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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

Pirate Ship Higemaru

Pirate Ship HigemaruThe Game: Pirates have boarded your ship, and it’s up to you to defend the whole boat. Evade the pirates in the twisty mazes of barrels and treasures in the cargo deck, or pick up one of those barrels and brain the nearest pirate with it. Be careful – some pirates hide inside the barrels, and it’s instant death to pick up See the videoBuy this gamean “occupied” barrel and not back off quickly. Some containers reveal a treasure when you pick them up, and you can go back and grab the treasures for bonus points. Clear the deck of pirates to advance to the next level and start again. (Capcom, 1984)

Memories: Not released in the United States, Pirate Ship Higemaru is a nice little riff on the basic concept of Pengo. You can move the components of the “maze”around as you wish, or use those same components to dispose of enemies. Since the procedure for doing this in Higemaru is a bit more complicated than Pengo, there’s actually a training round that must be completed before the game truly begins – but it’s not risk-free, and you can actually lose a life in training! (I guess the message is that if you can’t get past the training screen, please let someone else put a coin in the machine and defend the boat.) Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: Who said landscaping was easy? 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 See the videoyour tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (Namco, 1985)

Memories: For some reason that I have a hard time trying to fathom, this game was released for the Famicom only – the Japanese console which was re-engineered as the NES for the English-speaking market. The reason I can’t fathom that is that this is a perfectly playable port of Dig Dug. Did Namco really think that this cute classic was past its sell-by date in the States? Continue reading

Crazy Climber 2

Crazy Climber 2The Game: You control a daredevil stunt climber on his trip up the side of a skyscraper in a major metropolitan area, using no ropes, no nets, and nothing but his hands and his feet. Obstacles such as falling jam boxes can cause you to plunge to your death several stories below. When you reach the top – if you reach the top, that is – a helicopter lifts you away to your next challenge. (Nihon Bussan Co., Ltd. [Nichibutsu], 1988)

Memories: This is a bizarre, and largely graphical-only, updating of Nichibutsu’s addictive classic, Crazy Climber. The game play remains much the same as the original, but the graphics are a major evolution of what was there before. Animated flags flap in the wind, highlights and shading give Crazy Climber himself a 3-D look, and detailed billboards and neon signs glow. Continue reading

Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship YamatoThe Game: Players assume the role of Susumu Kodai, a hot-headed young recruit unexpectedly thrust into a leadership role on a mission to cross the galaxy and procure a device that can restore planet Earth’s war-decimated ecosphere within a year. As if crossing the Milky Way and returning within a year wasn’t enough of a formidable task, the Space Battleship Yamato faces stiff opposition from an alien race, the Gamilas, determined to seal Earth’s fate by bringing the last-ditch rescue mission to a halt. Kodai and the Yamato’s ailing commander, Admiral Okita, must decide where to commit their forces for maximum effect. Large squarons of Cosmo Fighters can be dispatched to take the Gamilas on head-to-head on the on-screen grid, but Yamato herself can also be ordered into the thick of the action (a strategy that puts the entire mission in jeopardy if the battle is lost). Success means fighting through the Gamilas’ offensive front and reaching planet Iskandar. Failure means death for all humankind. Pick your battles wisely. (Interbec, 1992)

Memories: Space Battleship Yamato is, to this date, one of the best anime series that anyone in Japan has yet produced. First aired in 1974, its meaningful, carefully-paced tale of duty, honor, sacrifice, compassion and rapproachment is one that remains nearly unsurpassed. It’s like the best war movie ever, except animated. The series very carefully laid out the tactical stakes of its frequent battle scenes, and showed how both sides planned their next moves – it’s a fertile breeding ground for tactical action games. And yet, of the few video games based on Yamato, fewer still have done the action and adventure and drama of the series justice. In a nutshell: the games aren’t as fun to play as the show is to watch. Continue reading

Galaxian3

Galaxian3The Game: An alien war fleet is closing in on Earth, armed with a powerful weapon that can eradicate the entire planet. You (and, if you happen to have some fellow gunners, four others) man the artillery batteries of an armed-to-the-teeth ship on a mission to take the fight to the aliens before they can bring it to Earth. If you successfully complete that mission, you can also move on to a second mission to defend the planet Gourb from the Galaxian fleet. (Namco, 1995)

Memories: This is the home adaptation of Namco’s theatrical walk-in video experience which appeared in arcades and amusement centers around 1990. How theatrical is it? The game’s literally in widescreen, with scoring information and statistics appearing outside of the letterbox area. Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 2 (Japanese version)

Namco Museum Volume 2 (Japanese version)The Game: Old games never die – they get emulated. Fortunately, one of Japan’s greatest makers of video game hits has built a museum around several of its most popular titles. With Pac-Man still underfoot, you wander the corridors of the Namco Museum yet again. (Namco, 1995, for Sony Playstation)

Memories: It’s hard for me to really justify blowing $25 on this particular import. Maybe it’s just the perversity of having two different versions of Namco Museum Vol. 2 when the American edition is hard enough to find as it is. Or maybe it’s because I want to be able to play as many classic arcade games as possible on my Playstation. Continue reading

Pepenga Pengo

Pepenga PengoThe Game: Pengo the penguin is trapped in an ice maze with seals, walking snowmen and other predators. Pengo can defeat his enemies by pushing ice blocks toward them, crushing them in the process. Pengo can also create new ice blocks via some biological process that’s perhaps best left unexplored (and if he doesn’t leave the spot where he generates ice blocks immediately after starting that process, he’ll be temporarily frozen to that spot); those blocks can also become ammo in a pinch. Treats such as dollar signs and popsicles – both valuable commidities to penguins – appear from time to time. Defeating all enemies on a given level advances Pengo to the next screen. (Sega, 1995, for Japanese market only)

Memories: Released only for the Sega Mega Drive (the Japanese equivalent of the Genesis console), Pepenga Pengo is a nice update of the original, not only enhancing the graphics but including new game play elements that don’t “break the universe” of the original. Continue reading

Nichibutsu Arcade Classics

Nichibutsu Arcade ClassicsThe Game: Three obscure but memorable cult classics from Japan’s Nichibutsu Ltd. are gathered in one collection, along with an updated version of each game. Crazy Climber, Moon Cresta and Frisky Tom are included, with their respective remakes, Crazy Climber ’85, SF-X and Tom’s Strike-Back. (Nichibutsu Ltd., 1995)

Memories: Much sought-after by collectors now, this Namco Museum-style compilation is the only way to get most of these games on anything that’s not MAME – and in the case of the updated versions, this is the only game in town. It’s also the source of a very humorous photo, shown before the main menu screen pops up, which I find very funny (see below). Continue reading

Hyper Crazy Climber

Hyper Crazy ClimberThe Game: You’re crazy-climbing the inner city no more. As one of a party of three adventurers, your mission is to scale mystic mountain peaks, Big Ben-style clock towers, and even enormous beanstalks, all to gather various items and move on to the next stop on your quest. Obstacles such as an avalanche of killer boulders and monkeys tossing bananas at you could send you plummeting to your death. The three characters along for the adventure have different rates of speed and endurance (as in endurance for things falling on their heads, though nothing will save you from a huge boulder). Watch out for falling rocks! (Nichibutsu, 1996)

Memories: This is one fiendishly difficult game. Normally, when I put together a Phosphor Dot Fossil, I play to get as far as I can in the game so you can get a glimpse of as many levels as possible. Not everyone reading this has all of these games, so I try to show you everything that I can. Continue reading

Namco Museum Encore

Namco Museum EncoreThe Game: All aboard! Now departing the Namco Museum aboard the spaceship Game Space Milaiya. Namco’s retrospective series literally takes off for its final ride on the Playstation with a collection of seven games, from the earliest days of Namco’s video game empire to more recent arcade titles. (Namco, 1997 – for Playstation)

Memories: For the final PS1 outing of the Namco Museum series, Namco turned out what easily could have been the user-friendliest volume yet, dispensing with the tedious “Doom minus the action” museum settings and otherwise simplifying things dramatically. In short: doing away with the extraneous trappings to make way for more games. Continue reading

Space Invaders Collection

Space Invaders CollectionThe Game: 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. (Taito, 1997, for Playstation)

Memories: I can hear ’em already. “Okay, you’ve flipped your lid. There’s already a modern-day Space Invaders remake out there, there’s emulation, and then there’s the fact that Space Invaders has been emulated pretty faithfully all the way back to the Atari 2600 version. Why the heck do you need this version for the Playstation?” Continue reading

Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship YamatoThe Game: In the year 2199, Earth is beseiged by radioactive planet bombs launched by the Gamilons. When two junior officers happen upon alien wreckage on Mars, including a message intended for Earth with details of new propulsion and weapon systems, and the promise of a device which could restore Earth to its former beauty, the wheel is set in motion for mankind’s final desperate gambit for survival. The WWII battleship Yamato is repaired and made spaceworthy with the new technology, and Captain Okita hand-picks a dedicated young crew to fly the ship to the planet Iscandar – the source of the message – and back. That’s where you step in for Okita – using a rotating ring of character heads, you can give characters such as Susumu Kodai, Yuki Mori and Daisuke Shima their orders, get their advice, and engage in combat with the Gamilons in space and on the surfaces of various planets. (Bandai, 2000)

Memories: Oh, how I wanted to love this game. An epic adventure game based on Space Battleship Yamato? Count me in.

Sadly, this isn’t an epic adventure game. It’s two-thirds CGI movie, and one-third plodding turn-based combat game. Continue reading

Tatsunoko Fight

Tatsunoko FightThe Game: If there can be a collective of Super Friends, why not a cabal of supervillains? The forces of evil from the various anime series created by Tatsunoko Studios have merged their powers, so the heroes of those same universes must join forces to save us all. This saving takes the form of a lot of unarmed combat – you can probably figure out what to do from here. You must do battle with the great villains of those various shows – or even other heroes, in Vs. mode. Series whoses characters are included are Gatchaman (better known as Battle Of The Planets in the U.S.), Tekkaman, Casshan, and Polymer The Ha-Ri-Ken Fighter. A new character in the classic Tatsunoko Studios mold, Volter The Lightning, is introduced here for the first time. (Takara Toys, 2000)

Memories: When you think of Tatsunoko Productions, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? For me, it’s visions of armor-and-spandex-clad superheroes wearing helmets with transparent visors! No, seriously – virtually every Tatsunoko superhero has a helmet with a transparent visor. Check the screen shots below, see if I’m lying to you. I swear, they all do. Continue reading

Crazy Climber 2000

Crazy Climber 2000The Game: You control a daredevil stunt climber on his trip up the side of the Nichubutsu building, using no ropes, no nets, and nothing but his hands and his feet. Obstacles such as a large stork with (apparently flaming) droppings and a large gorilla can cause you to plunge to your death several stories below, and even minor things such as annoyed building tenants dropping potted plants at you from above can have the same disastrous effect. When you reach the top – if you reach the top, that is – a helicopter lifts you away to your next challenge. (Nichibutsu, 2000)

Memories: Go for it in 3-D, baby! It’s a crime that this excessively cool update of Crazy Climber has never been released in the U.S., for it is possibly the best update of a classic game ever. Crazy Climber 2000 is Nichibutsu’s second swipe at dragging Crazy Climber into the modern age of video games, and it is by far the more successful. Continue reading

The Invaders (Space Invaders)

The InvadersThe Game: 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. This edition adds two new modes, a timed game with a slightly updated retro look, and a 3-D mode which puts the player right behind the cannon, now expanded to a giant 3-D representation. (D3 Publisher [under license from Taito], 2001)

Memories: This budget title from 2001, to be fair, was largely a re-release of Taito’s earlier PS1 Space Invaders Collection just four years before this game’s release. But this time, you actually get more for that low, low price. Continue reading

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