Bubble Bobble

Bubble BobbleBuy this gameThe Game: You control a friendly-looking lizard named Bub (and, if you have a second player, they control his blue-tinged twin, Bob). Your See the videomission is simple – use your natural defenses to do away with a multi-tiered screen full of monsters. And your natural defense? Of course, like so many members of the reptile family, you blow bubbles which trap your enemies, and then jump up to pop those bubbles (popping the predators in the process). In many cases, a just-popped enemy will deposit a tasty treat which you have to grab for bonus points within seconds before the treat vanishes. Clearing the screen of critters takes you automatically to the next level. (Taito, 1986)

The Game: I’m not going to delve too deeply into how original this game is (or isn’t) – one can see the Mario Bros. influence pretty clearly – but Bubble Bobble is a lot of fun, and it’s the starting point of Taito’s most enduring “cute” franchise. Continue reading

Joust 2: Survival Of The Fittest

Joust 2Buy this gameThe Game: Mount up that ostrich and ride into battle once more, this time in strange new environments such as “The Altar,” “The Blues,” a deadly mechanical warrior which can be dismantled by lancing strategic points, and crystal caves filled with killer bats. If all this sounds like too much for an armored guy on a lousy See the videoostrich, you’re right, it is – and this is why you can transform into a Pegasus, which is a larger target and harder to keep in the air, but can take out more armored guys on lousy ostriches – and they can’t turn their steeds into flying horses. Beware, buzzard bait! (Williams, 1986)

Memories: I have to admit, I only became aware of the existence of a sequel to Williams’ immortal Joust in the late ’90s…and even now that I’ve gotten to play it, the jury’s still out. Joust needed a sequel about like The Matrix needs a sequel – meaning not at all. Both were fine as stand-alones, and didn’t need to be turned into franchises. Continue reading

Galaga

GalagaThe Game: Commanding a small fleet of sleek fighter ships, you’re up against an alien invasion, arriving in wave after unfriendly wave. Alien fighters resemble butterflies and bees, but the real prize is the handful of motherships which arrives See the videowith each wave. Capable of taking two hits – the first weakens them and turns them dark blue, the second destroys them – the motherships also come equipped with a tractor beam with which to snare your fighters. But if one of your fighters is captured, and you can destroy the mothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: It took three years for anyone to bring this game to any home video game or computer platform. Who knows why? I never thought it was all that complicated, but apparently not even the ColecoVision or the 5200 were up to the task. Continue reading

Galaga: Demons Of Death

Galaga: Demons Of DeathThe Game: Commanding a small fleet of sleek fighter ships, you’re up against an alien invasion, arriving in wave after unfriendly wave. Alien fighters resemble butterflies and bees, but the real prize is the handful of motherships See the videowhich arrives with each wave. Capable of taking two hits – the first weakens them and turns them dark blue, the second destroys them – the motherships also come equipped with a tractor beam with which to snare your fighters. But if one of your fighters is captured, and you can destroy the mothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Bandai, 1988)

Memories: Despite being one of the most consistent arcade hits of the early ’80s, Galaga seemed to be left out in the cold for years before coming to the home console scene. The first attempt, Atari’s passable Galaga cartridge for the Atari 7800, didn’t quite have the audiovisual flair of the arcade version. By the time the NES version was released, it was clear that things had changed – for all intents and purposes, this was the arcade game, and it looked and sounded and played just like the original. When the litmus test of ’80s consoles was arcade authenticity, you just couldn’t do better than that. Continue reading

Ribbit!

Ribbit!The Game: Two frogs, Bull and Pip, set out on a hazardous journey…to find some flies to eat. They must grab yummy flies while avoiding several lanes of poisonous spider “traffic”, and they also have to cross the occasional river on See the videothe backs of turtles and logs, snatching more flies out of the air without falling into the water. Each screen is cleared by the frogs eating the required number of flies. (Sega, 1991)

Memories: It’s not Frogger. It’s not even officially a sequel to Frogger (by this time, Konami, the originators of that game, had reasserted their ownership rights). But I’ll be croaked if Ribbit! isn’t at least “inspired by” Frogger – how that one didn’t get the lawyers suited up for an amphibious mission, we may never know. Continue reading

Elevator Action

Elevator ActionThe Game: As a daring spy, you break into a top secret enemy facility, trying to grab vital secrets and evade or kill as many enemy agents as you can. Your only means of getting from floor to floor through most of the game is via the elevator – which gives you an advantage and also makes you vulnerable. (Taito, 1991)

See the videoMemories: I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, audiovisually (and, for the most part, game-play wise as well), the original B&W Game Boy’s version of Elevator Action is incredibly faithful to the arcade game. On the other hand, there are major changes to the structure of the game that I’ve never been crazy about. Put simply, Elevator Action on the Game Boy adds some NES-era conventions to a game that just didn’t need them. 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

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

Super Godzilla

Super GodzillaOrder this gameThe Game: It’s Godzilla against the world in Super Godzilla, a game that pits the giant green monster against everything from other giant monsters to tanks, aliens, and UFOs. The future of the world lies in Godzilla’s success. (Toho, 1993)

Memories: The 16-bit Super Nintendo (SNES) was light years ahead of its predecessor, the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The Super Nintendo boasted huge improvements in both graphics and sound, which games like Super Godzilla brilliantly demonstrated. Unfortunately all that newfound crunching power didn’t always guarantee better game play, to which Super Godzilla is also a testament. It’s a great looking game that wasn’t much fun to play. Continue reading

Namco Classic Collection Volume 2

Namco Classic Collection Volume 2The Game: Three of the most popular games from Namco’s arcade heyday are brought back in the ’90s, both in their original forms and in “remixed” versions with updated sound and graphics and tweaks to the game play. Pac-Man Arrangement adds power-ups, new mazes, new graphics and a whole new breed of See the videomonsters to the most classic arcade game of the 80s, while Rally-X Arrangement refuels with power-ups and audiovisual enhancements of its own. Dig Dug Arrangement revamps the underground classic with a new breed of enemies – and a new variety of ways to eliminate them. (Namco, 1996)

Memories: Building on the success of the Namco Classic Collection Volume 1 coin-op compilation, Namco returned here to the jewel in its crown. Not that Mappy or Xevious are anything to sneeze at, mind you, and Galaga certainly isn’t a minor entry in the arcade pantheon. But how can you possibly beat a revisitation of Pac-Man? 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

Battleship

BattleshipThe Game: Two fleets of four warships conduct long-distance naval warfare, randomly firing torpedoes (and occasionally some higher-powered ordnance) at each other, guessing at the positions of their targets. Whoever sinks the entire opposing fleet first is the victor. (Hasbro Interactive, 1999)

Memories: This game will always have a special place in my heart. Imagine, if you will, my new bride and I, laying in bed on our honeymoon, glistening candlelight reflected in our link cable, trying to blow up each other’s fleets in a two-player death match. Most couples wait a while before they try to shred each other viciously. But this is one of those advances they talk about with modern technology. Continue reading

Godzilla Generations

Godzilla: GenerationsThe Game: Smash your way though half a dozen cities as one of several incarnations of Godzilla. (Sega, 1999)

Memories: Some people claim the Dreamcast tanked due to the release of Sony’s Playstation 2. Others say the Dreamcast failed because of widespread piracy of the system’s games. My own personal theory is that the Dreamcast failed because Godzilla Generations sucked so badly. Continue reading

Star Trek: Starfleet Command

Star Trek: Starfleet CommandOrder this gameThe Game: As the captain of one of Starfleet’s ships of the line, your assignments range from routine patrol duty to full-on combat with Klingons, Romulans, Hydrans, Lyrans or Gorn. You may eventually even attain control of a small fleet, issuing orders to each ship in turn to accomplish your mission. Standard 23rd century armaments like phasers and photon torpedoes are at your disposal, as are other offensive measures as sensor decoys and suicide shuttles. But remember, since Starfleet’s the good guys, the enemy will always have more wicked weapons than you. Stay on your toes, Captain. (Interplay, 1999)

Memories: How close did this game come to being classified as a Retro Revival? It’s based on a pencil-paper-and-dice turn-based tactical game that’s older than even Pac-Man. We’re talking, of course, about Star Fleet Battles, which served as the inspiration for this really snazzy bit of Trek gaming. Who doesn’t remember the 20-sided dice, the hex-grid maps, and the starship markers and miniatures with the hexagonal bases? I’d go so far as to say that Star Fleet Battles kept the Trek franchise alive in the minds of fans the same way that Kenner’s action figures kept the faithful adhered to the Star Wars saga, even after the third movie passed with no signs of a seuqel or prequel to come. Continue reading

Lego Rock Raiders

Lego Rock RaidersOrder this gameThe Game: The Rock Raiders are zipping through space, looking for another planet to explore, when a gigantic wormhole opens up and whisks them into the next galaxy. Before you can say “Mister Paris, engage!,” Chief and his crew are already scouting out new worlds to mine. One planet seems like a particularly promising candidate, but sensors detect other life forms there. Your job is to help various members of the Rock Raiders crew perform mining, exploration and rescue tasks on the surface of this strange new world as safely as possible. (Lego Media, 2000)

Memories: This may be just about the coolest game I’ve seen on the Playstation since MTV Music Generator. Now, you’re probably already laughing it up, wondering why in the world someone who’s pushing 30 is playing a game where the protagonists are well-rendered little Lego men (yep, just like the ones that come with the toys). But believe it or not, despite the exceedingly simple early tutorial missions that kick things off, this is actually quite the crafty little real-time strategy game. Continue reading

Katamari Damacy

Katamari DamacyOrder this gameYou control the pint-sized Prince, whose dad, the massive King of All Cosmos, seems to have inadvertently blotted out every star in the night sky. Now, your old man is sending you on a mission to go down to Earth – a planet blessed with a lot of stuff – to gather that stuff into large sticky clumps called katamari. You start out small, picking up tiny everyday items like pushpins and matchsticks, but as your katamari grows in size, it can pick up larger objects – frogs and mice, crabs, dogs and cats, people, cows, cars, trees, and eventually even things like buildings and giant squids. At the beginning of each stage, you’re tasked to accumulate enough stuff to grow your katamari to a predetermined diameter, and once the timer runs out for that stage, your katamari is either launched into the sky to become a new star See the video(don’t ask us about the astrophysics on this one, because this game’s universe throws the whole hydrogen-and-helium thing out the window), or the King of All Cosmos returns to chide you for your puny efforts and makes you start again. There’s also a split-screen battle mode where two players can not only build up their katamari, but hurl their katamari at each other; a katamari of sufficient size can engulf your opponent and his katamari too! (Namco, 2004)

Katamari DamacyMemories: I love Namco. When I go looking up my favorite classic arcade games of all time, they’re almost all by Namco. And some of them are so strange. I mean, think about Pac-Man on a purely conceptual level. Or Dig Dug. Or Phozon. Now apply the same attempt at a logical explanation to Katamari Damacy. (Good luck.) Give up? Even a generation later, Namco’s still turning out some great, offbeat, innovative, fun games. Continue reading

Kill The Attacking Aliens

Kill The Attacking AliensAliens are attacking several idyllic locales on Earth, and it’s your job to fend off the attack. Not only are you charged with blasting the aliens themselves out of the sky, but you must intercept as much of their incoming fire as possible before it hits targets on the See the videoground. If you save the various trees and cars and castles and trains and boats and whatnot, not only have you earned the gratitude of the human race, you get big bonus points too, and we all know which is more important. Your highly maneuverable ship is equipped with shields which allow you to absorb the impact of collisions with the alien ships, as well as protecting you from direct hits from their weapons. But each hit and collision takes a significant chunk out of your shields. You can replenish them with power-ups left behind by fallen aliens, but when your shields run out and your ship takes another hit, your alien-killing days are over. (Soren Gust [published by Packrat Video Games], 2004)

Memories: Let me go back and read that again. Shields and power-ups and scores into the thousands? Did I just write that about an Odyssey2 game? Yes. Yes, I did. Five years in the making, Kill The Attacking Aliens (a.k.a. KTAA) is one of those projects that demonstrates everything that is good about homebrew games for classic consoles. Continue reading

Planet Lander!

Planet Lander!Buy this gameThe Game: Your spaceship falls toward a forbidden, craggy landscape where there’s only one safe landing spot. Using your ship’s landing engine, you have to guide it down to the surface for a picture-perfect landing – not too fast, not at an angle, and without running out of fuel in the process. After each successful landing, you move on to another world, and another spaceship in need of your piloting skills. (Ted Sczcypiorski [published by Packrat Video Games], 2004)

See the videoMemories: So, another iteration of Lunar Lander for my amusement. You may be thinking to yourself, “I’m already trying not to crash-land my ship in Out Of This World!, so why would I want to do the same here?” The answer is simple – where the aforementioned classic Odyssey2 spaceship-landing title gives you control of nothing but thrust, Planet Lander gives you the whole crap-your-pants-and-hold-your-breath-while-you-look-for-a-place-to-set-down-in-the-Sea-of-Tranquility shebang. So to speak. It’s on a par with Lunar Lander for replay value, and boasts unusually intricate graphics for an Odyssey2 game, homebrew or otherwise. Continue reading

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