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Breakout

BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them See the videothat you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. Missing one of your precious balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1976)

Memories: The year was 1976, and Atari’s founder, Nolan Bushnell, had an idea to revive the overmined “ball and paddle” genre: turn Pong into a single-player game, almost like racquetball, in which players must smash their way through a wall of bricks with a ball without missing that ball on the rebound. Bushnell was sure the idea would be a hit. Continue reading

Gee Bee

Gee BeeThe Game: It’s like pinball, but not quite. Not only are the bouncing-ball physics and bumpers of pinball present, but so are walls of bricks which, when destroyed, add to your score and sometimes redirect your ball in unpredictable directions. Pinball meets Breakout. (Namco, 1978)

Memories: If you’re wracking your brain trying to remember this game, don’t spend too much time – not that many gamers actually got to play it first-hand. It is, in fact, only in retrospect that Gee Bee‘s true historical significance has been revealed. Continue reading

Super Breakout

Super Breakout4 quarters!The Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. In some games, there may be other, free-floating balls trapped in “cavities” in the bricks, and setting them loose will mean See the videoyou’ll have several balls – and not all of them necessarily yours, disturbingly enough – to handle. Missing one of your balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Super Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: The sequel to Atari’s original Breakout coin-op, which actually enjoyed greater success at home on the Atari VCS than in the arcades, Super Breakout added some minor innovations to the original game, including the cavities (and their rogue balls) and the double-paddle (and the paddle length shortening by half when you knock a ball into the top of the playing field). Still fundamentally a black & white game, Super Breakout’s colorful bricks were achieved the old Magnavox Odyssey way: colored overlays on the screen itself. Continue reading

Breakout

BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. Missing one of your precious balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1978)

See the original TV adMemories: Breakout is a fine adaptation of the game created by a one-time early Atari employee named Steve Jobs (who got a lot of help from his friend Steve Wozniak; these two later founded a computer company named after a common fruit). As the original arcade game wasn’t all that complex, the VCS version doesn’t need to overcome any technical hurdles. And yet it does! Continue reading

Bomb Bee

Bomb BeeThe Game: Video pinball is back, and now in more than one color! Bomb Bee takes the game mechanics of Gee Bee and makes them noisier and brighter, adding “bumper traps” that can keep the ball bouncing in tight cul-de-sacs, racking up massive bonus points with every strike. (Namco, 1979)

See the videoMemories: When Namco introduced the world’s first arcade game with a full-color monitor, Galaxian, it was still fairly experimental, and some other Namco releases in 1979 were still in black & white. One of the first color games to follow Galaxian was Bomb Bee, Toru Iwitani’s reworking of Gee Bee, now in brilliant color. Continue reading

Cutie Q

Cutie QBuy this gameThe Game: You control a pair of paddles at the bottom and center of the screen. Serve a single ball into play, and skillfully deflect it toward rows of brightly colored monsters; tripping all of the “face bumpers” near the center of the See the videoscreen can yield a big bonus multiplier. If you can drive the ball toward a tunnel structure at the top center of the screen, it’ll do a lot of the work for you, blasting monsters from behind until it carves a gap big enough to fall toward your paddles again. Of course, standard Breakout rules apply: if you let three balls leave the screen, the game’s over. (Namco, 1979)

Memories: The third and final game in Toru Iwitani’s series of riffs on video pinball and Breakout, Cutie Q is the most unique (and also my favorite of the three). Not simply content to add more color to his previous game, Iwitani started from scratch, even adding a tunnel full of suspiciously Q*Bert-like critters that can be eliminated for bonus points. It still retains some pinball elements, but Cutie Q is more firmly in video game territory than either Gee Bee or Bomb Bee. Continue reading

Star Castle

Star CastleThe Game: You control a lone space fighter in the immediate vicinity of the nearly-impenetrable Star Castle. Its three layers of shields rotate, but those layers aren’t solid, so you might be able to get a shot in and destroy the alien craft at its center – but it’s also just as likely that the alien will get a clear shot at you…and its firepower is far greater. (Cinematronics, 1980)

Memories: Tim Skelly’s all-time arcade classic managed to get a cult following despite being eclipsed technologically by some of its contemporaries. In order to get its three rotating shield rings to be multicolored, Star Castle relied on transparent overlays on the monitor – not unlike the TV screen overlays of the original Magnavox Odyssey home video game console – to provide that color. Continue reading

Warlords

WarlordsBuy this gameThe Game: Think of it as Pong to the death. Two to four players hurl a fireball (multiple fireballs as the game progresses) around the playing field, smashing the walls to each other’s castles and – hopefully – hitting the other players’ kings and putting them out of commission. Your launcher doubles as a mobile barrier See the videoaround your castle which bounces the fireball right back at your curiously Vader-esque opponents. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Far more famous at home on the Atari VCS than it was in the arcades, Warlords was a really fun game with the right group of friends (or friendly enemies). I’ve only ever seen one machine, and it was a cocktail table (or, to use less industry-specific jargon, a “sit-down”) version – and now that I think about it, it seems like Warlords would have been a bit difficult to pull off as an upright cabinet, but uprights did exist – with B&W monitors only. Continue reading

Blockout! / Breakdown!

Blockout! / Breakdown!The Game: In this bizarre and uniquely Odyssey2 take on Atari’s Breakout, you battle either the computer or a second player in your attempts to blast through a wall – or repair it. You take alternating turns with your opponent; See the videoone round, you’re playing the game the more traditional way and controlling the paddle at the bottom of the screen, trying to bounce the ball toward four layers of colorful blocks. But in the next round, you’re controlling the four androids within those layers of blocks whose duty is to repair damage done by your opponent’s paddle. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: This is one of those examples of a well-worn arcade theme given a new twist by the Odyssey2 game designers. Some of you reading this are probably shaking your heads and thinking, “There they go, ripping off Atari again,” but the repair ‘droids make this a whole new game. Continue reading

Circus Atari

Circus AtariThe Game: You control a clown on a moving see-saw, launching your fellow clown into the air to pop balloons and defy gravity. But what goes up must come down, and your airborne clown, if he doesn’t bounce upward upon impact with Buy this gamemore balloons, will plummet at alarming speed. You have to catch him with the empty end of the see-saw, thus catapulting the other clown into a fresh round of inflatible destruction. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: It seems like almost every system has seen a version of this game in some form or other, but you may be surprised to learn that Atari wasn’t the first by a long shot. Circus Atari steals its game play and even its setting, lock, stock and barrel, from the obscure black & white Exidy arcade game Circus (1977). Continue reading

Super Breakout

Super BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: More walls, more balls. The object of the game is the same as the original Breakout, except this time, you face things like moving walls, “cavities” which, when opened, will release additional projectiles that you’ll See the videohave to keep in the air, and more. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: As with the arcade version of Breakout, Breakout on the VCS was one of the better-selling launch titles on that machine, so it made sense in both cases to follow up with a sequel that had a few new twists. Originally unleashed in the arcade in 1978, Super Breakout added those twists, and this cartridge brought them home. Continue reading

Warlords

WarlordsBuy this gameThe Game: Think of it as Pong to the death. Two to four players hurl a fireball around the playing field, smashing the walls to each other’s castles and – hopefully – hitting the other players’ kings and putting them out of commission. Using the ubiquitous Atari paddle controller, you guide a mobile barrier around your castle which bounces the fireball right back at your opponents. Fun for the whole family; based on an arcade game by Atari which is even more obscure than this rather common cartridge. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: What a great party game! With the right group of people, this game can be intense (and intensely hilarious). In this day and age in which much to do is made of internet multiplayer games, I think I’d rather be in the same room with a bunch of friends playing Warlords than doing any of this newfangled online gaming. Continue reading

Yars’ Revenge

Yars' RevengeBuy this gameThe Game: As the last of a race of spacefaring insects, you must defend yourself from a relentless wave of alien attackers bent on ridding the universe of your race. An alien tracer, deadly to the touch, tracks your every move, though it cannot harm you while you’re in the neutral zone at the center of the screen. You must eat away at the aliens’ shield, which not only reduces their defenses, but builds your energy reserve so you can fire your own powerful weapon, which can wipe out the alien, the tracer – or yourself, if you’re clumsy enough to be caught in its path. (Atari, 1981)

Yars' Revenge signed by programmer Howard Scott WarshawMemories: One of the coolest games ever conceived for the Atari 2600, Yars’ Revenge was a brilliant arcade-style game. In fact, I’m amazed that it apparently never made it into coin-op form (like such games as Lode Runner and Pitfall!). In fact, Yars actually started out as an arcade port – though in the end, it differed significantly enough from its inspiration (Star Castle) that it was a whole new game. Continue reading

Tron

TronBuy this gameThe Game: Based on the most computerized movie of its era, the Tron arcade game puts you in the role of the eponymous video warrior in a variety of contests. In the Grid Bug game, you must eliminate as many grid bugs (who are naturally deadly to the touch) as possible and enter the I/O tower safely before the fast-See the videomoving timer hits zero. The maddening Light Cycle game was the only stage to directly correspond with the movie. You and your opponent face off in super-fast Light Cycles, which leave solid walls in their wake. You must not collide with the computer’s Light Cycle, its solid trail, or the walls of the arena. To win, you must trap the other Light Cycle(s) (in later stages, you face three opponents) within the solid wake of your own vehicle. The MCP game is basically a simple version of Breakout, but the wall of colors rotated counter-clockwise, threatening to trap you if you made a run for it through a small gap. The Tank game is a tricky chase through a twisty maze, where you try to blast opposing tank(s) three times each…while they need to score only one hit on your tank to put you out of commission. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Okay, granted, so there really isn’t much correlation between Tron the game and Tron the movie, but in this case, it doesn’t matter. The game, with its awesome backlit cabinet graphics of special effects stills from the movie successfully, stole just enough of the movie’s millieu to be a successful tie-in – and let’s not forget the awesome polyphonic recreation of Wendy Carlos’ cool synthesized score from the movie, which was heard mainly during the Grid Bug game. Continue reading

Zzyzzyxx

ZzyzzyxxThe Game: You control a hapless creature who can jump between rows of moving bricks and even temporarily build a brick around himself. You’re trying to help him gather gifts for Lola, the object of his desires, at the opposite end of the screen; she won’t even pay attention to you until you’ve accumulated a certain number of gifts for her. (Demanding, isn’t she? I can hear Dr. Phil screaming “Stay away from her! She’s bad See the videofor you!” already.) Other than Lola’s curiously materialistic outlook on life, your biggest obstacles are colorful critters who would happily jump on you and end your quest. You can hide from them temporarily by building a brick around yourself, but if they catch you, it’s time to start over again. (Cinematronics, 1982)

Memories: First off, I have no idea what’s up with the title of this game. I really don’t. It’s like someone’s trying to make sure they’re absolutely the last thing in the white pages. Other than that, though, it’s strangely fun and frustrating, with the rows and rows of moving blocks providing you with more stuff than you can hope to keep track of. Continue reading

P.T. Barnum’s Acrobats!

P.T. Barnum's Acrobats!The Game: You control an acrobat on a moving see-saw, launching your fellow acrobat into the air to pop balloons and defy gravity in an act that would’ve done old Barnum proud! But what goes up must come down, and your See the videoairborne acrobat, if he doesn’t bounce upward upon impact with more balloons, will plummet at alarming speed. You have to catch him with the empty end of the see-saw, thus catapulting the other acrobat into a fresh round of inflatible destruction. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: Another variation on the timeless Breakout formula, this game represented one of the Odyssey2’s first ventures into an area which most other home video game systems had already entered: licensing. Continue reading

Ram It!

Ram It!The Game: Controlling the on-screen “ramroid,” you’re up against what appears to be a malevolent bar graph. Your job is to keep the colorful bars from reaching the center of the screen from the left and right sides of the playing field; once they reach the center, you can’t eliminate them unless you’re playing a game variation where they might randomly become flashing “bonus” bars that can be eliminated with a single shot. If two bars meet at the center of the screen, they form an inpenetrable barrier that traps you above or below them. A round ends when the timer runs out (it counts down from 5000), when you’ve eliminated the last oncoming bar from the screen that you can reach, or – preferably – when you completely clear the screen of those bars. (Telesys, 1982)

Memories: This is a game that shouldn’t work in terms of being entertaining, but it does. This is a game that, by 1982, was certainly graphically behind the times, but it still works. Ram It! is a seemingly simple game that is nothing short of a maddening addiction for me – I’m always compelled to hit the reset switch again, to try and do better one more time. Perhaps the best description of it would be “Breakout from both ends,” but that just sounds wrong somehow. 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

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