51 Shades of Geek

Super Breakout

Super BreakoutThe 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 you’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, 1982)

Memories: So let’s see here. Atari had this great new console which sported, essentially, the guts of their Atari 400 computer, quite a bit of processing power (for its day) for a game-playing machine. Capable of detailed, colorful graphics and excellent sound effects, the Atari 5200 would, of course, need a fantastic pack-in title at launch, something which would showcase its amazing abilities. And that’s all fine and well, but what the poor 5200 wound up with was Super Breakout. Continue reading

Flipper Slipper

Flipper SlipperThe Game: The water is rising! You’re all that stands between the animals and rising floodwaters. Using a pair of paddles, you have to keep a projectile moving without letting it knock a hole in the seawall behind you; if too many holes See the videoare blasted through the wall, the game will be over and the water will pour in. (Spectravideo, 1983)

Memories: Of all the places to find an oldie-but-goodie game concept. Flipper Slipper is a game that plays very similar to Cutie Q – i.e., the last game designed by Toru Iwitani before he created Pac-Man for Namco. Continue reading

Laser Gates

Laser GatesThe Game: You’re piloting the Dante Dart through the innards of an enormous sentient computer. The computer was originally constructed to defend the galaxy, but now it’s gone haywire and is planning to destroy the galaxy instead. There’s only one problem with such a massive defense computer: its own internal defense See the videomechanisms. Blast through densepack columns and laser gates as they try to fry your ship, and watch out for laser turrets, “byte bats” and other menaces which will pursue you. Your Energy meter is depleted by constant firing, so make every shot count. And your Shield meter drops as you take hits from enemy fire or crash through the defenses with your ship – something you don’t want to do too much of, lest your mission end prematurely and fatally. (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: The scrolling sub-genre of flying through an enclosed space is hardly anything new for the 2600 (witness Atari’s own decent Vanguard translation, Super Cobra, Fantastic Voyage, etc.), but Laser Gates takes this task from a raw “try-not-to-get-killed” level to a puzzle of resource management and timing. Huge stretches of this game will go by where you don’t need to fire a single shot or do a lot of moving around. Continue reading

Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle

Return Of The Jedi: Death Star BattleSee the videoThe Game: Presumably, you play the part of Lando Calrissian in this game, which seems to follow the events in the latter half of the film Return of the Jedi. Piloting the Millennium Falcon, you dart around the perimeter defense shield of the Empire’s new Death Star, which is still being constructed before your very eyes. You must eliminate a certain number of TIE Interceptors before a hole opens in the shield, allowing you to get close enough to start blowing pieces out of the Death Star itself. But an automatic defense system won’t take long to track you down and eliminate you, so you have to work fast. The sooner you can hit the Death Star power core, the better. And when you accomplish that, you have to worry about dodging the flaming debris of the huge space station… (Parker Brothers, 1983)

See the TV adMemories: Possibly the best game Parker Brothers released out of its series of four Star Wars titles, Death Star Battle had some truly great graphics considering which machine they were squeezed out of. The vaguely 3-D grid of the Death Star’s defense perimeter would constantly shift colors, and it was actually very pretty. The game play itself was no slouch either – one out of five times is about how often I manage to evade all the Death Star debris without getting creamed. Continue reading

Rampage

RampageThe Game: Monsters are running amok in cities across America… and you’re one of them! A giant lizard, a giant werewolf and a giant gorilla walk into a bar and tear it down. Monsters can compete to see who will topple tall buildings first, or they can qang up on puny defenseless human scum. It’s pretty easy to knock over buildings, and pretty easy to take a lot of damage from the armed forces who have been called out to stop the creatures. If they accrue too much damage, the monsters de-evolve to their un-mutated original human form, and require quick action (and additional quarters) to stay in the game. (Midway, 1986)

Memories: A devilishly fun masterpiece of pure destruction, Rampage appeals to any current or former kid who’s ever gained an innate understanding that the next best thing rto building something is to knock it over again. Rampage‘s implied violence is cartoonish at worst, with just a wink and a nod toward the classic Toho and Universal Studios monster movies. And that is a great combination. Continue reading

Off The Wall

Off The WallThe Game: A worm-like dragon taunts you from atop a multi-colored wall, one which you must topple to reunite your divided village. To accomplish this task, you must bounce hurled projectiles into the wall. Collecting power-ups along the way will affect the behavior of the projectile, from making it a weapon capable of wiping out See the videolarge portions of the wall to making it return to you repeatedly, like a boomerang. You advance to the next level by eliminating the wall. (Atari, 1989)

Memories: In the beginning, there was Breakout, a game which Atari itself cloned and put through endless permutations; even Warlords, a favorite among classic gamers everywhere, was a stepchild of Breakout and QuadraPong. Eventually, after turning out Breakout and its clones for the home video game market, Atari turned to other ideas. In the late 1980s, Taito unleashed Arkanoid – essentially an updated version of Breakout – and brought the breaking-down-brick-walls genre back into the public eye. Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 2 (Japanese version)

Namco Museum Volume 2 (Japanese version)The Game: Old games never die – they get emulated. Fortunately, one of Japan’s greatest makers of video game hits has built a museum around several of its most popular titles. With Pac-Man still underfoot, you wander the corridors of the Namco Museum yet again. (Namco, 1995, for Sony Playstation)

Memories: It’s hard for me to really justify blowing $25 on this particular import. Maybe it’s just the perversity of having two different versions of Namco Museum Vol. 2 when the American edition is hard enough to find as it is. Or maybe it’s because I want to be able to play as many classic arcade games as possible on my Playstation. Continue reading

Breakout

BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: There exists, somewhere on a tropical isle, a species of paddle-esque life forms (not unlike the inhabitants of Pong), and their idyllic existence is shattered by the arrival of evil dictator Batnix. Batnix kidnaps fair Daisy and the rest of your friends, sequestering them in perilous dungeons around the world. As Bouncer the Paddle, you must break out of your own prison by smashing through the walls with steel balls, and then travel to various locales to free all of your friends. As you release your comrades, you can also play as them in certain rounds to make use of their special abilities in your quest to free Daisy and defeat Batnix once and for all. As always, keep an eye on your balls, for they are your greatest weapons. (Hasbro Interactive/Atari, 2000)

Memories: This game is proof positive that I can milk any video ping-pong game for an endless array of lowbrow “balls” jokes. It’s also proof positive that updated versions really do work sometimes. Continue reading

Builder’s Block

Builder's BlockBuy this gameThe Game: Eat my dust, SimCity. Builder’s Block doesn’t ask you to build a city that conforms to any notions of political or environmental correctness. It just asks you to build it fast – damn fast. Match up color-coded blocks to expand the size of your buildings, use other special blocks to eliminate blocks whose colors won’t allow them to integrate them into buildings, and use the “clear level” block to collect your bonus and move to the next level before more blocks pile up than you can do anything with. It’s sort of like Tetris meets SimTower. The game includes puzzle, battle and arcade modes; the latter is the most graphically dazzling, betraying the game’s roots in the mid-1990s Taito arcade game Landmaker. (Taito, 2000)

Memories: Originally released a few years ago, Builder’s Block is now reappearing in bargain game bins once again, so it seemed like a good time to revisit it. I’d never heard of this game before, and it’s surprisingly addictive with a strong old-school puzzle game vibe. If you dig Tetris, you’ll like this one. Continue reading

Game Pack #1

Game Pack #1The Game: Remember those BASIC programming how-to books in the 70s and 80s with the do-it-yourself minigames you could type in and run? They’re back. Daniel Bienvenu’s tribute to those classic games has a twist though: it’s running Buy this gameon the ColecoVision. 14 maddeningly addictive and yet simple games are crammed into a single cartridge, with extras like a program to test the console’s musical ability. (Good Deal Games, 2003)

Memories: Debuted at Classic Gaming Expo 2003, ColecoVision Game Pack #1 is a nifty little collection of games like the ones we all used to type in from a book, minus that syntax error I’d always typo into existence somewhere around line 300. Continue reading

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