51 Shades of Geek

UFO!

UFO!The Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of pesky and relatively harmless drone UFOs, but the job isn’t easy. You can ram the alien ships with your ship’s shields, destroying them (but See the videoforcing your shields offline for a few precious seconds during which anything could collide with your unprotected ship and destroy you), or shoot them (which also forces your shields down for a recharge). To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable Killer UFO that likes to pop in and shoot at you, and suddenly being an interstellar traffic cop ain’t so easy. (Magnavox, 1981)

Memories: UFO! was the first “Challenger Series” game, which usually denoted a game that was an interesting derivative of an existing arcade favorite, in this case the popular Atari game Asteroids. Continue reading

Attack Of The Timelord!

Attack Of The Timelord!The Game: The game begins as the skull-like face of Spyruss the Deathless (the Timelord of Chaos, no less!) taunts you (well, only if you had the Voice), and then a bunch of pesky spaceships pops out of a vortex to shoot at See the videoyou. They shoot at you rather a lot. Fortunately, you can shoot back with reckless abandon, but their ammunition – as you ascend into the higher levels of the game – can track you and even, if you don’t destroy their shots in mid-air, crawl along the ground briefly while you head for the opposite side of the screen, neatly trapped for their next volley. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: One of the last few games to be made for the Odyssey 2, this gem of addictive shooting-gallery fun is obviously heavily derived from the all-time arcade classic Galaga. Continue reading

Freedom Fighters!

Freedom Fighters!The Game: Using the left joystick, you control the movement of your ship within the confines of a screen filled with mines, alien aggressors, and occasional purple “confinement crystals” which you have to catch, because these contain human prisoners of war. The right joystick engages your hyperdrive, enabling you to go zipping along in true Defender style. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: Another infamous “not quite a copy of a popular arcade game” from the Odyssey2 gang, Freedom Fighters was supposed to be similar to Defender, but somehow it misses the mark. Continue reading

K.C.’s Krazy Chase

K.C.'s Krazy ChaseThe Game: As a small blue spherical creature whose sole sensory organs consist of two eyes, two antennae and an enormous mouth, your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to start munching on the segmented body of the dreaded See the videoDratapillar while avoiding its always-lethal head. When you consume one of its body segments, the Dratapillar’s two henchbeings – known only as Drats – turn white with fright and you can send them a-spinning (normally, they’re deadly to touch too). Eating all of the Dratapillar segments gets you to the next level, and the mayhem begins anew. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: Perhaps just out of spite, the first non-educational game released to take advantage of the Odyssey 2’s new Voice add-on module featured K.C. Munchkin, the Pac-Man-esque critter who had landed Magnavox on the wrong side of a look-and-feel software lawsuit filed by Atari. Continue reading

Nimble Numbers NED!

Nimble Numbers NED!The Game: You are NED, hopping over boulders and, with each obstacle overcome, tackling progressively more difficult math questions and pattern-matching exercises. You can select what kind of math you need to work on See the video(addition, subtraction, etc.), and if you don’t solve a problem correctly the first time, it’s broken down into smaller parts to help you work out how it all goes together. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: This game was originally going to be called Math Potatoes! – and as inauspicious a title as Nimble Numbers NED! may be, you have to admit that Math Potatoes! probably would’ve been too bizarre to entice parents looking for suitable educational software for their kids. Continue reading

Pick Axe Pete!

Pick Axe Pete!The Game: As Pete, you start out in the center of a multi-tiered mine – not at the bottom – and your boulder-smashing pick axe begins to deteriorate after about one minute. Then you either have to jump over or duck under the See the videoSee the TV adonslaught of falling rocks, or you’re toast. Falling to the lower levels won’t kill you, if you time it just right so as not to land right in the middle of an avalanche. When two boulders collide, they can uncover treasures such as a fresh pick axe or, more importantly, a key to the next level. As you progress through the levels, one horizontal space is deleted somewhere on the screen at random, progressing on until you have a death-trap of open space where rocks can bounce right up into your face. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: As far as this gamer was concerned, Pick Axe Pete! was the greatest game ever created for the Odyssey 2. Far from your typical arcade adaptation, you can get further in this game by short stretches of furious action when you’ve got an axe to grind and then waiting patiently for the key to the next level to arrive. Continue reading

P.T. Barnum’s Acrobats!

P.T. Barnum's Acrobats!The Game: You control an acrobat on a moving see-saw, launching your fellow acrobat into the air to pop balloons and defy gravity in an act that would’ve done old Barnum proud! But what goes up must come down, and your See the videoairborne acrobat, if he doesn’t bounce upward upon impact with more balloons, will plummet at alarming speed. You have to catch him with the empty end of the see-saw, thus catapulting the other acrobat into a fresh round of inflatible destruction. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: Another variation on the timeless Breakout formula, this game represented one of the Odyssey2’s first ventures into an area which most other home video game systems had already entered: licensing. Continue reading

SID The Spellbinder!

SID The Spellbinder!The Game: What happens when the Dreaded Dratapillar Of Venus makes a guest appearance? It means that a spelling bee is imminent! A friendly voice warns you to look out for a “monster attack,” and after dispatching all of the segments of the worm-like invader, you’re asked to correctly spell three words using the Odyssey2 keyboard. Once you’ve correctly spelled those three words, another monster attack occurs, with the Dratapillar moving faster in each successive level; the game continues until it descends far enough down the screen to reach your cannon. (North American Philips, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Programmed by Sam Overton, SID The Spellbinder! was one of the first two – and, as it so happened, only two – educational launch titles made available specifically for the then-new Voice Of Odyssey speech synthesizer. Continue reading

Smithereens!

Smithereens!The Game: Armed with a catapult and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of projectiles (sorry, Python fans, no cows!), your task is to repeatedly and continuously smash your opponent’s castle, his catapult (rendering him harmless for a few See the videoseconds), or your opponent himself (much the same effect; a new enemy soldier enters the fray after a few seconds). (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: Possibly the best two-player Odyssey2 game there ever was, Smithereens! was exceedingly simple, and simply some of the best fun to be had on this game system. Continue reading

Type & Tell

Type & TellThe Game: You type! It talks! And occasionally you have to throw the damnedest misspellings at it to get it to say the simplest words. And despite the back of the box claiming that it “plays fun games,” it’s much more likely that it’ll just make some fun (and weird) sounds. (Magnavox, 1982)

Memories: A pack-in cartridge included with the Voice of Odyssey 2, Type & Tell is actually a barely-glorified Odyssey version of Speak ‘n’ Spell, except everything it says is in a monotone robotic voice which one of the video game magazines of the time once described as “Darth Vader on quaaludes.” (One of these days, remind me to tell you about my mother’s reaction when I asked her, after reading that review, what quaaludes were.) Continue reading

4 In 1 Row

4 In 1 RowThe Game: The constant struggle between cat and dog requires a great deal of concentration. Two players can play, or one player can control the dog while the CPU makes moves as the “Microcat.” Each animal drops a piece into the playing field, trying to line up four pieces horizontally, vertically or diagonally, or trying to keep the other animal from lining up his four pieces. Whoever lines up four pieces first wins the game. (Phillips, 1982)

Memories: Another Videopac title that never quite made it to the North American market, it’s entirely possible that Odyssey2 owners never got to play 4 In 1 Row because such a release would’ve attracted the unwelcome attention of the makers of the board game Concentration – or the attention of Atari, who released a licensed Concentration cartridge. Continue reading

Balao Travesso! (“Looney Balloon!”)

Balao Travesso!The Game: You’re piloting a balloon-toting brat around an amusement park. Ride the rides! Slide down the slide! Crawl under the trees and play! But watch out for that balloon – the thing is vital to your survival! Don’t let it get popped See the videoagainst the trees, or the rides, or the walls of the amusement park. Worse yet, a cloud may appear at the side of the screen and blow your balloon away, forcing you to run after it and catch it before it collides with something and pops. Birds will also fly over the park, and they can pop your balloon too. Even if you’re not holding onto it at the time, the balloon popping ends your game. (Frankly, this reliance on the balloon seems to be a bit unhealthy, and will probably lead the game’s kid to be a shut-in with another inflatable friend by the time he’s 40.) (Phillips, 1983)

Memories: Released in Europe as Loony Balloon, Balao Travesso! is essentially a near-beer version of the late 70s Taito arcade game Crazy Balloon – only, quite frankly, Balao Travesso! has more elaborate graphics than the arcade game (who here thought they’d ever be reading that about an Odyssey2 game?). Continue reading

The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt

The Great Wall Street Fortune HuntThe Game: Feel like literally “playing” the stock market? This game allows you to do so with varying degrees of accuracy, ranging from level one – simple trading – to level four, which allows buying on margins, prime rate interest calculations, and numerous other complications. A ticker across the top of the screen gives the current values of several stocks and commodities, while a ticker running across the center of the screen gives the latest news updates. The nature of that news can have drastic effects on the stocks available for trade, ranging from the sometimes silly (“electronic foot massager increases worker productivity”) to the frighteningly prophetic (“war threat in the Middle East”). (North American Phillips, 1983)

Memories: An interesting idea for a console game (whereas this sort of thing would usually be found only on computers, especially back then), The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt was the third and final Master Strategy Series game released for the Odyssey2. Continue reading

Killer Bees!

Killer Bees!The Game: You control a solitary swarm of “good” bees, trailed by a couple of handy ray guns on the same vertical axis. The game starts out with a bunch of dim-witted Beebots bumbling around the screen, which you can sting with your bee swarm until the ‘bots slow down and finally expire, marked by a rather grim little tombstone! This probably sounds easy enough, but there are killer bees from outer space emerging from hives around the edge of the play area, and when their swarms collide with your swarm, you lose bees. The only defense against the killer bees is a pair of ray guns, which have to recharge after every use. (North American Philips, 1983)

See the videoMemories: This is one of the strangest and most unique games that was ever made for the Odyssey2. As the Odyssey programmers realized very quickly, the Voice was very limited, and Killer Bees! saw some interesting innovations in that area, namely the “bee buzz” generated by the speech module. Programmer Bob Harris has said that Killer Bees! was his attempt to bring the relentless momentum of Centipede to the Odyssey2, though players might never have made that connection apart from the insectoid theme. It’s a damned aggravating and addictive little game! Continue reading

Pick Axe Pete

Pick Axe Pete - Odyssey3 versionThe Game: As Pete, you start out in the center of a multi-tiered mine – not at the bottom – and your boulder-smashing pick axe begins to deteriorate after about one minute. Then you either have to jump over or duck See the videounder the onslaught of falling rocks, or you’re toast. Falling to the lower levels won’t kill you, if you time it just right so as not to land right in the middle of an avalanche. When two boulders collide, they can uncover treasures such as a fresh pick axe or, more importantly, a key to the next level. (N.A.P., 1983)

Memories: Released in Europe only for the Videopac G7400 – the European hardware equivalent of the Odyssey3 – Pick Axe Pete is a good barometer of how the classic Odyssey2 games would’ve been “enhanced” for the ultimately unreleased Odyssey3. And when I say “enhanced”, I mean that very loosely. On the plus side: the game is untouched in and of itself, which is a good starting point. (I think I’ve made clear that I consider Pete the pinnacle of gaming on the O2.) Continue reading

Power Lords

Power LordsThe Game: As superhero Adam Power, you’re the pilot of a space sled on patrol around the explosive Volcan Rock, an active volcano which frequently blows its top. And what better cover for the bad guys? Gryptogg, Raygoth and See the videoArkus are perfecting their evil plans for a “gravitational ray” which basically amounts to a portable black hole – its gravity can alter the course of your space sled if you’re on a direct horizontal line-of-sight with it. Add to that meteors pummeling the ground from space and the enormous laser-eyed space serpent, and you’ve got your hands full just staying alive, let alone battling evil. (North American Philips, 1983)

Memories: So, friends, it all comes down to this – the last Odyssey2 game ever to hit the store shelves in the United States – and to tell you the truth, it’s a doozie. Power Lords is everything I ask for in a classic video game – a real numb-thumb, sweaty-palms experience that doesn’t let up. Continue reading

Trans-American Rally

Trans-American RallyThe Game: The Videopac puts you in the driver’s seat for a cross-country race. Avoid other cars and obstacles and stay on the road; hitting too many oncoming vehicles causes you to forfeit the See the videorace. (Philips, 1983)

Memories: A surprising game on the Videopac G7400+ (the European equivalent of the cancelled Odyssey3 console), Trans-American Rally is an example of a game done almost entirely in the “extended” graphics set. The only hints of the original Odyssey2/Videopac fixed graphics set is the use of the old “triangle” elements to draw the road and to draw any unchanging areas of solid colors (such as the desert on either side of the road). The rest of the graphics are done entirely in the “plus” graphics, and the game looks surprisingly good for anything running on the Videopac platform: it’s on a par with many a TI 99/4a game. Continue reading

Turtles!

Turtles!The Game: As the mama turtle, you trundle around a simple maze, pursued by nasty bugs which are lethal to the touch. You can drop bombs in their path, which will reduce their speed (and this device really does beg all sorts of biological See the videodouble-entendrès, doesn’t it?). Your mission is to visit the isolated cul-de-sacs in the maze – which in itself can lead to your turtle getting trapped – to retrieve your eggs and take them to safe houses dotted around the maze. If you visit the wrong place at the wrong time, you’ll wind up with not an egg, but a new bug hot on your heels. Getting all your turtle eggs to safety takes you to the next level, and eventually everything winds up moving so fast, you haven’t got a chance. (North American Philips [under license from Stern], 1983)

Memories: This simple rendition of an extremely obscure Stern arcade game has to rank as one of the most addictive Odyssey 2 games ever made, and it quickly puts the lie to the common misconception that the Odyssey would have been useless for home versions of arcade games anyway. Continue reading

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