51 Shades of Geek

Pleiades / Pleiads

Pleiads or PleiadesThe Game: Earth is under attack, but due to defense spending cutbacks (how much planetary defense can you buy for a quarter?), you’re the pilot of the only vessel responding to the emergency. Try to fend off Buy this gameseveral darting waves of alien ships which are attempting to bomb your base. Some of them may briefly land, wreaking even more havoc, and as you may have guessed, all of them will be firing at you. After you’ve secured Earth, you blast off into deep space to take on a wave of larger, more vicious attackers, and then an assault on a heavily armed alien mother ship. Once you’ve vanquished this foe, you’ll be called back to Earth again – it seems the aliens can’t take a hint. Once you’ve maneuvered your way through the landing runway and lined yourself up to fight the next wing of invaders, the battle begins anew. (Centuri [under ilcense from Tehkan], 1981)

Memories: A rather obscure shoot-’em-up, Pleaides (or Pleiads, as the game proclaims on its monitor, at odds with the cabinet artwork) almost looks like a sequel to Phoenix, though Pleiades originated from a different company. It’s a safe bet that the part of the game best remembered by arcade-goers back in the day is the final stage before the game begins again, the runway screen. You can’t shoot anything, you can only avoid it – and let’s face it, it’s pretty embarrassing if you get yourself splattered in a situation where you have no enemies. 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! (Centuri [under license from SNK], 1981)

Memories: Very much like another SNK-originated game from this period, Fantasy (which was licensed out to Rock-Ola), Vanguard was an early entry in the exploration game genre. Sure, shooting things was fun, but this game made it clear – through the “radar map” of the alien base at the top of the screen – that there was a clear destination to be reached. And if you weren’t good enough to get there with the lives you had, you could continue the journey – for just a quarter more – again and again, until you got there. Continue reading

Eagle

EagleThe Game: As commander of the three-stage fighter rocket Eagle, your job is to ward off endless varieties of evasively weaving space attackers. Every time you knock out two consecutive screens of assailants, you’ll have an opportunity to dock your ship to another one of Eagle’s three stages, until all three portions of the ship are combined to create one bad-ass weapons platform. But you can also lose stages very quickly, See the videoending your game – a bigger ship makes a bigger and easier target. (Centuri [under license from Nichibutsu], 1982)

Memories: Don’t ask me what happened here. I distinctly remember playing both Eagle and Moon Cresta in the arcades and thinking how similar they were. Much later, with the benefit of emulation, I could play both back-to-back and realized what I’d always suspected: they’re the same game! Continue reading

Loco Motion

Loco MotionThe Game: A train scoots around a twisty maze of tiles representing overpasses, turns, straightaways and terminals. One portion of the maze is blank, and a train will be lost if it hits that blank tile. Using the joystick, you move the blank tile and one adjacent tile around on the map – even if the train is in transit on that tile – in an effort to keep it moving around the maze, picking up passengers. (Passengers that the train See the videocan reach are smiley faces; passengers cut off from the main route are frowning.) If any passengers are cut off for an extended period of time, a monster begins wandering that route, and it’ll cost you a train if it comes in contact with your train. You may have to outrun it with the “speed” button in order to pick up the last passengers and clear the level to move on to a bigger maze. (Centuri (under license from Konami), 1982)

Memories: A very minor star in the constellation of early Konami coin-ops (Konami also being responsible for Frogger, Time Pilot and Gyruss), Loco Motion is actually a variation on a very old theme: the 2-D sliding tile puzzle. Continue reading

Time Pilot

Time PilotBuy this gameThe Game: You’re flying solo through the fourth dimension! In what must be the least subtle time-traveling intervention since the last time there was a time travel episode on Star Trek: Voyager, you’re blasting your way through dozens of aircraft from 1940 through 1982. From WWII-era prop planes, to Vietnam-era helicopters, to 1982, where you confront jet fighters with the same maneuverability as your plane, you’re in for quite a wild ride. Rescue parachutists and complete the level by destroying “boss” craft such as heavy planes and dirigibles. (Centuri [under license from Konami], 1982)

Memories: One of Konami’s best-ever coin-ops, Time Pilot is an outstanding combination of addictive game play and the concept of “wanting to see what’s on the next level.” If you’re good enough, you get to see what kind of aircraft you’ll be up against in the next time period. Continue reading

Tunnel Hunt

Tunnel HuntThe Game: Piloting a ship navigating a tunnel in space at breakneck speeds, your mission – aside from screaming down that tunnel way over the speed limit without getting too far off course- is to dispatch countless suspiciously bow-tie-shaped fighters before they get a clear shot at you. (Has anyone ever wondered what all these See the videoshort-range fighters are doing out here? Bah, never mind. Probably got separated from a convoy or something.) If the enemy ships do manage to get a shot off, you have a narrow window of opportunity in which to intercept the incoming laser fire – very narrow, considering how fast everything is moving. Fire too much, and your lasers overheat and become temporarily useless. Stray too far off course, and your hull temperature shoots upward until your ship explodes. (Atari, 1979 – released by Centuri in 1982)

Memories: This oft-forgotten gem in Atari’s coin-op library may well be the very first first-person arcade flight sim, and it’s an eye-searingly psychedelic riot of colors to boot. That this game isn’t recognized in the same annals as Atari’s Asteroids or Tempest for innovation probably goes down to its obscurity. Continue reading

Gyruss

GyrussThe Game: The aliens are taking their complaints to the home office! As the pilot of an agile space fighter, you have to blast your way through the alien forces from Pluto all the way back to Earth. Occasionally you can boost your ship’s firepower, but that’s the only help you’re going to get. The rest is up to your speed, your See the videoBuy this gamestrategy, and your ability to nail the attackers in mid-dive. (Centuri [under license from Konami], 1983)

Memories: Konami’s cult classic basically put a vaguely Tempest-esque 3-D spin on the strategy of Galaga, borrowed some music from a certain Mr. Bach and blasted it out as a stereo techno-symphony, and got a lot of people to blow their hard-earned money. It was also a lot of fun. Continue reading

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