Astro Invader

Astro InvaderThe Game: Those pesky invaders from space are back, and this time they’ve devised a handy delivery system that drops entire columns of kamikaze invaders and motherships through a series of airborne chutes from an orbiting Stern command ship. Players can try to intercept invaders as they plummet toward Earth, but as their impact sends a cloud of debris spreading outward which can also destroy the player’s cannon, avoidance is a perfectly acceptable (if not exactly high-scoring) survival strategy. (Stern [under license from Union Denshi Kogyo Company], 1980)

Memories: As with numerous other big names in the industry at the end of the 1970s and the dawn of 1980, pinball maker Stern‘s angle of entry into the burgeoning video game business was a remix of Taito‘s Space Invaders. Yes, even the company who brought us Berzerk and Frenzy – as well as numerous licensed imports from Konami, among others – rode Taito’s coattails into the video game business. Continue reading

Berzerk

BerzerkThe Game: You’re alone in a maze filled with armed, hostile robots who only have one mission – to kill you. If you even so much as touch the walls, you’ll wind up dead. You’re a little bit faster than the robots, and you have human instinct on your side…but even that won’t help you when Evil Otto, a deceptively friendly and completely See the videoindestructible smiley face, appears to destroy you if you linger too long in any one part of the maze. The object of the game? Try to stay alive however long you can. (Stern, 1980)

Memories: If Berzerk sounds a little bit familiar, it’s no coincidence. To some extent, the running-alone-through-an-enemy-filled-maze premise had been mined by Midway’s Wizard Of Wor (a game released around the same time), which even looked somewhat similar. Unlike the glut of Pac-Man clones, it’s probably not so much a question of plagiarism as a question of several game designers arriving at the same good idea at the same time. Continue reading

Scramble

ScrambleBuy this gameThe Game: Once again, you’re apparently the only space pilot willing to take on this dangerous mission – though there’s probably a reason for that. You’re storming a heavily-armed installation which has loads of missiles and other defenses. And there’s one thing you don’t have a load of – fuel. If your gas needle lands on the big E, you’re going to your doom in a big rush. For some reason whose physics I can’t even begin to explain, bombing fuel depots in the enemy base will replenish your tank. Good luck! (Stern [under license from Konami], 1981)

Memories: A fun little Defender-style game, Scramble is a real challenge, especially the pesky, persistent problem of fuel shortage. But it proved to have a pesky, persistent problem of its own in the courtroom. Scramble was the basis of a major landmark copyright case in the history of computer-based works. Continue reading

Amidar

AmidarThe Game: I’ll try to explain this as best I can. You’re a paintroller (recent escapee from Make Trax?) beseiged by pigs. Or a gorilla pursued by natives. Or something like that. It depends on which level you’re playing. You must try to enclose as many of the spaces in the game area as possible, in a zig-zagging pattern. This, the attract mode wisely advises us, is “Amidar movement.” You have one way to avoid an imminent See the videohead-on collision – you can hit the jump button, which doesn’t make you jump, but forces everything else on the board to jump. Enclosing all of the available spaces advances you to the next level, with different animal enemies. (Stern [under license from Konami], 1982)

Memories: My God. Who programmed this game, and what were they smoking? I mean, okay, the enclosing-of-spaces thing is nothing new – look at Qix. But paintrollers versus pigs? Gorillas versus nasty natives? Oh well. I suppose it makes about as much sense as Exidy’s very similar Pepper II, of which more another time. Continue reading

Bagman

BagmanThe Game: You’re a thief trying to make away with all the loot buried in a complex maze of interconnected mines and shafts, and you’d get away with it if it weren’t for some pesky cops who are hot on your trail. You can drop bags of money See the videoon them from a level above, or temporarily brain them with a pick, and they’ll occasionally also bumble into open mine shafts of their own accord. In any of these events, they vanish for a little while to recover before reappearing. But any of these things will do you in too! (Stern/Seeburg [under license from Valadon Automation], 1982)

Memories: Bagman was a very addictive and fun variation on the ladder-climing format that had become familiar in the space of just one year. Despite putting the player in the role of a crook, the worst behavior this game could possibly encourage would be slapstick, Keystone Kops-type violence (wouldn’t it be great if there were a bunch of comically clumsy cops, and wouldn’t it be great if they brought beer – really good beer?). It’s a very cute and playable game. Continue reading

Frenzy

FrenzyThe Game: You’re back in the maze, but this time, the stakes are increased, the danger is increased, and your strategic options are only slightly increased. Touching the walls, the robots, the robots’ laser blasts, or even your own ricocheted lasers are deadly. And of course, the inevitable appearance by Evil Otto is also See the videodeadly. However, you can temporarily repel the smiley little bugger by blasting him until his grin turns into the frown – but he will reappear mere seconds later, moving much faster every time he must retreat and reappear – so you’re not doing yourself any favors. If you enter a generator room, you can halt all the robots in their tracks by penetrating the walls surrounding the generator and blasting it. “Beaded” walls can be eaten away, bit by bit, by laser fire from anyone who shoots it, while solid walls will ricochet lasers around until they hit something – which could mean a death trap for you. (Stern, 1982)

Memories: I can’t even begin to estimate how many orders of magnitude harder Frenzy is than its inspiration, Stern’s mega-hit Berzerk. There are many times when you have approximately a second – before the characters on the screen begin moving – to assess your strategic situation, which usually isn’t too promising, often placing you in a triangulation of crossfire from three or four different robots that you haven’t even begun to figure out how to reach. Continue reading

Tutankham

TutankhamThe Game: As an intrepid, pith-helmeted explorer, you’re exploring King Tut’s catacombs, which are populated by a variety of killer bugs, birds, and other nasties. You’re capable of firing left and right, but not vertically – so any oncoming threats from above or below must be outrun or avoided. Warp portals will instantly whisk you away to other parts of the maze (though this doesn’t necessarily mean safer). Gathering all of the treasures and keys will allow you to open the vault at the end of each level…which leads to the next, and even more difficult level. It’s like The Mummy, only much more entertaining. (Stern, 1982)

Memories: Konami/Stern’s 1982 maze shooter was about as different from its antecedents (Berzerk and Frenzy) as possible, and was still fun. The one thing that always got people in the arcades, especially on their first attempt at playing the game, was the fact that it was impossible to shoot vertically – firing could be controlled by a second joystick limited to left-right movement. Continue reading

Turtles

3-D computer rendering of Turtles cabinetThe Game: You are the Mama Turtle. Your helpless KidTurtles are stuck in a high-rise building, hiding from mean and hungry beetles. The beetles change colors in accordance with their speed and ferocity, from less aggressive green and blue beetles to fast, furious yellow and red beetles. Mama Turtle has to evade the beetles (which are deadly to touch at all times) and touch the mystery squares See the videothroughout the maze. The squares could reveal another beetle, or they could reveal one of the KidTurtles. When Mama Turtle picks up a KidTurtle, a safe house appears – usually all the way across the maze – and she must deposit the KidTurtles in the safe house, one at a time. Mama Turtle’s only recourse against the beetles is to lay “bombs” in the maze. Each bomb – and there can only be one on screen at a time – will reduce the first beetle that hits it back to the lowest speed/danger level, buying Mama Turtle a little time. (Mama Turtle can pass over her own bombs harmlessly.) The catch? You only start out with three bombs (is anyone else drawing some grim biological anologies to what Mama Turtle’s “bombs” might be at this point?), and you can replenish your supply of bombs only by running over an occasional flashing symbol which appears at the precise center of the maze…which is usually the most dangerous spot on the screen. Clearing a maze of KidTurtles allows you to climb to the next floor of the building and start anew. (Stern [under license from Konami], 1982)

Memories: Turtles is among the most obscure exponents of the maze chase format to hit the arcade in the early ’80s. I think I saw – maybe – one Turtles arcade game in my life, and it was only there for a few weeks. Actually, though, it’s not a bad game. Continue reading

Cliff Hanger

Cliff HangerThe Game: You’re Cliff, a lovable rogue who’s just pulled off a major heist. But as you’re high-tailing it for your hideout via your getaway car, you encounter another crime even more heinous – a carload of armed thugs pursuing a young woman. You have to rescue her as soon as possible – and since she already has mobsters and other villains after her, the danger just piles on from there. (Stern, 1983)

Memories: Another exponent of the laserdisc genre that begat Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, Cliff Hanger was Stern’s entry into the then-crowded field. But rather than create new animation from the ground up – a costly endeavour for those aforementioned games created by Don Bluth – Stern simply licensed footage from a couple of classic animè movies from the Lupin III series, drawing primarily from The Castle Of Cagliostro (whose DVD these screen captures are from). 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

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