51 Shades of Geek

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

Sky Jinks

Sky JinksBuy this gameThe Game: It’s a lovely day for a little bit of prop flying. You’re at the stick of a small, single-engine plane, and you must complete an increasingly difficult succession of courses where you must pass different colored pylons on the left or right. But there are obstacles that don’t make this easy – several balloonists also agree that it’s a good day to take to the air, and then there are the trees… (Activision, 1983)

Memories: I can’t tell you how many hours I spent with this game as a kid. It drove me nuts! I could whip around like a flying ace on the easy courses, but never failed to wipe out on the more advanced ones. Continue reading

Trans-American Rally

Trans-American RallyThe Game: The Videopac puts you in the driver’s seat for a cross-country race. Avoid other cars and obstacles and stay on the road; hitting too many oncoming vehicles causes you to forfeit the See the videorace. (Philips, 1983)

Memories: A surprising game on the Videopac G7400+ (the European equivalent of the cancelled Odyssey3 console), Trans-American Rally is an example of a game done almost entirely in the “extended” graphics set. The only hints of the original Odyssey2/Videopac fixed graphics set is the use of the old “triangle” elements to draw the road and to draw any unchanging areas of solid colors (such as the desert on either side of the road). The rest of the graphics are done entirely in the “plus” graphics, and the game looks surprisingly good for anything running on the Videopac platform: it’s on a par with many a TI 99/4a game. Continue reading

Buggy Challenge

Buggy ChallengeThe Game: It’s a duel for dune buggy supremacy, and it won’t be easy. Drivers must contend not only with other drivers, but with dangerous terrain (sand hills that can launch a buggy into mid-air with little or no control over where it might land), killer obstacles including rocks and fence posts, and the amazing ease of losing all sense of direction. (Taito, 1984)

Memories: A fairly obscure first-person racer from Taito, Buggy Challenge is visually impressive, but in an era when it seemed like arcade game manufacturers were desperately trying to add complexity to control schemes – after all, a complex control scheme will probably get players “killed” more often, forcing more coin drop – Buggy Challenge most outstanding feature may be its blissful simplicity. There’s a gas pedal and a steering wheel. Try not to hit stuff that will cause the dune buggy to blow up. It really is that simple. 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, including See the videoareas 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. (Coleco, 1984)

Memories: Another Sega arcade sleeper-hit snagged for the Colecovision under an overall contract between the two game companies, Bump ‘N’ Jump is fun on four wheels, and this console version drives it home perfectly. Continue reading

Moto-Crash+

Moto-Crash+The Game: It’s a cross-country motorcycle race, and you’re at the handlebars. Avoid other bikes, stay within the traffic markers, and be alert to constantly changing lighting conditions and weather (this race is 24 hours a day, and the days seem awfully short). (Philips, 1984)

Memories: Released only in Europe (and, for the most part, confined to France, where it was sold for the Jopac+ console, the Gallic equivalent to the Videopac G7400 or the Odyssey3), Moto-Crash+ is a fairly bold attempt to do something that was unheard of on the original Odyssey2/Jopac hardware: a first-person racing game along the lines of Enduro. Continue reading

Pitstop

PitstopThe Game: A day at the races is just another day at the office for you. Pick from a variety of tracks and difficulty levels and try to achieve maximum speed…with a minimum of collisions. (Epyx, 1984)

See the videoMemories: Not quite as pretty as Turbo, Pitstop is a port of a game that Epyx had already made popular on the Atari home computers and the Commodore 64. Though the crash was in full swing by now, Epyx seemed to be hedging its bets by producing console games for the Colecovision and the Atari 2600. But graphically, and in terms of smooth game play, Turbo wins the race ahead of Pitstop in just about every area – and it’s all about control. 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 See the videomiss out on the subsequent race. (INTV Corp., 1987)

Memories: Pole Position has suffered a few indignities before; an arcade game that was a huge evolution for first-person racing and boasted stellar graphics is bound to hit a few speed bumps on the drive home. But the Intellivision version of Pole Position is a gigantic pothole that’s likely to relieve most players of their drive to recreate the arcade experience. Continue reading

Pole Position II

Pole Position IIThe Game: It’s your big chance to qualify for the big race at one of four tracks: the oval test track, Seaside, Suzuka, and the Mt. Fuji track from the original Pole Position. 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, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: Until the Namco Museum series came along for the Playstation, featuring true emulation of the original arcade code and graphics, this is as close as we were going to get to the finesse of an arcade Pole Position game at home – at it wasn’t too far off the mark. Continue reading

Super Mario Kart

Super Mario KartThe Game: It’s a big day at the races, with a field of drivers selected from the Mushroom Kingdom: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Bowser, and even Donkey Kong Jr. are among the racers vying for the top spot. From the grassy Mushroom course to the punishingly muddy Star course to the oceanside Flower course, there are challenges, hairpin turns and obstacles. Whoever can learn to navigate each course the fastest without ending up out of bounds struggling to get back on the course will be the winner. (Nintendo, 1992)

Memories: At a time when Nintendo could’ve been accused of returning to the well too many times for Super Mario, they instead took a racing game and populated it with a cast from the Mario mythos. The characters are more or less incidental to the game, mere window dressing that was actually added months into the development cycle of a game that started off without them – but it was clearly a shrewd marketing move to include them, as Super Mario Kart became one of the SNES‘ most-loved games. Continue reading

Namco Classic Collection Volume 2

Namco Classic Collection Volume 2The Game: Three of the most popular games from Namco’s arcade heyday are brought back in the ’90s, both in their original forms and in “remixed” versions with updated sound and graphics and tweaks to the game play. Pac-Man Arrangement adds power-ups, new mazes, new graphics and a whole new breed of See the videomonsters to the most classic arcade game of the 80s, while Rally-X Arrangement refuels with power-ups and audiovisual enhancements of its own. Dig Dug Arrangement revamps the underground classic with a new breed of enemies – and a new variety of ways to eliminate them. (Namco, 1996)

Memories: Building on the success of the Namco Classic Collection Volume 1 coin-op compilation, Namco returned here to the jewel in its crown. Not that Mappy or Xevious are anything to sneeze at, mind you, and Galaga certainly isn’t a minor entry in the arcade pantheon. But how can you possibly beat a revisitation of Pac-Man? Continue reading

Star Wars Episode I: Racer

Star Wars Episode I: RacerThe Game: Strap yourself into the very fast, very dangerous world of pod racing. Rocket through dozens of different courses, facing off against opponents who Order this gamerange from patsies to cunning and ruthless adversaries. Save up your winnings along the way to make your pod faster and handle better. Aim for the Boonta Eve race on Tatooine and try to win it all. (LucasArts, 1999)

Memories: The first video game released in conjunction with The Phantom Menace is this racing game developed by LucasArts. This game holds the distinction of having one of the oddest titles (and dullest packaging) in recent years, but inside is a decent and fun little racing game. Continue reading

South Park Rally

South Park RallyOrder this gameThe Game: As any one of a large number of residents of that blissful burg known as South Park, Colorado, you compete against the rest of the town in a no-holds-barred race through the snowy streets. Helpful power-ups and hapless cattle are sprinkled liberally through the town like so many Cheesy Poofs. (Acclaim, 2000)

Memories: This hilarious third entry in Acclaim’s series of South Park video games takes a classic arcade staple – the first-person racing game – and adds some sound bytes, characters, and scatological humor to create what may be the best South Park title available. Continue reading

Star Wars: Demolition

Star Wars: DemolitionOrder this gameThe Game: Jabba the Hutt has convened a host of hotshot pilots and a fleet of modern (i.e. original trilogy) and outdated (i.e. prequel-era) vehicles to engage in winner-take-all vehicular warfare. Contestants and opponents include Boba Fett, super-armed Snowspeeders, Trade Federation tanks, bounty hunter Aurra Sing on her swoop bike, Battle Droids astride their STAPS, and others. Obstacles include slow-moving Jawa sandcrawlers, unpredictable Banthas, and a little thing we call the Sarlacc – and that’s just on the Tattooine track. Other tracks include Cloud City, Hoth, Naboo, and – how did Jabba get permission to race there? – the Death Star. (LucasArts [developed by Activision], 2000)

Memories: Star Wars: Demolition is right up there with the upcoming PS2 game Super Bombad Racing. Demolition is a decent game, but for the fans who demand something that cleaves tightly to the continuity of the Star Wars universe, you’d best look elsewhere. If you have any doubt, check the bullet point on the game’s packaging: Interactive environment – blow it all up! ‘Nuff said. Continue reading

Mario Kart Super Circuit

Mario Kart: Super CircuitThe Game: It’s a big day at the races, with a field of drivers selected from the Mushroom Kingdom: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Bowser, and even Donkey Kong Jr. are among the racers vying for the top spot. From the grassy Mushroom course to the punishingly muddy Star course to the oceanside Flower course, there are challenges, hairpin turns and obstacles. Whoever can learn to navigate each course the fastest without ending up out of bounds struggling to get back on the course will be the winner. (Nintendo, 2001)

Memories: A better-than-merely-passable handheld version of Super Mario Kart, this game may actually exceed its inspiration by offering new environments, new drivers and other neat twists. For the most part, it’s a genuine improvement. Continue reading

Namco Museum: 50th Anniversary

Namco Museum: 50th AnniversaryBuy this gameThe Game: To commemorate their 50th Anniversary, Namco has released pixel-perfect translations of sixteen of their greatest classic arcade games, all on one budget-priced disc. (Namco, 2005)

Memories: Namco Museum: 50th Anniversary brings sixteen classic arcade games such as Pac-Man, Galaga and Dig Dug directly into your living room. All the games play exactly like their upright counterparts, and they should by now; this is at least the third time Namco has released ported versions of these arcade games to the home console market. Continue reading

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