The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes BackThe Game: Derived from an action scene in the second of a trilogy of little-known films about a budding Jedi Knight named Luke Skywalker, The Empire Strikes Back puts you in the cockpit of Luke’s snowspeeder in a desperate bid to beat back huge Imperial Walkers – also known as AT-ATs – from destroying the Rebel back on the ice planet of Hoth. The AT-ATs’ heavy artillery can seriously deplete your snowspeeder’s shielding with a single hit, though you must score numerous direct hits before you can even begin to have the same effect on the onslaught of Imperial Walkers, let alone destroy one. Occasionally, a weakness will be exposed in the “neck” region of the huge mechanical monsters, and you’ll have a few seconds in which you may take advantage of that and blow the machine away. And even less frequently, the triumphant strains of John Williams’ Star Wars theme – as squeaked out by the Atari 2600’s limited sound facility – will signal that the Force is with you, rendering you invincible for a short period of time. You’re going to need it. (Parker Brothers, 1982)

Memories: The Empire Strikes Back is just one in a series of excellent Star Wars-themed game cartridges released around this time by Parker Brothers (other titles included Star Wars: The Arcade Game, an excellent adaptation of the Atari vector arcade game, and the intriguing Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle). Continue reading

Frogger

FroggerThe Game: As in the arcade game of the same name, you try to help an amiable amphibian amble his way through rush hour traffic and a river full of dangers in a quest to get home. (Parker Brothers, 1982)

Memories: While faithful to its namesake, the Atari 2600 edition of Frogger is hampered not by the 2600’s graphical limitations, but by the flickering caused by the presence of more animated characters on the screen than the machine could keep track of. When you consider that the Atari 2600 encountered this problem if there were ever more than four sprites on the screen at the same time, you begin to see the problem with Frogger and its playing field chock full of traffic, and the river full of turtles and logs. Continue reading

Reactor

ReactorThe Game: In a bizarre combination of pinball, zero gravity, and nuclear physics, you pilot your “ship” around a reactor chamber, trying to eliminate rogue radioactive particles (which are about the same size as your ship). Anything touching the outer walls of the chamber will be destroyed, including your on-screen alter ego. Two pairs of five rods can be used to cool down the ever-expanding nuclear reaction at the center of the screen, but you can only push the rods in by bumping the particle into them head-on. Trapping particles in either of two cul-de-sacs in the upper right and lower left corners of the playing field will earn you bonus points, and the best way to accomplish this is to plant one of your limited number of decoys at the entrance to one of the smaller areas. In early levels, you can keep your back to the reactor and hug it as you bounce the particles off of it, but in later levels, the reactions are exposed and become just as deadly to you as to the walls are. (Parker Brothers, 1982)

Memories: A game attempt at translating Gottlieb‘s sleeper hit coin-op, Reactor for the Atari 2600 may lose some of its first audiovisual grain in the translation, but it’s still Reactor – well, kinda. The rockin’ music is mangled (though I have to give the programmers of the 2600 port some points for the effort of even trying to mimic it), and its free-roaming action was never intended to be confined to the clumsy control of a joystick. (Though after playing Reactor with the Wico Command Control trakball, I still have to say that this is a long way off from playing Reactor in the arcade with a trakball.) Continue reading

The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes BackThe Game: The Empire Strikes Back puts you in the cockpit of Luke Skywalkers’s snowspeeder in a desperate bid to beat back huge Imperial Walkers – also known as AT-ATs – from destroying the Rebel back on the ice See the videoplanet of Hoth. The AT-ATs’ heavy artillery can seriously deplete your snowspeeder’s shielding with a single hit, though you must score numerous direct hits before you can even begin to have the same effect on the onslaught of Imperial Walkers, let alone destroy one. Occasionally, a weakness will be exposed in the “neck” region of the huge mechanical monsters, and you’ll have a few seconds in which you may take advantage of that and blow the machine away. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Based on Parker Brothers‘ rendition of The Empire Strikes Back for the Atari 2600, this is one of those games that you’d expect to be even better on the Intellivision…and yet something is “off.” The phrase “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” is very applicable here. Continue reading

Frogger

FroggerThe Game: In a faithful home version of Sega’s original arcade game, you’re a frog trying to cross a highway, and then safely hop across the backs of logs and turtles – while avoiding alligators, snakes and otters – all to get home at the top of the screen. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: I’ve had the Atari 2600 version of Frogger for a long time, and I’ll admit that both the MAME version of the original arcade game and the Coleco tabletop battery-powered electronic Frogger have always struck me as being very faithful. But as far as early 80s platforms go, ColecoVision wound up with the most faithful Frogger of all. Continue reading

Frogger

FroggerThe Game: You are a frog. Your task is simple: hop across a busy highway, dodging cars and trucks, until you get the to the top of the screen. On the second screen, you stand at the edge of a river, where you must keep yourself from See the videodrowning by crossing safely to your grotto at the top of the screen by leaping across the backs of turtles and logs. But watch out for hungry alligators! (Phillips / Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: One of the most exasperating things about Frogger for the Odyssey2? Finding a copy that plays well enough for me to review. Many a copy of Parker Brothers’ Frogger has made its way from Europe to cartridge slots in America, only to disappoint whoever hunted it down: unlike many other Videopac titles released in Europe, Frogger won’t play on a North American console. Continue reading

Frogger

FroggerThe Game: You are a frog. Your task is simple: hop across a busy highway, dodging cars and trucks, until you get the to the edge of a river, where you must keep yourself from drowning by crossing safely to your grotto at the top of the screen by leaping across the backs of turtles and logs. But watch out for snakes and alligators! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: So, there’s this frog, you see, and he advanced from a best-selling Atari 2600 title to the 2600’s bigger, more powerful brother. And the result? Continue reading

Mr. Do’s Castle

Mr. Do's CastleSee the videoThe Game: As cuddly clown Mr. Do, you’re scrambling to squish all the unicorns who are invading your castle. You can repel them momentarily with your clown hammer, but you can only squish them permanently by knocking a brick out from the floor above. Most bricks contain cherries, but some also contain keys that unlock the door at the top. When that door is completely unlocked, touching it will transform the unicorns into walking plus signs; if you hammer five of them and spell the word EXTRA, you get an extra “life.” Clearing the screen of monsters or cherries advances you to the next level. (Parker Brothers., 1983)

Memories: I loved Mr. Do’s Castle in the arcade, and at the time I loved it on the VCS as well, though with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think the home version was as definitive as I once thought it was. Continue reading

Popeye

PopeyeThe Game: Well, blow me down! Popeye the sailor man gets his own video game. As Popeye, you’re trying to catch Olive Oyl’s falling hearts before they descend to sea level and are lost, while ducking Bluto’s punches at the same time. See the videoA can of spinach appears every so often, giving you the opportunity to read the big bully the riot act (comic strip-style, of course). (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Well, shiver me timbers! It took me just shy of twenty years to get it, mateys, but this old landlubber has finally gotten his mitts on Popeye for the Odyssey2 – and blow me down, it’s seaworthy! Continue reading

Popeye

PopeyeThe Game: Popeye the sailor man gets his own video game. On level one, you’re trying to catch Olive Oyl’s falling hearts before they descend to sea level and are lost, while ducking Bluto’s punches at the same time. A can of spinach appears every so often, giving you the opportunity to read the big bully the riot act (comic strip-style, of course). On level two, the falling hearts are replaced by falling musical notes, and you’ll need Wimpy’s hefty help to keep Swee’Pea from drifting away on a balloon. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: After you’ve seen a few of Parker Brothers’ 2600 games, a bit of a style begins to emerge: simple characters that dispense with trying to be too graphically elaborate, and instead settle for being a decent light-and-shadow silhouette of what they’re representing. Such was the case with Parker Brothers’ version of Q*Bert, and it’s also the case here. Continue reading

Popeye

PopeyeThe Game: Well, blow me down! Popeye the sailor man gets his own video game. On level one, you’re trying to catch Olive Oyl’s falling hearts before they descend to sea level and are lost, while ducking Bluto’s punches at the same time. A can of spinach appears every so often, giving you the opportunity to read the big bully the riot act (comic strip-style, of course). On level two, the falling hearts are replaced by falling musical notes, and you’ll need Wimpy’s hefty help to keep Swee’Pea from drifting away on a balloon. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Possibly the most faithful home version of Nintendo’s game about a certain sailor man there is, Popeye for the ColecoVision does this game proud. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a pyramid of colorful blocks, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a See the videoslightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will deposit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every block in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: One of the last games ever produced for the Odyssey 2, this great adaptation of Q*Bert also has the distinction of being among the hardest to find. Released primarily in Europe for the Videopac (the Dutch-produced equivalent of the Odyssey2), Q*Bert has decent graphics and damned fast gameplay for an Odyssey game. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

See the original TV adMemories: One of my favorite games of all time becomes an excercise in massive frustration when played on the Atari 5200. As with the 5200 version of Frogger – also, coincidentally, produced by Parker Bros. – you must press the bottom fire button in order to move, making the game almost unplayable. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated See the videoone-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he responds with a cartoon balloon full of mock profanity. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Oof. If you thought this arcade classic suffered when crammed into an Atari 2600 cartridge… well, wait. Maybe’s that’s not a fair thing to say. The Intellivision version’s graphics were marginally better at best, and the sound was certainly better. But with the disc controllers, Q*Bert was almost unplayable. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will deposit him back at the top of theSee the videopyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: This game has been much-maligned by some VCS owners over the years, which is something I take issue with. The 2600 translation of the famous arcade game was just fine! The graphics conveyed the pyramid of cubes just fine, it was easy to tell which way Q*Bert was headed, and overall I had no complaints. Even the sound effects, even though they were in some cases not even close to the distinctive sounds of the original, had their own strange charm. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, arcade- cabinet-shaking splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: With a huge advantage over the other consoles of its generation, the Colecovision should’ve been able to play the best game of Q*Bert in town. And the graphics are probably the best console rendition that the game got prior to the NES era. Where this Q*Bert makes one want to jump off the pyramid is in the controller. Continue reading

Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle

Return Of The Jedi: Death Star BattleSee the videoThe Game: Presumably, you play the part of Lando Calrissian in this game, which seems to follow the events in the latter half of the film Return of the Jedi. Piloting the Millennium Falcon, you dart around the perimeter defense shield of the Empire’s new Death Star, which is still being constructed before your very eyes. You must eliminate a certain number of TIE Interceptors before a hole opens in the shield, allowing you to get close enough to start blowing pieces out of the Death Star itself. But an automatic defense system won’t take long to track you down and eliminate you, so you have to work fast. The sooner you can hit the Death Star power core, the better. And when you accomplish that, you have to worry about dodging the flaming debris of the huge space station… (Parker Brothers, 1983)

See the TV adMemories: Possibly the best game Parker Brothers released out of its series of four Star Wars titles, Death Star Battle had some truly great graphics considering which machine they were squeezed out of. The vaguely 3-D grid of the Death Star’s defense perimeter would constantly shift colors, and it was actually very pretty. The game play itself was no slouch either – one out of five times is about how often I manage to evade all the Death Star debris without getting creamed. Continue reading

Spider-Man

Spider-ManThe Game: The Green Goblin and his henchmen are terrorizing the city once more, and it’s up to Spider-Man to restore order. But the odds are against him: he can only attach his web to the surface of the building, naturally, but the Goblin’s underlings are ready and eager to cut Spidey’s web should it be planted near them. Worse yet, the difficult-to-navigate high voltage tower at the top of the building is riddled with the Goblin’s bombs, and even if Spidey can defuse them, there’s a Super Bomb waiting for him at the top of the building – and he can only put it out of commission after dealing with the Green Goblin personally. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

See the TV adMemories: What if…Crazy Climber was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it any more? That’s almost what Spider-Man seems like on the Atari 2600. Though I will step away from the comparison and point out that Spider-Man is a lot more challenging than the 2600’s less than stellar rendition of Crazy Climber. Simply getting a “foothold” (web-hold?) for your next ascent is a huge challenge, and getting to your next temporary destination is always a dicey deal. Unlike that other scaler of buildings, however, Spidey can catch himself in mid-fall – if he’s in the right place and you’re really fast. Continue reading

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