51 Shades of Geek

Suicide Mission

Suicide MissionThe Game: On a somewhat fantastic voyage into the human body, you’re in a tiny ship (presumably with Martin Short along for the ride) on a mission to blast diseased cells out of the bloodstream. Naturally, it’s not as easy a task as it sounds; the cells See the videosplit into smaller cells when you zap them, and you have to clear even the tiniest remnants off the screen before advancing to the next treatment. (Arcadia, 1982)

Memories: As with several of the earliest cassette-based games for the Supercharger add-on, Suicide Mission clearly owes a debt to an existing game that had already been released on the 2600. However, the prognosis is a bit grim here; this is a rare case where the game’s designers should made very sure that their game was an improvement on what came before. As both games suffer from severe sprite flicker, Asteroids comes out as the obvious winner here. Continue reading

Discs Of Tron

Discs Of TronBuy this gameThe Game: It’s the final confrontation between good and evil in the digital world! As video warrior Tron, you unleash up to three deadly discs in the direction of your arch-enemy Sark, who can return the favor in kind – with interest, since he has a larger arsenal at his See the videodisposal. All the while, you must also avoid falling off of the floating platforms, and try to keep a good aim on your opponent. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Midway’s second salute to Tron, that 1982 cult-classic film favorite among computer users and video game enthusiasts alike, took the form of a positively enormous “stand-in” wraparound cabinet with a large screen. (Not seen in the ubiquitous MAME-generated series of screen shots is the colorful background artwork, which was a scene from the movie.) Continue reading

I, Robot

I, RobotThe Game: A huge, Big Brother-like head pops up and says “The law: no jumping!” to your little robot, and naturally, the cocky little automaton has other ideas (replying “Oh yeah!”). And so your mission begins, guiding the robot over See the videoramps, around narrow catwalks, and leaping across huge chasms. If the all-seeing eye opens while your robot it jumping, however, a blaster turns your hero into a heap of spare parts. If you successfully claim all of the red area on the screen, you have a narrow “launch window” in which to jump across to the eye’s platform and destroy it. The your robot launches into space, blowing away obstacles in his path, avoiding saucers and solid objects, and eventually landing on another series of ramps and catwalks to begin the quest anew. And if that doesn’t do it for you, you can put in another quarter and relax in Doodle City. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Once arcade games caught on as the profitable concern of the 80s, it seemed like everyone who had even the tip of a single finger in the electronics or coin-operated business glutted the market with barely-disguised riffs on the Pac-Man or Defender or Space Invaders concepts, saturating a previously innovative market with cheap copycat games (or, in a few cases until the attorneys caught up with them, outright bootlegs). In many ways, this parallels the Atari-era crash of the home video game cartridge industry, and it’s hardly a coincidence that both industries suffered simultaneous catastrophic shakedowns. Continue reading

Marvin’s Maze

Marvin's MazeThe Game: Marvin built a maze on two levels, with habitrail-style tunnels to take him from the first floor to the second and back again, and all was well until the Robonoids moved in and took over. Now they’re out to evict Marvin from his own turf! It’s up to you to guide Marvin through his maze, using cunning one-way bridges to escape from the Robonoids and find the power-ups he needs to zap them. Marvin moves on to See the videothe next maze (and the next level of difficulty) only by clearing this maze of power-ups and dots. (SNK, 1983)

Memories: I hadn’t heard of this one before, and now I wonder why. In a way, there’s more than a passing resemblance to Crystal Castles, but there’s also a little bit of an homage to Pac-Man‘s power pellets and a little bit of shooting too. So now it’s like Crystal Butt-Kickin’ Castles. With cute character designs that are worthy of Q*Bert. Continue reading

Mr. Do!’s Castle

Mr. Do!'s CastleThe Game: As cuddly clown Mr. Do, you’re scrambling to squish all the unicorns who are invading your castle. You can repel them momentarily with your clown hammer, but you can only squish them permanently by knocking a brick out from the floor above. Most bricks contain cherries, but some also contain keys that See the videounlock the door at the top. When that door is completely unlocked, touching it will transform the unicorns into letters that make up the word EXTRA. As with Mr. Do!, collecting all five letters merits an extra “life.” Clearing the screen of monsters or cherries advances you to the next level. (Universal, 1983)

Memories: Another of my favorite obscure games, Mr. Do!’s Castle is truly cool, fun and addictive – all the requisite qualities of a good video game. In my mind, it easily outshines the original Mr. Do! by miles, and is one of the most unique and original entries in the ladders-and-levels genre since Donkey Kong. Continue reading

Atlantis

AtlantisThe Game: Hostile spacecraft are bombing the underwater paradise of Atlantis from above. Manning two cannons, you can knock the attacking ships out of the sky – or try to hit them at close range if they dive to bombing See the videoaltitutde. When all of Atlantis’ landmarks have been wiped out, the game is over. (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: Once again, Imagic turned out a superb port of their already well-known Atari 2600 and Intellivision chestnut for the underserved Odyssey 2. Of Imagic’s two games for the Odyssey, Atlantis is the better title, though both were excellent games. Continue reading

Bump ‘N’ Jump

Bump 'N' JumpThe Game: The race is on, and no moves are off-limits – bump your competitors off the road (and into apparently highly volatile vegetation that causes them to explode), or jump over them and any other obstacles that get in your way, See the videoincluding areas of water that cover the road. If you survive the race, you live on to the next round – at least until you run out of cars. (M Network, 1983)

Memories: One of a very few arcade licenses snagged by Mattel for the Intellivision and for the M Network line of games for the Atari 2600 and other platforms, Bump ‘N’ Jump has a bumpy ride as it jumps to the relatively underpowered Atari. Continue reading

The Official Frogger

The Official 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 edge of a river, where you must keep yourself from drowning by crossing safely to your grotto at the top See the videoof the screen by leaping across the backs of turtles and logs. But watch out for snakes and alligators! (Starpath, 1983)

Memories: Making crafty use of a loophole in Parker Bros.’ license for Frogger, which specified that Parkers had permission to market cartridge-based versions of the game, the plucky programmers at Starpath proceeded to make a far superior edition of Frogger for the 2600 and got it on the market by licensing the rights to do a cassette-based version. Continue reading

Oink!

Oink!Buy this gameThe Game: As one of the Three Little Pigs, your job is to make sure the bricks of your porcine pals’ dwelling is strong enough to withstand the assault of the Big Bad Wolf, whose tongue resembles that of some kind of poisonous frog (if he knocks a big enough hole in the pigs’ brick wall, he can fire his tongue through the opening and “sting” your pig…!?). The game continues until you repair the wall…or run out of little pigs. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: This amusing little gem from Activision seems to borrow a little bit from Taito‘s Zoo Keeper coin-op, in which one controls the zoo guru in question, trying to make sure that wild critters such as snakes and elephants stay bricked into their cages. At least the same basic game concepts seem to be shared.

Oink! is a hysterical little game whose deceptively cutesy 4 quarters!characters may have caught more than one player off guard – the game soon achieves a frantic pace. The three little pigs/big bad wolf elements are also present in Konami‘s Pooyan, in which Mama Pig fights back (and boy, does she look pissed!).

Pengo

PengoThe Game: As a cute, fuzzy, harmless little penguin, you roam around an enclosed maze of ice blocks. If this sounds too good to be true – especially for a polar-dwelling avian life form – that’s because you’re not the only critter waddling around in the frozen tundra. Killer Sno-Bees chase little Pengo around the ice, and if they catch up to him and sting him, it’ll cost you a life. But your little flightless waterfowl isn’t completely defenseless. Pengo can push blocks of ice out of the maze, changing the configuration of the playing field and squashing Sno-Bees with a well-timed shove. Clearing the field of Sno-Bees allows you to advance to the next level. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: One of the last Sega games to be released by a manufacturer other than Sega itself, the 2600 edition of Sega’s cutesy coin-op is pretty to look at sometimes, but doesn’t offer much in the way of game play. Continue reading

Power Lords

Power LordsThe Game: As superhero Adam Power, you’re the pilot of a space sled on patrol around the explosive Volcan Rock, an active volcano which frequently blows its top. And what better cover for the bad guys? Gryptogg, Raygoth and See the videoArkus are perfecting their evil plans for a “gravitational ray” which basically amounts to a portable black hole – its gravity can alter the course of your space sled if you’re on a direct horizontal line-of-sight with it. Add to that meteors pummeling the ground from space and the enormous laser-eyed space serpent, and you’ve got your hands full just staying alive, let alone battling evil. (North American Philips, 1983)

Memories: So, friends, it all comes down to this – the last Odyssey2 game ever to hit the store shelves in the United States – and to tell you the truth, it’s a doozie. Power Lords is everything I ask for in a classic video game – a real numb-thumb, sweaty-palms experience that doesn’t let up. Continue reading

Pressure Cooker

Pressure CookerBuy this gameThe Game: The orders are flying fast and furious. The customers are waiting. The clock is ticking. And you’re the only short-order cook in the kitchen. Your job is simple: arrange a series of hamburgers with ingredients indicated by the symbols at the bottom of the screen. Don’t waste any condiments if you can help it, and whatever you do, don’t make a burger with toppings and condiments and then drop it into the wrong delivery chute. If you fill all the orders correctly in the time allotted, you might just get promoted to manager…but chances are, you’ll have to do it all again, only faster this time. (Activision, 1983)

See the videoMemories: This jewel of a game was the second Activision release for Garry Kitchen, who would later bring himself – and Activision – acclaim for a computer program called Game Maker. But for now, Kitchen had recently signed up, along with his brother, as the east coast branch of a company who – along with any other video game company that expected to stay in business – was decidedly located on the west coast. He already had a solid pedigree in the form of a slightly obscure shoot-’em-up, Space Jockey, published by Vidtec (later known as U.S. Games), and a little best-seller called Donkey Kong. He had also been one of the engineers responsible for the very popular miniature electronic pinball game, Wildfire. Continue reading

Sorcerer

SorcererThe Game: You’re the sorcerer, and your first job is to commandeer a magic flying carpet-lookin’ thing that zips randomly through the air above you, taunting you. Once a carpet flies low enough for you to board it (simply by moving the See the videojoystick up), you can go to the right and begin doing battle with all manners of magical adversaries, including trios of non-descript guys and lizards that look like they’ve been decorated for a Fourth of July parade. If they shoot you, you fall off your flying carpet and your body drifts lifelessly to the bottom of the screen. If you shoot them first, they inexplicably transform into treasures that you can pick up before going to the next screen. (Mythicon, 1983)

Memories: I remember sitting in a crowd at the Classic Gaming Expo auction in 2003 and hearing John Hardie pitch the next item – a minty-fresh Mythicon point-of-sale display stocked with still-shrinkwrapped Mythicon game cartridges for the 2600 – as a bunch of games that were essentially the same. I thought he was joking. Now that I have played Sorcerer for myself – having already played and reviewed Firefly here – I have learned that John speaks the truth. 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

Happy Trails

Happy TrailsThe Game: Players control a lawman hot on the trail of a notorious bank robber – a notoriously messy one, it should be noted, since his loot is scattered all over the place. Using the controller, pieces of the maze can be shifted (even while one of the characters is on it) to allow the sheriff to recover the money and capture the bad guy, but while leaving a character going in circles momentarily, letting him wander into the open gap in the maze will cost a precious life. Clearing the maze will restart the chase anew, on a bigger and more complex maze. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: The first Activision title for Intellivision that wasn’t simply an Intellivision version of an Atari 2600 game, Happy Trails raised some serious hackles with the makers of the machine it on which it was designed to run. Continue reading

Impossible Mission / Programmed Trip

The Game: On an enclosed grid, you control a robotic drone whose job is to collect certain items on the grid and deflect enemies away from those items. If you can plant obstacles – which deflect your enemies with 90-degree left or right turns – that lock your pursuers into an inescapable infinite loop, all the better…but more will come. (Ectron, 1983 [unreleased prototype] / custom copies released in 2006)

The Game: An interesting unreleased game which was apparently developed for the South American market (where the Odyssey2, known simply as the Odyssey, was quite the success story) by an outfit called Ectron, Mission Impossible / Programmed Trip is a little like playing a video game by programming in a visual variant of the LOGO programming language. Continue reading

Archon

ArchonThe Game: What if chess pieces were living creatures, each with its own unique abilities? And what if, every time to pieces met on the board, they had to fight amongst themselves to occupy the square in question? That’s Archon in a nutshell. (Electronic Arts, 1983)

Memories: Whoever came up with this game is a total genius. This is the sort of game that won lots of fans in the early days who may not have necessarily been computer or video game afficionados – a modern variation on the game of chess, with arcade-flavored action segments to determine control of contested territories. Continue reading

Juice!

Juice!The Game: You’re the circuit maker, and they’re the circuit breakers. You hop around a maze-like structure, dropping circuitry patterns in your wake, as a variety of adversaries try to stop you from completing a circuit leading from the power source at your starting point to the receptacle across the maze from you. Colliding with See the videoany of them will cost you a life, but you can entice them to try to chase you off the maze and into oblivion while you escape safely. Completing the circuit advances you to the next maze – just on’t get too caught up in your power trip. (Tronix, 1983)

Memories: A neat combination of some well-worn game play elements, Juice is an eminently playable example of taking elements from different games and combining them into a new one. Bits of Pac-Man and Q*Bert, with a hint of Zaxxon‘s 3-D isometric perspective, combine to make Juice! unique and fun. Continue reading

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