Pepper II

Pepper IIThe Game: You’re a little angel (of sorts). You run around a maze consisting of zippers which close or open, depending upon whether or not you’ve already gone over that section of the maze. Zipping up one square of the maze scores points for you, but it gets trickier. Little devils chase you around the maze, trying to kill you before you can zip up the entire screen. If you zip up enough of the maze and grab a power-pellet-like object, you can dispatch some of your pursuers. Clear the screen and the fun begins anew. (Exidy, 1982)

Memories: One of the first games released for Colecovision, Pepper II lived up to the advertising hype that basically said that owning Coleco’s new console was as good as having your own arcade. While the original arcade game didn’t exactly set the bar very high for any home adaptations, Pepper II really sells the Colecovision = arcade message by being almost flawless. Continue reading

Qix

QixThe Game: You control a “marker,” trying to claim as much of the playing field as you can by enclosing areas of it. Drawing your boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves you vulnerable to attack from the Qix and the Sparx, gives you many more points upon the completion of an enclosed area. If the ever-shifting Qix touches your marker or an uncompleted boundary you are drawing, you lose a “life” and start again. And the Sparx, which travel only along the edges of the playing field and along the boundaries of areas of the screen you’ve already enclosed, can destroy you by touching your marker. And if you linger too long, a fuse will begin burning at the beginning of your unfinished boundary, and will eventually catch up with you. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: One can think of no better early 80s platform for Qix than the Atari 5200, and it almost manages to pull off a perfect translation. Qix is another case where the infamous 5200 joysticks can confound your efforts to draw a straight line, but a lot of games have that problem, and I can’t really hold the grudge against anyone but whoever it was who designed those controllers. Continue reading

Tron

TronThe Game: Up to two players control light cycles that leave a solid light trail in their wake. The object of the game is to trap the other player by surrounding them with a light trail that they can’t avoid crashing into – or forcing them to run into their own trail. Coming into contact with a light trail, either yours or the other player’s, collapses your own trail and ends your turn. The player still standing at the end of the round wins. (“Ivan”, circa 1982)

Memories: The Apple II software library is as huge as it is because of games like this. It’s a safe bet that “Ivan” didn’t charge for his simple tribute to Tron‘s light cycle scenes; if anyone did charge for it, “Ivan” – whoever he was – probably didn’t see a dime of that. (And even if “Ivan” did try to sell his game, it was probably on such a local basis that Disney never heard of it.) Tron is a homebrew, from an age when nearly every Apple user’s library had at least a few homebrews in it. Continue reading

I, Robot

I, RobotThe Game: A huge, Big Brother-like head pops up and says “The law: no jumping!” to your little robot, and naturally, the cocky little automaton has other ideas (replying “Oh yeah!”). And so your mission begins, guiding the robot over See the videoramps, around narrow catwalks, and leaping across huge chasms. If the all-seeing eye opens while your robot it jumping, however, a blaster turns your hero into a heap of spare parts. If you successfully claim all of the red area on the screen, you have a narrow “launch window” in which to jump across to the eye’s platform and destroy it. The your robot launches into space, blowing away obstacles in his path, avoiding saucers and solid objects, and eventually landing on another series of ramps and catwalks to begin the quest anew. And if that doesn’t do it for you, you can put in another quarter and relax in Doodle City. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Once arcade games caught on as the profitable concern of the 80s, it seemed like everyone who had even the tip of a single finger in the electronics or coin-operated business glutted the market with barely-disguised riffs on the Pac-Man or Defender or Space Invaders concepts, saturating a previously innovative market with cheap copycat games (or, in a few cases until the attorneys caught up with them, outright bootlegs). In many ways, this parallels the Atari-era crash of the home video game cartridge industry, and it’s hardly a coincidence that both industries suffered simultaneous catastrophic shakedowns. Continue reading

Libble Rabble

Libble RabbleThe Game: In a peaceful garden dotted with a gridwork of posts, the player must simultaneously move two pointers, connected to each other by a tenuous string, to trap mobile mushrooms and pointy-hatted garden gnomes. If either pointer comes into contact with a gnome, a life is lost (and, for the record, it’s not the gnome’s life). A scissor-like critter occasionally crosses the screen, and he’s capable of severing the string; a new one instantly forms between the two pointers, but any progress that was made in creating a trap with the string is lost. When all of the creatures invading the player’s garden are trapped, the game begins again at a higher difficulty level; if all of the player’s lives are lost, or time runs out, the game is over. (Namco, 1983)

Memories: This interesting obscurity from Namco wouldn’t appear to have much historical significance, and it made little or no headway beyond Japan’s borders. What makes Libble Rabble at least a little bit significant is that it was the last arcade game design hurrah of Toru Iwitani, the creator of Namco’s global megahit Pac-Man. Continue reading

Q*Bert’s Qubes

Q*Bert's QubesThe Game: Q*Bert is back, hopping around from cube to cube, rotating the cubes 90 degrees with every hop…but a nasty bouncing rat and his minions are out to get the big Q. If one of the rat’s henchmen hops onto a cube whose top surface is the same color as its skin, it melts into the cube harmlessly. Q*Bert must change at See the videoleast one row of cubes to the target color to advance to the next level – and there aren’t any flying discs this time! (Mylstar Electronics, 1983)

Memories: Similar enough that veteran Q*Bert players could pick up its play mechanics in their first game, but different enough to throw them off their game, Q*Bert’s Qubes was a textbook example of a good arcade sequel. It certainly didn’t hurt that it introduced a whole new pantheon of cute adversaries for Q*Bert to avoid, and yet somehow, the only thing anyone really seems to remember about any iteration of Q*Bert’s Qubes is how scarce it was – and still is. Continue reading

Boing!

Boing!The Game: You’re a bubble bounding around a series of platforms, changing the color of every segment on which you land. Your job is to change the color of the entire playing field while avoiding everything else, including an equally mobile See the videoneedle that has a point to make. If you run into your adversaries too many times, I hate to burst your bubble, but the game’s over. (First Star Software. 1983)

Memories: One of the earliest entries into the video game arena by First Star Software – an outfit which is actually still in business, unlike a lot of other latecomers to the ’80s video game race – Boing! is obviously another take on the basic game play concepts of Q*Bert, and truth be told, it doesn’t bring any new innovations to the table, but it’s a slight improvement audiovisually. Boing! can also boast an easier control scheme, since it doesn’t ask the player to rotate the joystick 45 degrees. That’s a big help. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated See the videoone-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he responds with a cartoon balloon full of mock profanity. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Oof. If you thought this arcade classic suffered when crammed into an Atari 2600 cartridge… well, wait. Maybe’s that’s not a fair thing to say. The Intellivision version’s graphics were marginally better at best, and the sound was certainly better. But with the disc controllers, Q*Bert was almost unplayable. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will deposit him back at the top of theSee the videopyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: This game has been much-maligned by some VCS owners over the years, which is something I take issue with. The 2600 translation of the famous arcade game was just fine! The graphics conveyed the pyramid of cubes just fine, it was easy to tell which way Q*Bert was headed, and overall I had no complaints. Even the sound effects, even though they were in some cases not even close to the distinctive sounds of the original, had their own strange charm. Continue reading

Quick Step

Quick StepSee the videoThe Game: In what one can only assume is a long-standing rivalry spawned at your local zoo, a kangaroo and a squirrel battle it out on a relentlessly scrolling playing field of multicolored magic flying carpets. The player’s kangaroo tries to change as many of those carpets to his color (green) by hopping on them, while the squirrel (controlled either by the computer or by a second player) will try to turn those carpets blue. Allowing your critter to scroll off the bottom of the screen will cost you one of his lives, and the game ends when one critter or the other has run out of them. (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: In the early days of third-party games for the 2600, game manufacturers were happy to just mimic what was in the arcades – Activision‘s early hit Kaboom! directly copied an early arcade game called Avalanche, Imagic‘s Atlantis (which borrowed heavily from the obscure Taito coin-op Colony 7), and countless Pac-Man clones (Alien, Shark Attack, and so on). Even Atari got in on the act, porting Exidy‘s Circus to the VCS as Circus Atari. But after Atari sued the Odyssey2 game K.C. Munchkin! off the shelves, however, you’d think the rules would’ve changed, and the third-party developers would have found that ever-present legal threat encouragement enough to pursue more innovative ideas. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, arcade- cabinet-shaking splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: With a huge advantage over the other consoles of its generation, the Colecovision should’ve been able to play the best game of Q*Bert in town. And the graphics are probably the best console rendition that the game got prior to the NES era. Where this Q*Bert makes one want to jump off the pyramid is in the controller. Continue reading

Juice!

Juice!The Game: You’re the circuit maker, and they’re the circuit breakers. You hop around a maze-like structure, dropping circuitry patterns in your wake, as a variety of adversaries try to stop you from completing a circuit leading from the power source at your starting point to the receptacle across the maze from you. Colliding with See the videoany of them will cost you a life, but you can entice them to try to chase you off the maze and into oblivion while you escape safely. Completing the circuit advances you to the next maze – just on’t get too caught up in your power trip. (Tronix, 1983)

Memories: A neat combination of some well-worn game play elements, Juice is an eminently playable example of taking elements from different games and combining them into a new one. Bits of Pac-Man and Q*Bert, with a hint of Zaxxon‘s 3-D isometric perspective, combine to make Juice! unique and fun. Continue reading

Q*Bert’s Qubes

Q*Bert's QubesThe Game: Q*Bert is back, hopping around from cube to cube, rotating the cubes 90 degrees with every hop…but a nasty bouncing rat and his minions are out to get the big Q. If one of the rat’s henchmen hops onto a cube whose top surface is the same color as its skin, it melts into the cube harmlessly. Q*Bert must change at See the videoleast one row of cubes to the target color to advance to the next level – and there aren’t any flying discs this time! (Parker Brothers, 1984)

Memories: Thanks to a quirk of distribution more than anything, Q*Bert’s Qubes is one of the rarest and most valuable games for the Atari 2600. In the post-crash world of unhealable deep-cut discounts, some retailers decided to get out of the video game “fad” as soon as they could possibly get out from under the inventory. As a result, the final few Parker Brothers game cartridges wound up being sold almost exclusively through Sears. (As the retail chain that invested heavily in such products as Atari’s original home Pong console, Sears had more of a stomach for staying with the video game industry than most, but even then they balked a bit as the Atari gravy train went off the rails.) Continue reading

Toggle

ToggleThe Game: Two players’ vehicles start in opposite corners of a confined grid; when moved, each vehicle leaves a light cycle-style trail of that player’s color (red or gold) in its wake. But here’s the twist: the players won’t be eliminated by running over the opponent’s “wake.” Instead, running over the other player’s wake once will knock that portion of it down; running over the resulting gap refills that space with your color See the videoinstead. The object of the game is to occupy as much of the grid as possible by the end of 45 seconds. (Each game consists of three 45-second rounds, and each successive round adds obstacles such as walls, or gaps through which players’ vehicles can fall, resulting in a delay while that vehicle is replaced.) The winner of the best two out of three rounds wins the game. (1985, Bally [under license from Sente Ltd.] – unreleased)

Memories: After being “put on the beach” by Atari’s new Warner Bros.-controlled management – a term meaning that he was out the door, but still receiving money from a bonus pool that, in Atari’s heyday, was quite substantial – founder Nolan Bushnell was left at a loose end in more ways than one. He began building his new empire, a chain of franchise restaurants called Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre, which combined food service, robotic characters whose technology Atari had no interest in pursuing and therefore allowed him to retain, and arcade games. Bushnell was still eager to have something to do with the video game industry, but a non-compete clause literally took him out of that game for seven years. In 1985, that clause expired, and Bushnell was ready to get back in the game. Continue reading

Super Qix

Super QixThe Game: You are a marker, trying to claim as much of the playing field as you can by enclosing areas of it. Drawing your boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves you vulnerable to attack from the Qix Dragon and the Sparx, gives you many more points upon the completion of an enclosed area. If the jumpy Qix Dragon touches your marker or an uncompleted boundary you are See the videodrawing, you lose a “life” and start again. And the Sparx, which travel only along the edges of the playing field and along the boundaries of areas of the screen you’ve already enclosed, can destroy you by touching your marker. And if you linger too long, a fuse will begin burning at the beginning of your unfinished boundary, and will eventually catch up with you. (Taito, 1987)

Memories: The beauty of the original Qix was that it was a simple-but-difficult, instinctive puzzle game, and it was gloriously abstract. No motives were assigned to anything or anyone; the helix-like Qix was automatically your antagonist because it would stop you from drawing your stix (in essence, as Daily Variety might say, nixing your stix pix). Simple as that. Continue reading

Defender Of The Crown

Defender Of The CrownThe Game: The King of England has been assassinated and the crown has gone missing! To regain the crown and restore order you’ll need to conquer the entire country, one castle at a time. Equal parts strategy and action make for lots of fun and replayability. The ultimate cinematic experience for the Commodore 64. (Cinemaware, 1987)

Memories: In 1986, Cinemaware released Defender Of The Crown for the Commodore Amiga, introducing a new style of game to home computer owners. Equal parts movie, strategy and action, Cinemaware called their new style of games “Interactive Movies”. Defender Of The Crown begins like a real Hollywood experience, complete with opening credits and a montage explaining the game’s backstory. The Amiga version’s graphics were literally mind-blowing. No one had seen graphics like that before on a home computer, and gamers were convinced that the game would not appear on any other platform. Commodore 64 owners got their wish one year later, when Cinemaware ported the game over to the Amiga’s 8-bit little brother. Continue reading

Qix

QixThe Game: You are a marker, trying to claim as much of the playing field as you can by enclosing areas of it. Drawing your boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves you vulnerable to attack from the Qix and the Sparx, gives you many more points upon the completion of an enclosed area. If the ever-shifting Qix touches your marker or an uncompleted boundary you are drawing, you lose a “life” and start again. And the Sparx, which travel only along the edges of the playing field and along the boundaries of areas of the screen you’ve already enclosed, can destroy you by touching your marker. And if you linger too long, a fuse will begin burning at the beginning of your unfinished boundary, and will eventually catch up with you. (Nintendo/Taito, 1990)

See the videoOne of the few completely abstract arcade games ever to catch on with the public, Qix is very hard to get wrong, and this adaptation – an early first-party Game Boy cartridge patterned after a similarly first-person NES version – certainly doesn’t get it wrong. It’s pure Qix, without any added bull about having to uncover a picture by claiming area on the playfield. Continue reading

Q*Bert 3

Q*Bert 3The Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, arcade- cabinet-shaking splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (NTVIC, 1992)

Memories: Released a full decade after the original game, Q*Bert 3 for the SNES seems to draw its inspiration in equal measure from the 1982 arcade classic and the Game Boy version by Jaleco, which broke the arcade game’s “pyramid of cubes” mold and brought newer, more challenging shapes to the table to confound long-timers who thought they had the game licked. Continue reading

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