Defender II / Stargate

Defender II / StargateThe Game: Once again, you’re piloting a sleek spacecraft, patrolling the airspace over a populated planet whose inhabitants are being harvested by alien Landers to create berzerker Mutants. If you shoot down a Lander in mid-air and its abductee falls toward the ground, you must catch the helpless kidnap victim and lower him to the ground safely. Other menaces await you in the sky, along with Stargates, which instantaneously transport you to other locations around the planet. (Atari, 1984)

Memories: I like to refer to this game as Defender: The Apology. In much the same way that Atari made good on gamers’ disappointment in their original Pac-Man cartridge with its Ms. Pac-Man translation, the Stargate cartridge plays much more like “real” Defender than the original cartridge version of that game. The sounds and graphics are pretty much dead-on, if not quite as fine as those of the original arcade machine. Continue reading

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns

Pitfall IIBuy this gameThe Game: As famed treasure-hunter Pitfall Harry, you’re delving deep into the Lost Caverns, which are loaded with Incan treasures beyond compare – or so they say. But the vast subterranean chambers are also full of dangers – bats, poisonous frogs, electric eels, and huge chasms. Touching any one of these creatures will force you to retreat to the last base camp you See the videoestablished, and you’ll lose points every second until you get back there. The only way to win the game is to find your way back to the surface after recovering all of the treasures of the Lost Caverns – and to do this, you won’t be able to go back the way you came. (Activision, 1984)

Memories: This was the best game ever created for the Atari 2600, hands-down. 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 many of the defenses as you can in the meantime. (Sega, 1984)

Memories: In 1984, Sega entered the home video game business for the first time, with their first Stateside products being games for the Atari 2600 and 5200. Some of the titles released – Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom and Zaxxon specifically – had already been licensed by Coleco for the ColecoVision, and Coleco had even released Zaxxon for other systems such as the 2600. But Sega wanted its own piece of the pie, and not just licensing percentages, when it came time to release more of their properties for home video game systems. Continue reading

Park Patrol

Park PatrolThe Game: Swimmers and snakes and turtles, oh my! Help patrol your beach by picking up litter and saving drowning swimmers while avoiding snakes, sharp sticks, and other obstacles. You’ll need to be quick on your feet (and in your innertube) to succeed! (Activision, 1984)

Memories: In Activision’s Park Patrol, you play the role of a litter-collecting park ranger. Your goal is to keep your lakefront property clean by picking up litter (cans and bottles). To do that you’ll need to use your handy-dandy motorized raft to pick up the trash floating in the lake, and run as quickly as possible to clean up debris lying on the shore itself. Continue reading

Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt

Super Mario Bros. / Duck HuntThe Game: Intrepid plumbers Mario and Luigi have fallen back on Mario’s original mandate – rescuing the damsel – as they journey through the kingdom, battling Koopas and braving falls from dizzying heights, all to Buy this gamerescue the princess (who, as always, seems to be in another castle). In Duck Hunt things are a bit more normal – you’re just trying to nail some ducks in the wild, with the help and encouragement (and, if you let one get away, derisive laughter) from your trusty huntin’ dawg. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: Right up there with Atari 2600 Pac-Man in ubiquity, and almost universally loved (think about that for a moment – how many video games reach quite that level of popularity?), Super Mario Bros. was the ticket the NES needed to break into the U.S. market. Continue reading

Super Zaxxon

Super ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress, your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Super Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as much of the defenses as you See the videocan in the meantime. (Sega, 1985)

Memories: Just as Super Zaxxon in the arcades was merely a rewrite of the code for the original Zaxxon, it’s somehow fitting that the same is true for Super Zaxxon on the Apple II. But while it may have saved Sega some development time to reuse the code from Datamost’s version of Zaxxon for the Apple, it didn’t exactly result in a satisfying gaming experience. Continue reading

Transformers

TransformersThe Game: The raging battle between the Autobots and Decepticons continues in this exclusive title for the Commodore 64 computer. Take control of five different Transformers in the Autobots’ quest for Energon. (Ocean Software, 1985)

Memories: Back before fantastic graphics and CGI cut scenes, videogames often included additional paper documentation to explain who the characters where and what you were supposed to be doing. Atari, for example, packaged comic books with many of their games to add depth and back stories to their titles. Some early games relied so heavily on this documentation that without it, the games were difficult to play and didn’t make much sense. Ocean’s Transformers title was one of those games. Continue reading

Uridium

UridiumThe Game: Destroy massive motherships while fighting waves of enemies and avoiding obstacles at breakneck speeds in this groundbreaking horizontal SHMUP. There’ll be time to rest when you’re dead. (Hewson, 1986)

Memories: Uridium is one of the fastest games I’ve ever played. At top speed, things whiz by you so quickly that your reflexes simply aren’t fast enough. You’ll have to memorize the levels to fly at that speed – too bad you can’t memorize where the next wave fleet of enemies will be coming from. Continue reading

Wonderboy

WonderboyThe Game: Wonderboy’s girlfriend Tanya has been abducted and it’s up to you to get her back. You’ll have to be pretty crafty to avoid the dangers of Wonderland in this classic Sega platformer. (Activision, 1987)

Memories: Call me isolated, but for almost two decades I had no idea the classic platformer Wonderboy for the Commodore 64 was actually ported from an arcade game. While I knew the game was licensed from Sega and written by Activision, it wasn’t until just a few years ago when I happened across a Wonder Boy cartridge for the Sega Master System that I realized the game was released for multiple systems! Continue reading

The New Zealand Story

The New Zealand StoryBuy this gameThe Game: You might think this will be the story of Captain Cook and British settlers setting in motion the fall of the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, interpreted as a video game, but…that’s not it. It’s the story of a walrus who See the videowaltzes into the zoo and abducts every Kiwi bird there, stuffing them into a huge sack and then leaving. One Kiwi bird escapes, and you have to guide him on his quest to free all the other Kiwis. (On the other hand, perhaps it’s metaphorical somehow.) Fortunately, you happen to be the kind of Kiwi bird who can fire a bow and arrow, use a flamethrower, and can fly a little hovercraft around maze-like vertical structures. Other animals try to outfox you, gravity is against you, and your little Kiwi has only three lives. (Taito, 1988)

Memories: This very strange little game from Taito seldom escaped from Japan until emulation and retro collections came along. Thanks to the latter, everyone can now enjoy this strangely compelling little game. Continue reading

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek V: The Final FrontierThe Game: Sybok, a charismatic Vulcan cult leader, has tried to disrupt the peace process on the neutral planet Nimbus III. Players take control of one Enterprise crewman at a time to: retrieve the Nimbus III hostages (Sulu), save Kirk and Spock from a cell aboard the Enterprise (Scotty), pilot the Enterprise through asteroids and attacking Klingons (Sulu again?), and finally make a mad dash into the heart of the lair of the “god creature” (Kirk). Running out of life energy aborts the mission; fortunately, Dr. McCoy is standing by at all times and the mission can start from scratch. (Bandai, 1989 – unreleased)

Memories: After the surprise hit that was the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Paramount Pictures was ready to entertain any and all licensing ideas for the next movie, 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (which was therefore perversely considered the worst of the original series movies). Bandai bid for the video game rights, and then proceeded to create a rather uninspired run-and-shoot platformer around what would appear to be an early synopsis of the movie’s plot. (To be fair to Bandai, the movie wasn’t exactly the most inspiring entry in the Star Trek captain’s log, so the fault doesn’t lie entirely with the developer.) Continue reading

Revenge Of Defender

Revenge of DefenderThe Game: Players slide into the cockpit of Defender once again, defending the power generators on the surface of a human space colony from intruding aliens. As usual, the Defender is a versatile, fast-moving attack ship, but the aliens have an advantage in sheer numbers. Vaporizer bombs can clear the screen of attackers, but they’re in short supply. Eliminating all invaders clears the level and starts anew; running out of Defender craft means the aliens win. (Ensign Software, 1989)

Memories: Among the most obscure offshoots of the Defender family tree spawned by the 1980 coin-op, Revenge Of Defender is a dressed-up PC remake of the classic game, trading the complicated control scheme and uncluttered graphics of the original for a easier player controls and background graphics that actually get in the way of the game. Continue reading

Super Mario Land

Super Mario LandThe Game: As intrepid plumber (and explorer) Mario, players have to jump through new environments and enemies to help Mario rescue Daisy. Egyptian pyramids guarded by fire-breathing Sphinxes, seaside platforms invaded by space aliens, and the usual Goombas and Koopas await Mario as he tries to reach the end of each level. As always, there are mushrooms, stars and fire flowers to help Mario power up, and helpful hidden chambers full of coins. (Nintendo, 1989)

Memories: One of the original Game Boy launch titles, Super Mario Land was almost the game that was included with the Game Boy itself. And why not? Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 were certified smash hits with the same kind of household-name recognition that had once been the sole domain of Pac-Man. Continue reading

Ninja Golf

Ninja GolfThe Game: You face a test of your skills in the time-honored way of the Ninja: you must survive a game of golf. But you’re not the only Ninja on the course, and apparently you are the only Ninja who’s got a bullseye painted on his back. Before you can say “Crouching Tiger Woods, Hidden Dragon,” you must fend off See the videoattackers, including pesky gophers and alarmingly large frogs, in between putts. When you reach the green, a large dragon will attack you, as large dragons are wont to do on the green. Defeat the dragon and you advance to the next hole; do not defeat the dragon, and it will leave a hole in you. (Atari, 1990)

Memories: This utterly bizarre little game is almost like somebody’s idea of a spoof game, something you’d see if there was a Weird Al Signature Series for the 7800. But no, Ninja Golf was an actual mainstream 7800 title – well, that is, if you consider the 7800 mainstream – and proof that someone, somewhere at Atari, was thinking way outside the box. Continue reading

Doctor Who: Dalek Attack

Doctor Who: Dalek AttackThe Game: As one of three incarnations of the Doctor (only Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy are offered), and with the option of a second playing assuming the role of either Ace or an unnamed (and yet somehow Watch a video of this gamefamiliarly mustachioed) UNIT soldier, you must navigate various environments from the sewers and streets of London to the Dalek-conquered ruins of once-proud cities like Tokyo and New York, defeating the Daleks and their allies to remove the evil scourge from Earth. Ogrons, hideous monsters, Dalek-possessed Robomen and ninjas, and – perhaps most terrifying of all – robo-sumo wrestlers will try to prevent you from completing your mission. (Alternative Software, 1992)

Memories: The first Doctor Who video game marketed for anything even vaguely resembling a modern PC (though other versions were available for such then-still-common platforms as the Amiga, the Spectrum Holobyte and even the Commodore 64), this straight-shooting scrolling quest game unashamedly goes straight for the classic arcade jugular, with game play and eye candy worthy of such all-time classics as Super Mario Brothers. It also displays a loving reverence for Doctor Who old and new, which is enough to tug at the heartstrings of the most cynical fans. Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 4 (“C”)

Namco Museum Volume 4Buy this gameThe Game: Namco has even more games they’d like us all to remember, only this time, you might not remember them half as clearly as Pac-Man, who’s still dragging you through the halls of the Namco Museum, eager to play each and every one. Oddly enough, you’ve probably never seen any of these games before. The greatest challenge in your path in Volume 4? Figuring out the controls for The Genji And The Heike Clans and Return of Ishtar. (Namco, 1996)

Memories: Personally, I don’t remember any of these games, save for the bizarre scrolling exploration game Pac-Land and Assault, which I believe was licensed to Atari. Inspired by the ABC-TV cartoon series, Pac-Land may indeed be the only reason anyone might now try to track down the now out-of-print Volume 4 of Namco Museum. Continue reading

Namco Museum Volume 5 (“O”)

Namco Museum Volume 5Buy this gameThe Game: The Namco Museum is open for business one last time! Today’s exhibit features games of the late 1980s, and of course Pac-Man – being the prideful little single-celled organism that he is – simply must see all the displays. You wander the halls one last time, visiting some really cool themed rooms for each game, with the yellow one underfoot. Games included this time around are Metro-Cross, Pac-Mania, Dragon Spirit, The Legend of Valkyrie and Baraduke. (Namco, 1996)

Memories: For the final installment of their series of classic arcade emulations, Namco mined their late-80s games, concentrating on fighting and quest games primarily. The only relatively simple title included on Volume 5 (a.k.a. Volume O) is the final arcade appearance of Pac-Man in Pac-Mania, a very simple updating of the original Pac-Man set in a vaguely Zaxxon-esque three-quarter perspective. In a way, Pac-Mania is the direct predecessor of the 3-D “maze mode” of Namco’s recent retro revival Pac-Man World. Continue reading

Namco Museum Encore

Namco Museum EncoreThe Game: All aboard! Now departing the Namco Museum aboard the spaceship Game Space Milaiya. Namco’s retrospective series literally takes off for its final ride on the Playstation with a collection of seven games, from the earliest days of Namco’s video game empire to more recent arcade titles. (Namco, 1997 – for Playstation)

Memories: For the final PS1 outing of the Namco Museum series, Namco turned out what easily could have been the user-friendliest volume yet, dispensing with the tedious “Doom minus the action” museum settings and otherwise simplifying things dramatically. In short: doing away with the extraneous trappings to make way for more games. Continue reading

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