Showdown In 2100 A.D.!

Showdown in 2100 A.D.!The Game: Get out there and draw! Your cowboy faces off against another player, or the computer, in a fight to see who can draw their gun the fastest – and who can run away the fastest! (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: This strange, slow-moving slice of the wild west seems eerily similar, in a few respects, to War Of Nerves. Take away the robot armies, add a couple of six-shooters, and you’ve got Showdown in 2100 A.D. (a title derived from Magnavox’s attempt to make the gunfighting game family-friendly by explaining that the combatants are, in fact, robots – welcome to Westworld!). It’s also the Odyssey2 edition of the classic arcade shootout game, Gun Fight. Continue reading

Thunderball!

Thunderball!The Game: It’s all the thrills of pinball, minus approximately 75% of the excitement! Use your joystick to control the plunger tension and launch your ball into play. Use the action button to pop the flippers, keeping your ball on the See the videofield and out of trouble. The bumpers and spinner score big points…well, relatively speaking. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: Ya know, I’ve always thought that video pinball was just a bad idea from start to finish. Thunderball! is very much representative of most early attempts at this doomed genre – it’s not exactly a load of fun, and not even remotely exciting. Continue reading

Pepper II

3-D computer rendering of Pepper II cabinetThe Game: You’re a little angel (of sorts). You run around a maze consisting of zippers which close or open, depending upon whether or not you’ve already gone over that section of the maze. Zipping up one square of the maze scores points for you, but it gets trickier. Little devils chase you See the videoaround the maze, trying to kill you before you can zip up the entire screen. If you zip up enough of the maze and grab a power-pellet-like object, you can dispatch some of your pursuers. Clear the screen and the fun begins anew. (Exidy, 1982)

Memories: Once again, the gang at Exidy tries a new twist on the maze game. Sometimes they rock (as with the adventure game Venture – starring Winky! TM, pat. pend.), and sometimes they reek (Mouse Trap, anyone?). This one…this one’s just weird. It’s Amidar weird, and truthfully, the two games are exceedingly similar. There’s not much rationale for the whole thing – angels and devils trying to zip or unzip a maze made out of zippers? Ooooooookay! Continue reading

Pioneer Balloon

Pioneer BalloonThe Game: This is a game about the rough-and-tumble history of the taming of the North American continent, as told by someone who’s never been allowed access to any kind of reading material at all. You pilot a balloon across a scrolling landscape, avoiding (or blasting) birds and bombing a convoy of covered wagons. After conquering this level, you move on to a village of boomerang-throwing natives (and hey, early America was just thick with those puppies, wasn’t it?), followed by coconut-hurling gorillas (another prominent feature on the landscape of the early United States). A brief stage follows in which you must evade a series of random tornadoes, and then you have more wagons to bomb. At least they got something right – there are tornadoes in the U.S. (Rock-Ola [under license from SNK], 1982)

Memories: Before I launch into my tirade on this game, let me just remind you that the team of Rock-Ola and SNK was responsible for my all-time favorite coin-op, Fantasy. Continue reading

Jungler

The Game: Players control a segmented, centipede-like creature as it wanders through an open maze inhabited by similar creatures. The player’s creature can shoot segments off of the opponent creatures, but the opponents can See the videoalso turn around and eat their own segments to get out of a corner, which won’t score any points for the player. To clear a level, the player must eliminate the other creatures from the maze. (Emerson [under license from Konami], 1982)

Memories: 1982 had the dubious distinction of being both the peak year for video gaming, and – arguably – the beginning of the end. That end didn’t play out until the industry crash of 1983 and ’84, but the seeds were planted at least as early as 1982, when the arcade license ruled the home video game roost. Even modest or completely unknown games could command top dollar for home console ports, often in advance of their arcade release, just on the off chance that the licensee was hitching its wagon to the next Pac-Man. Hence… Nibbler. Continue reading

Math Gran Prix

Math Gran PrixBuy this gameThe Game: This race is a numbers game. For each turn, players have to decide how many spaces they want to move (overdoing it can result in going off-track and crashing), and then have to answer a math question (math functions and difficulty depend on game settings). Answering correctly will allow the player to move forward the desired number of spaces. A few spots on the track offer the chance to pick a random number for an additional jump forward in the race. (Atari, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Few equations have proven as impossible in the video game industry as the still-ongoing quest to make educational games not just fun, but something that anyone would actually want to fork over money for and play. Hint: Math Gran Prix, despite its noble intentions, did not solve that equation. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Coleco Donkey KongThe Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps Mario’s girlfriend and hauls her up to the top of a building which is presumably under construction. You are Mario, dodging Donkey Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and “foxfires” in your attempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Kong. You can actually do this a number of times, and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: Almost every line of games has one: a clunker that tanks so hard that it leaves a crater, and serves as the nadir of its entire genre. But given that Coleco was banking its entire video game empire – whether on the Colecovision or on cartridges for the Atari VCS and Intellivision – on Donkey Kong, you’d figure that this would be the one game they would make sure to get right. Continue reading

Air Raid

Air RaidThe Game: Players fly a fighter jet that can somehow maintain perfect altitude and lateral control despite constantly flying with its nose pointed straight up. Oncoming invaders, resembling UFOs, upside-down houses, upside-down stick figures (presumably the residents of the upside-down houses) and other airplanes appear; the player can either shoot them down, let them pass (with no apparent damage to the structures that the player’s jet is apparently protecting) or be blown to bits. (Men-A-Vision, 1983)

Memories: This game is not renowned for its compelling, must-hit-the-reset-switch-and-do-it-all-again game play. It’s not memorable for its searingly colorful graphics or amazing, how-did-they-get-that-sound-out-of-that-chip audio. Air Raid has none of these things. What Air Raid does have, however, is the dubious distinction of being the rarest commercially released game made for the Atari VCS, while simultaneously being one of the worst. Continue reading

Chase The Chuckwagon

Chase The ChuckwagonThe Game: You control a dog trapped in a maze. Find your way out of the maze without being snared by a dogcatcher, and work your way toward the PurinaTM ChuckwagonTM for some kibbles ‘n’ bits. Chasing the Chuckwagon is only part of the fun, though, for then you have to time things just right to help the dog eat. (Ralston Purina Corp., 1983)

Memories: Long considered a must-have in the game library of any hardcore Atari 2600 collector, Chase The Chuckwagon is hard to come by due to its unique distribution method: it could only be obtained with proofs of purchase from Purina dog food as a premium promotion, and was never sold outright through normal game distribution channels. Continue reading

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: You’re a jungle explorer hot on the trail of Bongo the Ape. The first level in your quest 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 See the videoyou move slower (and jump lower). And watch out for snakes. Then you have to hop across a river using lily pads, the backs of hippos, and other floating objects – just try not to miss! (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Egads. Didn’t Sega learn the lesson from Coleco’s horrid VCS version of Zaxxon? Guess not, because their in-house attempt to translate the equally elaborate Congo Bongo arcade game for the 2600, while a bit less of a graphical and game play train wreck than Zaxxon, is still a train wreck. Continue reading

Fire Fly

Fire FlyThe Game: As the pilot of a mechanical firefly, you must pilot your bug down to the lowest depths of the screen to rescue a pixie being held hostage by bees. Once you’ve retrieved that hostage, you face a barrage of bizarrely-shaped enemies, ranging from bats to snakes to flaming airborne pumpkins. You can dispatch these obstacles with a laser blast from your firefly’s maw, and once conquered, these adversaries leave behind prizes such as rings, treasure chests, bags of money and so on – precisely the sort of things that you would expect these natural enemies of the common mechanical firefly to be carrying around with them. Once you’ve done away with an entire wave of bad guys, the game begins again at the “pixie” level, only slightly more difficult. (Mythicon, 1983)

Memories: Considered among the rarest games in the Atari 2600 library, the three titles released by Mythicon were a Johnny-come-lately attempt to cash on on the 2600’s popularity. Whereas some of the earliest third-party software houses, such as Activision and Imagic, had hoped to expand the variety and quality of games on the market and make a buck in the process, Mythicon was one of several fly-by-night “software” outfits that bypassed the whole business about variety and quality and simply settled for making a buck. Dumped onto the market at under $10 each, Mythicon’s games were awful when it came to game play. And Fire Fly is no exception. Continue reading

Sorcerer

SorcererThe Game: You’re the sorcerer, and your first job is to commandeer a magic flying carpet-lookin’ thing that zips randomly through the air above you, taunting you. Once a carpet flies low enough for you to board it (simply by moving the See the videojoystick up), you can go to the right and begin doing battle with all manners of magical adversaries, including trios of non-descript guys and lizards that look like they’ve been decorated for a Fourth of July parade. If they shoot you, you fall off your flying carpet and your body drifts lifelessly to the bottom of the screen. If you shoot them first, they inexplicably transform into treasures that you can pick up before going to the next screen. (Mythicon, 1983)

Memories: I remember sitting in a crowd at the Classic Gaming Expo auction in 2003 and hearing John Hardie pitch the next item – a minty-fresh Mythicon point-of-sale display stocked with still-shrinkwrapped Mythicon game cartridges for the 2600 – as a bunch of games that were essentially the same. I thought he was joking. Now that I have played Sorcerer for myself – having already played and reviewed Firefly here – I have learned that John speaks the truth. Continue reading

Trans-American Rally

Trans-American RallyThe Game: The Videopac puts you in the driver’s seat for a cross-country race. Avoid other cars and obstacles and stay on the road; hitting too many oncoming vehicles causes you to forfeit the See the videorace. (Philips, 1983)

Memories: A surprising game on the Videopac G7400+ (the European equivalent of the cancelled Odyssey3 console), Trans-American Rally is an example of a game done almost entirely in the “extended” graphics set. The only hints of the original Odyssey2/Videopac fixed graphics set is the use of the old “triangle” elements to draw the road and to draw any unchanging areas of solid colors (such as the desert on either side of the road). The rest of the graphics are done entirely in the “plus” graphics, and the game looks surprisingly good for anything running on the Videopac platform: it’s on a par with many a TI 99/4a game. Continue reading

Dragon’s Lair II: Timewarp

Dragon's Lair II: TimewarpThe Game: Princess Daphne has been kidnapped by the evil wizard Mordroc, and before he can embark on the dangerous quest to save her, Dirk must first fend off the angry attack of his Viking-like mother-in-law as he makes Buy this gamehis way to the castle. Once there, Dirk discovers a talking Time Machine which gets him out of one immediate crisis and then plunges him into several more. If Dirk can’t stop Mordroc from placing his ring on Daphne’s finger, he’ll lose her forever – and the world will have gained one more hideous monster. (Starcom, 1984)

Memories: Don Bluth and Rick Dyer turned to the adventures of Dirk the Daring (hero of the original Dragon’s Lair) for their third laserdisc game outing (the second being Space Ace), this time creating more of a storyline for Dirk to fulfill. The animation is nice, the game play is much more fast and furious, and yet I’m still unimpressed with Dragon’s Lair II as both video game and storytelling exercise. Continue reading

Space Ace

Space AceBuy this gameThe Game: You’re intergalactic hero Space Ace one moment, but the next moment, the evil Borf kidnaps your girlfriend Kimberly and unleashes the Infanto-Ray on you…and suddenly, you’re intergalactic geek Dexter. Borf has placed an enormous number of deadly obstacles between you and him, obstacles which Space Ace could vanquish in no time flat – but you can only turn into the bemuscled one for brief periods of time… (Starcom, 1984)

Memories: Another laserdisc game from the Don Bluth/Rick Dyer team that brought you Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace makes some minor improvements on its predecessor, while still falling victim to many of the same basic problems. Continue reading

It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll

It's Only Rock 'N' RollThe Game: You control the destiny of a pixellated rock band. A menu presents you with options to write songs, play concerts, go on tour, or even sign witha record company if you’ve racked up the money and the popularity (and the band still has the energy and drive to work a crowd). You can ask your manager to try to See the videowork out some special deals for you, but even success has its dark side – and what’s worse, now the dark side of stardom is randomly generated! (Xonox / K-Tel, 1984)

Memories: This game isn’t Dark Side Of The Moon or Sgt. Pepper. This game isn’t even up to Dr. Demento standards. This game isn’t even “Achy Breaky Heart” and it’s not even the Macarena. Because at least those flash-in-the-pan hits were catchy and compelling on some level, and people came back to them again and again for a feel-good fix. I can’t say the same for It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll for the Colecovision. Continue reading

Super Zaxxon

Super ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress, your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Super Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as much of the defenses as you See the videocan in the meantime. (Sega, 1985)

Memories: Just as Super Zaxxon in the arcades was merely a rewrite of the code for the original Zaxxon, it’s somehow fitting that the same is true for Super Zaxxon on the Apple II. But while it may have saved Sega some development time to reuse the code from Datamost’s version of Zaxxon for the Apple, it didn’t exactly result in a satisfying gaming experience. Continue reading

Super Godzilla

Super GodzillaOrder this gameThe Game: It’s Godzilla against the world in Super Godzilla, a game that pits the giant green monster against everything from other giant monsters to tanks, aliens, and UFOs. The future of the world lies in Godzilla’s success. (Toho, 1993)

Memories: The 16-bit Super Nintendo (SNES) was light years ahead of its predecessor, the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The Super Nintendo boasted huge improvements in both graphics and sound, which games like Super Godzilla brilliantly demonstrated. Unfortunately all that newfound crunching power didn’t always guarantee better game play, to which Super Godzilla is also a testament. It’s a great looking game that wasn’t much fun to play. Continue reading

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