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

Super Breakout

Super BreakoutThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. In some games, there may be other, free-floating balls trapped in “cavities” in the bricks, and setting them loose will mean you’ll have several balls – and not all of them necessarily yours, disturbingly enough – to handle. Missing one of your balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Super Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: So let’s see here. Atari had this great new console which sported, essentially, the guts of their Atari 400 computer, quite a bit of processing power (for its day) for a game-playing machine. Capable of detailed, colorful graphics and excellent sound effects, the Atari 5200 would, of course, need a fantastic pack-in title at launch, something which would showcase its amazing abilities. And that’s all fine and well, but what the poor 5200 wound up with was Super Breakout. Continue reading

Tron Maze-a-Tron

Tron Maze-a-TronThe Game: You are Flynn, the hero of the movie Tron. In phase one of the game, you navigate a maze of circuitry, avoiding Recognizers, and trying to, as the manual puts it, “gather zeroes to clear the RAM chips.” In phase two, you’re up against the Master Control Program itself, and you can beat it by matching pairs of numbers in the “bit stream” to pairs in the nearby “bit stack”…or something like that. (Mattel, 1982)

Memories: Maze-a-Tron never got around to impressing me. The rule book is thicker than I could imagine the program would be, and the needlessly complicated game play really doesn’t inspire me to come back for more. And in a way, it almost seems like a game that had little to do with Tron, but was barely similar enough that it merited the grafting-on of elements such as the MCP and the Recognizers from the movie, and voila, instant licensed product. Continue reading

Tron Solar Sailer

Tron Solar SailerThe Game: In the third and final game of the trilogy of Intellivision games based on the movie Tron, you’re piloting the solar sailer vehicle stolen by Tron and Yori about 2/3 of the way through the movie. You ride the light beams through the digital realm, avoiding deadly (but dumb) grid bugs and pursuing Recognizers. You can fire weapons at both of the above, but doing this and keeping yourself on a clear path is the real challenge. (Mattel, 1982)

Memories: Of any of the Tron games Mattel manufactured for its own Intellivision platform or the Atari 2600, Solar Sailer is probably the one which is most closely related to a scene in the movie. It may also be the hardest. Continue reading

Guardian

GuardianThe Game: Players control a single laser cannon responsible for defending several planets who don’t seem to be able to look out for themselves. The cannon squares off against an alien mothership which deploys its own fleet of attack ships to destroy those planets. Good news: the planets are protected by a force field spanning the bottom of the screen. Bad news? The aliens can shoot through it, exposing the row of fragile planets as they scroll across the screen like shooting gallery targets. Worse news? You can’t defend all of them forever. (Games By Apollo, 1982)

Memories: Two years after Atari turned its iconic home version of Space Invaders into the first killer app on the VCS, Texas third-party publishing upstart Games By Apollo was one of several companies still trying to improve on that basic formula. The obscurity of Guardian probably means this wasn’t the evolution of the concept that players were looking for. Continue reading

Princess & Frog 8K

Princess & FrogThe Game: You’re a frog who has a hot date with the princess in the castle. But in order to reach her, you’ll have to cross four lanes of jousting knight traffic – avoiding the knights’ horses and lances – and then you’ll have to cross the moat on the backs of snakes and alligators, all without ending up in the drink when See the videothey submerge. (There’s also occasionally a lady frog you can hook up with en route to the castle; apparently this whole thing with the princess doesn’t have any guarantee of exclusivity.) When you reach the castle, you can hop into any open window, but if you see a pair of lips in that window, that’s where the princess is. (Romox, 1982)

Memories: It probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Romox’s Princess & Frog is, in fact, a cut-rate Frogger clone. And it really doesn’t even bother to change the game play at all – Princess & Frog is to Frogger what the arcade ripoff Pirhana was to Pac-Man: it tries to get by with changing the graphics and nothing else. Continue reading

Dragon’s Lair

Dragon's LairThe Game: As valiant but clumsy knight Dirk the Daring, you’re on a hazardous quest to rescue Princess Daphne from a huge, hungry dragon. There are all kinds of dangers on the way, including Giddy Goons, the Black Knight, the See the videoBuy this gameSmithee, the Lizard King, and all kinds of other evil critters and contraptions. (Starcom, 1983)

Memories: Dragon’s Lair was the first laserdisc game to hit the arcades, an early field that included Starcom’s Space Ace and other manufacturers’ Cliff Hanger, among only a handful of others. The Sega laser game Astron Belt was actually in development earlier than Dragon’s Lair, but it languished in the video game equivalent of Hollywood’s “development hell,” meaning that it didn’t arrive until it was an also-ran. Continue reading

Super Bagman

Super BagmanThe Game: As in the original Bagman, you’re a crook trying to heist all the gold out of an underground mine as a bunch of pesky cops try to catch up with you. What’s different in this sequel? You can also find a loaded gun in the subterranean caverns and take out your pursuers…but this only intensifies their determination to find you. (Stern/Seeburg [under license from Valadon Automation], 1983)

Memories: This is an “enhancement” we didn’t need. The original Bagman is a total hoot without the gunplay. Now, I’ve played Berzerk and Robotron and Wizard Of Wor and dozens, if not hundreds, of other games in which one shoots at one’s adversaries…so why do I object to the gunplay in Super Bagman? There’s a simple reason. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the See the original TV adSee the videoPookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, can can toast you if you’re not careful. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: This is one of those cases where one wonders what all the Atari 5200 hype was about. Do you mean to tell me that the graphics in this home version of the licensed-from-Namco Atari coin-op are appreciably better than the cartridge that Atari turned out for the lower-end 2600 console? I just don’t see it. Continue reading

Frostbite

FrostbiteBuy this gameThe Game: As the legendary “Frostbite” Bailey, you’re used to cold temperatures, but tonight’s forecast is just too much. You’ve got to build a cozy igloo before the temperature drops to zero. You accomplish this by jumping onto moving ice blocks in the river; each successful jump adds a “brick” to your igloo. But it’s not just as simple as fording the stream – there are other cold-weather critters who’ll stop you from ever getting home, igloo or no. Snow geese can push you right off the edge of a block, while snow crabs and cold-water clams will grab you and drag you off the edge. Only the fish are non-lethal, as you can grab them for extra points (and probably dinner). You can hit the Watch the TV adaction button to reverse the direction of the ice flow you’re on (neat trick in a raging river, eh?), but unless your igloo’s already completely built, it will cost you bricks – and even then it may not keep you out of harm’s way. If you fall into the river, or fail to get into your igloo before the dropping temperature reaches zero, it costs you one of three lives. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: If Freeway was Activision’s attempt to do the cross-the-road portion of Frogger, Frostbite is their attempt to do the rest of the game – namely crossing the river on the backs of floating objects – with just a touch of Q*Bert thrown in. 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! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: So, there’s this frog, you see, and he advanced from a best-selling Atari 2600 title to the 2600’s bigger, more powerful brother. And the result? Continue reading

Journey Escape

Journey EscapeThe Game: Ah, life on the road with an internationally successful rock band – it’s all about avoiding photographers and “groupoids,” getting quick pick-me-ups from helpful managers, and not running face-first into fences. It’s all about circumventing these obstacles, scoring lots of points, and making your way back safely to the band’s spaceship. Wait a minute, spaceship? Who’s in this band, Steve Perry and Neil Schon or Sy Snootles and Max Rebo? (Data Age, 1983)

Memories: Completely unrelated to the arcade game based on Journey’s music and album artwork, Journey Escape is one of those games where it seemed like the industry was just licensing stuff willy-nilly because video games sell! Strawberry Shortcake, Kool-Aid, Purina Dog Chow, Cabbage Patch Kids, Smurfs, Journey…they were all licensed for cartridge games, and the truth of it is, of the licensed properties I just listed, Journey Escape was probably among the best. 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 they 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. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: One of the last Sega games to be released by a manufacturer other than Sega itself, the 2600 edition of Sega’s cutesy coin-op is pretty to look at sometimes, but doesn’t offer much in the way of game play. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated See the videoone-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he responds with a cartoon balloon full of mock profanity. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Oof. If you thought this arcade classic suffered when crammed into an Atari 2600 cartridge… well, wait. Maybe’s that’s not a fair thing to say. The Intellivision version’s graphics were marginally better at best, and the sound was certainly better. But with the disc controllers, Q*Bert was almost unplayable. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

See the original TV adMemories: One of my favorite games of all time becomes an excercise in massive frustration when played on the Atari 5200. As with the 5200 version of Frogger – also, coincidentally, produced by Parker Bros. – you must press the bottom fire button in order to move, making the game almost unplayable. 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

Rocky Super Action Boxing

Rocky Super Action BoxingThe Game: Spin up “Eye Of The Tiger” on your turntable, power up your Colecovision, and get ready to go ten rounds with Clubber Lang. If you think you’re tough enough to take on a digital Mr. T, take a swing at helping Rocky See the videoBalboa reign victorious once more. Just be ready to taste the mat along the way too. (Coleco, 1983)

Memories: Alas, my feelings on video boxing are a lot like my feelings on video pinball: once you take either activity into the virtual realm and remove the inherent physicality of it, sure, you might be able to nail the look and sounds of boxing or pinball, or just about any other sport, but in so doing you’ve lost so much of the essence that it’s almost a meaningless exercise. 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, 1983)

Memories: I always had a certain fascination for the arcade game that inspired this somewhat hard-to-find 2600 cartridge, but it seems to have lost something in the translation…oh yes, the split-second control required to play the bloody thing, that’s it. Somewhere in the definition of “frustration” must be “playing Tac-Scan on the Atari 2600.” Continue reading

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