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

Tempest

TempestThe Game: As a strangely crablike creature, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and purple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things which See the videospin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should avoid spikes. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: The above description barely fits this game because it only exists in an unfinished form, with just a few bare essential elements of the game in place. You can shoot stuff and score points, but there isn’t much “game” there – the collision routines don’t exist that would determine whether or not your on-screen flipper “dies” by touching an approaching enemy, or an enemy’s incoming fire for that matter. Continue reading

Tempest

TempestThe Game: As a strangely crablike creature, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and See the videopurple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things (swirly thing alert!!) which spin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should avoid spikes. (Atari, 1983 – never released)

Memories: This version of Tempest never officially saw the light of day…but in looking at this attempt at a 2600 version of Atari’s own popular vector graphics game, one wonders if the game’s no-show wasn’t an attempt to prevent another turkey of Pac-proportions from marring Atari’s recently-repaired reputation. 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

Xevious

XeviousThe Game: As the commander of a sleek Solvalou fighter, you’re deep into enemy territory, shooting their disc-shaped fighters out of the sky, bombing ground installations and artillery nests, bombing tanks, and trying to destroy the mothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and deadly ground-based defenses become the norm. Also look out for tumbling airborne mirrors – they’re impervious to your fire, but you’re toast if you fly right into them. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Based on a Namco import distributed under Atari’s banner in the U.S., Xevious may be about as close as one could get to replicating the arcade game with the 5200’s hardware. Curiously, though the copyright on the main menu screen is a year later than that on the unfinished 5200 Tempest proto, Xevious is a more complete game, fleshed out to a fully playable state. Continue reading

Jr. Pac-Man

Jr. Pac-ManBuy this gameThe Game: As the offspring of a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a bigger maze than your parents ever had to deal with, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. Six large flashing dots in the maze enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. Periodically, assorted toys will begin hopping through the maze, turning every uneaten dot they touch into a larger dot which yields more points, but also forces little Pac to slow down to digest them. 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… (Atari, 1984; released by AtariAge.com, 2003)

Memories: A victim of former Commodore executive Jack Tramiel’s takeover of Atari‘s home video game and computer division, Jr. Pac-Man was one of the many “orphaned” games that were finished and ready for mass-production, but despite the money that had been spent on acquiring the license and developing the actual software, Jr. Pac-Man stayed off the schedule, never to hit the stores. 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

Cabbage Patch Kids: Adventure In The Park

Cabbage Patch Kids: Adventure In The ParkThe Game: You are one of those ubiquitously cute icons of the ’80s, a Cabbage Patch Kid, and your mission is to convey your pigtailed self across the screen, circumnavigating whatever dangers await you –See the video rolling balls, puddles of water, and so on. You can jump (and, with the aid of strategically placed trampolines, you can jump really high and snag some high-flying bonus prizes), you can swing across water with ropes hanging from trees, and if you mess up any of the above, you can only do it a few times before you’re a Cabbage Patch Greasy Spot on the ground. Remember, the death of any Cabbage Patch child diminishes the entire Cabbage Patch. (Coleco, 1984 – unreleased prototype)

Memories: Essentially a copycat of Activision’s Pitfall, Cabbage Patch Kids was originally released on the Colecovision, capitalizing on Coleco’s two big sellers at the time – that console, and the newly-acquired Cabbage Patch Kids doll license. At this point in the 1980s, video game publishers were virtually clueless about what drew women and girls to some games, and repelled them from others, so it wasn’t uncommon to see bizarro licensing moves such as Cabbage Patch Kids and Strawberry Shortcake. Only development on this game was still ongoing when the bottom dropped out of the video game industry, so the Cabbage Patch Kids were strictly confined to the Colecovision until a 2008 flea market find which put this reasonably finished and playable game into the hands of an Atari collector. Continue reading

Garfield

GarfieldThe Game: You are the world’s most famous lasagna-munchin’ mouser, hopping from fencepost to fencepost, grabbing airborne hamburgers (!!?) and dodging potted plants being thrown at you. Eventually you reach home, where you can antagonize Odie the dog, who has somehow made his way to the top of Jon’s house. (Atari, never released [developed circa 1984])

Memories: Who here didn’t love Jim Davis’ Garfield comics 20+ years ago? I loved ’em. Of course, I too had an unpredictable, feisty, and every-so-slightly overweight striped feline of my own, so I was a little biased. Atari’s unreleased Garfield game fell under the axe of the great video game industry crash, which is a great pity – it would have made a very nice kids’ game, with its easy and not-even-remotely-violent game play (the worst that can happen to you is that you seem to “bulge” when hit by a potted plant). It also had some rather nice graphics, with recognizable renditions of Garfield and Odie. Continue reading

Revenge Of The Jedi Game I (Return Of The Jedi: Ewok Adventure)

Revenge Of The Jedi Game ISee the videoThe Game: They’re responsible for the deaths of countless Imperial officers in battle, and served as a vital ally to Luke, Han, Leia and the Rebel Alliance in their darkest hour. Surely every gamer wants to join their ranks and experience the battle of Endor from their perspective! That’s right, you’re an Ewok, flying a primitive hang-glider behind enemy lines, avoiding AT-ST fire and trying to take out as many Imperial troops as you can. Stormtroopers on speeder bikes are both tempting targets and formidable foes for you; if you can, try to fight your way to the Imperial bunker and clear the way Ewok Adventurefor your friends. Good timing can allow you to temporarily take over the Empire’s walking terrors and use them against their own forces. Face it: you’re a short, stubby teddy bear, armed with rocks, and the fate of the universe depends on you. (Parker Brothers, 1984 – never released)

Memories: A real curiosity, this was planned to be the fifth in a series of Star Wars cartridges for the Atari 2600, and yet it never saw the light of day. A prototype of the game exists in completed form, as does a prototype of the packaging, bearing the obvious work-in-progress title of Revenge Of The Jedi Game I. (There was a Game II as well, of which more in a moment.) Continue reading

Super Pac-Man

Super Pac-ManThe Game: Once again, Pac-Man roams the maze, pursued by four colorful ghosts. But instead of dots, this maze is peppered with other goodies, ranging from the usual fruits (apples, bananas, etc.) to donuts, cake, and burgers. And in addition to the traditional four “power pellets” in each corner of the screen, there are two green “super power pellets” per screen, which give the mighty yellow one the power to fly over the monsters’ heads and to break down doors that confine some of the yummy treats in the maze. (Atari, 1984 – never released)

Memories: Super Pac-Man was one of many Pac-Man spinoffs that made only a minor splash when it hit the arcades in 1982. Nixed by the sudden cancellation of new releases caused by the video game industry crash, Atari’s 5200 edition of Super Pac-Man is actually very good. Continue reading

Targ (Universal Chaos)

TargThe Game: You’re trapped in a symmetrical maze with a bevy of robotic target vehicles – “Targs” – which are programmed to do just one thing: collide with your vehicle. You have one advantage on these decidedly mean streets, however – you can fire missiles ahead of your car (but the Targs are capable of dodging your projectiles too, so don’t get too cocky). Every once in a while, one of the impregnable blocks in the maze will disgorge a new enemy which is just a little bit faster and deadlier than the rest. Clearing the screen of Targs advances you to a new level with faster enemies – and eventually they’ll put the brakes on your attempts to survive. (CBS Video Games, 1984)

Memories: Exidy‘s offbeat menagerie of arcade games was ripe for licensing in the early 1980s, and for the most part it was Coleco that jumped on that bandwagon, grabbing the rights for games such as Mouse Trap, Venture, Ladybug and Mr. Do, both for their own ColecoVision console and as a third-party title for competing platforms like the Intellivision and the Atari 2600. CBS‘ short-lived entry into the video game market saw them licensing games originating with Bally/Midway (Gorf, Omega Race, Blue Print, etc.), but at one point CBS won the rights to, and advertised, a cartridge version of Targ. The game was completely programmed and ready to go – and then the crash hit. Continue reading

Toggle

ToggleThe Game: Two players’ vehicles start in opposite corners of a confined grid; when moved, each vehicle leaves a light cycle-style trail of that player’s color (red or gold) in its wake. But here’s the twist: the players won’t be eliminated by running over the opponent’s “wake.” Instead, running over the other player’s wake once will knock that portion of it down; running over the resulting gap refills that space with your color See the videoinstead. The object of the game is to occupy as much of the grid as possible by the end of 45 seconds. (Each game consists of three 45-second rounds, and each successive round adds obstacles such as walls, or gaps through which players’ vehicles can fall, resulting in a delay while that vehicle is replaced.) The winner of the best two out of three rounds wins the game. (1985, Bally [under license from Sente Ltd.] – unreleased)

Memories: After being “put on the beach” by Atari’s new Warner Bros.-controlled management – a term meaning that he was out the door, but still receiving money from a bonus pool that, in Atari’s heyday, was quite substantial – founder Nolan Bushnell was left at a loose end in more ways than one. He began building his new empire, a chain of franchise restaurants called Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre, which combined food service, robotic characters whose technology Atari had no interest in pursuing and therefore allowed him to retain, and arcade games. Bushnell was still eager to have something to do with the video game industry, but a non-compete clause literally took him out of that game for seven years. In 1985, that clause expired, and Bushnell was ready to get back in the game. Continue reading

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek V: The Final FrontierThe Game: Sybok, a charismatic Vulcan cult leader, has tried to disrupt the peace process on the neutral planet Nimbus III. Players take control of one Enterprise crewman at a time to: retrieve the Nimbus III hostages (Sulu), save Kirk and Spock from a cell aboard the Enterprise (Scotty), pilot the Enterprise through asteroids and attacking Klingons (Sulu again?), and finally make a mad dash into the heart of the lair of the “god creature” (Kirk). Running out of life energy aborts the mission; fortunately, Dr. McCoy is standing by at all times and the mission can start from scratch. (Bandai, 1989 – unreleased)

Memories: After the surprise hit that was the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Paramount Pictures was ready to entertain any and all licensing ideas for the next movie, 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (which was therefore perversely considered the worst of the original series movies). Bandai bid for the video game rights, and then proceeded to create a rather uninspired run-and-shoot platformer around what would appear to be an early synopsis of the movie’s plot. (To be fair to Bandai, the movie wasn’t exactly the most inspiring entry in the Star Trek captain’s log, so the fault doesn’t lie entirely with the developer.) Continue reading

Klax

KlaxThe Game: It is the nineties, as the intro screen says, and there is time for this home version of Klax, in which players try to stack colored bricks according to on-screen instructions: horizontal, vertical and diagonal rows may be required. The conveyor belts carrying the bricks gradually speed up until the bricks are zipping toward the bottom of the screen at a dizzying pace. Allowing too many bricks to slide off the bottom of the screen without catching them will forfeit the game, as will failing to come up with the configuration of stacked bricks demanded by the on-screen instructions. (Atari, 1990)

Memories: A late attempt to keep the Atari 7800 relevant in an age where the NES had firmly dominated the home video game landscape (even the Sega Master System enjoyed a larger market share than the 7800), this adaptation of Atari Games’ arcade sleeper hit Klax seems fitting somehow in retrospect: Klax was a puzzle game also-ran, trying to catch up with Tetris. And Tetris had already been snapped up by Nintendo, which was handily beating Atari with both the NES and the new Game Boy, making the 7800 an also-ran too (and let’s not talk about that whole dust-up over Atari Games’ arcade Tetris and the Tengen version of the game for NES). As if there needed to be a way to make Klax even less relevant in Atari’s fight against Tetris, there’s one more wrinkle: this version never actually hit the stores. Continue reading

Starcon

Starcon for PlaystationThe Game: In a first-person space shooter set in the Star Control universe, the player is charged with maintaining order in the spaceways, a job made a little more difficult See the videoby rival warlords trying to stake their claims on the interstellar shipping lanes. Your patrol ship is armed to the teeth, which is good – because so are their ships. (Accolade, 1998 – never released)

Memories: Left in an unfinished state and never officially released, Starcon represents the most recent, and most baffling, attempt to drag the Star Control universe into the console realm. It’d already been done spectacularly well on the 3DO with Star Control II, which actually managed to trump the original PC version in some respects. But while the Playstation should’ve been capable of an equally spectacular port of Starcon II, Accolade instead licensed the name, and some placenames and species, for a game that has almost nothing to do with the rest of the series. Continue reading

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