Enduro

EnduroBuy this gameThe Game: As one of many drivers in a round-the-clock endurance race through many areas, terrains and weather conditions. While the pretty boys at Fuji may have sunshine all the time (or so it seems), an Enduro racer has to contend with slick snow, nighttime driving conditions (where the other drivers’ tail lights are the only warning you have of their presence), fog (which is much like night driving, but about 10 times worse), and so on. (Activision, 1983)

See the videoMemories: Enduro is a killer driving game, taking the same graphical gimmick that made Pole Position a hit, and increasing the challenge of the game – even to the point of exceeding the depth of the game that it’s loosely based on. Continue reading

Oink!

Oink!Buy this gameThe Game: As one of the Three Little Pigs, your job is to make sure the bricks of your porcine pals’ dwelling is strong enough to withstand the assault of the Big Bad Wolf, whose tongue resembles that of some kind of poisonous frog (if he knocks a big enough hole in the pigs’ brick wall, he can fire his tongue through the opening and “sting” your pig…!?). The game continues until you repair the wall…or run out of little pigs. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: This amusing little gem from Activision seems to borrow a little bit from Taito‘s Zoo Keeper coin-op, in which one controls the zoo guru in question, trying to make sure that wild critters such as snakes and elephants stay bricked into their cages. At least the same basic game concepts seem to be shared.

Oink! is a hysterical little game whose deceptively cutesy 4 quarters!characters may have caught more than one player off guard – the game soon achieves a frantic pace. The three little pigs/big bad wolf elements are also present in Konami‘s Pooyan, in which Mama Pig fights back (and boy, does she look pissed!).

Plaque Attack

Plaque AttackBuy this gameThe Game: One of the great dental scare games (also see Tooth Protectors and Jawbreaker), Plaque Attack pits you against tooth decay itself! Wave after wave of burgers, hot dogs, fries ‘n’ fruit assault a mouth with eight teeth in it (only eight? Something tells me this patient’s beyond help already), and you pilot a tube of toothpaste packing enough fluoride to blast them all into sparkly white oblivion – if you can keep up with all of them. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: It’s a weird topic for a game, but truth be told, that’s one of the many things I loved about the early era of video games: it wasn’t all fighting, driving, first-person shooter, RPG, flight sim or dancing. Anything was game (to coin a phrase). Now, in all honesty, Plaque Attack is little more than a rehash of Megamania (right down to the killer burgers) with a dash of Missile Command thrown in for good measure (if you’re doing well and survive a wave where you’ve lost teeth, you’ll actually get a tooth back). Continue reading

Pressure Cooker

Pressure CookerBuy this gameThe Game: The orders are flying fast and furious. The customers are waiting. The clock is ticking. And you’re the only short-order cook in the kitchen. Your job is simple: arrange a series of hamburgers with ingredients indicated by the symbols at the bottom of the screen. Don’t waste any condiments if you can help it, and whatever you do, don’t make a burger with toppings and condiments and then drop it into the wrong delivery chute. If you fill all the orders correctly in the time allotted, you might just get promoted to manager…but chances are, you’ll have to do it all again, only faster this time. (Activision, 1983)

See the videoMemories: This jewel of a game was the second Activision release for Garry Kitchen, who would later bring himself – and Activision – acclaim for a computer program called Game Maker. But for now, Kitchen had recently signed up, along with his brother, as the east coast branch of a company who – along with any other video game company that expected to stay in business – was decidedly located on the west coast. He already had a solid pedigree in the form of a slightly obscure shoot-’em-up, Space Jockey, published by Vidtec (later known as U.S. Games), and a little best-seller called Donkey Kong. He had also been one of the engineers responsible for the very popular miniature electronic pinball game, Wildfire. Continue reading

Seaquest

SeaquestBuy this gameThe Game: You’re commanding a submarine roaming the depths of the Atari 2600, attempting to rescue divers while also battling off sharks and enemy subs. Once you’ve gotten six of those defenseless divers aboard, you’ll need to surface to offload them. If either the sharks or subs collide with you, you lose a sub and one diver (I haven’t quite figured out how the rest of the divers manage to survive the collision, but then again they are wearing scuba gear…but still, how do they wind up aboard the next sub?) – and you’re equally dead if your oxygen meter runs empty, but you can prevent that by surfacing and replenishing it before returning to the deep. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: This nifty little gem from Activision is one of those games which is incredibly easy to pick up, and hard to put down once you get the hang of it. And the ease of the first few levels is deceptive – this game hustles you big time by softening you up before it starts to throw rows of sharks or subs at you. Continue reading

River Raid

River RaidThe 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 See the videoin 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, 1983)

Memories: Early in Activision‘s foray into publishing games for the Intellivision, the company issued a strange edict to its programmers: if it was a port of a game also released for the Atari VCS, don’t make the game look significantly different from the Atari version. River Raid is a good example of what happened once Activision abandoned that extremely odd policy. Continue reading

Robot Tank

Robot TankBuy this gameThe Game: So much for the tank platoon. You’re in charge of a lone robotic tank on a battlefield buzzing with bad guys. A radar sweep gives you advance notice of approaching enemies, but there are so many of them out there that even that warning may not come soon enough. A series of critically-placed blasts could leave you immobile, or worse yet, unarmed and helpless to do anything but take a pounding until it’s all over. Repair systems can restore these lost abilities – if you survive that long. The fighting doesn’t stop at night either – the sun goes down, leaving you in the dark for several minutes, capable of fighting and navigating only by instrumentation with little in the way of visual cues. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Just as Activision beat Parker Bros.‘ rendition of Frogger to the punch with Freeway, they also bested Atari’s own unexpectedly impressive Atari 2600 port of Battlezone with their own first-person tank entry, Robot Tank. Designed and programmed by Alan Miller, Robot Tank has some of Activision’s familiar signatures – the near-impossible color palette they squeezed out of the 2600, the almost flicker-free graphics, and just plain addictive game play. But in this case, Atari’s home version of Battlezone was no slouch either, so it’s hard to pick a clear winner. Continue reading

Sky Jinks

Sky JinksBuy this gameThe Game: It’s a lovely day for a little bit of prop flying. You’re at the stick of a small, single-engine plane, and you must complete an increasingly difficult succession of courses where you must pass different colored pylons on the left or right. But there are obstacles that don’t make this easy – several balloonists also agree that it’s a good day to take to the air, and then there are the trees… (Activision, 1983)

Memories: I can’t tell you how many hours I spent with this game as a kid. It drove me nuts! I could whip around like a flying ace on the easy courses, but never failed to wipe out on the more advanced ones. Continue reading

Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Orbit

Space ShuttleBuy this gameThe Game: You’re the pilot of the space shuttle. And the mission specialist too, apparently. (Hey, everyone’s making staffing cutbacks these days.) You must keep the orbiter on target during launch, not allowing it to drift off course, and then you must retrieve, repair and re-deploy a satellite. Then augur the shuttle in for a smooth landing – and then get in line for your next mission, which begins almost immediately after your previous one. (Did we mention that, in this game’s universe, you’re NASA’s only shuttle pilot and mission specialist?) (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Activision‘s excessively cool shuttle flight sim piqued my interest just as a later Apple II resource-management game, Project Space Station, did. I’ve always liked the idea of a modern-day (or five-minutes-into-the-future, as was the case with Project) space sim that doesn’t involve blowing stuff up. Continue reading

Happy Trails

Happy TrailsThe Game: Players control a lawman hot on the trail of a notorious bank robber – a notoriously messy one, it should be noted, since his loot is scattered all over the place. Using the controller, pieces of the maze can be shifted (even while one of the characters is on it) to allow the sheriff to recover the money and capture the bad guy, but while leaving a character going in circles momentarily, letting him wander into the open gap in the maze will cost a precious life. Clearing the maze will restart the chase anew, on a bigger and more complex maze. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: The first Activision title for Intellivision that wasn’t simply an Intellivision version of an Atari 2600 game, Happy Trails raised some serious hackles with the makers of the machine it on which it was designed to run. Continue reading

The Dreadnaught Factor

The Dreadnaught FactorThe Game: Piloting a series of solo space fighters, you’re humanity’s last hope against a fleet of gigantic, triangular wedge-shaped battle cruisers bearing down on Earth. Launching from a staging area equipped with a hyperspace See the videogate to fling your fighters into the void at top speed, you must strafe these cruisers in your fighter, bombing and blasting their gun emplacements, engines, and an assortment of weak spots on their ship. The enemy cruisers also have defensive fighters that they’ll launch to keep you from getting the job done, and of course the cruisers themselves are bristling with enormous laser cannons. Hitting all of the guns, engines and other “soft targets” on a cruiser will destroy it, giving you a momentary reprieve until the next cruiser arrives. If you run out of ships or fail to stop the enemy, they’ll wipe out your planet – game over, indeed. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: Further proof that long before Lucasfilm ever entered the video gaming arena, George Lucas was having a massive ripple effect on the medium: the dreadnaughts in Dreadnaught Factor are – and let’s not kid ourselves here – clearly Star Destroyers. They’re shaped and laid out like them, right down to the control tower. If you ever wanted to see what would’ve happened if Han really had taken the Millennium Falcon into a head-to-head battle with a Star Destroyer, or if that poor sap in the A-Wing hadn’t been out of control, this is your game. Continue reading

Robot Rubble

Robot RubbleThe Game: Robots descend from the mountains with one mission in mind: they’d like to fry you. In fact, they’re pretty adamant on that point. You’re armed with a weapon that can fling anti-robot grenades at them, but you have to account for a trajectory that can be affected by your own movement; mountainous See the videooutcroppings give you shelter, but not for long, since they also give the robots target practice. If you score a direct hit and blast a robot apart, you’re left with a narrow window of opportunity in which to land another grenade and permanently dismantle the remaining robot parts…if you can’t accomplish that, the robot will gather up its parts and reassemble itself to have another go at you. (Activision, 1983 – never released)

Memories: One of the strangest marketing policies to emerge from the golden age of video games was Activision‘s absurd – and eventually abandoned – strategy of trying to make its early Intellivision titles look and sound exactly like their Atari 2600 counterparts. While Activision was doing this, possibly to save the marketing department from having to prepare two different sets of artwork per game, Imagic vaulted ahead of them and became the definitive third-party software provider for the Intellivision. One only needs to look at the 2600 and Intellivision versions of Demon Attack or Atlantis to formulate the question “Why on Earth would Activision hobble their own developers like that?” Continue reading

Beamrider

BeamriderBuy this gameThe Game: Alien ships are sliding toward you on a gridwork of energy; as the pilot of the Beamrider, your job is to destroy them before they get too close to home (i.e. the bottom of the screen). They can fire back, though, and while in some cases you can return fire and intercept their shots, it depends on what kind of weaponry they’re using. When you run out of Beamriders, the aliens take over. (Activision, 1984)

See the videoMemories: With the abandoned 2600 prototype of Tempest being the closest thing to an exception, Beamrider was the only attempt to the bring that arcade game’s style of action to the 2600. And in the end, Beamrider more closely resembles the one-line idea that led to Tempest: “First Person Space Invaders“. Continue reading

Beamrider

BeamriderThe Game: Alien ships are sliding toward you on a gridwork of energy; as the pilot of the Beamrider, your job is to destroy them before they get too close to home (i.e. the bottom of the screen). They can fire back, though, and while in some cases you can return fire and intercept their shots, it depends on what kind of weaponry they’re using. When you run out of Beamriders, the aliens take over. (Activision, 1984)

Memories: The Colecovision port of Activision‘s answer to Tempest, Beamrider is – perhaps not surprisingly – a lot smoother than it is on the Atari 2600. But somehow it manages to take its sweet time getting faster. Continue reading

Cosmic Commuter

Cosmic CommuterThe Game: Sometimes it’s not all about saving the whole freakin’ world. Sometimes it’s about just being a cabbie. Picking people up, zipping through traffic, and trying to get them to where they’re going without them – or yourself – killed in the process. Substitute traffic for alien ships and space debris, and you’ve got Cosmic Buy this gameCommuter. Make sure your taxi pod is loaded up on fuel, avoid everything except for the passengers, and don’t forget to dock safely with your launch/landing module when you’ve picked everyone up. You can shoot obstacles out of your way in a tight squeeze, but be careful – you could also shoot your next refueling station out of the sky too. Three collisions or crash landings due to an empty gas tank, and you’re out of the taxi business. (Activision, 1984)

Memories: Cosmic Commuter is a very cool scrolling game with a neat premise, something that I can identify with a lot better than being a fighter jock. This is also an extremely colorful game with a heap of animated graphics, and not one second of sprite flicker. Continue reading

Ghostbusters

GhostbustersThe Game: The only video game in history that turns you into Bill Murray, Ghostbusters gives you a taste of the lucrative franchising opportunity that is supernatural paranormal investigation and elimination. You start the game out with a supply screen and – naturally – a limited budget. Pick up all the ghostbusting gear you can afford and get to work. Much of the game is played out on a map of several city blocks of the Big Apple, where haunted buildings will flash red. You respond to each call by going there, which takes you to a brief “driving” game in which you can vacuum up free-roaming ghosts (if you’ve installed a ghost-vac on your car). Once you arrive, set the trap and position your two busters carefully (so as not to cross the streams), and snag the ghost before it simply leaves or slimes you. Trapping ghosts will net the big bucks, which you need to continue your franchise. Letting the paranormal activity in New Your City continue unabated will result in the unleashing of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, who’ll stomp entire city blocks (and earn you a hefty fine). If the city’s PK (psychokinetic) activity meter reaches 10,000, the game is over. (Activision, 1984)

Memories: An addictive little game, this, and probably one of the best movie-to-video-game licenses ever brought to life. Ghostbusters on the big screen was big money when this game was released, and Activision had to deliver a decent game. Continue reading

H.E.R.O.

H.E.R.O.Buy this gameThe Game: As an airborne rescuer with a helicopter backpack and plenty of explosives, your job is to fly (and run) through a series of sinister caverns, retrieving hostages and doing away with such deadly dangers as poisonous spiders. (In short, you’re venturing into places that would have Pitfall Harry making a tar pit in his pants.) Oh, and make sure you don’t shoot out the lights handily installed in nearly every cavern, or you won’t be able to see the danger until you put your foot in it – and then even your helicopter backpack won’t help you. (Activision, 1984)

See the videoMemories: One of Activision’s most celebrated originals, H.E.R.O. is a fast-paced game with enough exploration and enough hair-trigger excitement to keep all kinds of gamers happy. In some respects it’s very similar to Pitfall II, only this time you get to blow obstacles away instead of just having to avoid them. Continue reading

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns

Pitfall IIBuy this gameThe Game: As famed treasure-hunter Pitfall Harry, you’re delving deep into the Lost Caverns, which are loaded with Incan treasures beyond compare – or so they say. But the vast subterranean chambers are also full of dangers – bats, poisonous frogs, electric eels, and huge chasms. Touching any one of these creatures will force you to retreat to the last base camp you See the videoestablished, and you’ll lose points every second until you get back there. The only way to win the game is to find your way back to the surface after recovering all of the treasures of the Lost Caverns – and to do this, you won’t be able to go back the way you came. (Activision, 1984)

Memories: This was the best game ever created for the Atari 2600, hands-down. Continue reading

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