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Missile Command

Missile CommandBuy this gameThe Game: Tucked away safely in an underground bunker, you are solely responsible for defending six cities from a relentless, ever-escalating ICBM attack. Your three missile bases are armed with nuclear missiles capable of intercepting the incoming enemy nukes, planes and smart bombs. One nuke hit on any of your three launch bases will incapacitate that facility for the rest of your current turn, but one nuke See the videohit on any of your six cities will destroy it completely. (The only chance you have of rebuilding a city comes when a bonus city is awarded for every 10,000 points scored.) And when all six of your cities have been destroyed, the cataclysmic end of the world proceeds. Game over. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Possibly the first video game ever to register on the so-called moral compass, Atari’s Missile Command contained a strong, anti-nuclear message, arriving at the dawn of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. For those of you who weren’t alive at that time, here’s a little bit of historical context. Continue reading

Moon Cresta

Moon CrestaBuy this gameThe Game: As commander of the three-stage fighter rocket Moon Cresta, your job is to ward off endless varieties of evasively weaving space attackers. Every time you knock out two consecutive screens of assailants, you’ll have an opportunity to dock your ship to another one of Moon Cresta’s three stages, until all three See the videoportions of the ship are combined to create one bad-ass weapons platform. But you can also lose stages very quickly, ending your game – a bigger ship makes a bigger and easier target. (Sega/Gremlin [under license from Nichibutsu], 1980)

Memories: Moon Cresta had a very cool idea which was ripped off by a handful of its contemporaries – instead of giving the player a set number of “lives,” players had three rocket stages. Losing even one stage could seriously hamper your life expectancy in the game in later levels, and you could lose a stage to anything from enemy fire to not lining your stages up correctly during docking. This actually made Moon Cresta a very challenging game – but also a very fun one. Continue reading

Rally-X

3-D computer rendering of Rally-X cabinetThe Game: Go, Speed Racer, go! (Well, almost.) As the driver of a high-powered race car, you rocket around corners and down straightaways, trying to pick up every yellow flag in the maze-like course and avoiding deadly collisions with pursuing red cars. Watch out for rocks and oil spills, and use your smokescreen See the videoBuy this gameonly when necessary to distance yourself from the red cars. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1980)

Memories: Namco released Rally-X at the same time as Pac-Man, and like Pac-Man, Namco licensed Rally-X to Midway. In fact, the major buzz at that year’s AMOA (Amusement Machine Operators’ Association) annual trade show – where arcade owners tried to figure out which would be the hottest new games to buy for their establishments – was for this dandy little racing/maze game, and Pac-Man was considered an also-ran, perhaps a little too abstract for the U.S. market. Continue reading

Space Panic

Space PanicThe Game: An astronaut is trapped in an enclosed, vertical space with aliens who have a taste for human flesh. With his oxygen supply running out, he must dig holes in the floors of the multi-level structure and lure the aliens into those holes, which gives him mere seconds to dispose of the trapped aliens by filling the holes in. Clearing a level of aliens replenishes the oxygen tank and deposits the player on a new screen full of aliens, some of whom require extra effort – namely, the carefully-planned digging of an entire vertical shaft to fall through – to kill. (Universal, 1980)

Memories: A fiendishly hard and oft-copied game (particularly in the home computer arena, where it inspired such games as Apple Panic and Lode Runner), Space Panic may well be the first game of its kind: a game in which the player controls someone climbing up and down vertical levels on the screen. Continue reading

Star Castle

Star CastleThe Game: You control a lone space fighter in the immediate vicinity of the nearly-impenetrable Star Castle. Its three layers of shields rotate, but those layers aren’t solid, so you might be able to get a shot in and destroy the alien craft at its center – but it’s also just as likely that the alien will get a clear shot at you…and its firepower is far greater. (Cinematronics, 1980)

Memories: Tim Skelly’s all-time arcade classic managed to get a cult following despite being eclipsed technologically by some of its contemporaries. In order to get its three rotating shield rings to be multicolored, Star Castle relied on transparent overlays on the monitor – not unlike the TV screen overlays of the original Magnavox Odyssey home video game console – to provide that color. Continue reading

Adventure

AdventureBuy this gameThe Game: As a bold adventurer trespassing a mighty castle in search of treasure, you face a twisty maze of chambers, dead ends aplenty, and colorful, hungry, and suspiciously duck-shaped dragons. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: The first game of its kind to hit the Atari VCS, Adventure scores a first in video game history – and not just because of its huge, sprawling maze.

Programmer Warren Robinett was a little disgruntled during his stint at Atari. He watched as his fellow programmers jumped ship, formed companies like Imagic and Activision, and struck it rich as the third-party software industry took off. Continue reading

Alien Invaders – Plus!

Alien Invaders - Plus! The Game: It’s quite simple, really. You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields and a quick trigger finger. If your cannon is See the videodestroyed, its pilot must run for cover; each of the three shields contains an extra cannon. When all three shields are gone, the alien commander – a kind of spaceborne crab – will descend to nearly ground level and hunt the helpless pilot down. Ten rounds of this decide the outcome of the war. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: Alien Invaders – Plus! was the first Odyssey 2 game I got hooked on, and my mother just thought it was riotously funny, especially the bit where the giant space squid floats down from the top of the screen to chase your unprotected gunner around when all of your defenses have been depleted. Continue reading

Asteroids

AsteroidsBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of free-floating asteroids, but the job isn’t easy – Newton’s laws of motion must be obeyed, even by asteroids. When you blow a big rock into little chunks, those chunks go zipping off in opposite directions with the speed and force imparted by the amount of energy you used to dispel them. To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable hyperspace escape mechanism and a pesky UFO that likes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. (Atari, 1980)

See the original TV adMemories: This better-than-average translation of Atari’s own arcade smash-hit (in every sense of the term) probably has a lot to do with the game’s enduring popularity. Continue reading

Blockout! / Breakdown!

Blockout! / Breakdown!The Game: In this bizarre and uniquely Odyssey2 take on Atari’s Breakout, you battle either the computer or a second player in your attempts to blast through a wall – or repair it. You take alternating turns with your opponent; See the videoone round, you’re playing the game the more traditional way and controlling the paddle at the bottom of the screen, trying to bounce the ball toward four layers of colorful blocks. But in the next round, you’re controlling the four androids within those layers of blocks whose duty is to repair damage done by your opponent’s paddle. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: This is one of those examples of a well-worn arcade theme given a new twist by the Odyssey2 game designers. Some of you reading this are probably shaking your heads and thinking, “There they go, ripping off Atari again,” but the repair ‘droids make this a whole new game. Continue reading

Boxing

BoxingBuy this gameThe Game: The sweet science of bruising is brought down to the pixellated level, as one or two players take control of a boxer seen from a view directly above the ring. The object is simple: knock your opponent out without letting him do the same to you. (Activision, 1980)

Memories: One of a handful of Activision‘s first releases, Boxing was one of those early sports video games that raised the bar on that entire genre by looking reasonably See the videolike the sport it was portraying, rather than something which could be described as an abstract representation at best. It also had the knack of being very easy to pick up and learn – there are no complicated combo moves here. Continue reading

Checkers

CheckersSee the videoBuy this gameThe Game: The timeless strategy board game of conquest comes to the Intellivision, now with 100% more boopy beepy computerish sounds from the future than any game of Checkers you’ve ever played before! Play alone against the computer, or against a second player. (Mattel Electronics, 1980)

Memories: Almost a prerequisite title for any video game console back in this early days, this version of Checkers is curious in that it devotes a lot of screen real estate to showing you the men that have been taken out of play, and shrinks the board itself down to a relatively small space on the screen. Continue reading

Golf

GolfBuy this gameThe Game: Rouse your caddy, grab your golf bags, and get ready to hit the digital green. A series of crafty virtual courses awaits, with trees, sand traps and water hazards standing between you and the hole. (Atari, 1980)

See the videoMemories: Whoa now, what’s this then? Foreshadowing a trend that would characterize Atari’s sports game output for the rest of the 2600’s life span, a game that had already been issued on the VCS was revisited, with better graphics and game play. Atari already had Miniature Golf on the market, but it was golf-by-way-of-squares-and-rectangles, not something that a casual observer would look at and say, without prompting, that it resembled golf in any way. (I’d say it was subpar, but let’s not putter around.) Continue reading

Maze Craze (A Game Of Cops ‘N Robbers)

Maze CrazeBuy this gameThe Game: The goal of the game is simple: race through a twisty maze and beat your opponent to the exit. Some game variations adds randomly moving “robbers” to the maze, in some cases as prey and in other cases as hunters to be avoided. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: A fairly recent transplant from Fairchild, programmer Rick Maurer’s first game for the Atari VCS was pretty familiar to anyone who See the videohad been playing games on the Fairchild Channel F: it was essentially a port of the Channel F’s Maze game on the Atari console. Like its forebear, Maze Craze is a marvelously compact piece of coding, packed into a mere 2K. Like so many early titles for the 2600, it’s a lot of fun with the right crowd. Continue reading

PBA Bowling

The Game: Your own digital ten-pin alley awaits by way of the Intellivision. Line up your shots on two axes, and then let it fly; you still havepportunity to exert a certain amount of control on the ball as it rolls down the alley, presumably by Intellivision psychokinesis, and a split-screen view allows you to see the result of your play. You even get to see the ball return bring you ball back to you for the next play. (Mattel Electronics, 1980)

Memories: Before the Intellivision Bowling cartridge came along, video bowling games all seemed to be cut from the same cloth: an overhead view of the alley, and very minimal control of your bowling ball. The thing is, even with a horizontally-oriented display, this resulted in a lot of wasted screen space, and nothing that was in any danger of being a satisfying gaming experience. Mattel‘s in-house team took their cues not from those earlier games, but from television bowling coverage. Continue reading

Quest For The Rings

Quest For The RingsThe Game: In the opening screen – the mists of time, so the rulebook tells us – two players pick their characters’ classes. Warriors are sword-wielding strongmen, wizards can cast spells from a distance, phantoms can walk through solid walls (but not lava formations), and changelings can become invisible when they move. The two intrepid adventurers then set forth on a quest to retrieve the ten rings of power from randomly selected dungeons and filled with randomly selected horrors. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: According to the rulebook, a third player (whew, is anyone else beginning to figure out why these games never caught on?) – acting as a dungeonmaster of sorts – selects the combination of mazes and monsters to challenge the players, based upon their position on a map (the aforementioned gameboard). Continue reading

Space Invaders

Space InvadersSee the videoThe Game: It’s quite simple, really. You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Is there actually any history to this game that you don’t already know? Space Invaders was what Combat and Super Breakout weren’t – namely, the Atari 2600‘s equivalent of a killer app: a home version of an arcade game that had reached a critical mass of public recognition, even among non-video-game fans. People bought the then-expensive 2600 console just to play this game. Continue reading

Super Breakout

Super BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: More walls, more balls. The object of the game is the same as the original Breakout, except this time, you face things like moving walls, “cavities” which, when opened, will release additional projectiles that you’ll See the videohave to keep in the air, and more. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: As with the arcade version of Breakout, Breakout on the VCS was one of the better-selling launch titles on that machine, so it made sense in both cases to follow up with a sequel that had a few new twists. Originally unleashed in the arcade in 1978, Super Breakout added those twists, and this cartridge brought them home. Continue reading

Warlords

WarlordsBuy this gameThe Game: Think of it as Pong to the death. Two to four players hurl a fireball around the playing field, smashing the walls to each other’s castles and – hopefully – hitting the other players’ kings and putting them out of commission. Using the ubiquitous Atari paddle controller, you guide a mobile barrier around your castle which bounces the fireball right back at your opponents. Fun for the whole family; based on an arcade game by Atari which is even more obscure than this rather common cartridge. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: What a great party game! With the right group of people, this game can be intense (and intensely hilarious). In this day and age in which much to do is made of internet multiplayer games, I think I’d rather be in the same room with a bunch of friends playing Warlords than doing any of this newfangled online gaming. Continue reading

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