Avalanche

AvalancheThe Game: Watch for falling rocks – because it’s your job to catch them. You control a series of containers arranged in a vertical row, and your task is to catch all of the rocks, without fail, not letting a single one of them hit the ground. The more rocks you catch, the more containers you’ll fill, and you’ll be left with fewer, and See the videosmaller, containers. If you let a rock through your defenses too many times, the game’s over. And you’ll probably be hit in the head with a lot of rocks. Neither outcome is really a good thing. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: Avalanche is a relic of the early days of videogaming, where no idea was left untried. It’s a fiendishly simple and surprisingly tense little number for what appears to be such a simple game. Continue reading

Blasto

BlastoThe Game: Piloting a mobile cannon around a cluttered playfield, you have but one task: clear the screen of mines, without blowing yourself up, in the time allotted. If you don’t clear the screen, or you manage to detonate a mine so See the videoclose to yourself that it takes you out, the game is over. If you do clear all the mines, you get a free chance to try it again. Two players can also try to clear the minefield simultaneously. (Gremlin, 1978)

Memories: It may not look terribly entertaining if you’re accustomed to graphics even on the Atari 2600’s level, but Blasto is quite addictively entertaining when you get right down to it, and its decidedly lo-fi graphics are just part of its charm. Continue reading

Dodge It

Dodge ItThe Game: Trapped in a square or rectangular arena, the player is represented by a mobile square. Another projectile punches its way into the arena and begins ricocheting around; points accumulate rapidly the longer the player’s See the videosquare avoids contact with the projectile, but starting at 200 points, an additional projectile is added every 100 points, each on its own chaotic, bouncing path. The game ends when the player inevitably collides with one of these projectiles. (Fairchild, 1978)

Memories: Nearly every system, no matter how obscure, has at least one unique game that’s worth seeking out both hardware and software, just to try it out and see how much fun it is. Some systems, like the Atari VCS and the Intellivision, have something like half a dozen “killer apps”. When I played Dodge It on the Fairchild Channel F, it was one of those occasions where I looked up at the clock, and realized two things: it was an hour later, and I was still playing Dodge It. It’s a unique concept that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, maddeningly simple and insanely addictive. Dodge It made it worth my while to have a Channel F hooked up in my game room. Continue reading

Lunar Lander

Lunar LanderBuy this gameThe Game: Gene Kranz isn’t around to give you a go/no-go for landing – in Lunar Lander, you’re on your own, trying to use the least fuel to bring your lander down for a soft touchdown on the safest target area available. You can always scrub the landing by pulling the ABORT handle, or you can opt for nerves of steel and try to keep your ship – valued at 100 megabucks, incidentally – in one piece. Failure, as some associated with the moon program have been known to say, is not an option for making that one small step…but if you do litter your landing pod across the lunar landscape so many times that you run out of fuel, you can always try to salvage the space program’s integrity for another quarter. (Atari, 1979)

See the videoMemories: Atari’s first foray into vector graphics was old news by computer mainframe standards. The basic premise of Lunar Lander had been around as a text-only game, blasting craters into college students’ productivity and computer lab time, for years. Continue reading

Out Of This World! / Helicopter Rescue!

Out Of This World! / Helicopter Rescue!The Game: In this two-for-one game, you take to the skies in one of two different ways. Out Of This World! is a classic lunar lander game, in which you must balance your descent speed and your remaining fuel to make a safe landing on the surface of the moon, and then safely return to dock with your command module in orbit again. Helicopter Rescue! is a simplistic game in which you pilot a helicopter, trying to retrieve as many people as possible from a doomed hotel and take them safely to a nearby ground station. Precision and timing are of the essence. (Honestly, though, we never see what’s wrong with that hotel – there’s no evidence of fire, terrorists, massive fiddygibber infestations…) (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: I grew up a space buff, and by the time this game came around – and keep in mind, kids, 1979 was only the tenth anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing – I thought it was so cool to have even a rudimentary spaceflight simulation on my state-of-the-art Odyssey2. Continue reading

Space Panic

Space PanicThe Game: An astronaut is trapped in an enclosed, vertical space with aliens who have a taste for human flesh. With his oxygen supply running out, he must dig holes in the floors of the multi-level structure and lure the aliens into those holes, which gives him mere seconds to dispose of the trapped aliens by filling the holes in. Clearing a level of aliens replenishes the oxygen tank and deposits the player on a new screen full of aliens, some of whom require extra effort – namely, the carefully-planned digging of an entire vertical shaft to fall through – to kill. (Universal, 1980)

Memories: A fiendishly hard and oft-copied game (particularly in the home computer arena, where it inspired such games as Apple Panic and Lode Runner), Space Panic may well be the first game of its kind: a game in which the player controls someone climbing up and down vertical levels on the screen. Continue reading

Asteroids

AsteroidsBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of free-floating asteroids, but the job isn’t easy – Newton’s laws of motion must be obeyed, even by asteroids. When you blow a big rock into little chunks, those chunks go zipping off in opposite directions with the speed and force imparted by the amount of energy you used to dispel them. To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable hyperspace escape mechanism and a pesky UFO that likes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. (Atari, 1980)

See the original TV adMemories: This better-than-average translation of Atari’s own arcade smash-hit (in every sense of the term) probably has a lot to do with the game’s enduring popularity. Continue reading

Blasto

BlastoThe Game: Piloting your mobile cannon around a cluttered playfield, you have but one task: clear the screen of mines, without blowing yourself up, in the time allotted. If you don’t clear the screen, or manage to detonate a mine so close See the videoto yourself that it takes you out, the game is over. If you do clear all the mines, you get a free chance to try it again. Two players can also try to clear the minefield simultaneously. (Texas Instruments, 1980)

Memories: Programmed for TI by Milton Bradley‘s in-house video game group under contract, Blasto is an adaptation of an oscure 1978 B&W arcade game, and while the TI 99/4a has no problem replicating the game play, it has virtually no choice but to improve on the arcade Blasto‘s almost-nonexistent graphics and sound. Continue reading

Colony 7

Colony 7Buy this gameThe Game: You’re in charge of defenses at Colony 7. Even though a shield protects the settlement’s power generators, weapons and populated buildings, the onslaught of alien intruders gradually and inevitably wears that shield down. Once holes have been bored through the shield, the aliens have a clear shot at Colony 7 – and you’re toast. You’re the colony’s last hope, aiming your crosshairs at anything that threatens the surface. (Taito, 1981)

Memories: Does Colony 7 look a little familiar? If so, think of another game from roughly the same era. Not a translation of the arcade game, but an Atari 2600 cartridge with roughly the same style of game play. Continue reading

Space Battle

Space BattleBuy this gameThe Game: You command a mighty battleship with three squadrons of fighters at your disposal to fend off five alien attack fleets. You can manually dispatch your fighter squadrons, send them directly into battle, and recall them to See the original TV addefend your ship. When your fighters go into battle, you can assume control personally and engage in a dogfight with the agile enemy fighters, or you can let the computer fight your battles on autopilot (it’ll get the job done, but usually with an undesirable, if not unacceptable, rate of losses for your side). The game ends when your squadrons have eliminated all of the converging alien fleets, or when the aliens have made quick work of both your squadrons and your command ship. (Mattel Electronics, 1979)

Memories: In 1979, Glen Larson’s TV space epic Battlestar Galactica was as hot a property as you could get on the small screen, with its movie-scale special effects (or at least, the show’s underbudgeted and overworked producers and special effects wizards hoped you thought the effects were movie-scale). Having watched rival toy maker Kenner score a major coup with the license to manufacture toys based on Star Wars, Mattel quickly stepped in to snag the rights for Battlestar Galactica. Short of whatever Star Wars sequel George Lucas turned out next, Galactica was as close as you could get to the next big thing. Continue reading

Domino Man

Domino ManThe Game: The town square or the local golf course seems like a reasonable place to set up a huge row of dominoes, doesn’t it? Well, your on-screen protagonist sure seems to think so, and your job is to help him set up his dominoes without allowing any of a number of on-screen “enemies” – such as absent-minded shoppers pushing carts, bees, or a bemuscled bonehead – to knock the dominoes over. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Another incredibly fun and offbeat coin-op from the gang at Bally/Midway, Domino Man was a whimsical little number which set all of its action to the music of ragtime maestro Scott Joplin. If only for that reason, this was one of the few arcade games that my mother used to get a kick out of (not that she tried it herself, of course – she just kept chuckin’ quarters at me, bless her heart). 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

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

Cosmic Creeps

Cosmic CreepsThe Game: Aliens are after your kids! Fortunately, you’re armed with a resource that not everyone has: your own flying saucer. In the opening screen, you have to return to the saucer to resume command, and then you signal your kids to come up, one by one, as you try to pick off alien pursuers who are hot on their trail. If you’re See the videonot careful, you can actually zap the kids instead. If an alien manages to reach your saucer, someone else will have to give your kids a ride home from the star academy… (Telesys, 1982)

Memories: It may not have been the biggest, most obvious name in software for the 2600, but I have to give Telesys top marks for coming up with cool ideas for their games. Cosmic Creeps is a great example of what Telesys was best at, and it’s a lot of fun too. Continue reading

Omega Race

Omega RaceThe Game: In an enclosed track in space, you pilot a sleek, lone space fighter up against an army of mine-laying opponents. In early rounds of the Omega Race, only a few minelayers activate at a time…but in later rounds, they all deploy their full arsenal at you at once, leaving you to dodge through a deadly maze in zero gravity while trying to turn to draw a bead on your opponents. You can bounce off of the walls of the track, but anything else is deadly to touch. (CBS Electronics, under license from Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Cashing in on Omega Race‘s cult following in arcades – it was Midway‘s direct response to the Newtonian physics of Atari‘s AsteroidsCBS gave its home version of Omega Race the dubious distinction of being playable only with the included Booster Grip joystick “enhancer” – and as many second-hand copies of Omega Race have circulated on the collectors’ market without the Booster Grip, some gamers have been scratching their heads in bewilderment. Continue reading

Reactor

ReactorThe Game: In a bizarre combination of pinball, zero gravity, and nuclear physics, you pilot your “ship” around a reactor chamber, trying to eliminate rogue radioactive particles (which are about the same size as your ship). Anything touching the outer walls of the chamber will be destroyed, including your on-screen alter ego. Two pairs of five rods can be used to cool down the ever-expanding nuclear reaction at the center of the screen, but you can only push the rods in by bumping the particle into them head-on. Trapping particles in either of two cul-de-sacs in the upper right and lower left corners of the playing field will earn you bonus points, and the best way to accomplish this is to plant one of your limited number of decoys at the entrance to one of the smaller areas. In early levels, you can keep your back to the reactor and hug it as you bounce the particles off of it, but in later levels, the reactions are exposed and become just as deadly to you as to the walls are. (Parker Brothers, 1982)

Memories: A game attempt at translating Gottlieb‘s sleeper hit coin-op, Reactor for the Atari 2600 may lose some of its first audiovisual grain in the translation, but it’s still Reactor – well, kinda. The rockin’ music is mangled (though I have to give the programmers of the 2600 port some points for the effort of even trying to mimic it), and its free-roaming action was never intended to be confined to the clumsy control of a joystick. (Though after playing Reactor with the Wico Command Control trakball, I still have to say that this is a long way off from playing Reactor in the arcade with a trakball.) Continue reading

Smithereens!

Smithereens!The Game: Armed with a catapult and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of projectiles (sorry, Python fans, no cows!), your task is to repeatedly and continuously smash your opponent’s castle, his catapult (rendering him harmless for a few See the videoseconds), or your opponent himself (much the same effect; a new enemy soldier enters the fray after a few seconds). (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: Possibly the best two-player Odyssey2 game there ever was, Smithereens! was exceedingly simple, and simply some of the best fun to be had on this game system. Continue reading

Spy’s Demise (Apple II)

Spy's DemiseThe Game: Players control a spy sneaking through a building looking for secret information. High-speed elevators zoom up and down their cables throughout each See the videofloor at random intervals, making it difficult to accomplish the goal of crossing to the other side of the screen (the only way to ascend to the next floor). It takes skill, timing and nerves of steel to keep one’s spies from their demise. (Penguin Software, 1982)

Memories: An addictively fun and frustrating early entry on the Apple II computer, Alan Zeldin’s Spy’s Demise gave players some real elevator action. 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.