Caverns Of Mars

Caverns Of MarsThe Game: The enemy in an interplanetary war has gone underground, and you’re piloting the ship that’s taking the fight to him. But he hasn’t just hidden away in a hole; he’s hidden away in a very well-defended hole. As if it wasn’t already going to be enough of a tight squeeze navigating subterranean caverns on Mars, you’re now See the videosharing that space with enemy ships and any number of other fatal obstacles. (Fortunately, the enemy also leaves copious numbers of helpful fuel depots for you too.) Once you fight your way to the bottom of the cave, you plant charges on the enemy mothership – meaning that now you have to escape the caverns again, and fast. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: Atari wisely realized that some of the best programming talent wasn’t necessarily on its own payroll. With so much of the company’s financial resources devoted to supporting the 2600, this paved the way for the Atari Program Exchange, a program that allowed users to send in their own best work to Atari, who would then list the best of these homebrew games and applications in an official newsletter and handle distribution on cassette and floppy disk. Read More


CheckersThe Game: The classic game of strategy is faithfully reproduced on the Apple II. Two armies of twelve men each advance diagonally across the checkerboard, jumping over opponents and attempting to reach the enemy’s home squares to be crowned. Whoever still has pieces still standing at the end of the game wins. (Odessa Software, 1981)

Memories: At the time of its release, Odessa Software’s Apple version of checkers was a reasonably big deal, since it had been given its “smarts” by one of the leading experts in programming computers to play chess and checkers. Read More


ChangesThe Game: Players guide a caterpillar around a maze of twigs and branches, snatching up nourishment and the occasional treat, and avoiding other insect life; some parts of the branches can be turned. Some of the See video of this gametreats will allow the caterpillar to consume other insects for a brief time. Portions of the maze can be rotated, which can work against the player (cutting off the best or only escape route) or can work to the player’s advantage (effectively shutting a door in pursuers’ faces, or even smashing them if they’re in the wrong place at the right time). Clearing the maze allows the caterpillar to turn into a butterfly and escape (who needs a pupal stage anyway?); the player advances to the next level, where a new caterpillar needs help navigating a new maze. (Orca, 1982)

Memories: Just like Hollywood blockbusters, there’s development turnaround time for video games, both then and now. That may explain why this Pac-Man knockoff didn’t show up in arcades until long after the Pac-saga itself had moved on to such titles as Ms. Pac-Man and Super Pac-Man. Read More


CentipedeThe Game: Centipedes, spiders and fleas invade your garden of ‘shrooms. Spiders follow an evasive course and can collide with you at any moment. Fleas poison the mushrooms, making them impervious to your fire (and thus giving the Buy this gamecentipede impenetrable cover). And the centipede itself can split into many segments, and if it reaches the bottom of the screen, will turn around and start to move upward again, possibly catching you from behind. Every time you manage to completely “debug” the screen, you move up to a harder level. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: Centipede was a huge arcade hit, so it’s no wonder Atari wasted no time in creating the home translation. Though the Atari 2600 version of the game couldn’t compete with its arcade ancestor’s colorful graphics, the home version did get the point across. Read More

Chopper Command

Chopper CommandBuy this gameThe Game: You’re a lone attack helicopter jockey in unfriendly desert territory, trying to stop a seemingly endless attacking fleet of enemy jets from bombing a convoy on the ground. (Activision, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Maybe the best example ever of Activision stealing Atari’s thunder right out from under it, Chopper Command is essentially the same game as Defender, with the singular exception that the enemy is bombing the ground-dwellers instead of trying to abduct them. Read More

Clean Sweep

Clean SweepThe Game: Years before Robovac and Roomba, there was Clean Sweep, a vacuum cleaner patrolling the vaults of a bank and picking up stray bits of money. (Makes you wonder who programmed it, and who’s emptying the bag!) As you grab more wayward currency, your bag fills up; when you hear an alarm sound, you have to go to the center of the maze to empty your bag and start anew; until you do that, you can’t pick up See the videoany more dead presidents. But those aren’t the only alarm bells going off here: things that look alarmingly like huge forceps are chasing you around. If they grab you, it’s your money and your life. There are four corners in the vault that will power up your vacuum cleaner temporarily, enabling you to suck up those forceps and (for a brief while) grab all the cash in your path without filling your bag. Clearing the maze advances you to the next level; losing all your lives leaves the bank wide open. (GCE, 1982)

Memories: This interesting little take on Pac-Man for the Vectrex is so fun, it’s hard to put down. I’ve been somewhat merciless about Pac-clones in the past, but Clean Sweep shakes things up enough to be fun, making you go back and do things like empty your vacuum bag without really slowing the game down significantly. Read More

Cosmic Creeps

Cosmic CreepsThe Game: Aliens are after your kids! Fortunately, you’re armed with a resource that not everyone has: your own flying saucer. In the opening screen, you have to return to the saucer to resume command, and then you signal your kids to come up, one by one, as you try to pick off alien pursuers who are hot on their trail. If you’re See the videonot careful, you can actually zap the kids instead. If an alien manages to reach your saucer, someone else will have to give your kids a ride home from the star academy… (Telesys, 1982)

Memories: It may not have been the biggest, most obvious name in software for the 2600, but I have to give Telesys top marks for coming up with cool ideas for their games. Cosmic Creeps is a great example of what Telesys was best at, and it’s a lot of fun too. Read More

Commando Raid

Commando RaidThe Game: Helicopters and planes are dumping paratroopers directly over your land-locked cannon. Your job is to take out both aircraft and paratroopers before the enemy can land on and slowly destroy the rows of buildings on either side of the cannon. Once enemy paratroopers raze a building to the ground, they begin doing something even deadlier: digging tunnels toward your cannon so they can destroy it from below with a giant bomb, at which time your point defense career is over. (U.S. Games, 1982)

Memories: A clever riff on a well-known game, Commando Raid avoids being just another Missile Command clone. At first glance, the element of defending six cities/buildings by covering the entire sky from a fixed position seems familiar, but the gradual enemy occupation of territory beneath the player’s cannon adds an original twist and requires some new strategy.

Commando RaidU.S. Games didn’t exactly make stuff that looked like Activision‘s games, but the audiovisual element of Commando Raid is more than adequate to convey all the information players need. The buildings have several stages of disrepair, from undamaged down to rubble. The sheer twitch factor as multiple incoming targets have to be dealt with is impressive for a VCS cartridge, as is the fact that the barrage of approaching enemies is accomplished with virtually none of the dreaded “flicker” that has plagued countless other games on this platform.

4 stars!Seasoned Missile Commanders looking for a new posting can do a lot worse than signing up to go Commando.

Cosmic Ark

Cosmic ArkThe Game: As the commander of a spacefaring Ark, your mission is to retrieve two members of every species on every planet you visit, in case the constant ruch of asteroids and meteors renders life on those planets extinct. In the initial See the videoscreen, the large Ark spacecraft is besieged by meteors appearing from every direction, and your job is to use the ship’s weapons the destroy the space rock before they destroy your Ark. After surviving this screen, the Ark descends into low orbit of a planet, and you pilot the scout ship, avoiding planetary defenses to grab two specimens of that planet’s dominant life form with your tractor beam. (Sorry, you don’t get to make crop circles while you’re doing your alien abductions.) If the planetary defenses hit your scout ship, you launch another one, but time is running out – eventually another meteor will plummet from the sky right into the Ark, and you can only defend the Ark if the scout ship has re-docked. When the final destruction of the Cosmic Ark comes at last, the tiny scout ship escapes into deep space… (Imagic, 1982)

See the original TV adMemories: Another addictive entry, though a bit simpler than Atlantis, this game was way ahead of its time – an alien abduction game, even one which gives the player control of the aliens, would go over phenomenally with modern-day UFO enthusiasts. Read More

Change Lanes

Change LanesThe Game: The future! A dystopia of fast driving! Players are behind the wheel of a multi-terrain vehicle that can switch from fast handling on solid surfaces to amphibious speedboat in the blink of an eye. The currency of this violent future is fuel for this vehicle, and enemies in similar vehicles and in airborne vehicles will stop at nothing to claim fuel for themselves, regardless of the player’s safety. Grey highways and rivers are the usual modes of travel, though brown highways offer faster travel. Checkpoints must be reached in the correct order to rack up bonus points (players who arrive at the wrong checkpoint will be greeted with a checkerboard pattern instead of a number), but all checkpoints, even the wrong ones, grant players extra fuel. Surface enemies can be rammed out of the way, but there’s no honor lost in surviving by throwing the vehicle into reverse gear. Whoever survives the longest and scores the highest is crowned the Supreme King of the World. (Taito America, 1982)

Memories: Before there was RoadBlasters, before the first-person-driving-and-combat genre became a fleeting fixture on the arcade landscape, there was Taito‘s Change Lanes, an aggressive novelty in an increasingly crowded field of first-person racers. Sure, games like Pole Position and Turbo offered us the chance to race with an unprecedented view…but Change Lanes changed the venue, setting it in a kind of genteel Mad Max-inspired world: sure, fuel is a precious commodity, and in-game enemies will kill to keep the player from acquiring it…and yet someone’s maintaining the infrastructure. Good job on those frictionless brown lanes, infrastructure people. Read More

Cliff Hanger

Cliff HangerThe Game: You’re Cliff, a lovable rogue who’s just pulled off a major heist. But as you’re high-tailing it for your hideout via your getaway car, you encounter another crime even more heinous – a carload of armed thugs pursuing a young woman. You have to rescue her as soon as possible – and since she already has mobsters and other villains after her, the danger just piles on from there. (Stern, 1983)

Memories: Another exponent of the laserdisc genre that begat Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, Cliff Hanger was Stern’s entry into the then-crowded field. But rather than create new animation from the ground up – a costly endeavour for those aforementioned games created by Don Bluth – Stern simply licensed footage from a couple of classic animè movies from the Lupin III series, drawing primarily from The Castle Of Cagliostro (whose DVD these screen captures are from). Read More

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: Bongo the Ape, presumably Donkey Kong’s third cousin, sets your toes on fire while you’re asleep during a jungle expedition. So naturally, you drop everything to take revenge on the goofy gorilla. But first you have to reach See the videohim. The first level is a hazardous assortment of ramps and levels and a waterfall to jump across. Be careful of pesky little monkeys who can weigh you down so you move slower (and jump lower). And watch out for snakes. Then you have to hop across various islands and dodge more snakes as you try to get across a river. The most difficult level is the third, where you must try to dodge charging rhinos (and I don’t mean they have credit cards), occasionally ducking out of sight in little sinkholes where you get to squash other critters. The fourth level is very Frogger-like, consisting of riding across another river on the backs of hippos, fish, and lily pads. When you complete this screen, you set Bongo’s toes on fire as he sleeps…and then the whole thing starts again. (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Congo Bongo was entertaining enough, though it suffered from some of the same frustrations caused by the overhead 3-D graphic scheme that originated with Sega’s own Zaxxon. In some ways, Congo Bongo was nothing more than a 3-D version of Donkey Kong, right down to the pesky primate. Read More


CrossbowThe Game: Your friends (wait a minute, I’ve never seen these people before in my life!) are venturing through treacherous deserts, unfriendly See the videovillages, and a variety of other inhospitable settings. Armed with a crossbow – controlled with a fancy light gun mounted on the arcade cabinet – your job is to pick off any threats, be they nasty critters, falling projectiles, snipers, or what have you, and allow your friends to pass safely. (Exidy, 1983)

Memories: Y’know, I had to play Crossbow on MAME to remember what the heck the game was about…but once I did, I remembered that it was a very influential game on me at the time it was released. The novel concept of picking which game screen you’d explore next by shooting a representative icon on a menu-style screen was very cool, as was the watered-down, vaguely-D&D-ish atmosphere of the whole thing. Read More

Crystal Castles

Crystal CastlesBuy this gameThe Game: You are Bentley the Bear, cuddly defender of a vaguely 3-D fairy tale realm just loaded with ruby-like crystals. While this would seem like an idyllic existence for many sentient stuffed animals, it is, of course, not that easy. Berthilda the Witch has sent her evil minions to seize the crystals for her. Walking trees, See the videoupright centipedes, and animated skeletons prowl the geometric vistas to keep Bentley from claiming the crystals. Finding the wizard hat will briefly give Bentley the power to dispose of Berthilda if and when she makes an appearance. Bentley also has a weakness for the pot of honey that appears on each level – and if he grabs the honey, a swarm of bees suddenly has a problem with him. Clearing each screen of crystals advances to the next level. Keep in mind that the enemies can also consume crystals, so they may actually clear the level – Bentley gets a bonus if he’s the one who nabs the last gem on the screen. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: A bizarre little game with play elements of Pac-Man set in an almost Q*Bert-like perspective, Crystal Castles was actually quite the quantum leap forward for graphics back in ’83. (It would later be blown out of the water by Atari’s own Marble Madness not long afterward.) It was also one of the earliest games to utilize Atari’s System 1 hardware. Read More

Chase The Chuckwagon

Chase The ChuckwagonThe Game: You control a dog trapped in a maze. Find your way out of the maze without being snared by a dogcatcher, and work your way toward the PurinaTM ChuckwagonTM for some kibbles ‘n’ bits. Chasing the Chuckwagon is only part of the fun, though, for then you have to time things just right to help the dog eat. (Ralston Purina Corp., 1983)

Memories: Long considered a must-have in the game library of any hardcore Atari 2600 collector, Chase The Chuckwagon is hard to come by due to its unique distribution method: it could only be obtained with proofs of purchase from Purina dog food as a premium promotion, and was never sold outright through normal game distribution channels. Read More

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: Bongo the ape sets your toes on fire while you’re asleep during a jungle expedition. So naturally, you drop everything to take revenge on the goofy gorilla…but first you have to traverse craggy outcroppings, cross See the videotreacherous bridges, hop across a river on the backs of hippos, duck the attacks of charging rhinos, all to set Bongo’s toes on fire as he sleeps… and then the whole thing starts again. (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Possibly the single rarest Intellivision game that doesn’t require extra gear such as the ECS computer keyboard, Congo Bongo was Sega‘s singular foray into providing home versions of its arcade titles for Intellivision players. Sega had already been collaborating with Coleco for some time, but had recently gone it alone with Atari 2600 and 5200 editions of such games as Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator and Congo Bongo. If Sega had a single problem with its early attempts as a software publisher in the American market, it was timing: most of its games arrived just as the video game industry crash was forcing retailers into a no-win scenario of price cuts and losses. Read More

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: You’re a jungle explorer hot on the trail of Bongo the Ape. The first level in your quest is a hazardous assortment of ramps and levels and a waterfall to jump across. Be careful of pesky little monkeys who can weigh you down so See the videoyou move slower (and jump lower). And watch out for snakes. Then you have to hop across a river using lily pads, the backs of hippos, and other floating objects – just try not to miss! (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Egads. Didn’t Sega learn the lesson from Coleco’s horrid VCS version of Zaxxon? Guess not, because their in-house attempt to translate the equally elaborate Congo Bongo arcade game for the 2600, while a bit less of a graphical and game play train wreck than Zaxxon, is still a train wreck. Read More


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. Read More