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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

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

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

Pick Axe Pete

Pick Axe Pete - Odyssey3 versionThe Game: As Pete, you start out in the center of a multi-tiered mine – not at the bottom – and your boulder-smashing pick axe begins to deteriorate after about one minute. Then you either have to jump over or duck See the videounder the onslaught of falling rocks, or you’re toast. Falling to the lower levels won’t kill you, if you time it just right so as not to land right in the middle of an avalanche. When two boulders collide, they can uncover treasures such as a fresh pick axe or, more importantly, a key to the next level. (N.A.P., 1983)

Memories: Released in Europe only for the Videopac G7400 – the European hardware equivalent of the Odyssey3 – Pick Axe Pete is a good barometer of how the classic Odyssey2 games would’ve been “enhanced” for the ultimately unreleased Odyssey3. And when I say “enhanced”, I mean that very loosely. On the plus side: the game is untouched in and of itself, which is a good starting point. (I think I’ve made clear that I consider Pete the pinnacle of gaming on the O2.) Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a pyramid of colorful blocks, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a See the videoslightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-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 deposit 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 block 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. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: One of the last games ever produced for the Odyssey 2, this great adaptation of Q*Bert also has the distinction of being among the hardest to find. Released primarily in Europe for the Videopac (the Dutch-produced equivalent of the Odyssey2), Q*Bert has decent graphics and damned fast gameplay for an Odyssey game. Continue reading

Super Cobra

Super CobraThe Game: You’re piloting a heavily armed helicopter straight into a heap o’ trouble. Ground and air defenses have been mounted in this enemy installation to stop you at any costs. Missiles, anti-aircraft turrets, and even other vehicles will See the videodo anything to knock you out of the sky – and given the chunky terrain, the odds are in favor of the house. Your only saving grace is that you’re armed to the teeth. But, as you may have guessed by now, even that may not be enough to save you. (Supposedly, according to Konami, Super Cobra was their sequel to the minor arcade hit Scramble.) (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Alas, Konami’s Super Cobra didn’t fare quite as well on the Odyssey2 as Q*Bert did. At times, it’s almost comical – a few seconds of fast and furious on-screen action are followed by a tedious scroll to the left as the playing field is filled with the next round of extremely inhospitable terrain! Continue reading

Trans-American Rally

Trans-American RallyThe Game: The Videopac puts you in the driver’s seat for a cross-country race. Avoid other cars and obstacles and stay on the road; hitting too many oncoming vehicles causes you to forfeit the See the videorace. (Philips, 1983)

Memories: A surprising game on the Videopac G7400+ (the European equivalent of the cancelled Odyssey3 console), Trans-American Rally is an example of a game done almost entirely in the “extended” graphics set. The only hints of the original Odyssey2/Videopac fixed graphics set is the use of the old “triangle” elements to draw the road and to draw any unchanging areas of solid colors (such as the desert on either side of the road). The rest of the graphics are done entirely in the “plus” graphics, and the game looks surprisingly good for anything running on the Videopac platform: it’s on a par with many a TI 99/4a game. Continue reading

Doctor Who: The First Adventure

Doctor Who: The First AdventureThe Game: You guide the Doctor, that wayward Time Lord, on a quest to retrieve the three segments of the Key to Time, recover See the videoyour companion from an alien prison, and escape aliens who are on your trail. The game appropriately takes place in four “episodes” (stages). Failing to complete a task will cost you time and a precious regeneration; running out of either one ends the game.

Memories: The first officially approved Doctor Who video game, The First Adventure isn’t a trendsetter or a great innovation in and of itself; in fact, I think it’s safe to say that this game for the BBC Micro would’ve been entirely un-noteworthy if not for the Doctor Who connection. Continue reading

Attack Of The Timelord! (Terrahawks+)

Attack Of The Timelord!The Game: The game begins as the skull-like face of Spyruss the Deathless (the Timelord of Chaos, no less!) taunts you (well, only if you had the Voice), and then a bunch of pesky spaceships pops out of a vortex to shoot at See the videoyou. They shoot at you rather a lot. Fortunately, you can shoot back with reckless abandon, but their ammunition – as you ascend into the higher levels of the game – can track you and even, if you don’t destroy their shots in mid-air, crawl along the ground briefly while you head for the opposite side of the screen, neatly trapped for their next volley. (Philips, 1983)

Memories: Known as Attack Of The Timelord outside of Europe and the U.K., this game was released abroard as Terrahawks+ for the Philips G7400+ console. It’s essentially the same game, except with a relatively elaborate background graphic of the Earth and moon (complete with the man in the moon, no less). Continue reading

Killer Bees

Killer Bees!The Game: You control a solitary swarm of “good” bees, trailed by a couple of handy ray guns on the same vertical axis. The game starts out with a bunch of dim-witted Beebots bumbling around the screen, which you can sting with your See the videobee swarm until the ‘bots slow down and finally expire, marked by a rather grim little tombstone! This probably sounds easy enough, but there are killer bees from outer space emerging from hives around the edge of the play area, and when their swarms collide with your swarm, you lose bees. The only defense against the killer bees is a pair of ray guns, which have to recharge after every use. (North American Philips, 1983)

Memories: Another example of how Philips might have revised existing Odyssey2 games for their new platform, Killer Bees winds up being another example of how ungraceful the transition could’ve been. Continue reading

Robot City

Robot CityThe Game: Four robotic tanks search methodically through a maze, trying to hunt you down. If you wind up in a straight line across or above/below the robot tanks, they will fire, even if a maze wall is in the way. Your job is to See the videoevade their fire, use the robots’ logic against them (i.e. try to get one tank to shoot another just because you’re in a straight line with them), or sneak up from behind and destroy them. Destroyed tanks leave a radioactive crater that you must avoid for the rest of that round; you advance to the next round by eliminating all of the tanks without being shot yourself. (Philips, 1983 – unreleased prototype)

Memories: This is one of those Odyssey2 games that was prepared for release only in the foreign market, but could’ve been one of the machine’s signature games in North America. It may be as simple as a game can get, but Robot City is a load of fun. (Come to think of it, I can’t imagine why it was left at the prototype altar elsewhere, either.) Continue reading

Spider-Man

Spider-ManThe Game: The Green Goblin and his henchmen are terrorizing the city once more, and it’s up to Spider-Man to restore order. But the odds are against him: he can only attach his web to the surface of the building, naturally, but the See the videoBuy this gameGoblin’s underlings are ready and eager to cut Spidey’s web should it be planted near them. Worse yet, the difficult-to-navigate high voltage tower at the top of the building is riddled with the Goblin’s bombs, and even if Spidey can defuse them, there’s a Super Bomb waiting for him at the top of the building – and he can only put it out of commission after dealing with the Green Goblin personally. (Parker Bros., 1983 / released by Bas Kornalijnslijper in 2006)

Memories: A chance discovery made by collector Bas Kornalijnslijper among a handful of ROM chips given to him by a former Phillips Electronics employee, Spider-Man was long known to have at least been in the works. Various advertising material touting the other four games created by Parker Bros. for the Videopac (the Odyssey2’s European near-twin) had mentioned that Spider-Man was “coming soon!” But of course, support for the Odyssey2 had largely disappeared by that time in North America (none of the Parker Bros. games were released there), and while it didn’t happen as quickly, the Videopac’s support also faded away in Europe; Spider-Man simply didn’t make it to market within that window. Now, along with another advertised-but-never-sold Parker Bros. title, Tutankham, Spider-Man has been unearthed. Continue reading

Tutankham

Tutankham for Odyssey2The 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. (Parker Brothers, 1983 – unreleased prototype)

See the videoMemories: As far back as 1983, the year that it released four other titles for the Videopac (Europe’s equivalent to the Odyssey2), Parker Brothers had been mentioning other games in development for the system. The Videopac had a wider user base in Europe than the Odyssey2 had in North America, so the support was there. Spider-Man and Tutankham were announced as upcoming titles, and never surfaced as commercial releases. As it turns out, programming was relatively complete on both games, and the EPROM chips holding the work-in-progress versions of each game eventually fell in to the hands of collectors. Appropriately enough, Tutankham was an unearthed treasure. Continue reading

UFO

UFO!The Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of pesky and relatively harmless drone UFOs, but the job isn’t easy. You can ram the alien ships with your ship’s shields, destroying them (but See the videoforcing your shields offline for a few precious seconds during which anything could collide with your unprotected ship and destroy you), or shoot them (which also forces your shields down for a recharge). To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable Killer UFO that likes to pop in and shoot at you, and suddenly being an interstellar traffic cop ain’t so easy. (Philips, 1983)

Memories: I’ve been complaining about the small library of Odyssey2-games-in-new-clothes developed as Odyssey3 launch titles quite a bit, but here’s a game I can actually get behind. UFO is the combination of a strong game in and of itself, with a background graphic that doesn’t completely obscure the in-game action. Continue reading

Moto-Crash+

Moto-Crash+The Game: It’s a cross-country motorcycle race, and you’re at the handlebars. Avoid other bikes, stay within the traffic markers, and be alert to constantly changing lighting conditions and weather (this race is 24 hours a day, and the days seem awfully short). (Philips, 1984)

Memories: Released only in Europe (and, for the most part, confined to France, where it was sold for the Jopac+ console, the Gallic equivalent to the Videopac G7400 or the Odyssey3), Moto-Crash+ is a fairly bold attempt to do something that was unheard of on the original Odyssey2/Jopac hardware: a first-person racing game along the lines of Enduro. Continue reading

Shark Hunter

Shark HunterBuy this gameThe Game: In the Arctic Circle, there are two certainties: not eating will kill you, and being in the water too long will kill you. You have to brave both possibilities in this game, trying to keep the fishing nets intact, and trying to fend off the roaming sharks intent on biting through the nets. There are both stationary and moving ice floes, and you can jump from one to the other (or to the shore), with your spear at the ready to impale a shark – but sooner or later you also have to jump into the freezing water to repair the nets, leaving you at the sharks’ mercy. (GST Video, 1984 / released by Classic Console Center in 2006)

See the videoMemories: This unreleased gem from the Odyssey2/Videopac library is a fine specimen of the best Odyssey2 games – offbeat, original (or at least adding original twists to popular themes) and unique. Shark Hunter was designed for the European market, but was never released in this form when the crash of the video game industry caught up with overseas game makers. (A version of it later appeared for MSX computers overseas.) It’s fun and frustrating, and would’ve been a more than welcome addition to the Odyssey2 or Videopac libraries. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: How high can you go? Help Jumpman (Mario) save Pauline from Donkey Kong’s clutches by climbing ladders and avoiding barrels. (Ocean Software, 1986)

Memories: Three years after the release of AtariSoft’s Commodore 64 Donkey Kong port, European software developer Ocean Software decided it was time for another Donkey Kong remake and accepted the challenge.

It goes without saying that the more familiar programmers become with a particular platform, the more advanced their games will look and play. This is generally why games released later in a platform’s lifespan often seem more advanced than earlier titles. Such is the case with Ocean’s version of Donkey Kong. With an additional three years of familiarity with the Commodore behind them, Ocean was really able to crank one great looking port. Continue reading

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