Boxing

BoxingBuy this gameThe Game: The sweet science of bruising is brought down to the pixellated level, as one or two players take control of a boxer seen from a view directly above the ring. The object is simple: knock your opponent out without letting him do the same to you. (Activision, 1980)

Memories: One of a handful of Activision‘s first releases, Boxing was one of those early sports video games that raised the bar on that entire genre by looking reasonably See the videolike the sport it was portraying, rather than something which could be described as an abstract representation at best. It also had the knack of being very easy to pick up and learn – there are no complicated combo moves here. Continue reading

Checkers

CheckersThe Game: The classic game of strategy is faithfully reproduced on the Atari VCS. Two armies of twelve men each advance diagonally across the checkerboard, jumping over opponents and attempting to reach the enemy’s home squares to be crowned. Whoever still has pieces still standing at the end of the game wins. (Activision, 1980, for Atari 2600)

Memories: Programmed at roughly the same time as Atari’s consumer division was working on Video Checkers, Checkers was one of the first four games released by third-party software upstart Activision – the first company to focus solely on making software for other companies’ hardware. Continue reading

Freeway

FreewayThe Game: Why the chicken crossed the road is no longer the question. Now the question is will the chicken cross the road? That part is up to you. You are the chicken. You must avoid traffic, but that’s a real challenge when Buy this gameyou’re confined to a straight vertical line from the bottom of the screen to the top. You can’t deviate left or right. You can only charge – or retreat. Getting hit by a car will send you back to your starting position to try again. Getting all the way across the street increases your score by one point. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: An incredibly fun game, and one of a then-dying (well, for that matter, it’s still dying) breed of two-player games, Freeway beat the Atari 2600 version of Frogger to the stores by a year. Continue reading

Ice Hockey

Ice HockeyBuy this gameThe Game: Hit the ice and get the puck outta here. You have control of two players in this scaled-down match: one offensive player and one defensive player who can leave his goalie position (but not without giving the other team a better chance to land a shot). Keep the other team – whether it’s a second player or the “Activision computer” – from getting a goal, while trying to get past their defenses to slam a shot into their net. The holder of the highest score when the clock runs out is the winner. (Activision, 1981)

See the videoMemories: Hockey had been a fixture of the video game world long before Activision released Ice Hockey as one of its earliest titles. Early video hockey was essentially Pong with hockey rules, despite attempts to make the players look more like people than paddles (see the Odyssey 500 console). But Ice Hockey flipped the playing field 90 degrees, and made the on-screen characters look and act like human hockey players – right down to being knocked on their butts. 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

Laser Blast

Laser BlastBuy this gameThe Game: What a refreshing change of pace. This time, you control a wave of spaceships attacking from the sky, and the computer is stuck on the ground firing at you. It’s payback time! Destroy the ground defense positions and guide your flying saucers into attack position. But apparently the three-lives rule doesn’t apply to the computer: you can never completely get rid of the ground defenses…you only encounter more agile ones. So, being the unfair world that it is, the game continues until you run out of ships. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: This craftily subversive title from Activision turns a lot of scroll-and-shoot conventions on their ear, but at its heart, it’s a little bit of Defender and a little bit of Sky Diver and a whole lot of madness. Continue reading

Tennis

TennisBuy this gameThe Game: Is it Pong anthropomorphized, or is it tennis rehumanized? Two people dash back and fourth across a court, making every attempt to intercept the incoming ball and slap it back into their opponent’s side of the net. As with so many other things in life, he who drops the ball suffers severely. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: Doesn’t really matter how you dress it up: it’s all tennis. Only Activision‘s Tennis cartridge, programmed by Alan Miller, was the first time someone had tried to make the tennis players look like…well, tennis players, at least on the VCS. As one of the very first titles released by Activision, Tennis broke graphical ground, but kept game play simple, often simulating an existing sport or activity – the salad days of innovation with games like Pitfall! were still to come. Continue reading

Barnstorming

BarnstormingBuy this gameThe Game: Players climb into a biplane to race against time to fly through barns and try to avoid geese, who have a habit of finding their way into one’s propellers. Other obstacles include windmills and, well, the broad side of a barn; collisions are a mere setback, not a fiery death. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: As one of the best-remembered early Activision titles, Barnstorming is actually See the videoa very simple game: most, if not all, of the game is based on easily memorized patterns, and the rest is down to reflexes. One element of the game, however, has a surprisingly checkered history. Continue reading

Chopper Command

Chopper CommandBuy this gameThe Game: You’re a lone attack helicopter jockey in unfriendly desert territory, trying to stop a seemingly endless attacking fleet of enemy jets from bombing a convoy on the ground. (Activision, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Maybe the best example ever of Activision stealing Atari’s thunder right out from under it, Chopper Command is essentially the same game as Defender, with the singular exception that the enemy is bombing the ground-dwellers instead of trying to abduct them. Continue reading

Fishing Derby

Fishing DerbyThe Game: You (and a friend, in the two-player game) are sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the time float away, and trying to catch some dinner at the same time. There’s only one problem: apparently Roy Scheider led you to this fishin’ See the videoBuy this gamehole, because there’s a shark roaming the waters near the surface – and he’ll happily eat your fish (the shark, that is, not Roy Scheider) if you happen to reel them in while he’s facing you. Some of the fish will put up a mighty struggle when caught, which can also lead them to a date with the shark. The first to snag a hundred fishies wins. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: Put away the current gen fishing reel controllers, this is where the odd sport of video fishing began. Fishing Derby, one of Activision’s early offerings, is proof that, once upon a time, imagination dominated the game-making scene instead of marketing considerations reigning supreme. Continue reading

Grand Prix (Atari 2600)

Grand PrixBuy this gameThe Game: Start your digital engines! Grand Prix puts the player behind the wheel of a sleek (and, it has to be said, colorful) race car. With the track scrolling from right to left, the game is simple: get ahead, and don’t crash into the other cars. That may sound easy enough, but hazards such as oil slicks can send a car spinning out of control very easily. (Activision, 1982)

See the videoMemories: One of David Crane’s earliest games at Activision, Grand Prix is almost as important as a tech demo as it is as a game. Consider the large, blocky pixel-cars Atari‘s first-party racing games; the colorful, finely-detailed cars in Crane’s Grand Prix were a revelation by comparison. Grand Prix brought us cars of many different colors, with animated tires, and none of the sprite flicker that had already come to characterize many a 2600 game by this point. It was yet another case of Activision putting Atari on notice to start bringing its “A” game – literally. Continue reading

Keystone Kapers

Keystone KapersSee the videoThe Game: Kriminals are on the loose in an unspecified retail establishment, and you happen to be the lone kop on the kase. Bouncy balls, shopping karts and other krap get in your way as you try to katch the kriminal before time runs out. You might get lucky and hitch an elevator ride, or you may have to take the escalators at opposite ends of the store, which will take more time. If you don’t kapture the krook, he gets away with the loot. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: A simple little game from the hallowed house of Activision, Keystone Kapers is one of those games you really don’t need the docs to play. Continue reading

Megamania

MegamaniaBuy this gameThe Game: The sky is falling! Or so it seems. As this game is subtitled “A Space Nightmare,” you’re not battling aliens here, but ever-descendig and evading waves of such ordinary items as bow ties, hamburgers, dice, and so on. Unlike so many other Space Invaders variations, you won’t die the moment the attacking forces reach ground zero – but you could, if they slide horizontally right into you. (Activision, 1982)

See the TV adSee the videoMemories: Activision, much like the Odyssey 2 game designers, always knew how to put enough of a twist on game with an established “formula” to keep the litigious wolf from the door, and this is another classic example of that – not to mention an annoyingly addictive little game. Continue reading

Pitfall!

Pitfall!Buy this gameThe Game: As Pitfall Harry, you’re exploring the deepest jungle in search of legendary lost treasures, whether they be above ground, hidden strategically next to inescapable tar pits or ponds infested with hungry gators, or in the underground catacombs under the guard of deadly scorpions. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: Pitfall! – subtitled The Adventures of Pitfall Harry – was the first blockbuster title from Activision, a software house formed by four former Atari programmers. Activision consistently turned out addictively playable and – bearing in
See the original TV adSee the videomind the 2600’s graphic limitations – gorgeous games. After all, Activision’s core gamesmiths knew the Atari 2600 hardware better than anyone, and were able to avoid such common, erm, pitfalls as flickering sprites and big, clunky pixels. Continue reading

River Raid

River RaidBuy this gameThe Game: You’re piloting a fighter jet on a canyon run through enemy territory. You can’t fly outside the canyon walls, so stay over the river and blast everything in sight. Well, almost everything – flying your plane on top of “FUEL” buoys instead of shooting them puts a little bit of gas in the tank, and if you run out of fuel, you might as well just swallow the next enemy bullet, because you’re goin’ down. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: As you advance through the levels and it gets more challenging, River Raid becomes the same kind of balancing act between self-preservation and going on the See the TV adSee the videooffensive that is a hallmark of all-time classics like Robotron. River Raid was the brainchild of Activision programmer Carol Shaw, one of the small number of women who had a vital hand in the early video game industry (such as Carla Meninsky, programmer of numerous early Atari 2600 titles, and Dona Bailey, an Atari arcade programmer who co-designed Centipede). And yet River Raid is a shoot-’em’-up that’ll challenge any hardcore joystick jock. Continue reading

Spider Fighter

Spider FighterBuy this gameThe Game: It’s a full-scale infestation! Spiteful spiders are hatching everywhere you look, and they’ve got an eye on feeding and breeding. Your blaster is the only thing stopping them, and you’ve got to be lightning fast. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: Possibly the most original arcade-ish game Activision released for the Atari 2600, Spider Fighter is a fast and furious shoot-’em-up requiring a lot of fast thinking; it’s also refreshingly free of the flicker that plagues so many 2600 games. Continue reading

The Activision Decathlon

The Activision DecathlonBuy this gameThe Game: Let the games begin! The Activision Decathlon puts players in the middle of ten summer Olympic events, each of which requires fast and furious joystick action, and careful timing on the fire button, to measure the player’s physical prowess. Events include 100 and 400 meter dashes, long jump, discus, shot put, high jump and more. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Olympic-themed video games began to pile on pretty thick starting with Track & Field in the arcade, and Activision was ahead of the curve as well, getting See the videoThe Activision Decathlon on the market a year before the 1984 games. Like Track & Field, Decathlon made use of a unique control scheme that brought some real physicality to the game, requiring players to work up at least a little bit of a sweat. It also cost many an otherwise well-constructed controller its life. Continue reading

Crackpots!

Crackpots!The Game: You are Potsy, a flowerpot-chucking tenant in a building being overrun by spiders. As they come up the walls, hurl potted plants at ’em to squish them before they can climb into the windows; if too many spiders make it Buy this gamethrough, they eat away at the building from the ground up until game is over. Black spiders follow a straightforward, no-nonsense path to the windows, while blue spiders zig-zag a bit. Red and green spiders follow more unpredictable paths, forcing you to try to nail them as they crawl the walls diagonally. Super powers will not be granted to you if you get bitten. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Sort of like a slide-and-shoot game in reverse, Crackpots! is a fun little number with some cute graphics and game play speed that gradually (but inevtiably) goes off the scale. Still, it’s incredibly simple and loads of fun too – and not surprisingly, it’s been revived for more modern consoles as part of Activision’s classic game compilations. Continue reading

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