Pinball

Odyssey2 Pinball cartridge signed by Ralph BaerThe Game: A virtual pinball machine is presented, complete with flippers, bumpers, and the ability to physically “bump” the table to influence the motion of the ball. Per standard pinball rules, the See the videoobject of the game is to keep the ball in play as long as possible. (Ralph Baer, 1978 – unreleased prototype)

Memories: Ralph Baer’s Pinball, released to the public on cartridge at the 2001 Classic Gaming Expo, was never intended to be a commercially released title. Instead, it’s a tech demo of sorts, a “rough sketch” example of what kind of games Magnavox’s still-in-development Odyssey2 system would be capable of. There are no special graphics to represent the various elements of the game; the bumpers are simply the letter O, and the flippers are forward and backward slashes. Continue reading

Polo

PoloThe Game: Climb onto your trusty four-legged ride for a good old fashioned game of horse hockey. Try to knock the ball into your opponent’s goal, but don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t defend your own. (Atari, 1978)
See the video
Memories: One of the earliest Atari VCS games to go unreleased, Polo was never intended for general release as its own game; rather, plans were apparently afoot within Atari to offer the game as a premium giveaway item to buyers of Ralph Lauren’s recently-introduced Polo cologne. (If that sounds a little difficult to believe, keep in mind that, in its early heyday, the $200 VCS was very much a high-end luxury item – not unlike Ralph Lauren’s products.) Continue reading

“Popeye” Pac-Man

Popeye Pac-ManThe Game: As a yellow sailor man consisting of a head and nothing else (jaundice was really bad in those days), you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (unknown bootleg manufacturer, 1980)

Memories: When Pac-Man took off into the stratosphere, there were two ways that everyone who happened to not be licensed to distribute Pac-Man coped: they made games that played, if not looked, very similar (Lock ‘n’ Chase, Thief, Mouse Trap), or they just flat out copied Pac-Man, making ridiculously insignificant cosmetic changes (Hangly Man, Piranha, and this game). The bootleggers of the latter category, in skipping that pesky development and R&D process involved in creating something original, cashed in by getting their games on the street first. Continue reading

Hangly Man

Hangly ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters See the videofor a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Nittoh, 1981)

Memories: Journey back with us now to the first two years of the eighties, when Pac-Man ruled the coin-op video game roost, where arcade owners’ demand for the prized Pac-Man machines was high, where players’ skill at winning was increasing and their repeat business was proportionately dwindling, and everyone wanted a piece of that little yellow pie. Continue reading

Piranha

PiranhaThe Game: As a butt-ugly fish, you maneuver around a simple undersea maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful squids who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters See the videofor a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The squids, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (“GL”, 1981)

Memories: Journey back with us now to the first two years of the eighties, when Pac-Man ruled the coin-op video game roost, where arcade owners’ demand for the prized Pac-Man machines was high, where players’ skill at winning was increasing and their repeat business was proportionately dwindling, and everyone wanted a piece of that little yellow pie. Continue reading

Puck-Man

Puck ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Deluxe, 1981)

Memories: Journey back with us now to the first two years of the eighties, when Pac-Man ruled the coin-op video game roost, where arcade owners’ demand for the prized Pac-Man machines was high, where players’ skill at winning was increasing and their repeat business was proportionately dwindling, and everyone wanted a piece of that little yellow pie. Continue reading

Crazy Kong

Crazy KongThe Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps the girlfriend of an unidentified plumber and hauls her up to the top of a building. You are that plumber who shall remain nameless, dodging Donkey Crazy Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and fireballs in your attempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Crazy Kong. This rescue operation is repeated in several settings: a screen of sloped girders, a cement factory with conveyor belts, a series of precarious platforms and elevators, and the top of the building, with rivets that can be removed to send Donkey Crazy Kong plummeting to the ground… and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Falcon, 1981)

Memories: As was often the case in the early ’80s, when the video game business was a vast, unexplored frontier, there were legal boundaries waiting to be pushed – and quite a few that just didn’t exist yet. From the same mentality that brought about an exact duplicate of Scramble from another company, and brought you Piranha and Popeye Pac-Man, came a Donkey Kong dupe: Crazy Kong. Continue reading

Bradley Trainer (a.k.a. “Military Battlezone”)

Atari Bradley TrainerThe Game: As the pilot of a Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and helictopers without accidentally firing on your own allies. (Atari, under special contract for the United States Army, 1981)

Memories: You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the arcade business who’d complain that a game was too good. But Ed Rotberg, designer of Atari’s original 3-D vector graphics tank hit Battlezone, would be the exception. His revolutionary first-person fighting game was impressive enough to attract the attention of the United States Army, and this landed him a very special job he did not want: retooling the game to the Army’s exacting specifications to turn it into a real training simulation. Continue reading

Jin

JinThe Game: The player controls a marker, trying to claim as much of the playing field as possible by enclosing areas of it. Drawing boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves the marker vulnerable to attack from the Jin and from the enemies in hot pursuit of the marker’s every move, is worth many more points upon the completion of an enclosed area. If the ever-shifting Jin touches the marker or an uncompleted boundary it is drawing, a “life” is lost and the game starts again. (Falcon, 1982)

Memories: Not content merely to copy Donkey Kong in the form of Crazy Kong (though that game was actually Nintendo-licensed for distribution in Far East markets outside Japan, and never intended to wind up in North America, though it did anyway), bootleg maker Falcon diversified its offerings by copying another Japanese game maker, unapologetically turning Taito‘s Qix into Jin. But for some bizarre reason, Falcon used a different game’s hardware to do this. Continue reading

4 In 1 Row

4 In 1 RowThe Game: The constant struggle between cat and dog requires a great deal of concentration. Two players can play, or one player can control the dog while the CPU makes moves as the “Microcat.” Each animal drops a piece into the playing field, trying to line up four pieces horizontally, vertically or diagonally, or trying to keep the other animal from lining up his four pieces. Whoever lines up four pieces first wins the game. (Phillips, 1982)

Memories: Another Videopac title that never quite made it to the North American market, it’s entirely possible that Odyssey2 owners never got to play 4 In 1 Row because such a release would’ve attracted the unwelcome attention of the makers of the board game Concentration – or the attention of Atari, who released a licensed Concentration cartridge. Continue reading

Tron

TronThe Game: Up to two players control light cycles that leave a solid light trail in their wake. The object of the game is to trap the other player by surrounding them with a light trail that they can’t avoid crashing into – or forcing them to run into their own trail. Coming into contact with a light trail, either yours or the other player’s, collapses your own trail and ends your turn. The player still standing at the end of the round wins. (“Ivan”, circa 1982)

Memories: The Apple II software library is as huge as it is because of games like this. It’s a safe bet that “Ivan” didn’t charge for his simple tribute to Tron‘s light cycle scenes; if anyone did charge for it, “Ivan” – whoever he was – probably didn’t see a dime of that. (And even if “Ivan” did try to sell his game, it was probably on such a local basis that Disney never heard of it.) Tron is a homebrew, from an age when nearly every Apple user’s library had at least a few homebrews in it. Continue reading

Botanic

BotanicThe Game: Players control a caterpillar, hungrily navigating a twisty maze of twigs and branches to eat leaves. Sometimes the player’s caterpillar will have reached a dead end, but this is not revealed until the leaf covering that dead end is consumed. Other insects swarm around the caterpillar, trying to catch and eat it for themselves. At the beginning of each “life” the player can press a button, giving the caterpillar a brief bug-zerker rage, allowing it to eat its enemies for a change, but this change is short-lived; special flowers must be consumed to regain the ability. Once all of the leaves have been eaten in an entire maze (which takes up more than a single interlinked screen), a “home” appears, into which the caterpillar must be successfully guided for transformation into a butterfly. Then the player is given a new caterpillar to guide and a new maze to navigate. (Valadon Automation [under license to Iti S.A.], 1983)

Memories: If you remember playing Botanic in your local arcade, your local arcade must have been in France or Spain, since Botanic did not receive worldwide distribution. Valadon Automation, the originators of Bagman (a game which did receive worldwide distribution), licensed Botanic from Palamos, Spain-based game maker Iti S.A. Continue reading

Libble Rabble

Libble RabbleThe Game: In a peaceful garden dotted with a gridwork of posts, the player must simultaneously move two pointers, connected to each other by a tenuous string, to trap mobile mushrooms and pointy-hatted garden gnomes. If either pointer comes into contact with a gnome, a life is lost (and, for the record, it’s not the gnome’s life). A scissor-like critter occasionally crosses the screen, and he’s capable of severing the string; a new one instantly forms between the two pointers, but any progress that was made in creating a trap with the string is lost. When all of the creatures invading the player’s garden are trapped, the game begins again at a higher difficulty level; if all of the player’s lives are lost, or time runs out, the game is over. (Namco, 1983)

Memories: This interesting obscurity from Namco wouldn’t appear to have much historical significance, and it made little or no headway beyond Japan’s borders. What makes Libble Rabble at least a little bit significant is that it was the last arcade game design hurrah of Toru Iwitani, the creator of Namco’s global megahit Pac-Man. Continue reading

Pac ‘N’ Pal

Pac 'N' PalThe Game: Once again, you are a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, maneuvering around a relatively simple maze. But this time, you have a Pal! A little round green Pal who is here just to help you. (Pal appears to be wearing a little bow, so there’s no indication of whether or not Ms. Pac-Man knows about See the videoBuy this gamePac-Man’s pal…) Those four pesky monsters are back. This time, the handful of treats in each maze is locked away behind doors vaguely reminiscent of Super Pac-Man. These doors can be unlocked by munching one of the cards lying around the maze. Fruit will score points for you, but if you eat one of the two Galaxians in each maze, Pac-Man is briefly imbued with a super shout which stuns the monsters for a little while. The only problem? Pac’s Pal will grab the fruit or the Galaxians and…very slowly…get around to bringing it to him. Sometimes this helps – Pal is impervious to the monsters, and there are no power pellets to help Pac-Man this time – but sometimes Pal dimwittedly marches your much-needed Galaxian right into the middle of the monsters, making it inaccessible. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Possibly the most bizarre entry in the Pac-Man series, this game is a little bit confusing…and is, perhaps, the final indication that Bally/Midway and Namco had gone to the Pac-Man well one too many times. By this time, the only resemblance the latest Pac-game bore to the original were the elements of Pac-Man, the monsters, and the maze. And don’t even ask where Pal came from. I haven’t a clue. Continue reading

Phozon

PhozonThe Game: You control a “Chemic,” a free-floating object while can adhese itself to passing Moleks, but is vulnerable to the Atomic. Within a limited amount of time (charted by a meter at the bottom of the screen), gather and repulse Moleks around your Chemic until you’ve duplicated the example shape shown in the center of Buy this gamethe screen. Beware of the Atomic, however – it will not only become more aggressive in its deceptively aimless wanderings, but it can also separate into its own component molecules – and regather its shape right in your path. It also shoots, in later levels, energy that can dislodge Moleks from the Chemic’s pattern. You advance through the game by successfully duplicating the sample shape – and surviving the Atomic’s attacks. (Namco, 1983)

Memories: If someone pinned me up against the wall and demanded that I name my favorite coin-op manufacturer – and I’ll admit that this isn’t terribly likely to happen – I’d have to say Namco. They brought us such immortal and inexplicably (and insanely) fun games as Pac-Man, Mappy, Dig Dug, Galaga, Motos, Pole Position and Warp Warp – to name just a few. Among these popular titles are games so indescribably weird that they almost defy description, but I have to hand Namco the prize for sheer conceptual brilliance. Phozon, more obscure than any of the games mentioned above (even moreso than Motos, which is pretty esoteric itself), may well be the first video game ever to concern itself with molecular bonding. Continue reading

Balao Travesso! (“Looney Balloon!”)

Balao Travesso!The Game: You’re piloting a balloon-toting brat around an amusement park. Ride the rides! Slide down the slide! Crawl under the trees and play! But watch out for that balloon – the thing is vital to your survival! Don’t let it get popped See the videoagainst the trees, or the rides, or the walls of the amusement park. Worse yet, a cloud may appear at the side of the screen and blow your balloon away, forcing you to run after it and catch it before it collides with something and pops. Birds will also fly over the park, and they can pop your balloon too. Even if you’re not holding onto it at the time, the balloon popping ends your game. (Frankly, this reliance on the balloon seems to be a bit unhealthy, and will probably lead the game’s kid to be a shut-in with another inflatable friend by the time he’s 40.) (Phillips, 1983)

Memories: Released in Europe as Loony Balloon, Balao Travesso! is essentially a near-beer version of the late 70s Taito arcade game Crazy Balloon – only, quite frankly, Balao Travesso! has more elaborate graphics than the arcade game (who here thought they’d ever be reading that about an Odyssey2 game?). Continue reading

The Blobbers

The BlobbersThe Game: Amoeba-like monsters spawn and grow in an enclosed space with moving platforms. Players control a very mobile cannon, tasked with the mission of destroying these creatures, or at least trying to keep their population under control. The newly-spawned creatures pose no threat to the cannon – they’ll simply attach themselves to it, slowing it down unless it can shake them off. But the creatures rapidly grow in size and change colors; when a creature turns red, it is capable of destroying the cannon on contact. The cannon’s shots regress the creatures into earlier evolutionary stages; firing on a creature that has been regressed to its newly-spawned stage will destroy it. Both the cannon and the creatures can hitch a ride across the screen – either to safety or into the jaws of the enemy – aboard the platforms. (GST Video, 1983)

Memories: Even if this wasn’t a European-only release for the Videopac – the version of the Odyssey2 that did better in Europe than the Odyssey2 did in the Americas – The Blobbers would be hard to find. Hitting the stores at the end of the Videopac’s life span, this nifty little enclosed-space shoot-’em-up got very little attention and sold very few copies, and as such few copies made their way into the hands of game collectors and traders. 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 top of the screen. On the second screen, you stand at the edge of a river, where you must keep yourself from See the videodrowning 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 hungry alligators! (Phillips / Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: One of the most exasperating things about Frogger for the Odyssey2? Finding a copy that plays well enough for me to review. Many a copy of Parker Brothers’ Frogger has made its way from Europe to cartridge slots in America, only to disappoint whoever hunted it down: unlike many other Videopac titles released in Europe, Frogger won’t play on a North American console. Continue reading

  • IP Disclaimer

    All game names, terminology, logos, screen shots, box art, and all related characters and placenames are the property of the games' respective intellectual property holders. The articles herein are not intended to infringe upon their copyright in any way. The author(s) make no attempt - in using the names described herein - to supercede the copyrights of the copyright holders, nor are these articles officially sanctioned, licensed, or endorsed by the games' creators or publishers.