Star Raiders

Star RaidersThe 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 See the videodamage. 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: destroy until you are destroyed, and defend friendly installations as long as you can. (Atari, 1979)

Memories: The original version of Atari’s Star Raiders leaves very few doubts as to its origins; in a sense, it’s a new take on the old grid-based Star Trek mainframe game, only with ample opportunities for arcade-style action. Oh, and – astonishingly, even back then – the game kicks off with a title screen showing a spaceship obviously based on the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which also appeared in 1979. How the lawyers missed that one, we’ll probably never know. Continue reading

Caverns Of Mars

Caverns Of MarsThe Game: The enemy in an interplanetary war has gone underground, and you’re piloting the ship that’s taking the fight to him. But he hasn’t just hidden away in a hole; he’s hidden away in a very well-defended hole. As if it wasn’t already going to be enough of a tight squeeze navigating subterranean caverns on Mars, you’re now See the videosharing that space with enemy ships and any number of other fatal obstacles. (Fortunately, the enemy also leaves copious numbers of helpful fuel depots for you too.) Once you fight your way to the bottom of the cave, you plant charges on the enemy mothership – meaning that now you have to escape the caverns again, and fast. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: Atari wisely realized that some of the best programming talent wasn’t necessarily on its own payroll. With so much of the company’s financial resources devoted to supporting the 2600, this paved the way for the Atari Program Exchange, a program that allowed users to send in their own best work to Atari, who would then list the best of these homebrew games and applications in an official newsletter and handle distribution on cassette and floppy disk. Continue reading

Mouskattack

MouskattackThe Game: Plumber Larry Bain is out to earn his hazard pay, trying to run pipes through a rat-infested maze. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that the rats are as big as he is. He can lay a limited number of traps in the maze that will temporarily stop the rats in their tracks so he can double back and eliminate them, but in the end Larry’s best chance of survival is to stay on the run and fill the maze with plumbing. (Sierra On-Line, 1981)

Memories: Cut from the same “let’s do Pac-Man but make it different enough from Pac-Man that we don’t get sued” cloth as his own Jawbreaker, John Harris strikes again with Mouskattack, which was actually advertised as being “by the author of Jawbreaker,” which may be one of the earliest instances of a game being advertised as something that should be bought on the strength of that programmer’s previous works. Continue reading

Sneakers

SneakersThe Game: Alien invaders are descending on your world, taking on unusual forms in the process: sneaker-clad stomping creatures, roaming eyeballs, “H-wing fighters,” flying saucers and more. Try to use their unusual patterns of See the videomovement against them and keep them from destroying your fighter. (Sirius Software, 1981)

Memories: If this description sounds an awful lot like Activision‘s early hit Megamania!, it’s no coincidence – both games attempted to add a dash of whimsy to the basic game play of the ubiquitous arcade sleeper hit, Astro Blaster. Both Sneakers and Megamania! nearly duplicate the unique meandering movement of Astro Blaster‘s alien invaders. Continue reading

Satan’s Hollow

Satan's HollowThe Game: Hellish flying demons try to formation-dive your well-armed, devil-fryin’ vehicle at the bottom of the screen. Each time you knock one of this gargoylesque beasties out of the sky, they drop a piece of a bridge you must drag over See the videoto the appropriate spot on the screen. When you’re close to completing the bridge, the Prince of Darkness sends in some heavier artillery – a spooky floating demon head who spits fire at your cannon – to do away with you. Once you’ve toasted the flying meanies out of the sky and cross the bridge, it’s time to do battle with Satan himself. (CBS Video Games, 1982)

Memories: CBS’ home video game division was focused on releasing a library consisting largely of arcade games licensed from Bally/Midway on cartridge for the Atari 2600. But CBS wasn’t content to limit itself to a single platform (unlike quite a few third-party software houses that appeared in the wake of the stellar success of Activision and Imagic). They also had the Atari computers in their sight, which also put them in a good position to release games for the Atari 5200, which was based on the same processor. Continue reading

Gateway To Apshai

Gateway To ApshaiThe Game: The player controls a weary adventurer weaving his way through a dungeon populated by treasures and deadly danger. Starting out with the clothes on his back, a short sword in hand, and adding what he can along the way, the player’s adventurer progresses through twisty mazes, vanquishes an See the videoincreasingly dangerous rogues’ gallery of foes, and tries to gather a wealth of treasure… but even opening those treasure chests may reveal traps. (Epyx, 1983)

Memories: The Apshai computer RPGs form a kind of holy trinity of early adventure gaming along with the Ultima and Wizardry series of games. Gateway To Apshai is actually a prequel to the runaway hit Temple Of Apshai, which debuted on Tandy’s TRS-80 computer before cross-pollinating to every other platform under the sun. Gateway is missing Temple‘s famously wordy descriptions of its on-screen chambers, and as such feels completely different from the earlier game. But in hindsight, Gateway is an important step on the evolutionary road for the “action RPG” genre – paving the way for The Legend Of Zelda. Continue reading

Juice!

Juice!The Game: You’re the circuit maker, and they’re the circuit breakers. You hop around a maze-like structure, dropping circuitry patterns in your wake, as a variety of adversaries try to stop you from completing a circuit leading from the power source at your starting point to the receptacle across the maze from you. Colliding with See the videoany of them will cost you a life, but you can entice them to try to chase you off the maze and into oblivion while you escape safely. Completing the circuit advances you to the next maze – just on’t get too caught up in your power trip. (Tronix, 1983)

Memories: A neat combination of some well-worn game play elements, Juice is an eminently playable example of taking elements from different games and combining them into a new one. Bits of Pac-Man and Q*Bert, with a hint of Zaxxon‘s 3-D isometric perspective, combine to make Juice! unique and fun. Continue reading

Lode Runner

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 happen 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. (Broderbund, 1983)

Memories: Originally designed and programmed on the Apple II, Lode Runner impressed Broderbund enough that ports to other systems were a high priority. But a major difference in the control scheme for the Apple and Atari computers caused Lode Runner to lose something in translation. Continue reading

Pogo Joe

Pogo JoeThe Game: Pogo Joe has a pogo stick, a screen full of barrels whose colors need to be changed to the same target color, and a bunch of bouncy enemies too. Players guide Joe from barrel to barrel, sometimes requiring a big bounce if a barrel isn’t immediately adjacent to Joe’s current location, avoiding enemy creatures who are out to get him. Joe advances to the next level when the color of every barrel on the screen has been changed. A limited number of barrels per level act as a kind of “smart bomb” – landing on them wipes out all of Joe’s enemies temporarily (though they quitely repopulate the screen). (Screenplay, 1983)

Memories: An obvious riff on the basic game play of Q*Bert, Pogo Joe rewrites the DNA of the original game more significantly than most knock-offs: the shape of the playing field changes from level to level (a trick that Q*Bert borrowed back when it made the jump to Game Boy Color), the cubes have become cylindrical barrels (and nicely drawn ones too, whether on the Atari computers or the Commodore 64), and in a few spectacularly frustrating screens, the barrels disappear completely, leaving the player with an almost unplayable screen if they haven’t planned their moves very, very carefully. In some ways, Pogo Joe is a game that Q*Bert experts could graduate to once they’ve mastered a pyramid of cubes. Continue reading

Frogger II: Threeedeep!

Frogger II: Threeedeeep!The Game: Frogger’s back, and he needs your help to do so much more than just cross the road. First, help Frogger navigate an assortment of underwater dangers to reach the safety of a log at the water’s surface, and See the videothen help him hop across the backs of various animals and objects to cross the river. Once this is accomplished, you help Frogger ascend to heaven…and then the whole process starts once more. (Parker Brothers, 1984)

Memories: Officially authorized by Sega (while Sega was still authorized by Konami as the American distributor of the original Frogger), Frogger II: Threeedeep! is a sequel to the hit arcade game – a sequel that never made it into the arcades itself. Continue reading

Star Wars

Star WarsThe Game: You’re an intrepid X-Wing pilot participating in the last-ditch Rebel attempt to destroy the Death Star – before it destroys the Rebel base on Yavin IV. TIE Fighters try to intercept you, but you can destroy them (as well as See the videouse your own lasers to blast their incoming fire out of the sky). Then you move in to attack the Death Star itself, with its incredibly hazardous system of gunnery towers and bunkers. Once you’ve gotten past the surface defenses, you dive into the trench that will lead you to an exhaust port which is the only means of destroying the Death Star – but there are defenses in the trench as well, and your deflector shields can only take so much… (Parker Brothers, 1984)

Memories: In fairness, at the time Parker Brothers snagged the lucrative home video game license for Star Wars, home computers with 64K were still not quite a household fixture (though the Commodore 64 was in the process of changing that). The guts of Atari’s slightly lower-powered home computers were originally designed by the company’s engineers to be their next generation game machine, and the XL series of atari computers was only just being phased in. Faced with these obstacles, Parker Brothers toned down its home computer version of the ambitious Star Wars arcade game, slimming it down to a cartridge with just 17K of code. Continue reading

Star Maze

Star MazeThe Game: Poor Thid. He’s lost in space, a long way from home, and he’ll need all of Earth’s intellectual and technological resources to get him home. Or, actually, since he’s on a budget, any old kid with an Atari home computer will do. See the videoSolve division problems of varying degrees of difficulty to help Thid return to his home planet, and keep in mind, time is limited for both equation solving and maneuvering. Even if you get your numbers right, Thid can accidentally run into “Badid Stars” that will explode, sending him plummeting into a different part of the star maze. You win the game by returning Thid to his home planet at the bottom of the screen, though if you’re feeling particularly daring, you can take a detour for double points along the way. (Roklan, 1984)

Memories: A clever little educational game for the Atari home computers, Roklan’s Star Maze probably isn’t at the top of anyone’s list except as an Atari completist’s collectible. I’m certainly no big fan of math games, but for some reason I like Star Maze. It’s a nice balance between the educational remit of the software and the board-game-like fun stuff in between the math problems. Continue reading

Star Wars

Star WarsThe Game: You’re an intrepid X-Wing pilot participating in the last-ditch Rebel attempt to destroy the Death Star – before it destroys the Rebel base on Yavin IV. TIE Fighters try to intercept you, but you can destroy them (as well as See the videouse your own lasers to blast their incoming fire out of the sky). Then you move in to attack the Death Star itself, with its incredibly hazardous system of gunnery towers and bunkers. Once you’ve gotten past the surface defenses, you dive into the trench that will lead you to an exhaust port which is the only means of destroying the Death Star – but there are defenses in the trench as well, and your deflector shields can only take so much… (Domark / Zeppelin Games Ltd., 1988)

Memories: Years after Parker Brothers’ lumpen version of Atari’s Star Wars arcade game, someone finally had the decency to bring Atari’s hit game home to Atari’s home computers in a form that’s worth playing. And as luck would have it, North American Atari 8-bit owners didn’t get to see this one – it was a British exclusive release. Continue reading

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