Domino Man

Domino ManThe Game: The town square or the local golf course seems like a reasonable place to set up a huge row of dominoes, doesn’t it? Well, your on-screen protagonist sure seems to think so, and your job is to help him set up his dominoes without allowing any of a number of on-screen “enemies” – such as absent-minded shoppers pushing carts, bees, or a bemuscled bonehead – to knock the dominoes over. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Another incredibly fun and offbeat coin-op from the gang at Bally/Midway, Domino Man was a whimsical little number which set all of its action to the music of ragtime maestro Scott Joplin. If only for that reason, this was one of the few arcade games that my mother used to get a kick out of (not that she tried it herself, of course – she just kept chuckin’ quarters at me, bless her heart). 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 the 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. Every so often, just to give you Buy this gamea chance to relax, you’ll see a brief intermission chronicling the courtship of Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man (and a little hint at who the next game would star). (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: The first real sequel (excluding any altered pirate clones or enhancement kits for the original Pac-Man) in the Pac-Universe, Ms. Pac-Man added quite a few new twists to the original game without changing how it’s played. The new mazes, extra side tunnels (on some mazes), and bouncing fruit were about the only things that could be changed without drastically altering the game (though the later Jr. Pac-Man addition of a scrolling maze was interesting). Continue reading

Pac-Man Plus

Pac-Man PlusThe 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). Periodically, 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, 1982)

Memories: Admittedly this wasn’t an especially unique game, but it does have an interesting history. Continue reading

Solar Fox

Solar FoxThe Game: Your ship is confined to a grid-like playing field, which isn’t all that bad until you take into account that armed ships are gliding along all four of the “walls” surrounding that grid, blasting away at you like a fish in a barrel. Your job is the clear the grid of the objects filling it, and wherever possible, to fire a well-timed shot at the ships trying to destroy you. Clearing the grid advances you to the next level. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Another variation on the clear-the-maze concept, Solar Fox only climbed its way up to “sleeper” status, if even that. I don’t recall any reports about Solar Fox burning up the arcades. It had some fairly nice cabinet artwork, playing on the word play of fox (as in a hunted animal) vs. fox (as in slang for an attractive woman), which featured heavily in the advertising campaign. Continue reading

Super Pac-Man

Super Pac-ManBuy this gameThe Game: Once again, Pac-Man roams the maze, pursued by four colorful ghosts. But instead of dots, this maze is peppered with other goodies, ranging from the usual fruits (apples, bananas, etc.) to donuts, cake, and burgers. And in addition to the traditional four “power pellets” in each corner of the screen, there are two green “super power pellets” per screen, which give the mighty yellow one the power to fly over the monsters’ heads and to break down doors that confine some of the yummy treats in the maze. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: The earliest of several very strange departures from the successful Pac-Man formula, Super Pac-Man was still a fun and, more often than not, fondly remembered game, even if it was ever so slightly baffling. Admittedly, even the mention above of Pac-Man flying is my own interpretation, based on the Pac-Man-going-on-Superman artwork on the arcade cabinet. It’s a bizarre little concept! Continue reading

Tron

TronBuy this gameThe Game: Based on the most computerized movie of its era, the Tron arcade game puts you in the role of the eponymous video warrior in a variety of contests. In the Grid Bug game, you must eliminate as many grid bugs (who are naturally deadly to the touch) as possible and enter the I/O tower safely before the fast-See the videomoving timer hits zero. The maddening Light Cycle game was the only stage to directly correspond with the movie. You and your opponent face off in super-fast Light Cycles, which leave solid walls in their wake. You must not collide with the computer’s Light Cycle, its solid trail, or the walls of the arena. To win, you must trap the other Light Cycle(s) (in later stages, you face three opponents) within the solid wake of your own vehicle. The MCP game is basically a simple version of Breakout, but the wall of colors rotated counter-clockwise, threatening to trap you if you made a run for it through a small gap. The Tank game is a tricky chase through a twisty maze, where you try to blast opposing tank(s) three times each…while they need to score only one hit on your tank to put you out of commission. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Okay, granted, so there really isn’t much correlation between Tron the game and Tron the movie, but in this case, it doesn’t matter. The game, with its awesome backlit cabinet graphics of special effects stills from the movie successfully, stole just enough of the movie’s millieu to be a successful tie-in – and let’s not forget the awesome polyphonic recreation of Wendy Carlos’ cool synthesized score from the movie, which was heard mainly during the Grid Bug game. Continue reading

Wacko

3-D computer rendering of Wacko game cabinetBuy this gameThe Game: Kozmik Krooz’r is back, floating around a desolate landscape in his tiny saucer and blasting away at the menacing denizens of the planet. By shooting two identical creatures, he can eliminate them; failing to match his first target with his next one will either release both creatures or, in later levels, create mix-and-match mutations that will prove to be even more difficult to get rid of. By eliminating all of See the videothe creatures on the screen, Krooz’r cruises to the next level; if any of the creatures come in contact with him, he loses a life. (Midway, 1982)

Memories: Video game history is rife with specimens of characters who struck somebody as being promising enough that an attempt was made to bring an entire franchise into being on willpower alone. From Exidy’s promise that Venture‘s “Winky” would star in later games (he didn’t) to Midway’s duo of Kozmik Krooz’r games, these also-ran characters are kind of like pixellated reality talent show wanna-bes, strutting their stuff for the arcade’s equivalent of 15 minutes of fame before the gaming public voted with their quarters.

Wacko Wacko

Kozmik Krooz’r appeared in two games released at roughly the same time by Midway: Wacko and the eponymous Kozmik Krooz’r. Both games were built around a gimmick. Kozmik Krooz’r sported a miniature model of a flying saucer above the screen, and the game’s action revolved around that saucer’s presence; Wacko, on the other hand, had one of the most unique cabinets designed for a coin-op to date: the entire cabinet, marquee, control panel and all, was lopsided, sloping downward from left to right. Whether or not gamers got the joke, however, is another thing entirely. (The answer may well lie in the fact that Krooz’r didn’t appear in any further games.)

With the dark look of the classic arcade of the 1970s giving way to Chuck E. Cheese-inspired day-glo friendliness in the ’80s, Midway was simiarly aiming to make a relatively friendly game with Wacko, and it’s an interesting twitch-gaming experience grafted onto an almost educational 4 quarters!concept (shape/pattern matching). As interesting as the “wack”-ed out cabinet was, one wonders if it actually lured enough gamers in to make the break with tradition worthwhile…or if it hurt Wacko‘s chances instead.

Astron Belt

3-D computer rendering of Astron Belt cabinetThe Game: You’re a lone space pilot on patrol in the middle of an intergalactic war. In deep space, on craggy hazardous planet surfaces and at all points in between, you’re a target for enemy forces, and while you can defend yourself, danger See the videocomes from all sides without warning: enemy fire, collisions with the landscape or enemy ships, and that old standby, pilot error. The video footage in the background comes from Toei Studios’ 1979 opus Message From Earth and, somewhat surprisingly, Star Trek II. (Sega / Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: In 1983, several companies seemed to simultaneously roll out arcade games based on the engineering principle that some or all of the game’s graphics would be played by a videodisc player. In the age of videotape, videodisc technology wasn’t perfect, but it presented something that was absolutely vital for bringing pre-recorded video to a game environment: random access. Without that, any game using pre-recorded video would’ve been forced to show the same sequence of visuals no matter what the player did. Continue reading

Discs Of Tron

Discs Of TronBuy this gameThe Game: It’s the final confrontation between good and evil in the digital world! As video warrior Tron, you unleash up to three deadly discs in the direction of your arch-enemy Sark, who can return the favor in kind – with interest, since he has a larger arsenal at his See the videodisposal. All the while, you must also avoid falling off of the floating platforms, and try to keep a good aim on your opponent. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Midway’s second salute to Tron, that 1982 cult-classic film favorite among computer users and video game enthusiasts alike, took the form of a positively enormous “stand-in” wraparound cabinet with a large screen. (Not seen in the ubiquitous MAME-generated series of screen shots is the colorful background artwork, which was a scene from the movie.) Continue reading

Journey

JourneyThe Game: Just another day in the life of the rock group Journey, as you help Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Jonathan Cain and Steve Smith evade alien “groupoids” intent on keeping them from reaching their next gig. (Bally/Midway, See the video1983)

Memories: Not one of the brightest ideas ever to occur in the history of arcade games, Journey is an stepchild of the much better Tron video game. Someone, somewhere, thought it was be a brilliant idea to recycle the basics of Tron‘s game play, while attaching a new celebrity licensing opportunity to it. Fresh from two hit rock albums (Escape and Frontiers), Journey seemed a likely choice. Continue reading

Jr. Pac-Man

Jr. Pac-ManThe Game: As the offspring of a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a bigger maze than your parents ever had to deal with, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. Six large flashing dots in the maze enable you to turn the tables and eat See the videothe monsters for a brief period. Periodically, assorted toys will begin hopping through the maze, turning every uneaten dot they touch into a larger dot which yields more points, but also forces little Pac to slow down to digest them. 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… (Namco, 1983)

Memories: In yet another sequel to the most profitable and popular arcade game of all time, the backwards-titled Jr. Pac-Man did away with the life-saving warp tunnels of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, instead confining the little Pac and his opponents to a larger, horizontally-scrolling maze. The only other innovation was the digestion dilemma caused by the bouncing toys – equivalent to the earlier Pac games’ fruit – turning uneaten dots into larger dots which slow you down enough for the monsters to catch up. Continue reading

Mappy

MappyBuy this gameThe Game: Mappy the Mouse stars in “Micro Police!” You are Mappy, a mouse determined to bring Boss the Big Bit and his kooky kitty kohorts to justice before they make a huge hail on a house heist. You can snatch up the potential booty yourself to keep it safe, and can temporarily foil your feline foes by slamming doors on them, or by opening special glowing doors which blast them away with a burst of sound. If you snatch up all the treasures and avoid the cats, it’s off to the next level. Periodically, you get to pop balloons on a bonus level for extra points. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1983)

Memories: You know, it’s just possible that Namco and Bally/Midway put the tail before the dog (or, in this case, the mouse) this time around. With the arcade cabinet’s positively mammoth marquee, and the hint that Mappy was the star of this game and would presumably star in future games, one wonders if the American distributors of Pac-Man were perhaps just a little too certain that everything coming out of their plants would be the dawn of a new franchise. Continue reading

Professor Pac-Man

Professor Pac-ManThe Game: The denizens of Pac-Land must surely know how to do something other than just devour dots and munch monsters. And they learn from Professor Pac-Man himself, the dean of dot-gobblers. Professor Pac-Man poses questions See the videoof all kinds to you (and an opponent, if you have a second player), including visual recognition tests and matching puzzles. A Pac-Man gobbles a row of dots from left to right, counting down the seconds you have to correctly answer the question. Correct answers gain points and fruit, while incorrect answers will cost you. Lose more points than you have to spare, and the game’s over. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: This is one of those games where you can just picture someone in the marketing department saying “How can we exploit the Pac-Man license from Namco in a way that’s never been done before?” Video trivia games were nothing new, but the Professor Pac-Mantalent assembled to produce Professor Pac-Man was appropriately prodigious. Marc Canter and Mark Pierce, both Midway staffers, went on to form their own company in 1984 called MacroMind; a few changes in direction and a few strategic mergers later, MacroMind became none other than creativity software powerhouse Macromedia, and Canter and Pierce, along with longtime Midway veteran Jay (Gorf designer and Bally Astrocade console creator) Fenton, had a hit on their hands with a little software package called Director. You may have heard of it. Just about anyone who has ever slapped a Flash animation onto the web certainly has. Continue reading

Tapper

TapperSee the videoThe Game: As a beleaguered bartender, you have to serve drinks to an endless onslaught of bar patrons, never allowing them to reach the end of the bar. You must also pick up empty glasses as they slide back toward you, and you can also grab a tip whenever one briefly appears. Clearing the screen of all pixellated hardened drinkers takes you to the next screen, and other scenarios, including outdoor sporting events. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Tapper was easily one of the most controversial games of its time. Originally conceived as a game which would be sold only to bars, it was also one of the first video game product placements for something other than a movie (i.e. Atari’s Star Wars and Bally/Midway’s own wildly successful Tron). Midway’s marketing department approached Budweiser about the possibility of sponsoring the game, in exchange for which the Bud logo would be ubiquitous on the game’s artwork and in its on-screen graphics. Continue reading

Pac-Land

Pac-LandThe Game: In a total break with any and all previous Pac-Man games, Pac-Land puts the yellow one onscreen as a very good homage to the Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon based on the original game, complete with the show’s bubbly theme song. You wander down the streets of Pac-Land, avoiding those nasty Ghost Monsters and hoping to find Power Pellets, all before your time runs out for that phase of your journey. Ghost Monsters may attack from the ground, or try to bomb you from the air; either way, chomping a Power Pellet will relieve them of their altitude and put them on the run. You may have to jump over them or duck under them until then – and be very careful in the forest, where Ghost Monsters may lurk behind trees. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1984)

Buy this gameMemories: It may have been well-drawn and animated, but Pac-Land really stuck out like a sore thumb to me – in hindsight, it was more like Super Mario Bros. than Pac-Man. Still, for those few of us who initially liked the Saturday morning cartoon, this game was a lovingly crafted valentine to the TV version of Pac-Man – a very roundabout example of a video game inspired by a licensing spin-off inspired by a video game. Continue reading

Timber

TimberThe Game: You’re a lumberjack and you’re okay. Your job is to chop down every tree that grows on the screen, without letting the trees fall on you. Birds are sometime dislodged from their nests as you chop down the trees, and they can be collected for additional points. Bears show up and throw beehives at you, which a lucky swing of the axe can destroy before they do any harm, but it’s altogether more likely that, unless dodged, a beehive will knock your lumberjack over and release a swarm of bees with their own sting operation in mind. You advance to the next level by clearing all of the trees in the time alotted; doing so with time to spare earns a bonus from the big boss; occasional bonus screens challenge you to keep your lumberjack from falling off a rolling log. (Midway, 1984)

Memories: One of those offbeat gems that emerged in the ’80s with Midway’s relatively powerful new MCR (Midway Cart Rack) architecture, Timber is a quirky little game that has the unusual advantage of being nothing like any game that preceded it. (It’s hard to think of another game like it that came afterward, for that matter.) Continue reading

Tapper

TapperThe Game: As a beleaguered bartender, you have to serve drinks to an endless onslaught of bar patrons, never allowing them to reach the See the videoend of the bar. You must also pick up empty glasses as they slide back toward you, and you can also grab a tip whenever one briefly appears. Clearing the screen of all pixellated hardened drinkers – erm, sorry, soft drinkers – takes you to the next screen, and other scenarios, including outdoor sporting events. (Bally/Midway-Sega, 1984)

Memories: When the U.S. video game industry fell on hard times, Sega sold off its American division to Bally/Midway. Having previously tried to maintain more direct control of home versions of its arcade games through an overall licensing deal with CBS Electronics‘ game division, Bally/Midway now had a more direct pipeline to the consumer market by using the home video game division that Sega had launched to exploit its own arcade titles (such as Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom and Congo Bongo). Continue reading

Rampage

RampageThe Game: Monsters are running amok in cities across America… and you’re one of them! A giant lizard, a giant werewolf and a giant gorilla walk into a bar and tear it down. Monsters can compete to see who will topple tall buildings first, or they can qang up on puny defenseless human scum. It’s pretty easy to knock over buildings, and pretty easy to take a lot of damage from the armed forces who have been called out to stop the creatures. If they accrue too much damage, the monsters de-evolve to their un-mutated original human form, and require quick action (and additional quarters) to stay in the game. (Midway, 1986)

Memories: A devilishly fun masterpiece of pure destruction, Rampage appeals to any current or former kid who’s ever gained an innate understanding that the next best thing rto building something is to knock it over again. Rampage‘s implied violence is cartoonish at worst, with just a wink and a nod toward the classic Toho and Universal Studios monster movies. And that is a great combination. Continue reading

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