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Fire Truck

Fire TruckThe Game: Two players take the twin steering wheels of a fire truck racing through obstacle-cluttered streets en route to a fire. The player in front steers the front of the truck, while the rear of the fire truck is steered independently by the player in back (one player sits and the See the videoother stands, affording both a clear view of the screen). If both players aren’t well-coordinated, the rear of the fire truck will smack into parked cars, trees and other obstacles that the front of the truck may have cleared successfully. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: A wickedly fun (and funny) cooperative game, Fire Truck isn’t so much a racing game as it is an avoid-everything game. It’s rather unforgiving in that it demands that both players be virtually joined in lockstep as to where the fire truck is pointed – anything less is begging for disaster. Continue reading

Football

FootballThe Game: Trade those pads in for pixels and get ready to hit the gridiron. Each player controls a football team represented by Xs or Os, and uses a keypad to select offensive and defensive maneuvers – and the trakball to tear across the turf as fast as the player can move it. Additional quarters buy additional playing time (each quarter gets two minutes of play). Whoever has the highest score at the end of the game is the winner; later four-player variations sported additional trakballs so the offensive player could control his team’s quarterback and another could control the receiver for passing plays, while there were now two independent players on the defensive team. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: The only serious rival for Space Invaders‘ arcade affection in 1978, Atari’s Football almost beat those crafty aliens to the punch by a couple of years. Continue reading

Frogs

FrogsThe Game: Long before Frogger and Frog Bog, there were simply Frogs, the original arcade amphibians. One or two frogs hop along a lily pad at the bottom of the screen, scoping out tasty flies to eat. When you’ve got a See the videomorsel in your frog’s reach, jump and try to activate your frog’s tongue at just the right time. (You’ll know if you’ve snared a meal because your frog will seem to ascend the screen in heavenly bliss.) Whoever has the most points at the end of the timed game is the supreme frog. (Gremlin, 1978)

Memories: Though the game concept would be more widely popularized by Frog Bog several years later on the Intellivision, this is where the two-frogs-catching-flies game began. If you’re wowed by the amazing graphics on this early game, don’t be – the colorful background was a piece of artwork set into the arcade cabinet, onto which the game’s graphics were “projected” by laying the monitor flat on its back and reflecting the computer-generated graphics of the frogs and flies toward the player via a mirror at a 45-degree angle. (The game’s graphics were actually generated and shown backward, so the mirror reflection would show letters and numbers properly.) Continue reading

Football!

Football!The Game: Woooooo, Packers. Classic pigskin comes to sluggish life in this over-complicated video game edition. Despite the Odyssey’s full keyboard, the game forces players to look up plays in the manual and execute them with joystick commands. After that, aside from some minimal control of whoever has the ball, it’s a bit like watching an ant farm. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Granted, Atari’s black & white arcade football game didn’t exactly conjure up a pixellated Howard Cosell, nor did any of the attempts to adapt that game for Atari’s own VCS. But when one looks at what an improvement Intellivision’s NFL Football was over either the VCS or the Odyssey2’s football games, one wonders what the Odyssey designers were thinking. Continue reading

Fantasy

FantasyThe Game: As an unnamed but cartoonishly cute little hero, you are powerless to watch as your girlfriend Cheri is abducted by a boatload of pirates. Only then are you inspired to act, chasing after the heavily armed pirate ship in your defenseless balloon. You dodge cannonballs as you try to reach the pirate ship’s landing pad (what is it, an aircraft carrier?!). Then you have to battle those nasty pirates on the deck of their ship while still dodging that pesky cannon, until you do away with them all and get to Cheri. A bird then scoops her up, leaving you to take a treacherous balloon trip, climb a tree teeming with dangerous critters, avoid tigers in the jungle, and take on an entire tribe of natives (who seem to be in cahoots with the pirates, who now have helicopters and artillery!) to rescue Cheri. Then, of course, she goes and gets herself kidnapped again. (Rock-Ola [under license from SNK], 1981)

See the videoMemories: Why do I like this game? Hmmmmm…I don’t know. I only ever saw one Fantasy machine, at the game room at Gaston’s fishing resort on the White River in Arkansas. I think one of the game’s best qualities was the “continue” feature, which allowed you to pop another quarter into the machine and pick up where your previous game left off within 30 seconds. Continue reading

Frogger

FroggerThe Game: You are a frog. Your task is simple: hop across a busy highway, dodging cars and trucks, until you get the to the edge of a river, where you must keep yourself from drowning by crossing safely to your grotto at the top of the screen by leaping across the backs of turtles and logs. But watch out for snakes and alligators!See the videoBuy this game (Sega [under license from Konami], 1981)

Memories: Frogger is a truly ribbeting game, and very addictive. It was one of the handful of cute action games that arrived around the same time as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, though it was never franchised as heavily as those games were. There was a Frogger sticker set, the occasional T-shirt, and a rockin’ musical tribute from Bucker & Garcia on the Pac-Man Fever album. Frogger also existed very briefly as a Saturday morning cartoon on CBS, in which he and his amphibian pals were reporters on the swamp beat, but this incarnation of Frogger was even shorter-lived than the cartoon based on Pac-Man. Continue reading

Frisky Tom

Frisky TomThe Game: Tom the plumber smells a rat – actually, he smells a lot of them, and they’re all crawling around the plumbing, breaking pipes and planting bombs. While this is generally atypical rodent behavior, Tom only cares about knocking Buy this gamethe rats off the pipes, fixing the broken sections, and making sure the bathtub at the bottom of the screen fills in time for a lovely lady to take a shower. (With her bikini on.) Obviously she isn’t worried about the rats. (Nichibutsu, 1980)

See the videoMemories: This oddball entry from Nichibutsu, a.k.a. Japan’s Nihon Bussan Co., Ltd., is an interesting mix of climbing and puzzle games, once again proving that perhaps Nichibutsu missed its calling to innovate in the coin-op industry. Frisky Tom does, however, include a little hint of the direction Nichibutsu would take in later years: the “bathing beauty” scenes in the game are barely a shadow of what currently makes up the bulk of Nichibutsu’s output – R-rated versions of games like Mah-Jongg for the Japanese market. The hints were always there – Frisky Tom‘s bikini-clad woman, the kissing woman in Crazy Climber 2 – but the bulk of Nichibutsu’s output these days is decidedly adults-only. Frisky indeed. Continue reading

Funky Fish

Funky FishThe Game: You are an unknown species of brightly-colored deep-sea fangly fish who appears to subsist on cherries and has range weapons, radar and a fuel gauge. (I did mention that this was an unknown species, didn’t I?) Smaller critters emerge from a handful of indestructible “spawn points” on the screen, represented by stuff like a star or a floating eyeball, and you must shoot these critters. A direct hit briefly turns the critters into cherries, which float downward until your fish eats them (and, in so doing, replenishes his fuel), or they revert back to being critters. Un-cherry-fied critters can kill your fish, as can physical contact with their spawning points or running out of fuel. (Movement costs fuel, as does firing your fish’s weapon.) You advance by turning every critter in the screen into cherries and eating them. If you lose all of your fish, that’s the end of the game. (Sun Electronics, 1981)

I AM THE FUNKY FISH.Memories: All right then. For those of you who think that Namco’s deliriously strange and yet addictive 2004 PS2 game Katamari Damacy is weird, try Funky Fish out for size. I mean, seriously. What in the world inspired this game? It’s like someone’s head was just swimming with ideas for cross-breeding Defender with Pac-Man. Continue reading

Freeway

FreewayThe Game: Why the chicken crossed the road is no longer the question. Now the question is will the chicken cross the road? That part is up to you. You are the chicken. You must avoid traffic, but that’s a real challenge when Buy this gameyou’re confined to a straight vertical line from the bottom of the screen to the top. You can’t deviate left or right. You can only charge – or retreat. Getting hit by a car will send you back to your starting position to try again. Getting all the way across the street increases your score by one point. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: An incredibly fun game, and one of a then-dying (well, for that matter, it’s still dying) breed of two-player games, Freeway beat the Atari 2600 version of Frogger to the stores by a year. Continue reading

Frenzy

FrenzyThe Game: You’re back in the maze, but this time, the stakes are increased, the danger is increased, and your strategic options are only slightly increased. Touching the walls, the robots, the robots’ laser blasts, or even your own ricocheted lasers are deadly. And of course, the inevitable appearance by Evil Otto is also See the videodeadly. However, you can temporarily repel the smiley little bugger by blasting him until his grin turns into the frown – but he will reappear mere seconds later, moving much faster every time he must retreat and reappear – so you’re not doing yourself any favors. If you enter a generator room, you can halt all the robots in their tracks by penetrating the walls surrounding the generator and blasting it. “Beaded” walls can be eaten away, bit by bit, by laser fire from anyone who shoots it, while solid walls will ricochet lasers around until they hit something – which could mean a death trap for you. (Stern, 1982)

Memories: I can’t even begin to estimate how many orders of magnitude harder Frenzy is than its inspiration, Stern’s mega-hit Berzerk. There are many times when you have approximately a second – before the characters on the screen begin moving – to assess your strategic situation, which usually isn’t too promising, often placing you in a triangulation of crossfire from three or four different robots that you haven’t even begun to figure out how to reach. Continue reading

Front Line

Front LineThe Game: In a very genteel and almost inappropriately cute game about armored combat, you’re a lone footsoldier fighting your way through a platoon of enemy troops, trying to take out as many of them as you can until you find your way to a handy empty tank. (Nice of the enemy to allow your government to plant friendly tanks behind their borders, isn’t it?) But once you man your own tank, enemy tanks surround you. If one of them hits your tank, you have mere seconds to bail out before your tank blows, and you have to dodge cannon fire until you can find another friendly tank to commandeer. Finally, after crossing hazardous stretches of desert and fighting off entire battallions of enemy tanks, you’re en route to the final confrontation, a showdown with the enemy’s armored headquarters… (Taito, 1982)

Memories: Front Line was a really fun and addictive game to play, and was always one of my favorites. I didn’t ever give a thought, at the time, that this game really keeps the player’s vision of warfare from delving into the bloody or the unpleasant, and all the characters – even those octagonal, roly-poly little tanks – are really cute. Continue reading

Fast Food

Fast FoodThe Game: You’re a disembodied pair of jaws – sort of like that old wind-up clacking teeth toy, minus the wind-up part. And the feet. Food flies at you from the left side of the screen, and your job is to gobble all of it up that you can reach. (Try not to dwell on the digestive process involved with a disembodied pair of jaws – See the videopresumably there’s a grateful disembodied stomach somewhere in this food chain.) The more snacks you snag, the faster the food flies. Beware of the purple peppers, though – you can only eat so many of them before your jaws erupt in a cataclysmic, game-ending “BURP!” (Telesys, 1982)

Memories: This is another game to file away under the category of “games that simply would not be made or marketed today.” As the healthy living movement (not a bad thing) collides and coalesces with the zombie-like conformity movement (almost always a bad thing) and some collective decision has been taken somewhere that overweight people are now as offensive to the general public as chain-smokers, a game like Fast Food – which congratulates players between levels with the tongue-in-cheek message “You’re Getting Fatter” – just wouldn’t make it to the store shelves today. (At this rate, I’m waiting for Pac-Man, with its unrestrained eating, to become somehow politically incorrect.) Continue reading

Fire Fighter

Fire FighterThe Game: It’s a three-alarm fire! Or so the packaging would have you believe. It’s actually more of a .5-alarm fire, giving you more than enough time to extinguish the blaze and rescue the poor soul who’s trapped in the building. Higher diffuculty levels actually give the game some challenge. Needless to say, letting the fire consume the building (or the person inside) does not brighten your prospects for a video game fire-fighting career. (Imagic, 1982)

Memories: Fire Fighter has always struck me as an oddity among the legendarily challenging Imagic games that accompanied it to the store shelves. Cosmic Ark, Atlantis and Moonsweeper were nothing to sneeze at. On its default skill level, Fire Fighter is something to snooze at. Continue reading

Fishing Derby

Fishing DerbyThe Game: You (and a friend, in the two-player game) are sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the time float away, and trying to catch some dinner at the same time. There’s only one problem: apparently Roy Scheider led you to this fishin’ See the videoBuy this gamehole, because there’s a shark roaming the waters near the surface – and he’ll happily eat your fish (the shark, that is, not Roy Scheider) if you happen to reel them in while he’s facing you. Some of the fish will put up a mighty struggle when caught, which can also lead them to a date with the shark. The first to snag a hundred fishies wins. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: Put away the current gen fishing reel controllers, this is where the odd sport of video fishing began. Fishing Derby, one of Activision’s early offerings, is proof that, once upon a time, imagination dominated the game-making scene instead of marketing considerations reigning supreme. Continue reading

Freedom Fighters!

Freedom Fighters!The Game: Using the left joystick, you control the movement of your ship within the confines of a screen filled with mines, alien aggressors, and occasional purple “confinement crystals” which you have to catch, because these contain human prisoners of war. The right joystick engages your hyperdrive, enabling you to go zipping along in true Defender style. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: Another infamous “not quite a copy of a popular arcade game” from the Odyssey2 gang, Freedom Fighters was supposed to be similar to Defender, but somehow it misses the mark. Continue reading

Frogger

FroggerThe Game: As in the arcade game of the same name, you try to help an amiable amphibian amble his way through rush hour traffic and a river full of dangers in a quest to get home. (Parker Brothers, 1982)

Memories: While faithful to its namesake, the Atari 2600 edition of Frogger is hampered not by the 2600’s graphical limitations, but by the flickering caused by the presence of more animated characters on the screen than the machine could keep track of. When you consider that the Atari 2600 encountered this problem if there were ever more than four sprites on the screen at the same time, you begin to see the problem with Frogger and its playing field chock full of traffic, and the river full of turtles and logs. Continue reading

Frog Bog

Frog BogOrder this gameThe Game: One or two players control one (or two) hungry frogs, each on its own lily pad. Flies flitter past overhead, and it’s the player’s job to get his frog to jump to just the right altitude, facing just the right direction, and to send his frog’s tongue snapping out to gobble up a fly at just the right time. The diremelyction of each frog can also be controller – frogs can go from pad to pad, but be careful not to land a frog in the drink; he then loses precious time swimming back to his lily pad while the other frog can be See the videogobbling up more tasty flies. The game follows a complete day in the life of the frogs, from morning to night. Whoever snaps up 100 points worth of flies wins the game. (Mattel Electronics, 1982)

Memories: As a concept, Frog Bog had been around since the 1970s, with the basic game play of two frogs competing for flies dating back to the B&W days of the arcade. But even if the game itself wasn’t anything new, it never got a better graphical treatment than it did in Frog Bog. This is one of those games that showed up incessantly in early press and advertising material about the Intellivision, and with good reason – it’s a simple, fun game married to just the right graphics and sounds. Continue reading

Frogs and Flies

Frogs and FliesThe Game: As one of two lowly bullfrogs, your task is simple: try to nab the greatest number of insect morsels possible on your froggy tongue while hopping around the lily pad. Hey, not every frog can live the wild life of Frogger, can they? (M Network [Mattel], 1982)

Memories: An exceedingly simple game, the basic premise of Frogs & Flies was recycled into no fewer than two games for the Atari 2600 (the other exponent of the “frog 2 quarterseating flies” sub-genre being Atari’s own Frog Pond). Frogs & Flies is basically an Atari 2600 port of Mattel’s Frog Bog cartridge for their own Intellivision platform, a game which in turn “borrowed” its concept from Gremlin’s 1978 Frogs coin-op.

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