Star Voyager

Star VoyagerSee the videoThe Game: Patrolling the space lanes isn’t easy – ever noticed how many regions of space are teeming with hostile aliens? Your tour of duty aboard the Star Voyager is no different. Using a simple radar device for guidance, you have to track down alien ships and destroy them before they can return the favor. However, you have a limited energy reserve with which to accomplish this task. Alien hits on your ship will significantly deplete your energy, and firing your own lasers also gradually bleeds your ship dry. The only opportunity you have to replenish your energy is to defeat all the aliens within range and pass through a stargate. When you run out of energy, you’re out of luck. (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: This fairly simple first-person space shoot ’em up – less complicated than either Star Raiders or Activision‘s Starmaster – was one of the best attempts of its era at a 3-D game on the 2600. Continue reading

Tron Solar Sailer

Tron Solar SailerThe Game: In the third and final game of the trilogy of Intellivision games based on the movie Tron, you’re piloting the solar sailer vehicle stolen by Tron and Yori about 2/3 of the way through the movie. You ride the light beams through the digital realm, avoiding deadly (but dumb) grid bugs and pursuing Recognizers. You can fire weapons at both of the above, but doing this and keeping yourself on a clear path is the real challenge. (Mattel, 1982)

Memories: Of any of the Tron games Mattel manufactured for its own Intellivision platform or the Atari 2600, Solar Sailer is probably the one which is most closely related to a scene in the movie. It may also be the hardest. Continue reading

Astron Belt

3-D computer rendering of Astron Belt cabinetThe Game: You’re a lone space pilot on patrol in the middle of an intergalactic war. In deep space, on craggy hazardous planet surfaces and at all points in between, you’re a target for enemy forces, and while you can defend yourself, danger See the videocomes from all sides without warning: enemy fire, collisions with the landscape or enemy ships, and that old standby, pilot error. The video footage in the background comes from Toei Studios’ 1979 opus Message From Earth and, somewhat surprisingly, Star Trek II. (Sega / Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: In 1983, several companies seemed to simultaneously roll out arcade games based on the engineering principle that some or all of the game’s graphics would be played by a videodisc player. In the age of videotape, videodisc technology wasn’t perfect, but it presented something that was absolutely vital for bringing pre-recorded video to a game environment: random access. Without that, any game using pre-recorded video would’ve been forced to show the same sequence of visuals no matter what the player did. Continue reading

Blaster

BlasterBuy this gameThe Game: The human race narrowly escapes the conquering of Earth by the merciless Robotrons. The last surviving remnants of mankind See the videoscatter as they leave the planet, heading for a distant world known as Paradise. Your job? Make sure they get there – by blasting away at anything and everything along the perilous journey. (Williams Electronics, 1983)

Memories: In the continuation of the Defender / Stargate / Robotron story cycle, Blaster builds nicely on the nearly-movie-worthy saga by picking up from the inevitable conclusion of Robotron (i.e., the protagonist’s death). Now humanity is on the run, and there are all kinds of nasty creatures waiting to finish the human race off, including the Masterminds, which look a lot like Robotron‘s Brains, only more hideous (imagine a large brain wearing a Darth Vader faceplate, and you’ll get the idea.) Continue reading

The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes BackBuy this gameThe Game: You are Rebel snowspeeder pilot Luke Skywalker, flying low over the surface of Hoth, prowling for Probots and waging war on AT-ATs and AT-STs. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: The description sounds rather glib, but there’s a simple reason for it – this game, based on the 1980 sequel to Star Wars, is – in case you hadn’t guessed it from the screen shots – merely a very thinly-disguised makeover of Atari’s original Star Wars arcade game. Ripped straight out of the second level of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back replaces the towers and bunkers with probe droids and Imperial Walkers, replaces the X-Wing gunsights of the earlier game with two Snowspeeder blasters, and voilà, it’s a new game – almost. Continue reading

Star Wars

Star WarsBuy this gameThe Game: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…you mean to tell me there’s someone out there who doesn’t know this story?! You’re an intrepid X-Wing pilot participating in the last-ditch Rebel attempt to destroy the Death Star – before it destroys the Rebel base on Yavin IV. TIE Fighters try to intercept you, but you can destroy them (as well as use your own lasers to blast their incoming fire out See the videoof the sky). Then you move in to attack the Death Star itself, with its incredibly hazardous system of gunnery towers and bunkers. Once you’ve gotten past the surface defenses, you dive into the trench that will lead you to an exhaust port which is the only means of destroying the Death Star – but there are defenses in the trench as well, and your deflector shields can only take so much… (Atari, 1983)

Memories: In a sad way, Atari’s uber-Star Wars game puts Sega’s rival Star Trek arcade game in its grave. The eminently playable and addictive Star Wars is fast-moving, gut-wrenching, and best yet, you actually have at least a chance of winning the game, offering some satisfaction that you’d accomplished something. Continue reading

Battlezone

BattlezoneThe Game: As the pilot of a heavy tank, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and landing vehicles. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: Battlezone, in its arcade incarnation, was a huge, lumbering hulk of a beast with controls which were at best difficult to master (and at worst impossible), though it did sport some very good faux-3-D vector graphics. How on Earth was Atari going to turn this into a 2600 game? Continue reading

Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom

Buck Rogers: Planet Of ZoomThe Game: As space pilot Buck Rogers, you pilot an agile star fighter across a hazardous alien landscape, dodging buildings and destroying enemy vessels. (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Bearing only the most superficial resemblance – just the design of the star fighter – to the television series of the same name, Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom may seem like nothing terribly special these days, but at the time, it was a breakthrough in 3-D, not-quite-first-person aerial/space combat video games – from the same people who brought you Zaxxon, the first vaguely-3-D game. 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

Robot Tank

Robot TankBuy this gameThe Game: So much for the tank platoon. You’re in charge of a lone robotic tank on a battlefield buzzing with bad guys. A radar sweep gives you advance notice of approaching enemies, but there are so many of them out there that even that warning may not come soon enough. A series of critically-placed blasts could leave you immobile, or worse yet, unarmed and helpless to do anything but take a pounding until it’s all over. Repair systems can restore these lost abilities – if you survive that long. The fighting doesn’t stop at night either – the sun goes down, leaving you in the dark for several minutes, capable of fighting and navigating only by instrumentation with little in the way of visual cues. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Just as Activision beat Parker Bros.‘ rendition of Frogger to the punch with Freeway, they also bested Atari’s own unexpectedly impressive Atari 2600 port of Battlezone with their own first-person tank entry, Robot Tank. Designed and programmed by Alan Miller, Robot Tank has some of Activision’s familiar signatures – the near-impossible color palette they squeezed out of the 2600, the almost flicker-free graphics, and just plain addictive game play. But in this case, Atari’s home version of Battlezone was no slouch either, so it’s hard to pick a clear winner. Continue reading

Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Orbit

Space ShuttleBuy this gameThe Game: You’re the pilot of the space shuttle. And the mission specialist too, apparently. (Hey, everyone’s making staffing cutbacks these days.) You must keep the orbiter on target during launch, not allowing it to drift off course, and then you must retrieve, repair and re-deploy a satellite. Then augur the shuttle in for a smooth landing – and then get in line for your next mission, which begins almost immediately after your previous one. (Did we mention that, in this game’s universe, you’re NASA’s only shuttle pilot and mission specialist?) (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Activision‘s excessively cool shuttle flight sim piqued my interest just as a later Apple II resource-management game, Project Space Station, did. I’ve always liked the idea of a modern-day (or five-minutes-into-the-future, as was the case with Project) space sim that doesn’t involve blowing stuff up. Continue reading

Star Trek

Star TrekThe Game: Welcome to the bridge. Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Sega, 1983)

See the TV adMemories: Sega‘s own adaptation of its arcade game wasn’t bad. Though the Atari VCS, by its very nature, tends to force programmers to make trade-offs for game play that rob arcade adaptations of some of their luster, this one actually came out okay. If anything, this version of Star Trek was simpler than its arcade forebear – and since “bear” is the operative word for the coin-op, for once this isn’t a bad thing. Continue reading

Battlezone

BattlezoneThe Game: As the pilot of a heavy tank, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and landing vehicles. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: If Atari’s 2600 version of the arcade wargame was a pleasant surprise, the unreleased 5200 edition of the same game is almost a revelation. Combining adaptations of the menacingly angular vector graphics of the arcade game with more realistic raster backgrounds, the 5200 prototype is not only fun, but rather pretty to look at. Continue reading

Ballblazer

BallblazerThe Game: Pong just got a lot more difficult. The table-tennis-inspired sport is now played at blow-your-hair-back speeds on a 3-D field, with vehicles called rotofoils serving as the paddles. Up to four players can compete, or you can humiliate yourself by trying to fight computer-controlled opponents. (Atari/Lucasfilm Games, 1984)

Memories: The announcement was simple, and ominous, and got a lot of press. “Lucasfilm is entering the video game industry.” It made big waves, and why wouldn’t it? The thought of someone with the tremendous creative resources of George Lucas getting in on the action was enough to excite many gamers – particularly those who, around 1984, were deluged in the kind of mediocre titles which brought the video game business to its knees. Continue reading

Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom

Buck Rogers: Planet Of ZoomThe Game: Zoom being the operative word here, your mission – as space hero Buck Rogers – is to fly in close quarters with all kinds of enemy ships, landers and structures, fending off their attacks, and generally staying alive as long as See the videopossible. Obligatory robot wisecracks and utterances of “beedy-beedy-beedy” not included. (Coleco [under license from Sega], 1984)

Memories: Far and away the most faithful home console version of Sega’s arcade sleeper hit, Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom is a blast on the ColecoVision. Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Sega, 1984)

Memories: Some of the games ported to the Atari 5200 are a bit perplexing when they’re hardly a step above the same title as released for the Atari 2600. Sega’s 5200 edition of its own arcade game doesn’t improve much on the graphics of the 2600 version, and doesn’t even take advantage of the 5200’s controller keypad to control things like shields and warp power (that’s actually a bit disappointing there). Continue reading

Star Wars: The Arcade Game

Star Wars: The Arcade GameSee the videoThe Game: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…you mean to tell me there’s someone out there who doesn’t know this story?! You’re an intrepid X-Wing pilot participating in the last-ditch Rebel attempt to destroy the Death Star – before it destroys the Rebel base on Yavin III. TIE fighters try to intercept you, but you can destroy them (as well as use your own lasers to blast their incoming fire out of the sky). Then you move in to attack the Death Star itself, with its incredibly hazardous system of gunnery towers and bunkers. (Parker Brothers, 1984)

Memories: Just think of it as the original X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter. In one of the strangest licensing deals in early home video game history, Parker Brothers snagged the rights to adapt Atari’s Star Wars arcade game for Atari’s own home video game systems. (If you’re wondering how this worked, it’s because Parkers had the rights to all home video games based on the Star Wars properties – so Atari couldn’t do its own cartridge version.) Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Welcome aboard, Captain. Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into See the videoFederation space without getting your Constitution-class starship and her crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power. Periodically you’ll even have to navigate a minefield laid by the murderous Nomad probe while trying to catch a fleeting glimpse of Nomad itself so you can destroy it. (Coleco [under license from Sega], 1984)

Memories: One of the better home versions of Sega’s vector arcade game, the ColecoVision edition of Strategic Operations Simulator pulls off the neat trick of very nearly delivering more authentic Star Trek atmosphere than its inspiration. Each game kicks off with the familiar strains of Alexander Courage’s opening fanfare for the Enterprise (replacing the rather non-specific opening music of the arcade game), and even the game-ending “simulation complete” message is accompanied by another passage from the Star Trek theme. Continue reading

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