Yars’ Revenge

Yars' RevengeBuy this gameThe Game: As the last of a race of spacefaring insects, you must defend yourself from a relentless wave of alien attackers bent on ridding the universe of your race. An alien tracer, deadly to the touch, tracks your every move, though it cannot harm you while you’re in the neutral zone at the center of the screen. You must eat away at the aliens’ shield, which not only reduces their defenses, but builds your energy reserve so you can fire your own powerful weapon, which can wipe out the alien, the tracer – or yourself, if you’re clumsy enough to be caught in its path. (Atari, 1981)

Yars' Revenge signed by programmer Howard Scott WarshawMemories: One of the coolest games ever conceived for the Atari 2600, Yars’ Revenge was a brilliant arcade-style game. In fact, I’m amazed that it apparently never made it into coin-op form (like such games as Lode Runner and Pitfall!). In fact, Yars actually started out as an arcade port – though in the end, it differed significantly enough from its inspiration (Star Castle) that it was a whole new game. Continue reading

Caverns Of Mars

Caverns Of MarsThe Game: The enemy in an interplanetary war has gone underground, and you’re piloting the ship that’s taking the fight to him. But he hasn’t just hidden away in a hole; he’s hidden away in a very well-defended hole. As if it wasn’t already going to be enough of a tight squeeze navigating subterranean caverns on Mars, you’re now See the videosharing that space with enemy ships and any number of other fatal obstacles. (Fortunately, the enemy also leaves copious numbers of helpful fuel depots for you too.) Once you fight your way to the bottom of the cave, you plant charges on the enemy mothership – meaning that now you have to escape the caverns again, and fast. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: Atari wisely realized that some of the best programming talent wasn’t necessarily on its own payroll. With so much of the company’s financial resources devoted to supporting the 2600, this paved the way for the Atari Program Exchange, a program that allowed users to send in their own best work to Atari, who would then list the best of these homebrew games and applications in an official newsletter and handle distribution on cassette and floppy disk. Continue reading

Ultima

UltimaThe Game: You set out alone on an adventure spanning countryside, mountains, oceans, towns and dungeons. You can purchase food rations, weapons and armor in the towns, visit Lord British in a castle for his wisdom, maybe a level-up, See the videoand your next assignment, or you can venture forth into the dungeons to test your skill against the denizens of the underworld. (California Pacific Computer, 1981)

Memories: Richard Garriott has said that the first Ultima game – which was originally marketed as Ultimatum – essentially “uses Akalabeth as a subroutine”, and while that may be oversimplifying how much or how little new code Ultima added to the game, it’s essentially true – the dungeons are practically vintage Akalabeth fare, while the towns and the above-ground portions of the game are literally a whole different animal. 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 Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if Buy this gamea Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. Who said landscaping was easy? (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: Dig Dug, with its animè-inspired cutesy characters and exceedingly simple game play, was a wonderfully easy game to learn, and it didn’t take much effort to reach a high score. (Dig Dug II, on the other hand, relied on a strange pseudo-3D, slightly-but-not-quite-overhead perspective which added to the difficulty, creating problems similar to playing Zaxxon or Congo Bongo.) With its simplicity and cuteness, Dig Dug was big with the younger set. Continue reading

Joust

JoustThe Game: In the timeless tradition, you suit up in armor, grab a lance, and mount your trusty ostrich. Then you try to impale others who have done the same, and eliminate the remaining “eggs” which will hatch a new warrior if left long enough. Other threats include the almost invincible pterodactyl and the Lava Troll (whose firey See the videoBuy this gamehands assist enemy knights while trying to drag yours into the molten rock). In later levels, there are fewer solid surfaces on which to take refuge. When one of your knights is toppled, another appears, given momentary immunity from harm until he is moved. On second thought, maybe it isn’t all that traditional… (Williams Electronics, 1982)

Memories: One of the best-remembered games, Joust enjoys a cult following to this day, something which can probably be attributed to the game’s bizarre juxtaposition of perfectly-normal elements (knights in armor trying to kill one another) with the bizarre (lava trolls, flying ostriches as steeds, pterodactyls, knights hatching from eggs). It was a perfect enough mix that Joust has stuck in people’s minds to this day. It was also the only game whose action button served the purpose of flapping the wings of an ostrich. Continue reading

Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-ManThe Game: As the bride of that most famous of single-celled omniphage life forms, your job is pretty simple – eat all the dots, gulp the large blinking dots in each corner of the screen and eat the monsters while they’re blue, and avoid the monsters the rest of the time. Occasionally various fruits and other foods will bounce through the maze, and you can gobble those for extra points. Every so often, just to give you Buy this gamea chance to relax, you’ll see a brief intermission chronicling the courtship of Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man (and a little hint at who the next game would star). (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: The first real sequel (excluding any altered pirate clones or enhancement kits for the original Pac-Man) in the Pac-Universe, Ms. Pac-Man added quite a few new twists to the original game without changing how it’s played. The new mazes, extra side tunnels (on some mazes), and bouncing fruit were about the only things that could be changed without drastically altering the game (though the later Jr. Pac-Man addition of a scrolling maze was interesting). Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionBuy this gameThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss out on the subsequent race. (I’ve always wondered anyway: why are there billboards around a racetrack? Are race car drivers a desirable demographic to advertisers? Can they actually read those signs at 200+ MPH?) (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

See the videoMemories: First off, a note to our loyal readers: I hope you’re happy! Pole Position is, by a vast margin, the single most-requested, most-asked-about game ever at Phosphor Dot Fossils. You should see some of the mail I’ve gotten regarding this game’s absence in the past few years – accusations of everything from bad taste to just plain incompetence. Well fear not, faithful Phosphor Dot Fossils followers, for I actually love this game. 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 videoBuy this gameone-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, arcade- cabinet-shaking splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Gottlieb/Mylstar, 1982)

Memories: So many arcade games looked like hits and smelled like hits before they actually got an arcade road test, and this archive is itself littered with screenshots of wanna-be hits where every name, graphic and sound were trademarked. Because someone was sure that, for example, Winky from Venture would be a runaway hit. Q*Bert is a case where that optimism – and the marketing muscle behind it – was perfectly justified. With a game concept by Warren Davis, memorable characters from Gottlieb staff artist Jeff Lee and wacky jumbled-synthesized-speech effects by David Thiel, Q*Bert was one of those games that went into orbit instantly. It was almost universally loved and talked-about, and you could count on quite a line at the Q*Bert machine at your local arcade. And this is a rare case where I’ll admit, even in jaded hindsight, that all the praise was so worth it. Continue reading

Robotron: 2084

Computer-simulated view of Robotron cabinetBuy this gameThe 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), See the videoindestructible 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 (and the multi-directional weaponry helps too). (Williams Electronics, 1982)

Memories: Hands-down one of the most challenging and addictive games of all time, Robotron: 2084 was a brilliant masterpiece of design and engineering. The sounds were unearthly, the graphics, though simple, were easy to interpret, and the two-joystick control scheme (one for moving your character, the other for firing your lasers in any direction) is what the phrase “sweaty palms” was invented for. Sheer genius! Continue reading

Time Tunnel

Time TunnelThe Game: As the conductor of a time-traveling train, you must find and collect your passenger cars in the present day, move on to the near future to pull up to several stations and fill those cars with time travelers, and then deposit See the videothem at various attractions in the distant future. That would be difficult enough to do without running out of fuel, but you also have to contend with space creatures and repeatedly avoid collisions with a competing train by controlling the switches on the tracks. (1982, Taito)

Memories: This exceedingly obscure Taito arcade game is cute and innovative – it’s certainly not another riff on Loco-Motion, that’s for sure. But if you don’t remember it, there may be a reason – it takes several minutes to play a single game. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but the very nature of arcade games is to vanquish as many challengers as possible, and quickly – the more people come back to play an arcade game, the more money it earns, so conventional wisdom among arcade operators in the 1980s was to dispense quickly with any game that didn’t chew through players’ quarters quickly. A game that took a long time to play had limited earning potential, three words that could get an arcade game scrapped, sent back to the distributor, or converted into another game in record time. Continue reading

Time Pilot

Time PilotBuy this gameThe Game: You’re flying solo through the fourth dimension! In what must be the least subtle time-traveling intervention since the last time there was a time travel episode on Star Trek: Voyager, you’re blasting your way through dozens of aircraft from 1940 through 1982. From WWII-era prop planes, to Vietnam-era helicopters, to 1982, where you confront jet fighters with the same maneuverability as your plane, you’re in for quite a wild ride. Rescue parachutists and complete the level by destroying “boss” craft such as heavy planes and dirigibles. (Centuri [under license from Konami], 1982)

Memories: One of Konami’s best-ever coin-ops, Time Pilot is an outstanding combination of addictive game play and the concept of “wanting to see what’s on the next level.” If you’re good enough, you get to see what kind of aircraft you’ll be up against in the next time period. Continue reading

Tron

TronBuy this gameThe Game: Based on the most computerized movie of its era, the Tron arcade game puts you in the role of the eponymous video warrior in a variety of contests. In the Grid Bug game, you must eliminate as many grid bugs (who are naturally deadly to the touch) as possible and enter the I/O tower safely before the fast-See the videomoving timer hits zero. The maddening Light Cycle game was the only stage to directly correspond with the movie. You and your opponent face off in super-fast Light Cycles, which leave solid walls in their wake. You must not collide with the computer’s Light Cycle, its solid trail, or the walls of the arena. To win, you must trap the other Light Cycle(s) (in later stages, you face three opponents) within the solid wake of your own vehicle. The MCP game is basically a simple version of Breakout, but the wall of colors rotated counter-clockwise, threatening to trap you if you made a run for it through a small gap. The Tank game is a tricky chase through a twisty maze, where you try to blast opposing tank(s) three times each…while they need to score only one hit on your tank to put you out of commission. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Okay, granted, so there really isn’t much correlation between Tron the game and Tron the movie, but in this case, it doesn’t matter. The game, with its awesome backlit cabinet graphics of special effects stills from the movie successfully, stole just enough of the movie’s millieu to be a successful tie-in – and let’s not forget the awesome polyphonic recreation of Wendy Carlos’ cool synthesized score from the movie, which was heard mainly during the Grid Bug game. Continue reading

Atlantis

AtlantisThe Game: You man three fixed artillery batteries defending the advanced underwater city of Atlantis. Alien spaceships pass overhead, and you have to choose your target – and which of the three guns you’re firing – carefully in order to knock them out. Any ships which survive one pass will drop down one level and make another pass. At the lowest level, the ships will begin bombing the city, knocking out habitation domes, power generators, and even your artillery nests. When the final destruction of Atlantis comes at last, one tiny ship escapes into the sky… (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: Sometimes it just takes a slight advance in hardware to make the same game a whole different game. Atlantis is the proof in the pixellated pudding, for the Intellivision edition not only has you defending the city under the ocean in broad daylight, it demands that you defend it in the dead of night, with only sweeping spotlights panning across the sky to pick out your approaching foes. And that is a whole different game – not being able to see the buggers is tough. Continue reading

Beauty & The Beast

Beauty & The BeastThe Game: You control Bashful Buford, apparently a redneck cousin to Mario. You’re trying to reach the top of the Mutton Building to rescue your ladyfriend, Tiny Mabel, from huge Horrible Hank, who’s chucking boulders at you. See the videoYou can jump over these, and use open windows to get a leg up on the next floor of the building. Avoid bats and birds – and try to catch any floating hearts Mabel sends down, because they make Buford invincible for a short time. If you reach Hank and Mabel, you advance to the next few floors, which get increasingly cramped since the Mutton Building tapers off to a point. If you can reach Hank and Mabel at the top level of the building, you can clobber Hank right off the side of the structure and rescue Mabel – but not for long, since it all starts again a moment later, only faster. (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: Remember the hideous mutant of a game Coleco made for the Intellivision under the name of Donkey Kong? Not only did it bear only the most superficial resemblance to the arcade game of the same name, but it was even more inadequate than the legendarily bad version Coleco turned out for the Atari 2600. Continue reading

Demon Attack

Demon AttackThe Game: Demons coalesce into existence in mid-air above your cannon. Send them back where they came from by force – but watch out, as demons in later levels split into two parts upon being hit, which must then be destroyed See the videoindividually. After fending off several waves of attackers, you blast off to deep space to confront their mothership. (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: No bones about it, the Intellivision version of Demon Attack is the definitive version of this game. It also drew a lawsuit from Atari, who had just licensed the arcade game Phoenix from Centuri (an American operation which had, in turn, licensed it from Taito in Japan). In a lot of ways, Phoenix and the Intellivision version of Demon Attack were very much alike – swooping alien attackers who split into two equally lethal halves when hit, and a Comet Empire-like alien mothership with only a single vulnerability (and an endless stream of defensive fighters to cover that weakness). Continue reading

Dracula

DraculaThe Game: Looking for a game where you can spread your wings a little? If bat wings are okay, then Dracula is the game for you. As the impaler himself, you wander the city streets at night, looking for victims to bite. Whether you’re chasing a fleet-footed mortal or avoiding adversaries who also roam the streets, turning into a bat is often the only way to fly. You also have to keep an eye on the clock – if you haven’t returned safely to your crypt by sunrise, Dracula turns to dust. (Imagic, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Yet another Intellivision-only gem from the gang at Imagic, Dracula would seem, on the surface, to do some of the same things that Texas Chainsaw Massacre does on the Atari VCS: it puts the player in the role of the villain of the piece, going through the game and searching for victims. But where Texas Chainsaw Massacre tries (rather unsuccessfully, it must be said) to reach for Tobe Hooper-worthy shock value, Dracula keeps things simple – and it makes sure the player is vulnerable too. Continue reading

Fast Food

Fast FoodThe Game: You’re a disembodied pair of jaws – sort of like that old wind-up clacking teeth toy, minus the wind-up part. And the feet. Food flies at you from the left side of the screen, and your job is to gobble all of it up that you can reach. (Try not to dwell on the digestive process involved with a disembodied pair of jaws – See the videopresumably there’s a grateful disembodied stomach somewhere in this food chain.) The more snacks you snag, the faster the food flies. Beware of the purple peppers, though – you can only eat so many of them before your jaws erupt in a cataclysmic, game-ending “BURP!” (Telesys, 1982)

Memories: This is another game to file away under the category of “games that simply would not be made or marketed today.” As the healthy living movement (not a bad thing) collides and coalesces with the zombie-like conformity movement (almost always a bad thing) and some collective decision has been taken somewhere that overweight people are now as offensive to the general public as chain-smokers, a game like Fast Food – which congratulates players between levels with the tongue-in-cheek message “You’re Getting Fatter” – just wouldn’t make it to the store shelves today. (At this rate, I’m waiting for Pac-Man, with its unrestrained eating, to become somehow politically incorrect.) Continue reading

Frog Bog

Frog BogOrder this gameThe Game: One or two players control one (or two) hungry frogs, each on its own lily pad. Flies flitter past overhead, and it’s the player’s job to get his frog to jump to just the right altitude, facing just the right direction, and to send his frog’s tongue snapping out to gobble up a fly at just the right time. The diremelyction of each frog can also be controller – frogs can go from pad to pad, but be careful not to land a frog in the drink; he then loses precious time swimming back to his lily pad while the other frog can be See the videogobbling up more tasty flies. The game follows a complete day in the life of the frogs, from morning to night. Whoever snaps up 100 points worth of flies wins the game. (Mattel Electronics, 1982)

Memories: As a concept, Frog Bog had been around since the 1970s, with the basic game play of two frogs competing for flies dating back to the B&W days of the arcade. But even if the game itself wasn’t anything new, it never got a better graphical treatment than it did in Frog Bog. This is one of those games that showed up incessantly in early press and advertising material about the Intellivision, and with good reason – it’s a simple, fun game married to just the right graphics and sounds. Continue reading

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