Super Breakout

Super BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: More walls, more balls. The object of the game is the same as the original Breakout, except this time, you face things like moving walls, “cavities” which, when opened, will release additional projectiles that you’ll See the videohave to keep in the air, and more. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: As with the arcade version of Breakout, Breakout on the VCS was one of the better-selling launch titles on that machine, so it made sense in both cases to follow up with a sequel that had a few new twists. Originally unleashed in the arcade in 1978, Super Breakout added those twists, and this cartridge brought them home. Continue reading

Warlords

WarlordsBuy this gameThe Game: Think of it as Pong to the death. Two to four players hurl a fireball around the playing field, smashing the walls to each other’s castles and – hopefully – hitting the other players’ kings and putting them out of commission. Using the ubiquitous Atari paddle controller, you guide a mobile barrier around your castle which bounces the fireball right back at your opponents. Fun for the whole family; based on an arcade game by Atari which is even more obscure than this rather common cartridge. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: What a great party game! With the right group of people, this game can be intense (and intensely hilarious). In this day and age in which much to do is made of internet multiplayer games, I think I’d rather be in the same room with a bunch of friends playing Warlords than doing any of this newfangled online gaming. Continue reading

Berzerk

BerzerkThe Game: You’re alone in a maze filled with armed, hostile robots who only have one mission – to kill you. If you even so much as touch the walls, you’ll wind up dead. You’re a little bit faster than the robots, and you have human instinct on See the videoyour side…but even that won’t help you when Evil Otto, a deceptively friendly and completely indestructible smiley face, appears to destroy you if you linger too long in any one part of the maze. The object of the game? Try to stay alive however long you can. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: Despite such atrocities as the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, Atari managed to turn out a fantastic version of Stern’s hit arcade game. Almost flicker-free, and lacking only the arcade game’s primitive speech synthesis (not that much of a loss, truth be told), Atari’s Berzerk cartridge was a very good reason to own the 2600. Continue reading

Defender

DefenderThe Game: You’re a lone space pilot in very unfriendly territory, trying to stop a seemingly endless attacking fleet of aliens from kidnapping and “mutating” hapless innocents on the ground into new berzerker opponents. (Atari, See the video1981)

Memories: Though a bit more faithful to its source material than, say, the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, this first home edition of Defender suffered from many of the same problems, namely an intensely annoying “flickering” effect that affected virtually everything on the screen, from the scrolling “mountains” to the player’s own ship to the enemy fighters. Continue reading

Missile Command

Missile CommandSee the videoThe Game: Tucked away safely in an underground bunker, you are solely responsible for defending six cities from a relentless, ever-escalating ICBM attack. Your missile base is armed with three banks of nuclear missiles capable of intercepting the incoming enemy nukes, planes and smart bombs. One nuke hit on your base will incapacitate one bank of missiles for the rest of your current turn, but one nuke hit on any of your six cities will destroy it completely. (The only chance you have of rebuilding a city comes when a bonus city is awarded for every 10,000 points scored.) And when all six of your cities have been destroyed, the cataclysmic end of the world proceeds. Game over. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: After the runaway success of the licensed Space Invaders and its own in-house Asteroids translation, Atari started mining its own vaults for new cartridges – and Missile Command, the legendary Cold War video game that had given its designer nightmares about nuclear war, was a prime target. Continue reading

Video Pinball

Video PinballBuy this gameThe Game: Pull the plunger back and fire the ball into play. The more bumpers it hits, the more points you rack up. But don’t let the ball leave the table – doing so three times ends the game. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: I’m just not a huge fan of video pinball simulations – see my review of Thunderball! for Odyssey2 if you have any doubts – but having tried out Atari’s Video Pinball, I can say that it’s more fun than Thunderball! Itself a home version of one of Atari’s late 70s arcade titles, Video Pinball offers some finer graphics than you’d expect from the early waves of VCS titles. Continue reading

Yars’ Revenge

Yars' RevengeBuy this gameThe Game: As the last of a race of spacefaring insects, you must defend yourself from a relentless wave of alien attackers bent on ridding the universe of your race. An alien tracer, deadly to the touch, tracks your every move, though it cannot harm you while you’re in the neutral zone at the center of the screen. You must eat away at the aliens’ shield, which not only reduces their defenses, but builds your energy reserve so you can fire your own powerful weapon, which can wipe out the alien, the tracer – or yourself, if you’re clumsy enough to be caught in its path. (Atari, 1981)

Yars' Revenge signed by programmer Howard Scott WarshawMemories: One of the coolest games ever conceived for the Atari 2600, Yars’ Revenge was a brilliant arcade-style game. In fact, I’m amazed that it apparently never made it into coin-op form (like such games as Lode Runner and Pitfall!). In fact, Yars actually started out as an arcade port – though in the end, it differed significantly enough from its inspiration (Star Castle) that it was a whole new game. Continue reading

Centipede

CentipedeThe Game: Centipedes, spiders and fleas invade your garden of ‘shrooms. Spiders follow an evasive course and can collide with you at any moment. Fleas poison the mushrooms, making them impervious to your fire (and thus giving the Buy this gamecentipede impenetrable cover). And the centipede itself can split into many segments, and if it reaches the bottom of the screen, will turn around and start to move upward again, possibly catching you from behind. Every time you manage to completely “debug” the screen, you move up to a harder level. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: Centipede was a huge arcade hit, so it’s no wonder Atari wasted no time in creating the home translation. Though the Atari 2600 version of the game couldn’t compete with its arcade ancestor’s colorful graphics, the home version did get the point across. Continue reading

E.T.

E.T.The Game: In something that would best be described as a very vague homage to the Steven Spielberg film of the same name, E.T. allows you to guide the intrepid (and cute) extra-terrestrial on a quest to find Reese’s See the TV adPieces and transmitter pieces (with which one can, presumably, phone home), while avoiding the threatening (but cute) doctors and FBI agents. If you get into a scrape, the helpful (and cute) Elliott may be able to pry you out of a sticky situation. You may then resume your pointless quest until, inevitably, you wind up withering away at the bottom of one of the many pits in the game. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: A few phrases pop into my head when I think about this game, among them: “waste of time,” “cheap licensing cash-in,” and “was there ever anything nearly this lame for the Odyssey2?” As many have noticed, the vast majority of the effort poured, or dripped as the case may be, into E.T. was spent on the opening title screen. Pretty impressive stuff for the 2600, but the game was much more satisfying if one never got past that title screen. Continue reading

Galaxian

GalaxianThe Game: In one of the most seminal variations on the Space Invaders format, Galaxian was among the first clones to introduce attacking formations that would break off from the usual rows and columns of See the videoinvaders. Though Galaxian‘s use of this innovation was minimal, it was a drastic change from the usual slowly-advancing target gallery. (Atari, 1982)

Print new overlaysMemories: Like the 5200 version of Pac-Man, Galaxian is a good demonstration of the next-generation Atari console soundly trouncing its older brother. Galaxian is no slouch on the Atari 2600, but while the game play is relatively intact, the look and feel of the arcade game didn’t survive that particular translation. Those elements are handled much more faithfully in this version of the game, though. Continue reading

Math Gran Prix

Math Gran PrixBuy this gameThe Game: This race is a numbers game. For each turn, players have to decide how many spaces they want to move (overdoing it can result in going off-track and crashing), and then have to answer a math question (math functions and difficulty depend on game settings). Answering correctly will allow the player to move forward the desired number of spaces. A few spots on the track offer the chance to pick a random number for an additional jump forward in the race. (Atari, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Few equations have proven as impossible in the video game industry as the still-ongoing quest to make educational games not just fun, but something that anyone would actually want to fork over money for and play. Hint: Math Gran Prix, despite its noble intentions, did not solve that equation. 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, See the videolarge flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating 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… (Atari, 1982)

Memories: In the war of the second-generation consoles, it was clear what the chief ammunition would be: immensely popular arcade game licenses. The ColecoVision jumped out of the gates with Donkey Kong as a pack-in title, and Atari – already fighting bad word-of-mouth criticism of the 5200’s lackluster joysticks – would have to give the SuperSystem something a little more compelling than its cousin 2600’s Combat pack-in. But then, of course, everyone already knew that Atari held that most precious of arcade licenses in the early 80s, Pac-Man. 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 monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large See the videoflashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: It all began with the arrival of the Pac-Man arcade game in 1980. Pac-Man was guzzling millions of quarters and generating a licensing and merchandising firestorm. Numerous home video game companies bid for the rights to the game, and you have to understand, bidding for the rights to produce the home video game version of Pac-Man was like bidding for the toy rights for the next Star Wars movie – very expensive and very high-profile. Money was flying fast and furious. Atari won. Continue reading

Phoenix

PhoenixSee the videoThe Game: In a heavily armed space fighter, your job is pretty simple – ward off wave after wave of bird-like advance fighters and Phoenix creatures until you get to the mothership, and then try to blow that to smithereens. All of which would be simple if not for the aliens’ unpredictable kamikaze dive-bombing patterns. The Phoenix creatures themselves are notoriously difficult to kill, requiring a direct hit in the center to destroy them – otherwise they’ll grow back whatever wings you managed to pick off of them and come back even stronger. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: A very good translation, this. Atari’s edition of Phoenix opted to skimp a little on the graphics of the arcade original (which, truthfully, weren’t that elaborate to begin with) and concentrated more on duplicating the maddeningly random attacks of the enemy birds from its coin-op forebear. The result is an extremely playable, addictive slice of the arcade right in your living room. Continue reading

Qix

QixThe Game: You control 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. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: One can think of no better early 80s platform for Qix than the Atari 5200, and it almost manages to pull off a perfect translation. Qix is another case where the infamous 5200 joysticks can confound your efforts to draw a straight line, but a lot of games have that problem, and I can’t really hold the grudge against anyone but whoever it was who designed those controllers. Continue reading

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Raiders Of The Lost ArkThe Game: You’re guiding a pixellated rendition of famed adventurer Indiana Jones as he embarks on his search for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Meander through Middle Eastern marketplaces, obtain weapons and items of value, and watch out for snakes as you try to overcome a series of obstacles and hazardous environments, find the clues, and recover the Ark. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: One of the two movie licenses that landed on programmer Howard Scott Warshaw’s desk, the Atari 2600 game Raiders Of The Lost Ark is a near-perfect specimen of an adventure game on this console: it makes sense from reading the manual, but in practice, the way in which the game’s various settings and characters interlock and interact is almost abstract. Maybe this is one of those games where I’m just not getting the point, but I’ve always wondered why E.T. is held up as an example of what not to do with a 2600 game, and Raiders is held up as an example of a great game – to me, they’re almost identical. Continue reading

Space Invaders

Space InvadersThe Game: You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: Adapted from the Atari 400/800 home computer version of the coin-op hit, Space Invaders for the 5200 is certainly colorful, though one could argue that it’s ultimately not as faithful to the original as the graphically simpler version that appears on the Atari VCS. Continue reading

Star Raiders

Kneel to the awesome power of the mighty Atari 2600 Video Touch Pad!Star RaidersBuy this gameThe 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 damage. 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: See the TV addestroy until you are destroyed, and defend friendly installations as long as you can. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: A cult classic on the Atari 400 & 800 computers, Star Raiders was something that the VCS just couldn’t do. Continue reading

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