Defender II / Stargate

Defender II / StargateThe Game: Once again, you’re piloting a sleek spacecraft, patrolling the airspace over a populated planet whose inhabitants are being harvested by alien Landers to create berzerker Mutants. If you shoot down a Lander in mid-air and its abductee falls toward the ground, you must catch the helpless kidnap victim and lower him to the ground safely. Other menaces await you in the sky, along with Stargates, which instantaneously transport you to other locations around the planet. (Atari, 1984)

Memories: I like to refer to this game as Defender: The Apology. In much the same way that Atari made good on gamers’ disappointment in their original Pac-Man cartridge with its Ms. Pac-Man translation, the Stargate cartridge plays much more like “real” Defender than the original cartridge version of that game. The sounds and graphics are pretty much dead-on, if not quite as fine as those of the original arcade machine. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: Who said landscaping was easy? 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, See the videowhich 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 a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (Atari, 1984)

Memories: Still clinging tenaciously to a licensing agreement that gave it the right to publish Dig Dug in the U.S., Atari dug in its heels and released Dig Dug for the Atari 7800. Fortunately – for Atari, that is – Namco opted not to issue the same game in that territory, leaving it an exclusive for owners of the Famicom, Japan’s equivalent to the NES. Continue reading

Dragonfire

DragonfireThe Game: You’re another treasure-hunting glory seeker who’s about to meet more than his match. If you can survive crossing the drawbridge into the castle – a task made incredibly difficult by the glowing fireballs of dragon breath being hurled toward you – you’ve got an even more hazardous obstacle ahead: the dragon himself is guarding a huge stash of treasure. Even if he can’t stop you from pocketing every shiny thing in the castle, chances are you won’t make it out alive. (Imagic, 1984)

Memories: A nicely dolled-up version of a game that was already a lot of fun on the Atari 2600 and Intellivision, Dragonfire is one of Imagic‘s few Colecovision entries. The game is still fun, but now it looks simply incredible too. Continue reading

Dig Dug II

Dig Dug IIBuy this gameThe Game: Dig Dug is back, and he’s still got a hoarde of Pookas and Fygars to exterminate – or else they’ll ruin his new island garden. Blowing the beasties up with Dig’s trusty pump will still work, but as a last resort, he can also drill into his island’s irrigation pipes and actually sink a part of the land into the sea, taking any enemies with it (and Dig too, if you’re not careful!). (Namco, 1985)

Memories: This sequel to one of the most beloved titles from the brief Namco/Atari licensing alliance is virtually unknown, primarily because Dig Dug II hit the arcades after the great video game industry crash of 1983. Honestly, I hadn’t even heard of it until MAME came along. Continue reading

Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt

Super Mario Bros. / Duck HuntThe Game: Intrepid plumbers Mario and Luigi have fallen back on Mario’s original mandate – rescuing the damsel – as they journey through the kingdom, battling Koopas and braving falls from dizzying heights, all to Buy this gamerescue the princess (who, as always, seems to be in another castle). In Duck Hunt things are a bit more normal – you’re just trying to nail some ducks in the wild, with the help and encouragement (and, if you let one get away, derisive laughter) from your trusty huntin’ dawg. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: Right up there with Atari 2600 Pac-Man in ubiquity, and almost universally loved (think about that for a moment – how many video games reach quite that level of popularity?), Super Mario Bros. was the ticket the NES needed to break into the U.S. market. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: Who said landscaping was easy? 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 See the videoyour tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (Namco, 1985)

Memories: For some reason that I have a hard time trying to fathom, this game was released for the Famicom only – the Japanese console which was re-engineered as the NES for the English-speaking market. The reason I can’t fathom that is that this is a perfectly playable port of Dig Dug. Did Namco really think that this cute classic was past its sell-by date in the States? Continue reading

Doctor Who and the Warlord

Doctor Who and the WarlordThe Game: You are the Doctor’s companion, separated from the Time Lord during an attempt to save the Doctor’s old friend, King Varangar. When you come to, the Doctor is nowhere around, you’re unarmed, and you’re surrounded by deadly swamps, war zones, and hostile alien soldiers. Your life expectancy away from the TARDIS isn’t looking terribly good – and even if you can reunite with the Doctor, escaping from planet Quantain won’t be easy. (BBC Software, 1985)

Memories: The second official Doctor Who computer game, released during the show’s mid-1980s merchandising heyday, Doctor Who And The Warlord is a decisive step away from the somewhat derivative arcade-inspired game play of Doctor Who: The First Adventure… and a step toward another well-worn style of game: the text adventure. Continue reading

Donkey Kong 3

Donkey Kong 3The Game: As Stanley the gardener, you’re trying to repel a swarm of pests unleashed by that meanest of pixellated gorillas, while also using your pesticide to propel him off the screen. Protect your flowers and yourself, and wear plenty of Off. (Nintendo, 1986)

Memories: As much as many gamers don’t grow as attached to Donkey Kong 3 as they did with the first games in that series, with its Mario-less sidestep into shooter territory, it’s still quite a bit of fun, and this NES cartridge captures the arcade experience perfectly. 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 videoBuy this gameattempt 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, 1986)

Memories: Once upon a time, Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision was the Donkey Kong experience to beat: short of going to the arcade, it didn’t get any better than that. But Coleco had only negotiated the console rights to the game, and nearly lost that contract when they goofed and showed a version of the game for their ill-fated Adam computer at a 1983 Consumer Electronics Show – though the home computer rights had been granted to Atari. In just two years’ time, none of that would matter – the crash came and went, Coleco exited the home computer and video game businesses, a seriously weakened Atari refocused its efforts on computer hardware, and Nintendo had its own video game console on the US market. Continue reading

Donkey Kong Junior

Donkey Kong JuniorThe Game: Mario 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, 1985)

Memories: A fairly popular arcade game like Donkey Kong Junior was bound to be ported to home consoles, and the translations ran the gamut from not-good-at-all to good enough. Surely if anyone could really capture the essence of the coin-op, it’d be Nintendo itself. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: How high can you go? Help Jumpman (Mario) save Pauline from Donkey Kong’s clutches by climbing ladders and avoiding barrels. (Ocean Software, 1986)

Memories: Three years after the release of AtariSoft’s Commodore 64 Donkey Kong port, European software developer Ocean Software decided it was time for another Donkey Kong remake and accepted the challenge.

It goes without saying that the more familiar programmers become with a particular platform, the more advanced their games will look and play. This is generally why games released later in a platform’s lifespan often seem more advanced than earlier titles. Such is the case with Ocean’s version of Donkey Kong. With an additional three years of familiarity with the Commodore behind them, Ocean was really able to crank one great looking port. 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 a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (INTV Corp., 1987)

See the videoMemories: From the ashes of Mattel Electronics, which suffered a multi-million-dollar loss in the 1982-83 crash of the video game industry, several stalwart members of the “Blue Sky Rangers” development team banded together to form INTV Corporation, a leaner, meaner entity that would do what seemed unthinkable in the market climate of the time: keep supporting the Intellivision with new software until further notice. After the NES helped the industry make a comeback, Atari dusted off the 2600 and the stillborn 7800 – which had been ready to hit stores as early as 1984 – and tried to reposition them as budget alternatives to Nintendo’s increasingly ubiquitous machine. Continue reading

Diner

DinerThe Game: Chef Peter Pepper is back, and he’s been served up a second helping of inedible trouble. Roaming the vast, maze-like expanses of Ray’s Diner, the chef has to round up the scattered ingredients of dinner before he finds himself on See the videothe menu. For every four screen he clears, Peter Pepper gets a chance to catch more ingredients in a bonus round (but must avoid the flashing ingredients at all costs). The chef is also still armed with his trusty pepper shaker to stun his enemies briefly, and he can still replenish his short supply of pepper when bonus items appear. (INTV Corp., 1987)

Memories: A loose collective of “survivors” of Mattel Electronic’s Intellivision division, INTV Corp. slowly but surely got off the ground to offer new titles to Intellivision owners by mail-order, even as the NES was taking over the world. INTV’s library of new titles wasn’t a huge one, but it was at the very least a respectable selection, including arcade games such as Dig Dug and Pole Position whoses licenses had once been exclusive to the now-all-but-dormant Atari. INTV Corp. had access to the back catalog of started-but-not-finished (and finished-but-shelved-indefinitely) titles that had been swallowed in the fall of Mattel Electronics, and it was from one of these unfinished games that Diner got its start…but you might be surprised to find out where Diner really came from. Continue reading

Defender Of The Crown

Defender Of The CrownThe Game: The King of England has been assassinated and the crown has gone missing! To regain the crown and restore order you’ll need to conquer the entire country, one castle at a time. Equal parts strategy and action make for lots of fun and replayability. The ultimate cinematic experience for the Commodore 64. (Cinemaware, 1987)

Memories: In 1986, Cinemaware released Defender Of The Crown for the Commodore Amiga, introducing a new style of game to home computer owners. Equal parts movie, strategy and action, Cinemaware called their new style of games “Interactive Movies”. Defender Of The Crown begins like a real Hollywood experience, complete with opening credits and a montage explaining the game’s backstory. The Amiga version’s graphics were literally mind-blowing. No one had seen graphics like that before on a home computer, and gamers were convinced that the game would not appear on any other platform. Commodore 64 owners got their wish one year later, when Cinemaware ported the game over to the Amiga’s 8-bit little brother. 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 attempt 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. (Atari, 1988)

Donkey KongSee the videoMemories: Before Nintendo made its own inroads in the American home video game market, it happily let homegrown companies take the license and run with it. Coleco won the license for Donkey Kong for the cartridge-based console market, while Atari snagged the rights to release Donkey Kong for various computer systems. When Coleco folded (after the expensive Adam Computer debacle), Atari did the corporate equivalent of going through Coleco’s wallet and picking up its licenses. Continue reading

Dark Chambers

Dark ChambersThe Game: You control a lone adventurer on a quest through twisty mazes and open battlegrounds, descending through the dungeon depths in search of treasure (and a chance to escape in one piece with that treasure in hand). Zombies, See the videoghosts, and monsters naturally roam through the dungeons as well, more than happy to attack any treasure-hunting interlopers such as yourself. (Atari, 1988)

Memories: Released on both the 7800 and 2600, Dark Chambers was an attempt to cash in on the “action RPG” genre that had recently been made popular by Nintendo’s The Legend Of Zelda. Atari’s arcade division happened to have a hot arcade property in that genre already, but since the arcade operation – now called Atari Games – and the consumer division were now two separate entities, Dark Chambers winds up being a “near-beer” version of Gauntlet. Continue reading

Dr. Mario

Dr. MarioThe Game: Now that he’s got plumbing and rescuing princesses out of the way, Mario ‘s gone and finished his medical degree. You have to help him dish out just the right pills to get rid of the corresponding viruses, matching them by color. Stacking at least three pill segments of the same color on top of or next to a virus will kill it, but the leftover pill See the videosegments will fall into place, possibly keeping you from treating other problems. (Mismatched pills can be eliminated too, by creating a stack of four segments of the same color.) Allowing too many pills to clog the works will end the game. (Nintendo, 1990)

Memories: Okay, it’s no Microsurgeon (and it’s no Tetris either), but there’s something addictive about whatever pills Mario was prescribing during his brief medical career. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugBuy this gameThe 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 a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. In New Dig Dug, you guide Dig on a series of subterranean adventures, trying to unlock buried doors by finding some equally buried keys. Pookas and Fygars still stalk the underground tunnels in the new game, only each one that Dig dispatches is replaced by a new Pooka or Fygar from above. (Namco, 1992)

Memories: Okay, so we’ve got arcade-quality Dig Dug on the Game Boy Advance thanks to Namco Museum. But I thought it’d be fun to go back and revisit the original monochrome Game Boy version of Dig Dug to see how close it was to the arcade game. And the answer is…well, not very. Continue reading

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