Baseball

BaseballThe Game: It’s a day at the digital ballpark for two players; the game is very simple – players control the timing of pitches and batting, which will determine how the game unfolds. The highest score at the end of nine innings wins. See the video(RCA, 1977)

Memories: I’m all for a simple game of video baseball. When it got to the point that baseball video games were keeping track of batting averages and other stats, that knocked the genre out of the park for me – I was more than happy to stick to baseball on the Odyssey2 and the Game Boy (the two best video versions of the sport for my money). However, it is possible – even for someone with simple tastes like mine – to go too far in the opposite direction: too basic. RCA’s Baseball for the Studio II goes over that line. Continue reading

Bowling! / Basketball!

Bowling! / Basketball!The Game: Hit the hardwood in one of two sports. Roll your big shiny one down the lanes and try to knock down all the pins in Bowling!, or go for a basket in Basketball! Not possible in Odyssey2 Basketball!: fouls, three-point shots, free throws, most steals… (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Granted, neither the bowling nor basketball games for the Atari VCS which competed for shelf space with this two-in-one Odyssey2 title were significantly better, but they would’ve been hard pressed to turn out significantly worse. Continue reading

Casino Slot Machine!

Casino Slot Machine!The Game: You pays your money, you takes your chances. Pull the lever (or, in this case, the joystick) and try to get the fruit to line up. If you succeed, you’re in good shape; if you don’t, well, you’re out some more change. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: While I actually rather enjoyed the Odyssey2 Las Vegas Blackjack! cartridge, I have a hard time gleaning even the slightest measure of enjoyment from Casino Slot Machine!. Continue reading

Football!

Football!The Game: Woooooo, Packers. Classic pigskin comes to sluggish life in this over-complicated video game edition. Despite the Odyssey’s full keyboard, the game forces players to look up plays in the manual and execute them with joystick commands. After that, aside from some minimal control of whoever has the ball, it’s a bit like watching an ant farm. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Granted, Atari’s black & white arcade football game didn’t exactly conjure up a pixellated Howard Cosell, nor did any of the attempts to adapt that game for Atari’s own VCS. But when one looks at what an improvement Intellivision’s NFL Football was over either the VCS or the Odyssey2’s football games, one wonders what the Odyssey designers were thinking. Continue reading

Stellar Track

Stellar TrackBuy this gameThe Game: Welcome to the bridge. Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating alien incursions 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… (Atari [Sears exclusive], 1978)

Memories: Quite a bit more rare than the VCS edition of Sega’s Star Trek arcade game is this Sears exclusive – and, unless you’re trying to put together an insanely complete collection of 2600 cartridges, don’t sweat it if the rarity of this game prevents you from ever getting your hands on it. Stellar Track sucks like a hull breach. Continue reading

Rock Climber

Rock ClimberThe Game: You control a daredevil stunt climber on his trip up the side of a steep mountain, using no ropes, no nets, and nothing but his hands and his feet. Obstacles such as a large purple bear, pesky monkeys and waterfalls can cause you to plunge to your death several hundred feet below. (Taito, 1981)

See the video
Memories: Imagine, for a moment, Crazy Climber, only with less fun and more frustration. That, in a nutshell, is a fairly accurate description of Taito’s Rock Climber, obviously an offshoot of Crazy Climber, which they had licensed from Nitsibushu. Instead of climbing a building, now your climber – still guided with two joysticks – is now trying to scale a mountain, plagued by annoying monkeys and deadly purple bears. (The bears probably wouldn’t be all that mean, except that they’re overcompensating for being what must seem to a bear to be an embarrassing shade of purple.) Continue reading

Skeet Shoot

Skeet ShootThe Game: Line up moving targets in your sights and blast ’em away. The more targets you hit, the more points you get. Simple enough, eh? Just don’t expect everything to travel in a straight line – and keep in mind that something like 80% of the time you won’t have a chance of hitting anything at all due to where you’re positioned. (Games By Apollo, 1981)

Memories: The 198384 crash of the home video game industry has often been blamed on an unstoppable tsunami wave of lousy games being produced by companies that had never before shown an interest in the field. Some pundits point at Activision‘s defeat of an Atari lawsuit – which claimed that third-party games would be unfair competition, as they alleged Activision‘s four principal programmers were using Atari trade secrets – as the first crack in the dam. And maybe they’re right. But at first, with Activision and Imagic releasing well-programmed, colorful, cutting edge and most of all fun games, it was all good – and Atari was still selling hardware, so how could they prove they’d lose out on the deal? Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: In the rotund plumber Mario’s first adventure, you have to help him reach the top of a perilous scaffolding to rescue a damsel in distress from the dastardly Donkey Kong. (Coleco, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Remember how much of a train wreck Coleco made of Donkey Kong when they made that dismal version of it for the Atari 2600? Well, if anything, Coleco’s equally mind-numbing translation of Nintendo’s original smash hit for the Intellivision proves that Coleco was definitely trying to make their ColecoVision version of Donkey Kong look better. Continue reading

Donkey Kong Jr.

Donkey Kong Jr.The Game: As little Donkey Kong Jr., you’re trying to reach the top of a treacherous series of vines and platforms to rescue your dad from Mario. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: I’m a “junior” myself, so I understand that there are certain challenges involved in living up to the name of one’s forebears. And though the little ape was going to have a big task in living up to his dad’s name – after all, Kong Sr.’s game was the foundation of Nintendo’s empire – the original Donkey Kong Jr. arcade game was a great deal of fun. But Coleco did Donkey Kong Jr. a grave injustice in its translation for the Atari 2600. Continue reading

E.T.

E.T.The Game: In something that would best be described as a very vague homage to the Steven Spielberg film of the same name, E.T. allows you to guide the intrepid (and cute) extra-terrestrial on a quest to find Reese’s See the TV adPieces and transmitter pieces (with which one can, presumably, phone home), while avoiding the threatening (but cute) doctors and FBI agents. If you get into a scrape, the helpful (and cute) Elliott may be able to pry you out of a sticky situation. You may then resume your pointless quest until, inevitably, you wind up withering away at the bottom of one of the many pits in the game. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: A few phrases pop into my head when I think about this game, among them: “waste of time,” “cheap licensing cash-in,” and “was there ever anything nearly this lame for the Odyssey2?” As many have noticed, the vast majority of the effort poured, or dripped as the case may be, into E.T. was spent on the opening title screen. Pretty impressive stuff for the 2600, but the game was much more satisfying if one never got past that title screen. Continue reading

King Kong

King KongThe Game: In a stick-figure firefighter’s greatest adventure, you have to help him reach the top of a perilous scaffolding to rescue a damsel in distress from the dastardly Kong Kong. (Tiger Electronic Toys, 1982)
See the video
Memories: Just when you thought no one could make a worse Atari 2600 Donkey Kong than Coleco could, the electronics division of Tiger Toys comes along and demonstrates that yes, it could have easily been worse. In fact, that this game even made it to the stores after initially being rejected is just a small part of a much more convoluted legal saga. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large See the videoflashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: It all began with the arrival of the Pac-Man arcade game in 1980. Pac-Man was guzzling millions of quarters and generating a licensing and merchandising firestorm. Numerous home video game companies bid for the rights to the game, and you have to understand, bidding for the rights to produce the home video game version of Pac-Man was like bidding for the toy rights for the next Star Wars movie – very expensive and very high-profile. Money was flying fast and furious. Atari won. Continue reading

Shark Attack

Shark AttackThe Game: You’re a deep-sea diver in search of treasure under the ocean. There are only a couple of problems though – there’s a maze made of messy seaweed, which can slow you down or even trap you until you work your way free of it. And if that’s not enough of a problem, these waters are shark-infested, meaning that getting stuck in the path of a finned foe could mean your finish. (Games By Apollo, 1982)

Memories: A very thinly-disguised Pac-Man ripoff (the “treasures” are just dots, need I say more?), Shark Attack‘s storied history is more interesting than the game itself. Continue reading

SwordQuest: Earthworld

Swordquest: EarthworldBuy this gameThe Game: As a lone adventurer, you wander through the labyrinthine expanses of an underground dungeon in search of a lost treasure. You must cross Frogger-esque screens of fast-moving logs, avoid rooms full of deadly spears which will only kill you just enough to drop-kick your sorry butt back to the bottom of the screen, and enjoy the full capabilities of the Atari 2600’s ability to generate varying frequencies of white noise. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: One of the handful of debacles that marked the change in Atari‘s fortunes, the SwordQuest series was a very heavily-hyped four-game saga which tried to break new ground in the adventure genre for the 2600 console. Sadly, it didn’t even get close to breaking ground, or even wind for that matter – the fourth title, Airworld, was never released. Supposedly, the winners of each of the first three games would compete for a bejewelled prize and the opportunity to reconvene for a tournament to complete the fourth game first and win a wildly expensive sword. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: You’re the sole space fighter pilot penetrating a heavily-armed, mobile alien fortress. If you can survive wave after wave of fighters and ground defenses, you’ll have the opportunity to destroy the Zaxxon robot at the heart of the complex. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: Just about the only thing this game has in common with its arcade progenitor is its name. Now, keeping in mind for the moment that Zaxxon was the most visually stunning arcade game of its day, it was quite a challenge for Coleco to grab the rights and translate the game for home console systems. Even the version of Zaxxon Coleco produced for its own platform, the ColecoVision, fell a little bit short of the mark. But the Atari 2600 edition of Zaxxon may serve as proof that Coleco should have stopped with the ColecoVision adaptation. Continue reading

Custer’s Revenge

Custer's RevengeThe Game: As a rude, crude, lewd nude dude in cavalry boots and hat, your mission is to avoid a hail of airborne arrows, make your way over to an Indian maiden tied to a pole, and have your way with her. That’s the game. Replay value and any actual titillation value not included. (Mystique, 1983)

Memories: Before Night Trap, before Grand Theft Auto Vice City, and before those X-rated Playstation “virtual sex games” marketed in far east countries, there was Custer’s Revenge, a smelly dog of a game which was the first attempt to portray sex in a video game. The problem was, it wasn’t just sex. Custer’s Revenge portrayed rape, and did so against the backdrop of one of American history’s most controversial chapters. The National Organization for Women wasn’t happy. Native American organizations were even less happy. And were it possible to be even less happy than that…well, that’s where you’d find the rape victims’ advocacy groups. Continue reading

Robin Hood / Sir Lancelot

Sir LancelotThe Game: In Sir Lancelot, players assume the role of the legendary knight atop his flying steed (who knew that the Arthurian mythos could be mixed with the Greek legend of Pegasus?), battling a sky seething with dragons. Killing all the dragons on the screen will advance Lancelot to another level featuring a “boss” dragon and a damsel awaiting rescue.
In
Robin Hood, players don’t exactly get to rob from the rich and give to the poor; instead, the game involves hiding in the forest and exchanging volleys of arrows with the Sheriff of Nottingam and his thugs. (Xonox, 1983)

Memories: Other games archived in Phosphor Dot Fossils were produced by companies that had never produced video games before, and have never produced video games again – companies like Purina and U.S. Games, owned by Quaker Oats. Many of these johnny-come-lately entrants in the video game race knew they weren’t in it for the long haul: they were simply cashing in on a fad, and taking advantage that games could be made for the Atari 2600 without Atari‘s permission or oversight. The glut of low-quality product had a lot to do with the crash of the video game industry, but not everyone who got into the video game biz circa 1982 or ’83 was consciously pumping out stinkers. Continue reading

Star Wars Chess

Star Wars ChessOrder this gameThe Game: Choose either the Dark or the Light Side of the Force and battle enemy forces in this galactic version of chess that takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. (Software Toolworks, 1993)

Memories: In the late ’80s, Interplay’s Battle Chess reinvented the computer chess genre. In Battle Chess, each chess piece was portrayed by a character on a three dimensional chessboard. The game followed the same rules as the classic board game – the only difference being when one piece captured another, it was visually portrayed on screen through light-hearted animations. Characters clobbered one another in humorous ways throughout the game, and the game’s sense of humor along with its stunning graphics and animation launched an entire wave of similarly styled chess games. Continue reading

  • IP Disclaimer

    All game names, terminology, logos, screen shots, box art, and all related characters and placenames are the property of the games' respective intellectual property holders. The articles herein are not intended to infringe upon their copyright in any way. The author(s) make no attempt - in using the names described herein - to supercede the copyrights of the copyright holders, nor are these articles officially sanctioned, licensed, or endorsed by the games' creators or publishers.