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Gotcha!

Gotcha!The Game: Two players – one represented by a roving square and the other by a plus sign – roam the ever-changing halls of a maze. The object of the game is for one player to catch the other before time runs out; however, the See the videomaze’s ability to constantly reconfigure itself isn’t going to make that easy. (Atari, 1974)

Memories: Among Atari’s first major forays outside of Pong and its endless variations on Pong was Gotcha, a coin-op which can boast the historical first of being the first video maze game. But Gotcha also got stuck with what may be one of the weirdest control schemes ever devised, possibly purely for marketing considerations…and one still wonders what the thought process was behind it. Continue reading

Tank

Tank (Ultra Tank shown)The Game: Two players each control a fearsome armored fighting vehicle on a field of battle littered with obstacles. The two tanks pursue each other around the screen, trying to line up the perfect shot without also presenting a perfect target if they miss. In accordance with the laws of ballistics and mass in the universe of Saturday morning cartoons, a tank hit by enemy fire is bounced around the screen, into nearby wall or mines, spinning at a very silly velocity, and battle begins anew. (Kee Games [Atari], 1974)

Memories: In the early 1970s, arcade distribution was a closely-guarded, exclusive thing. And to an ambitious guy like Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, this represented a problem. Atari wasn’t an old-school pinball outfit like D. Gottlieb & Co. or Bally, and was bucking the system just to land a deal with regional distributors across the country anyway. The distribution system – which allowed one distributor to represent Gottlieb games exclusively in his area, while a competitor would be the only game in town for Bally/Midway fare, for example – was created in the pinball era; many arcade operators would deal exclusively with a single distributor, and of course there were franchise arcades owned by companies like Bally, such as Aladdin’s Castle. It was entirely possible, and not uncommon, to see some manufacturers represented only at one or two arcades in a given area, and their rivals represented only at others. Which was fine with pinball manufacturers, but Bushnell wanted to place Atari’s video games everywhere. Continue reading

The Amazing Maze Game

The Amazing Maze GameThe Game: You control a dot making its way through a twisty maze with two exits – one right behind you and one across the screen from you. The computer also controls a dot which immediately begins working its way toward the exit behind you. The game is simple: you have to guide your dot through the maze to the opposite exit before the computer does the same. If the computer wins twice, the game is See the videoover. (Midway, 1976)

Memories: Not, strictly speaking, the first maze game, Midway’s early B&W arcade entry The Amazing Maze Game bears a strong resemblence to that first game, which was Atari’s Gotcha. Gotcha was almost identical, except that its joystick controllers were topped by pink rubber domes, leading to Gotcha being nicknamed “the boob game.” Amazing Maze was just a little bit more austere by comparison. Continue reading

Fire Truck

Fire TruckThe Game: Two players take the twin steering wheels of a fire truck racing through obstacle-cluttered streets en route to a fire. The player in front steers the front of the truck, while the rear of the fire truck is steered independently by the player in back (one player sits and the See the videoother stands, affording both a clear view of the screen). If both players aren’t well-coordinated, the rear of the fire truck will smack into parked cars, trees and other obstacles that the front of the truck may have cleared successfully. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: A wickedly fun (and funny) cooperative game, Fire Truck isn’t so much a racing game as it is an avoid-everything game. It’s rather unforgiving in that it demands that both players be virtually joined in lockstep as to where the fire truck is pointed – anything less is begging for disaster. Continue reading

Armor Attack

The Game: One or two players are at the controls of speedy ground assault vehicles which can zip around an enclosed maze of open areas and buildings with almost mouse-like speed. Heavy tanks and armed helicopters routinely appear in this maze, attempting to shoot any player vehicles they spot; the player(s) can, in turn, fire back at both of these vehicles. Caution: a damaged tank may still be able to draw a bead, so it’s best to keep firing until the tanks are completely destroyed. (Cinematronics, 1980)

Memories: However popular Atari’s vector graphics games were, the real rock-solid workhorse of that genre of gaming was the comparitively small Cinematronics. Armor Attack (whose marquee cryptically punctuates the title as “Armor… …Attack“) was no household name like Asteroids, and it may have been a mere sleeper without being a sleeper hit; the game play, for the most part, dated back to Kee Games’ Tank! from several years earlier. But it’s fondly remembered today – and made enough of a mark for a unique home version. Continue reading

Berzerk

BerzerkThe Game: You’re alone in a maze filled with armed, hostile robots who only have one mission – to kill you. If you even so much as touch the walls, you’ll wind up dead. You’re a little bit faster than the robots, and you have human instinct on your side…but even that won’t help you when Evil Otto, a deceptively friendly and completely See the videoindestructible smiley face, appears to destroy you if you linger too long in any one part of the maze. The object of the game? Try to stay alive however long you can. (Stern, 1980)

Memories: If Berzerk sounds a little bit familiar, it’s no coincidence. To some extent, the running-alone-through-an-enemy-filled-maze premise had been mined by Midway’s Wizard Of Wor (a game released around the same time), which even looked somewhat similar. Unlike the glut of Pac-Man clones, it’s probably not so much a question of plagiarism as a question of several game designers arriving at the same good idea at the same time. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManBuy this gameThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). See the videoPeriodically, 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 cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

Memories: It began in 1979 when a young Namco game designer named Toru Iwitani made his fourth video game. Fascinated with pinball, Iwitani had created a series of games combining pinball physics with Breakout-style brick-busting elements, and while Gee Bee, Bomb Bee and Cutie Q were moderate successes for Namco, enough to keep Iwitani employed and developing new titles, the designer himself was finally ready to move beyond video pinball. Cutie Q was one of the first hints as to Toru Iwitani’s next project, with its colorfully cartoony monsters. With a small team of developers at his disposal, Iwitani – supposedly inspired by the shape of a pizza with one slice removed – set about creating a new game with nearly universal appeal. Continue reading

Rally-X

3-D computer rendering of Rally-X cabinetThe Game: Go, Speed Racer, go! (Well, almost.) As the driver of a high-powered race car, you rocket around corners and down straightaways, trying to pick up every yellow flag in the maze-like course and avoiding deadly collisions with pursuing red cars. Watch out for rocks and oil spills, and use your smokescreen See the videoBuy this gameonly when necessary to distance yourself from the red cars. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1980)

Memories: Namco released Rally-X at the same time as Pac-Man, and like Pac-Man, Namco licensed Rally-X to Midway. In fact, the major buzz at that year’s AMOA (Amusement Machine Operators’ Association) annual trade show – where arcade owners tried to figure out which would be the hottest new games to buy for their establishments – was for this dandy little racing/maze game, and Pac-Man was considered an also-ran, perhaps a little too abstract for the U.S. market. Continue reading

Space Chaser

Space ChaserBuy this gameThe Game: It’s got dots and a maze, but this is no Pac-Man. You’re trapped in a symmetrical maze with an enemy homing missile, and the maze is littered with rows of dots. You must maneuver your ship over these dots to collect them, while avoiding any collision with the missile. If the missile locks on to you from the other end of a long corridor, it will speed up drastically and hit you (unless you can round a corner first). You have no defense against the missile – just avoid it. If you survive long enough to clear the maze of dots, you get to try again – only this time with an additional missile (later screens add even more enemies for you to avoid). You can give your ship a boost by activating your engines, but such speed changes are both short-lived and very costly to your already-dwindling fuel supply. (Taito, 1980)

Memories: It seems like around 1980, everyone had a variation on a similar idea. Somewhat resembling Targ and Spectar in the basic tenet of its ships-chasing-each-other-in-a-maze premise, Space Chaser is perhaps the most challenging of its genre for giving the player no option except to flee. Continue reading

Targ

Targ - photo courtesy Tim SniderThe Game: You’re trapped in a symmetrical maze with a bevy of robotic target vehicles – “Targs” – which are programmed to do just one thing: collide with your vehicle. You have one advantage on these decidedly mean streets, however – you can fire missiles ahead of your car (but the Targs are capable of dodging your projectiles too, so don’t get too cocky). Every once in a while, one of the impregnable blocks in the maze will disgorge a new enemy which is just a little bit faster and deadlier than the rest. Clearing the screen of Targs advances you to a new level with faster enemies – and eventually they’ll put the brakes on your attempts to survive. (Exidy, 1980)

Memories: This is one of those games that’s just emblematic of what was great about the early 80s heyday of the arcade – the graphics did what was required without a lot of embellishment, and the emphasis was on the breakneck speed of the thing. And Targ moved fast. Really fast. Continue reading

Wizard Of Wor

Wizard Of WorThe Game: This should sound pretty famililar to anyone who’s ever played Doom. You (and, if you can find a trigger-happy friend, one other player) suit up as “Worriors” and wander around a twisty maze inhabited by nasty creatures (which can turn invisible and sneak up on you).

You must kill them all.

Glad we got these complicated instructions taken care of. (Midway, 1980)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: This maze game, which hit arcades in 1980, was a true milestone. For one thing, it kept Midway on the map as an arcade game manufacturer (its only previous major successes having been Space Invaders, licensed from Taito, and Galaxian, licensed from Namco) with something other than imported Japanese titles in its repertoire. Continue reading

“Popeye” Pac-Man

Popeye Pac-ManThe Game: As a yellow sailor man consisting of a head and nothing else (jaundice was really bad in those days), you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (unknown bootleg manufacturer, 1980)

Memories: When Pac-Man took off into the stratosphere, there were two ways that everyone who happened to not be licensed to distribute Pac-Man coped: they made games that played, if not looked, very similar (Lock ‘n’ Chase, Thief, Mouse Trap), or they just flat out copied Pac-Man, making ridiculously insignificant cosmetic changes (Hangly Man, Piranha, and this game). The bootleggers of the latter category, in skipping that pesky development and R&D process involved in creating something original, cashed in by getting their games on the street first. Continue reading

Maze Craze (A Game Of Cops ‘N Robbers)

Maze CrazeBuy this gameThe Game: The goal of the game is simple: race through a twisty maze and beat your opponent to the exit. Some game variations adds randomly moving “robbers” to the maze, in some cases as prey and in other cases as hunters to be avoided. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: A fairly recent transplant from Fairchild, programmer Rick Maurer’s first game for the Atari VCS was pretty familiar to anyone who See the videohad been playing games on the Fairchild Channel F: it was essentially a port of the Channel F’s Maze game on the Atari console. Like its forebear, Maze Craze is a marvelously compact piece of coding, packed into a mere 2K. Like so many early titles for the 2600, it’s a lot of fun with the right crowd. Continue reading

Take The Money And Run!

Take The Money And Run!The Game: Two little white robots represent assorted economic woes, and they drain your cash rapidly if they catch up with you. The object of the game is to come out with the most money left at the end of the two-player game.

You couldn’t really do anything about the robots. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: A bizarre little maze game purporting to be a somewhat educational game about economics, Take The Money And Run! really only managed to be a bit confusing. Sometimes it seemed as though Magnavox’s game group couldn’t really figure out if it wanted to come down on the “edu” or the “tainment” side of edutainment. Continue reading

Fantasy

FantasyThe Game: As an unnamed but cartoonishly cute little hero, you are powerless to watch as your girlfriend Cheri is abducted by a boatload of pirates. Only then are you inspired to act, chasing after the heavily armed pirate ship in your defenseless balloon. You dodge cannonballs as you try to reach the pirate ship’s landing pad (what is it, an aircraft carrier?!). Then you have to battle those nasty pirates on the deck of their ship while still dodging that pesky cannon, until you do away with them all and get to Cheri. A bird then scoops her up, leaving you to take a treacherous balloon trip, climb a tree teeming with dangerous critters, avoid tigers in the jungle, and take on an entire tribe of natives (who seem to be in cahoots with the pirates, who now have helicopters and artillery!) to rescue Cheri. Then, of course, she goes and gets herself kidnapped again. (Rock-Ola [under license from SNK], 1981)

See the videoMemories: Why do I like this game? Hmmmmm…I don’t know. I only ever saw one Fantasy machine, at the game room at Gaston’s fishing resort on the White River in Arkansas. I think one of the game’s best qualities was the “continue” feature, which allowed you to pop another quarter into the machine and pick up where your previous game left off within 30 seconds. Continue reading

Hangly Man

Hangly ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters See the videofor a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). 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 cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Nittoh, 1981)

Memories: Journey back with us now to the first two years of the eighties, when Pac-Man ruled the coin-op video game roost, where arcade owners’ demand for the prized Pac-Man machines was high, where players’ skill at winning was increasing and their repeat business was proportionately dwindling, and everyone wanted a piece of that little yellow pie. Continue reading

Ladybug

LadybugThe Game: You control a nice, big, juicy ladybug waddling around a complex maze, gobbling up food and avoiding your nasty fellow insects. Doors in the maze can throw pursuers off your track momentarily – or they can trap you into an See the videoeven worse situation than whatever you’re trying to escape. (Universal, 1981)

Memories: Like Lock ‘n’ Chase, Ladybug is a fine example of a game which, though clearly inspired by Pac-Man, features enough unique game play elements to make it an individual game. And it’s a rare instance of a game I have to praise for its music and sound effects – they were really rather catchy. Continue reading

Lock ‘n’ Chase

Lock 'n' ChaseThe Game: You’re in charge of a getaway car loaded with crafty criminals. Your job is to sneak around the maze, avoid four colorful cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another See the videoday. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (Data East, 1981)

Memories: Obviously, Lock ‘n’ Chase was yet another variation on the basic game play of Pac-Man, but in this case, just enough was changed to make it a discernably different new game, instead of just another clone. But even the most open-minded player could be forgiven for looking at the maze full of dots, populated by cutesy “cops,” and walking away, thinking, “Yep, it’s another Pirhana.” Continue reading

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