I, Robot

I, RobotThe Game: A huge, Big Brother-like head pops up and says “The law: no jumping!” to your little robot, and naturally, the cocky little automaton has other ideas (replying “Oh yeah!”). And so your mission begins, guiding the robot over See the videoramps, around narrow catwalks, and leaping across huge chasms. If the all-seeing eye opens while your robot it jumping, however, a blaster turns your hero into a heap of spare parts. If you successfully claim all of the red area on the screen, you have a narrow “launch window” in which to jump across to the eye’s platform and destroy it. The your robot launches into space, blowing away obstacles in his path, avoiding saucers and solid objects, and eventually landing on another series of ramps and catwalks to begin the quest anew. And if that doesn’t do it for you, you can put in another quarter and relax in Doodle City. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Once arcade games caught on as the profitable concern of the 80s, it seemed like everyone who had even the tip of a single finger in the electronics or coin-operated business glutted the market with barely-disguised riffs on the Pac-Man or Defender or Space Invaders concepts, saturating a previously innovative market with cheap copycat games (or, in a few cases until the attorneys caught up with them, outright bootlegs). In many ways, this parallels the Atari-era crash of the home video game cartridge industry, and it’s hardly a coincidence that both industries suffered simultaneous catastrophic shakedowns. 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

Pole Position II

Pole Position IIThe Game: So, you survived the qualifying lap and the big race in Pole Position and you’re ready to move on to bigger and better challenges? Well okay then. Now, in addition to the Fuji track, there are others to choose from – Buy this gamethe simple oval of the Test track, and the elaborate (and sometimes deadly) curves of the Seaside and Wonder tracks. As before, going over the shoulder isn’t a good thing – nor is crawling up the tailpipe of the cars in front of you, for the explosions in this game are even more spectacular than those of its predecessor. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1983)

Memories: Namco knows a thing or two about decent sequels, having given us such classics as Galaga (the sequel to Galaxian), Dig Dug 2 and the obscure Hopping Mappy. Pole Position II‘s controls are even more responsive, the graphics more fluid and realistic, and the explosions? Well, let’s put it this way – Pole Position kills you with a nice big explosion. Pole Position II throws debris. Continue reading

Star Wars

Star WarsBuy this gameThe Game: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…you mean to tell me there’s someone out there who doesn’t know this story?! 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 use your own lasers to blast their incoming fire out See the videoof 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… (Atari, 1983)

Memories: In a sad way, Atari’s uber-Star Wars game puts Sega’s rival Star Trek arcade game in its grave. The eminently playable and addictive Star Wars is fast-moving, gut-wrenching, and best yet, you actually have at least a chance of winning the game, offering some satisfaction that you’d accomplished something. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an See the videoescalating score . Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. 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… (Atarisoft, 1983; re-released by INTV Corp., 1984)

Memories: This version of the world’s most famous coin-op does not disappoint. It’s a little surprising that Atari could do a better Pac-Man for the Intellivision than it could for the VCS. And, not to insult Mr. Tod Frye, who programmed the 2600 version of Pac-Man, but the programmer of Atarisoft’s Intellivision translation of the game was someone who had previously worked for Mattel Electronics itself, and knew how to milk the most out of the machine’s graphics and sound capabilities. And what a difference it made! Continue reading

Return Of The Jedi

Return Of The JediBuy this gameThe Game: In the first screen, you’re zipping through the forest of Endor on a stolen speeder bike, with Imperial stormtroopers on their own bikes chasing you. While you can shoot the stormtroopers’ bikes or bump them off the playing field, they can shoot you, and running into trees isn’t good for anyone’s health. Your only advantage? The indigenous Ewoks, those furry little critters who occupy a special, beloved place in every Star Wars fan’s heart, will help you out if you lead the stormtroopers into their primitive traps. The second screen is much like the first, only you’re flying the Millennium Falcon through the Death Star trenches, and the other speeder bikes are now TIE Interceptors. (Atari, 1984)

The Game: Though graphically superior, and almost certainly guaranteed to gross more quarters just because of the Star Wars association, this game was, more or less, Zaxxon with a new paint job. Still, many players at the time hailed it as a vast step up from the vector graphics Star Wars game which Atari had released the previous year, even if the controls were aggravating. Continue reading

Super Xevious

The Game: As the commander of a sleek Solvalou fighter, you’re deep into enemy territory, shooting their disc-shaped fighters out of the sky, bombing ground installations and artillery nests, bombing tanks, and trying to destroy the mothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and Buy this gamedeadly ground-based defenses become the norm. Also look out for tumbling airborne mirrors – they’re impervious to your fire, but you’re toast if you fly right into them. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1984)

Memories: The original arcade Xevious was no pushover, but like several of its Namco stablemates, it was possible to outwit the machine by using some of its own pattern-based programming against it. With Super Xevious, this was more difficult, because the game’s internal A.I. was adaptive and could throw more at the player based on his demonstrated skill level. But some players had discovered a solution to this adaptive enemy intelligence, and games lasting more than ten minutes on a single quarter were not uncommon. Continue reading

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of DoomThe Game: As famed archaeologist / adventurer Indiana Jones, you enter a vast complex of caverns through one of three entrances (which one determines how hard the game will be). Your first task is to evade See the videoand/or whip the Thuggee guards into submission as you free caged children. You then make your escape in a runaway mine cart, which you have to keep on the tracks while also whipping anyone in a pursuing cart who gets too close. After getting the children to safety, you embark on far more dangerous adventures, but with greater risks come greater rewards… (Atari Games, 1985)

Memories: Now this is the kind of experience one expects from an Indiana Jones game – kicking butt, grabbing treasure, getting out alive, and avoiding snakes because you hate snakes. It’s by no means a perfect game, but when I need a pixellated Indiana Jones fix, this winds up being my go-to game. Continue reading

Pac-Mania

Pac-ManiaThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around relatively simple mazes, gobbling small dots and evading five colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, Buy this gamelarger dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If you clear the maze of dots, you advance to a new maze and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Atari Games [under license from Namco], 1987)

Memories: I still refer to this game, only half-jokingly, as Paxxon. It resembles nothing so much as classic Pac-Man played from Zaxxon‘s three-quarter overhead view. The only real game play innovation brought about by this vaguely 3-D perspective is Pac’s new ability to jump over monsters, though even this escape method has some bizarre physics: if Pac takes to the air as he’s going around a corner, he will still go around the corner, only airborne. Don’t ask me how that works! Continue reading

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