Donkey Kong

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 See the videoBuy this gameattempt 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. (Nintendo, 1986)

Memories: Once upon a time, Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision was the Donkey Kong experience to beat: short of going to the arcade, it didn’t get any better than that. But Coleco had only negotiated the console rights to the game, and nearly lost that contract when they goofed and showed a version of the game for their ill-fated Adam computer at a 1983 Consumer Electronics Show – though the home computer rights had been granted to Atari. In just two years’ time, none of that would matter – the crash came and went, Coleco exited the home computer and video game businesses, a seriously weakened Atari refocused its efforts on computer hardware, and Nintendo had its own video game console on the US market. Continue reading

Diner

DinerThe Game: Chef Peter Pepper is back, and he’s been served up a second helping of inedible trouble. Roaming the vast, maze-like expanses of Ray’s Diner, the chef has to round up the scattered ingredients of dinner before he finds himself on See the videothe menu. For every four screen he clears, Peter Pepper gets a chance to catch more ingredients in a bonus round (but must avoid the flashing ingredients at all costs). The chef is also still armed with his trusty pepper shaker to stun his enemies briefly, and he can still replenish his short supply of pepper when bonus items appear. (INTV Corp., 1987)

Memories: A loose collective of “survivors” of Mattel Electronic’s Intellivision division, INTV Corp. slowly but surely got off the ground to offer new titles to Intellivision owners by mail-order, even as the NES was taking over the world. INTV’s library of new titles wasn’t a huge one, but it was at the very least a respectable selection, including arcade games such as Dig Dug and Pole Position whoses licenses had once been exclusive to the now-all-but-dormant Atari. INTV Corp. had access to the back catalog of started-but-not-finished (and finished-but-shelved-indefinitely) titles that had been swallowed in the fall of Mattel Electronics, and it was from one of these unfinished games that Diner got its start…but you might be surprised to find out where Diner really came from. Continue reading

One-On-One

One On OneThe Game: Dr. J and Larry Bird take to the hardwood for one-on-one half-court basketball action. Each player has his own signature moves, from lay-ups to three-point shots to steals. One or two players can play to a predetermined score or to a time limit. See the video(Atari [under license from Electronic Arts], 1987)

Memories: Having already become a hit on such home computers as the Commodore 64 and Apple II, Electronic Arts’ One On One ushered in a wave of celebrity-driven sports games that would eventually lead the company to a far more profitable franchise in the Madden [insert year of your choice here] football games. Atari had courted (no pun intended) EA as a potential developer of games for the Atari 7800, and while that courtship was short-lived, it did result in one of the better looking iterations of One On One. Continue reading

Robotron: 2084

Robotron: 2084The 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), indestructible 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. (Atari, 1984 [released in 1987])

Memories: Robotron, like Zaxxon, was one of those holy grails of the early home video game industry, a game that seemed almost impossible to translate to a home console properly, and yet would reward anyone who succeeded in that endeavour with a legion of satisfied consumers. Continue reading

Slam Dunk Super Pro Basketball

Slam Dunk Super Pro BasketballThe Game: One or two players can set a budget and begin recruiting a top-notch basketball team (or, alternately, recruiting from who’s left after someone else has recruited a top-notch basketball team), and then it’s time to hit the court. See the videoEach player controls a team of three with offensive and defensive moves; the player can control any member of his team. (INTV Corp., 1987)

Memories: Several of the “Super Pro” sports games released by INTV Corp. – the entity that took on the task of continuing software support for the Intellivision long after Mattel Electronics had given up on the system in the face of the then-looming video game industry crash – began life as re-coded single-player versions of existing Intellivision sports titles. Slam Dunk is an example of a game that diverged completely from the code of its two-player-only predecessor (NBA Basketball). Continue reading

Winter Games

Winter GamesThe Game: The Olympic torch is the warmest thing to be found in this multi-event recreation of the Winter Olympics. Downhill skiing, luge, slalom skiing and other events are represented here, and See the videoplayers can even pick which country they’re representing as they go for the gold. (Epyx, 1987)

Memories: One of the more elaborate attempts to recreate Olympic events on the Atari 2600, Winter Games benefits from a few additional years of knowledge on overcoming that system’s limitations. But it’s also, largely, an afterthought: Epyx made its real money from Winter Games on the Commodore 64 and other home computer systems. Continue reading

Zaxxon 3-D

Zaxxon 3-DThe Game: As the lone pilot daring enough to breach the defenses of Zaxxon’s space stronghold yet again, you take on a fleet of perimeter fighters, some of whom helpfully leave power-ups behind when destroyed. Then it’s into the See the videospace base once more, bristling with gun emplacements, fuel tanks that gas up your fighter when they’re shot (we haven’t quite worked that one out either), and walls that you can run face-first if you’re at just the wrong altitude. Just beyond the walls of the base lies the new and improved Zaxxon itself; if you survive that encounter, you begin again. (Sega, 1987)

Memories: With so many major Japanese game makers committed to the Famicom and NES, the Sega Master System didn’t have quite the impressive array of arcade titles in its library. But one thing it could have that everyone else couldn’t was Sega’s own in-house games and updates thereof – hence, this updated, almost-first-person remake of the groundbreaking Zaxxon. Continue reading

Oo-Topos (Apple II)

Oo-ToposThe Game: A prisoner awakens in a cell aboard an alien spaceship, parked on an unknown world. with nothing more than the meal that’s been provided and his wits, the prisoner has to escape his cell, overcome guards and automatic defense system , collect items that could help him escape his captors. The guards always seem to be just around the corner, always helpfully prepared to escort you back to your cell to start again… after a little bit of needless brutality, of course. (Polarware, 1987)

Memories: A former Infocom designer and programmer (Infidel, Suspended) who stuck around just long enough after Infocom’s acquisition by Activision to design Tass Times In Tonetown, Michael Berlyn became a freelancer after the slow-motion debacle that was the Activision/Infocom merger. One of his final Apple II games took him to Polarware (which had started out the 1980s as Penguin Software, makers of a nearly-ubiquitous Apple graphics toolkit called Graphics Magician), where he proceeded to remake one of his earliest pre-Infocom games. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

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. (Atari, 1988)

Donkey KongSee the videoMemories: Before Nintendo made its own inroads in the American home video game market, it happily let homegrown companies take the license and run with it. Coleco won the license for Donkey Kong for the cartridge-based console market, while Atari snagged the rights to release Donkey Kong for various computer systems. When Coleco folded (after the expensive Adam Computer debacle), Atari did the corporate equivalent of going through Coleco’s wallet and picking up its licenses. Continue reading

Dark Chambers

Dark ChambersThe Game: You control a lone adventurer on a quest through twisty mazes and open battlegrounds, descending through the dungeon depths in search of treasure (and a chance to escape in one piece with that treasure in hand). Zombies, See the videoghosts, and monsters naturally roam through the dungeons as well, more than happy to attack any treasure-hunting interlopers such as yourself. (Atari, 1988)

Memories: Released on both the 7800 and 2600, Dark Chambers was an attempt to cash in on the “action RPG” genre that had recently been made popular by Nintendo’s The Legend Of Zelda. Atari’s arcade division happened to have a hot arcade property in that genre already, but since the arcade operation – now called Atari Games – and the consumer division were now two separate entities, Dark Chambers winds up being a “near-beer” version of Gauntlet. Continue reading

Revenge Of Defender

Revenge of DefenderThe Game: Players slide into the cockpit of Defender once again, defending the power generators on the surface of a human space colony from intruding aliens. As usual, the Defender is a versatile, fast-moving attack ship, but the aliens have an advantage in sheer numbers. Vaporizer bombs can clear the screen of attackers, but they’re in short supply. Eliminating all invaders clears the level and starts anew; running out of Defender craft means the aliens win. (Ensign Software, 1989)

Memories: Among the most obscure offshoots of the Defender family tree spawned by the 1980 coin-op, Revenge Of Defender is a dressed-up PC remake of the classic game, trading the complicated control scheme and uncluttered graphics of the original for a easier player controls and background graphics that actually get in the way of the game. Continue reading

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Transinium Challenge

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Transinium ChallengeThe Game: Captain Picard places Commander Riker – that’s you, by the way – in charge of the Enterprise, which is currently on a mission to find out who is launching terrorist attacks on mining stations in the Aquila solar system. Riker can use the Enterprise’s computer to analyze objects and ships, or to look up Federation data files on the various people involved in the growing conflict. And of course, he can call upon the knowledge and experience of his crewmates for advice, or bring them along as he beams down to the various locales on each planet or asteroid in the game. One thing not at Riker’s disposal is time: the attacks continue, and whoever is mounting the attacks is getting bolder with each attempt. And someone in the Aquila system knows more than they’re telling. (Simon & Schuster Interactive, 1989)

Memories: Though it sailed through some troubled creative waters behind the scenes of its first two seasons on television, Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the receiving end of a remarkable amount of patience from its viewers, simply on the strength of its name. With an unprecedented amount of money riding on a series that was sold directly into syndication rather than to a network, Paramount Pictures was eager to cash in as soon as possible. Even so, the first computer or video game to be set aboard the new Enterprise took some time to complete. Continue reading

Hyper Lode Runner

Hyper Lode RunnerThe Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the holes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you See the videohappen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Bandai, 1989)

Memories: A nifty revival of the computer classic, Hyper Lode Runner actually manages to pack in a surprising amount of what made the original game so addictive – right down to the “edit mode” that allows players to build their own levels. Continue reading

Super Burgertime

Super BurgertimeThe Game: Chef Peter Pepper is back, and boy, is he kawaii. As in the original Burgertime, the chef has to climb ladders and cross levels – while being chased by deadly ingredients – all in the pursuit of building the perfect giant burger. If he drops the burger on them, the chef’s opponents can become part of the meal. He can also spray them with pepper, as in the original game, or grab bonus weapons (such as a frying pan with which to brain them) from the sides of the screen when they intermittently appear. If enemies are on a bun, patty, etc. when it’s dropped, they’re temporarily taken out of play. Players advance a level by completing construction of all of the burgers. (Data East, 1988?)

Memories: Sometimes revising a “retro” title results in something really cool. And then there are the times that it doesn’t. Audiovisually, Super Burgertime is a huge step up from the original game, but the payoff for the finer graphical details and cute music is that the game play seems a little bit off. Continue reading

Lock ‘N’ Chase

Lock 'n' ChaseThe Game: You’re in charge of a getaway car loaded with crafty criminals. Your job is to sneak around the maze, avoid a bunch of cranky cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another day. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (Data East, 1990)

See the videoMemories: After a quick “training” chase in a small maze – presumably in the vault while you’re making the big heist – the Game Boy version of Lock ‘N’ Chase is somewhat faithful to the original, even though it “zooms in” on the section of the maze surroundng your bank robber. However, while the original arcade game was an obvious attempt to get in on Pac-Man‘s maze-chase, dot-gobbling action without aping every aspect of the game, Lock ‘N’ Chase on the Game Boy makes the comparison obvious. Continue reading

Ribbit!

Ribbit!The Game: Two frogs, Bull and Pip, set out on a hazardous journey…to find some flies to eat. They must grab yummy flies while avoiding several lanes of poisonous spider “traffic”, and they also have to cross the occasional river on See the videothe backs of turtles and logs, snatching more flies out of the air without falling into the water. Each screen is cleared by the frogs eating the required number of flies. (Sega, 1991)

Memories: It’s not Frogger. It’s not even officially a sequel to Frogger (by this time, Konami, the originators of that game, had reasserted their ownership rights). But I’ll be croaked if Ribbit! isn’t at least “inspired by” Frogger – how that one didn’t get the lawyers suited up for an amphibious mission, we may never know. Continue reading

Elevator Action

Elevator ActionThe Game: 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, 1991)

See the videoMemories: I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, audiovisually (and, for the most part, game-play wise as well), the original B&W Game Boy’s version of Elevator Action is incredibly faithful to the arcade game. On the other hand, there are major changes to the structure of the game that I’ve never been crazy about. Put simply, Elevator Action on the Game Boy adds some NES-era conventions to a game that just didn’t need them. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugBuy this gameThe 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 Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. In New Dig Dug, you guide Dig on a series of subterranean adventures, trying to unlock buried doors by finding some equally buried keys. Pookas and Fygars still stalk the underground tunnels in the new game, only each one that Dig dispatches is replaced by a new Pooka or Fygar from above. (Namco, 1992)

Memories: Okay, so we’ve got arcade-quality Dig Dug on the Game Boy Advance thanks to Namco Museum. But I thought it’d be fun to go back and revisit the original monochrome Game Boy version of Dig Dug to see how close it was to the arcade game. And the answer is…well, not very. Continue reading

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