Ice Hockey

Ice HockeyBuy this gameThe Game: Hit the ice and get the puck outta here. You have control of two players in this scaled-down match: one offensive player and one defensive player who can leave his goalie position (but not without giving the other team a better chance to land a shot). Keep the other team – whether it’s a second player or the “Activision computer” – from getting a goal, while trying to get past their defenses to slam a shot into their net. The holder of the highest score when the clock runs out is the winner. (Activision, 1981)

See the videoMemories: Hockey had been a fixture of the video game world long before Activision released Ice Hockey as one of its earliest titles. Early video hockey was essentially Pong with hockey rules, despite attempts to make the players look more like people than paddles (see the Odyssey 500 console). But Ice Hockey flipped the playing field 90 degrees, and made the on-screen characters look and act like human hockey players – right down to being knocked on their butts. Continue reading

Tennis

TennisBuy this gameThe Game: Is it Pong anthropomorphized, or is it tennis rehumanized? Two people dash back and fourth across a court, making every attempt to intercept the incoming ball and slap it back into their opponent’s side of the net. As with so many other things in life, he who drops the ball suffers severely. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: Doesn’t really matter how you dress it up: it’s all tennis. Only Activision‘s Tennis cartridge, programmed by Alan Miller, was the first time someone had tried to make the tennis players look like…well, tennis players, at least on the VCS. As one of the very first titles released by Activision, Tennis broke graphical ground, but kept game play simple, often simulating an existing sport or activity – the salad days of innovation with games like Pitfall! were still to come. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionBuy this gameThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss out on the subsequent race. (I’ve always wondered anyway: why are there billboards around a racetrack? Are race car drivers a desirable demographic to advertisers? Can they actually read those signs at 200+ MPH?) (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

See the videoMemories: First off, a note to our loyal readers: I hope you’re happy! Pole Position is, by a vast margin, the single most-requested, most-asked-about game ever at Phosphor Dot Fossils. You should see some of the mail I’ve gotten regarding this game’s absence in the past few years – accusations of everything from bad taste to just plain incompetence. Well fear not, faithful Phosphor Dot Fossils followers, for I actually love this game. Continue reading

Grand Prix (Atari 2600)

Grand PrixBuy this gameThe Game: Start your digital engines! Grand Prix puts the player behind the wheel of a sleek (and, it has to be said, colorful) race car. With the track scrolling from right to left, the game is simple: get ahead, and don’t crash into the other cars. That may sound easy enough, but hazards such as oil slicks can send a car spinning out of control very easily. (Activision, 1982)

See the videoMemories: One of David Crane’s earliest games at Activision, Grand Prix is almost as important as a tech demo as it is as a game. Consider the large, blocky pixel-cars Atari‘s first-party racing games; the colorful, finely-detailed cars in Crane’s Grand Prix were a revelation by comparison. Grand Prix brought us cars of many different colors, with animated tires, and none of the sprite flicker that had already come to characterize many a 2600 game by this point. It was yet another case of Activision putting Atari on notice to start bringing its “A” game – literally. Continue reading

Math Gran Prix

Math Gran PrixBuy this gameThe Game: This race is a numbers game. For each turn, players have to decide how many spaces they want to move (overdoing it can result in going off-track and crashing), and then have to answer a math question (math functions and difficulty depend on game settings). Answering correctly will allow the player to move forward the desired number of spaces. A few spots on the track offer the chance to pick a random number for an additional jump forward in the race. (Atari, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Few equations have proven as impossible in the video game industry as the still-ongoing quest to make educational games not just fun, but something that anyone would actually want to fork over money for and play. Hint: Math Gran Prix, despite its noble intentions, did not solve that equation. Continue reading

Racquetball

RacquetballThe Game: One or two players try to keep a ball in motion in an enclosed space; standard racquetball rules apply. (Games By Apollo, 1982)

Memories: As discussed earlier in our review of Skeet Shoot, Games By Apollo was the first third-party game software supplier for the Atari 2600 founded by a speculator with no prior ties to the video game industry. Skeet Shoot, Apollo’s first game, was rushed out as quickly as possible, whereas programmer Ed Salvo had a little more time to roll out Racquetball, and the graphical difference is huge. Continue reading

Turbo

TurboThe Game: It’s pretty straightforward…you’re zipping along in your Formula One race car, trying to avoid other drivers and obstacles along the way while hauling a sufficient quantity of butt to win the race. (Coleco [under license from Sega], 1982)

Memories: One of the seminal first-person racing games of the 80s, Turbo was one of several Sega coin-ops that caught the eye of Coleco. The one hurdle in bringing it to the ColecoVision? Having to invent a whole new controller that would be similar enough to Turbo‘s arcade control scheme without being so specific as to rule out using the driving controller for other games in the future. And thus was born Expansion Module #2, a steering wheel controller with a detachable “gas pedal.” Continue reading

Motorace USA / Traverse USA / Zippy Race

Motorace USAThe Game: As the lone motorcyclist in a cross-country car race, you have to dodge your opponents at high speed, one two-ton vehicle at a time. You drive through city streets, highways, and through the rough desert, trying to reach See the videoyour goal without running out of gas or getting splattered across the asphalt. (Williams Electronics [under license from IREM], 1983)

Memories: Whatever you called it, this was one of my favorite driving/racing games, combining the best elements of both maze games and scrolling obstacle course games, and handling things differently from the Pole Position and Turbo formula which dominated this particular genre at the time. Continue reading

Pole Position II

Pole Position IIThe Game: So, you survived the qualifying lap and the big race in Pole Position and you’re ready to move on to bigger and better challenges? Well okay then. Now, in addition to the Fuji track, there are others to choose from – Buy this gamethe simple oval of the Test track, and the elaborate (and sometimes deadly) curves of the Seaside and Wonder tracks. As before, going over the shoulder isn’t a good thing – nor is crawling up the tailpipe of the cars in front of you, for the explosions in this game are even more spectacular than those of its predecessor. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1983)

Memories: Namco knows a thing or two about decent sequels, having given us such classics as Galaga (the sequel to Galaxian), Dig Dug 2 and the obscure Hopping Mappy. Pole Position II‘s controls are even more responsive, the graphics more fluid and realistic, and the explosions? Well, let’s put it this way – Pole Position kills you with a nice big explosion. Pole Position II throws debris. Continue reading

Tropical Angel

Tropical AngelThe Game: You’re a water-skiing bikini babe who’s trying to stay above water; the problem is that the water’s full of rocks that can cause you to take a painful tumble if you hit them, and the even bigger problem is that the guy driving the boat that’s pulling you along seems to have it in for you! The boat seems to be deliberately See the videotrying to pull you into harm’s way, and only fast joystick work and a sharp eye will keep you from winding up on the rocks. (IREM, 1983)

Memories: Man, whoever’s pulling that boat is just a misanthropic jerk. If you imagine that there’s a Tron-like world beyond the screen, I can only hope that the bathing-suited honey in this game finds herself a better boat driver after the game’s over. Continue reading

Track & Field

Track & FieldBuy this gameThe Game: It’s time for the 1984 Olympics! Qualify and compete in such events as the 100-meter dash, the long jump, javelin throw, and the shot-put. (Konami, 1983)

Memories: Though the above summary of Track & Field may seem unjustly short, that really summed up the game, which was actually quite fun, especially if you could get a second player to compete against you at the same time. Very rarely have I given a sports game the time of day unless it was a good one (such as Atari’s Pole Position) or a game so goofy that it transcended its genre (i.e. the hilarious Odyssey2 Computer Golf! cartridge). Track & Field was a true rarity – a decent sports game. Continue reading

The Activision Decathlon

The Activision DecathlonBuy this gameThe Game: Let the games begin! The Activision Decathlon puts players in the middle of ten summer Olympic events, each of which requires fast and furious joystick action, and careful timing on the fire button, to measure the player’s physical prowess. Events include 100 and 400 meter dashes, long jump, discus, shot put, high jump and more. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Olympic-themed video games began to pile on pretty thick starting with Track & Field in the arcade, and Activision was ahead of the curve as well, getting See the videoThe Activision Decathlon on the market a year before the 1984 games. Like Track & Field, Decathlon made use of a unique control scheme that brought some real physicality to the game, requiring players to work up at least a little bit of a sweat. It also cost many an otherwise well-constructed controller its life. Continue reading

Bump ‘N’ Jump

Bump 'N' JumpThe Game: The race is on, and no moves are off-limits – bump your competitors off the road (and into apparently highly volatile vegetation that causes them to explode), or jump over them and any other obstacles that get in your way, See the videoincluding areas of water that cover the road. If you survive the race, you live on to the next round – at least until you run out of cars. (M Network, 1983)

Memories: One of a very few arcade licenses snagged by Mattel for the Intellivision and for the M Network line of games for the Atari 2600 and other platforms, Bump ‘N’ Jump has a bumpy ride as it jumps to the relatively underpowered Atari. Continue reading

Enduro

EnduroBuy this gameThe Game: As one of many drivers in a round-the-clock endurance race through many areas, terrains and weather conditions. While the pretty boys at Fuji may have sunshine all the time (or so it seems), an Enduro racer has to contend with slick snow, nighttime driving conditions (where the other drivers’ tail lights are the only warning you have of their presence), fog (which is much like night driving, but about 10 times worse), and so on. (Activision, 1983)

See the videoMemories: Enduro is a killer driving game, taking the same graphical gimmick that made Pole Position a hit, and increasing the challenge of the game – even to the point of exceeding the depth of the game that it’s loosely based on. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionThe Game: It’s your big chance to qualify for an unspecified big race at a track near Mt. Fuji in Japan. First, you try to get through the qualifying heat, racking up laps around the track as fast you can and accumulating as few wrecks as possible. If you pass muster, then you get to try it again with other cars on the track! (Atari, 1983)

Memories: A reasonably faithful version of the then-megahit arcade game, this home port was actually very good considering the 2600’s graphics limitations. But it shared the arcade game’s repetitious nature, which made it a short-lived game which quickly depleted the novelty associated with its name. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss See the videoout on the subsequent race. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: When Atari announced its home versions of Pole Position, its first-person racer licensed from Namco, there was rejoicing (for the 5200 version) and scoffing (for the 2600 version). As it turns out, both expectations may have been off the mark: the 2600 version was unexpectedly good for what it was, and by comparison the 5200 version seems at times as though it’s not all it could have been. Maybe the biggest surprise is that these two interpretations of the game weren’t wildly different. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss out on the subsequent race. (GCE, 1983)

See the videoMemories: When GCE (and, briefly, the eager-to-get-into-the-video-game-business Milton Bradley) debuted the Vectrex, any argument that there was another system better-suited for home ports of arcade vector graphics games was over, period. With willing licensing partners like Cinematronics, Vectrex was a shoo-in. There’s only one problem: by 1983, vector graphics were rapidly falling out of wide use as more advanced raster graphics technology, driven by faster processors, came into play. What games would Vectrex play then? Continue reading

RealSports Baseball

RealSports BaseballThe Game: Batter up! Take charge of a team on the baseball diamond for a practice round, or a game lasting 3, 6 or 9 innings. And if you think being behind a joystick will save you from hearing from the umpire, think again. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoMemories: In 1979, the mainstay of home video gaming was space, not sports. That’s hard to imagine these days, when you have giants like Electronic Arts dropping the equivalent of some small countries’ gross national debt to lock down entire professional sports leagues. Sure, there was sports games in 1979, but they were at such a primitive level that they just weren’t a match for Space Invaders and Asteroids; the most realistic sports simulations still lived in the arcade. In 1980, Intellivision changed the playing field, literally and figuratively, as Mattel introduced sports games that actually bore some resemblance to their inspiration. A surprisingly aggressive marketing campaign for a relative newcomer to the video game field put Atari on notice: take sports games seriously. Continue reading

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