Tunnel Hunt

Tunnel HuntThe Game: Piloting a ship navigating a tunnel in space at breakneck speeds, your mission – aside from screaming down that tunnel way over the speed limit without getting too far off course- is to dispatch countless suspiciously bow-tie-shaped fighters before they get a clear shot at you. (Has anyone ever wondered what all these See the videoshort-range fighters are doing out here? Bah, never mind. Probably got separated from a convoy or something.) If the enemy ships do manage to get a shot off, you have a narrow window of opportunity in which to intercept the incoming laser fire – very narrow, considering how fast everything is moving. Fire too much, and your lasers overheat and become temporarily useless. Stray too far off course, and your hull temperature shoots upward until your ship explodes. (Atari, 1979 – released by Centuri in 1982)

Memories: This oft-forgotten gem in Atari’s coin-op library may well be the very first first-person arcade flight sim, and it’s an eye-searingly psychedelic riot of colors to boot. That this game isn’t recognized in the same annals as Atari’s Asteroids or Tempest for innovation probably goes down to its obscurity. Continue reading

Phaser Patrol

Phaser PatrolThe Game: The war between the humans and the spacefaring enemy Dracons isn’t going well, and you’ve enlisted to join the fight. In the cockpit of your space fighter, you toggle between your flight computer (where you can find and set a course for Dracon attack groups on the map, or helpful starbases where you can replenish and repair your ship) and the direct view ahead when you engage in combat. The Dracons throw a lot of firepower at you, but your own torpedoes have a longer “reach” than their ammo. Your ship can take a pounding in a firefight, gradually eliminating your shields, your targeting ability, and even your weapons. The game is over when you can’t withdraw for repairs and are destroyed by the Dracons. (Arcadia, 1982)

See the videoThe Game: In 1982, an assemblage of former Atari programmers, along with a few hand-picked rookie programmers, started their own third-party video game venture. To be in that market at that time, however, one had to make games for the Atari 2600, and the Arcadia programmers’ game concepts outstripped that machine’s software. Not to be slowed down by that minor problem, Arcadia introduced a new piece of hardware along with its first game. The Supercharger more than doubled the 2600’s RAM, and had the beneficial side effect of allowing Arcadia to avoid the costly practice of having cartridge casings made; instead of cartridges, the Supercharger loaded its enhanced games from cassette tape, usually in under 30 seconds. Continue reading

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek: The Motion PictureThe Game: You’re at the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise – that’s the cool part. The not-so-cool part? You’re in disputed territory – and the Klingons are bringing the fight to you en masse, attacking both the Enterprise and local Starbases, which you have the defend (lest you be left with no place to refuel). Use your phasers, photon torpedoes and shields judiciously – and do whatever it takes to halt the Klingon advance before they overrun Federation space. (GCE, 1982)

Memories: When the Enterprise returned by way of movie screens around the world in 1979, the sets and other visual details depicting the ship were brought right up to date to withstand big-screen scrutiny (and anticipated repeat viewing – though probably not even the movie’s makers knew to what degree that would be the case). The Enterprise’s onboard computers were shown to display, among other things, vector-graphics-style tactical displays – a fact not lost on the makers of the Vectrex console. Marrying the two was only – dare I say it? – logical. Continue reading

Star Raiders

Kneel to the awesome power of the mighty Atari 2600 Video Touch Pad!Star RaidersBuy this gameThe Game: Zylon warships are on the rampage, blasting allied basestars out of the sky and wreaking havoc throughout the galaxy. Your orders are to track down the fast-moving raiders and destroy them before they can do any more damage. You have limited shields and weapons at your disposal, and a battle computer which is vital to your mission (though critical damage to your space fighter can leave you without that rather important piece of equipment). The game is simple: See the TV addestroy until you are destroyed, and defend friendly installations as long as you can. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: A cult classic on the Atari 400 & 800 computers, Star Raiders was something that the VCS just couldn’t do. Continue reading

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

Turbo

TurboThe Game: It’s pretty straightforward…you’re zipping along in your Formula One race car, trying to avoid other drivers and obstacles along the way while hauling a sufficient quantity of butt to win the race. (Coleco [under license from Sega], 1982)

Memories: One of the seminal first-person racing games of the 80s, Turbo was one of several Sega coin-ops that caught the eye of Coleco. The one hurdle in bringing it to the ColecoVision? Having to invent a whole new controller that would be similar enough to Turbo‘s arcade control scheme without being so specific as to rule out using the driving controller for other games in the future. And thus was born Expansion Module #2, a steering wheel controller with a detachable “gas pedal.” Continue reading

Change Lanes

Change LanesThe Game: The future! A dystopia of fast driving! Players are behind the wheel of a multi-terrain vehicle that can switch from fast handling on solid surfaces to amphibious speedboat in the blink of an eye. The currency of this violent future is fuel for this vehicle, and enemies in similar vehicles and in airborne vehicles will stop at nothing to claim fuel for themselves, regardless of the player’s safety. Grey highways and rivers are the usual modes of travel, though brown highways offer faster travel. Checkpoints must be reached in the correct order to rack up bonus points (players who arrive at the wrong checkpoint will be greeted with a checkerboard pattern instead of a number), but all checkpoints, even the wrong ones, grant players extra fuel. Surface enemies can be rammed out of the way, but there’s no honor lost in surviving by throwing the vehicle into reverse gear. Whoever survives the longest and scores the highest is crowned the Supreme King of the World. (Taito America, 1982)

Memories: Before there was RoadBlasters, before the first-person-driving-and-combat genre became a fleeting fixture on the arcade landscape, there was Taito‘s Change Lanes, an aggressive novelty in an increasingly crowded field of first-person racers. Sure, games like Pole Position and Turbo offered us the chance to race with an unprecedented view…but Change Lanes changed the venue, setting it in a kind of genteel Mad Max-inspired world: sure, fuel is a precious commodity, and in-game enemies will kill to keep the player from acquiring it…and yet someone’s maintaining the infrastructure. Good job on those frictionless brown lanes, infrastructure people. 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

Crossbow

CrossbowThe Game: Your friends (wait a minute, I’ve never seen these people before in my life!) are venturing through treacherous deserts, unfriendly See the videovillages, and a variety of other inhospitable settings. Armed with a crossbow – controlled with a fancy light gun mounted on the arcade cabinet – your job is to pick off any threats, be they nasty critters, falling projectiles, snipers, or what have you, and allow your friends to pass safely. (Exidy, 1983)

Memories: Y’know, I had to play Crossbow on MAME to remember what the heck the game was about…but once I did, I remembered that it was a very influential game on me at the time it was released. The novel concept of picking which game screen you’d explore next by shooting a representative icon on a menu-style screen was very cool, as was the watered-down, vaguely-D&D-ish atmosphere of the whole thing. 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

Motorace USA / Traverse USA / Zippy Race

Motorace USAThe Game: As the lone motorcyclist in a cross-country car race, you have to dodge your opponents at high speed, one two-ton vehicle at a time. You drive through city streets, highways, and through the rough desert, trying to reach See the videoyour goal without running out of gas or getting splattered across the asphalt. (Williams Electronics [under license from IREM], 1983)

Memories: Whatever you called it, this was one of my favorite driving/racing games, combining the best elements of both maze games and scrolling obstacle course games, and handling things differently from the Pole Position and Turbo formula which dominated this particular genre at the time. Continue reading

Pole Position II

Pole Position IIThe Game: So, you survived the qualifying lap and the big race in Pole Position and you’re ready to move on to bigger and better challenges? Well okay then. Now, in addition to the Fuji track, there are others to choose from – Buy this gamethe simple oval of the Test track, and the elaborate (and sometimes deadly) curves of the Seaside and Wonder tracks. As before, going over the shoulder isn’t a good thing – nor is crawling up the tailpipe of the cars in front of you, for the explosions in this game are even more spectacular than those of its predecessor. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1983)

Memories: Namco knows a thing or two about decent sequels, having given us such classics as Galaga (the sequel to Galaxian), Dig Dug 2 and the obscure Hopping Mappy. Pole Position II‘s controls are even more responsive, the graphics more fluid and realistic, and the explosions? Well, let’s put it this way – Pole Position kills you with a nice big explosion. Pole Position II throws debris. 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

Enduro

EnduroBuy this gameThe Game: As one of many drivers in a round-the-clock endurance race through many areas, terrains and weather conditions. While the pretty boys at Fuji may have sunshine all the time (or so it seems), an Enduro racer has to contend with slick snow, nighttime driving conditions (where the other drivers’ tail lights are the only warning you have of their presence), fog (which is much like night driving, but about 10 times worse), and so on. (Activision, 1983)

See the videoMemories: Enduro is a killer driving game, taking the same graphical gimmick that made Pole Position a hit, and increasing the challenge of the game – even to the point of exceeding the depth of the game that it’s loosely based on. Continue reading

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