Monaco GP

Monaco GPThe Game: Players get behind the wheel of a roaring race car, viewed from overhead, as it navigates a series of roads and occasional tunnels whose width varies dramatically. Tunnels are illuminated only by See the videoheadlights, which means that collisions with other cars are, if not certain, then at least much more likely. Any collision results in the player’s car having to get into traffic again from a dead standstill at the side of the road. (Sega, 1979)

Memories: Monaco GP looks like just about any other overhead racing game, though it certainly upped the ante in terms of color. Its interesting take on the concept of “road widening” also made it uniquely frustrating and amusing at the same time. But as similar as it may seem to rest of the overhead-view racing games of its day, Monaco GP does hold one distinction in video game history. Continue reading

Carnival

CarnivalThe Game: Step right up, put your quarter on the table (well, okay, technically in the slot), and take your best shot. There are plenty of targets to hit, but no big plush bears to win. If you don’t take out the ducks before they reach the bottom row, they don’t cycle back to the top like the other targets – they start flying and can take See the videoserious amounts of ammo off your hands and end the game early! (1980, Sega)

Memories: In the wake of virtual shooting gallery games like Space Invaders, Carnival arrived on the scene to make the shooting gallery metaphor more literal. Well, more or less – killer ammo-grabbing ducks aren’t exactly standard issue at the state fair. (But seeing how much finesse they add to Carnival, they should be!) Continue reading

Moon Cresta

Moon CrestaBuy this gameThe Game: As commander of the three-stage fighter rocket Moon Cresta, your job is to ward off endless varieties of evasively weaving space attackers. Every time you knock out two consecutive screens of assailants, you’ll have an opportunity to dock your ship to another one of Moon Cresta’s three stages, until all three See the videoportions of the ship are combined to create one bad-ass weapons platform. But you can also lose stages very quickly, ending your game – a bigger ship makes a bigger and easier target. (Sega/Gremlin [under license from Nichibutsu], 1980)

Memories: Moon Cresta had a very cool idea which was ripped off by a handful of its contemporaries – instead of giving the player a set number of “lives,” players had three rocket stages. Losing even one stage could seriously hamper your life expectancy in the game in later levels, and you could lose a stage to anything from enemy fire to not lining your stages up correctly during docking. This actually made Moon Cresta a very challenging game – but also a very fun one. Continue reading

Astro Blaster

Astro BlasterThe Game: Another day, another alien invasion. But this time it won’t be so easy to fight the aliens off: your ship has a limited supply of power, and See the videoyour guns can overheat if you force them to spend too much time blazing away. You have to be judicious with your firepower, dodge incoming fire, and hold out long enough to dock with your own mothership and refuel between waves. (Gremlin/Sega, 1981)

Memories: While Space Invaders “inspired” a glut of knockoffs since 1978, several games tried to improve upon the slide-and-shoot formula in later years: Namco‘s Galaxian and Nintendo‘s Radar Scope introduced dive-bombing attacks, Moon Cresta by Nichibutsu replaced the standard “three lives” system with a three-stage rocket, and Gremlin/Sega‘s Astro Blaster brought something else to the table to up the stakes: the game was based on the premise that any spaceship would have limited fuel and ammo. Continue reading

Eliminator

EliminatorThe Game: One or two players, using a control knob and a thrust button, pilot their ships around a rectangular arena which is also home to a floating fortress. At the heart of the deadly fortress is a growing Eliminator, which will eventually, when it reaches its full potential, slip its bonds and zip around the arena, destroying See the videoeverything in sight. The only way to destroy the Eliminator is to force it into the outer wall of the fortress with your lasers. (This also works on your fellow player, or the computer-controlled second player surrogate, as well.) You can also fire a well-placed shot down the launch tube of the fortress and destroy it before the Eliminator can fully form. (Sega/Gremlin, 1981)

Memories: What an exasperating and fun little game this was! With its seemingly Asteroids-inspired control scheme (and its blatantly Star Wars-inspired way of beating the enemy), Eliminator was a real hoot…if you could master the controls. 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!See the videoBuy this game (Sega [under license from Konami], 1981)

Memories: Frogger is a truly ribbeting game, and very addictive. It was one of the handful of cute action games that arrived around the same time as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, though it was never franchised as heavily as those games were. There was a Frogger sticker set, the occasional T-shirt, and a rockin’ musical tribute from Bucker & Garcia on the Pac-Man Fever album. Frogger also existed very briefly as a Saturday morning cartoon on CBS, in which he and his amphibian pals were reporters on the swamp beat, but this incarnation of Frogger was even shorter-lived than the cartoon based on Pac-Man. Continue reading

Pulsar

PulsarThe Game: You control a tank – though it seems like an awfully tiny one – zipping through a maze teeming with enemies. Three color-coded keys are tucked away in a corner, and after grabbing one of these keys you must fight your way past enemy forces to open the corresponding lock. The process must be repeated until all of the keys on a given level have been used, allowing you to travel to the next portion of the maze – where more keys, more locks and more enemies await. Additionally, shooting some enemies may have an effect on your tank’s speed, causing it to move event faster through the maze (and potentially face-first into trouble) or slowing it down to the point where it’s a nearly defenseless target for the enemy. (Sega, 1981)

Memories: Somewhere between Tank! and Mouse Trap lies Pulsar, an intriguing and oddly compelling hybrid of game elements. If you missed this one in the arcade, don’t worry: you weren’t alone. Given the surfeit of maze games that were marketed to amusement operators as a cure for the epidemic of Pac-Man fever, there were a lot of games that looked like Pulsar. Besides, in 1980, cute was king, slide-and-shoot derivatives of Space Invaders were still “in,” and tank games that happened not to be Battlezone were so 1974. Continue reading

Space Odyssey

Space OdysseyThe Game: Look out below – and above! You pilot a space fighter taking fire (and potentially kamikaze collisions) from all sides, zooming over an alien cityscape through the night sky and trying to blast your way through their inexhaustible defenses. If you succeed (and in this context, “succeed” = “survive”), you then switch from a side-scrolling perspective to a vaguely 3-D overhead view of the action as your fight zooms over a heavily defended alien fortress and then into deep space, where you’ll need to avoid black holes and comets, as well as a very likely lethal onslaught of fast-moving alien ships. If you manage to survive that, then (A) damn, you’re good, and (B) you’re going to do it all again, over a slightly different background. (Sega, 1981)

Memories: This interesting, if somewhat lesser-known, entry from Sega featured what were some eye-popping graphics for its day, but it seems unlikely that anyone played long enough to notice, since the game was so unbelievably difficult. Continue reading

Tac-Scan

Tac-ScanThe Game: Commanding a fleet of ships, you use their combined firepower to wipe out an onslaught of alien ships (which, perhaps not at all surprisingly, are firing back at you). It only takes one hit to lose one of your own fleet, and when your fleet is completely wiped out, the game is over. Until then, do as much damage to the enemy armada as you can. (Sega/Gremlin, 1981)

Memories: I always admired games with novel ways of counting down how many “lives” a player had left until his quarter was declared a total loss. Moon Cresta had a three-stage rocket which could be destroyed stage-by-stage, and Lock ‘n’ Chase featured a getaway car full of extra crooks that could be deployed one-by-one into its Pac-Man-like maze. Tac-Scan gave the player one fleet – and only one fleet – of ships that would be wiped out as the game progressed. When the entire fleet was wiped out, thus ended the game. Continue reading

Turbo

TurboThe Game: It’s pretty straightforward…you’re zipping along in your Formula One race car, trying to avoid other drivers and obstacles along the way while hauling a sufficient quantity of butt to win the race. (Sega, 1981)

Memories: Ah, the driving game wars of the early 1980s. Remember when everyone was ga-ga over this game and Pole Position, which were both essentially very pretty remakes of Atari’s old Night Driver game? Though, to be quite honest, both of the early 80’s driving game staples were graphically impressive. Turbo reached the checkered flag first, though – Pole Position was released the following year in the U.S. Continue reading

Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom

Buck Rogers: Planet Of ZoomThe Game: Zoom being the operative word here, your mission – as space hero Buck Rogers – is to fly in close quarters with all kinds of enemy ships, landers and structures, fending off their attacks, and generally staying alive as See the videolong as possible. Obligatory robot wisecracks and utterances of “beedy-beedy-beedy” not included. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: Debuting in arcades a mere two years after the exit of the popular but troubled Buck Rogers TV series, Sega’s coin-op had no real connection with it. If anything, the enemy ships and architecture in Planet Of Zoom are a bit more art deco, suggesting the comic book roots of Buck Rogers. Sega later ported the game to a few home consoles, and while the player’s ship in those games seemed to hearken back to the sleek fighters of the TV series, it was more likely a case of simplifying the arcade game’s fancy rocketship. Continue reading

Pengo

PengoThe Game: As a cute, fuzzy, harmless little penguin, you roam around an enclosed maze of ice blocks. If this sounds too good to be true – especially for a polar-dwelling avian life form – that’s because you’re not the only critter waddling around in the frozen tundra. Killer Sno-Bees chase little Pengo around the ice, and if See the videothey catch up to him and sting him, it’ll cost you a life. But your little flightless waterfowl isn’t completely defenseless. Pengo can push blocks of ice out of the maze, changing the configuration of the playing field and squashing Sno-Bees with a well-timed shove. Clearing the field of Sno-Bees allows you to advance to the next level. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: This is almost a painfully cute game. Cute, fuzzy characters (both good and bad) waddle around the screen, and even if Pengo gets caught by the Sno-Bees, his little dance of defeat is cute. If you win a few levels, a multicolored lineup of penguins do a little Rockettes-style dance for you. But despite the tooth-rotting overabundance of sweetness, Pengo was a very addictive little game. Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Sega, 1982)
See the video
Memories: In the wake of the unexpected theatrical success of the second Star Trek movie, Sega revamped the popular Star Trek computer game that has been – and still is – available on almost every computer platform since the beginning of time, giving it vector graphics renditions of the movie Enterprise, Klingon ships, and starbases, not to mention cool-looking phasers and photon torpedoes (actually the best part of the game). Continue reading

Super Zaxxon

Super ZaxxonThe Game: That armed-to-the-teeth spaceborne fortress is back – and so are you, because you’re (of course) the only space pilot who can take it on. This time, however, you’ll be flying through the trench-like space station faster, the automated missiles and gun turrets will attack you more quickly and aggressively, and instead of flying through space between levels, this time you shoot through a tightly-enclosed tunnel at bat-out-of-hell speeds – trying to battle enemy fighters as well as minelaying hovercraft which drop indestructible mines into your path. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all? Whereas the boss waiting for you in Zaxxon‘s fortress was a big robot, this one’s an animè-cute dragon – and it’ll still kick your ass if you don’t blow it up first. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: Originally sold as a conversion kit so arcade operators could freshen up their year-old Zaxxon machines, Super Zaxxon really did nothing more than swap out the graphics set and increased the speed of the game phenomenally. If you thought Zaxxon was a breeze, this game will wake you up. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress (vaguely inspired by the Death Star trench scenes in Star Wars), your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as much of the defenses as you can in the See the videomeantime. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: Zaxxon drastically changed the nature of side-scrolling shooter games by introducing a somewhat 3-D perspective to the game. Not only were altitude and forward motion taken into account, but you could also move side to side, banking, diving, and gaining altitude. Bearing in mind that Zaxxon was the first game to feature this kind of movement, its experimental nature and great graphics occasionally got in the way of the player’s attempt to ascertain exactly where he was in the playing field. Also, some of the actual obstacles in your path were indistinguishable from the harmless scrolling background. Continue reading

Sub Scan

Sub ScanThe Game: It’s a cold warrior’s nightmare! Enemy submarines glide silently through the seas below, but the only ordnance available isn’t of the guided variety. From a destroyer on the surface of the ocean, players have to carefully drop depth charges; taking out enemy subs will depend on timing and sheer luck. Failing to take out enemy subs – and wasting depth charges – will result in a deadly sinking feeling… (Sega, 1982)

Memories: Sega‘s early attempts to break into the crowded Atari 2600 marketplace were a curious mixture of ports of the company’s arcade titles (Congo Bongo, Star Trek) and curious originals like Sub Scan, which didn’t originate in coin-op form. That’s not to say that Sub Scan has no arcade DNA, though – it’s an attempt to put a new spin on a classic quarter-grabber dating back to the ’70s. Continue reading

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

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: Bongo the Ape, presumably Donkey Kong’s third cousin, sets your toes on fire while you’re asleep during a jungle expedition. So naturally, you drop everything to take revenge on the goofy gorilla. But first you have to reach See the videohim. The first level is a hazardous assortment of ramps and levels and a waterfall to jump across. Be careful of pesky little monkeys who can weigh you down so you move slower (and jump lower). And watch out for snakes. Then you have to hop across various islands and dodge more snakes as you try to get across a river. The most difficult level is the third, where you must try to dodge charging rhinos (and I don’t mean they have credit cards), occasionally ducking out of sight in little sinkholes where you get to squash other critters. The fourth level is very Frogger-like, consisting of riding across another river on the backs of hippos, fish, and lily pads. When you complete this screen, you set Bongo’s toes on fire as he sleeps…and then the whole thing starts again. (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Congo Bongo was entertaining enough, though it suffered from some of the same frustrations caused by the overhead 3-D graphic scheme that originated with Sega’s own Zaxxon. In some ways, Congo Bongo was nothing more than a 3-D version of Donkey Kong, right down to the pesky primate. Continue reading

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