Datsun 280 ZZZAP!

Datsun 280 ZZZAP!See the videoThe Game: Get behind the wheel for a late-night drive – at high speeds! The only visual clues about the road ahead are the reflectors zooming past. Avoid going off the road and go the distance. (Midway, 1976)

Memories: In the wake of Nolan Bushnell’s gambit to topple the exclusive arcade distribution system (see the Phosphor Dot Fossils entry for Tank!), a clever move that would turn modern antitrust lawyers into a pack of baying wolves, direct copying of other companies’ arcade code and circuitry was off the table. Now the competition merely duplicated Atari‘s game concepts rather than every line of code. Continue reading

Death Race

Death RaceThe Game: Two players control one car each, careening freely around an arena filled with zombies. Faced with zombie-fication at the pedestrian crossing of the undead, the drivers have only one option: run over their opponents! See the videoEach zombie that’s squashed leaves a grave marker behind that becomes an unmovable obstacle to zombies and cars alike. Whoever has run over the most zombies by the end of the timed game wins. (Exidy, 1976)

Memories: Death Race, which didn’t even come within shouting distance of having anything to do with the movie of the same name, was the arcade game that sparked the very first protests about violence in video games. Those protests go on to this very day, with games like the latest iteration of Grand Theft Auto and Bully drawing fire for depicting various kinds of real world violence. Compared to those much more recent games, it’s almost laughable to think that the abstraction of Death Race was where some parents first drew the line. Why? Because Death Race was the first person to put stick figures – a representation of a human being – on the screen and let you do something nasty to them. Continue reading

Dominos

DominosThe Game: Up to two players control markers that leave a trail of dominos in their wake. The object of the game is to trap the other players by See the videolaying a wall of dominos around them that they can’t avoid crashing into – or forcing them to run into their own walls. Coming into contact with a line of dominos, either you own or someone else’s, collapses your own trail and ends your turn. The player still standing at the end of the round wins. (Atari, 1977)

Memories: Another variation on the game concept that the movie (and game) Tron would later popularize as Light Cycles, Dominos is one of the few attempts anyone made to try to couch the concept in non-abstract, real-world terms (well, real-world if you can imagine someone having an infinite number of dominos to build a wall, but that’s neither here nor there). Continue reading

Dodge It

Dodge ItThe Game: Trapped in a square or rectangular arena, the player is represented by a mobile square. Another projectile punches its way into the arena and begins ricocheting around; points accumulate rapidly the longer the player’s See the videosquare avoids contact with the projectile, but starting at 200 points, an additional projectile is added every 100 points, each on its own chaotic, bouncing path. The game ends when the player inevitably collides with one of these projectiles. (Fairchild, 1978)

Memories: Nearly every system, no matter how obscure, has at least one unique game that’s worth seeking out both hardware and software, just to try it out and see how much fun it is. Some systems, like the Atari VCS and the Intellivision, have something like half a dozen “killer apps”. When I played Dodge It on the Fairchild Channel F, it was one of those occasions where I looked up at the clock, and realized two things: it was an hour later, and I was still playing Dodge It. It’s a unique concept that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, maddeningly simple and insanely addictive. Dodge It made it worth my while to have a Channel F hooked up in my game room. Continue reading

Dynasty!

Dynasty!The Game: Purporting to be based on the ancient Chinese game of Go, Dynasty! is actually more of a variation of Othello. The same strategies apply, and can be played with two players, one against the computer, or – for those who are feeling a little bit lazy – the computer vs. itself. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: One of the things I always remember about the Odyssey2 game Dyntasty! – and I’ll admit, this is the weirdest possible thing to remember – is its player symbols. For a human player, you’ll see the stock O2 stick man, while the computer is represented by a unique symbol, uP – not really a u, but the Greek letter Mu, used to represent “micro” – hence, microprocessor. Pretty obscure terminology for a video game, but then again, this is a fairly obscure (though easy-to-find) game on a relatively obscure console. Continue reading

Defender

DefenderBuy this gameThe Game: Alien invaders besiege the helpless population of a planet, and you are the last line of defense. Ideally, you must destroy the aliens before they can abduct humanoids from the ground; if an alien ship gets to the top of the screen with a captive, it absorbs that unlucky soul and it becomes a much more dangerous and aggressive Mutant. Smart bombs give you the option to wipe out everything alien on the See the videoscreen, but of course you only have three of them at the outset of the game. You can also perform an emergency hyperspace warp, but you could rematerialize in a far more perilous situation than the one you just left. When you go to the next level by eliminating an entire alien fleet, you receive a bonus multiplied by the number of humans who are still safely on the ground. (Williams Electronics, 1980)

Memories: For many people, Defender is the pinnacle of video games, hands down. Fast-moving, unrelenting, hard to beat but easy to become addicted, Defender was always a bit too fast for me – but it’s a perennial favorite for so many others. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps Mario’s girlfriend and hauls her up to the top of a building which is presumably under construction. You are Mario, dodging Donkey Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and “foxfires” in your See the videoattempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Kong. You can actually do this a number of times, and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Nintendo, 1981)

Memories: Make no mistake about it, Donkey Kong is the point of origin of one of today’s largest video game empires, both fictional and real. The character of Mario appeared again in numerous arcade games. Continue reading

Defender

DefenderThe Game: You’re a lone space pilot in very unfriendly territory, trying to stop a seemingly endless attacking fleet of aliens from kidnapping and “mutating” hapless innocents on the ground into new berzerker opponents. (Atari, See the video1981)

Memories: Though a bit more faithful to its source material than, say, the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, this first home edition of Defender suffered from many of the same problems, namely an intensely annoying “flickering” effect that affected virtually everything on the screen, from the scrolling “mountains” to the player’s own ship to the enemy fighters. Continue reading

Disco No. 1

Disco No. 1You’re on the dance floor, they’ve dimmed the lights, the feeling is right, and you’re gonna boogie tonight. Leaving temporary, light-cycle-style tracers behind you, you have to impress all the lovely ladies by literally skating circles around them. When you accomplish this, you claim a bit of territory on the dance floor. (Data East, 1982)

See the videoAnd here you thought Xanadu was the only pop culture celebration of roller disco – not so! This bizarre little coin-op number brings roller boogie back from the brink of extinction (being the voracious second-hand consumers of American pop culture that they were, God bless ’em, the Japanese apparently missed the memo that disco was “dead” by this point). Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if Buy this gamea Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. Who said landscaping was easy? (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: Dig Dug, with its animè-inspired cutesy characters and exceedingly simple game play, was a wonderfully easy game to learn, and it didn’t take much effort to reach a high score. (Dig Dug II, on the other hand, relied on a strange pseudo-3D, slightly-but-not-quite-overhead perspective which added to the difficulty, creating problems similar to playing Zaxxon or Congo Bongo.) With its simplicity and cuteness, Dig Dug was big with the younger set. Continue reading

Domino Man

Domino ManThe Game: The town square or the local golf course seems like a reasonable place to set up a huge row of dominoes, doesn’t it? Well, your on-screen protagonist sure seems to think so, and your job is to help him set up his dominoes without allowing any of a number of on-screen “enemies” – such as absent-minded shoppers pushing carts, bees, or a bemuscled bonehead – to knock the dominoes over. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Another incredibly fun and offbeat coin-op from the gang at Bally/Midway, Domino Man was a whimsical little number which set all of its action to the music of ragtime maestro Scott Joplin. If only for that reason, this was one of the few arcade games that my mother used to get a kick out of (not that she tried it herself, of course – she just kept chuckin’ quarters at me, bless her heart). Continue reading

Donkey Kong Junior

Donkey Kong JuniorThe Game: Mario, in his second-ever videogame appearance, has Donkey Kong in captivity, and it’s up to Donkey Kong Jr. to rescue his dad by scaling vines and chains, avoiding nasty-toothed traps and pesky birds, and reaching the key to free the great ape from Mario’s clutches. (Nintendo, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Donkey Kong Junior was a really cool game, because it added new ideas to the same general concept as Donkey Kong, resulting in a game that those proficient at the original game wouldn’t find difficult to learn. It was also unique in that the character that you played in Donkey Kong – the hero – was suddenly the villain in this game, and you were out to defeat him. Continue reading

Dark Caverns

Dark CavernsThe Game: Robots, spiders and critters, oh my! You’re a lone human in a maze teeming with deadly robots, spiders and other nasties, and your trusty gun – which can dispatch any or all of the above – has only a limited amount of ammunition. You can obtain more ammo by walking over a briefly-occurring flashing gun symbol – but until then, if you’re out of ammo, you’re no longer the hunter, but the hunted. (M Network [Mattel], 1982)

Memories: This was the 2600 version of a similar game that Mattel had released for its own Intellivision console (Night Stalker), and it’s fair to say that this edition was just a wee bit simplified. Continue reading

Demon Attack

Demon AttackBuy this gameThe Game: Demons coalesce into existence in mid-air above your cannon. Send them back where they came from by force – but watch out, as demons in later levels split into two parts upon being hit, which must then be destroyed individually… (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: Ah, the storied history of Demon Attack. Back in the day when the legal game was almost as new the video game, Atari was jealously guarding its See the videoterritory. Now, never mind that Bushnell-era Atari had clearly based some of its cartridge games on arcade sleeper hits – Circus Atari borrowed heavily from Exidy’s coin-op Circus, to name just one – the company was now out for blood under the management of Warner Bros. and Ray Kassar. Continue reading

Demon Attack

Demon AttackThe Game: Demons coalesce into existence in mid-air above your cannon. Send them back where they came from by force – but watch out, as demons in later levels split into two parts upon being hit, which must then be destroyed See the videoindividually. After fending off several waves of attackers, you blast off to deep space to confront their mothership. (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: No bones about it, the Intellivision version of Demon Attack is the definitive version of this game. It also drew a lawsuit from Atari, who had just licensed the arcade game Phoenix from Centuri (an American operation which had, in turn, licensed it from Taito in Japan). In a lot of ways, Phoenix and the Intellivision version of Demon Attack were very much alike – swooping alien attackers who split into two equally lethal halves when hit, and a Comet Empire-like alien mothership with only a single vulnerability (and an endless stream of defensive fighters to cover that weakness). Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: In a very faithful adaptation of Nintendo’s all-time classic arcade game, you’re Mario, a rotund and lovesick fellow who would gladly scale scaffolding, bound over barrels and feint past foxfires, all to save the damsel in See the videodistress. (Coleco, 1982)

The Game: This was it, friends. This was what sold the ColecoVision. Donkey Kong was one of the hottest games in arcades at that time, and Coleco was smart enough to grab the rights from Nintendo as well as to make it the pack-in cartridge for the ColecoVision (like Combat was the pack-in for the Atari 2600). Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: In the rotund plumber Mario’s first adventure, you have to help him reach the top of a perilous scaffolding to rescue a damsel in distress from the dastardly Donkey Kong. (Coleco, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Once upon a time, Nintendo didn’t manufacture its own home video game system. Perhaps games like this convinced it to pick up the habit. Coleco did a very good job of translating Nintendo’s first arcade hit into its first game for the higher-priced ColecoVision console, but truthfully, more people had an Atari 2600 at the time, and this is the version of Donkey Kong they got. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: In the rotund plumber Mario’s first adventure, you have to help him reach the top of a perilous scaffolding to rescue a damsel in distress from the dastardly Donkey Kong. (Coleco, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Remember how much of a train wreck Coleco made of Donkey Kong when they made that dismal version of it for the Atari 2600? Well, if anything, Coleco’s equally mind-numbing translation of Nintendo’s original smash hit for the Intellivision proves that Coleco was definitely trying to make their ColecoVision version of Donkey Kong look better. Continue reading

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