Lode Runner

Lode RunnerThe Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the holes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you happen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Broderbund, 1983)

Memories: Originally designed and programmed on the Apple II, Lode Runner impressed Broderbund enough that ports to other systems were a high priority. But a major difference in the control scheme for the Apple and Atari computers caused Lode Runner to lose something in translation. Continue reading

Lode Runner

Lode RunnerThe Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the See the videoholes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you happen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Broderbund, 1983)

Memories: Surely one of the “killer app” games of the early home computer era – right up there with anything in the Wizardry, Ultima or Infocom series – Lode Runner rocked my world way back when. I have to limit myself on praising this game, or this page is never gonna finish loading: it buries the needle on the excellence meters in both the action and puzzle genres, makes some of the best use ever of the Apple II’s hi-res graphics mode, and it even sounds good on the Apple (which is no small feat). Continue reading

Sammy Lightfoot

Sammy LightfootThe Game: Help Sammy Lightfoot, circus performer extraordinaire, climb to the top of multiple levels by using trampolines, trapezes and your wits to avoid roaming meanies. (Sierra On-Line, 1983)

Memories: From the success of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong came, well, lots of games that were similar to Donkey Kong. And while Donkey Kong‘s plot (especially compared to the games of today) may seem incredibly simplistic, many of the clones that followed it had even less of one. Such is the case with Sammy Lightfoot. Like Mario in Donkey Kong, Sammy is a portly fellow who has been tasked with reaching the top of a series of platforms. The games box art and documentation describe Sammy as a circus performer, ostensibly to explain the trampolines and trapezes located on each level. This is where the plot ends, and the action begins. Continue reading

Fantasy

FantasyThe Game: Pirates have kidnapped your girlfriend, Cheri, and it’s your job to rescue her, from landing your hot air balloon on the deck of the pirate ship and trying to free her, to flying and climbing your way through the jungle to rescue See the videoher from jungle animals who have abducted her from the pirates. (Texas Instruments, 1983 [unreleased])

Memories: Several years ago, when I wrote up my all-time favorite coin-op, SNK‘s adventurous gem Fantasy (licensed for the US by Rock-Ola), I lamented the lack of a home version. I’ve always thought Fantasy was underappreciated as an arcade game, and a good home translation might have helped. I remember, around the time that NAP finally licensed an arcade game (Turtles) for the Odyssey2, I wrote a letter to them to make the case for an Odyssey2 version of Fantasy, since it now seemed like they were prepared to license arcade titles. When my Fantasy review appeared many years later, TI 99/4a uber-fan Bryan Roppolo wrote in to bring my attention to an unreleased version of the game that had been in the works for that computer system, and I’ve always wondered if it was as much fun as the arcade game. Continue reading

Spider-Man

Spider-ManThe Game: The Green Goblin and his henchmen are terrorizing the city once more, and it’s up to Spider-Man to restore order. But the odds are against him: he can only attach his web to the surface of the building, naturally, but the See the videoBuy this gameGoblin’s underlings are ready and eager to cut Spidey’s web should it be planted near them. Worse yet, the difficult-to-navigate high voltage tower at the top of the building is riddled with the Goblin’s bombs, and even if Spidey can defuse them, there’s a Super Bomb waiting for him at the top of the building – and he can only put it out of commission after dealing with the Green Goblin personally. (Parker Bros., 1983 / released by Bas Kornalijnslijper in 2006)

Memories: A chance discovery made by collector Bas Kornalijnslijper among a handful of ROM chips given to him by a former Phillips Electronics employee, Spider-Man was long known to have at least been in the works. Various advertising material touting the other four games created by Parker Bros. for the Videopac (the Odyssey2’s European near-twin) had mentioned that Spider-Man was “coming soon!” But of course, support for the Odyssey2 had largely disappeared by that time in North America (none of the Parker Bros. games were released there), and while it didn’t happen as quickly, the Videopac’s support also faded away in Europe; Spider-Man simply didn’t make it to market within that window. Now, along with another advertised-but-never-sold Parker Bros. title, Tutankham, Spider-Man has been unearthed. Continue reading

Lode Runner

The Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the holes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you happen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (IREM [under license from Broderbund], 1984)

Memories: Lode Runner is right up there with the Ultima series and SimCity in my personal hall of fame of the coolest games ever to originate on any model of personal computer. Continue reading

Mr. Do!’s Wild Ride

Mr. Do!'s Wild RideThe Game: Mr. Do, having vanquished unicorns and other beasties, decides to take a little bit of vacation time at the nearest amusement park. But there’s one problem! (Isn’t there always?) The roller coasters are trying to kill him. Your job is to guide Mr. Do along the roller coaster tracks, avoiding deadly fast-moving roller coaster cars and climbing little ladders to reach cherries (is it my imagination, or does this guy eat more cherries than anybody since Pac-Man?). Watch your head at all times! (Universal, 1984)

Memories: The fourth and final entry in the obscure attempt at a Mr. Do! franchise, this one is also my least favorite – but that’s not to say that it isn’t fun. First off, I just find the theme appealing. In Do Run Run!, one is required to kill off endless waves of killer kritters, making Mr. Do the blood-thirstiest clown since John Wayne Gacy. This game, however, takes a less violent approach – things can happen to you, sure, but they’re not the deliberate acts of sinister characters who are hell-bent on destroying you. Continue reading

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: Bongo the Ape sets your toes on fire while you’re asleep during a jungle expedition. So naturally, you drop everything to take revenge on the goofy gorilla. But first you have to reach him. The first level is a hazardous See the videoassortment of ramps and levels and a waterfall to jump across. Be careful of pesky little monkeys who can weigh you down so you move slower (and jump lower), and watch out for snakes. Then you have to hop across various islands and dodge more snakes as you try to get across a river. (Coleco [under license from Sega], 1984)

Memories: Congo Bongo was one of those games that really tested the mettle of the next-generation consoles of the day. Sega’s own translation of the game for the Atari 2600 was a barely-playable mess, though the version released for the Atari 5200 was a marked improvement. But as with Zaxxon, its cousin from a visual-concept point of view, Congo Bongo didn’t really arrive at home until ported to the ColecoVision. Continue reading

Crazy Climber

Crazy ClimberThe Game: You control a daredevil stunt climber on his trip up the side of a building, using no ropes, no nets, and nothing but his hands and his feet. Obstacles such as a large stork with (apparently flaming) droppings can cause you to plunge to your death several stories below, and even minor things such as annoyed building tenants dropping potted plants at you from above can have the same disastrous effect. When you reach the top – if you reach the top, that is – a helicopter lifts you away to your next challenge. (Atari, 1984 – fan club exclusive)

Memories: Crazy Climber for the 2600 is one of the rarest cartridges manufactured by Atari, having been released only through the company’s Atari Age fan club newsletter rather than at retail. On the basis of its scarcity alone, the Crazy Climber cartridge auctions for – appropriately – crazy amounts of money. Continue reading

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns

Pitfall IIBuy this gameThe Game: As famed treasure-hunter Pitfall Harry, you’re delving deep into the Lost Caverns, which are loaded with Incan treasures beyond compare – or so they say. But the vast subterranean chambers are also full of dangers – bats, poisonous frogs, electric eels, and huge chasms. Touching any one of these creatures will force you to retreat to the last base camp you See the videoestablished, and you’ll lose points every second until you get back there. The only way to win the game is to find your way back to the surface after recovering all of the treasures of the Lost Caverns – and to do this, you won’t be able to go back the way you came. (Activision, 1984)

Memories: This was the best game ever created for the Atari 2600, hands-down. Continue reading

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of DoomThe Game: As famed archaeologist / adventurer Indiana Jones, you enter a vast complex of caverns through one of three entrances (which one determines how hard the game will be). Your first task is to evade See the videoand/or whip the Thuggee guards into submission as you free caged children. You then make your escape in a runaway mine cart, which you have to keep on the tracks while also whipping anyone in a pursuing cart who gets too close. After getting the children to safety, you embark on far more dangerous adventures, but with greater risks come greater rewards… (Atari Games, 1985)

Memories: Now this is the kind of experience one expects from an Indiana Jones game – kicking butt, grabbing treasure, getting out alive, and avoiding snakes because you hate snakes. It’s by no means a perfect game, but when I need a pixellated Indiana Jones fix, this winds up being my go-to game. Continue reading

Burgertime

BurgertimeThe Game: As Chef Peter Pepper, you climb around a multi-level factory whose sole function is to make some really big burgers. We’re talking about some BIG burgers here. But your ingredients aren’t exactly cooperating with you… (Namco, 1985 [Japan] / Data East, 1987 [US])

Memories: A little bit of an oddity – a Data East-originated arcade game ported to the Famicom by arcade competitor Namco (and then sold in the US by Data East itself) – this version serves up a happy meal worth of authentic Burgertime action on the NES. 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, 1985)

Memories: Almost a dead ringer for its arcade inspiration graphically, the NES edition of Elevator Action actually loses a few points for having lousy sound – something I rarely count off points for, truth be told. But by the time of the NES, the means were there to replicate the arcade sound – take a listen to Super Mario Bros. for proof. Continue reading

Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt

Super Mario Bros. / Duck HuntThe Game: Intrepid plumbers Mario and Luigi have fallen back on Mario’s original mandate – rescuing the damsel – as they journey through the kingdom, battling Koopas and braving falls from dizzying heights, all to Buy this gamerescue the princess (who, as always, seems to be in another castle). In Duck Hunt things are a bit more normal – you’re just trying to nail some ducks in the wild, with the help and encouragement (and, if you let one get away, derisive laughter) from your trusty huntin’ dawg. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: Right up there with Atari 2600 Pac-Man in ubiquity, and almost universally loved (think about that for a moment – how many video games reach quite that level of popularity?), Super Mario Bros. was the ticket the NES needed to break into the U.S. market. Continue reading

Wrecking Crew

Wrecking CrewThe Game: Mario toils away on a construction site when his tools turn against him and start acting like, well, tools. Now Mario has to outfox his own tools and demolish the platforms around them – maybe taking the tools out in the process. He has his trusty hammer, and strategically placed bombs help to speed the process as well (but can be dangerous if Mario hangs around too close). Great care must be taken to demolish the structures in the correct order so access isn’t cut off to areas needed to finish the level. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: Possibly the most obscure of Mario’s career detours, this game at least depicts Mario in the same job he was pursuing before Donkey Kong came along: as a construction worker of some kind, rather than a plumber. At its heart, though, Wrecking Crew is about blowing stuff up – in the right order – rather than building anything. It’s a neat puzzle game disguised as a platformer. Continue reading

Transformers

TransformersThe Game: The raging battle between the Autobots and Decepticons continues in this exclusive title for the Commodore 64 computer. Take control of five different Transformers in the Autobots’ quest for Energon. (Ocean Software, 1985)

Memories: Back before fantastic graphics and CGI cut scenes, videogames often included additional paper documentation to explain who the characters where and what you were supposed to be doing. Atari, for example, packaged comic books with many of their games to add depth and back stories to their titles. Some early games relied so heavily on this documentation that without it, the games were difficult to play and didn’t make much sense. Ocean’s Transformers title was one of those games. 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

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps Mario’s girlfriend and hauls her up to the top of a building which is presumably under construction. You are Mario, dodging Donkey Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and “foxfires” in your See the videoBuy this gameattempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Kong. You can actually do this a number of times, and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Nintendo, 1986)

Memories: Once upon a time, Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision was the Donkey Kong experience to beat: short of going to the arcade, it didn’t get any better than that. But Coleco had only negotiated the console rights to the game, and nearly lost that contract when they goofed and showed a version of the game for their ill-fated Adam computer at a 1983 Consumer Electronics Show – though the home computer rights had been granted to Atari. In just two years’ time, none of that would matter – the crash came and went, Coleco exited the home computer and video game businesses, a seriously weakened Atari refocused its efforts on computer hardware, and Nintendo had its own video game console on the US market. Continue reading

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