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

Discs Of Tron

Discs Of TronBuy this gameThe Game: It’s the final confrontation between good and evil in the digital world! As video warrior Tron, you unleash up to three deadly discs in the direction of your arch-enemy Sark, who can return the favor in kind – with interest, since he has a larger arsenal at his See the videodisposal. All the while, you must also avoid falling off of the floating platforms, and try to keep a good aim on your opponent. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Midway’s second salute to Tron, that 1982 cult-classic film favorite among computer users and video game enthusiasts alike, took the form of a positively enormous “stand-in” wraparound cabinet with a large screen. (Not seen in the ubiquitous MAME-generated series of screen shots is the colorful background artwork, which was a scene from the movie.) Continue reading

Donkey Kong 3

Donkey Kong 3The Game: As Stanley the gardener, you’re trying to repel a swarm of pests unleashed by that meanest of pixellated gorillas, while also using your pesticide to propel him off the screen. Protect your flowers and yourself, and wear plenty of Off. (Nintendo, 1983)

See the videoMemories: The third entry in the still-ongoing series of games spawned by the original Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong 3 wasn’t as successful as the previous sequel, Donkey Kong Junior. One possible reason for this could be Nintendo’s brief abandonment of the climbing/jumping game elements in favor of a shooting game whose roots could easily be traced back to Space Invaders. Continue reading

Elevator Action

Elevator ActionThe Game: Love in an elevator, it’s not. As a daring spy, you break into a top secret enemy facility, trying to grab vital secrets and evade or kill as many enemy agents as you can. Your only means of getting from floor to floor through most of the game is via the elevator – which gives you an advantage and also makes you vulnerable. (Taito, 1983)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: This neat little entry from Taito wound up eating a lot of my allowance money back when I was eleven years old. There was a genuine sense of trying to reach a goal (though, to this day, even with emulation and official retro collections, I have no idea what lies below, say, the 20th level of the enemy compound). Elevator Action is also a real test of one’s mental multitasking abilities: agents closing in on all sides, elevator going down…do you jump? Duck? Shoot the agents? Shoot out the overhead lights? Some combination of the above? Whew. Continue reading

I, Robot

I, RobotThe Game: A huge, Big Brother-like head pops up and says “The law: no jumping!” to your little robot, and naturally, the cocky little automaton has other ideas (replying “Oh yeah!”). And so your mission begins, guiding the robot over See the videoramps, around narrow catwalks, and leaping across huge chasms. If the all-seeing eye opens while your robot it jumping, however, a blaster turns your hero into a heap of spare parts. If you successfully claim all of the red area on the screen, you have a narrow “launch window” in which to jump across to the eye’s platform and destroy it. The your robot launches into space, blowing away obstacles in his path, avoiding saucers and solid objects, and eventually landing on another series of ramps and catwalks to begin the quest anew. And if that doesn’t do it for you, you can put in another quarter and relax in Doodle City. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Once arcade games caught on as the profitable concern of the 80s, it seemed like everyone who had even the tip of a single finger in the electronics or coin-operated business glutted the market with barely-disguised riffs on the Pac-Man or Defender or Space Invaders concepts, saturating a previously innovative market with cheap copycat games (or, in a few cases until the attorneys caught up with them, outright bootlegs). In many ways, this parallels the Atari-era crash of the home video game cartridge industry, and it’s hardly a coincidence that both industries suffered simultaneous catastrophic shakedowns. Continue reading

Mario Bros.

Mario Bros.The Game: Twin brothers Mario and Luigi give up the illustrious life of ape-chasers and damsel-rescuers for their original line of work… plumbing. But this doesn’t mean the job’s any less dangerous. Killer lobsters and turtles abound in the sewer system (well, isn’t it that way everywhere?), along with airborne fireballs not unlike the foxfires in the original Donkey Kong. Another key event in this game? Nintendo solidifies its near-total dominance of the video game industry for the better part of the following decade and a half. (Nintendo, 1983)

Memories: The fourth game in an ongoing line of coin-ops starring either Mario or some member of Donkey Kong’s family, Mario Bros. cemented the rotund plumber as the star of the show, rather than a simian’s sidekick. Continue reading

Mappy

MappyBuy this gameThe Game: Mappy the Mouse stars in “Micro Police!” You are Mappy, a mouse determined to bring Boss the Big Bit and his kooky kitty kohorts to justice before they make a huge hail on a house heist. You can snatch up the potential booty yourself to keep it safe, and can temporarily foil your feline foes by slamming doors on them, or by opening special glowing doors which blast them away with a burst of sound. If you snatch up all the treasures and avoid the cats, it’s off to the next level. Periodically, you get to pop balloons on a bonus level for extra points. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1983)

Memories: You know, it’s just possible that Namco and Bally/Midway put the tail before the dog (or, in this case, the mouse) this time around. With the arcade cabinet’s positively mammoth marquee, and the hint that Mappy was the star of this game and would presumably star in future games, one wonders if the American distributors of Pac-Man were perhaps just a little too certain that everything coming out of their plants would be the dawn of a new franchise. Continue reading

Major Havoc

Major HavocBuy this gameThe Game: Journey through space, visit free-floating outposts, and raid ’em in search of oxygen. Then you just have to get back out with your precious loot – and that’s the hard part. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoMemories: Introduced to much fanfare in 1983, Atari’s Major Havoc may well have been the last of the red-hot vector graphics games – and truth be told, it didn’t catch on like the wildfire their marketing materials seemed to be hinting at. It was a really challenging game too – it was easy to lose a lot of quarters to this machine. 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

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

B.C.’s Quest For Tires

B.C.'s Quest For TiresThe Game: As beleaguered caveman B.C., you’ve just discovered the wheel. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, on the same day that you harness mechanical motion for the first time, you’re also going to discover the traffic See the videoaccident. Jump over holes in the ground, rocks and rolling boulders, and duck under tree limbs – and then you’ve got to survive showing your new evolutionary step off to the Mrs.! (Sierra On-Line, 1983)

Memories: B.C.’s Quest For Tires is one of those games that immediately brings the word “Colecovision” to mind – it was a striking game for its day, and this was the platform where it truly excelled (though it was also available on several home computers as well). Johnny Hart’s comic strip wasn’t quite in the Garfield stratosphere of daily newspaper comics, but it was popular enough that its characters would seem familiar. 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

Bump ‘N’ Jump

Bump 'N' JumpThe Game: The race is on, and no moves are off-limits – bump your competitors off the road (and into apparently highly volatile vegetation that causes them to explode), or jump over them and any other obstacles that get in your way, See the videoincluding areas of water that cover the road. If you survive the race, you live on to the next round – at least until you run out of cars. (M Network, 1983)

Memories: One of a very few arcade licenses snagged by Mattel for the Intellivision and for the M Network line of games for the Atari 2600 and other platforms, Bump ‘N’ Jump has a bumpy ride as it jumps to the relatively underpowered Atari. 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

Donkey Kong Jr.

Donkey Kong Jr.The Game: As the offspring of the mighty monkey, it’s up to you to scale vines and chains, avoid mobile traps, occasionally grab some yummy fruit (since when is a little ape on Pac-Man’s diet?), and get to the key or keys that will free your papa. (Coleco, 1983)

Memories: Again very faithful to its arcade namesake, the Coleco version of Donkey Kong Jr. is an essential addition to the ColecoVision player’s library, with very accurately reproduced sound and graphics. Continue reading

Evolution

EvolutionThe Game: It can take billions of years for a microbe to evolve into a race of creatures crossing the stars, except in the confines of the Colecovision universe, where it can take mere minutes. Players control an amoeba, avoiding predators on the screen except the DNA needed to grow and evolve. Through several successive stages, avoiding aggressors and gathering material for future growth is the only way to stay alive and evolve, from amoeba to frog to rodent to beaver to gorilla to human space warrior. (Sydney, 1983)

Memories: An unusual game by any measure, Evolution isn’t content simply to put the player through several levels of difficulty; it guides the player through entire stages of biological life. Already released on the Apple II and Commodore 64, Evolution was really a computer game at heart. Even though action and quick reflexes are required to survive, Evolution is really a game of patience and perseverance. Continue reading

Frostbite

FrostbiteBuy this gameThe Game: As the legendary “Frostbite” Bailey, you’re used to cold temperatures, but tonight’s forecast is just too much. You’ve got to build a cozy igloo before the temperature drops to zero. You accomplish this by jumping onto moving ice blocks in the river; each successful jump adds a “brick” to your igloo. But it’s not just as simple as fording the stream – there are other cold-weather critters who’ll stop you from ever getting home, igloo or no. Snow geese can push you right off the edge of a block, while snow crabs and cold-water clams will grab you and drag you off the edge. Only the fish are non-lethal, as you can grab them for extra points (and probably dinner). You can hit the Watch the TV adaction button to reverse the direction of the ice flow you’re on (neat trick in a raging river, eh?), but unless your igloo’s already completely built, it will cost you bricks – and even then it may not keep you out of harm’s way. If you fall into the river, or fail to get into your igloo before the dropping temperature reaches zero, it costs you one of three lives. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: If Freeway was Activision’s attempt to do the cross-the-road portion of Frogger, Frostbite is their attempt to do the rest of the game – namely crossing the river on the backs of floating objects – with just a touch of Q*Bert thrown in. Continue reading

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