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Football

FootballThe Game: Trade those pads in for pixels and get ready to hit the gridiron. Each player controls a football team represented by Xs or Os, and uses a keypad to select offensive and defensive maneuvers – and the trakball to tear across the turf as fast as the player can move it. Additional quarters buy additional playing time (each quarter gets two minutes of play). Whoever has the highest score at the end of the game is the winner; later four-player variations sported additional trakballs so the offensive player could control his team’s quarterback and another could control the receiver for passing plays, while there were now two independent players on the defensive team. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: The only serious rival for Space Invaders‘ arcade affection in 1978, Atari’s Football almost beat those crafty aliens to the punch by a couple of years. Continue reading

Basketball

Atari BasketballThe Game: It’s a one-on-one hardwood hoedown as two players control tank-topped, gym-socked hoops stars in an effort to bank the most baskets. Whoever buckets the most balls by the end of the game’s preset timer wins. (Atari, 1979)

Memories: Since the previous year’s Football lost its quarter-eating steam after the end of football season, Atari decided to take a swipe at other popular American sports. Taking another cue from Football, Basketball used the trakball controller – two of them, actually, meaning the cabinets took a real beating in arcades. The result was a simple enough one-on-one game – something which had been done as early as 1974 by Midway, Atari’s chief U.S. competitor – though this was the first time basketball had gone 3-D, courtesy of four simple diagonal lines. Continue reading

Centipede

CentipedeBuy this gameThe Game: Apparently, the exterminating business is getting more dangerous. In the course of trying to wipe out some vermin, you find yourself on the defensive – any of them can kill you simply by touching you. Fleas drop from the top of the screen, leaving bothersome mushrooms in their way. Scorpions periodically See the videopoison the mushrooms, making them impossible to destroy. And a pesky spider is always dancing around the screen. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: I was never that hot on Centipede, but this is mainly due to the fact that its trakball controller pretty much ensured that I sucked at this game. But many people just loved it. With the benefit of hindsight, and slightly better hand-eye coordination, I can now see why. Continue reading

Missile Command

Missile CommandBuy this gameThe Game: Tucked away safely in an underground bunker, you are solely responsible for defending six cities from a relentless, ever-escalating ICBM attack. Your three missile bases are armed with nuclear missiles capable of intercepting the incoming enemy nukes, planes and smart bombs. One nuke hit on any of your three launch bases will incapacitate that facility for the rest of your current turn, but one nuke See the videohit on any of your six cities will destroy it completely. (The only chance you have of rebuilding a city comes when a bonus city is awarded for every 10,000 points scored.) And when all six of your cities have been destroyed, the cataclysmic end of the world proceeds. Game over. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Possibly the first video game ever to register on the so-called moral compass, Atari’s Missile Command contained a strong, anti-nuclear message, arriving at the dawn of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. For those of you who weren’t alive at that time, here’s a little bit of historical context. Continue reading

Kick / Kickman

KickThe Game: In an addictive little number from the height of Midway’s post-Pac-Man arcade empire, you are a unicycle-riding clown who occasionally wears a spiked hat. Your job is to keep any of the balloons falling from overhead from hitting the ground. You can bounce the balloons back into the air – temporarily – by See the videokicking them, but the only way to remove a balloon from play permanently is to catch or pop it on your head. In later stages, other objects fall from the sky, including special guest stars Pac-Man and those darn ghost monsters, and also including bombs which are the only thing you must avoid. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: A wonderfully addictive game with intensely aggravating controls, Kickman has gone down in video game history with unjust obscurity. But perhaps this lack of bona fide “hit” status can be blamed on that wacky lateral trakball control – it was such a pain in the butt until you’d gotten sufficient practice in. Continue reading

Liberator

LiberatorBuy this gameThe Game: So, you’ve always wanted to pilot the Liberator? If you’re talking about the Atari Force’s trusty little flotilla of space fighters, you’re in luck. Your four fighters take up positions at the four corners of the screen, and you use a trackball to aim a cursor; hitting the fire button fires the weapons of the ship nearest the cursor. Basically, the “Malagon Army,” according to the introductory screen, has pulled off a See the videostrategic (to say nothing of logistical) coup in invading the entire galaxy – and you and your four fighters are supposed to free…well…the entire galaxy. Hopefully you packed a lunch. At the beginning of your mission, you’re trying to pick off Malagon scout ships in deep space. You then move on to a succession of planets where you have to take out missiles (and the ground bases that hurl them at you) and enemy satellites. Letting a missile through can begin to cost you ships quickly, and when all four fighters are fragged, you’re finished. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: An interesting game, Liberator, even if it breaks my heart by teasing me with that name and then having nothing to do with the starship of the same name from the 70s BBC space opera Blake’s 7. (Actually, it would almost make as much sense to adapt this game to that storyline as it did to try to attach it to the Atari Force comic books, which were shipped with numerous Atari VCS cartridges but had no prior presence in the arcade.) Continue reading

Millipede

MillipedeBuy this gameThe Game: Once more unto the breach, your garden of mushrooms is now under attack by a millipede, and the big bug’s even nastier insect entourage has come along too. The spiders, scorpions and fleas are now joined by mosquitoes and inchworms, among others. The only advantage you have? Occasional containers of DDT (can you tell this was the 80’s?) will allow you to wipe out all targets within a given radius…but use them wisely! (Atari, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Another rare Atari sequel – from a company that tended to at least try to stay away from repetition – Millipede of course picks up where Centipede left off – in the same garden, with lots of bugs. A major ad campaign kicked this one off, with Atari using the then-world-champion of Centipede as a spokesperson to verify that this game was, indeed, fun and challenging. Continue reading

Reactor

ReactorThe Game: In a bizarre combination of pinball, zero gravity, and nuclear physics, you pilot your “ship” around a reactor chamber, trying to eliminate rogue radioactive particles (which are about the same size as your ship). Anything touching the outer walls of the chamber will be destroyed, including your on-screen alter ego. Two pairs of See the videofive rods can be used to cool down the ever-expanding nuclear reaction at the center of the screen, but you can only push the rods in by bumping the particle into them head-on. Trapping particles in either of two cul-de-sacs in the upper right and lower left corners of the playing field will earn you bonus points, and the best way to accomplish this is to plant one of your limited number of decoys at the entrance to one of the smaller areas. In early levels, you can keep your back to the reactor and hug it as you bounce the particles off of it, but in later levels, the reactions are exposed and become just as deadly to you as to the walls are. (Gottlieb, 1982)

Memories: A decidedly weird but incredibly addictive game. You may find yourself spending ages on it before you know it, and getting better and better at the game. This is a game which would probably be a hit in a graphically updated edition – providing the game play was left as is. Then again, adding detailed graphics would probably rob Reactor of a lot of its mystique. Continue reading

Wacko

3-D computer rendering of Wacko game cabinetBuy this gameThe Game: Kozmik Krooz’r is back, floating around a desolate landscape in his tiny saucer and blasting away at the menacing denizens of the planet. By shooting two identical creatures, he can eliminate them; failing to match his first target with his next one will either release both creatures or, in later levels, create mix-and-match mutations that will prove to be even more difficult to get rid of. By eliminating all of See the videothe creatures on the screen, Krooz’r cruises to the next level; if any of the creatures come in contact with him, he loses a life. (Midway, 1982)

Memories: Video game history is rife with specimens of characters who struck somebody as being promising enough that an attempt was made to bring an entire franchise into being on willpower alone. From Exidy’s promise that Venture‘s “Winky” would star in later games (he didn’t) to Midway’s duo of Kozmik Krooz’r games, these also-ran characters are kind of like pixellated reality talent show wanna-bes, strutting their stuff for the arcade’s equivalent of 15 minutes of fame before the gaming public voted with their quarters.

Wacko Wacko

Kozmik Krooz’r appeared in two games released at roughly the same time by Midway: Wacko and the eponymous Kozmik Krooz’r. Both games were built around a gimmick. Kozmik Krooz’r sported a miniature model of a flying saucer above the screen, and the game’s action revolved around that saucer’s presence; Wacko, on the other hand, had one of the most unique cabinets designed for a coin-op to date: the entire cabinet, marquee, control panel and all, was lopsided, sloping downward from left to right. Whether or not gamers got the joke, however, is another thing entirely. (The answer may well lie in the fact that Krooz’r didn’t appear in any further games.)

With the dark look of the classic arcade of the 1970s giving way to Chuck E. Cheese-inspired day-glo friendliness in the ’80s, Midway was simiarly aiming to make a relatively friendly game with Wacko, and it’s an interesting twitch-gaming experience grafted onto an almost educational 4 quarters!concept (shape/pattern matching). As interesting as the “wack”-ed out cabinet was, one wonders if it actually lured enough gamers in to make the break with tradition worthwhile…or if it hurt Wacko‘s chances instead.

Crystal Castles

Crystal CastlesBuy this gameThe Game: You are Bentley the Bear, cuddly defender of a vaguely 3-D fairy tale realm just loaded with ruby-like crystals. While this would seem like an idyllic existence for many sentient stuffed animals, it is, of course, not that easy. Berthilda the Witch has sent her evil minions to seize the crystals for her. Walking trees, See the videoupright centipedes, and animated skeletons prowl the geometric vistas to keep Bentley from claiming the crystals. Finding the wizard hat will briefly give Bentley the power to dispose of Berthilda if and when she makes an appearance. Bentley also has a weakness for the pot of honey that appears on each level – and if he grabs the honey, a swarm of bees suddenly has a problem with him. Clearing each screen of crystals advances to the next level. Keep in mind that the enemies can also consume crystals, so they may actually clear the level – Bentley gets a bonus if he’s the one who nabs the last gem on the screen. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: A bizarre little game with play elements of Pac-Man set in an almost Q*Bert-like perspective, Crystal Castles was actually quite the quantum leap forward for graphics back in ’83. (It would later be blown out of the water by Atari’s own Marble Madness not long afterward.) It was also one of the earliest games to utilize Atari’s System 1 hardware. Continue reading

Food Fight

Food FightThe Game: You are Charley – but you don’t have the Golden Ticket. Instead, what you have is a playfield littered with immobilizing potholes, lots of food, and four feisty chefs (is there a different word for the plural of “chef”?). Charley Chuck can pick up handfuls of food and fling them at any one of his opponents, but keep in mind that they can do the same. Charley’s ultimate goal? Reach the yummy ice cream cone at the opposite end of the screen without falling victim to any of the above. To do any less causes every piece of food on the screen to hurl itself at Charley. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: This bizarre little game is the first original arcade effort from a small game design firm called General Computer, which was actually responsible for Ms. Pac-Man, which started out as an unauthorized modification kit. Caught in the act, General Computer’s founders offered the game to Namco, and it went on to become the best-earning arcade game of its day. A similar “enhancement” devised for Atari’s Missile Command, however, got them in hot water. Continue reading

Marble Madness

Marble MadnessBuy this gameThe Game: You control the speed and direction of a marble which is racing other marbles to reach the finish line. Obstacles along the way include marble-eating creatures, treacherous cliffs and drawbridges, and the game’s own trakball controller! (Atari, 1983)

Memories: One of the most bizarrely abstract games to emerge from the post-Pac-Man ’80s, Marble Madness is like a virtual homage to those wooden maze-under-glass games, in which you’d try to shift the game to various angles and get a ball bearing to go where you wanted it to go. Marble Madness does away with the moving-the-whole-maze element and puts the marble under its own power – and that’s just where the frustration begins! Continue reading

Major Havoc

Major HavocBuy this gameThe Game: Journey through space, visit free-floating outposts, and raid ’em in search of oxygen. Then you just have to get back out with your precious loot – and that’s the hard part. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoMemories: Introduced to much fanfare in 1983, Atari’s Major Havoc may well have been the last of the red-hot vector graphics games – and truth be told, it didn’t catch on like the wildfire their marketing materials seemed to be hinting at. It was a really challenging game too – it was easy to lose a lot of quarters to this machine. Continue reading

Snake Pit

Snake PitThe Game: You’re an adventurer with a bullwhip and a hat, and you hate snakes and love treasure – sound familiar? The bad news is that you’re surrounded by slippery snakes, scurrying scorpions and jumping spiders, all of whom can kill you See the videoinstantly on contact. The only way you can eliminate these foes and claim the treasure is with a precisely-aimed crack of your whip…but if you’re surrounded, your treasure-hunting days are probably over. (Bally Sente, 1984)

Memories: When Warner Bros. bought Atari, it quickly became apparent that Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and new CEO Ray Kassar – Warner’s newly installed point man at Atari – were an uneasy fit at best. Though accounts differ between the two men, the final straw seems to have been Bushnell calling an executive board meeting and not quite getting around to inviting Kassar to it, after which Kassar went to his Warner Bros. boss, Manny Gerard, and drew up the legal papers to forcibly retire Bushnell from his duties at Atari. Bushnell was put – as Atari senior staffers called it – “on the beach,” with no say in the company’s future but a healthy percentage of a bonus pool that depended on the company’s performance. Continue reading

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