Laser Gates

Laser GatesThe Game: You’re piloting the Dante Dart through the innards of an enormous sentient computer. The computer was originally constructed to defend the galaxy, but now it’s gone haywire and is planning to destroy the galaxy instead. There’s only one problem with such a massive defense computer: its own internal defense See the videomechanisms. Blast through densepack columns and laser gates as they try to fry your ship, and watch out for laser turrets, “byte bats” and other menaces which will pursue you. Your Energy meter is depleted by constant firing, so make every shot count. And your Shield meter drops as you take hits from enemy fire or crash through the defenses with your ship – something you don’t want to do too much of, lest your mission end prematurely and fatally. (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: The scrolling sub-genre of flying through an enclosed space is hardly anything new for the 2600 (witness Atari’s own decent Vanguard translation, Super Cobra, Fantastic Voyage, etc.), but Laser Gates takes this task from a raw “try-not-to-get-killed” level to a puzzle of resource management and timing. Huge stretches of this game will go by where you don’t need to fire a single shot or do a lot of moving around. Continue reading

Moon Patrol

Moon PatrolThe Game: Driving an agile, armed moon buggy across the lunar surface, you must jump over craters and land mines, shoot large boulders (some occasionally mobile) out of your way, and try not to be on the receiving end of hostile fire from alien ships that try to strafe you. Some of the ships, which look very suspiciously like the triangle-of-spheres enemy ships from Gyruss, can even bomb the moon and make new craters for you to jump over – which may put you right into their line of fire.

Later on, you also get to blast away tanks and dodge pesky jet cars which “tailgate” and then try to ram you. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: This was a game that I played the hell out of as a kid – I’m stunned that all the bits didn’t fall out of the cartridge from repeated use. Granted, Moon Patrol in the arcade was a feast for the eyes and ears, and it’d be foolish to expect none of that to be lost in the translation to a far simpler hardware platform like the Atari 2600. But what’s surprising is how much of the game actually survived the transition. Continue reading

Nova Blast

Nova BlastThe Game: You’re the pilot of a fighter plane whose job is to patrol the sky at supersonic speeds and eliminate alien threats to the cities on the ground below You have a radar screen spanning the entire globe at your disposal, and endless See the videoarsenals of weaponry. If all of the cities are wiped out, your mission – and your life as you know it – are over. (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: Imagic had done a much better job bringing Donkey Kong to the Intellivision than Coleco did, with Beauty And The Beast being almost incalculably better than Coleco’s official Kong port. So why not do the same for Defender? Continue reading

Shuttle Orbiter

Shuttle OrbiterSee the videoThe Game: Piloting the space shuttle, you must navigate your way from a low orbit to a high one, stopping at a refueling satellite and ferrying modules to a space station under construction. While gaining altitude, you may run through fields of space debris; allowing them to hit the shuttle costs you precious fuel. (Avalon Hill, 1983)

Memories: Ah…simpler times. Truth be told, I love space exploration games – no alien encounters, no blasting doomsday asteroids out of a collision course with Earth, none of that. Just get the job done and get home safely. Continue reading

Super Cobra

Super CobraThe Game: You’re piloting a heavily armed helicopter straight into a heap o’ trouble. Ground and air defenses have been mounted in this enemy installation to stop you at any costs. Missiles, anti-aircraft turrets, and even other vehicles will See the videodo anything to knock you out of the sky – and given the chunky terrain, the odds are in favor of the house. Your only saving grace is that you’re armed to the teeth. But, as you may have guessed by now, even that may not be enough to save you. (Supposedly, according to Konami, Super Cobra was their sequel to the minor arcade hit Scramble.) (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Alas, Konami’s Super Cobra didn’t fare quite as well on the Odyssey2 as Q*Bert did. At times, it’s almost comical – a few seconds of fast and furious on-screen action are followed by a tedious scroll to the left as the playing field is filled with the next round of extremely inhospitable terrain! Continue reading

Super Cobra

Super CobraThe Game: You’re piloting a heavily armed helicopter straight into a heap o’ trouble. Ground and air defenses have been mounted in this enemy installation to stop you at any costs. Missiles, anti-aircraft turrets, and even other vehicles will See the videodo anything to knock you out of the sky – and given the chunky terrain, the odds are in favor of the house. Your only saving grace is that you’re armed to the teeth. But, as you may have guessed by now, even that may not be enough to save you. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Parker Brothers may have been an old hand at board games, but it was a youngster in the video game business. Still, all that clout from its industry-dominating board game operation didn’t hurt, helping Parkers secure major hit licenses that no other young video game operation could’ve scored: Frogger, Q*Bert, and let’s not forget the very first Star Wars home video games. In the middle of this stellar line-up was… Super Cobra. Continue reading

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw MassacreThe Game: You’re Leatherface, the notorious killer, and your job is pretty simple: track down those meddling teenagers (a See the videoprerequisite for every horror flick) and slice ‘n’ dice them with your chainsaw. Simple enough, right? It would be if not for obstacles that block your path (some of which you can also dispose of with your chainsaw), and the fact that – get this – these kids scream and run away from you. The nerve! But you can sever that nerve, and all the others, with your chainsaw…at least until it runs out of fuel. (Wizard, 1983)

Memories: Wizard Games was a short-lived outfit that sprang up during that fleeting, fertile window of time when it seemed like anyone could make a mint doing Atari 2600 games – or at least everyone thought they could. With this and a similar game based on John Carpenter’s legendary Halloween (in which the player tried to escape from killer Michael Myers), Wizard put itself on the map instantly. Not with great games, mind you, but with pure controversy: at the time, these games were decried for gore and violence! Continue reading

Time Pilot

Time PilotThe Game: You’re flying solo through the fourth dimension! In what must be the least subtle time-traveling intervention since the last time there was a time travel episode on Star Trek: Voyager, you’re blasting your way through See the original TV addozens of aircraft from 1940 through 1982. From WWII-era prop planes, to Vietnam-era helicopters, to 1982, where you confront jet fighters with the same maneuverability as your plane, you’re in for quite a wild ride. Rescue parachutists and complete the level by destroying “boss” craft such as heavy planes and dirigibles. (Coleco, 1983)

Memories: As well-intentioned as Coleco’s translation of the Centuri-licensed Konami classic was, and even as powerful as the ColecoVision is, it wasn’t quite up to the challenge of Time Pilot. Continue reading

Time Pilot

Time PilotThe Game: You’re flying solo through the fourth dimension! In what must be the least subtle time-traveling intervention since the last time there was See the videoa time travel episode on Star Trek: Voyager, you’re blasting your way through dozens of aircraft from 1940 through 1982. From WWII-era prop planes, to Vietnam-era helicopters, to 1982, where you confront jet fighters with the same maneuverability as your plane, you’re in for quite a wild ride. Rescue parachutists and complete the level by destroying “boss” craft such as heavy planes and dirigibles. (Coleco, 1983)

Memories: Coleco‘s home version of Time Pilot for the Atari 2600 is one of the company’s better arcade ports for that machine, and yet so much of what made the arcade game such a memorable experience was left behind. I can accept the watering-down of the game’s graphics, especially when an effort was obviously made to keep them flicker-free – an impressive feat for this game. But some of what’s left out includes the game’s very objectives. 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 See the videothreats 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. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: If there was a better home version of this arcade sleeper hit to emerge during the 1980s, I haven’t seen it yet. Parker Brothers’ Colecovision edition of Tutankham does everything a good console port of a coin-op should do – it brings the game play, as well as the audiovisual elements, home – and this version does it in spades. It looks like it, it sounds like it, and it plays like it. Continue reading

The Dreadnaught Factor

The Dreadnaught FactorThe Game: Piloting a series of solo space fighters, you’re humanity’s last hope against a fleet of gigantic, triangular wedge-shaped battle cruisers bearing down on Earth. Launching from a staging area equipped with a hyperspace See the videogate to fling your fighters into the void at top speed, you must strafe these cruisers in your fighter, bombing and blasting their gun emplacements, engines, and an assortment of weak spots on their ship. The enemy cruisers also have defensive fighters that they’ll launch to keep you from getting the job done, and of course the cruisers themselves are bristling with enormous laser cannons. Hitting all of the guns, engines and other “soft targets” on a cruiser will destroy it, giving you a momentary reprieve until the next cruiser arrives. If you run out of ships or fail to stop the enemy, they’ll wipe out your planet – game over, indeed. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: Further proof that long before Lucasfilm ever entered the video gaming arena, George Lucas was having a massive ripple effect on the medium: the dreadnaughts in Dreadnaught Factor are – and let’s not kid ourselves here – clearly Star Destroyers. They’re shaped and laid out like them, right down to the control tower. If you ever wanted to see what would’ve happened if Han really had taken the Millennium Falcon into a head-to-head battle with a Star Destroyer, or if that poor sap in the A-Wing hadn’t been out of control, this is your game. 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

Fantasy

FantasyThe Game: Pirates have kidnapped your girlfriend, Cheri, and it’s your job to rescue her, from landing your hot air balloon on the deck of the pirate ship and trying to free her, to flying and climbing your way through the jungle to rescue See the videoher from jungle animals who have abducted her from the pirates. (Texas Instruments, 1983 [unreleased])

Memories: Several years ago, when I wrote up my all-time favorite coin-op, SNK‘s adventurous gem Fantasy (licensed for the US by Rock-Ola), I lamented the lack of a home version. I’ve always thought Fantasy was underappreciated as an arcade game, and a good home translation might have helped. I remember, around the time that NAP finally licensed an arcade game (Turtles) for the Odyssey2, I wrote a letter to them to make the case for an Odyssey2 version of Fantasy, since it now seemed like they were prepared to license arcade titles. When my Fantasy review appeared many years later, TI 99/4a uber-fan Bryan Roppolo wrote in to bring my attention to an unreleased version of the game that had been in the works for that computer system, and I’ve always wondered if it was as much fun as the arcade game. Continue reading

Circus Charlie

Circus CharlieBuy this gameThe Game: As Charlie the circus clown, you undertake numerous hazardous activities to wow the big-top audience, including ridng a lion as he jumps through flaming hoops, walking a tightrope also inhabited by numerous monkeys over whom you must jump, leaping around on a series of trampolines (and hopefully over fire-breathers and knife-throwers who happen to be displaying their circus skills in an upward direction between trampolines), and finally a death-defying flying trapeze act. You only get three opportunities to strut your stuff, and then the show’s over. (Konami, 1984)

It’s really like Track & Field with clown makeup, which in itself is somewhat disturbing. However you slice it, Circus Charlie is good clean fun, sort of the un-cola of sports games – there are a number of events (the game’s various “difficulty levels”), and the structure of the game is even the same, though here the action is confined to side-scrolling levels and it doesn’t feel like a sports game. Continue reading

Pac-Land

Pac-LandThe Game: In a total break with any and all previous Pac-Man games, Pac-Land puts the yellow one onscreen as a very good homage to the Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon based on the original game, complete with the show’s bubbly theme song. You wander down the streets of Pac-Land, avoiding those nasty Ghost Monsters and hoping to find Power Pellets, all before your time runs out for that phase of your journey. Ghost Monsters may attack from the ground, or try to bomb you from the air; either way, chomping a Power Pellet will relieve them of their altitude and put them on the run. You may have to jump over them or duck under them until then – and be very careful in the forest, where Ghost Monsters may lurk behind trees. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1984)

Buy this gameMemories: It may have been well-drawn and animated, but Pac-Land really stuck out like a sore thumb to me – in hindsight, it was more like Super Mario Bros. than Pac-Man. Still, for those few of us who initially liked the Saturday morning cartoon, this game was a lovingly crafted valentine to the TV version of Pac-Man – a very roundabout example of a video game inspired by a licensing spin-off inspired by a video game. 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

Time Pilot ’84

Time Pilot '84The Game: You’re back in the hotseat as the Time Pilot, but this time an even more fearsome breed of ships from the future is after you. The good news is that you have a new weapon at your disposal – guided missiles – but the bad news is that the enemy has them too. Blast enough enemy planes out of the sky and lure their See the videocommand ship out of hiding; if you can survive long enough to blow the missile-spewing command ship to pieces, you’re off to the next level. (Konami, 1984)

Memories: Bearing the deliciously Engrish-esque subtitle “Further into unknown world,” Time Pilot ’84 is a re-interpretation of the original game, with a few more bells and whistles in both the audiovisual and game play departments. Those accustomed to just constantly blasting away with both barrels in the original Time Pilot have to adjust to the proper use of the missile guidance system (don’t waste a missile until your screen paints a viable target), but other than that, it’s the same game with a new coat of paint. Continue reading

Cosmic Commuter

Cosmic CommuterThe Game: Sometimes it’s not all about saving the whole freakin’ world. Sometimes it’s about just being a cabbie. Picking people up, zipping through traffic, and trying to get them to where they’re going without them – or yourself – killed in the process. Substitute traffic for alien ships and space debris, and you’ve got Cosmic Buy this gameCommuter. Make sure your taxi pod is loaded up on fuel, avoid everything except for the passengers, and don’t forget to dock safely with your launch/landing module when you’ve picked everyone up. You can shoot obstacles out of your way in a tight squeeze, but be careful – you could also shoot your next refueling station out of the sky too. Three collisions or crash landings due to an empty gas tank, and you’re out of the taxi business. (Activision, 1984)

Memories: Cosmic Commuter is a very cool scrolling game with a neat premise, something that I can identify with a lot better than being a fighter jock. This is also an extremely colorful game with a heap of animated graphics, and not one second of sprite flicker. Continue reading

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