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). 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! (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: With a huge advantage over the other consoles of its generation, the Colecovision should’ve been able to play the best game of Q*Bert in town. And the graphics are probably the best console rendition that the game got prior to the NES era. Where this Q*Bert makes one want to jump off the pyramid is in the controller. Continue reading

Spike!

Spike!The Game: Poor Spike – his girlfriend Molly has been snatched by a beastly enemy, and it’s up to Spike to rescue her (after, of course, declaring “Darnit!”). Spike must climb his way up several ever-moving platforms. He can change the position of the ladders he uses to climb up these platforms, but it’s not as easy as simply reaching the top: to advance to the next level, Spike has to See the videograb a key. Beastly henchmen scoot along the platforms to bump Spike off to his death, but Spike can kick them away momentarily. (GCE, 1983)

Memories: The first voice-synthesis game for GCE‘s already wildly innovative Vectrex console, Spike missed being the first home video game to produce voice synthesis without additional hardware by mere months (wait for it, wait for it… “Darnit!”). (The prize, if anyone’s counting, went to Atari‘s RealSports Baseball for the Atari 5200.) But that’s not the only neat trick Spike! brought to the table. Continue reading

Juice!

Juice!The Game: You’re the circuit maker, and they’re the circuit breakers. You hop around a maze-like structure, dropping circuitry patterns in your wake, as a variety of adversaries try to stop you from completing a circuit leading from the power source at your starting point to the receptacle across the maze from you. Colliding with See the videoany of them will cost you a life, but you can entice them to try to chase you off the maze and into oblivion while you escape safely. Completing the circuit advances you to the next maze – just on’t get too caught up in your power trip. (Tronix, 1983)

Memories: A neat combination of some well-worn game play elements, Juice is an eminently playable example of taking elements from different games and combining them into a new one. Bits of Pac-Man and Q*Bert, with a hint of Zaxxon‘s 3-D isometric perspective, combine to make Juice! unique and fun. Continue reading

Pogo Joe

Pogo JoeThe Game: Pogo Joe has a pogo stick, a screen full of barrels whose colors need to be changed to the same target color, and a bunch of bouncy enemies too. Players guide Joe from barrel to barrel, sometimes requiring a big bounce if a barrel isn’t immediately adjacent to Joe’s current location, avoiding enemy creatures who are out to get him. Joe advances to the next level when the color of every barrel on the screen has been changed. A limited number of barrels per level act as a kind of “smart bomb” – landing on them wipes out all of Joe’s enemies temporarily (though they quitely repopulate the screen). (Screenplay, 1983)

Memories: An obvious riff on the basic game play of Q*Bert, Pogo Joe rewrites the DNA of the original game more significantly than most knock-offs: the shape of the playing field changes from level to level (a trick that Q*Bert borrowed back when it made the jump to Game Boy Color), the cubes have become cylindrical barrels (and nicely drawn ones too, whether on the Atari computers or the Commodore 64), and in a few spectacularly frustrating screens, the barrels disappear completely, leaving the player with an almost unplayable screen if they haven’t planned their moves very, very carefully. In some ways, Pogo Joe is a game that Q*Bert experts could graduate to once they’ve mastered a pyramid of cubes. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress, 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. (Datasoft, 1983)

Memories: Probably the best of the early wave of translations of the groundbreaking arcade game, John Garcia’s Apple II edition of Zaxxon successfully boils the game down to its most vital elements: the basics of its graphical look and smooth, fast motion. Continue reading

Lasercade

LasercadeThe Game: You’re manning an experimental laser in a shooting gallery, trying to zap objects as they cross a screen at the far end of the room. A direct hit scores points, but the clock is always ticking down and any objects that haven’t See the videobeen shot down will remain in play until they’re eliminated. At the end of each round, you’ll be tasked with shooting the flame off of a candelabra, though its rapidly melting candles may make this trickier than you think. With each new level, targets get smaller – and rows of floating mirrors threaten to bounce your laser right back at you if you hit them instead of your target. (20th Century Fox, 1983 [never released])

Memories: In video game terms, lasers are like the opposite of the weather – everyone fires them, but nobody ever talks about them. Though Lasercade belongs to the same category as Carnival and Shootin’ Gallery, its 3-D angle on the basic shooting gallery game is unique in the 2600 library, and for the first time, it really plays with the underlying concept and physical reality of firing lasers. Really. Continue reading

Return Of The Jedi

Return Of The JediBuy this gameThe Game: In the first screen, you’re zipping through the forest of Endor on a stolen speeder bike, with Imperial stormtroopers on their own bikes chasing you. While you can shoot the stormtroopers’ bikes or bump them off the playing field, they can shoot you, and running into trees isn’t good for anyone’s health. Your only advantage? The indigenous Ewoks, those furry little critters who occupy a special, beloved place in every Star Wars fan’s heart, will help you out if you lead the stormtroopers into their primitive traps. The second screen is much like the first, only you’re flying the Millennium Falcon through the Death Star trenches, and the other speeder bikes are now TIE Interceptors. (Atari, 1984)

The Game: Though graphically superior, and almost certainly guaranteed to gross more quarters just because of the Star Wars association, this game was, more or less, Zaxxon with a new paint job. Still, many players at the time hailed it as a vast step up from the vector graphics Star Wars game which Atari had released the previous year, even if the controls were aggravating. 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 reach him. The first level is a hazardous See the videoassortment 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. (Coleco [under license from Sega], 1984)

Memories: Congo Bongo was one of those games that really tested the mettle of the next-generation consoles of the day. Sega’s own translation of the game for the Atari 2600 was a barely-playable mess, though the version released for the Atari 5200 was a marked improvement. But as with Zaxxon, its cousin from a visual-concept point of view, Congo Bongo didn’t really arrive at home until ported to the ColecoVision. 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

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! (Parker Brothers, 1984)

Memories: Thanks to a quirk of distribution more than anything, Q*Bert’s Qubes is one of the rarest and most valuable games for the Atari 2600. In the post-crash world of unhealable deep-cut discounts, some retailers decided to get out of the video game “fad” as soon as they could possibly get out from under the inventory. As a result, the final few Parker Brothers game cartridges wound up being sold almost exclusively through Sears. (As the retail chain that invested heavily in such products as Atari’s original home Pong console, Sears had more of a stomach for staying with the video game industry than most, but even then they balked a bit as the Atari gravy train went off the rails.) Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress, your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as many of the defenses as you can in the meantime. (Sega, 1984)

Memories: In 1984, Sega entered the home video game business for the first time, with their first Stateside products being games for the Atari 2600 and 5200. Some of the titles released – Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom and Zaxxon specifically – had already been licensed by Coleco for the ColecoVision, and Coleco had even released Zaxxon for other systems such as the 2600. But Sega wanted its own piece of the pie, and not just licensing percentages, when it came time to release more of their properties for home video game systems. 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

Super Zaxxon

Super ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress, your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Super Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as much of the defenses as you See the videocan in the meantime. (Sega, 1985)

Memories: Just as Super Zaxxon in the arcades was merely a rewrite of the code for the original Zaxxon, it’s somehow fitting that the same is true for Super Zaxxon on the Apple II. But while it may have saved Sega some development time to reuse the code from Datamost’s version of Zaxxon for the Apple, it didn’t exactly result in a satisfying gaming experience. Continue reading

Topper

TopperThe Game: As Topper the top-hat-wearing turtle, your job is to jump from platform to platform until every platform on the screen is the same color, all without jumping into the empty space beyond the platforms. But as easy as this task See the videomay sound, it’s not that easy: rambunctious rabbits are ready to pounce on you, or at the very least keep you from reaching all of the platforms. Random explosives appear on some platforms and you have to avoid that platform until the danger has passed – and not even all of the platforms stay in one place. (Navarone Software, 1986)

Memories: The TI 99/4a version of Q*Bert is a decent port of Q*Bert, but on this computer, I much prefer Topper. With tense seconds ticking by as Topper stares down the slow approach of the evil rabbits (who actually look more like evil guys in evil rabbit suits, to be honest), there’s an element of patience and strategy that brings an almost chess-like dimension to what could easily have been just another Q*Bert clone. Continue reading

Pac-Mania

Pac-ManiaThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around relatively simple mazes, gobbling small dots and evading five colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, Buy this gamelarger dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If you clear the maze of dots, you advance to a new maze and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Atari Games [under license from Namco], 1987)

Memories: I still refer to this game, only half-jokingly, as Paxxon. It resembles nothing so much as classic Pac-Man played from Zaxxon‘s three-quarter overhead view. The only real game play innovation brought about by this vaguely 3-D perspective is Pac’s new ability to jump over monsters, though even this escape method has some bizarre physics: if Pac takes to the air as he’s going around a corner, he will still go around the corner, only airborne. Don’t ask me how that works! Continue reading

Diner

DinerThe Game: Chef Peter Pepper is back, and he’s been served up a second helping of inedible trouble. Roaming the vast, maze-like expanses of Ray’s Diner, the chef has to round up the scattered ingredients of dinner before he finds himself on See the videothe menu. For every four screen he clears, Peter Pepper gets a chance to catch more ingredients in a bonus round (but must avoid the flashing ingredients at all costs). The chef is also still armed with his trusty pepper shaker to stun his enemies briefly, and he can still replenish his short supply of pepper when bonus items appear. (INTV Corp., 1987)

Memories: A loose collective of “survivors” of Mattel Electronic’s Intellivision division, INTV Corp. slowly but surely got off the ground to offer new titles to Intellivision owners by mail-order, even as the NES was taking over the world. INTV’s library of new titles wasn’t a huge one, but it was at the very least a respectable selection, including arcade games such as Dig Dug and Pole Position whoses licenses had once been exclusive to the now-all-but-dormant Atari. INTV Corp. had access to the back catalog of started-but-not-finished (and finished-but-shelved-indefinitely) titles that had been swallowed in the fall of Mattel Electronics, and it was from one of these unfinished games that Diner got its start…but you might be surprised to find out where Diner really came from. 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, arcade- cabinet-shaking splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Konami/Ultra, 1989)

Memories: Ah, the eternal conundrum of Q*Bert – to turn the controller, or try to do diagonals with an NES joypad? The original arcade incarnation of the mighty orange one solved the problem pretty simply by turning a standard four-directional joystick at a 45-degree angle within the coin-op’s casing. To truly replicate that effect, you’re given the option of rotating the NES controller 45 degrees or to try to do diagonals while holding it straight (in effect, hitting the left and down portions of the plus-shaped pad simultaneously to move in that direction). There’s a whole pre-game startup screen devoted to controller orientation here. And as awkward as it is, the 45-degree angle option is much more responsive on the NES. Now, a joystick such as the Advantage may help here, but again, the hardware itself dictates that the controller won’t be as responsive diagonally. Continue reading

Q*Bert 3

Q*Bert 3The 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). 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! (NTVIC, 1992)

Memories: Released a full decade after the original game, Q*Bert 3 for the SNES seems to draw its inspiration in equal measure from the 1982 arcade classic and the Game Boy version by Jaleco, which broke the arcade game’s “pyramid of cubes” mold and brought newer, more challenging shapes to the table to confound long-timers who thought they had the game licked. Continue reading

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