Night Driver

Night DriverThe Game: You’re racing the Formula One circuit by the glow of your headlights alone – avoid the markers along the side of the road and other passing obstacles…if you can see them in time. (Atari, 1976)

Memories: Aside from the very cool cockpit cabinet of the sit-down version of Night Driver, there’s a reason why it earns a spot in video game history. Go ahead and see if you can guess what it is. Give up? It’s the first time that a representation of depth appeared in the graphics of a video game. Until this point, home and arcade video games had presented their playing fields as strictly two-dimensional spaces: they were seen from straight overhead, or from a side-on view. Continue reading

3-D Tic-Tac-Toe

3-D Tic-Tac-ToeBuy this gameThe Game: If you’re not quite up to the challenge of playing 3-D chess with Mr. Spock, you can always try playing 3-D tic-tac-toe against the Atari 2600. Using your joystick, you position your pieces in an ongoing battle with the computer. But be careful – the machine is very wily about placing its pieces, and can often force you to head it off at one pass, only to leave yourself wide open for a complete vertical row. This game is much more challenging than it looks, despite the age of the technology involved. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: Clever little game, this, and among the earliest batch of Atari cartridges released. And considering that its contemporaries in that batch included such titles as Breakout, Space War and Combat, 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe is probably the most graphically refined of the early VCS games. Continue reading

Tennis

TennisBuy this gameThe Game: Is it Pong anthropomorphized, or is it tennis rehumanized? Two people dash back and fourth across a court, making every attempt to intercept the incoming ball and slap it back into their opponent’s side of the net. As with so many other things in life, he who drops the ball suffers severely. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: Doesn’t really matter how you dress it up: it’s all tennis. Only Activision‘s Tennis cartridge, programmed by Alan Miller, was the first time someone had tried to make the tennis players look like…well, tennis players, at least on the VCS. As one of the very first titles released by Activision, Tennis broke graphical ground, but kept game play simple, often simulating an existing sport or activity – the salad days of innovation with games like Pitfall! were still to come. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated See the videoBuy this gameone-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, arcade- cabinet-shaking splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Gottlieb/Mylstar, 1982)

Memories: So many arcade games looked like hits and smelled like hits before they actually got an arcade road test, and this archive is itself littered with screenshots of wanna-be hits where every name, graphic and sound were trademarked. Because someone was sure that, for example, Winky from Venture would be a runaway hit. Q*Bert is a case where that optimism – and the marketing muscle behind it – was perfectly justified. With a game concept by Warren Davis, memorable characters from Gottlieb staff artist Jeff Lee and wacky jumbled-synthesized-speech effects by David Thiel, Q*Bert was one of those games that went into orbit instantly. It was almost universally loved and talked-about, and you could count on quite a line at the Q*Bert machine at your local arcade. And this is a rare case where I’ll admit, even in jaded hindsight, that all the praise was so worth it. Continue reading

Super Zaxxon

Super ZaxxonThe Game: That armed-to-the-teeth spaceborne fortress is back – and so are you, because you’re (of course) the only space pilot who can take it on. This time, however, you’ll be flying through the trench-like space station faster, the automated missiles and gun turrets will attack you more quickly and aggressively, and instead of flying through space between levels, this time you shoot through a tightly-enclosed tunnel at bat-out-of-hell speeds – trying to battle enemy fighters as well as minelaying hovercraft which drop indestructible mines into your path. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all? Whereas the boss waiting for you in Zaxxon‘s fortress was a big robot, this one’s an animè-cute dragon – and it’ll still kick your ass if you don’t blow it up first. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: Originally sold as a conversion kit so arcade operators could freshen up their year-old Zaxxon machines, Super Zaxxon really did nothing more than swap out the graphics set and increased the speed of the game phenomenally. If you thought Zaxxon was a breeze, this game will wake you up. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress (vaguely inspired by the Death Star trench scenes in Star Wars), your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as much of the defenses as you can in the See the videomeantime. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: Zaxxon drastically changed the nature of side-scrolling shooter games by introducing a somewhat 3-D perspective to the game. Not only were altitude and forward motion taken into account, but you could also move side to side, banking, diving, and gaining altitude. Bearing in mind that Zaxxon was the first game to feature this kind of movement, its experimental nature and great graphics occasionally got in the way of the player’s attempt to ascertain exactly where he was in the playing field. Also, some of the actual obstacles in your path were indistinguishable from the harmless scrolling background. Continue reading

Racquetball

RacquetballThe Game: One or two players try to keep a ball in motion in an enclosed space; standard racquetball rules apply. (Games By Apollo, 1982)

Memories: As discussed earlier in our review of Skeet Shoot, Games By Apollo was the first third-party game software supplier for the Atari 2600 founded by a speculator with no prior ties to the video game industry. Skeet Shoot, Apollo’s first game, was rushed out as quickly as possible, whereas programmer Ed Salvo had a little more time to roll out Racquetball, and the graphical difference is huge. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: You’re the pilot of a lone fighter ship, screaming down the trench-like, heavily armed confines of a spaceborne fortress, on a mission to find and destroy the Zaxxon robot – the most heavily guarded of all – at the heart of the See the videostructure. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: In 1983, Sega’s Zaxxon was the hottest new thing in the arcade, and quickly became a windmill for home video game consoles to attempt to topple. Its vaguely-3D perspective was the game’s claim to fame, and was the hardest thing for home video game programmers to try to emulate. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: You’re the sole space fighter pilot penetrating a heavily-armed, mobile alien fortress. If you can survive wave after wave of fighters and ground defenses, you’ll have the opportunity to destroy the Zaxxon robot at the heart of the complex. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: Just about the only thing this game has in common with its arcade progenitor is its name. Now, keeping in mind for the moment that Zaxxon was the most visually stunning arcade game of its day, it was quite a challenge for Coleco to grab the rights and translate the game for home console systems. Even the version of Zaxxon Coleco produced for its own platform, the ColecoVision, fell a little bit short of the mark. But the Atari 2600 edition of Zaxxon may serve as proof that Coleco should have stopped with the ColecoVision adaptation. Continue reading

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: Bongo the Ape, presumably Donkey Kong’s third cousin, sets your toes on fire while you’re asleep during a jungle expedition. So naturally, you drop everything to take revenge on the goofy gorilla. But first you have to reach See the videohim. The first level is a hazardous assortment of ramps and levels and a waterfall to jump across. Be careful of pesky little monkeys who can weigh you down so you move slower (and jump lower). And watch out for snakes. Then you have to hop across various islands and dodge more snakes as you try to get across a river. The most difficult level is the third, where you must try to dodge charging rhinos (and I don’t mean they have credit cards), occasionally ducking out of sight in little sinkholes where you get to squash other critters. The fourth level is very Frogger-like, consisting of riding across another river on the backs of hippos, fish, and lily pads. When you complete this screen, you set Bongo’s toes on fire as he sleeps…and then the whole thing starts again. (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Congo Bongo was entertaining enough, though it suffered from some of the same frustrations caused by the overhead 3-D graphic scheme that originated with Sega’s own Zaxxon. In some ways, Congo Bongo was nothing more than a 3-D version of Donkey Kong, right down to the pesky primate. Continue reading

Crystal Castles

Crystal CastlesBuy this gameThe 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, See the videoupright 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, 1983)

Memories: A bizarre little game with play elements of Pac-Man set in an almost Q*Bert-like perspective, Crystal Castles was actually quite the quantum leap forward for graphics back in ’83. (It would later be blown out of the water by Atari’s own Marble Madness not long afterward.) It was also one of the earliest games to utilize Atari’s System 1 hardware. Continue reading

Marble Madness

Marble MadnessBuy this gameThe Game: You control the speed and direction of a marble which is racing other marbles to reach the finish line. Obstacles along the way include marble-eating creatures, treacherous cliffs and drawbridges, and the game’s own trakball controller! (Atari, 1983)

Memories: One of the most bizarrely abstract games to emerge from the post-Pac-Man ’80s, Marble Madness is like a virtual homage to those wooden maze-under-glass games, in which you’d try to shift the game to various angles and get a ball bearing to go where you wanted it to go. Marble Madness does away with the moving-the-whole-maze element and puts the marble under its own power – and that’s just where the frustration begins! Continue reading

Q*Bert’s Qubes

Q*Bert's QubesThe Game: Q*Bert is back, hopping around from cube to cube, rotating the cubes 90 degrees with every hop…but a nasty bouncing rat and his minions are out to get the big Q. If one of the rat’s henchmen hops onto a cube whose top surface is the same color as its skin, it melts into the cube harmlessly. Q*Bert must change at See the videoleast one row of cubes to the target color to advance to the next level – and there aren’t any flying discs this time! (Mylstar Electronics, 1983)

Memories: Similar enough that veteran Q*Bert players could pick up its play mechanics in their first game, but different enough to throw them off their game, Q*Bert’s Qubes was a textbook example of a good arcade sequel. It certainly didn’t hurt that it introduced a whole new pantheon of cute adversaries for Q*Bert to avoid, and yet somehow, the only thing anyone really seems to remember about any iteration of Q*Bert’s Qubes is how scarce it was – and still is. Continue reading

Boing!

Boing!The Game: You’re a bubble bounding around a series of platforms, changing the color of every segment on which you land. Your job is to change the color of the entire playing field while avoiding everything else, including an equally mobile See the videoneedle that has a point to make. If you run into your adversaries too many times, I hate to burst your bubble, but the game’s over. (First Star Software. 1983)

Memories: One of the earliest entries into the video game arena by First Star Software – an outfit which is actually still in business, unlike a lot of other latecomers to the ’80s video game race – Boing! is obviously another take on the basic game play concepts of Q*Bert, and truth be told, it doesn’t bring any new innovations to the table, but it’s a slight improvement audiovisually. Boing! can also boast an easier control scheme, since it doesn’t ask the player to rotate the joystick 45 degrees. That’s a big help. Continue reading

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: Bongo the ape sets your toes on fire while you’re asleep during a jungle expedition. So naturally, you drop everything to take revenge on the goofy gorilla…but first you have to traverse craggy outcroppings, cross See the videotreacherous bridges, hop across a river on the backs of hippos, duck the attacks of charging rhinos, all to set Bongo’s toes on fire as he sleeps… and then the whole thing starts again. (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Possibly the single rarest Intellivision game that doesn’t require extra gear such as the ECS computer keyboard, Congo Bongo was Sega‘s singular foray into providing home versions of its arcade titles for Intellivision players. Sega had already been collaborating with Coleco for some time, but had recently gone it alone with Atari 2600 and 5200 editions of such games as Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator and Congo Bongo. If Sega had a single problem with its early attempts as a software publisher in the American market, it was timing: most of its games arrived just as the video game industry crash was forcing retailers into a no-win scenario of price cuts and losses. Continue reading

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: You’re a jungle explorer hot on the trail of Bongo the Ape. The first level in your quest is a hazardous assortment of ramps and levels and a waterfall to jump across. Be careful of pesky little monkeys who can weigh you down so See the videoyou move slower (and jump lower). And watch out for snakes. Then you have to hop across a river using lily pads, the backs of hippos, and other floating objects – just try not to miss! (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Egads. Didn’t Sega learn the lesson from Coleco’s horrid VCS version of Zaxxon? Guess not, because their in-house attempt to translate the equally elaborate Congo Bongo arcade game for the 2600, while a bit less of a graphical and game play train wreck than Zaxxon, is still a train wreck. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

See the original TV adMemories: One of my favorite games of all time becomes an excercise in massive frustration when played on the Atari 5200. As with the 5200 version of Frogger – also, coincidentally, produced by Parker Bros. – you must press the bottom fire button in order to move, making the game almost unplayable. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will deposit him back at the top of theSee the videopyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: This game has been much-maligned by some VCS owners over the years, which is something I take issue with. The 2600 translation of the famous arcade game was just fine! The graphics conveyed the pyramid of cubes just fine, it was easy to tell which way Q*Bert was headed, and overall I had no complaints. Even the sound effects, even though they were in some cases not even close to the distinctive sounds of the original, had their own strange charm. Continue reading

  • IP Disclaimer

    All game names, terminology, logos, screen shots, box art, and all related characters and placenames are the property of the games' respective intellectual property holders. The articles herein are not intended to infringe upon their copyright in any way. The author(s) make no attempt - in using the names described herein - to supercede the copyrights of the copyright holders, nor are these articles officially sanctioned, licensed, or endorsed by the games' creators or publishers.