Tapper

TapperSee the videoThe Game: As a beleaguered bartender, you have to serve drinks to an endless onslaught of bar patrons, never allowing them to reach the end of the bar. You must also pick up empty glasses as they slide back toward you, and you can also grab a tip whenever one briefly appears. Clearing the screen of all pixellated hardened drinkers takes you to the next screen, and other scenarios, including outdoor sporting events. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Tapper was easily one of the most controversial games of its time. Originally conceived as a game which would be sold only to bars, it was also one of the first video game product placements for something other than a movie (i.e. Atari’s Star Wars and Bally/Midway’s own wildly successful Tron). Midway’s marketing department approached Budweiser about the possibility of sponsoring the game, in exchange for which the Bud logo would be ubiquitous on the game’s artwork and in its on-screen graphics. Continue reading

Blue Print

Blue PrintThe Game: You are the intrepid, barbershop-quartet-suited J.J. (hey, it’s better than being O.J.!), out to save a damsel in distress from a pursuing monster. How does a guy in a little striped suit do this? By building a mobile, tennis-ball-launching contraption to dispatch said dastardly monster, naturally. The catch? The eight pieces of your mechanical creation are hidden somewhere among ten little houses in a maze – and those houses that don’t contain parts of your machine contain a bomb that must be dumped into the bomb pit immediately (else they’ll explode and kill J.J.). Critters also roam the maze to annoy you, including one pesky monster who will prematurely jump on the “start” button, rattling your still-unfinished machine to bits. If you don’t build your Rube Goldberg gizmo in time, the monster catches the damsel and you lose a life. (CBS Electronics, 1983)

Memories: One of my favorite genre-crossing arcade titles, Blue Print was one of several in-house gems from Bally/Midway which were licensed under an overall deal with CBS Electronics. And while I mourn the fact that they never got around to making Kickman for the 5200, I can take come comfort in the work of art that is CBS’ home version of Blue Print. Continue reading

Blue Print

Blue PrintThe Game: You are the intrepid, barbershop-quartet-suited J.J., out to save a damsel in distress from a pursuing monster. How does a guy in a little striped suit do this? By building a mobile, tennis-ball-launching contraption to dispatch said See the videodastardly monster, naturally. The catch? The eight pieces of your mechanical creation are hidden somewhere among ten little houses in a maze – and those houses that don’t contain parts of your machine contain a bomb that must be dumped into the bomb pit immediately (else they’ll explode and kill J.J.). Critters also roam the maze to annoy you, including one pesky monster who will prematurely jump on the “start” button, rattling your still-unfinished machine to bits. If you don’t build your Rube Goldberg gizmo in time, the monster catches the damsel and you lose a life. (CBS Electronics, 1983)

Memories: Sometimes arcade translations for the Atari 2600 miss the mark, and sometimes they’re right on the money. Blue Print isn’t necessarily either extreme; it’s close enough for government work. Continue reading

Evolution

EvolutionThe Game: It can take billions of years for a microbe to evolve into a race of creatures crossing the stars, except in the confines of the Colecovision universe, where it can take mere minutes. Players control an amoeba, avoiding predators on the screen except the DNA needed to grow and evolve. Through several successive stages, avoiding aggressors and gathering material for future growth is the only way to stay alive and evolve, from amoeba to frog to rodent to beaver to gorilla to human space warrior. (Sydney, 1983)

Memories: An unusual game by any measure, Evolution isn’t content simply to put the player through several levels of difficulty; it guides the player through entire stages of biological life. Already released on the Apple II and Commodore 64, Evolution was really a computer game at heart. Even though action and quick reflexes are required to survive, Evolution is really a game of patience and perseverance. Continue reading

Fire Fly

Fire FlyThe Game: As the pilot of a mechanical firefly, you must pilot your bug down to the lowest depths of the screen to rescue a pixie being held hostage by bees. Once you’ve retrieved that hostage, you face a barrage of bizarrely-shaped enemies, ranging from bats to snakes to flaming airborne pumpkins. You can dispatch these obstacles with a laser blast from your firefly’s maw, and once conquered, these adversaries leave behind prizes such as rings, treasure chests, bags of money and so on – precisely the sort of things that you would expect these natural enemies of the common mechanical firefly to be carrying around with them. Once you’ve done away with an entire wave of bad guys, the game begins again at the “pixie” level, only slightly more difficult. (Mythicon, 1983)

Memories: Considered among the rarest games in the Atari 2600 library, the three titles released by Mythicon were a Johnny-come-lately attempt to cash on on the 2600’s popularity. Whereas some of the earliest third-party software houses, such as Activision and Imagic, had hoped to expand the variety and quality of games on the market and make a buck in the process, Mythicon was one of several fly-by-night “software” outfits that bypassed the whole business about variety and quality and simply settled for making a buck. Dumped onto the market at under $10 each, Mythicon’s games were awful when it came to game play. And Fire Fly is no exception. Continue reading

M*A*S*H

M*A*S*HThe Game: In a bizarre collision of two very different game play elements that would probably be considered minigames today, you’re a fearless helicopter rescue pilot for the 4077th, fishing wounded U.S. soldiers out of harm’s way during See the videothe Korean War. When the window of your helicopter no longer shows up as hollow, you’ve got a full load and must safety return the wounded to the M*A*S*H base, and then go to retrieve more wounded. An enemy tank scoots along the bottom of the screen, trying to down both your helicopter and a computer-controlled chopper or an opponent’s chopper. This does not help matters, although being shot down merely causes a delay as an emergency vehicle appears – miraculously impervious to enemy fire – to push the wreckage off the screen before a new helicopter appears. Every so often, the action suddenly switches to the operating table, where you have to retrieve projectiles from victims’ bodies without causing worse damage as you remove them, and with the clock ticking down – if you fail to complete the surgery in time, then it’s goodbye, farewell and amen to that patient. (Think of the board game Operation! here and you’ve got the idea.) (20th Century Fox Games Of The Century, 1983)

Memories: M*A*S*H could be held up as a prime example of the third party video game market right before the Crash, being two very simple (and not terribly original) games squashed together with a licensed title. But let’s give it credit for being better than, say, Chase The Chuckwagon – M*A*S*H is at least fun. Continue reading

Moonsweeper

MoonsweeperThe Game: As the pilot of a super-fast intergalactic rescue ship (which is also armed to the teeth, which explains the absence of a red cross painted on the hull), you must navigate your way through hazardous comets and See the videospace debris, entering low orbit around various planets from which you must rescue a certain number of stranded civilians. But there’s a reason you’re armed – some alien thugs mean to keep those people stranded, and will do their best to blast you into dust. You can return the favor, and after you rescue the needed quota of people from the surface, you must align your ship with a series of launch rings to reach orbit again. (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: Not terribly different from the Atari 2600 edition of the same game, Colecovision Moonsweeper gets a big graphical boost from the step up to the most powerful console of the early 80s. Continue reading

Popeye

PopeyeThe Game: Popeye the sailor man gets his own video game. On level one, you’re trying to catch Olive Oyl’s falling hearts before they descend to sea level and are lost, while ducking Bluto’s punches at the same time. A can of spinach appears every so often, giving you the opportunity to read the big bully the riot act (comic strip-style, of course). On level two, the falling hearts are replaced by falling musical notes, and you’ll need Wimpy’s hefty help to keep Swee’Pea from drifting away on a balloon. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: After you’ve seen a few of Parker Brothers’ 2600 games, a bit of a style begins to emerge: simple characters that dispense with trying to be too graphically elaborate, and instead settle for being a decent light-and-shadow silhouette of what they’re representing. Such was the case with Parker Brothers’ version of Q*Bert, and it’s also the case here. Continue reading

Seaquest

SeaquestBuy this gameThe Game: You’re commanding a submarine roaming the depths of the Atari 2600, attempting to rescue divers while also battling off sharks and enemy subs. Once you’ve gotten six of those defenseless divers aboard, you’ll need to surface to offload them. If either the sharks or subs collide with you, you lose a sub and one diver (I haven’t quite figured out how the rest of the divers manage to survive the collision, but then again they are wearing scuba gear…but still, how do they wind up aboard the next sub?) – and you’re equally dead if your oxygen meter runs empty, but you can prevent that by surfacing and replenishing it before returning to the deep. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: This nifty little gem from Activision is one of those games which is incredibly easy to pick up, and hard to put down once you get the hang of it. And the ease of the first few levels is deceptive – this game hustles you big time by softening you up before it starts to throw rows of sharks or subs at you. 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 Goblin’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 Brothers, 1983)

See the TV adMemories: What if…Crazy Climber was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it any more? That’s almost what Spider-Man seems like on the Atari 2600. Though I will step away from the comparison and point out that Spider-Man is a lot more challenging than the 2600’s less than stellar rendition of Crazy Climber. Simply getting a “foothold” (web-hold?) for your next ascent is a huge challenge, and getting to your next temporary destination is always a dicey deal. Unlike that other scaler of buildings, however, Spidey can catch himself in mid-fall – if he’s in the right place and you’re really fast. Continue reading

Shuttle Orbiter

Shuttle OrbiterSee the videoThe Game: Piloting the space shuttle, you must navigate your way from a low orbit to a high one, stopping at a refueling satellite and ferrying modules to a space station under construction. While gaining altitude, you may run through fields of space debris; allowing them to hit the shuttle costs you precious fuel. (Avalon Hill, 1983)

Memories: Ah…simpler times. Truth be told, I love space exploration games – no alien encounters, no blasting doomsday asteroids out of a collision course with Earth, none of that. Just get the job done and get home safely. Continue reading

Turtles!

Turtles!The Game: As the mama turtle, you trundle around a simple maze, pursued by nasty bugs which are lethal to the touch. You can drop bombs in their path, which will reduce their speed (and this device really does beg all sorts of biological See the videodouble-entendrès, doesn’t it?). Your mission is to visit the isolated cul-de-sacs in the maze – which in itself can lead to your turtle getting trapped – to retrieve your eggs and take them to safe houses dotted around the maze. If you visit the wrong place at the wrong time, you’ll wind up with not an egg, but a new bug hot on your heels. Getting all your turtle eggs to safety takes you to the next level, and eventually everything winds up moving so fast, you haven’t got a chance. (North American Philips [under license from Stern], 1983)

Memories: This simple rendition of an extremely obscure Stern arcade game has to rank as one of the most addictive Odyssey 2 games ever made, and it quickly puts the lie to the common misconception that the Odyssey would have been useless for home versions of arcade games anyway. Continue reading

Tutankham

TutankhamThe Game: As an intrepid, pith-helmeted explorer, you’re exploring King Tut’s catacombs, which are populated by a variety of killer bugs, birds, and other nasties. You’re capable of firing left and right, but not vertically – so any oncoming See the videothreats from above or below must be outrun or avoided. Warp portals will instantly whisk you away to other parts of the maze (though this doesn’t necessarily mean safer). Gathering all of the treasures and keys will allow you to open the vault at the end of each level…which leads to the next, and even more difficult level. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: If there was a better home version of this arcade sleeper hit to emerge during the 1980s, I haven’t seen it yet. Parker Brothers’ Colecovision edition of Tutankham does everything a good console port of a coin-op should do – it brings the game play, as well as the audiovisual elements, home – and this version does it in spades. It looks like it, it sounds like it, and it plays like it. Continue reading

Tutankham

TutankhamThe Game: As an intrepid, pith-helmeted explorer, you’re exploring King Tut’s catacombs, which are populated by a variety of killer bugs, birds, and other nasties. You’re capable of firing left and right, but not vertically – so any oncoming threats from above or below must be outrun or avoided. Warp portals will instantly whisk you away to other parts of the maze (though this doesn’t necessarily mean safer). Gathering all of the treasures and keys will allow you to open the vault at the end of each level…which leads to the next, and even more difficult level. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

See the TV adMemories: Something is almost always lost in the translation from the arcade to the much simpler processor of the Atari VCS, and here, what got lost was the fine visual grain that differentiated Tutankham from other maze games in the first place. Once a sufficient number of enemies is on the screen at the same time, a nasty case of sprite flicker plagues the game, and it all just boils down to a kind of non-descript, more tightly-confined version of Berzerk. Which just isn’t that much fun. Continue reading

Happy Trails

Happy TrailsThe Game: Players control a lawman hot on the trail of a notorious bank robber – a notoriously messy one, it should be noted, since his loot is scattered all over the place. Using the controller, pieces of the maze can be shifted (even while one of the characters is on it) to allow the sheriff to recover the money and capture the bad guy, but while leaving a character going in circles momentarily, letting him wander into the open gap in the maze will cost a precious life. Clearing the maze will restart the chase anew, on a bigger and more complex maze. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: The first Activision title for Intellivision that wasn’t simply an Intellivision version of an Atari 2600 game, Happy Trails raised some serious hackles with the makers of the machine it on which it was designed to run. Continue reading

Doctor Who: The First Adventure

Doctor Who: The First AdventureThe Game: You guide the Doctor, that wayward Time Lord, on a quest to retrieve the three segments of the Key to Time, recover See the videoyour companion from an alien prison, and escape aliens who are on your trail. The game appropriately takes place in four “episodes” (stages). Failing to complete a task will cost you time and a precious regeneration; running out of either one ends the game.

Memories: The first officially approved Doctor Who video game, The First Adventure isn’t a trendsetter or a great innovation in and of itself; in fact, I think it’s safe to say that this game for the BBC Micro would’ve been entirely un-noteworthy if not for the Doctor Who connection. 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

Power Lords: Quest For Volcan

Power Lords: Quest For VolcanThe Game: As superhero Adam Power, you’re the pilot of a space sled on patrol around the explosive Volcan Rock, and what better cover for the bad guys? An enormous laser-eyed space serpent is coiled around the mountain, and you have to take it down single-handedly. Once See the videoyou’ve baked the snake, you land your sled on the surface and have a shootout with Gryptogg, Raygoth and Arkus. Once you’ve beaten them back, you can explore the underground caverns, collecting their instruments of evil and exchanging fire with them again. When you escape from their maze, you advance to the next level and begin the fight anew. (North American Philips / Probe 2000, 1983 – unreleased)

Memories: This Colecovision adaptation of the Odyssey2 game (now there’s a phrase you’re never going to see again), based on a less-than-blockbuster-successful series of comics and action figures, adds more depth to the game than the dear old Odyssey ever could’ve managed. But it’s hard to tell how much depth, as the game was never completed. Continue reading

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