Defender

DefenderBuy this gameThe Game: Alien invaders besiege the helpless population of a planet, and you are the last line of defense. Ideally, you must destroy the aliens before they can abduct humanoids from the ground; if an alien ship gets to the top of the screen with a captive, it absorbs that unlucky soul and it becomes a much more dangerous and aggressive Mutant. Smart bombs give you the option to wipe out everything alien on the See the videoscreen, but of course you only have three of them at the outset of the game. You can also perform an emergency hyperspace warp, but you could rematerialize in a far more perilous situation than the one you just left. When you go to the next level by eliminating an entire alien fleet, you receive a bonus multiplied by the number of humans who are still safely on the ground. (Williams Electronics, 1980)

Memories: For many people, Defender is the pinnacle of video games, hands down. Fast-moving, unrelenting, hard to beat but easy to become addicted, Defender was always a bit too fast for me – but it’s a perennial favorite for so many others. Continue reading

Make Trax

Make TraxThe Game: You play the part of a free-roaming paintbrush, trying to fill an entire maze with color. Unfortunately, a couple of equally free-roaming (and, apparently, amphibious) fish are out to stop you. You must avoid them at all costs. There are two rollers you can use to squish the fish, but they’re only found in two parts See the videoof the maze – and you can only roll them so far. Periodically, such things as kittens, cars, and mice will run through the maze, leaving tracks in your fresh paint which you must then cover up. You can also stop them dead in their tracks by running over them. (Don’t ask me why two fish are a threat to you when your paintbrush can ice a whole car.) Fill the maze with the pigment of your imagination, and you’re off to the next level. (Williams Electronics [licensed from Kural Electric], 1981)

Memories: One of Williams’ only non-shooter entries (and one of its few games licensed from Japan), it’s easy to see that Make Trax is inspired by Pac-Man, even though the connection is very cleverly covered. Instead of clearing a maze by eating everything in it, you clear the maze by painting it. This makes things a little harder than you might expect – every pixel of the maze has to be filled. In Pac-Man terms, this would be equivalent to the yellow one leaving crumbs in corners of the maze that have to be cleaned up. Messy eating metaphors aside, it makes Make Trax very challenging. Continue reading

Stargate / Defender II

StargateSee the videoThe Game: The alien abductors are back. Their henchbeings are back. And fortunately for the hapless humans on the planet’s surface, you’re back too, in a fully armed warship with a belly full of smart bombs. But the aliens have brought new and unusual reinforcements, and now the ultimate X-factor is seen visibly floating in the night sky – a stargate which could deposit your space fighter anywhere, delivering you to safety…or a rendezvous with a swarm of aliens. (Williams Electronics, 1981)
See the video
Memories: This sequel to Defender was a game I positively hated way back when. Why? Because I just flat-out sucked at the controls of Defender, so Stargate showed me no mercy whatsoever. With an even more complicated control scheme than its ancestor, I didn’t stand a chance at Stargate. But watching the people who had learned how to really make the game theirs? That was something else. Continue reading

Joust

JoustThe Game: In the timeless tradition, you suit up in armor, grab a lance, and mount your trusty ostrich. Then you try to impale others who have done the same, and eliminate the remaining “eggs” which will hatch a new warrior if left long enough. Other threats include the almost invincible pterodactyl and the Lava Troll (whose firey See the videoBuy this gamehands assist enemy knights while trying to drag yours into the molten rock). In later levels, there are fewer solid surfaces on which to take refuge. When one of your knights is toppled, another appears, given momentary immunity from harm until he is moved. On second thought, maybe it isn’t all that traditional… (Williams Electronics, 1982)

Memories: One of the best-remembered games, Joust enjoys a cult following to this day, something which can probably be attributed to the game’s bizarre juxtaposition of perfectly-normal elements (knights in armor trying to kill one another) with the bizarre (lava trolls, flying ostriches as steeds, pterodactyls, knights hatching from eggs). It was a perfect enough mix that Joust has stuck in people’s minds to this day. It was also the only game whose action button served the purpose of flapping the wings of an ostrich. Continue reading

Moon Patrol

Moon PatrolBuy this gameThe Game: Driving an agile, armed moon buggy across the lunar surface, you must jump over craters and land mines, shoot large boulders (some occasionally mobile) out of your way, and try not to be on the receiving end of hostile fire from alien ships that try to strafe you. Some of the ships, which look very suspiciously like See the videothe triangle-of-spheres enemy ships from Gyruss, can even bomb the moon and make new craters for you to jump over – which may put you right into their line of fire. Later on, you also get to blast away tanks and dodge pesky jet cars which “tailgate” and then try to ram you. (Williams Electronics [under license from IREM], 1982)

Memories: Moon Patrol is a cool game with an actual goal, and with that in mind, it shares a common trait with SNK’s Fantasy – a “continue game” feature which allows you to continue from your last position for just 25 cents more. Continue reading

Robotron: 2084

Computer-simulated view of Robotron cabinetBuy this gameThe Game: In the year 2084, all hell has broken loose on Earth. Robotic servants, created to perform dangerous tasks and defend their human creators, have decided they can do without their masters. The robots have evolved into new and terrifying varieties – the ever-multiplying Ground Roving UNit Terminators (GRUNTs), See the videoindestructible Hulks, self-replicating Quarks and Tanks, and most horrfying of all, the Brain robots, which capture humans and reprogram them into super-fast killing machines. And the only thing protecting the last remaining survivors of homo sapiens is your strength, endurance and cunning (and the multi-directional weaponry helps too). (Williams Electronics, 1982)

Memories: Hands-down one of the most challenging and addictive games of all time, Robotron: 2084 was a brilliant masterpiece of design and engineering. The sounds were unearthly, the graphics, though simple, were easy to interpret, and the two-joystick control scheme (one for moving your character, the other for firing your lasers in any direction) is what the phrase “sweaty palms” was invented for. Sheer genius! Continue reading

Blaster

BlasterBuy this gameThe Game: The human race narrowly escapes the conquering of Earth by the merciless Robotrons. The last surviving remnants of mankind See the videoscatter as they leave the planet, heading for a distant world known as Paradise. Your job? Make sure they get there – by blasting away at anything and everything along the perilous journey. (Williams Electronics, 1983)

Memories: In the continuation of the Defender / Stargate / Robotron story cycle, Blaster builds nicely on the nearly-movie-worthy saga by picking up from the inevitable conclusion of Robotron (i.e., the protagonist’s death). Now humanity is on the run, and there are all kinds of nasty creatures waiting to finish the human race off, including the Masterminds, which look a lot like Robotron‘s Brains, only more hideous (imagine a large brain wearing a Darth Vader faceplate, and you’ll get the idea.) Continue reading

Bubbles

BubblesBuy this gameThe Game: This is an interactive documentary about the life of a Scrubbing Bubble. As a small bubble, your job is to scoot around the sink, See the videosoaking up smaller bubbles, bits of dirt, and any ants that wander into your path. As you accrete more common kitchen debris, your bubble grows bigger and begins to form a face. When your bubble is big enough to sport a big ant-eating grin, you can start to do real damage. Razor blades are always deadly; roving brushes are deadly until your bubble has a mouth, and roaches are deadly unless you can dispatch them with a broom that periodically appears. When the drain at the center of the sink flashes green, you can slide down the drain and advance a level – something which you can only otherwise accomplish by clearing the sink of “edible” items. (Williams Electronics, 1983)

Memories: Okay, and the designers at Williams were smoking what, exactly, when they dreamed this one up?

But I kid Bubbles. It’s actually a pretty cool game, and a rare example of a cutesy game from Williams, a company which usually turned out such macho, kill-’em-all shooters as Defender, Sinistar and Robotron. Williams’ only other entry in the cute game genre was Make Trax (which almost doesn’t count, since it was licensed from an obscure Japanese manufacturer). Continue reading

Motorace USA / Traverse USA / Zippy Race

Motorace USAThe Game: As the lone motorcyclist in a cross-country car race, you have to dodge your opponents at high speed, one two-ton vehicle at a time. You drive through city streets, highways, and through the rough desert, trying to reach See the videoyour goal without running out of gas or getting splattered across the asphalt. (Williams Electronics [under license from IREM], 1983)

Memories: Whatever you called it, this was one of my favorite driving/racing games, combining the best elements of both maze games and scrolling obstacle course games, and handling things differently from the Pole Position and Turbo formula which dominated this particular genre at the time. Continue reading

Sinistar

SinistarBuy this gameThe Game: In a lone space fighter, you’re on the most dangerous space combat mission this side of Luke Skywalker. While evading or destroying drone robots and gunships in a hazardous asteroid field, you’re trying to mine the raw materials needed for Sinibombs, your only defense against the huge, terrifying space See the videostation, Sinistar. You can bomb the components of Sinistar as they are being put in place, but as a last resort, your Sinibombs can damage it in its complete form as well. If you should happen to find yourself within range of the fully-operational Sinistar without the armament needed to protect yourself, there are snowballs in hell that stand a better chance of surviving than you do. (Williams Electronics, 1983)

Memories: A truly intimidating and challenging game, Sinistar‘s only drawback is a slightly aggravating control system; since it doesn’t quite adhere to the physical rules of bodies, motion and inertia that were so interestingly utilized in such games as Asteroids, Sinistar is a bit more difficult to get a handle on. Continue reading

Joust 2: Survival Of The Fittest

Joust 2Buy this gameThe Game: Mount up that ostrich and ride into battle once more, this time in strange new environments such as “The Altar,” “The Blues,” a deadly mechanical warrior which can be dismantled by lancing strategic points, and crystal caves filled with killer bats. If all this sounds like too much for an armored guy on a lousy See the videoostrich, you’re right, it is – and this is why you can transform into a Pegasus, which is a larger target and harder to keep in the air, but can take out more armored guys on lousy ostriches – and they can’t turn their steeds into flying horses. Beware, buzzard bait! (Williams, 1986)

Memories: I have to admit, I only became aware of the existence of a sequel to Williams’ immortal Joust in the late ’90s…and even now that I’ve gotten to play it, the jury’s still out. Joust needed a sequel about like The Matrix needs a sequel – meaning not at all. Both were fine as stand-alones, and didn’t need to be turned into franchises. Continue reading

Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Williams Collection

Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Williams CollectionBuy this gameThe Game: Visit a shrine to the greatest hits of Williams Electronics’ spectacularly successful arcade manufacturing venture of the early 80s. Spawned almost solely by Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar, Williams’ arcade division spawned some of the most memorable hits of the golden age of video games – and these are just a few of them. (Williams/Midway [developed by Digital Eclipse], 1995)

Memories: One of the earliest classic arcade emulation collections for the Playstation, The Williams Collection was Williams Electronics‘ (now owned by Midway) answer to Namco‘s series of Namco Museum games, chronicling the greatest arcade hits of one of Williams’ biggest rivals in the early 80s. And for my money, The Williams Collection is better – no cheesy, unintelligibly bit-mapped photos of printed circuit boards here, kids; Williams brings you full-length video interviews with Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar, the game designers/programmers behind such hits as Defender and Robotron: 2084, as well as the minds behind such other games as Joust and Bubbles. Continue reading

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