Super Breakout

Super BreakoutThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. In some games, there may be other, free-floating balls trapped in “cavities” in the bricks, and setting them loose will mean you’ll have several balls – and not all of them necessarily yours, disturbingly enough – to handle. Missing one of your balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Super Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: So let’s see here. Atari had this great new console which sported, essentially, the guts of their Atari 400 computer, quite a bit of processing power (for its day) for a game-playing machine. Capable of detailed, colorful graphics and excellent sound effects, the Atari 5200 would, of course, need a fantastic pack-in title at launch, something which would showcase its amazing abilities. And that’s all fine and well, but what the poor 5200 wound up with was Super Breakout. Continue reading

SwordQuest: Earthworld

Swordquest: EarthworldBuy this gameThe Game: As a lone adventurer, you wander through the labyrinthine expanses of an underground dungeon in search of a lost treasure. You must cross Frogger-esque screens of fast-moving logs, avoid rooms full of deadly spears which will only kill you just enough to drop-kick your sorry butt back to the bottom of the screen, and enjoy the full capabilities of the Atari 2600’s ability to generate varying frequencies of white noise. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: One of the handful of debacles that marked the change in Atari‘s fortunes, the SwordQuest series was a very heavily-hyped four-game saga which tried to break new ground in the adventure genre for the 2600 console. Sadly, it didn’t even get close to breaking ground, or even wind for that matter – the fourth title, Airworld, was never released. Supposedly, the winners of each of the first three games would compete for a bejewelled prize and the opportunity to reconvene for a tournament to complete the fourth game first and win a wildly expensive sword. Continue reading

Vanguard

VanguardThe Game: Your Vanguard space fighter has infiltrated a heavily-defended alien base. The enemy outnumbers you by six or seven to one at any given time (thank goodness for animated sprite limitations, or you’d be in real trouble!). You can fire above, below, ahead and behind your ship, which is an art you’ll need to master since enemy ships attack from all of these directions. You can’t run into any of the walls and expect to survive, but you can gain brief invincibility by flying through an Energy block, which supercharges your hull enough to ram your enemies (something which, at any other time, would mean certain death for you as well). At the end of your treacherous journey lies the alien in charge of the entire complex – but if you lose a life at that stage, you don’t get to come back for another shot! (Atari, 1982)

VanguardSee the TV adMemories: Viva Vanguard! I remember quite a few of my buddies at the time preferring this cartridge edition to the arcade game that inspired it, and with a little bit of thought it’s easy to see why. With only one button, Atari’s home version of Vanguard allowed players to dispense with the arcade’s compass rose of fire buttons; for lack of any better way to handle it, this version of Vanguard just unleashed white-hot electric death in all directions everytime the fire button was pressed. Hey, problem solved! No more getting broadsided by enemies dropping down from above. Simple, elegant. Even those of us who regularly got our butts handed to us by the coin-op could be Vanguard victors now. Continue reading

Battlezone

BattlezoneThe Game: As the pilot of a heavy tank, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and landing vehicles. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: Battlezone, in its arcade incarnation, was a huge, lumbering hulk of a beast with controls which were at best difficult to master (and at worst impossible), though it did sport some very good faux-3-D vector graphics. How on Earth was Atari going to turn this into a 2600 game? 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, 1983)

Memories: Already released in a near-picture-perfect version on the Atari 2600, Berzerk was surely an easy game to port to that console’s newer, more powerful sibling. But the 2600 version was so good, what could Atari do to top it? Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the See the videoPookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Fresh from the arcade, one of the first fruits of Atari’s new licensing deal with Namco (which also yielded the hits Pole Position and Xevious) was this deliriously cute new take on the maze craze, in which you created your own maze – not that you or anything else in the game were obliged to stick to the confines of that maze, mind you. Atari quickly turned out home versions of Dig Dug for the 2600 and the 5200 consoles, as well as their 8-bit computers and other systems. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the See the original TV adSee the videoPookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, can can toast you if you’re not careful. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: This is one of those cases where one wonders what all the Atari 5200 hype was about. Do you mean to tell me that the graphics in this home version of the licensed-from-Namco Atari coin-op are appreciably better than the cartridge that Atari turned out for the lower-end 2600 console? I just don’t see it. Continue reading

Galaxian

GalaxianThe Game: As with the classic arcade game, you’re fending off numerous attack waves of an advancing alien fleet, trying to pick them off one by See the videoone while trying not to allow the space creepies to return the favor. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: A slightly odd choice for a 1983 release, Galaxian is another fruit of Atari’s overall licensing deal with Namco, but by this time its popularity had been eclipsed by that of its sequel, Galaga, and in the context of trying to keep up with the latest and greatest, an adaptation of a game with a 1979 vintage in 1983 is slightly strange. Continue reading

Joust

JoustThe Game: Suit up in armor, grab a lance, and mount your trusty ostrich. Then you try to impale others who have done the same, and eliminate the remaining “eggs” which will hatch a new warrior if left long enough. Other threats include the almost invincible pterodactyl and the Lava Troll (whose firey hands assist enemy knights while trying to drag yours into the molten rock). In later levels, there are fewer solid surfaces on which to take refuge. When one of your knights is toppled, another appears, given momentary immunity from harm until he is moved. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: In a rare instance, the 5200’s non-centering joysticks, the bugbear of many an otherwise decent arcade translation, could occasionally help you in this game. Continue reading

Joust

JoustThe Game: As a fearless pile of buzzard bait encased in armor, you pilot your trusty steed – who happens to be an ostrich, by the way – in an effort to impale your opponents – who also happen to be riding ostriches – before they can lance you. Other dangers include a pterodactyl who periodically arrives to thin out the ranks of on-screen See the TV adwarriors if things are taking too long, and platforms that disappear under your feet, plunging you into a sea of molten lava. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Joust is an incredibly fun and addictive game with a loyal cult following, and Atari did it “joust-ice”. Many of Atari’s home versions of arcade games from this period, whether programmed in-house or farmed out to General Computer, seemed to follow a tenet of getting key graphics and gameplay right above all else, and Joust is a good specimen of that. Continue reading

Jungle Hunt

Jungle HuntThe Game: You’re an intrepid explorer, swinging from vine to vine, braving a swim through crocodile-infested waters, leaping over and ducking under an avalanche of rocks both large and small, and trying to leap over angry natives, all to save a See the videodamsel in distress at the end of the game. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: One of the best arcade adaptations for the 5200, Jungle Hunt in cartridge form provided a very faithful port of the arcade game, right down to the jaunty music. Continue reading

Jungle Hunt

Jungle HuntThe Game: You are an intrepid, pith-helmeted explorer of the jungle! Swinging from vine to vine! Swimming through crocodile-infested waters! Jumping and ducking huge rolling boulders! And vanquishing spear-weilding natives to rescue the damsel! (Atarisoft, 1983)

Memories: One of a handful of Atarisoft games for the ColecoVision, Jungle Hunt proves a point: while Coleco was trying to drive discriminating gamers toward its own console with subpar ports of games like Zaxxon (compare the ColecoVision edition to the Atari 2600 port) and Donkey Kong (again, compare the ColecoVision and 2600 versions), Atari – post-2600 Pac-Man debacle – was at least trying to turn out quality games for whatever platform it released games on. Continue reading

Jungle Hunt

Jungle HuntThe Game: You are the king of the jungle! Swinging from vine to vine! Swimming through crocodile-infested waters! Jumping and ducking huge rolling boulders! And vanquishing spear-weilding natives to rescue the damsel! (Atari, See the video1983)

Jungle Hunt, based on the revised version of Taito’s Jungle King arcade game, was a fairly solid entry from the heyday of the Atari 2600 as the premier platform for home editions of arcade games. Faithfully adapting the four levels of the arcade game, albeit in simplified form, Jungle Hunt was actually one of the better 2600 arcade ports. Continue reading

Kangaroo

KangarooThe Game: As a mama marsupial trying to save your baby from many malignant marauding monkeys, you go on a rescue mission that involves climbing through many, many levels of the monkeys’ treehouse village, punching primates, dodging airborne apples, grabbing various fruit items along the way (considering the abundance See the videoof apples, strawberries, cherries and bananas, one can only assume these are Pac-Man’s table leavings), and avoiding the big, purple boxing-glove-stealing ape. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Released for the Atari 2600 and 5200 simultaneously, it’s a no-brainer as to which version of Kangaroo is a better representation of the sleeper hit game Atari distributed in the U.S. (a rare licensed import for a company that usually released only homegrown product). The 5200 edition looks and plays more like the coin-op, including all four of the original game’s levels and doing so without the strange blue-going-on-purple background of the 2600 cartridge. Continue reading

Kangaroo

KangarooThe Game: As a mama marsupial trying to save your baby from many malignant marauding monkeys, you go on a rescue mission that involves climbing through many, many levels of the monkeys’ treehouse village, punching primates, dodging airborne apples, grabbing various fruit items along the way (considering the abundance of apples, strawberries, cherries and bananas, one can only assume these are Pac-Man’s table leavings). (Atari, 1983)

See the videoMemories: One of the glut of arcade translations from the heyday of the VCS, Kangaroo is more or less faithful to its arcade namesake, though it’s missing one level (the one where you have to punch out an entire column of monkeys one at a time) and lacks many other details: the giant purple gorilla who swipes your boxing gloves never appears, and neither does the monkey who drops apples on you from above – the apples merely bounce out of nowhere of their own accord. Continue reading

Mario Bros.

Mario Bros.The Game: As Mario (or Luigi, if you’re playing with a second person), you’re trying to rid the sewers of such pests as evil lobsters and turtles. Try to grab as many coins as you can (it’s amazing what people let fall down the drain and into the sewer system sometimes), and always be on the lookout for the fireballs which bounce from level to level. Just how did all these things get into the sewers, anyway? (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Atari snatched the home video game license for Mario Bros. and proved that it could successfully port the game to the Atari 2600, as if to thumb its nose at Coleco for the mediocre (and that’s being charitable) 2600 version of Donkey Kong Jr.. Mario Bros. turned out to be one of the better Atari arcade adaptations. Continue reading

Moon Patrol

Moon PatrolThe Game: Driving an agile, armed moon buggy across the lunar surface, you must jump over craters and land mines, shoot large boulders (some occasionally mobile) out of your way, and try not to be on the receiving end of hostile fire from alien ships that try to strafe you. Some of the ships, which look very suspiciously like the triangle-of-spheres enemy ships from Gyruss, can even bomb the moon and make new craters for you to jump over – which may put you right into their line of fire.

Later on, you also get to blast away tanks and dodge pesky jet cars which “tailgate” and then try to ram you. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: This was a game that I played the hell out of as a kid – I’m stunned that all the bits didn’t fall out of the cartridge from repeated use. Granted, Moon Patrol in the arcade was a feast for the eyes and ears, and it’d be foolish to expect none of that to be lost in the translation to a far simpler hardware platform like the Atari 2600. But what’s surprising is how much of the game actually survived the transition. Continue reading

Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-ManThe Game: As the bride of that most famous of single-celled omniphage life forms, your job is pretty simple – eat all the dots, gulp the large blinking dots in each corner of the screen and eat the monsters while they’re blue, and avoid See the videothe monsters the rest of the time. Occasionally various fruits and other foods will bounce through the maze, and you can gobble those for extra points. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Oh, God. If there’s a genre of video game that suffers most pathetically at the hands of Atari’s non-centering 5200 controllers, it’s the maze game. And Ms. Pac-Man is among the worst victims of the 5200’s joysticks: you could wind up smacking into a wall, unable to move before those three ghosts nailed you from behind. (Actually, that sounds pretty bad.) Continue reading

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