Pac-Man

Coleco Pac-ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small yellow dots and evading four monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of See the TV adthe screen, red power pellets enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. 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… (Coleco, 1981)

Memories: When Atari’s VCS translation of the immensely popular Pac-Man debuted to almost universal scorn, Coleco’s marketing division must have cheered. The market was primed for a good game of Pac-Man, and with the first in its line of licensed “mini-arcades,” Coleco had just the ticket every kid was looking for. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Coleco 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 attempt 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. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: Almost every line of games has one: a clunker that tanks so hard that it leaves a crater, and serves as the nadir of its entire genre. But given that Coleco was banking its entire video game empire – whether on the Colecovision or on cartridges for the Atari VCS and Intellivision – on Donkey Kong, you’d figure that this would be the one game they would make sure to get right. 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! (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: Possibly the best of Coleco’s fixed-matrix LED mini-arcade games, Frogger is actually fun and reasonably faithful to its inspiration, while adding cute touches that are unique to this version of the game. Continue reading

Baseball

BaseballThe Game: Baseball returns to the small screen – the very small screen – on the Game Boy. Step up to the plate and take a swing; after three outs, take control of the pitcher, basemen and outfield, trying to keep the computer from scoring a run. (Nintendo, 1989)

Memories: If Baseball! on the Odyssey2 was my favorite iteration of baseball as a video game during the 1980s, Nintendo‘s Baseball was my favorite of the late ’80s and ’90s. I remember spending a lot of quality time with this game on my first Game Boy – and most of that time was fun and challenging rather than frustrating, placing this well above quite a few baseball video games. Continue reading

Super Mario Land

Super Mario LandThe Game: As intrepid plumber (and explorer) Mario, players have to jump through new environments and enemies to help Mario rescue Daisy. Egyptian pyramids guarded by fire-breathing Sphinxes, seaside platforms invaded by space aliens, and the usual Goombas and Koopas await Mario as he tries to reach the end of each level. As always, there are mushrooms, stars and fire flowers to help Mario power up, and helpful hidden chambers full of coins. (Nintendo, 1989)

Memories: One of the original Game Boy launch titles, Super Mario Land was almost the game that was included with the Game Boy itself. And why not? Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 were certified smash hits with the same kind of household-name recognition that had once been the sole domain of Pac-Man. Continue reading

Hyper Lode Runner

Hyper Lode RunnerThe Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the holes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you See the videohappen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Bandai, 1989)

Memories: A nifty revival of the computer classic, Hyper Lode Runner actually manages to pack in a surprising amount of what made the original game so addictive – right down to the “edit mode” that allows players to build their own levels. 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 a bunch of cranky cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another day. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (Data East, 1990)

See the videoMemories: After a quick “training” chase in a small maze – presumably in the vault while you’re making the big heist – the Game Boy version of Lock ‘N’ Chase is somewhat faithful to the original, even though it “zooms in” on the section of the maze surroundng your bank robber. However, while the original arcade game was an obvious attempt to get in on Pac-Man‘s maze-chase, dot-gobbling action without aping every aspect of the game, Lock ‘N’ Chase on the Game Boy makes the comparison obvious. Continue reading

Qix

QixThe Game: You are a marker, trying to claim as much of the playing field as you can by enclosing areas of it. Drawing your boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves you vulnerable to attack from the Qix and the Sparx, gives you many more points upon the completion of an enclosed area. If the ever-shifting Qix touches your marker or an uncompleted boundary you are drawing, you lose a “life” and start again. And the Sparx, which travel only along the edges of the playing field and along the boundaries of areas of the screen you’ve already enclosed, can destroy you by touching your marker. And if you linger too long, a fuse will begin burning at the beginning of your unfinished boundary, and will eventually catch up with you. (Nintendo/Taito, 1990)

See the videoOne of the few completely abstract arcade games ever to catch on with the public, Qix is very hard to get wrong, and this adaptation – an early first-party Game Boy cartridge patterned after a similarly first-person NES version – certainly doesn’t get it wrong. It’s pure Qix, without any added bull about having to uncover a picture by claiming area on the playfield. Continue reading

Elevator Action

Elevator ActionThe Game: As a daring spy, you break into a top secret enemy facility, trying to grab vital secrets and evade or kill as many enemy agents as you can. Your only means of getting from floor to floor through most of the game is via the elevator – which gives you an advantage and also makes you vulnerable. (Taito, 1991)

See the videoMemories: I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, audiovisually (and, for the most part, game-play wise as well), the original B&W Game Boy’s version of Elevator Action is incredibly faithful to the arcade game. On the other hand, there are major changes to the structure of the game that I’ve never been crazy about. Put simply, Elevator Action on the Game Boy adds some NES-era conventions to a game that just didn’t need them. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugBuy this gameThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. In New Dig Dug, you guide Dig on a series of subterranean adventures, trying to unlock buried doors by finding some equally buried keys. Pookas and Fygars still stalk the underground tunnels in the new game, only each one that Dig dispatches is replaced by a new Pooka or Fygar from above. (Namco, 1992)

Memories: Okay, so we’ve got arcade-quality Dig Dug on the Game Boy Advance thanks to Namco Museum. But I thought it’d be fun to go back and revisit the original monochrome Game Boy version of Dig Dug to see how close it was to the arcade game. And the answer is…well, not very. Continue reading

Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship YamatoThe Game: Players assume the role of Susumu Kodai, a hot-headed young recruit unexpectedly thrust into a leadership role on a mission to cross the galaxy and procure a device that can restore planet Earth’s war-decimated ecosphere within a year. As if crossing the Milky Way and returning within a year wasn’t enough of a formidable task, the Space Battleship Yamato faces stiff opposition from an alien race, the Gamilas, determined to seal Earth’s fate by bringing the last-ditch rescue mission to a halt. Kodai and the Yamato’s ailing commander, Admiral Okita, must decide where to commit their forces for maximum effect. Large squarons of Cosmo Fighters can be dispatched to take the Gamilas on head-to-head on the on-screen grid, but Yamato herself can also be ordered into the thick of the action (a strategy that puts the entire mission in jeopardy if the battle is lost). Success means fighting through the Gamilas’ offensive front and reaching planet Iskandar. Failure means death for all humankind. Pick your battles wisely. (Interbec, 1992)

Memories: Space Battleship Yamato is, to this date, one of the best anime series that anyone in Japan has yet produced. First aired in 1974, its meaningful, carefully-paced tale of duty, honor, sacrifice, compassion and rapproachment is one that remains nearly unsurpassed. It’s like the best war movie ever, except animated. The series very carefully laid out the tactical stakes of its frequent battle scenes, and showed how both sides planned their next moves – it’s a fertile breeding ground for tactical action games. And yet, of the few video games based on Yamato, fewer still have done the action and adventure and drama of the series justice. In a nutshell: the games aren’t as fun to play as the show is to watch. Continue reading

Namco Arcade Classics 3: Galaga / Galaxian

Namco Arcade Classics 3: Galaga / GalaxianBuy this gameThe Game: A two-fer! In Galaxian, attacking formations break off from the usual rows and columns of invaders to dive-bomb you. And in its sequel Galaga, you’re up against another 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 mothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Namco, 1995)

See the videoMemories: Along with the release of a newly revamped PC and Playstation edition of Galaga – one of Namco’s best-loved classic titles, a new Game Boy version of that game has arrived in stores as well.

This is not a review of that game. Continue reading

Battleship

BattleshipThe Game: Two fleets of four warships conduct long-distance naval warfare, randomly firing torpedoes (and occasionally some higher-powered ordnance) at each other, guessing at the positions of their targets. Whoever sinks the entire opposing fleet first is the victor. (Hasbro Interactive, 1999)

Memories: This game will always have a special place in my heart. Imagine, if you will, my new bride and I, laying in bed on our honeymoon, glistening candlelight reflected in our link cable, trying to blow up each other’s fleets in a two-player death match. Most couples wait a while before they try to shred each other viciously. But this is one of those advances they talk about with modern technology. Continue reading

Frogger

FroggerBuy this gameThe 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! (Majesco, 1999)

Memories: Ah, the joys of Frogger. It’s still one of the simplest and most deceptively difficult arcade games Froggerever to come down the pike, and yet finding a decent port of it over the years has proven to be almost as difficult as getting the amphibious one across the road in the game’s sixth level. But ask anyone about favorite video games from the early 80s, and you’re almost certain to hear Frogger in that list. The popularity of the original Frogger is borne out by the fact that a series of licensees has attempted to turn out a modern-day descendant of Frogger, and while some of those have been fun in their own right, they’ve also barely lived up to the simple joy of the original. Continue reading

Monopoly

MonopolyThe Game: Does anyone not know this game? You and quite a few other players make a mad dash around the Monopoly board, snatching up properties, railroads, and utilities, hazarding the fickle fortunes of the Chance and Community Chest spaces, and trying to avoid taxes and jail – not to mention bankruptcy – while building an empire that will make you rich. (Majesco Sales, 1999)

Memories: This is sort of like the Game Boy editions of Pac-Man and Space Invaders – it’s an excellent reason to own one of Nintendo‘s portable powerhouses o’ fun. The Parker Brothers board game classic is faithfully reproduced despite the small screen, and the game play is engaging. In many ways, I prefer the Game Boy version of Monopoly to the PC or Playstation versions for the same reason I’d take the Game Boy version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? over the Playstation version of that game: no cutscenes, no animations you can’t bail out of (or shut down from the options menu), no bull – the Game Boy has just enough room for the game. And I like it that way. Continue reading

Galaga: Destination Earth

Galaga: Destination EarthBuy this gameThe Game: A couple of centuries after the attempted Galaga invasion of Earth in 1982, human terraformers have set their sights on a nearby world for colonization, and a massive expedition is launched – but, of course, since such an exploration is a costly venture, defense cutbacks are made, leaving Earth vulnerable to a new Galaga invasion. Of course, you’re the only surviving space fighter pilot in the outer solar system, so it’s up to you to take on the Galaga invaders single-handedly. (Hasbro Interactive, 2000)

Memories: Oof. As good as Galaga: Destination Earth turned out for the Playstation (and yes, I do realize that not everyone will agree with me on that point), the Game Boy Color port is honestly one of the weakest games I’ve seen for the portable platform. Continue reading

Marble Madness

Marble MadnessThe 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 unreliable controls! (Midway, 2000)

Memories: Color me impressed. Atari‘s Marble Madness coin-op, based on the company’s System 1 architecture, was an eye-opener when it hit the arcades in 1984. And it’s still an eye-opener with Digital Eclipse’s stunning port of the game for the Game Boy Color. Marble Madness sports some of the most impressive color graphics yet seen on a Game Boy – but the same maddening and frustrating game play as its inspiration. Continue reading

Qix Adventure

Qix AdventureThe Game: A boy named Speedy ventures through a mystical land, taunted by cute animals. Somehow this quest is expressed through a series of challenges in which the player tries to claim as much of the playing field as possible by enclosing areas of it. If the ever-shifting Qix touches Speedy’s marker or an uncompleted boundary, a life is lost and the boundary must be built again. Sparx, which travel only along the edges of the playing field and along the boundaries of already-enclosed areas of the screen, can also cost Speedy a life. (Taito, 2000)

Memories: In 2000, two trends collided within this one game. Trend #1 was the fading glow of a few years’ worth of retro video gaming nostalgia, a trend that brought of lots of arcade compilations and lots of “remakes” of classic arcade games, especially on the then-ubiquitous Playstation. Trend #2 was simple and obvious: jumping on the Pokemon bandwagon. Continue reading

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