “driving” game in which you can vacuum up free-roaming ghosts (if you’ve installed a ghost-vac on your car). Once you arrive, set the trap and position your two busters carefully (so as not to cross the streams), and snag the ghost before it simply leaves or slimes you. Trapping ghosts will net the big bucks, which you need to continue your franchise. Letting the paranormal activity in New Your City continue unabated will result in the unleashing of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, who’ll stomp entire city blocks (and earn you a hefty fine). If the city’s PK (psychokinetic) activity meter reaches 10,000, the game is over. (Activision, 1984)

Memories: An addictive little game, this, and probably one of the best movie-to-video-game licenses ever brought to life. Ghostbusters on the big screen was big money when this game was released, and Activision had to deliver a decent game. Continue reading

Track & Field

Track & FieldThe Game: It’s time for the 1984 Olympics! Qualify and compete in such events as the 100-meter dash, the long jump, javelin throw, and the shot-put. (Atari, 1984)

See the videoMemories: In many cases, Atari faced a major obstacle in licensing major arcade games: the time and money required to secure the license (if it wasn’t already part of an overall deal), and the fact that by skipping the licensing process, Activision or Imagic would virtually always get there first with a more visually pleasing and playable product. But this time, Activision’s sheer speed helped Atari out: The Activision Decathlon practically did some of the R&D for Atari. 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

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

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

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

Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Williams Collection

Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Williams CollectionBuy this gameThe Game: Visit a shrine to the greatest hits of Williams Electronics’ spectacularly successful arcade manufacturing venture of the early 80s. Spawned almost solely by Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar, Williams’ arcade division spawned some of the most memorable hits of the golden age of video games – and these are just a few of them. (Williams/Midway [developed by Digital Eclipse], 1995)

Memories: One of the earliest classic arcade emulation collections for the Playstation, The Williams Collection was Williams Electronics‘ (now owned by Midway) answer to Namco‘s series of Namco Museum games, chronicling the greatest arcade hits of one of Williams’ biggest rivals in the early 80s. And for my money, The Williams Collection is better – no cheesy, unintelligibly bit-mapped photos of printed circuit boards here, kids; Williams brings you full-length video interviews with Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar, the game designers/programmers behind such hits as Defender and Robotron: 2084, as well as the minds behind such other games as Joust and Bubbles. Continue reading

Star Wars: Dark Forces

Star Wars: Dark ForcesOrder this gameThe Game: Former Imperial officer Kyle Katarn has defected and joined the Rebel Alliance – and they intend to use him as an undercover operative. With his knowledge of infiltration and Imperial procedures, Katarn is the perfect choice to wreak havoc from the inside. But getting back in to an Imperial facility is the trick isn’t it? And it’ll cost you a little something extra – namely, a lot of pain, and a lot of time spent hiding, running, and blasting away at hordes of stormtroopers and a few other enemies, including bounty hunters Boba Fett and Bossk. If you can help Katarn survive long enough, he may discover the secret of the Empire’s legion of darktroopers, a new breed of stormtrooper with more advanced weaponry and almost invincible armor. (LucasArts, 1995)

Memories: Though clearly inspired by the Doom / Duke Nukem genre of first person shooters, Dark Forces won many a fan simply by virtue of being a Star Wars game that doesn’t involve spaceflight. Continue reading

Nichibutsu Arcade Classics

Nichibutsu Arcade ClassicsThe Game: Three obscure but memorable cult classics from Japan’s Nichibutsu Ltd. are gathered in one collection, along with an updated version of each game. Crazy Climber, Moon Cresta and Frisky Tom are included, with their respective remakes, Crazy Climber ’85, SF-X and Tom’s Strike-Back. (Nichibutsu Ltd., 1995)

Memories: Much sought-after by collectors now, this Namco Museum-style compilation is the only way to get most of these games on anything that’s not MAME – and in the case of the updated versions, this is the only game in town. It’s also the source of a very humorous photo, shown before the main menu screen pops up, which I find very funny (see below). Continue reading

Hyper Crazy Climber

Hyper Crazy ClimberThe Game: You’re crazy-climbing the inner city no more. As one of a party of three adventurers, your mission is to scale mystic mountain peaks, Big Ben-style clock towers, and even enormous beanstalks, all to gather various items and move on to the next stop on your quest. Obstacles such as an avalanche of killer boulders and monkeys tossing bananas at you could send you plummeting to your death. The three characters along for the adventure have different rates of speed and endurance (as in endurance for things falling on their heads, though nothing will save you from a huge boulder). Watch out for falling rocks! (Nichibutsu, 1996)

Memories: This is one fiendishly difficult game. Normally, when I put together a Phosphor Dot Fossil, I play to get as far as I can in the game so you can get a glimpse of as many levels as possible. Not everyone reading this has all of these games, so I try to show you everything that I can. Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 4 (“C”)

Namco Museum Volume 4Buy this gameThe Game: Namco has even more games they’d like us all to remember, only this time, you might not remember them half as clearly as Pac-Man, who’s still dragging you through the halls of the Namco Museum, eager to play each and every one. Oddly enough, you’ve probably never seen any of these games before. The greatest challenge in your path in Volume 4? Figuring out the controls for The Genji And The Heike Clans and Return of Ishtar. (Namco, 1996)

Memories: Personally, I don’t remember any of these games, save for the bizarre scrolling exploration game Pac-Land and Assault, which I believe was licensed to Atari. Inspired by the ABC-TV cartoon series, Pac-Land may indeed be the only reason anyone might now try to track down the now out-of-print Volume 4 of Namco Museum. Continue reading

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