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

Combat

CombatThe Game: Two players each control a fearsome armored fighting vehicle on a field of battle littered with obstacles (or not, depending upon the agreed-upon game variation). The two tanks pursue each other around the screen, trying to Buy this gameline 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 across the screen – sometimes right off the egde of the screen and into a corresponding position on the opposite side of the field – spinning at a very silly velocity, and battle begins anew. Other variations include biplane and jet fighter dogfights. (Atari, 1977)

Memories: Chances are, anyone who’s my age who is asked to remember their first video game console will tell you it was the Atari VCS – and their first game? Naturally, the one that came with the VCS: Combat, based on the 1974 arcade hit Tank! by Kee Games.

Kee Games? Continue reading

Armored Encounter! / Sub Chase!

Armored Encounter! / Sub Chase!The Game: War is pixellated, blocky hell on the Odyssey2! In Armored Encounter, two combatants in tanks circumnavigate a maze peppered with land mines, searching for the optimum spot from which to blow each other to kingdom come. In Sub Chase, a bomber plane and a submarine, both maneuverable in their own way, try to take each other out without blasting any non-combatant boats routinely running between them (darn that civilian shipping!). In both games, the timer is counting down for both sides to blow each other straight to hell. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Armored Encounter! is a somewhat standard-issue variation on Atari’s Tank coin-op (which that company later used to launch the Atari VCS under the name of Combat), only with a vastly simpified map. 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

Battlezone

BattlezoneBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a heavy tank, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and landing vehicles. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Though the above description is exceedingly simple, See the videoBattlezone was another pillar of Atari’s stable of outstanding vector graphics games (which also included Tempest and Asteroids). With its two-stick control system, mimicking a real tank’s controls, its slowly lumbering game play, and its periscope-like screen, Battlezone was, for its day, an incredibly cool and realistic game (with a huge cabinet too). Continue reading

Conquest Of The World

Conquest Of The WorldThe Game: In probably the weakest of the Master Series games – Odyssey games which included overcomplicated board game elements, a la Quest For The Rings – you control one of the world’s superpowers, attempting to gain as much influence as possible through political and economic means and, where necessary, warfare. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: Well, that’s what the blurb on the box said. When you ditched the magnetic world map and markers and the colorful chips representing your nation’s influence and power, Conquest Of The World‘s video game component was, essentially, little more than an elaborate Odyssey2 version of the Atari 2600 Combat game, with added terrain and vehicular options and fewer goofy options like bouncing artillery. Continue reading

Pulsar

PulsarThe Game: You control a tank – though it seems like an awfully tiny one – zipping through a maze teeming with enemies. Three color-coded keys are tucked away in a corner, and after grabbing one of these keys you must fight your way past enemy forces to open the corresponding lock. The process must be repeated until all of the keys on a given level have been used, allowing you to travel to the next portion of the maze – where more keys, more locks and more enemies await. Additionally, shooting some enemies may have an effect on your tank’s speed, causing it to move event faster through the maze (and potentially face-first into trouble) or slowing it down to the point where it’s a nearly defenseless target for the enemy. (Sega, 1981)

Memories: Somewhere between Tank! and Mouse Trap lies Pulsar, an intriguing and oddly compelling hybrid of game elements. If you missed this one in the arcade, don’t worry: you weren’t alone. Given the surfeit of maze games that were marketed to amusement operators as a cure for the epidemic of Pac-Man fever, there were a lot of games that looked like Pulsar. Besides, in 1980, cute was king, slide-and-shoot derivatives of Space Invaders were still “in,” and tank games that happened not to be Battlezone were so 1974. Continue reading

Bradley Trainer (a.k.a. “Military Battlezone”)

Atari Bradley TrainerThe Game: As the pilot of a Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and helictopers without accidentally firing on your own allies. (Atari, under special contract for the United States Army, 1981)

Memories: You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the arcade business who’d complain that a game was too good. But Ed Rotberg, designer of Atari’s original 3-D vector graphics tank hit Battlezone, would be the exception. His revolutionary first-person fighting game was impressive enough to attract the attention of the United States Army, and this landed him a very special job he did not want: retooling the game to the Army’s exacting specifications to turn it into a real training simulation. Continue reading

Front Line

Front LineThe Game: In a very genteel and almost inappropriately cute game about armored combat, you’re a lone footsoldier fighting your way through a platoon of enemy troops, trying to take out as many of them as you can until you find your way to a handy empty tank. (Nice of the enemy to allow your government to plant friendly tanks behind their borders, isn’t it?) But once you man your own tank, enemy tanks surround you. If one of them hits your tank, you have mere seconds to bail out before your tank blows, and you have to dodge cannon fire until you can find another friendly tank to commandeer. Finally, after crossing hazardous stretches of desert and fighting off entire battallions of enemy tanks, you’re en route to the final confrontation, a showdown with the enemy’s armored headquarters… (Taito, 1982)

Memories: Front Line was a really fun and addictive game to play, and was always one of my favorites. I didn’t ever give a thought, at the time, that this game really keeps the player’s vision of warfare from delving into the bloody or the unpleasant, and all the characters – even those octagonal, roly-poly little tanks – are really cute. Continue reading

River Raid

River RaidBuy this gameThe Game: You’re piloting a fighter jet on a canyon run through enemy territory. You can’t fly outside the canyon walls, so stay over the river and blast everything in sight. Well, almost everything – flying your plane on top of “FUEL” buoys instead of shooting them puts a little bit of gas in the tank, and if you run out of fuel, you might as well just swallow the next enemy bullet, because you’re goin’ down. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: As you advance through the levels and it gets more challenging, River Raid becomes the same kind of balancing act between self-preservation and going on the See the TV adSee the videooffensive that is a hallmark of all-time classics like Robotron. River Raid was the brainchild of Activision programmer Carol Shaw, one of the small number of women who had a vital hand in the early video game industry (such as Carla Meninsky, programmer of numerous early Atari 2600 titles, and Dona Bailey, an Atari arcade programmer who co-designed Centipede). And yet River Raid is a shoot-’em’-up that’ll challenge any hardcore joystick jock. Continue reading

Battlezone

BattlezoneThe Game: As the pilot of a heavy tank, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and landing vehicles. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: Battlezone, in its arcade incarnation, was a huge, lumbering hulk of a beast with controls which were at best difficult to master (and at worst impossible), though it did sport some very good faux-3-D vector graphics. How on Earth was Atari going to turn this into a 2600 game? Continue reading

Robot Tank

Robot TankBuy this gameThe Game: So much for the tank platoon. You’re in charge of a lone robotic tank on a battlefield buzzing with bad guys. A radar sweep gives you advance notice of approaching enemies, but there are so many of them out there that even that warning may not come soon enough. A series of critically-placed blasts could leave you immobile, or worse yet, unarmed and helpless to do anything but take a pounding until it’s all over. Repair systems can restore these lost abilities – if you survive that long. The fighting doesn’t stop at night either – the sun goes down, leaving you in the dark for several minutes, capable of fighting and navigating only by instrumentation with little in the way of visual cues. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Just as Activision beat Parker Bros.‘ rendition of Frogger to the punch with Freeway, they also bested Atari’s own unexpectedly impressive Atari 2600 port of Battlezone with their own first-person tank entry, Robot Tank. Designed and programmed by Alan Miller, Robot Tank has some of Activision’s familiar signatures – the near-impossible color palette they squeezed out of the 2600, the almost flicker-free graphics, and just plain addictive game play. But in this case, Atari’s home version of Battlezone was no slouch either, so it’s hard to pick a clear winner. Continue reading

Battlezone

BattlezoneThe Game: As the pilot of a heavy tank, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and landing vehicles. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: If Atari’s 2600 version of the arcade wargame was a pleasant surprise, the unreleased 5200 edition of the same game is almost a revelation. Combining adaptations of the menacingly angular vector graphics of the arcade game with more realistic raster backgrounds, the 5200 prototype is not only fun, but rather pretty to look at. Continue reading

Grobda

GrobdaThe Game: You’re piloting a lone tank trapped in an arena with numerous indestructible obstacles – and quite a few hostile tanks. The moment you’re sent into battle, those other tanks converge on you immediately, so survival usually Buy this gamehinges on finding an advantageous configuration of obstacles to use as a makeshift fortress from behind which you can try to pick off enemy tanks without giving them a clear shot at yours. When you blast an enemy tank, it’s best not to be too close to it, because the shockwave of an exploding tank can catch nearby tanks and share the destruction, sometimes allowing you to fire one shot and set off a screen-clearing chain reaction. (Also, exploding tanks leave behind craters that slow you down if you try to cross over them.) You have a shielding system that offers very temporary shelter from enemy fire and from the explosions of nearby enemies, but constant firing and shield use will drain your precious energy reserves, and if that happens you’re as good as dead. (Namco, 1984)

Memories: Not one of the most original games in Namco’s history, Grobda borrows game play concepts left and right from some of the all-time arcade greats, boils them into one stew, and speeds things up considerably. Continue reading

Front Line

Front LineThe Game: You’re a lone footsoldier fighting your way through a platoon of enemy troops, trying to take out as many of them as you can until you find your way to a handy empty tank. But once you man your own tank, enemy tanks surround you. If one of them hits your tank, you have mere seconds to bail out before your tank blows, and you have to dodge cannon fire until you can find another friendly tank to commandeer. After crossing hazardous stretches of desert and fighting off entire battallions of enemy tanks, you’re en route to the final confrontation, a showdown with the enemy’s armored headquarters… (Coleco, 1984)

Memories: At one time, this was one of my all-time favorite Atari 2600 games – well, it still is, actually – even though it really pales in comparison to the coin-op it’s based on. Even the version released for the ColecoVision, which used the roller wheel on the Super Action Controller to stand in for the arcade game’s aiming knob, wasn’t quite the same. Still, at the time, this did just fine: you fired your gun in whatever direction you were facing. Continue reading

Skyfox

SkyfoxThe Game: The invasion is on, and as usual, you’re the only thing standing between Earth and alien domination. (Ever wonder why no one else is answering their pagers at times like these when the call goes out?) Fortunately, your aircraft is See the videoa kick-ass piece of military hardware, capable everything from breaking the sound barrier to hovering, helicopter-like, over a friendly installation to defend from an onslaught of enemy tanks. But the enemy makes up for its occasionally lackluster hardware with impressive numbers – and whether the hail of gunfire is coming from their tanks, their jets, or their motherships (which look suspiciously like little Comet Empires from Star Blazers), you can rack up a fatal amount of damage pretty quickly. (Electronic Arts, 1984)

Memories: To my day, Skyfox is still my favorite combat flight sim. Actually, it’s one of my all-time favorite flight sims, combat or otherwise. Continue reading

Command & Conquer: Red Alert

Command & Conquer: Red AlertOrder this gameThe Game: It’s the Cold War all over again – but worse. Tampering with the timeline has wreaked immeasurable damage with the development of technology, and the result is a new wave of deadly weapons, including Tesla tanks and turrets (which discharge immense electrical energy at their opponents) and Chrono-tanks (which can shift their position on the map instantly for a brief time). You must build and protect your base, produce units necessary to defend and attack, and orchestrate an invasion of enemy territory – all while accumulating as few casualties as possible. (Electronic Arts [developed by Westwood Studios], 1996)

Memories: Westwood’s real-time strategy classic is a major evolutionary leap from the original Command & Conquer, with vast improvements in the artificial intelligence used by both your soldiers and by computer controlled enemies. And it’s a tough game! It’s pretty common practice for me, despite a couple of years of playing Dune 2000 (a later Westwood game which is built on the same engine as Red Alert), to build up quite a nice base and then get my ass kicked big time. Continue reading

Wii Play

Wii PlayThe Game: Wii Play gathers a collection of mini-games in one place, from fishing, billiards and target shooting to a futuristic hockey game and tank battles, each showcasing different ways that the Wii remote controls Buy this gamecan be used. (Nintendo, 2007)

Memories: As with Wii Sports, Wii Play is an easy-to-pick-up but hard-to-put-down grouping of fairly simple minigames. Some of the games in Wii Play simulate real sports, while others delve into more abstract areas of game play. That’s the good news, and the even better news is that just about all of them are fun, making this another all-in-one first-party home run for Nintendo – if anyone knows a dozen different ways to use the Wii controllers, it should be the folks who made the things. Continue reading

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