Barricade

BarricadeThe Game: Up to four players control markers that leave a solid “wall” in their wake. The object of the game is to trap the other players by building a wall around them that they can’t avoid crashing into – or forcing them to crash into their own walls. Run into a wall, either your own or See the videosomeone else’s, ends your turn and erases your trail from the screen (potentially eliminating an obstacle for the remaining players). The player still standing at the end of the round wins. (Ramtek, 1976)

Memories: If you’re a fan of the “Light Cycle” concept made popular by Tron (both the movie and the game), this is where it all started, with an obscure game from a relatively obscure manufacturer. But that obscurity isn’t earned by a game that essentially launched and entire genre. Continue reading

Breakout

BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them See the videothat you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. Missing one of your precious balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1976)

Memories: The year was 1976, and Atari’s founder, Nolan Bushnell, had an idea to revive the overmined “ball and paddle” genre: turn Pong into a single-player game, almost like racquetball, in which players must smash their way through a wall of bricks with a ball without missing that ball on the rebound. Bushnell was sure the idea would be a hit. Continue reading

Baseball

BaseballThe Game: It’s a day at the digital ballpark for two players; the game is very simple – players control the timing of pitches and batting, which will determine how the game unfolds. The highest score at the end of nine innings wins. See the video(RCA, 1977)

Memories: I’m all for a simple game of video baseball. When it got to the point that baseball video games were keeping track of batting averages and other stats, that knocked the genre out of the park for me – I was more than happy to stick to baseball on the Odyssey2 and the Game Boy (the two best video versions of the sport for my money). However, it is possible – even for someone with simple tastes like mine – to go too far in the opposite direction: too basic. RCA’s Baseball for the Studio II goes over that line. Continue reading

Blasto

BlastoThe Game: Piloting a mobile cannon around a cluttered playfield, you have but one task: clear the screen of mines, without blowing yourself up, in the time allotted. If you don’t clear the screen, or you manage to detonate a mine so See the videoclose to yourself that it takes you out, the game is over. If you do clear all the mines, you get a free chance to try it again. Two players can also try to clear the minefield simultaneously. (Gremlin, 1978)

Memories: It may not look terribly entertaining if you’re accustomed to graphics even on the Atari 2600’s level, but Blasto is quite addictively entertaining when you get right down to it, and its decidedly lo-fi graphics are just part of its charm. Continue reading

Basketball

BasketballSee the videoThe Game: Two players each control one man in one-on-one, full-court action. Whoever has the highest score by a predetermined time limit wins. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: If you need a “before” and “after” picture to see how far video basketball has come, Atari’s Basketball – one of the earliest games published for the VCS – is an effective “before” snapshot. Atari had previously included a Pong-style basketball game as one of the selections on its dedicated Video Pinball console, and compared to that, Basketball is a quantum leap forward: the players are now represented by stick figures, not paddles, and there’s a very early attempt at an isometric 3-D representation of the court, possibly one of the very earliest 3-D perspectives attempted in home video games. Continue reading

Baseball!

Baseball!The Game: In Baseball!, you are, quite simply, one of two teams playing the great American game. If you’re up at bat, your joystick and button control the man at the plate and any players on base. If you’re pitching, your button and joystick control how wild or straight your pitches are, and you also control the outfielders – you can catch a ball on the fly, or pick it up and try to catch the other player away from his bases. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Why exactly do I like the Odyssey2 baseball game? What the hell do I care for this stripped-down, ultra-simple, painfully two-dimensional version of baseball? Precisely because it is simple. Modern computer sports games are just too damned complex. Baseball! didn’t force you to pick existing players based on their RBI or average score per game, nor did it make you struggle to make sense of a vaguely three-dimensional display trying to ape ESPN game coverage. Continue reading

Bowling! / Basketball!

Bowling! / Basketball!The Game: Hit the hardwood in one of two sports. Roll your big shiny one down the lanes and try to knock down all the pins in Bowling!, or go for a basket in Basketball! Not possible in Odyssey2 Basketball!: fouls, three-point shots, free throws, most steals… (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Granted, neither the bowling nor basketball games for the Atari VCS which competed for shelf space with this two-in-one Odyssey2 title were significantly better, but they would’ve been hard pressed to turn out significantly worse. Continue reading

Breakout

BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. Missing one of your precious balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1978)

See the original TV adMemories: Breakout is a fine adaptation of the game created by a one-time early Atari employee named Steve Jobs (who got a lot of help from his friend Steve Wozniak; these two later founded a computer company named after a common fruit). As the original arcade game wasn’t all that complex, the VCS version doesn’t need to overcome any technical hurdles. And yet it does! Continue reading

Basketball

Atari BasketballThe Game: It’s a one-on-one hardwood hoedown as two players control tank-topped, gym-socked hoops stars in an effort to bank the most baskets. Whoever buckets the most balls by the end of the game’s preset timer wins. (Atari, 1979)

Memories: Since the previous year’s Football lost its quarter-eating steam after the end of football season, Atari decided to take a swipe at other popular American sports. Taking another cue from Football, Basketball used the trakball controller – two of them, actually, meaning the cabinets took a real beating in arcades. The result was a simple enough one-on-one game – something which had been done as early as 1974 by Midway, Atari’s chief U.S. competitor – though this was the first time basketball had gone 3-D, courtesy of four simple diagonal lines. Continue reading

Bomb Bee

Bomb BeeThe Game: Video pinball is back, and now in more than one color! Bomb Bee takes the game mechanics of Gee Bee and makes them noisier and brighter, adding “bumper traps” that can keep the ball bouncing in tight cul-de-sacs, racking up massive bonus points with every strike. (Namco, 1979)

See the videoMemories: When Namco introduced the world’s first arcade game with a full-color monitor, Galaxian, it was still fairly experimental, and some other Namco releases in 1979 were still in black & white. One of the first color games to follow Galaxian was Bomb Bee, Toru Iwitani’s reworking of Gee Bee, now in brilliant color. Continue reading

Battlezone

BattlezoneBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a heavy tank, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and landing vehicles. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Though the above description is exceedingly simple, See the videoBattlezone was another pillar of Atari’s stable of outstanding vector graphics games (which also included Tempest and Asteroids). With its two-stick control system, mimicking a real tank’s controls, its slowly lumbering game play, and its periscope-like screen, Battlezone was, for its day, an incredibly cool and realistic game (with a huge cabinet too). Continue reading

Balloon Bomber

Balloon BomberThe Game: Why worry about space invaders when there are more pressing earthly threats? Players guide a mobile cannon at the bottom of the screen, trying to take out a constant barrage of balloon bombers dropping live bombs. A direct hit to the cannon costs the player a “life,” but if the player allows a bomb to hit bottom, the results can be almost as dangerous: bombs crater the surface that the player’s cannon moves across, and allowing those pits to collect on the surface can severely limit the player’s movements, to the point of leaving the cannon a motionless sitting duck for the next round of balloon bombs, or a plane that periodically drops cluster bombs from overhead. (Taito, 1980)

Memories: One of the more obscure exponents of the same basic hardware platform that brought us Space Invaders Part II, Balloon Bomber is an interesting twist in the slide-and-shoot genre that’s based on a real (and very strange) footnote in history. Continue reading

Berzerk

BerzerkThe Game: You’re alone in a maze filled with armed, hostile robots who only have one mission – to kill you. If you even so much as touch the walls, you’ll wind up dead. You’re a little bit faster than the robots, and you have human instinct on your side…but even that won’t help you when Evil Otto, a deceptively friendly and completely See the videoindestructible smiley face, appears to destroy you if you linger too long in any one part of the maze. The object of the game? Try to stay alive however long you can. (Stern, 1980)

Memories: If Berzerk sounds a little bit familiar, it’s no coincidence. To some extent, the running-alone-through-an-enemy-filled-maze premise had been mined by Midway’s Wizard Of Wor (a game released around the same time), which even looked somewhat similar. Unlike the glut of Pac-Man clones, it’s probably not so much a question of plagiarism as a question of several game designers arriving at the same good idea at the same time. Continue reading

Blockout! / Breakdown!

Blockout! / Breakdown!The Game: In this bizarre and uniquely Odyssey2 take on Atari’s Breakout, you battle either the computer or a second player in your attempts to blast through a wall – or repair it. You take alternating turns with your opponent; See the videoone round, you’re playing the game the more traditional way and controlling the paddle at the bottom of the screen, trying to bounce the ball toward four layers of colorful blocks. But in the next round, you’re controlling the four androids within those layers of blocks whose duty is to repair damage done by your opponent’s paddle. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: This is one of those examples of a well-worn arcade theme given a new twist by the Odyssey2 game designers. Some of you reading this are probably shaking your heads and thinking, “There they go, ripping off Atari again,” but the repair ‘droids make this a whole new game. Continue reading

Boxing

BoxingBuy this gameThe Game: The sweet science of bruising is brought down to the pixellated level, as one or two players take control of a boxer seen from a view directly above the ring. The object is simple: knock your opponent out without letting him do the same to you. (Activision, 1980)

Memories: One of a handful of Activision‘s first releases, Boxing was one of those early sports video games that raised the bar on that entire genre by looking reasonably See the videolike the sport it was portraying, rather than something which could be described as an abstract representation at best. It also had the knack of being very easy to pick up and learn – there are no complicated combo moves here. Continue reading

Blasto

BlastoThe Game: Piloting your mobile cannon around a cluttered playfield, you have but one task: clear the screen of mines, without blowing yourself up, in the time allotted. If you don’t clear the screen, or manage to detonate a mine so close See the videoto yourself that it takes you out, the game is over. If you do clear all the mines, you get a free chance to try it again. Two players can also try to clear the minefield simultaneously. (Texas Instruments, 1980)

Memories: Programmed for TI by Milton Bradley‘s in-house video game group under contract, Blasto is an adaptation of an oscure 1978 B&W arcade game, and while the TI 99/4a has no problem replicating the game play, it has virtually no choice but to improve on the arcade Blasto‘s almost-nonexistent graphics and sound. Continue reading

Bosconian

BosconianBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a well-armed spacecraft (which appears to have been borrowed from Galaga), you weave through an unending barrage of support craft, asteroids, and hunter ships, all of which can kill you. And somewhere on the screen – as indicated by your radar – are several large Bosconian star destroyers (what, did they lease these from Lord Vader or something?). You can blast away at the destroyers’ six outer pods, or you can go for a shot right into the heart of a destroyer, taking the whole thing out by blasting its central pod. A piece of advice: don’t be too close to a Bosconian when you do this…the large explosion can end your space traveling days too. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

See the videoMemories: Wow – a game with big killer space stations surrounded by lots of hostile patrol ships? They must be building Sinistar in the next sector over. But seriously, Bosconian is another game which meets the qualifications of a bona fide classic – easy to learn, hard to master – and, given the shape of the player’s ship (plus the fact that both games were licensed from Namco), I’ve always wondered if Bosconian was intended to be a sequel to Galaga. Continue reading

Berzerk

BerzerkThe Game: You’re alone in a maze filled with armed, hostile robots who only have one mission – to kill you. If you even so much as touch the walls, you’ll wind up dead. You’re a little bit faster than the robots, and you have human instinct on See the videoyour side…but even that won’t help you when Evil Otto, a deceptively friendly and completely indestructible smiley face, appears to destroy you if you linger too long in any one part of the maze. The object of the game? Try to stay alive however long you can. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: Despite such atrocities as the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, Atari managed to turn out a fantastic version of Stern’s hit arcade game. Almost flicker-free, and lacking only the arcade game’s primitive speech synthesis (not that much of a loss, truth be told), Atari’s Berzerk cartridge was a very good reason to own the 2600. Continue reading

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