Circus Atari

Circus AtariThe Game: You control a clown on a moving see-saw, launching your fellow clown into the air to pop balloons and defy gravity. But what goes up must come down, and your airborne clown, if he doesn’t bounce upward upon impact with Buy this gamemore balloons, will plummet at alarming speed. You have to catch him with the empty end of the see-saw, thus catapulting the other clown into a fresh round of inflatible destruction. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: It seems like almost every system has seen a version of this game in some form or other, but you may be surprised to learn that Atari wasn’t the first by a long shot. Circus Atari steals its game play and even its setting, lock, stock and barrel, from the obscure black & white Exidy arcade game Circus (1977). Continue reading

Night Driver

Night DriverBuy this gameThe Game: You’re racing by the glow of your headlights alone – avoid the markers along the side of the road and other passing obstacles…if you can see them in time. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Just as the simplicity of Night Driver in the arcades was necessitated by the hardware limitations of its time, it was a perfect VCS title for the same reason. Though the arcade game boasts a slightly finer visual grain, it’s not by a large margin. The most distinguishable difference is the trade-off of the arcade game’s overlay artwork of the car for a blocky foreground car graphic at home; on the other hand, the home game trumps the coin-op by having color graphics. Continue reading

Super Breakout

Super BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: More walls, more balls. The object of the game is the same as the original Breakout, except this time, you face things like moving walls, “cavities” which, when opened, will release additional projectiles that you’ll See the videohave to keep in the air, and more. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: As with the arcade version of Breakout, Breakout on the VCS was one of the better-selling launch titles on that machine, so it made sense in both cases to follow up with a sequel that had a few new twists. Originally unleashed in the arcade in 1978, Super Breakout added those twists, and this cartridge brought them home. Continue reading

Warlords

WarlordsBuy this gameThe Game: Think of it as Pong to the death. Two to four players hurl a fireball around the playing field, smashing the walls to each other’s castles and – hopefully – hitting the other players’ kings and putting them out of commission. Using the ubiquitous Atari paddle controller, you guide a mobile barrier around your castle which bounces the fireball right back at your opponents. Fun for the whole family; based on an arcade game by Atari which is even more obscure than this rather common cartridge. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: What a great party game! With the right group of people, this game can be intense (and intensely hilarious). In this day and age in which much to do is made of internet multiplayer games, I think I’d rather be in the same room with a bunch of friends playing Warlords than doing any of this newfangled online gaming. Continue reading

Tac-Scan

Tac-ScanThe Game: Commanding a fleet of ships, you use their combined firepower to wipe out an onslaught of alien ships (which, perhaps not at all surprisingly, are firing back at you). It only takes one hit to lose one of your own fleet, and when your fleet is completely wiped out, the game is over. Until then, do as much damage to the enemy armada as you can. (Sega/Gremlin, 1981)

Memories: I always admired games with novel ways of counting down how many “lives” a player had left until his quarter was declared a total loss. Moon Cresta had a three-stage rocket which could be destroyed stage-by-stage, and Lock ‘n’ Chase featured a getaway car full of extra crooks that could be deployed one-by-one into its Pac-Man-like maze. Tac-Scan gave the player one fleet – and only one fleet – of ships that would be wiped out as the game progressed. When the entire fleet was wiped out, thus ended the game. Continue reading

Kaboom!

Kaboom!Buy this gameThe Game: No manifestos, no political agendas, nothing like that – there’s just a mad bomber at the top of the screen, with a seemingly endless supply of explosives to chuck at you. You, on the other hand, have rather more limited resources – namely, three buckets of water. Your job is to keep those buckets right under the bombs and catch them all. If a bomb gets through, it costs you a bucket. If you lose your last bucket, you’ll be going out with a bang and a whimper. Catching all of the buckets in a given level of the game gives you a brief pause to prepare for the next wave – because your adversary’s using that brief pause to go cook up more bombs. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: Another one of Activision’s early best-sellers, Kaboom! is good, colorful fun – and it’s about as original as the concept of a madman with a bomb. As was typical in these early days before look-and-feel lawsuits became almost routine, the basic game play of Kaboom! was “borrowed” from an early black & white Atari coin-op called Avalanche. In that game, the bombs were falling rocks, and the whole thing was essentially a variation on the theme of Breakout. Continue reading

Tranquility Base

Tranquility BaseThe Game: You are go for landing on the moon – only the moon isn’t there to make it easy for you. Craggy mountains and craters make it difficult for you to find one of the few safe landing spots on the surface, and even when you’re See the videoaligned above level ground, your fuel is running out fast. Do you have the right stuff that it’ll take before you can take one giant leap? (Bill Budge, 1981 / re-released by Eduware in 1984)

Memories: This game was one of the earliest efforts by a budding Apple II programmer named Bill Budge, before he achieved fame as the author of Pinball Construction Set. At the time, Budge was experimenting with interchangeable modules that could be slotted into the code of any number of games, including one for smoothly rotating 3-D wireframe objects – well, smoothly where the Apple II was concerned. The result was this unforgiving homage to Atari’s cult coin-op Lunar Lander. Continue reading

Front Line

Front LineThe Game: In a very genteel and almost inappropriately cute game about armored combat, you’re a lone footsoldier fighting your way through a platoon of enemy troops, trying to take out as many of them as you can until you find your way to a handy empty tank. (Nice of the enemy to allow your government to plant friendly tanks behind their borders, isn’t it?) But once you man your own tank, enemy tanks surround you. If one of them hits your tank, you have mere seconds to bail out before your tank blows, and you have to dodge cannon fire until you can find another friendly tank to commandeer. Finally, after crossing hazardous stretches of desert and fighting off entire battallions of enemy tanks, you’re en route to the final confrontation, a showdown with the enemy’s armored headquarters… (Taito, 1982)

Memories: Front Line was a really fun and addictive game to play, and was always one of my favorites. I didn’t ever give a thought, at the time, that this game really keeps the player’s vision of warfare from delving into the bloody or the unpleasant, and all the characters – even those octagonal, roly-poly little tanks – are really cute. Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Sega, 1982)
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Memories: In the wake of the unexpected theatrical success of the second Star Trek movie, Sega revamped the popular Star Trek computer game that has been – and still is – available on almost every computer platform since the beginning of time, giving it vector graphics renditions of the movie Enterprise, Klingon ships, and starbases, not to mention cool-looking phasers and photon torpedoes (actually the best part of the game). Continue reading

Tron

TronBuy this gameThe Game: Based on the most computerized movie of its era, the Tron arcade game puts you in the role of the eponymous video warrior in a variety of contests. In the Grid Bug game, you must eliminate as many grid bugs (who are naturally deadly to the touch) as possible and enter the I/O tower safely before the fast-See the videomoving timer hits zero. The maddening Light Cycle game was the only stage to directly correspond with the movie. You and your opponent face off in super-fast Light Cycles, which leave solid walls in their wake. You must not collide with the computer’s Light Cycle, its solid trail, or the walls of the arena. To win, you must trap the other Light Cycle(s) (in later stages, you face three opponents) within the solid wake of your own vehicle. The MCP game is basically a simple version of Breakout, but the wall of colors rotated counter-clockwise, threatening to trap you if you made a run for it through a small gap. The Tank game is a tricky chase through a twisty maze, where you try to blast opposing tank(s) three times each…while they need to score only one hit on your tank to put you out of commission. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Okay, granted, so there really isn’t much correlation between Tron the game and Tron the movie, but in this case, it doesn’t matter. The game, with its awesome backlit cabinet graphics of special effects stills from the movie successfully, stole just enough of the movie’s millieu to be a successful tie-in – and let’s not forget the awesome polyphonic recreation of Wendy Carlos’ cool synthesized score from the movie, which was heard mainly during the Grid Bug game. Continue reading

Astrosmash

AstroblastThe Game: Your planet is under siege by an unending hail of asteroids, bombs, and space debris. Your simple mission? Blast all of this stuff, or dodge it. But you’re toast if a bomb hits the ground. (M Network [Mattel], 1982)

Memories: Not one of Mattel’s finest titles for the 2600, Astroblast is a loose adaptation of Astrosmash, a game originally released for Mattel’s Intellivision console. The graphics are clunky even compared to such bottom-of-the-barrel entries like Atari’s Pac-Man and Combat. Continue reading

Guardian

GuardianThe Game: Players control a single laser cannon responsible for defending several planets who don’t seem to be able to look out for themselves. The cannon squares off against an alien mothership which deploys its own fleet of attack ships to destroy those planets. Good news: the planets are protected by a force field spanning the bottom of the screen. Bad news? The aliens can shoot through it, exposing the row of fragile planets as they scroll across the screen like shooting gallery targets. Worse news? You can’t defend all of them forever. (Games By Apollo, 1982)

Memories: Two years after Atari turned its iconic home version of Space Invaders into the first killer app on the VCS, Texas third-party publishing upstart Games By Apollo was one of several companies still trying to improve on that basic formula. The obscurity of Guardian probably means this wasn’t the evolution of the concept that players were looking for. Continue reading

Discs Of Tron

Discs Of TronBuy this gameThe Game: It’s the final confrontation between good and evil in the digital world! As video warrior Tron, you unleash up to three deadly discs in the direction of your arch-enemy Sark, who can return the favor in kind – with interest, since he has a larger arsenal at his See the videodisposal. All the while, you must also avoid falling off of the floating platforms, and try to keep a good aim on your opponent. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Midway’s second salute to Tron, that 1982 cult-classic film favorite among computer users and video game enthusiasts alike, took the form of a positively enormous “stand-in” wraparound cabinet with a large screen. (Not seen in the ubiquitous MAME-generated series of screen shots is the colorful background artwork, which was a scene from the movie.) Continue reading

Star Wars: Jedi Arena

Star Wars: Jedi ArenaThe Game: You weren’t born with a lightsaber in your hands. Even a Jedi Knight must practice his skills. Two Jedi are safely tucked away behind deflector shields, while an automatic seeker ball roams the center of a large chamber. You can use the Force to influence the seeker to attack your opponent, and you can deflect the seeker’s laser bolts when your opponent does the same to you. And every once in a while, the seeker goes into berzerk mode, firing multiple bolts at both contestants, pummeling their shields until one or both are defenseless. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Easily the strangest of Parker Bros.Star Wars-inspired games for the 2600, I have to give Jedi Arena full marks for originality – instead of trying to ape a scene from any of the films in a convoluted game structure, Parker Brothers instead opted to create a completely new scenario, based only loosely on Luke’s training scene with the seeker ball in Star Wars. Continue reading

Tac-Scan

Tac-ScanThe Game: Commanding a fleet of ships, you use their combined firepower to wipe out an onslaught of alien ships (which, perhaps not at all surprisingly, are firing back at you). It only takes one hit to lose one of your own fleet, and when your fleet is completely wiped out, the game is over. Until then, do as much damage to the enemy armada as you can. (Sega, 1983)

Memories: I always had a certain fascination for the arcade game that inspired this somewhat hard-to-find 2600 cartridge, but it seems to have lost something in the translation…oh yes, the split-second control required to play the bloody thing, that’s it. Somewhere in the definition of “frustration” must be “playing Tac-Scan on the Atari 2600.” Continue reading

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