Tutankham

Tutankham for Odyssey2The 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. It’s like The Mummy, only much more entertaining. (Parker Brothers, 1983 – unreleased prototype)

See the videoMemories: As far back as 1983, the year that it released four other titles for the Videopac (Europe’s equivalent to the Odyssey2), Parker Brothers had been mentioning other games in development for the system. The Videopac had a wider user base in Europe than the Odyssey2 had in North America, so the support was there. Spider-Man and Tutankham were announced as upcoming titles, and never surfaced as commercial releases. As it turns out, programming was relatively complete on both games, and the EPROM chips holding the work-in-progress versions of each game eventually fell in to the hands of collectors. Appropriately enough, Tutankham was an unearthed treasure. 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! Run Run

Mr. Do! Run RunThe Game: As everyone’s favorite pixellated clown since Bozo, you guide Mr. Do around a multi-level platform, pursued by multicolored killer critters. You have a magic power ball you can shoot at them, but if you score a hit, you’ll have to scramble around and pick up fruit and other items on the platforms until you have the See the videostrength to hurl another power ball. If, in the other hand, your power ball doesn’t score a direct hit, it will ricochet back and forth across the screen until you retrieve it, or it hits a monster that has wandered into that part of the screen. (You can only have one power ball bouncing around at a time.) (Universal, 1984)

Memories: An odd cross between the game mechanics of Mr. Do! and the almost-but-not-quite-3-D graphics of Congo Bongo, Mr. Do! Run Run was actually quite a fun and frantic little game. It also sported some killer music for its time – very weird in places, almost Carl-Stalling-by-way-of-Devo, but still very enjoyable. The graphics are very clean, and the evil critters are actually cute. Considering the game’s “kill-’em-all” premise, it’s pretty cute for such a bloodthirsty exercise! Continue reading

Buraco Negro! (“Black Hole!”)

Buraco Negro!The Game: This is a tale of a futuristic society advanced almost beyond belief. A black hole has been trapped behind a force field, where its gravity won’t snag the chains of space outposts lining the top and bottom of the screen. That gravity will, however, attract stray asteroids, which naturally can do a number on the space stations. This is where you come in: as the captain of an interplanetary street-sweeper, it’s your job to grab the asteroids and deposit them in the maw of the black hole. It’s tricky, business: letting go of an asteroid too far away from the black hole will allow it to drift toward the space stations, but putting your own ship too close to the black hole will put you in harm’s way (and may still let the asteroid escape). The more asteroids you put in the black hole, the bigger and more powerful it becomes (did anyone really think through this method of disposing of the trash?), which will attract more asteroids and cause them to move faster. You can also shoot asteroids, but this will add no points to your score, and stray missiles could destroy space stations. If your ship plummets into the event horizon, or too many space stations are destroyed, there’s suddenly a vacancy for the most dangerous garbage disposal job in the universe. (GST Video, 1984)

Memories: As a rule, I try not to be too critical of a game’s programmer, but this rare title – initially released only in South America, and then later dressed up with a spacey background and released in Europe for the Videopac G7400+ under the incorrectly-translated name Neutron Star – offers so little reward for so much effort that one can only assume its designer was a masochist. Continue reading

Cosmic Commuter

Cosmic CommuterThe Game: Sometimes it’s not all about saving the whole freakin’ world. Sometimes it’s about just being a cabbie. Picking people up, zipping through traffic, and trying to get them to where they’re going without them – or yourself – killed in the process. Substitute traffic for alien ships and space debris, and you’ve got Cosmic Buy this gameCommuter. Make sure your taxi pod is loaded up on fuel, avoid everything except for the passengers, and don’t forget to dock safely with your launch/landing module when you’ve picked everyone up. You can shoot obstacles out of your way in a tight squeeze, but be careful – you could also shoot your next refueling station out of the sky too. Three collisions or crash landings due to an empty gas tank, and you’re out of the taxi business. (Activision, 1984)

Memories: Cosmic Commuter is a very cool scrolling game with a neat premise, something that I can identify with a lot better than being a fighter jock. This is also an extremely colorful game with a heap of animated graphics, and not one second of sprite flicker. Continue reading

Crystal Castles

Crystal CastlesThe Game: You are Bentley the Bear, cuddly defender of a vaguely 3-D fairy tale realm just loaded with ruby-like crystals. While this would seem like an idyllic existence for many sentient stuffed animals, it is, of course, not that easy. Berthilda the Witch has sent her evil minions to seize the crystals for her. Walking trees, Buy this gameupright centipedes, and animated skeletons prowl the geometric vistas to keep Bentley from claiming the crystals. Finding the wizard hat will briefly give Bentley the power to dispose of Berthilda if and when she makes an appearance. Bentley also has a weakness for the pot of honey that appears on each level – and if he grabs the honey, a swarm of bees suddenly has a problem with him. Clearing each screen of crystals advances to the next level. Keep in mind that the enemies can also consume crystals, so they may actually clear the level – Bentley gets a bonus if he’s the one who nabs the last gem on the screen. (Atari, 1984)

Memories: This game is a tough nut to crack. It’s something I’d file under “games I can’t believe anyone tried to port to the Atari 2600,” the same category where I’d put Coleco’s disastrous port of Zaxxon. Surprisingly though, while the graphics are a bit of a mess, enough of the game play is intact to make this version of Crystal Castles surprisingly effective. Continue reading

Dragonfire

DragonfireThe Game: You’re another treasure-hunting glory seeker who’s about to meet more than his match. If you can survive crossing the drawbridge into the castle – a task made incredibly difficult by the glowing fireballs of dragon breath being hurled toward you – you’ve got an even more hazardous obstacle ahead: the dragon himself is guarding a huge stash of treasure. Even if he can’t stop you from pocketing every shiny thing in the castle, chances are you won’t make it out alive. (Imagic, 1984)

Memories: A nicely dolled-up version of a game that was already a lot of fun on the Atari 2600 and Intellivision, Dragonfire is one of Imagic‘s few Colecovision entries. The game is still fun, but now it looks simply incredible too. Continue reading

Ghostbusters

GhostbustersThe Game: The only video game in history that turns you into Bill Murray, Ghostbusters gives you a taste of the lucrative franchising opportunity that is supernatural paranormal investigation and elimination. You start the game out with a supply screen and – naturally – a limited budget. Pick up all the ghostbusting gear you can afford and get to work. Much of the game is played out on a map of several city blocks of the Big Apple, where haunted buildings will flash red. You respond to each call by going there, which takes you to a brief “driving” game in which you can vacuum up free-roaming ghosts (if you’ve installed a ghost-vac on your car). Once you arrive, set the trap and position your two busters carefully (so as not to cross the streams), and snag the ghost before it simply leaves or slimes you. Trapping ghosts will net the big bucks, which you need to continue your franchise. Letting the paranormal activity in New Your City continue unabated will result in the unleashing of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, who’ll stomp entire city blocks (and earn you a hefty fine). If the city’s PK (psychokinetic) activity meter reaches 10,000, the game is over. (Activision, 1984)

Memories: An addictive little game, this, and probably one of the best movie-to-video-game licenses ever brought to life. Ghostbusters on the big screen was big money when this game was released, and Activision had to deliver a decent game. 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

Tapper

TapperThe Game: As a beleaguered bartender, you have to serve drinks to an endless onslaught of bar patrons, never allowing them to reach the See the videoend 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 – erm, sorry, soft drinkers – takes you to the next screen, and other scenarios, including outdoor sporting events. (Bally/Midway-Sega, 1984)

Memories: When the U.S. video game industry fell on hard times, Sega sold off its American division to Bally/Midway. Having previously tried to maintain more direct control of home versions of its arcade games through an overall licensing deal with CBS Electronics‘ game division, Bally/Midway now had a more direct pipeline to the consumer market by using the home video game division that Sega had launched to exploit its own arcade titles (such as Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom and Congo Bongo). Continue reading

Garfield

GarfieldThe Game: You are the world’s most famous lasagna-munchin’ mouser, hopping from fencepost to fencepost, grabbing airborne hamburgers (!!?) and dodging potted plants being thrown at you. Eventually you reach home, where you can antagonize Odie the dog, who has somehow made his way to the top of Jon’s house. (Atari, never released [developed circa 1984])

Memories: Who here didn’t love Jim Davis’ Garfield comics 20+ years ago? I loved ’em. Of course, I too had an unpredictable, feisty, and every-so-slightly overweight striped feline of my own, so I was a little biased. Atari’s unreleased Garfield game fell under the axe of the great video game industry crash, which is a great pity – it would have made a very nice kids’ game, with its easy and not-even-remotely-violent game play (the worst that can happen to you is that you seem to “bulge” when hit by a potted plant). It also had some rather nice graphics, with recognizable renditions of Garfield and Odie. 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

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

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (INTV Corp., 1987)

See the videoMemories: From the ashes of Mattel Electronics, which suffered a multi-million-dollar loss in the 1982-83 crash of the video game industry, several stalwart members of the “Blue Sky Rangers” development team banded together to form INTV Corporation, a leaner, meaner entity that would do what seemed unthinkable in the market climate of the time: keep supporting the Intellivision with new software until further notice. After the NES helped the industry make a comeback, Atari dusted off the 2600 and the stillborn 7800 – which had been ready to hit stores as early as 1984 – and tried to reposition them as budget alternatives to Nintendo’s increasingly ubiquitous machine. Continue reading

Kitten Kaboodle

Kitten KaboodleThe Game: An adorable kitten (and his twin, in the case of two-player games) runs and jumps around a maze of obstacles, trying to stay out of the clutches of such enemies as an insect in a lab coat, a large and angry-looking tomato, and a crocodile that walks upright. (Further levels add new and even stranger enemies to avoid.) The kitten(s) can push the blocks making up the maze, hopefully smashing an enemy against another block or one of the playfield’s outer walls in the process, temporarily removing that enemy from play. A defeated enemy drops numerous items, including coins, diamonds, and one of several keys needed to open a door allowing access to the next level of the game. (Konami, 1988)

Memories: Even in the late ’80s, game companies weren’t above “borrowing” each other’s concepts and play mechanics, and here we have a prime example of Konami “borrowing” the basic play mechanic of one of Sega‘s more low-key sleeper hits, because just six years before Kitten Kaboodle, enemies were being squished by blocks pushed by a penguin. Continue reading

Dark Chambers

Dark ChambersThe Game: You control a lone adventurer on a quest through twisty mazes and open battlegrounds, descending through the dungeon depths in search of treasure (and a chance to escape in one piece with that treasure in hand). Zombies, See the videoghosts, and monsters naturally roam through the dungeons as well, more than happy to attack any treasure-hunting interlopers such as yourself. (Atari, 1988)

Memories: Released on both the 7800 and 2600, Dark Chambers was an attempt to cash in on the “action RPG” genre that had recently been made popular by Nintendo’s The Legend Of Zelda. Atari’s arcade division happened to have a hot arcade property in that genre already, but since the arcade operation – now called Atari Games – and the consumer division were now two separate entities, Dark Chambers winds up being a “near-beer” version of Gauntlet. Continue reading

Hyper Lode Runner

Hyper 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 See the videohappen 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. (Bandai, 1989)

Memories: A nifty revival of the computer classic, Hyper Lode Runner actually manages to pack in a surprising amount of what made the original game so addictive – right down to the “edit mode” that allows players to build their own levels. Continue reading

Lock ‘N’ Chase

Lock 'n' ChaseThe Game: You’re in charge of a getaway car loaded with crafty criminals. Your job is to sneak around the maze, avoid a bunch of cranky cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another day. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (Data East, 1990)

See the videoMemories: After a quick “training” chase in a small maze – presumably in the vault while you’re making the big heist – the Game Boy version of Lock ‘N’ Chase is somewhat faithful to the original, even though it “zooms in” on the section of the maze surroundng your bank robber. However, while the original arcade game was an obvious attempt to get in on Pac-Man‘s maze-chase, dot-gobbling action without aping every aspect of the game, Lock ‘N’ Chase on the Game Boy makes the comparison obvious. Continue reading

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