Asteroids

AsteroidsBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of free-floating asteroids, but the job isn’t easy – Newton’s laws of motion must be obeyed, even by asteroids. When you blow a big rock into little chunks, those chunks go zipping off in opposite directions with the speed and force imparted by the amount of energy you used to dispel them. To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable hyperspace escape mechanism and a pesky UFO that likes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. (Atari, 1980)

See the original TV adMemories: This better-than-average translation of Atari’s own arcade smash-hit (in every sense of the term) probably has a lot to do with the game’s enduring popularity. Continue reading

Circus Atari

Circus AtariThe Game: You control a clown on a moving see-saw, launching your fellow clown into the air to pop balloons and defy gravity. But what goes up must come down, and your airborne clown, if he doesn’t bounce upward upon impact with Buy this gamemore balloons, will plummet at alarming speed. You have to catch him with the empty end of the see-saw, thus catapulting the other clown into a fresh round of inflatible destruction. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: It seems like almost every system has seen a version of this game in some form or other, but you may be surprised to learn that Atari wasn’t the first by a long shot. Circus Atari steals its game play and even its setting, lock, stock and barrel, from the obscure black & white Exidy arcade game Circus (1977). Continue reading

Golf

GolfBuy this gameThe Game: Rouse your caddy, grab your golf bags, and get ready to hit the digital green. A series of crafty virtual courses awaits, with trees, sand traps and water hazards standing between you and the hole. (Atari, 1980)

See the videoMemories: Whoa now, what’s this then? Foreshadowing a trend that would characterize Atari’s sports game output for the rest of the 2600’s life span, a game that had already been issued on the VCS was revisited, with better graphics and game play. Atari already had Miniature Golf on the market, but it was golf-by-way-of-squares-and-rectangles, not something that a casual observer would look at and say, without prompting, that it resembled golf in any way. (I’d say it was subpar, but let’s not putter around.) Continue reading

Haunted House

Haunted HouseBuy this gameThe Game: Old Man Graves may be dead, but his ghost still haunts his spacious mansion, tormenting any treasure hunters bold enough to trespass in search of his fortune. The loot is said to be hidden in a golden urn, and while that seems like a conspicuous enough object to find, beware: bats and spiders will attack any who intrude on their terrifying territory. And even if you light your way with a candle, Old Man Graves may make a return (as in “from the dead”) appearance. If you survive long enough, you may make your money the old-fashioned way – you’ll urn it. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: An early experiment in expanding the horizons of games on the Atari VCS, Haunted House is among the best-remembered original games on the system, right up there with Adventure and Yars’ Revenge. Continue reading

Maze Craze (A Game Of Cops ‘N Robbers)

Maze CrazeBuy this gameThe Game: The goal of the game is simple: race through a twisty maze and beat your opponent to the exit. Some game variations adds randomly moving “robbers” to the maze, in some cases as prey and in other cases as hunters to be avoided. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: A fairly recent transplant from Fairchild, programmer Rick Maurer’s first game for the Atari VCS was pretty familiar to anyone who See the videohad been playing games on the Fairchild Channel F: it was essentially a port of the Channel F’s Maze game on the Atari console. Like its forebear, Maze Craze is a marvelously compact piece of coding, packed into a mere 2K. Like so many early titles for the 2600, it’s a lot of fun with the right crowd. Continue reading

Night Driver

Night DriverBuy this gameThe Game: You’re racing by the glow of your headlights alone – avoid the markers along the side of the road and other passing obstacles…if you can see them in time. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Just as the simplicity of Night Driver in the arcades was necessitated by the hardware limitations of its time, it was a perfect VCS title for the same reason. Though the arcade game boasts a slightly finer visual grain, it’s not by a large margin. The most distinguishable difference is the trade-off of the arcade game’s overlay artwork of the car for a blocky foreground car graphic at home; on the other hand, the home game trumps the coin-op by having color graphics. Continue reading

Space Invaders

Space InvadersSee the videoThe Game: It’s quite simple, really. 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, 1980)

Memories: Is there actually any history to this game that you don’t already know? Space Invaders was what Combat and Super Breakout weren’t – namely, the Atari 2600‘s equivalent of a killer app: a home version of an arcade game that had reached a critical mass of public recognition, even among non-video-game fans. People bought the then-expensive 2600 console just to play this game. Continue reading

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

Caverns Of Mars

Caverns Of MarsThe Game: The enemy in an interplanetary war has gone underground, and you’re piloting the ship that’s taking the fight to him. But he hasn’t just hidden away in a hole; he’s hidden away in a very well-defended hole. As if it wasn’t already going to be enough of a tight squeeze navigating subterranean caverns on Mars, you’re now See the videosharing that space with enemy ships and any number of other fatal obstacles. (Fortunately, the enemy also leaves copious numbers of helpful fuel depots for you too.) Once you fight your way to the bottom of the cave, you plant charges on the enemy mothership – meaning that now you have to escape the caverns again, and fast. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: Atari wisely realized that some of the best programming talent wasn’t necessarily on its own payroll. With so much of the company’s financial resources devoted to supporting the 2600, this paved the way for the Atari Program Exchange, a program that allowed users to send in their own best work to Atari, who would then list the best of these homebrew games and applications in an official newsletter and handle distribution on cassette and floppy disk. Continue reading

Bradley Trainer (a.k.a. “Military Battlezone”)

Atari Bradley TrainerThe Game: As the pilot of a Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and helictopers without accidentally firing on your own allies. (Atari, under special contract for the United States Army, 1981)

Memories: You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the arcade business who’d complain that a game was too good. But Ed Rotberg, designer of Atari’s original 3-D vector graphics tank hit Battlezone, would be the exception. His revolutionary first-person fighting game was impressive enough to attract the attention of the United States Army, and this landed him a very special job he did not want: retooling the game to the Army’s exacting specifications to turn it into a real training simulation. Continue reading

Black Widow

Black WidowBuy this gameThe Game: You’re a spider whose web seems to be a popular hangout for any number of flies who seem to have an aversion to getting caught there. So you’re left with the only option nature leaves open to a spider in this scenario: you shoot your prey down and eat the yummy grubsteak that’s left behind! Some bugs will have the whaudacity to lay their eggs in your web, which you can either push off the edge (a risky trick depending on how “developed” some of the eggs are) or wait to hatch into more bugs that you See the videocan shoot down. Beware of “grenade bugs” which destroy everything within a certain radius around them when you shoot them; they may take out other adversaries as they go, or destroy you if you’re too close. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: Black Widow is a fun number which smacks of an attempt to do Robotron: 2084 in vector graphics. It’s also one of the handful of Atari arcade games sporting the color vector monitor, which was prone to numerous technical glitches (not the least of which was overheating to the point that capacitors melted off the board). What vector graphics had over traditional raster displays, however, was fast action, and Black Widow is a beauty in that respect. Within only a few levels, the action is almost too much for the average player to handle. 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 Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if Buy this gamea Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. Who said landscaping was easy? (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: Dig Dug, with its animè-inspired cutesy characters and exceedingly simple game play, was a wonderfully easy game to learn, and it didn’t take much effort to reach a high score. (Dig Dug II, on the other hand, relied on a strange pseudo-3D, slightly-but-not-quite-overhead perspective which added to the difficulty, creating problems similar to playing Zaxxon or Congo Bongo.) With its simplicity and cuteness, Dig Dug was big with the younger set. Continue reading

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