51 Shades of Geek

Tic-Tac-Toe / Shooting Gallery / Quadradoodle

Shooting GalleryThe Game: The first Channel F “Videocart” packs three games into one bright yellow package. Shooting Gallery is a straightforward target practice game in which players try to draw a bead on a moving target. Tic-Tac-Toe is the timeless game of strategy in small, enclosed spaces, and Quadradoodle is a simple paint program, long, long before its time. (Fairchild, 1976)

Memories: This is a game that changed everything. For the first time, owners of a home video game console could go into a store, buy something that was less pricey than the console itself, plug it into that console, and play new and different games. Rudimentary games by today’s standards, sure, but in every sense imaginable, Videocart #1 was a game changer. Continue reading

Dynasty!

Dynasty!The Game: Purporting to be based on the ancient Chinese game of Go, Dynasty! is actually more of a variation of Othello. The same strategies apply, and can be played with two players, one against the computer, or – for those who are feeling a little bit lazy – the computer vs. itself. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: One of the things I always remember about the Odyssey2 game Dyntasty! – and I’ll admit, this is the weirdest possible thing to remember – is its player symbols. For a human player, you’ll see the stock O2 stick man, while the computer is represented by a unique symbol, uP – not really a u, but the Greek letter Mu, used to represent “micro” – hence, microprocessor. Pretty obscure terminology for a video game, but then again, this is a fairly obscure (though easy-to-find) game on a relatively obscure console. Continue reading

Checkers

CheckersSee the videoBuy this gameThe Game: The timeless strategy board game of conquest comes to the Intellivision, now with 100% more boopy beepy computerish sounds from the future than any game of Checkers you’ve ever played before! Play alone against the computer, or against a second player. (Mattel Electronics, 1980)

Memories: Almost a prerequisite title for any video game console back in this early days, this version of Checkers is curious in that it devotes a lot of screen real estate to showing you the men that have been taken out of play, and shrinks the board itself down to a relatively small space on the screen. Continue reading

Checkers

CheckersThe Game: The classic game of strategy is faithfully reproduced on the Atari VCS. Two armies of twelve men each advance diagonally across the checkerboard, jumping over opponents and attempting to reach the enemy’s home squares to be crowned. Whoever still has pieces still standing at the end of the game wins. (Activision, 1980, for Atari 2600)

Memories: Programmed at roughly the same time as Atari’s consumer division was working on Video Checkers, Checkers was one of the first four games released by third-party software upstart Activision – the first company to focus solely on making software for other companies’ hardware. Continue reading

Quest For The Rings

Quest For The RingsThe Game: In the opening screen – the mists of time, so the rulebook tells us – two players pick their characters’ classes. Warriors are sword-wielding strongmen, wizards can cast spells from a distance, phantoms can walk through solid walls (but not lava formations), and changelings can become invisible when they move. The two intrepid adventurers then set forth on a quest to retrieve the ten rings of power from randomly selected dungeons and filled with randomly selected horrors. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: According to the rulebook, a third player (whew, is anyone else beginning to figure out why these games never caught on?) – acting as a dungeonmaster of sorts – selects the combination of mazes and monsters to challenge the players, based upon their position on a map (the aforementioned gameboard). Continue reading

Checkers

CheckersThe Game: The classic game of strategy is faithfully reproduced on the Apple II. Two armies of twelve men each advance diagonally across the checkerboard, jumping over opponents and attempting to reach the enemy’s home squares to be crowned. Whoever still has pieces still standing at the end of the game wins. (Odessa Software, 1981)

Memories: At the time of its release, Odessa Software’s Apple version of checkers was a reasonably big deal, since it had been given its “smarts” by one of the leading experts in programming computers to play chess and checkers. Continue reading

4 In 1 Row

4 In 1 RowThe Game: The constant struggle between cat and dog requires a great deal of concentration. Two players can play, or one player can control the dog while the CPU makes moves as the “Microcat.” Each animal drops a piece into the playing field, trying to line up four pieces horizontally, vertically or diagonally, or trying to keep the other animal from lining up his four pieces. Whoever lines up four pieces first wins the game. (Phillips, 1982)

Memories: Another Videopac title that never quite made it to the North American market, it’s entirely possible that Odyssey2 owners never got to play 4 In 1 Row because such a release would’ve attracted the unwelcome attention of the makers of the board game Concentration – or the attention of Atari, who released a licensed Concentration cartridge. Continue reading

Glib

GlibThe Game: Think of it as Scrabble without the board. A random selection of letters flashes past (or marches past, depending on your chosen game variation), leaving it up to you to press the fire button and stop them in your tracks. At that moment, you have a limited amount of time to fashion a word from as many of the letters on screen as See the videopossible; scoring depends on the standard Scrabble value of each letter. You can either pass on doing anything with the selection of letters you end up with (resulting in no points), or you can enter your word, which gives you (or another player) a chance to approve or disqualify the word depending on whether or not it’s a real word according to the dictionary. (Selchow & Righter, 1983)

Memories: One of the rarest cartridges in the Atari 2600’s library, Glib is one of those oddities from the tail end of the era when anyone and everyone was turning out Atari games – even outfits like Purina which arguably had no business trying to break into the home video game arena. But surely Selchow & Righter, the folks who had invented Scrabble, had a better game-design pedigree than a dog food company…right? Continue reading

The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt

The Great Wall Street Fortune HuntThe Game: Feel like literally “playing” the stock market? This game allows you to do so with varying degrees of accuracy, ranging from level one – simple trading – to level four, which allows buying on margins, prime rate interest calculations, and numerous other complications. A ticker across the top of the screen gives the current values of several stocks and commodities, while a ticker running across the center of the screen gives the latest news updates. The nature of that news can have drastic effects on the stocks available for trade, ranging from the sometimes silly (“electronic foot massager increases worker productivity”) to the frighteningly prophetic (“war threat in the Middle East”). (North American Phillips, 1983)

Memories: An interesting idea for a console game (whereas this sort of thing would usually be found only on computers, especially back then), The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt was the third and final Master Strategy Series game released for the Odyssey2. Continue reading

Star Wars Chess

Star Wars ChessOrder this gameThe Game: Choose either the Dark or the Light Side of the Force and battle enemy forces in this galactic version of chess that takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. (Software Toolworks, 1993)

Memories: In the late ’80s, Interplay’s Battle Chess reinvented the computer chess genre. In Battle Chess, each chess piece was portrayed by a character on a three dimensional chessboard. The game followed the same rules as the classic board game – the only difference being when one piece captured another, it was visually portrayed on screen through light-hearted animations. Characters clobbered one another in humorous ways throughout the game, and the game’s sense of humor along with its stunning graphics and animation launched an entire wave of similarly styled chess games. Continue reading

Monopoly

MonopolyThe Game: Does anyone not know this game? You and quite a few other players make a mad dash around the Monopoly board, snatching up properties, railroads, and utilities, hazarding the fickle fortunes of the Chance and Community Chest spaces, and trying to avoid taxes and jail – not to mention bankruptcy – while building an empire that will make you rich. (Majesco Sales, 1999)

Memories: This is sort of like the Game Boy editions of Pac-Man and Space Invaders – it’s an excellent reason to own one of Nintendo‘s portable powerhouses o’ fun. The Parker Brothers board game classic is faithfully reproduced despite the small screen, and the game play is engaging. In many ways, I prefer the Game Boy version of Monopoly to the PC or Playstation versions for the same reason I’d take the Game Boy version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? over the Playstation version of that game: no cutscenes, no animations you can’t bail out of (or shut down from the options menu), no bull – the Game Boy has just enough room for the game. And I like it that way. Continue reading

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