Blue Print

Blue PrintThe Game: You are the intrepid, barbershop-quartet-suited J.J. (hey, it’s better than being O.J.!), out to save a damsel in distress from a pursuing monster. How does a guy in a little striped suit do this? By building a mobile, tennis-ball-launching contraption to dispatch said dastardly monster, naturally. The catch? The eight pieces of your mechanical creation are hidden somewhere among ten little houses in a maze – See the videoand those houses that don’t contain parts of your machine contain a bomb that must be dumped into the bomb pit immediately (else they’ll explode and kill J.J.). Critters also roam the maze to annoy you, including one pesky monster who will prematurely jump on the “start” button, rattling your still-unfinished machine to bits. If you don’t build your Rube Goldberg gizmo in time, the monster catches the damsel and you lose a life. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Fun little game, this Blue Print. Perhaps somewhat like the rodent protagonist of Mappy, J.J. seemed to be primed for some kind of merchandising that never happened. Continue reading

Changes

ChangesThe Game: Players guide a caterpillar around a maze of twigs and branches, snatching up nourishment and the occasional treat, and avoiding other insect life; some parts of the branches can be turned. Some of the See video of this gametreats will allow the caterpillar to consume other insects for a brief time. Portions of the maze can be rotated, which can work against the player (cutting off the best or only escape route) or can work to the player’s advantage (effectively shutting a door in pursuers’ faces, or even smashing them if they’re in the wrong place at the right time). Clearing the maze allows the caterpillar to turn into a butterfly and escape (who needs a pupal stage anyway?); the player advances to the next level, where a new caterpillar needs help navigating a new maze. (Orca, 1982)

Memories: Just like Hollywood blockbusters, there’s development turnaround time for video games, both then and now. That may explain why this Pac-Man knockoff didn’t show up in arcades until long after the Pac-saga itself had moved on to such titles as Ms. Pac-Man and Super Pac-Man. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if Buy this gamea Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. Who said landscaping was easy? (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: Dig Dug, with its animè-inspired cutesy characters and exceedingly simple game play, was a wonderfully easy game to learn, and it didn’t take much effort to reach a high score. (Dig Dug II, on the other hand, relied on a strange pseudo-3D, slightly-but-not-quite-overhead perspective which added to the difficulty, creating problems similar to playing Zaxxon or Congo Bongo.) With its simplicity and cuteness, Dig Dug was big with the younger set. Continue reading

Eyes

EyesThe Game: The eyes have it, and you apparently want it. You’re also an eye – that’s right, a perfectly normal disembodied eye, wearing a little Oktoberfest hat, wandering through a maze, and shooting at stuff. You’re basically trying to shoot everything on sight. You see, the maze is filled with tiny objects, and you must shoot them all (running over them won’t cut it). The maze is also filled with a number of equally disembodied-and-yet-armed eyes who are out to get you. Clearing the maze of objects advances you to the next level, but you may only get a brief look at it since the eyes are even faster and more aggressive. Rock-Ola [under license from Digitrex Techstar], 1982

See the videoMemories: A bizarre little game among the glut of Pac-Man imitators, Eyes is an obscure little number that falls between the cracks of video game history by being neither particularly outstanding or awful…just strange. In a world where a game about a mobile yellow mouth is king, I don’t think anyone was looking for anything that they could take literally, but Eyes was simply odd. Continue reading

Frenzy

FrenzyThe Game: You’re back in the maze, but this time, the stakes are increased, the danger is increased, and your strategic options are only slightly increased. Touching the walls, the robots, the robots’ laser blasts, or even your own ricocheted lasers are deadly. And of course, the inevitable appearance by Evil Otto is also See the videodeadly. However, you can temporarily repel the smiley little bugger by blasting him until his grin turns into the frown – but he will reappear mere seconds later, moving much faster every time he must retreat and reappear – so you’re not doing yourself any favors. If you enter a generator room, you can halt all the robots in their tracks by penetrating the walls surrounding the generator and blasting it. “Beaded” walls can be eaten away, bit by bit, by laser fire from anyone who shoots it, while solid walls will ricochet lasers around until they hit something – which could mean a death trap for you. (Stern, 1982)

Memories: I can’t even begin to estimate how many orders of magnitude harder Frenzy is than its inspiration, Stern’s mega-hit Berzerk. There are many times when you have approximately a second – before the characters on the screen begin moving – to assess your strategic situation, which usually isn’t too promising, often placing you in a triangulation of crossfire from three or four different robots that you haven’t even begun to figure out how to reach. Continue reading

Loco Motion

Loco MotionThe Game: A train scoots around a twisty maze of tiles representing overpasses, turns, straightaways and terminals. One portion of the maze is blank, and a train will be lost if it hits that blank tile. Using the joystick, you move the blank tile and one adjacent tile around on the map – even if the train is in transit on that tile – in an effort to keep it moving around the maze, picking up passengers. (Passengers that the train See the videocan reach are smiley faces; passengers cut off from the main route are frowning.) If any passengers are cut off for an extended period of time, a monster begins wandering that route, and it’ll cost you a train if it comes in contact with your train. You may have to outrun it with the “speed” button in order to pick up the last passengers and clear the level to move on to a bigger maze. (Centuri (under license from Konami), 1982)

Memories: A very minor star in the constellation of early Konami coin-ops (Konami also being responsible for Frogger, Time Pilot and Gyruss), Loco Motion is actually a variation on a very old theme: the 2-D sliding tile puzzle. Continue reading

Mr. Do!

Mr. Do!The Game: As the clownlike elfin dweller of a magic garden, you must avoid or do away with a bunch of nasty critters who are after you, while gobbling up as much yummy fruit as you can. (Taito [under license from Universal], 1982)

See the videoMemories: Mr. Do! is a curious chicken-or-the-egg case. Many elements of Mr. Do! are very similar to Dig Dug. However, Mr. Do! is a much more challenging game.

It was also one of the earliest entries from Universal, a company – unrelated to the Hollywood studio of the same name – whose business model appealed to arcade owners, but became a bugbear for competing arcade game manufacturers. Though Mr. Do! was sold as a standalone cabinet licensed through Taito, Universal’s primary product line was “kit games” – a kit with a new circuit board, marquee and cabinet artwork that could transform any cabinet with similar controls into Universal’s latest offering. Continue reading

Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-ManThe Game: As the bride of that most famous of single-celled omniphage life forms, your job is pretty simple – eat all the dots, gulp the large blinking dots in each corner of the screen and eat the monsters while they’re blue, and avoid the monsters the rest of the time. Occasionally various fruits and other foods will bounce through the maze, and you can gobble those for extra points. Every so often, just to give you Buy this gamea chance to relax, you’ll see a brief intermission chronicling the courtship of Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man (and a little hint at who the next game would star). (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: The first real sequel (excluding any altered pirate clones or enhancement kits for the original Pac-Man) in the Pac-Universe, Ms. Pac-Man added quite a few new twists to the original game without changing how it’s played. The new mazes, extra side tunnels (on some mazes), and bouncing fruit were about the only things that could be changed without drastically altering the game (though the later Jr. Pac-Man addition of a scrolling maze was interesting). Continue reading

Pac-Man Plus

Pac-Man PlusThe 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). 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… (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Admittedly this wasn’t an especially unique game, but it does have an interesting history. Continue reading

Pengo

PengoThe Game: As a cute, fuzzy, harmless little penguin, you roam around an enclosed maze of ice blocks. If this sounds too good to be true – especially for a polar-dwelling avian life form – that’s because you’re not the only critter waddling around in the frozen tundra. Killer Sno-Bees chase little Pengo around the ice, and if See the videothey catch up to him and sting him, it’ll cost you a life. But your little flightless waterfowl isn’t completely defenseless. Pengo can push blocks of ice out of the maze, changing the configuration of the playing field and squashing Sno-Bees with a well-timed shove. Clearing the field of Sno-Bees allows you to advance to the next level. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: This is almost a painfully cute game. Cute, fuzzy characters (both good and bad) waddle around the screen, and even if Pengo gets caught by the Sno-Bees, his little dance of defeat is cute. If you win a few levels, a multicolored lineup of penguins do a little Rockettes-style dance for you. But despite the tooth-rotting overabundance of sweetness, Pengo was a very addictive little game. Continue reading

Super Pac-Man

Super Pac-ManBuy this gameThe Game: Once again, Pac-Man roams the maze, pursued by four colorful ghosts. But instead of dots, this maze is peppered with other goodies, ranging from the usual fruits (apples, bananas, etc.) to donuts, cake, and burgers. And in addition to the traditional four “power pellets” in each corner of the screen, there are two green “super power pellets” per screen, which give the mighty yellow one the power to fly over the monsters’ heads and to break down doors that confine some of the yummy treats in the maze. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: The earliest of several very strange departures from the successful Pac-Man formula, Super Pac-Man was still a fun and, more often than not, fondly remembered game, even if it was ever so slightly baffling. Admittedly, even the mention above of Pac-Man flying is my own interpretation, based on the Pac-Man-going-on-Superman artwork on the arcade cabinet. It’s a bizarre little concept! Continue reading

Time Tunnel

Time TunnelThe Game: As the conductor of a time-traveling train, you must find and collect your passenger cars in the present day, move on to the near future to pull up to several stations and fill those cars with time travelers, and then deposit See the videothem at various attractions in the distant future. That would be difficult enough to do without running out of fuel, but you also have to contend with space creatures and repeatedly avoid collisions with a competing train by controlling the switches on the tracks. (1982, Taito)

Memories: This exceedingly obscure Taito arcade game is cute and innovative – it’s certainly not another riff on Loco-Motion, that’s for sure. But if you don’t remember it, there may be a reason – it takes several minutes to play a single game. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but the very nature of arcade games is to vanquish as many challengers as possible, and quickly – the more people come back to play an arcade game, the more money it earns, so conventional wisdom among arcade operators in the 1980s was to dispense quickly with any game that didn’t chew through players’ quarters quickly. A game that took a long time to play had limited earning potential, three words that could get an arcade game scrapped, sent back to the distributor, or converted into another game in record time. Continue reading

Tron

TronBuy this gameThe Game: Based on the most computerized movie of its era, the Tron arcade game puts you in the role of the eponymous video warrior in a variety of contests. In the Grid Bug game, you must eliminate as many grid bugs (who are naturally deadly to the touch) as possible and enter the I/O tower safely before the fast-See the videomoving timer hits zero. The maddening Light Cycle game was the only stage to directly correspond with the movie. You and your opponent face off in super-fast Light Cycles, which leave solid walls in their wake. You must not collide with the computer’s Light Cycle, its solid trail, or the walls of the arena. To win, you must trap the other Light Cycle(s) (in later stages, you face three opponents) within the solid wake of your own vehicle. The MCP game is basically a simple version of Breakout, but the wall of colors rotated counter-clockwise, threatening to trap you if you made a run for it through a small gap. The Tank game is a tricky chase through a twisty maze, where you try to blast opposing tank(s) three times each…while they need to score only one hit on your tank to put you out of commission. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Okay, granted, so there really isn’t much correlation between Tron the game and Tron the movie, but in this case, it doesn’t matter. The game, with its awesome backlit cabinet graphics of special effects stills from the movie successfully, stole just enough of the movie’s millieu to be a successful tie-in – and let’s not forget the awesome polyphonic recreation of Wendy Carlos’ cool synthesized score from the movie, which was heard mainly during the Grid Bug game. Continue reading

Tutankham

TutankhamThe Game: As an intrepid, pith-helmeted explorer, you’re exploring King Tut’s catacombs, which are populated by a variety of killer bugs, birds, and other nasties. You’re capable of firing left and right, but not vertically – so any oncoming threats from above or below must be outrun or avoided. Warp portals will instantly whisk you away to other parts of the maze (though this doesn’t necessarily mean safer). Gathering all of the treasures and keys will allow you to open the vault at the end of each level…which leads to the next, and even more difficult level. It’s like The Mummy, only much more entertaining. (Stern, 1982)

Memories: Konami/Stern’s 1982 maze shooter was about as different from its antecedents (Berzerk and Frenzy) as possible, and was still fun. The one thing that always got people in the arcades, especially on their first attempt at playing the game, was the fact that it was impossible to shoot vertically – firing could be controlled by a second joystick limited to left-right movement. Continue reading

Turtles

3-D computer rendering of Turtles cabinetThe Game: You are the Mama Turtle. Your helpless KidTurtles are stuck in a high-rise building, hiding from mean and hungry beetles. The beetles change colors in accordance with their speed and ferocity, from less aggressive green and blue beetles to fast, furious yellow and red beetles. Mama Turtle has to evade the beetles (which are deadly to touch at all times) and touch the mystery squares See the videothroughout the maze. The squares could reveal another beetle, or they could reveal one of the KidTurtles. When Mama Turtle picks up a KidTurtle, a safe house appears – usually all the way across the maze – and she must deposit the KidTurtles in the safe house, one at a time. Mama Turtle’s only recourse against the beetles is to lay “bombs” in the maze. Each bomb – and there can only be one on screen at a time – will reduce the first beetle that hits it back to the lowest speed/danger level, buying Mama Turtle a little time. (Mama Turtle can pass over her own bombs harmlessly.) The catch? You only start out with three bombs (is anyone else drawing some grim biological anologies to what Mama Turtle’s “bombs” might be at this point?), and you can replenish your supply of bombs only by running over an occasional flashing symbol which appears at the precise center of the maze…which is usually the most dangerous spot on the screen. Clearing a maze of KidTurtles allows you to climb to the next floor of the building and start anew. (Stern [under license from Konami], 1982)

Memories: Turtles is among the most obscure exponents of the maze chase format to hit the arcade in the early ’80s. I think I saw – maybe – one Turtles arcade game in my life, and it was only there for a few weeks. Actually, though, it’s not a bad game. Continue reading

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons CartridgeThe Game: Your quest begins as you set out from the safety of home to look for adventure in mountainous caverns. When you wander into the dungeons and caverns, your view zooms in to the maze See the videoyour adventurer is exploring, complete with treasures to collect and deadly dangers to duel. (Mattel Electronics, 1982)

Memories: Combining sword-and-sorcery – traditionally the territory of paper-and-dice role playing games – with video game action has been one of the more inspired mash-ups to come from the golden age of video games. As combinations go, it was almost inevitable – with Dungeons & Dragons being more geeky than mainstream in the 1970s, it was an activity with which game programmers – another geeky crowd – were likely to be acquainted. With all of that crossover going on, it was therefore inevitable that someone, presumably whoever had deep enough pockets to license the title and game elements, would eventually produce an official video game. Continue reading

Clean Sweep

Clean SweepThe Game: Years before Robovac and Roomba, there was Clean Sweep, a vacuum cleaner patrolling the vaults of a bank and picking up stray bits of money. (Makes you wonder who programmed it, and who’s emptying the bag!) As you grab more wayward currency, your bag fills up; when you hear an alarm sound, you have to go to the center of the maze to empty your bag and start anew; until you do that, you can’t pick up See the videoany more dead presidents. But those aren’t the only alarm bells going off here: things that look alarmingly like huge forceps are chasing you around. If they grab you, it’s your money and your life. There are four corners in the vault that will power up your vacuum cleaner temporarily, enabling you to suck up those forceps and (for a brief while) grab all the cash in your path without filling your bag. Clearing the maze advances you to the next level; losing all your lives leaves the bank wide open. (GCE, 1982)

Memories: This interesting little take on Pac-Man for the Vectrex is so fun, it’s hard to put down. I’ve been somewhat merciless about Pac-clones in the past, but Clean Sweep shakes things up enough to be fun, making you go back and do things like empty your vacuum bag without really slowing the game down significantly. Continue reading

Dark Caverns

Dark CavernsThe Game: Robots, spiders and critters, oh my! You’re a lone human in a maze teeming with deadly robots, spiders and other nasties, and your trusty gun – which can dispatch any or all of the above – has only a limited amount of ammunition. You can obtain more ammo by walking over a briefly-occurring flashing gun symbol – but until then, if you’re out of ammo, you’re no longer the hunter, but the hunted. (M Network [Mattel], 1982)

Memories: This was the 2600 version of a similar game that Mattel had released for its own Intellivision console (Night Stalker), and it’s fair to say that this edition was just a wee bit simplified. Continue reading

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