Gee Bee

Gee BeeThe Game: It’s like pinball, but not quite. Not only are the bouncing-ball physics and bumpers of pinball present, but so are walls of bricks which, when destroyed, add to your score and sometimes redirect your ball in unpredictable directions. Pinball meets Breakout. (Namco, 1978)

Memories: If you’re wracking your brain trying to remember this game, don’t spend too much time – not that many gamers actually got to play it first-hand. It is, in fact, only in retrospect that Gee Bee‘s true historical significance has been revealed. Continue reading

Bomb Bee

Bomb BeeThe Game: Video pinball is back, and now in more than one color! Bomb Bee takes the game mechanics of Gee Bee and makes them noisier and brighter, adding “bumper traps” that can keep the ball bouncing in tight cul-de-sacs, racking up massive bonus points with every strike. (Namco, 1979)

See the videoMemories: When Namco introduced the world’s first arcade game with a full-color monitor, Galaxian, it was still fairly experimental, and some other Namco releases in 1979 were still in black & white. One of the first color games to follow Galaxian was Bomb Bee, Toru Iwitani’s reworking of Gee Bee, now in brilliant color. Continue reading

Cutie Q

Cutie QBuy this gameThe Game: You control a pair of paddles at the bottom and center of the screen. Serve a single ball into play, and skillfully deflect it toward rows of brightly colored monsters; tripping all of the “face bumpers” near the center of the See the videoscreen can yield a big bonus multiplier. If you can drive the ball toward a tunnel structure at the top center of the screen, it’ll do a lot of the work for you, blasting monsters from behind until it carves a gap big enough to fall toward your paddles again. Of course, standard Breakout rules apply: if you let three balls leave the screen, the game’s over. (Namco, 1979)

Memories: The third and final game in Toru Iwitani’s series of riffs on video pinball and Breakout, Cutie Q is the most unique (and also my favorite of the three). Not simply content to add more color to his previous game, Iwitani started from scratch, even adding a tunnel full of suspiciously Q*Bert-like critters that can be eliminated for bonus points. It still retains some pinball elements, but Cutie Q is more firmly in video game territory than either Gee Bee or Bomb Bee. 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

King & Balloon

King & BalloonBuy this gameThe Game: Manning a fairly agile cannon located on a platform at a castle, your task is simple: protect the King! However, there’s a flotilla of even more agile balloons above you who are there to kidnap his royal highness. As the King is hoisted away by his assailants, he yells “Help!” If you shoot down the offending balloon, the King See the videoshouts “Thank you!” as he floats back to the safety of the castle via an umbrella. The balloons can ram your cannon kamikaze-style and flatten it for a few seconds, but curiously, you have an unlimited supply of cannons. However, if the balloon marauders get three Kings off the screen, your game ends. (Namco, 1980)

Memories: One of the most bizarre and obscure entries in the resumè of Namco (also responsible for classics like Galaga, Xevious, Dig Dug and a little thing we call Pac-Man), King & Balloon comes across as nothing so much as a bizarre attempt to repurpose Galaxian into a cutesy game. The one-shot-on-screen-at-a-time, the attack patterns of the balloons and some of the sound effects hammer the similarities home. 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

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

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

Warp Warp

Warp WarpThe Game: What do you do when you’re alone in a space filled with big-tongued alien meanies? Well, you shoot ’em, naturally! The game starts in a wide-open, unrestricted playing field in which both you and the aliens can move about freely. Two structures in the center of the screen form a “warp” through which you can See the videoinstantaneously transport yourself into a different playing field, a structured maze also filled with nasties. Only this time, instead of a gun, you have bombs which you can only leave in your wake – and hopefully you can run far enough in that time that the bomb will only blow up the aliens, and not yourself. You can return to the warp – and the first playing field – when it flashes. (Rock-Ola [under license from Namco], 1981)

Memories: This is an oddity in arcade history, and not everyone knew that it came from the same hotbed of creativity that spawned Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Galaga – especially since it really wasn’t that much of a hit. 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

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

Pole Position

Pole PositionBuy this gameThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss out on the subsequent race. (I’ve always wondered anyway: why are there billboards around a racetrack? Are race car drivers a desirable demographic to advertisers? Can they actually read those signs at 200+ MPH?) (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

See the videoMemories: First off, a note to our loyal readers: I hope you’re happy! Pole Position is, by a vast margin, the single most-requested, most-asked-about game ever at Phosphor Dot Fossils. You should see some of the mail I’ve gotten regarding this game’s absence in the past few years – accusations of everything from bad taste to just plain incompetence. Well fear not, faithful Phosphor Dot Fossils followers, for I actually love this game. 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

Xevious

XeviousThe Game: As the commander of a sleek Solvalou fighter, you’re deep into enemy territory, shooting their disc-shaped fighters out of the sky, bombing ground installations and artillery nests, bombing tanks, and trying to destroy the mothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and Buy this gamedeadly ground-based defenses become the norm. Also look out for tumbling airborne mirrors – they’re impervious to your fire, but you’re toast if you fly right into them. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: A very cool game indeed, Xevious was extremely challenging and quite nice to look at as well. The controls were smooth, and you really did have a full range of control over where your fighter was on the screen. Continue reading

Libble Rabble

Libble RabbleThe Game: In a peaceful garden dotted with a gridwork of posts, the player must simultaneously move two pointers, connected to each other by a tenuous string, to trap mobile mushrooms and pointy-hatted garden gnomes. If either pointer comes into contact with a gnome, a life is lost (and, for the record, it’s not the gnome’s life). A scissor-like critter occasionally crosses the screen, and he’s capable of severing the string; a new one instantly forms between the two pointers, but any progress that was made in creating a trap with the string is lost. When all of the creatures invading the player’s garden are trapped, the game begins again at a higher difficulty level; if all of the player’s lives are lost, or time runs out, the game is over. (Namco, 1983)

Memories: This interesting obscurity from Namco wouldn’t appear to have much historical significance, and it made little or no headway beyond Japan’s borders. What makes Libble Rabble at least a little bit significant is that it was the last arcade game design hurrah of Toru Iwitani, the creator of Namco’s global megahit Pac-Man. 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

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