Lode Runner

Lode RunnerThe Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the holes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you happen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Broderbund, 1983)

Memories: Originally designed and programmed on the Apple II, Lode Runner impressed Broderbund enough that ports to other systems were a high priority. But a major difference in the control scheme for the Apple and Atari computers caused Lode Runner to lose something in translation. Continue reading

Lode Runner

Lode RunnerThe Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the See the videoholes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you happen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Broderbund, 1983)

Memories: Surely one of the “killer app” games of the early home computer era – right up there with anything in the Wizardry, Ultima or Infocom series – Lode Runner rocked my world way back when. I have to limit myself on praising this game, or this page is never gonna finish loading: it buries the needle on the excellence meters in both the action and puzzle genres, makes some of the best use ever of the Apple II’s hi-res graphics mode, and it even sounds good on the Apple (which is no small feat). 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

Power Lords: Quest For Volcan

Power Lords: Quest For VolcanThe Game: As superhero Adam Power, you’re the pilot of a space sled on patrol around the explosive Volcan Rock, and what better cover for the bad guys? An enormous laser-eyed space serpent is coiled around the mountain, and you have to take it down single-handedly. Once See the videoyou’ve baked the snake, you land your sled on the surface and have a shootout with Gryptogg, Raygoth and Arkus. Once you’ve beaten them back, you can explore the underground caverns, collecting their instruments of evil and exchanging fire with them again. When you escape from their maze, you advance to the next level and begin the fight anew. (North American Philips / Probe 2000, 1983 – unreleased)

Memories: This Colecovision adaptation of the Odyssey2 game (now there’s a phrase you’re never going to see again), based on a less-than-blockbuster-successful series of comics and action figures, adds more depth to the game than the dear old Odyssey ever could’ve managed. But it’s hard to tell how much depth, as the game was never completed. 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

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

Timber

TimberThe Game: You’re a lumberjack and you’re okay. Your job is to chop down every tree that grows on the screen, without letting the trees fall on you. Birds are sometime dislodged from their nests as you chop down the trees, and they can be collected for additional points. Bears show up and throw beehives at you, which a lucky swing of the axe can destroy before they do any harm, but it’s altogether more likely that, unless dodged, a beehive will knock your lumberjack over and release a swarm of bees with their own sting operation in mind. You advance to the next level by clearing all of the trees in the time alotted; doing so with time to spare earns a bonus from the big boss; occasional bonus screens challenge you to keep your lumberjack from falling off a rolling log. (Midway, 1984)

Memories: One of those offbeat gems that emerged in the ’80s with Midway’s relatively powerful new MCR (Midway Cart Rack) architecture, Timber is a quirky little game that has the unusual advantage of being nothing like any game that preceded it. (It’s hard to think of another game like it that came afterward, for that matter.) 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, See the videowhich 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 your tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (Atari, 1984)

Memories: Still clinging tenaciously to a licensing agreement that gave it the right to publish Dig Dug in the U.S., Atari dug in its heels and released Dig Dug for the Atari 7800. Fortunately – for Atari, that is – Namco opted not to issue the same game in that territory, leaving it an exclusive for owners of the Famicom, Japan’s equivalent to the NES. Continue reading

Dragonfire

DragonfireThe Game: You’re another treasure-hunting glory seeker who’s about to meet more than his match. If you can survive crossing the drawbridge into the castle – a task made incredibly difficult by the glowing fireballs of dragon breath being hurled toward you – you’ve got an even more hazardous obstacle ahead: the dragon himself is guarding a huge stash of treasure. Even if he can’t stop you from pocketing every shiny thing in the castle, chances are you won’t make it out alive. (Imagic, 1984)

Memories: A nicely dolled-up version of a game that was already a lot of fun on the Atari 2600 and Intellivision, Dragonfire is one of Imagic‘s few Colecovision entries. The game is still fun, but now it looks simply incredible too. 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

Tapper

TapperThe Game: As a beleaguered bartender, you have to serve drinks to an endless onslaught of bar patrons, never allowing them to reach the See the videoend of the bar. You must also pick up empty glasses as they slide back toward you, and you can also grab a tip whenever one briefly appears. Clearing the screen of all pixellated hardened drinkers – erm, sorry, soft drinkers – takes you to the next screen, and other scenarios, including outdoor sporting events. (Bally/Midway-Sega, 1984)

Memories: When the U.S. video game industry fell on hard times, Sega sold off its American division to Bally/Midway. Having previously tried to maintain more direct control of home versions of its arcade games through an overall licensing deal with CBS Electronics‘ game division, Bally/Midway now had a more direct pipeline to the consumer market by using the home video game division that Sega had launched to exploit its own arcade titles (such as Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom and Congo Bongo). Continue reading

Skyfox

SkyfoxThe Game: The invasion is on, and as usual, you’re the only thing standing between Earth and alien domination. (Ever wonder why no one else is answering their pagers at times like these when the call goes out?) Fortunately, your aircraft is See the videoa kick-ass piece of military hardware, capable everything from breaking the sound barrier to hovering, helicopter-like, over a friendly installation to defend from an onslaught of enemy tanks. But the enemy makes up for its occasionally lackluster hardware with impressive numbers – and whether the hail of gunfire is coming from their tanks, their jets, or their motherships (which look suspiciously like little Comet Empires from Star Blazers), you can rack up a fatal amount of damage pretty quickly. (Electronic Arts, 1984)

Memories: To my day, Skyfox is still my favorite combat flight sim. Actually, it’s one of my all-time favorite flight sims, combat or otherwise. Continue reading

Wrecking Crew

Wrecking CrewThe Game: Mario toils away on a construction site when his tools turn against him and start acting like, well, tools. Now Mario has to outfox his own tools and demolish the platforms around them – maybe taking the tools out in the process. He has his trusty hammer, and strategically placed bombs help to speed the process as well (but can be dangerous if Mario hangs around too close). Great care must be taken to demolish the structures in the correct order so access isn’t cut off to areas needed to finish the level. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: Possibly the most obscure of Mario’s career detours, this game at least depicts Mario in the same job he was pursuing before Donkey Kong came along: as a construction worker of some kind, rather than a plumber. At its heart, though, Wrecking Crew is about blowing stuff up – in the right order – rather than building anything. It’s a neat puzzle game disguised as a platformer. 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

Ghostbusters

GhostbustersSee the videoThe Game: Supernarural, paranormal investigations and eliminations are the order of the day, as you open your own ghost busting franchise. You start with a finite budget and have to make some savvy choices about vehicles and gear; then it’s time to strap on a proton pack, get behind the wheel of the Ectomobile, and cruise around the Big Apple watching for flashing red buildings (telltale signs of a poltergeist party in progress). When you arrive on the scene, a little bit of driving is required, which gives you the chance to mop up a few free-roaming full-torso vaporous apparitions off the streets, Ghostbustersbefore you arrive at your destination and try to trap a ghost without crossing the streams. All the while, supernatural forces are converging on a site formerly known as the temple of Zuul, and when the paranormal powers there reach a critical mass, it’s time for roasted marshmallow – or the end of the world. (Activision, 1985)

Memories: A nice balance of arcade action segments and some resource-management strategy, Ghostbusters manages to capture the inherent humor of the movie (failure to capture a ghost results in one or both of your men getting “slimed”) and yet succeeds as a game too. Continue reading

High Rise

High RiseThe Game: Think of it as the anti-Tetris. Five hoppers dispense geometric shapes on your command. As Barnaby, you move the pieces into place to build the most stable structure you possibly can, and if you manage to build a high enough tower, you climb to the top and advance to the next level. The first level’s shapes are fairly easy, but as you advance through levels, the pieces take on stranger and stranger shapes – and balancing them becomes harder. In later levels, you start rounds with oddball shapes already in place on the playing field, making your task that much harder. The game ends when the timer runs out without the completion of a stable structure. (Micro Learn, 1985)

Memories: Move over, Bob the Builder. This inventive little learning game, designed to teach correlations between shapes, is addictive no matter what your age is – and frankly, I’m disappointed that it hasn’t been reborn as a simple PC game, or perhaps a Game Boy title. Continue reading

Mail Order Monsters

Mail Order MonstersThe Game: Put your money where your fangs are in this monster mash-up that pits twelve different types of creatures against each other in the ultimate battle for survival. Arm your creature with the best weapons and armor to prepare him for games of Capture the Flag, Tournament-Style Battles, or an all out invasion. (Electronic Arts, 1985)

Memories: In the fall of 1985, my parents opened Yukon Software, a computer store specializing in PC, Apple and Commodore software. Every week I drooled over the stacks of brand new games my parents received to stock their shelves with. Occasionally I’d talk my dad into letting me open a game to demo it on one of our in-store computers. Mail Order Monsters was one of those games. The thought of building and battling monsters really appealed to me as a young teenager, a fantasy Mail Order Monsters delivered. Continue reading

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