Pac ‘N’ Pal

Pac 'N' PalThe Game: Once again, you are a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, maneuvering around a relatively simple maze. But this time, you have a Pal! A little round green Pal who is here just to help you. (Pal appears to be wearing a little bow, so there’s no indication of whether or not Ms. Pac-Man knows about See the videoBuy this gamePac-Man’s pal…) Those four pesky monsters are back. This time, the handful of treats in each maze is locked away behind doors vaguely reminiscent of Super Pac-Man. These doors can be unlocked by munching one of the cards lying around the maze. Fruit will score points for you, but if you eat one of the two Galaxians in each maze, Pac-Man is briefly imbued with a super shout which stuns the monsters for a little while. The only problem? Pac’s Pal will grab the fruit or the Galaxians and…very slowly…get around to bringing it to him. Sometimes this helps – Pal is impervious to the monsters, and there are no power pellets to help Pac-Man this time – but sometimes Pal dimwittedly marches your much-needed Galaxian right into the middle of the monsters, making it inaccessible. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Possibly the most bizarre entry in the Pac-Man series, this game is a little bit confusing…and is, perhaps, the final indication that Bally/Midway and Namco had gone to the Pac-Man well one too many times. By this time, the only resemblance the latest Pac-game bore to the original were the elements of Pac-Man, the monsters, and the maze. And don’t even ask where Pal came from. I haven’t a clue. Continue reading

Phozon

PhozonThe Game: You control a “Chemic,” a free-floating object while can adhese itself to passing Moleks, but is vulnerable to the Atomic. Within a limited amount of time (charted by a meter at the bottom of the screen), gather and repulse Moleks around your Chemic until you’ve duplicated the example shape shown in the center of Buy this gamethe screen. Beware of the Atomic, however – it will not only become more aggressive in its deceptively aimless wanderings, but it can also separate into its own component molecules – and regather its shape right in your path. It also shoots, in later levels, energy that can dislodge Moleks from the Chemic’s pattern. You advance through the game by successfully duplicating the sample shape – and surviving the Atomic’s attacks. (Namco, 1983)

Memories: If someone pinned me up against the wall and demanded that I name my favorite coin-op manufacturer – and I’ll admit that this isn’t terribly likely to happen – I’d have to say Namco. They brought us such immortal and inexplicably (and insanely) fun games as Pac-Man, Mappy, Dig Dug, Galaga, Motos, Pole Position and Warp Warp – to name just a few. Among these popular titles are games so indescribably weird that they almost defy description, but I have to hand Namco the prize for sheer conceptual brilliance. Phozon, more obscure than any of the games mentioned above (even moreso than Motos, which is pretty esoteric itself), may well be the first video game ever to concern itself with molecular bonding. Continue reading

Pole Position II

Pole Position IIThe Game: So, you survived the qualifying lap and the big race in Pole Position and you’re ready to move on to bigger and better challenges? Well okay then. Now, in addition to the Fuji track, there are others to choose from – Buy this gamethe simple oval of the Test track, and the elaborate (and sometimes deadly) curves of the Seaside and Wonder tracks. As before, going over the shoulder isn’t a good thing – nor is crawling up the tailpipe of the cars in front of you, for the explosions in this game are even more spectacular than those of its predecessor. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1983)

Memories: Namco knows a thing or two about decent sequels, having given us such classics as Galaga (the sequel to Galaxian), Dig Dug 2 and the obscure Hopping Mappy. Pole Position II‘s controls are even more responsive, the graphics more fluid and realistic, and the explosions? Well, let’s put it this way – Pole Position kills you with a nice big explosion. Pole Position II throws debris. Continue reading

Gaplus / Galaga 3

Gaplus / Galaga 3The Game: The Galaxian/Galaga saga continues! You control a solo space fighter against unending hordes of alien attackers who dive, weave, and evade your fire, while trying to nail your ship with their own shots. But one of See the videoBuy this gamethe aliens is hauling precious cargo: a device used to generate a tractor beam. In Galaga, the aliens used this weapon to capture and control your own fighters, using them against you. Now you can turn the tables by destroying the alien ferrying this precious piece of technology (but don’t shoot the device itself!). You’ll be able to capture an entire row of alien ships, using all of them to fire simultaneously at the next wave of attackers. If alien fire destroys one of your captured ships, the others, and your ship, survive; if they manage to draw a bead on your own fighter, however, all bets are off. (Namco, 1984)

Memories: This sequel to Galaga was titled Gaplus in Japan (and in its limited original release in the U.S., if I’m not mistaken). In an attempt to draw more attention to it by tying it to a familiar property, Namco rechristened the sequel Galaga 3 for widespread American distribution. Whatever you call it (I tend to remember it as Gaplus myself), it’s a very difficult game. Continue reading

Grobda

GrobdaThe Game: You’re piloting a lone tank trapped in an arena with numerous indestructible obstacles – and quite a few hostile tanks. The moment you’re sent into battle, those other tanks converge on you immediately, so survival usually Buy this gamehinges on finding an advantageous configuration of obstacles to use as a makeshift fortress from behind which you can try to pick off enemy tanks without giving them a clear shot at yours. When you blast an enemy tank, it’s best not to be too close to it, because the shockwave of an exploding tank can catch nearby tanks and share the destruction, sometimes allowing you to fire one shot and set off a screen-clearing chain reaction. (Also, exploding tanks leave behind craters that slow you down if you try to cross over them.) You have a shielding system that offers very temporary shelter from enemy fire and from the explosions of nearby enemies, but constant firing and shield use will drain your precious energy reserves, and if that happens you’re as good as dead. (Namco, 1984)

Memories: Not one of the most original games in Namco’s history, Grobda borrows game play concepts left and right from some of the all-time arcade greats, boils them into one stew, and speeds things up considerably. 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

Super Xevious

The 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], 1984)

Memories: The original arcade Xevious was no pushover, but like several of its Namco stablemates, it was possible to outwit the machine by using some of its own pattern-based programming against it. With Super Xevious, this was more difficult, because the game’s internal A.I. was adaptive and could throw more at the player based on his demonstrated skill level. But some players had discovered a solution to this adaptive enemy intelligence, and games lasting more than ten minutes on a single quarter were not uncommon. Continue reading

Dig Dug II

Dig Dug IIBuy this gameThe Game: Dig Dug is back, and he’s still got a hoarde of Pookas and Fygars to exterminate – or else they’ll ruin his new island garden. Blowing the beasties up with Dig’s trusty pump will still work, but as a last resort, he can also drill into his island’s irrigation pipes and actually sink a part of the land into the sea, taking any enemies with it (and Dig too, if you’re not careful!). (Namco, 1985)

Memories: This sequel to one of the most beloved titles from the brief Namco/Atari licensing alliance is virtually unknown, primarily because Dig Dug II hit the arcades after the great video game industry crash of 1983. Honestly, I hadn’t even heard of it until MAME came along. Continue reading

Motos

MotosBuy this gameThe Game: This contest places you in a vehicle on a grid suspended in space. Going over the edge of the grid is bad news, and yet that’s exactly where you must ram every other object on the screen. Be careful: Isaac Newton’s laws of motion apply here, and every action begets a reaction, namely your vehicle being bounced as far back as your target has been knocked ahead. And depending on the configuration of the playing field, which eventually evolves to include gaps in the middle of the screen which can only be jumped with the proper combination of “power parts” and “jump parts,” ramming an enemy can put you over the edge too. Later levels introduce more aggressive enemies which will leave you almost strictly on the defensive. (Good tip? Position yourself between two enemies and let the recoil from attacking one help you put another one out of the game as well.) Lingering too long on the playing field will cause whoever’s in charge of this genteel sporting event to hurl projectiles at the field, blasting holes out of the grid which must then be jumped or avoided – and even your own jumps can weaken or destroy other squares on the grid. (Namco, 1985)

Memories: Say what you like about Namco, but they’ve probably introduced more singularly addictive games to the arcades than any other company out there, and those games cover a more diverse palette than today’s never-ending smorgasboard of fighting and sports titles. Continue reading

Burgertime

BurgertimeThe 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… (Namco, 1985 [Japan] / Data East, 1987 [US])

Memories: A little bit of an oddity – a Data East-originated arcade game ported to the Famicom by arcade competitor Namco (and then sold in the US by Data East itself) – this version serves up a happy meal worth of authentic Burgertime action on the NES. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: Who said landscaping was easy? 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 See the videoyour tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (Namco, 1985)

Memories: For some reason that I have a hard time trying to fathom, this game was released for the Famicom only – the Japanese console which was re-engineered as the NES for the English-speaking market. The reason I can’t fathom that is that this is a perfectly playable port of Dig Dug. Did Namco really think that this cute classic was past its sell-by date in the States? Continue reading

Super Xevious

The 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. (Nintendo [under license from Namco], 1986)

Memories: Adapted for the Nintendo Vs. arcade cartridge system, which used the same technology as the NES console, Super Xevious underwent a transformation, trading in its extremely vertical view for an extremely crunched horizontal/almost-square screen, typical of games which were ported to the Vs. system. Continue reading

Galaga ’88

Galaga '88The 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 See the videowith 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 mothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Namco, 1987)

Memories: Where the Galaga sequel Gaplus turned some elements of the game play around, Galaga ’88 returns to the original rules and adds a lot of visual flair. Continue reading

Pac-Mania

Pac-ManiaThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around relatively simple mazes, gobbling small dots and evading five colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, Buy this gamelarger dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. 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 you clear the maze of dots, you advance to a new maze and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Atari Games [under license from Namco], 1987)

Memories: I still refer to this game, only half-jokingly, as Paxxon. It resembles nothing so much as classic Pac-Man played from Zaxxon‘s three-quarter overhead view. The only real game play innovation brought about by this vaguely 3-D perspective is Pac’s new ability to jump over monsters, though even this escape method has some bizarre physics: if Pac takes to the air as he’s going around a corner, he will still go around the corner, only airborne. Don’t ask me how that works! Continue reading

Galaga: Demons Of Death

Galaga: Demons Of DeathThe 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 See the videowhich 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 mothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Bandai, 1988)

Memories: Despite being one of the most consistent arcade hits of the early ’80s, Galaga seemed to be left out in the cold for years before coming to the home console scene. The first attempt, Atari’s passable Galaga cartridge for the Atari 7800, didn’t quite have the audiovisual flair of the arcade version. By the time the NES version was released, it was clear that things had changed – for all intents and purposes, this was the arcade game, and it looked and sounded and played just like the original. When the litmus test of ’80s consoles was arcade authenticity, you just couldn’t do better than that. Continue reading

Mappy Land

Mappy LandThe Game: Mappy the Mouse is back, pursuing his feline arch nemesis Boss The Big Bit and his kitty kohorts through several themed zones of an amusement park. Riddled with ladders, trampolines, secret weapons and treasures, the park goes from wild west to tropical and beyond. Just avoid the cats, lest Mappy become someone’s mousy morsel. (Taxan [under license from Namco], 1988)

Memories: As much marketing muscle as was flexed for the introduction of Namco’s Mappy, you can tell that there was a strong feeling that he was the next big thing. But apparently law enforcement’s #1 rodent didn’t quite catch on; Mappy wasn’t the expected super-hit, going over moderately better in Japan than it did in the U.S. 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 Buy this gamemothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and deadly 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. (Bandai, 1988)

Memories: It wasn’t the first version of Xevious ever to hit a home console – Atari, who held the arcade rights for Namco’s genre-defining scrolling shoot ’em up in North America, made sure it had the rights for its home consoles too. But, in one of the more unfortunate coincidences of the video game industry, none of the three planned versions of Xevious made it out of the starting gate on time. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugBuy this gameThe 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 a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. In New Dig Dug, you guide Dig on a series of subterranean adventures, trying to unlock buried doors by finding some equally buried keys. Pookas and Fygars still stalk the underground tunnels in the new game, only each one that Dig dispatches is replaced by a new Pooka or Fygar from above. (Namco, 1992)

Memories: Okay, so we’ve got arcade-quality Dig Dug on the Game Boy Advance thanks to Namco Museum. But I thought it’d be fun to go back and revisit the original monochrome Game Boy version of Dig Dug to see how close it was to the arcade game. And the answer is…well, not very. Continue reading

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