Superman

SupermanThe Game: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a vaguely anthropomorphic heap o’ pixels with a red cape! Lex Luthor has hatched one of his deadly schemes to overthrow Metropolis – and, naturally, the world – starting with the destruction of a bridge in the city. Deal with Luthor’s thugs, save Lois, and put Lex himself behind bars – but keep an eye out for Kryptonite. (Atari [under license from DC Comics], 1979)

Superman adMemories: A product of the corporate synergy between DC Comics and Atari – both freshly acquired by the Warner Bros. empire in the late 1970s – Superman was one of the first attempts at a multi-screen adventure structure on the Atari VCS, something which would be honed more sharply with such games as Adventure and Haunted House (and trashed once again with top-heavy, overambitious later efforts like E.T. and the Swordquest series). Continue reading

Crazy Climber

Crazy ClimberBuy this gameThe Game: You control a daredevil stunt climber on his trip up the side of the Nichubutsu building, using no ropes, no nets, and nothing but his hands and his feet. Obstacles such as a large stork with (apparently flaming) droppings and a large gorilla (perhaps on loan from the Nintendo building) can cause you to plunge to your See the videodeath several stories below, and even minor things such as annoyed building tenants dropping potted plants at you from above can have the same disastrous effect. When you reach the top – if you reach the top, that is – a helicopter lifts you away to your next challenge. (Taito [under license from Nichibutstu], 1980)

Memories: A bit of a cult favorite that never achieved a major following, Crazy Climber was a staple of many arcades and game rooms in the early 80s. The two-joystick control scheme took a little bit of practice, but once players got used to it, it was a major and unique part of the game’s appeal. Continue reading

Adventure

AdventureBuy this gameThe Game: As a bold adventurer trespassing a mighty castle in search of treasure, you face a twisty maze of chambers, dead ends aplenty, and colorful, hungry, and suspiciously duck-shaped dragons. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: The first game of its kind to hit the Atari VCS, Adventure scores a first in video game history – and not just because of its huge, sprawling maze.

Programmer Warren Robinett was a little disgruntled during his stint at Atari. He watched as his fellow programmers jumped ship, formed companies like Imagic and Activision, and struck it rich as the third-party software industry took off. Continue reading

Space Odyssey

Space OdysseyThe Game: Look out below – and above! You pilot a space fighter taking fire (and potentially kamikaze collisions) from all sides, zooming over an alien cityscape through the night sky and trying to blast your way through their inexhaustible defenses. If you succeed (and in this context, “succeed” = “survive”), you then switch from a side-scrolling perspective to a vaguely 3-D overhead view of the action as your fight zooms over a heavily defended alien fortress and then into deep space, where you’ll need to avoid black holes and comets, as well as a very likely lethal onslaught of fast-moving alien ships. If you manage to survive that, then (A) damn, you’re good, and (B) you’re going to do it all again, over a slightly different background. (Sega, 1981)

Memories: This interesting, if somewhat lesser-known, entry from Sega featured what were some eye-popping graphics for its day, but it seems unlikely that anyone played long enough to notice, since the game was so unbelievably difficult. Continue reading

Tac-Scan

Tac-ScanThe Game: Commanding a fleet of ships, you use their combined firepower to wipe out an onslaught of alien ships (which, perhaps not at all surprisingly, are firing back at you). It only takes one hit to lose one of your own fleet, and when your fleet is completely wiped out, the game is over. Until then, do as much damage to the enemy armada as you can. (Sega/Gremlin, 1981)

Memories: I always admired games with novel ways of counting down how many “lives” a player had left until his quarter was declared a total loss. Moon Cresta had a three-stage rocket which could be destroyed stage-by-stage, and Lock ‘n’ Chase featured a getaway car full of extra crooks that could be deployed one-by-one into its Pac-Man-like maze. Tac-Scan gave the player one fleet – and only one fleet – of ships that would be wiped out as the game progressed. When the entire fleet was wiped out, thus ended the game. Continue reading

Vanguard

VanguardThe Game: Your Vanguard space fighter has infiltrated a heavily-defended alien base. The enemy outnumbers you by six or seven to one at any given time (thank goodness for animated sprite limitations, or you’d be in real trouble!). You can fire above, below, ahead and behind your ship, which is an art you’ll need to master since enemy ships attack from all of these directions. You can’t run into any of the walls and expect to survive, but you can gain brief invincibility by flying through an Energy block, which supercharges your hull enough to ram your enemies (something which, at any other time, would mean certain death for you as well). At the end of your treacherous journey lies the alien in charge of the entire complex – but if you lose a life at that stage, you don’t get to come back for another shot! (Centuri [under license from SNK], 1981)

Memories: Very much like another SNK-originated game from this period, Fantasy (which was licensed out to Rock-Ola), Vanguard was an early entry in the exploration game genre. Sure, shooting things was fun, but this game made it clear – through the “radar map” of the alien base at the top of the screen – that there was a clear destination to be reached. And if you weren’t good enough to get there with the lives you had, you could continue the journey – for just a quarter more – again and again, until you got there. Continue reading

Spacechase

SpacechaseThe Game: Piloting a lone spaceship zipping over a planet’s surface in a low, fast orbit, your mission is to kick some evasive alien butt. Drawing a See the videobead on the aliens is much harder than it looks, and they arrive in waves of four. Naturally, it seems like it’s much easier for them to target you… (Games By Apollo, 1981)

Memories: Quite an improvement over Richardson, Texas-based Games By Apollo’s first game, the disastrously bad Skeet Shoot, Spacechase isn’t going to blow the doors down in the game originality department, but it wasn’t bad for the VCS at all. The scrolling planetscape beneath the player’s ship may look like an artist’s vague impression of some Arizona landscape, but with games like Defender struggling to get the side-scrolling thing right, it was quite an accomplishment. Continue reading

Swimmer

SwimmerBuy this gameThe Game: You’re a swimmer, and you’re doing what any swimmer does – splashing your way down the river, trying to avoid typical deadly swimming hazards like fast-moving floating logs and gigantic killer crabs. And like most See the videoswimmers, you’re trying to collect yummy prizes from the water, such as cherries and bunches of grapes. Dive under the obstacles, work your way around the predators, reach the finish line and swim on to the next level! (Tehkan, 1982)

Memories: Okay, it has to be said at last. I have to get it on the record. What is it with the diet of early 80s video game characters? Really. Everyone’s eating cherries and apples and other fruit – think about it: Pac-Man, Kangaroo, Mr. Do and Swimmer seem to be subsisting on a largely fruit-based diet. Now, this probably little to do with the produce industry, and everything to do with fruit being the most recognizable foodstuff that could be produced with the graphics capabilities of the time. Still, it’s a funny coincidence that crosses species, game companies, genres and everything except the food pyramid. Continue reading

Time Pilot

Time PilotBuy this gameThe 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 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. (Centuri [under license from Konami], 1982)

Memories: One of Konami’s best-ever coin-ops, Time Pilot is an outstanding combination of addictive game play and the concept of “wanting to see what’s on the next level.” If you’re good enough, you get to see what kind of aircraft you’ll be up against in the next time period. Continue reading

Xevious

XeviousThe Game: As the commander of a sleek Solvalou fighter, you’re deep into enemy territory, shooting their disc-shaped fighters out of the sky, bombing ground installations and artillery nests, bombing tanks, and trying to destroy the mothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and Buy this gamedeadly ground-based defenses become the norm. Also look out for tumbling airborne mirrors – they’re impervious to your fire, but you’re toast if you fly right into them. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: A very cool game indeed, Xevious was extremely challenging and quite nice to look at as well. The controls were smooth, and you really did have a full range of control over where your fighter was on the screen. Continue reading

Microsurgeon

MicrosurgeonThe Game: Ready for a fantastic journey? So long as you’re not counting on Raquel Welch riding shotgun with you, this is as close as you’re going to get. You control a tiny robot probe inside the body of a living, breathing human patient who has a lot of health problems. Tar deposits in the lungs, cholesterol clogging the arteries, and rogue infections traveling around messing everything up. And then there’s you – capable of administering targeted doses of ultrasonic sound, antibiotics and aspirin to fix things up. Keep an eye on your patient’s status at all times – and be careful not to wipe out disease-fighting white blood cells which occasionally regard your robot probe as a foreign body and attack it. Just because you don’t get to play doctor with the aforementioned Ms. Welch (ahem – get your mind out of the gutter!) doesn’t mean this won’t be a fun operation. (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: Microsurgeon, designed and programmed by Imagic code wrangler Rick Levine (who even put his signature – as a series of slightly twisted arteries – inside the game’s human body maze), is a perfect example of Imagic’s ability to get the best out of the Intellivision – it’s truly one of those “killer app” games that defines a console. Continue reading

River Raid

River RaidBuy this gameThe Game: You’re piloting a fighter jet on a canyon run through enemy territory. You can’t fly outside the canyon walls, so stay over the river and blast everything in sight. Well, almost everything – flying your plane on top of “FUEL” buoys instead of shooting them puts a little bit of gas in the tank, and if you run out of fuel, you might as well just swallow the next enemy bullet, because you’re goin’ down. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: As you advance through the levels and it gets more challenging, River Raid becomes the same kind of balancing act between self-preservation and going on the See the TV adSee the videooffensive that is a hallmark of all-time classics like Robotron. River Raid was the brainchild of Activision programmer Carol Shaw, one of the small number of women who had a vital hand in the early video game industry (such as Carla Meninsky, programmer of numerous early Atari 2600 titles, and Dona Bailey, an Atari arcade programmer who co-designed Centipede). And yet River Raid is a shoot-’em’-up that’ll challenge any hardcore joystick jock. Continue reading

Krull

KrullThe Game: In the video-game adaptation of the movie – which, at the time, was expected to be the next Star Wars-type franchise – you are Colwyn, the hero of the piece. Your first job is to climb a treacherous mountain, dodging boulders, and finding the five pieces of the throwing-star-like Glaive weapon. On the second level, you get to use it against a bunch of nasty swamp creatures who are trying to kill your army. You get to do this for two levels. Then you have to break your men out of a stronghold, and then lead the fight against the invincible chief monster, all to save the princess. (Gottlieb, 1983)

Memories: Krull wasn’t a bad little game. It might take you a few quarters to get through, and that last level with the main monster was a killer. In a way, Krull is sort of like the opposite of Tron – whereas Tron is best remembered as a game and not a movie, Krull is virtually forgotten as a video game, and the movie still enjoys a small cult following. Continue reading

Sinistar

SinistarBuy this gameThe Game: In a lone space fighter, you’re on the most dangerous space combat mission this side of Luke Skywalker. While evading or destroying drone robots and gunships in a hazardous asteroid field, you’re trying to mine the raw materials needed for Sinibombs, your only defense against the huge, terrifying space See the videostation, Sinistar. You can bomb the components of Sinistar as they are being put in place, but as a last resort, your Sinibombs can damage it in its complete form as well. If you should happen to find yourself within range of the fully-operational Sinistar without the armament needed to protect yourself, there are snowballs in hell that stand a better chance of surviving than you do. (Williams Electronics, 1983)

Memories: A truly intimidating and challenging game, Sinistar‘s only drawback is a slightly aggravating control system; since it doesn’t quite adhere to the physical rules of bodies, motion and inertia that were so interestingly utilized in such games as Asteroids, Sinistar is a bit more difficult to get a handle on. 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

Fantastic Voyage

Fantastic VoyageThe Game: Man a biological “spaceship” and get ready to shrink down to microscopic size – you’re going on a voyage through the human body! Blasting away viruses and disease cells, and leaving the body’s natural defenses intact, you’re going to give the immune system a little bit of a boost – at least until a disease cell takes out your micro-ship. Based on the 1966 movie of the same name. Raquel Welch not included. (20th Century Fox Video Games, 1983)

Memories: It’s a Vanguard clone. That’s really always been my first reaction to the very sight of Fantastic Voyage. Now, it’s not a bad idea for a game, nor is it even a bad license, but…it’s a Vanguard clone. And in any event, the save-the-patient-from-disease genre already had an all-time winner at the top of its list: Imagic’s Microsurgeon for the Intellivision. Now, to be fair, versions of that game were announced, but never released, for other platforms (with the exception of a rare version for the TI 99/4A computer) – this genre wasn’t exactly tapped out on the 2600. But I would’ve hoped for something more than a Vanguard clone. Continue reading

Moonsweeper

MoonsweeperThe Game: As the pilot of a super-fast intergalactic rescue ship (which is also armed to the teeth, which explains the absence of a red cross painted on the hull), you must navigate your way through hazardous comets and See the videospace debris, entering low orbit around various planets from which you must rescue a certain number of stranded civilians. But there’s a reason you’re armed – some alien thugs mean to keep those people stranded, and will do their best to blast you into dust. You can return the favor, and after you rescue the needed quota of people from the surface, you must align your ship with a series of launch rings to reach orbit again. (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: Not terribly different from the Atari 2600 edition of the same game, Colecovision Moonsweeper gets a big graphical boost from the step up to the most powerful console of the early 80s. Continue reading

River Raid

River RaidThe Game: You’re piloting a fighter jet on a canyon run through enemy territory. You can’t fly outside the canyon walls, so stay over the river and blast everything See the videoin sight. Well, almost everything – flying your plane on top of “FUEL” buoys instead of shooting them puts a little bit of gas in the tank, and if you run out of fuel, you might as well just swallow the next enemy bullet, because you’re goin’ down. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Early in Activision‘s foray into publishing games for the Intellivision, the company issued a strange edict to its programmers: if it was a port of a game also released for the Atari VCS, don’t make the game look significantly different from the Atari version. River Raid is a good example of what happened once Activision abandoned that extremely odd policy. Continue reading

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