Change Lanes

Change LanesThe Game: The future! A dystopia of fast driving! Players are behind the wheel of a multi-terrain vehicle that can switch from fast handling on solid surfaces to amphibious speedboat in the blink of an eye. The currency of this violent future is fuel for this vehicle, and enemies in similar vehicles and in airborne vehicles will stop at nothing to claim fuel for themselves, regardless of the player’s safety. Grey highways and rivers are the usual modes of travel, though brown highways offer faster travel. Checkpoints must be reached in the correct order to rack up bonus points (players who arrive at the wrong checkpoint will be greeted with a checkerboard pattern instead of a number), but all checkpoints, even the wrong ones, grant players extra fuel. Surface enemies can be rammed out of the way, but there’s no honor lost in surviving by throwing the vehicle into reverse gear. Whoever survives the longest and scores the highest is crowned the Supreme King of the World. (Taito America, 1982)

Memories: Before there was RoadBlasters, before the first-person-driving-and-combat genre became a fleeting fixture on the arcade landscape, there was Taito‘s Change Lanes, an aggressive novelty in an increasingly crowded field of first-person racers. Sure, games like Pole Position and Turbo offered us the chance to race with an unprecedented view…but Change Lanes changed the venue, setting it in a kind of genteel Mad Max-inspired world: sure, fuel is a precious commodity, and in-game enemies will kill to keep the player from acquiring it…and yet someone’s maintaining the infrastructure. Good job on those frictionless brown lanes, infrastructure people. Continue reading

Elevator Action

Elevator ActionThe Game: Love in an elevator, it’s not. As a daring spy, you break into a top secret enemy facility, trying to grab vital secrets and evade or kill as many enemy agents as you can. Your only means of getting from floor to floor through most of the game is via the elevator – which gives you an advantage and also makes you vulnerable. (Taito, 1983)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: This neat little entry from Taito wound up eating a lot of my allowance money back when I was eleven years old. There was a genuine sense of trying to reach a goal (though, to this day, even with emulation and official retro collections, I have no idea what lies below, say, the 20th level of the enemy compound). Elevator Action is also a real test of one’s mental multitasking abilities: agents closing in on all sides, elevator going down…do you jump? Duck? Shoot the agents? Shoot out the overhead lights? Some combination of the above? Whew. Continue reading

Buggy Challenge

Buggy ChallengeThe Game: It’s a duel for dune buggy supremacy, and it won’t be easy. Drivers must contend not only with other drivers, but with dangerous terrain (sand hills that can launch a buggy into mid-air with little or no control over where it might land), killer obstacles including rocks and fence posts, and the amazing ease of losing all sense of direction. (Taito, 1984)

Memories: A fairly obscure first-person racer from Taito, Buggy Challenge is visually impressive, but in an era when it seemed like arcade game manufacturers were desperately trying to add complexity to control schemes – after all, a complex control scheme will probably get players “killed” more often, forcing more coin drop – Buggy Challenge most outstanding feature may be its blissful simplicity. There’s a gas pedal and a steering wheel. Try not to hit stuff that will cause the dune buggy to blow up. It really is that simple. Continue reading

Bubble Bobble

Bubble BobbleBuy this gameThe Game: You control a friendly-looking lizard named Bub (and, if you have a second player, they control his blue-tinged twin, Bob). Your See the videomission is simple – use your natural defenses to do away with a multi-tiered screen full of monsters. And your natural defense? Of course, like so many members of the reptile family, you blow bubbles which trap your enemies, and then jump up to pop those bubbles (popping the predators in the process). In many cases, a just-popped enemy will deposit a tasty treat which you have to grab for bonus points within seconds before the treat vanishes. Clearing the screen of critters takes you automatically to the next level. (Taito, 1986)

The Game: I’m not going to delve too deeply into how original this game is (or isn’t) – one can see the Mario Bros. influence pretty clearly – but Bubble Bobble is a lot of fun, and it’s the starting point of Taito’s most enduring “cute” franchise. Continue reading

Halley’s Comet

Halley's CometThe Game: Defend Earth from the comets! Halley’s Comet is on a collision course with Earth, and it’s teeming with evil aliens bent on destroying humanity. They attack the player’s ship in endless waves, even building walls in space that the player can collide with before they realize what’s happening. Power-ups can be revealed by blasting away at meteors, though catching them and accumulating their firepower in the middle of a fierce firefight is a skill unto itself. Smaller comets plunge toward the Earth at lightning speed. Any alien ships or comets that the player doesn’t destroy keep going and attack the planet; if too many are allowed to strike at Earth directly, or if the player runs out of ships, the game ends. (Taito, 1986)

Memories: An interesting take on the slide-and-shoot genre, Halley’s Comet finally addresses what happens when dive-bombing alien invaders zoom past the player’s ship at the bottom of the screen – they keep barreling toward whatever the player was protecting in the first place. This raises the stakes nicely and holds the player accountable for any stragglers who slip past the defenses, something that most shoot-’em-ups since Space Invaders (which ended the moment the invaders landed) didn’t bother to do. Continue reading

Super Qix

Super QixThe Game: You are a marker, trying to claim as much of the playing field as you can by enclosing areas of it. Drawing your boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves you vulnerable to attack from the Qix Dragon and the Sparx, gives you many more points upon the completion of an enclosed area. If the jumpy Qix Dragon touches your marker or an uncompleted boundary you are See the videodrawing, you lose a “life” and start again. And the Sparx, which travel only along the edges of the playing field and along the boundaries of areas of the screen you’ve already enclosed, can destroy you by touching your marker. And if you linger too long, a fuse will begin burning at the beginning of your unfinished boundary, and will eventually catch up with you. (Taito, 1987)

Memories: The beauty of the original Qix was that it was a simple-but-difficult, instinctive puzzle game, and it was gloriously abstract. No motives were assigned to anything or anyone; the helix-like Qix was automatically your antagonist because it would stop you from drawing your stix (in essence, as Daily Variety might say, nixing your stix pix). Simple as that. Continue reading

The New Zealand Story

The New Zealand StoryBuy this gameThe Game: You might think this will be the story of Captain Cook and British settlers setting in motion the fall of the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, interpreted as a video game, but…that’s not it. It’s the story of a walrus who See the videowaltzes into the zoo and abducts every Kiwi bird there, stuffing them into a huge sack and then leaving. One Kiwi bird escapes, and you have to guide him on his quest to free all the other Kiwis. (On the other hand, perhaps it’s metaphorical somehow.) Fortunately, you happen to be the kind of Kiwi bird who can fire a bow and arrow, use a flamethrower, and can fly a little hovercraft around maze-like vertical structures. Other animals try to outfox you, gravity is against you, and your little Kiwi has only three lives. (Taito, 1988)

Memories: This very strange little game from Taito seldom escaped from Japan until emulation and retro collections came along. Thanks to the latter, everyone can now enjoy this strangely compelling little game. Continue reading

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