Warrior

WarriorThe Game: Two armored knights coalesce out of thin air in an enclosed arena, swords at the ready. Before they can do battle, there’s the matter of simply navigating the arena’s geography: a pair of bottomless pits can lead either knight to his death, and each pit is surrounded on two sides by a staircase than can make for a handy resting place – or an even deadlier place to duel. There’s also a narrow catwalk between the pits. If the knights can stay on firm ground, the sword-swinging begins; when a knight is vanquished, he re-forms in the corner where he first appeared and can charge into battle again until he has lost all of his lives. Whoever’s still standing at the end of the game wins. (Cinematronics/Vectorbeam, 1979)

See the videoMemories: A great example of how new everything was in the early days of video games, Warrior is the first head-to-head fighting game, allowing two players to bash each other to bits (or stumble into the pits); there was no single-player mode. Graphically, the game is incredibly simple: the black & white vector graphics are responsible for nothing but the knights (nicely drawn and animated for the late 70s) and their respective scores. Everything else is a fluorescent-lit overhead view of the arena. That artwork could be seen through a half-silvered mirror, while the monitor itself actually displayed the graphics backwards so the mirror would show the knights over the playing field. This was a common trick of the day to achieve graphics that there simply wasn’t enough computer power to draw, but it was incredibly effective – and, at the time, it was all so new. Continue reading

Popeye

PopeyeThe Game: Well, blow me down! 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. (Nintendo, 1983)

Memories: A true licensing coup for relative newcomers Nintendo, this project hooked them up with the cartoon marketing savvy of King Features Syndicate (and don’t think for a moment that Nintendo didn’t soak up as much knowledge as it could to put to use on its next hot property, Mario Bros.) But even though it’s a well-loved and remembered game, it wasn’t Popeye’s first arcade outing. Continue reading

Kangaroo

KangarooThe Game: As a mama marsupial trying to save your baby from many malignant marauding monkeys, you go on a rescue mission that involves climbing through many, many levels of the monkeys’ treehouse village, punching primates, dodging airborne apples, grabbing various fruit items along the way (considering the abundance of apples, strawberries, cherries and bananas, one can only assume these are Pac-Man’s table leavings). (Atari, 1983)

See the videoMemories: One of the glut of arcade translations from the heyday of the VCS, Kangaroo is more or less faithful to its arcade namesake, though it’s missing one level (the one where you have to punch out an entire column of monkeys one at a time) and lacks many other details: the giant purple gorilla who swipes your boxing gloves never appears, and neither does the monkey who drops apples on you from above – the apples merely bounce out of nowhere of their own accord. Continue reading

Star Wars: Jedi Arena

Star Wars: Jedi ArenaThe Game: You weren’t born with a lightsaber in your hands. Even a Jedi Knight must practice his skills. Two Jedi are safely tucked away behind deflector shields, while an automatic seeker ball roams the center of a large chamber. You can use the Force to influence the seeker to attack your opponent, and you can deflect the seeker’s laser bolts when your opponent does the same to you. And every once in a while, the seeker goes into berzerk mode, firing multiple bolts at both contestants, pummeling their shields until one or both are defenseless. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Easily the strangest of Parker Bros.Star Wars-inspired games for the 2600, I have to give Jedi Arena full marks for originality – instead of trying to ape a scene from any of the films in a convoluted game structure, Parker Brothers instead opted to create a completely new scenario, based only loosely on Luke’s training scene with the seeker ball in Star Wars. 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

Rush’N Attack

Rush'N AttackBuy this gameThe Game: You’re a lone soldier behind enemy lines, but this is no Front Line. Armed with a knife and some serious kickboxing skills, you weave your way through an enemy installation, doing away with soldiers who are trying to block your way. Occasionally, you can pick up a weapon from a downed enemy, including flame-throwers, machine guns and rocket launchers. (Konami, 1985)

Memories: I remember encountering only one Rush’N Attack machine, which was one of the last arcade games I ever became hooked on. There’s actually something addictive, in a bloodthirsty sort of way, about this little war game. Continue reading

Godzilla: Monster Of Monsters

Godzilla: Monster Of MonstersThe Game: It is the year 2XXX (don’t worry, we couldn’t find it on our calendars either), and Planet X has declared war on Earth’s solar system, sending its finest kaiju into the fray. In this time of our most desperate need, Godzilla and Mothra step forward to defend the Earth and fight for humanity, taking out enemy installations, spacecraft and even those pesky enemy monsters. But even Godzilla and Mothra can only take so much damage… (Toho Studios/Nintendo, 1988)

Memories: Not exactly Godzilla’s finest hour, Monster Of Monsters is a fairly average side-scrolling fighting game that just happens to feature the King of Monsters as its star. And while there’s a certain thrill to having Godzilla as one’s on-screen avatar, the game itself doesn’t do a lot to distinguish itself from the glut of similar side-scrolling fighters that was out at the time. Continue reading

Ninja Golf

Ninja GolfThe Game: You face a test of your skills in the time-honored way of the Ninja: you must survive a game of golf. But you’re not the only Ninja on the course, and apparently you are the only Ninja who’s got a bullseye painted on his back. Before you can say “Crouching Tiger Woods, Hidden Dragon,” you must fend off See the videoattackers, including pesky gophers and alarmingly large frogs, in between putts. When you reach the green, a large dragon will attack you, as large dragons are wont to do on the green. Defeat the dragon and you advance to the next hole; do not defeat the dragon, and it will leave a hole in you. (Atari, 1990)

Memories: This utterly bizarre little game is almost like somebody’s idea of a spoof game, something you’d see if there was a Weird Al Signature Series for the 7800. But no, Ninja Golf was an actual mainstream 7800 title – well, that is, if you consider the 7800 mainstream – and proof that someone, somewhere at Atari, was thinking way outside the box. Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 5 (“O”)

Namco Museum Volume 5Buy this gameThe Game: The Namco Museum is open for business one last time! Today’s exhibit features games of the late 1980s, and of course Pac-Man – being the prideful little single-celled organism that he is – simply must see all the displays. You wander the halls one last time, visiting some really cool themed rooms for each game, with the yellow one underfoot. Games included this time around are Metro-Cross, Pac-Mania, Dragon Spirit, The Legend of Valkyrie and Baraduke. (Namco, 1996)

Memories: For the final installment of their series of classic arcade emulations, Namco mined their late-80s games, concentrating on fighting and quest games primarily. The only relatively simple title included on Volume 5 (a.k.a. Volume O) is the final arcade appearance of Pac-Man in Pac-Mania, a very simple updating of the original Pac-Man set in a vaguely Zaxxon-esque three-quarter perspective. In a way, Pac-Mania is the direct predecessor of the 3-D “maze mode” of Namco’s recent retro revival Pac-Man World. Continue reading

Namco Museum Encore

Namco Museum EncoreThe Game: All aboard! Now departing the Namco Museum aboard the spaceship Game Space Milaiya. Namco’s retrospective series literally takes off for its final ride on the Playstation with a collection of seven games, from the earliest days of Namco’s video game empire to more recent arcade titles. (Namco, 1997 – for Playstation)

Memories: For the final PS1 outing of the Namco Museum series, Namco turned out what easily could have been the user-friendliest volume yet, dispensing with the tedious “Doom minus the action” museum settings and otherwise simplifying things dramatically. In short: doing away with the extraneous trappings to make way for more games. Continue reading

Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi

Star Wars: Masters of Teras KasiOrder this gameThe Game: The Emperor, tiring of the constant Rebel threat to his plans for conquest, plays his hidden ace – Arden Lyn, a deceptively young-looking woman who is the last known master of the ancient martial art of teras kasi. Her mission is to hunt down Luke, Han, Leia and the other Rebels…and eliminate them. Little does she know that the Rebels are aware of the new threat to their cause, and are preparing for her arrival as well. (LucasArts, 1997)

Memories: How best to describe Teras Kasi? Think of MTV’s Celebrity Death Match set in the Star Wars universe, and you’ll have a pretty good idea, sans claymation. Teras Kasi could have been more easily titled Star Wars Ultimate Fighting and gotten the point across more succinctly (and probably would’ve sold better as well). Continue reading

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom MenaceMemories: As various heroic characters from the days when Jedi Knights still enforced justice in that galaxy far, far away, you must expose the danger posed to peaceful Naboo by the Trade Federation’s army of battle and destroyer droids, and escort Order this gameQueen Amidala out of the clutches of the invaders who would force her to surrender her world into slavery. (LucasArts, 1999)

Memories: Oh, what a frustrating game! The Playstation is a recent acquisition for me, and I like the wealth of Retro Revivals and emulations available for Sony’s nifty little game console. But this game and the Xena game just about drove me nuts…yet this is the style of game that most everyone seems to be trying to create these days. Continue reading

Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power Battles

Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power BattlesOrder this gameThe Game: As one of five Jedi Knights (or two, if you have a second player for cooperative mode), you take on the entire Trade Federation battle droid army in an attempt to reach Naboo, save Jar Jar and the Queen (and yes, you do have to save Jar Jar), and safeguard these two and a certain young potential Jedi from battle droids, Darth Maul and other menaces. And these aren’t your wimpy battle droids who short circuit if you tell ’em you’re taking the queen to Coruscant, either – these are kick-ass droids with slick martial arts moves who can inflict some serious damage. But then again…so can you. (LucasArts, 2000)

Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power BattlesMemories: The second entry in LucasArts’ effort to mine Star Wars: Episode I for new Playstation games is a vast improvement over the previous, generically titled Phantom Menace game. And, at long last, Jedi Power Battles offers something that has been missing from the Star Wars video gaming genre for a long time: a chance to fight some battles with the lightsaber as your chief weapon. Continue reading

Tatsunoko Fight

Tatsunoko FightThe Game: If there can be a collective of Super Friends, why not a cabal of supervillains? The forces of evil from the various anime series created by Tatsunoko Studios have merged their powers, so the heroes of those same universes must join forces to save us all. This saving takes the form of a lot of unarmed combat – you can probably figure out what to do from here. You must do battle with the great villains of those various shows – or even other heroes, in Vs. mode. Series whoses characters are included are Gatchaman (better known as Battle Of The Planets in the U.S.), Tekkaman, Casshan, and Polymer The Ha-Ri-Ken Fighter. A new character in the classic Tatsunoko Studios mold, Volter The Lightning, is introduced here for the first time. (Takara Toys, 2000)

Memories: When you think of Tatsunoko Productions, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? For me, it’s visions of armor-and-spandex-clad superheroes wearing helmets with transparent visors! No, seriously – virtually every Tatsunoko superhero has a helmet with a transparent visor. Check the screen shots below, see if I’m lying to you. I swear, they all do. Continue reading

Godzilla: Domination

Godzilla: Domination!Order this gameThe Game: As the lone monster not affected by the mysterious magnetic waves being released from Magnetic Meteor X, it’s up to you to fight your way through a series of crazed monsters and defeat the ultimate villain, Mecha-King Ghidorah. (Infogrames/Atari, 2002)

Memories: There’s a fine line between adding to a genre and simply copying it, a line that Godzilla: Domination is never quite able to cross. The makings of a fun game are all here: giant monsters battling throughout multiple interactive playfields, but unfortunately the formula has been done before, better. Continue reading

Capcom Classics Collection

Capcom Classics CollectionBuy this gameThe Game: Relive the golden years of arcades through the latest retro compilation disc, Capcom Classics Collection. CCC contains 22 classic arcade games along with tons of unlockable artwork, music and more. (Capcom, 2005, for Sony Playstation 2)

Memories: It is impossible to deny the impact retrogaming has had on the gaming industry. Those of us who spent our youth hanging out in smoke-filled arcades are now the prime videogame demographic. Many of us have spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on games, and the companies from our childhood have figured out a way to tap into that cash flow – through retro compilation discs. It’s taken a while for companies to get the formula right; too few games or to high of a price, and consumers complain (or simply avoid) your package. Developers (particularly Sega) have experimented with “updated” versions of classic games, which have been met with mixed reviews. In 2005, manufacturers seem to have dialed in to what consumers want – arcade ports of 20 or more games for $20. Bonus features are a plus. Continue reading

Tecmo Classic Arcade

Tecmo Classic ArcadeBuy this gameThe Game: Turn your Xbox into a virtual 80’s arcade with Tecmo Classic Arcade, the newest retro compilation disc to hit home consoles. (Tecmo, 2005, for Xbox)

See the videoMemories: Someone has definitely not been saving the best for last. Tecmo Classic Arcade follows a long line of classic arcade compilations which have been released this summer, including Capcom Classics Collection, Namco Museum: 50th Anniversary, Taito Legends and Midway’s Arcade Treasures 3. Unfortunately, no matter how you slice it, Tecmo’s game collection simply doesn’t stand up against the competition. Continue reading

Tron Evolution: Battle Grids

Tron Evolution: Battle GridsThe Game: In the era before Clu’s forceful takeover of the grid, Tron is kept busy with securing the digital world, leaving a vacuum from which a new champion can emerge in the grid games. Various factions have their own champions, who now battle each other on the game grid in various contests: light cycles, hyperball, disc battles, tank battles, and various vehicle races. (Disney Interactive, 2010)

Memories: Though tied into the new Tron movie, Tron Evolution: Battle Grids shows strong signs that its DNA is infused with the original movie and its associated games. Scenarios that didn’t even appear in Tron Legacy are front-and-center in Battle Grids, despite the story mode that sets up the era between the two movies. Continue reading

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