Gun Fight

Gun FightThe Game: Grab yer guns and draw, sonny! You face off against another player, with only six bullets and plenty of obstacles in the way – a pesky cactus or two, a roaming covered wagon, and so on. Whoever lines his opponent’s belly with lead first wins the round, and the final victory goes to whoever wins the most rounds. (Midway, 1975)

Memories: Originated in Japan as Gunman, Gun Fight holds a very special place in video game history – it’s the first arcade game with a microprocessor chip at its core. But that innovation didn’t start in Japan – it started when Dave Nutting, the brother of Bill Nutting (whose Nutting & Associates took one failed shot at arcade success with the first coin-op, Computer Space, in 1971), licensed Gunman from Taito. When originally manufactured by Taito, Gunman‘s guts were strictly analog, just like every arcade game that had come before in either country. Nutting had already been experimenting with implementing a game program through microprocessors, and decided to completely remake Gunman from the ground up. Continue reading

The Amazing Maze Game

The Amazing Maze GameThe Game: You control a dot making its way through a twisty maze with two exits – one right behind you and one across the screen from you. The computer also controls a dot which immediately begins working its way toward the exit behind you. The game is simple: you have to guide your dot through the maze to the opposite exit before the computer does the same. If the computer wins twice, the game is See the videoover. (Midway, 1976)

Memories: Not, strictly speaking, the first maze game, Midway’s early B&W arcade entry The Amazing Maze Game bears a strong resemblence to that first game, which was Atari’s Gotcha. Gotcha was almost identical, except that its joystick controllers were topped by pink rubber domes, leading to Gotcha being nicknamed “the boob game.” Amazing Maze was just a little bit more austere by comparison. Continue reading

Datsun 280 ZZZAP!

Datsun 280 ZZZAP!See the videoThe Game: Get behind the wheel for a late-night drive – at high speeds! The only visual clues about the road ahead are the reflectors zooming past. Avoid going off the road and go the distance. (Midway, 1976)

Memories: In the wake of Nolan Bushnell’s gambit to topple the exclusive arcade distribution system (see the Phosphor Dot Fossils entry for Tank!), a clever move that would turn modern antitrust lawyers into a pack of baying wolves, direct copying of other companies’ arcade code and circuitry was off the table. Now the competition merely duplicated Atari‘s game concepts rather than every line of code. Continue reading

Checkmate

CheckmateThe Game: Up to four players control markers that leave a solid “wall” in their wake. The object of the game is to trap the other players by building a wall around them that they can’t avoid crashing into – or forcing them to crash into their own walls. Run into a wall, either your own or See the videosomeone else’s, ends your turn and erases your trail from the screen (potentially eliminating an obstacle for the remaining players). The player still standing at the end of the round wins. (Midway, 1977)

Memories: Any classic gamer worth his weight in pixels will recognize Checkmate as one of the inspirations for the Light Cycle sequence in both the movie and the game adaptation of Tron – but that doesn’t mean that Tron had to be behind the wheel for this concept to be a lot of fun. Continue reading

Space Invaders

Space InvadersBuy this gameThe 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 See the videoand more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Midway [under license from Taito], 1978)

Memories: Three buttons, three colors (if one includes black), all for 25 cents. And thus began the video game boom that made Taito a major manufacturer, with dozens of other companies – Atari, Bally/Midway, Namco, Nintendo, Sega, you name it – riding the large wave launched by Space Invaders. There was indeed an invasion underway…but it didn’t originate from space. It was launched from Japan and Silicon Valley, and for a while…it did take over the world. 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 videoBuy this gameinvaders. Though Galaxian‘s use of this innovation was minimal, it was a drastic change from the usual slowly-advancing target gallery. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1979)

Memories: Galaxian may not be as well remembered as the much more strategically challenging Galaga, but it ultimately added a vital new twist to the Space Invaders-inspired genre, a format which was badly in danger of becoming stale. Galaxian was also the first arcade video game to use a color display instead of a monochrome monitor with translucent colored overlays. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManBuy this gameThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). See the videoPeriodically, 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… (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

Memories: It began in 1979 when a young Namco game designer named Toru Iwitani made his fourth video game. Fascinated with pinball, Iwitani had created a series of games combining pinball physics with Breakout-style brick-busting elements, and while Gee Bee, Bomb Bee and Cutie Q were moderate successes for Namco, enough to keep Iwitani employed and developing new titles, the designer himself was finally ready to move beyond video pinball. Cutie Q was one of the first hints as to Toru Iwitani’s next project, with its colorfully cartoony monsters. With a small team of developers at his disposal, Iwitani – supposedly inspired by the shape of a pizza with one slice removed – set about creating a new game with nearly universal appeal. Continue reading

Rally-X

3-D computer rendering of Rally-X cabinetThe Game: Go, Speed Racer, go! (Well, almost.) As the driver of a high-powered race car, you rocket around corners and down straightaways, trying to pick up every yellow flag in the maze-like course and avoiding deadly collisions with pursuing red cars. Watch out for rocks and oil spills, and use your smokescreen See the videoBuy this gameonly when necessary to distance yourself from the red cars. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1980)

Memories: Namco released Rally-X at the same time as Pac-Man, and like Pac-Man, Namco licensed Rally-X to Midway. In fact, the major buzz at that year’s AMOA (Amusement Machine Operators’ Association) annual trade show – where arcade owners tried to figure out which would be the hottest new games to buy for their establishments – was for this dandy little racing/maze game, and Pac-Man was considered an also-ran, perhaps a little too abstract for the U.S. market. Continue reading

Space Zap

Space ZapThe Game: Players are manning the defenses of a space station under a constant onslaught from all sides by alien attackers. The station’s laser cannons can take out the alien ships and intercept their incoming fire; when an entire wave of attackers is eliminated, a much more mobile fighter will attack, and destroying it will advance the game to the next level of difficulty. (Midway,1980)

See the videoMemories: Space Zap is a game about helplessness. The player can’t move his space station one inch. It’s only possible to sit, shoot, and maybe sneak in a prayer here and there. Making matters more complicated is the fact that aiming controls and firing controls are separate; if Space Zap simply allowed the player to pick a direction and automatically fire, it’d be almost too easy. As it is, that’s certainly not the case. Continue reading

Wizard Of Wor

Wizard Of WorThe Game: This should sound pretty famililar to anyone who’s ever played Doom. You (and, if you can find a trigger-happy friend, one other player) suit up as “Worriors” and wander around a twisty maze inhabited by nasty creatures (which can turn invisible and sneak up on you).

You must kill them all.

Glad we got these complicated instructions taken care of. (Midway, 1980)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: This maze game, which hit arcades in 1980, was a true milestone. For one thing, it kept Midway on the map as an arcade game manufacturer (its only previous major successes having been Space Invaders, licensed from Taito, and Galaxian, licensed from Namco) with something other than imported Japanese titles in its repertoire. Continue reading

Bosconian

BosconianBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a well-armed spacecraft (which appears to have been borrowed from Galaga), you weave through an unending barrage of support craft, asteroids, and hunter ships, all of which can kill you. And somewhere on the screen – as indicated by your radar – are several large Bosconian star destroyers (what, did they lease these from Lord Vader or something?). You can blast away at the destroyers’ six outer pods, or you can go for a shot right into the heart of a destroyer, taking the whole thing out by blasting its central pod. A piece of advice: don’t be too close to a Bosconian when you do this…the large explosion can end your space traveling days too. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

See the videoMemories: Wow – a game with big killer space stations surrounded by lots of hostile patrol ships? They must be building Sinistar in the next sector over. But seriously, Bosconian is another game which meets the qualifications of a bona fide classic – easy to learn, hard to master – and, given the shape of the player’s ship (plus the fact that both games were licensed from Namco), I’ve always wondered if Bosconian was intended to be a sequel to Galaga. Continue reading

Galaga

GalagaBuy this gameThe Game: Commanding a small fleet of sleek fighter ships, you’re up against an alien invasion, arriving in wave after unfriendly wave. Alien fighters resemble butterflies and bees, but the real prize is the handful of motherships which arrives with each wave. Capable of taking two hits – the first weakens them and turns them dark blue, the second destroys them – the motherships also come equipped with a tractor beam with which to snare your fighters. But if one of your fighters is captured, and you can destroy the See the videomothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

Memories: Where its predecessor, Galaxian, brought “attack formations” to standard Space Invaders-style shooters, Galaga introduced real strategy, and influenced nearly every shooter that came after it. Continue reading

Gorf

GorfThe Game: The evil Gorfian Empire is attacking, and for only a quarter, you can enlist and defend Earth against the vicious (yet strangely cute) little critter with a robotic voice. In the first stage, Astro Battle, you have a defesive shield which is weakened with each shot the aliens fire at you – and every shot you fire back at them. (Truth be told, it’s a very thinly disguised take on the Space Invaders formula.) Then, in the Laser Attack level, the aliens break out heavier, nastier artillery that you have to dodge…if you can. Stage 3 sees a guest star from an earlier Midway game in the Galaxians stage, which is a sort of scaled-down version of the Galaxian game itself. Stage 4 is the hardest, with the Gorfian menace repeatedly spiraling out of a Space Warp, defying you to get so much as a single good shot fired off at it. Finally, if you survive the fourth stage, the Flagship level awaits. The flagship can fire any number of projectiles in your direction through your shield, and you have to not only dodge incoming fire, but try to get your own shot to hit just the right place on the flagship to destroy it. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: Gorf was a minor hit in its time, though this latest attempt to turn the Galaxian format into a franchise fell through the cracks. It didn’t help that the first stage seen in the attract mode was a Space Invaders clone. Continue reading

Kick / Kickman

KickThe Game: In an addictive little number from the height of Midway’s post-Pac-Man arcade empire, you are a unicycle-riding clown who occasionally wears a spiked hat. Your job is to keep any of the balloons falling from overhead from hitting the ground. You can bounce the balloons back into the air – temporarily – by See the videokicking them, but the only way to remove a balloon from play permanently is to catch or pop it on your head. In later stages, other objects fall from the sky, including special guest stars Pac-Man and those darn ghost monsters, and also including bombs which are the only thing you must avoid. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: A wonderfully addictive game with intensely aggravating controls, Kickman has gone down in video game history with unjust obscurity. But perhaps this lack of bona fide “hit” status can be blamed on that wacky lateral trakball control – it was such a pain in the butt until you’d gotten sufficient practice in. Continue reading

New Rally-X

New Rally-XBuy this gameThe Game: As the driver of a high-powered race car, you rocket around corners and down straightaways, trying to pick up every yellow flag in the maze-like course and avoiding deadly collisions with pursuing red cars. Special flags (marked with an “S”, of course) offer big points bonuses, while Lucky flags (“L”) give you bonus points based on how much fuel remains in your car’s gas tank, so it’s best to find them as quickly as possible. Watch out for rocks, and use your smokescreen only when necessary to distance yourself from the red cars. (1981, Namco)

See the videoMemories: Not even really a sequel to Rally-X, which hit the arcades at roughly the same time as Pac-Man, New Rally-X was an attempt by Namco to give its cutesy overhead racing game a little more “oomph” to Rally-X in the hope that it might pick up steam during the arcade boom that Pac-Man spawned. Continue reading

Satan’s Hollow

Satan's HollowBuy this gameThe Game: It’s the ultimate, cataclysmic battle between good and evil – expressed as a variation on the basic theme of Phoenix! Hellish green flying demons try to formation-dive your well-armed, devil-fryin’ vehicle at the bottom of the screen. Each time you knock one of this gargoylesque beasties out of the sky, they drop a piece of a bridge you must drag over to the appropriate spot on the screen. When you’re close to completing the bridge, the Prince of Darkness sends in some heavier artillery – a spooky floating demon head who spits fire at your cannon – to do away with you. Once you’ve toasted the flying meanies out of the sky and cross the bridge, it’s time to do battle with Satan himself, though he starts out looking a little bit like that cute little mascot you see on cans of deviled ham. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: While it presents some interesting variations – bridge-building while shooting? – Satan’s Hollow really had little to distinguish it from the other dozens of Space Invaders variants which had been appearing in arcades for three years at this point. Continue reading

Blue Print

Blue PrintThe Game: You are the intrepid, barbershop-quartet-suited J.J. (hey, it’s better than being O.J.!), out to save a damsel in distress from a pursuing monster. How does a guy in a little striped suit do this? By building a mobile, tennis-ball-launching contraption to dispatch said dastardly monster, naturally. The catch? The eight pieces of your mechanical creation are hidden somewhere among ten little houses in a maze – See the videoand those houses that don’t contain parts of your machine contain a bomb that must be dumped into the bomb pit immediately (else they’ll explode and kill J.J.). Critters also roam the maze to annoy you, including one pesky monster who will prematurely jump on the “start” button, rattling your still-unfinished machine to bits. If you don’t build your Rube Goldberg gizmo in time, the monster catches the damsel and you lose a life. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Fun little game, this Blue Print. Perhaps somewhat like the rodent protagonist of Mappy, J.J. seemed to be primed for some kind of merchandising that never happened. Continue reading

BurgerTime

BurgerTimeBuy this gameThe Game: As Chef Peter Pepper, you climb around a multi-level factory whose sole function is to make some really big burgers. We’re talking about some BIG burgers here. But your ingredients aren’t exactly cooperating with you. Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Egg and Mr. Pickle are doing their best to keep you from making those big See the videoburgers, but you can turn the tables on them and put them in your edible creations! You have a limited supply of pepper which you can use to stun your tasty stalkers (and keep in mind, this was years before Mace). Or you can simply lead them across one of the yummy ingredients, and they’ll become part of the burger. (Which is a rather disturbing thought when it comes to to hot dogs and eggs in a hamburger.) Also, you can walk across a bun or a slab of meat on the level above them, and the falling ingredients will squash them on the way down. (Bally/Midway [under license from Data East], 1982)

Memories: BurgerTime was a cool twist on the climbing genre, but it had one main problem – oh, boy, was it ever slow! I t took forever to climb ladders, and on those later levels where there were huge, dangerous stretches of ladders, this slowed the game down to an annoyingly slow pace. Other than this, though, it was a nifty little game, and just playing it and writing about it has made me hungry for something from Burger King… Continue reading

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