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Megamania

MegamaniaBuy this gameThe Game: The sky is falling! Or so it seems. As this game is subtitled “A Space Nightmare,” you’re not battling aliens here, but ever-descendig and evading waves of such ordinary items as bow ties, hamburgers, dice, and so on. Unlike so many other Space Invaders variations, you won’t die the moment the attacking forces reach ground zero – but you could, if they slide horizontally right into you. (Activision, 1982)

See the TV adSee the videoMemories: Activision, much like the Odyssey 2 game designers, always knew how to put enough of a twist on game with an established “formula” to keep the litigious wolf from the door, and this is another classic example of that – not to mention an annoyingly addictive little game. Continue reading

Phoenix

PhoenixSee the videoThe Game: In a heavily armed space fighter, your job is pretty simple – ward off wave after wave of bird-like advance fighters and Phoenix creatures until you get to the mothership, and then try to blow that to smithereens. All of which would be simple if not for the aliens’ unpredictable kamikaze dive-bombing patterns. The Phoenix creatures themselves are notoriously difficult to kill, requiring a direct hit in the center to destroy them – otherwise they’ll grow back whatever wings you managed to pick off of them and come back even stronger. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: A very good translation, this. Atari’s edition of Phoenix opted to skimp a little on the graphics of the arcade original (which, truthfully, weren’t that elaborate to begin with) and concentrated more on duplicating the maddeningly random attacks of the enemy birds from its coin-op forebear. The result is an extremely playable, addictive slice of the arcade right in your living room. Continue reading

SID The Spellbinder!

SID The Spellbinder!The Game: What happens when the Dreaded Dratapillar Of Venus makes a guest appearance? It means that a spelling bee is imminent! A friendly voice warns you to look out for a “monster attack,” and after dispatching all of the segments of the worm-like invader, you’re asked to correctly spell three words using the Odyssey2 keyboard. Once you’ve correctly spelled those three words, another monster attack occurs, with the Dratapillar moving faster in each successive level; the game continues until it descends far enough down the screen to reach your cannon. (North American Philips, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Programmed by Sam Overton, SID The Spellbinder! was one of the first two – and, as it so happened, only two – educational launch titles made available specifically for the then-new Voice Of Odyssey speech synthesizer. Continue reading

Space Invaders

Space InvadersThe Game: You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: Adapted from the Atari 400/800 home computer version of the coin-op hit, Space Invaders for the 5200 is certainly colorful, though one could argue that it’s ultimately not as faithful to the original as the graphically simpler version that appears on the Atari VCS. Continue reading

Spiders

SpidersThe Game: Spiders slink down from the top of the screen, constructing an elaborate web and laying eggs as they go. The player, manning a mobile bug-blasting cannon, can take out the spiders, but the eggs are still gestating and will hatch new spiders unless they’re destroyed; new spiders repeat the cycle in rapid succession. Spiders will manage to build their web to the bottom of the screen, restricting the cannon’s movement (and creating zones of the screen where future spider hatchlings can move unimpeded). The game ends when the player loses all of the cannons to the spiders or their incoming fire. (Emerson, 1982)

Memories: In this early epoch of the video game industry, there seemed to be a perception that you simply weren’t taking things seriously unless you secured an arcade license. Witness the Odyssey2, whose sole first-party licensed arcade port came too late in the machine’s library to bolster its popularity, or the Intellivision, which avoided arcade ports at first and then broke through to widespread popularity with a licensed home version of Burgertime.

SpidersNot wanting to be a casualty of the video game wars, Emerson landed a handful of relatively obscure arcade licenses such as Jungler, Funky Fish and Spiders – none of them exactly household names in the coin-op world. (Most people probably can’t even remember seeing these games in the arcade at all; the author of this review barely remembers seeing Spiders and Jungler in the flesh.) Spiders was actually this vague and abstract in the arcade, too, so it’s really not a bad port, especially on the Arcadia 2001.

4 quarters!For such an obscure arcade game, Spiders got around; there was also a fairly entertaining Entex tabletop game, though its matrix of fixed graphics made it much more difficult to figure out what was going on. The Arcadia version is fairly faithful to the original, duplicating the utter strangeness of the coin-op original nicely.

Spider Fighter

Spider FighterBuy this gameThe Game: It’s a full-scale infestation! Spiteful spiders are hatching everywhere you look, and they’ve got an eye on feeding and breeding. Your blaster is the only thing stopping them, and you’ve got to be lightning fast. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: Possibly the most original arcade-ish game Activision released for the Atari 2600, Spider Fighter is a fast and furious shoot-’em-up requiring a lot of fast thinking; it’s also refreshingly free of the flicker that plagues so many 2600 games. Continue reading

Threshold

ThresholdThe Game: A lone space pilot is faced with the impossible task of fending off an entire alien invasion force single-handedly. Colliding with either the aliens or their decidedly unfriendly fire costs the player a ship. Clearing the screen of aliens only reveals a further wave of extraterrestrial killing machines. (Tigervision, 1982)

Memories: Tiger Electronics‘ entry into the increasingly crowded Atari VCS arena had a bit of an insurance policy: Tiger had made a deal with Sierra (then known as On-Line Systems) to port some of the company’s home computer hits to the console market. Threshold had a unique place in Sierra history: its programmer, Warren Schwader, was the company’s first employee from “outside the family” (all of the company’s previous products had been programmed by its founders, the husband-and-wife team of Ken and Roberta Williams). Continue reading

Guardian

GuardianThe Game: Players control a single laser cannon responsible for defending several planets who don’t seem to be able to look out for themselves. The cannon squares off against an alien mothership which deploys its own fleet of attack ships to destroy those planets. Good news: the planets are protected by a force field spanning the bottom of the screen. Bad news? The aliens can shoot through it, exposing the row of fragile planets as they scroll across the screen like shooting gallery targets. Worse news? You can’t defend all of them forever. (Games By Apollo, 1982)

Memories: Two years after Atari turned its iconic home version of Space Invaders into the first killer app on the VCS, Texas third-party publishing upstart Games By Apollo was one of several companies still trying to improve on that basic formula. The obscurity of Guardian probably means this wasn’t the evolution of the concept that players were looking for. Continue reading

Satan’s Hollow

Satan's HollowThe Game: Hellish flying demons try to formation-dive your well-armed, devil-fryin’ vehicle at the bottom of the screen. Each time you knock one of this gargoylesque beasties out of the sky, they drop a piece of a bridge you must drag over See the videoto the appropriate spot on the screen. When you’re close to completing the bridge, the Prince of Darkness sends in some heavier artillery – a spooky floating demon head who spits fire at your cannon – to do away with you. Once you’ve toasted the flying meanies out of the sky and cross the bridge, it’s time to do battle with Satan himself. (CBS Video Games, 1982)

Memories: CBS’ home video game division was focused on releasing a library consisting largely of arcade games licensed from Bally/Midway on cartridge for the Atari 2600. But CBS wasn’t content to limit itself to a single platform (unlike quite a few third-party software houses that appeared in the wake of the stellar success of Activision and Imagic). They also had the Atari computers in their sight, which also put them in a good position to release games for the Atari 5200, which was based on the same processor. Continue reading

Dogfight

DogfightThe Game: Enemy fighters arrive, wave after wave, attempting to outflank the player’s fighter jet and trap it in the path of their fire. The player can only move the jet side to side to avoid incoming fire and attempt to line up a shot on the enemy fighters. Each new wave of enemies brings new tactics, new weapons to evade… and a new batch of targets. (Thunderbolt [under license to Orca], 1983)

Memories: It’s easy to imagine the design and planning meeting for this game. It goes something like this:

“You know what my favorite part of Galaga is? The challenging stage. I hate all those other stages. They’re just there to trip me up on my way to the challenging stage. What if we made a game where the whole thing is like the challenging stage, except they occasionally shoot back at you?” Continue reading

Donkey Kong 3

Donkey Kong 3The Game: As Stanley the gardener, you’re trying to repel a swarm of pests unleashed by that meanest of pixellated gorillas, while also using your pesticide to propel him off the screen. Protect your flowers and yourself, and wear plenty of Off. (Nintendo, 1983)

See the videoMemories: The third entry in the still-ongoing series of games spawned by the original Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong 3 wasn’t as successful as the previous sequel, Donkey Kong Junior. One possible reason for this could be Nintendo’s brief abandonment of the climbing/jumping game elements in favor of a shooting game whose roots could easily be traced back to Space Invaders. Continue reading

Gyruss

GyrussThe Game: The aliens are taking their complaints to the home office! As the pilot of an agile space fighter, you have to blast your way through the alien forces from Pluto all the way back to Earth. Occasionally you can boost your ship’s firepower, but that’s the only help you’re going to get. The rest is up to your speed, your See the videoBuy this gamestrategy, and your ability to nail the attackers in mid-dive. (Centuri [under license from Konami], 1983)

Memories: Konami’s cult classic basically put a vaguely Tempest-esque 3-D spin on the strategy of Galaga, borrowed some music from a certain Mr. Bach and blasted it out as a stereo techno-symphony, and got a lot of people to blow their hard-earned money. It was also a lot of fun. Continue reading

Air Raid

Air RaidThe Game: Players fly a fighter jet that can somehow maintain perfect altitude and lateral control despite constantly flying with its nose pointed straight up. Oncoming invaders, resembling UFOs, upside-down houses, upside-down stick figures (presumably the residents of the upside-down houses) and other airplanes appear; the player can either shoot them down, let them pass (with no apparent damage to the structures that the player’s jet is apparently protecting) or be blown to bits. (Men-A-Vision, 1983)

Memories: This game is not renowned for its compelling, must-hit-the-reset-switch-and-do-it-all-again game play. It’s not memorable for its searingly colorful graphics or amazing, how-did-they-get-that-sound-out-of-that-chip audio. Air Raid has none of these things. What Air Raid does have, however, is the dubious distinction of being the rarest commercially released game made for the Atari VCS, while simultaneously being one of the worst. Continue reading

The Blobbers

The BlobbersThe Game: Amoeba-like monsters spawn and grow in an enclosed space with moving platforms. Players control a very mobile cannon, tasked with the mission of destroying these creatures, or at least trying to keep their population under control. The newly-spawned creatures pose no threat to the cannon – they’ll simply attach themselves to it, slowing it down unless it can shake them off. But the creatures rapidly grow in size and change colors; when a creature turns red, it is capable of destroying the cannon on contact. The cannon’s shots regress the creatures into earlier evolutionary stages; firing on a creature that has been regressed to its newly-spawned stage will destroy it. Both the cannon and the creatures can hitch a ride across the screen – either to safety or into the jaws of the enemy – aboard the platforms. (GST Video, 1983)

Memories: Even if this wasn’t a European-only release for the Videopac – the version of the Odyssey2 that did better in Europe than the Odyssey2 did in the Americas – The Blobbers would be hard to find. Hitting the stores at the end of the Videopac’s life span, this nifty little enclosed-space shoot-’em-up got very little attention and sold very few copies, and as such few copies made their way into the hands of game collectors and traders. Continue reading

Crackpots!

Crackpots!The Game: You are Potsy, a flowerpot-chucking tenant in a building being overrun by spiders. As they come up the walls, hurl potted plants at ’em to squish them before they can climb into the windows; if too many spiders make it Buy this gamethrough, they eat away at the building from the ground up until game is over. Black spiders follow a straightforward, no-nonsense path to the windows, while blue spiders zig-zag a bit. Red and green spiders follow more unpredictable paths, forcing you to try to nail them as they crawl the walls diagonally. Super powers will not be granted to you if you get bitten. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Sort of like a slide-and-shoot game in reverse, Crackpots! is a fun little number with some cute graphics and game play speed that gradually (but inevtiably) goes off the scale. Still, it’s incredibly simple and loads of fun too – and not surprisingly, it’s been revived for more modern consoles as part of Activision’s classic game compilations. Continue reading

Demon Attack

Demon AttackThe Game: Demons coalesce into existence in mid-air above your cannon. Send them back where they came from by force – but watch out, as demons in later levels split into two parts upon being hit, which must then be destroyed See the videoindividually… (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: Imagic scored major points with its only two releases for the Odyssey 2. Demon Attack was already a ubiquitous title in many Atari 2600 and Intellivision owners’ collections, but third-party games for the Odyssey 2 were almost unheard of. Continue reading

Galaxian

GalaxianThe Game: As with the classic arcade game, you’re fending off numerous attack waves of an advancing alien fleet, trying to pick them off one by See the videoone while trying not to allow the space creepies to return the favor. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: A slightly odd choice for a 1983 release, Galaxian is another fruit of Atari’s overall licensing deal with Namco, but by this time its popularity had been eclipsed by that of its sequel, Galaga, and in the context of trying to keep up with the latest and greatest, an adaptation of a game with a 1979 vintage in 1983 is slightly strange. Continue reading

Gorf

GorfThe Game: As the pilot of a solo space fighter, you take on several different varieties of alien attacks masterminded by those pesky, ever-present Gorfian robots. (Coleco, 1983)

Memories: As often is the case with ColecoVision games, this version of the classic Bally/Midway arcade game is visually and aurally faithful to its inspiration, but two key elements didn’t make it into this home version of Gorf: the speech synthesis and the “Galaxians” stage, the latter of which may have vanished to ensure that Bally/Midway could spread around the license for Gorf‘s predecessor, Galaxian, among as many companies as possible, maximizing profits. (The “Galaxians” stage was also missing from CBS/Fox’s Atari 2600 version of Gorf, as Atari had already snagged the cartridge rights to Galaxian for itself.) Continue reading

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