King & Balloon

King & BalloonBuy this gameThe Game: Manning a fairly agile cannon located on a platform at a castle, your task is simple: protect the King! However, there’s a flotilla of even more agile balloons above you who are there to kidnap his royal highness. As the King is hoisted away by his assailants, he yells “Help!” If you shoot down the offending balloon, the King See the videoshouts “Thank you!” as he floats back to the safety of the castle via an umbrella. The balloons can ram your cannon kamikaze-style and flatten it for a few seconds, but curiously, you have an unlimited supply of cannons. However, if the balloon marauders get three Kings off the screen, your game ends. (Namco, 1980)

Memories: One of the most bizarre and obscure entries in the resumè of Namco (also responsible for classics like Galaga, Xevious, Dig Dug and a little thing we call Pac-Man), King & Balloon comes across as nothing so much as a bizarre attempt to repurpose Galaxian into a cutesy game. The one-shot-on-screen-at-a-time, the attack patterns of the balloons and some of the sound effects hammer the similarities home. Continue reading

Kick / Kickman

KickThe Game: In an addictive little number from the height of Midway’s post-Pac-Man arcade empire, you are a unicycle-riding clown who occasionally wears a spiked hat. Your job is to keep any of the balloons falling from overhead from hitting the ground. You can bounce the balloons back into the air – temporarily – by See the videokicking them, but the only way to remove a balloon from play permanently is to catch or pop it on your head. In later stages, other objects fall from the sky, including special guest stars Pac-Man and those darn ghost monsters, and also including bombs which are the only thing you must avoid. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: A wonderfully addictive game with intensely aggravating controls, Kickman has gone down in video game history with unjust obscurity. But perhaps this lack of bona fide “hit” status can be blamed on that wacky lateral trakball control – it was such a pain in the butt until you’d gotten sufficient practice in. Continue reading

Kaboom!

Kaboom!Buy this gameThe Game: No manifestos, no political agendas, nothing like that – there’s just a mad bomber at the top of the screen, with a seemingly endless supply of explosives to chuck at you. You, on the other hand, have rather more limited resources – namely, three buckets of water. Your job is to keep those buckets right under the bombs and catch them all. If a bomb gets through, it costs you a bucket. If you lose your last bucket, you’ll be going out with a bang and a whimper. Catching all of the buckets in a given level of the game gives you a brief pause to prepare for the next wave – because your adversary’s using that brief pause to go cook up more bombs. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: Another one of Activision’s early best-sellers, Kaboom! is good, colorful fun – and it’s about as original as the concept of a madman with a bomb. As was typical in these early days before look-and-feel lawsuits became almost routine, the basic game play of Kaboom! was “borrowed” from an early black & white Atari coin-op called Avalanche. In that game, the bombs were falling rocks, and the whole thing was essentially a variation on the theme of Breakout. Continue reading

K.C. Munchkin!

K.C. Munchkin!The Game: As a small blue spherical creature whose sole sensory organs consist of two eyes, two antennae and an enormous mouth, you are on a mission to eat twelve dots which are floating around a small maze. Pursuing you are three See the videomulticolored jellyfish-like horrors who will gobble you up on contact. (North American Philips, 1981)

Memories: K.C. Munchkin!, for its similarities to Pac-Man, actually got Magnavox sued…by Atari! Huh? Follow me: Bally/Midway were, at the time, the U.S. copyright holders of the concept and code for the arcade Pac-Man…should they not have filed that suit rather than Atari, which was still fuming over the richly-deserved flood of negative reviews for its horrible Atari 2600 Pac-Man adaptation? Continue reading

Keyboard Creations!

Keyboard Creations!The Game: Well, it’s really not much of a game. It’s more like a home simulation of an early-1980s public access cable channel. You can type up crawls that scroll across the screen, as well as setting an on-screen clock. Events can See the videoalso be programmed to trigger special messages either at a pre-set time, or at regular intervals. (Magnavox, 1981)

Memories: Magnavox touted Keyboard Creations! as an essential tool for home videos, or anyone throwing parties, but it turned out more like a home version of that one cable channel that always occupied a slot somewhere in the lower 13, usually right below USA Network – you know, that one that had the time, the temperature, and the city trash pickup schedule. Continue reading

Kangaroo

KangarooThe Game: As a mama marsupial trying to save your baby from many malignant marauding monkeys, you go on a rescue mission that involves climbing through many, many levels of the monkeys’ treehouse village, punching primates, dodging airborne apples, grabbing various fruit items along the way (considering the abundance See the videoof apples, strawberries, cherries and bananas, one can only assume these are Pac-Man’s table leavings), and avoiding the big, purple boxing-glove-stealing ape. (Atari [under license from Sun], 1982)

Memories: While some American coin-op game companies jumped on the license-from-Japan bandwagon and scored big early on, such as Midway (who imported Space Invaders and Pac-Man from two different Japanese game makers), Atari was a long-time holdout. Atari’s internal coin-op division was its own internal hit machine, and that simplified things when the consumer division needed hot new arcade titles to translate to the company’s home game consoles. Continue reading

K.C.’s Krazy Chase

K.C.'s Krazy ChaseThe Game: As a small blue spherical creature whose sole sensory organs consist of two eyes, two antennae and an enormous mouth, your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to start munching on the segmented body of the dreaded See the videoDratapillar while avoiding its always-lethal head. When you consume one of its body segments, the Dratapillar’s two henchbeings – known only as Drats – turn white with fright and you can send them a-spinning (normally, they’re deadly to touch too). Eating all of the Dratapillar segments gets you to the next level, and the mayhem begins anew. (North American Philips, 1982)

Memories: Perhaps just out of spite, the first non-educational game released to take advantage of the Odyssey 2’s new Voice add-on module featured K.C. Munchkin, the Pac-Man-esque critter who had landed Magnavox on the wrong side of a look-and-feel software lawsuit filed by Atari. Continue reading

Keystone Kapers

Keystone KapersSee the videoThe Game: Kriminals are on the loose in an unspecified retail establishment, and you happen to be the lone kop on the kase. Bouncy balls, shopping karts and other krap get in your way as you try to katch the kriminal before time runs out. You might get lucky and hitch an elevator ride, or you may have to take the escalators at opposite ends of the store, which will take more time. If you don’t kapture the krook, he gets away with the loot. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: A simple little game from the hallowed house of Activision, Keystone Kapers is one of those games you really don’t need the docs to play. Continue reading

King Kong

King KongThe Game: In a stick-figure firefighter’s greatest adventure, you have to help him reach the top of a perilous scaffolding to rescue a damsel in distress from the dastardly Kong Kong. (Tiger Electronic Toys, 1982)
See the video
Memories: Just when you thought no one could make a worse Atari 2600 Donkey Kong than Coleco could, the electronics division of Tiger Toys comes along and demonstrates that yes, it could have easily been worse. In fact, that this game even made it to the stores after initially being rejected is just a small part of a much more convoluted legal saga. Continue reading

Krull

KrullThe Game: In the video-game adaptation of the movie – which, at the time, was expected to be the next Star Wars-type franchise – you are Colwyn, the hero of the piece. Your first job is to climb a treacherous mountain, dodging boulders, and finding the five pieces of the throwing-star-like Glaive weapon. On the second level, you get to use it against a bunch of nasty swamp creatures who are trying to kill your army. You get to do this for two levels. Then you have to break your men out of a stronghold, and then lead the fight against the invincible chief monster, all to save the princess. (Gottlieb, 1983)

Memories: Krull wasn’t a bad little game. It might take you a few quarters to get through, and that last level with the main monster was a killer. In a way, Krull is sort of like the opposite of Tron – whereas Tron is best remembered as a game and not a movie, Krull is virtually forgotten as a video game, and the movie still enjoys a small cult following. Continue reading

Kangaroo

KangarooThe Game: As a mama marsupial trying to save your baby from many malignant marauding monkeys, you go on a rescue mission that involves climbing through many, many levels of the monkeys’ treehouse village, punching primates, dodging airborne apples, grabbing various fruit items along the way (considering the abundance See the videoof apples, strawberries, cherries and bananas, one can only assume these are Pac-Man’s table leavings), and avoiding the big, purple boxing-glove-stealing ape. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Released for the Atari 2600 and 5200 simultaneously, it’s a no-brainer as to which version of Kangaroo is a better representation of the sleeper hit game Atari distributed in the U.S. (a rare licensed import for a company that usually released only homegrown product). The 5200 edition looks and plays more like the coin-op, including all four of the original game’s levels and doing so without the strange blue-going-on-purple background of the 2600 cartridge. Continue reading

Kangaroo

KangarooThe Game: As a mama marsupial trying to save your baby from many malignant marauding monkeys, you go on a rescue mission that involves climbing through many, many levels of the monkeys’ treehouse village, punching primates, dodging airborne apples, grabbing various fruit items along the way (considering the abundance of apples, strawberries, cherries and bananas, one can only assume these are Pac-Man’s table leavings). (Atari, 1983)

See the videoMemories: One of the glut of arcade translations from the heyday of the VCS, Kangaroo is more or less faithful to its arcade namesake, though it’s missing one level (the one where you have to punch out an entire column of monkeys one at a time) and lacks many other details: the giant purple gorilla who swipes your boxing gloves never appears, and neither does the monkey who drops apples on you from above – the apples merely bounce out of nowhere of their own accord. Continue reading

Killer Bees!

Killer Bees!The Game: You control a solitary swarm of “good” bees, trailed by a couple of handy ray guns on the same vertical axis. The game starts out with a bunch of dim-witted Beebots bumbling around the screen, which you can sting with your bee swarm until the ‘bots slow down and finally expire, marked by a rather grim little tombstone! This probably sounds easy enough, but there are killer bees from outer space emerging from hives around the edge of the play area, and when their swarms collide with your swarm, you lose bees. The only defense against the killer bees is a pair of ray guns, which have to recharge after every use. (North American Philips, 1983)

See the videoMemories: This is one of the strangest and most unique games that was ever made for the Odyssey2. As the Odyssey programmers realized very quickly, the Voice was very limited, and Killer Bees! saw some interesting innovations in that area, namely the “bee buzz” generated by the speech module. Programmer Bob Harris has said that Killer Bees! was his attempt to bring the relentless momentum of Centipede to the Odyssey2, though players might never have made that connection apart from the insectoid theme. It’s a damned aggravating and addictive little game! Continue reading

Killer Bees

Killer Bees!The Game: You control a solitary swarm of “good” bees, trailed by a couple of handy ray guns on the same vertical axis. The game starts out with a bunch of dim-witted Beebots bumbling around the screen, which you can sting with your See the videobee swarm until the ‘bots slow down and finally expire, marked by a rather grim little tombstone! This probably sounds easy enough, but there are killer bees from outer space emerging from hives around the edge of the play area, and when their swarms collide with your swarm, you lose bees. The only defense against the killer bees is a pair of ray guns, which have to recharge after every use. (North American Philips, 1983)

Memories: Another example of how Philips might have revised existing Odyssey2 games for their new platform, Killer Bees winds up being another example of how ungraceful the transition could’ve been. Continue reading

Kitten Kaboodle

Kitten KaboodleThe Game: An adorable kitten (and his twin, in the case of two-player games) runs and jumps around a maze of obstacles, trying to stay out of the clutches of such enemies as an insect in a lab coat, a large and angry-looking tomato, and a crocodile that walks upright. (Further levels add new and even stranger enemies to avoid.) The kitten(s) can push the blocks making up the maze, hopefully smashing an enemy against another block or one of the playfield’s outer walls in the process, temporarily removing that enemy from play. A defeated enemy drops numerous items, including coins, diamonds, and one of several keys needed to open a door allowing access to the next level of the game. (Konami, 1988)

Memories: Even in the late ’80s, game companies weren’t above “borrowing” each other’s concepts and play mechanics, and here we have a prime example of Konami “borrowing” the basic play mechanic of one of Sega‘s more low-key sleeper hits, because just six years before Kitten Kaboodle, enemies were being squished by blocks pushed by a penguin. Continue reading

Klax

KlaxThe Game: It is the nineties, as the intro screen says, and there is time for this home version of Klax, in which players try to stack colored bricks according to on-screen instructions: horizontal, vertical and diagonal rows may be required. The conveyor belts carrying the bricks gradually speed up until the bricks are zipping toward the bottom of the screen at a dizzying pace. Allowing too many bricks to slide off the bottom of the screen without catching them will forfeit the game, as will failing to come up with the configuration of stacked bricks demanded by the on-screen instructions. (Atari, 1990)

Memories: A late attempt to keep the Atari 7800 relevant in an age where the NES had firmly dominated the home video game landscape (even the Sega Master System enjoyed a larger market share than the 7800), this adaptation of Atari Games’ arcade sleeper hit Klax seems fitting somehow in retrospect: Klax was a puzzle game also-ran, trying to catch up with Tetris. And Tetris had already been snapped up by Nintendo, which was handily beating Atari with both the NES and the new Game Boy, making the 7800 an also-ran too (and let’s not talk about that whole dust-up over Atari Games’ arcade Tetris and the Tengen version of the game for NES). As if there needed to be a way to make Klax even less relevant in Atari’s fight against Tetris, there’s one more wrinkle: this version never actually hit the stores. Continue reading

Katamari Damacy

Katamari DamacyOrder this gameYou control the pint-sized Prince, whose dad, the massive King of All Cosmos, seems to have inadvertently blotted out every star in the night sky. Now, your old man is sending you on a mission to go down to Earth – a planet blessed with a lot of stuff – to gather that stuff into large sticky clumps called katamari. You start out small, picking up tiny everyday items like pushpins and matchsticks, but as your katamari grows in size, it can pick up larger objects – frogs and mice, crabs, dogs and cats, people, cows, cars, trees, and eventually even things like buildings and giant squids. At the beginning of each stage, you’re tasked to accumulate enough stuff to grow your katamari to a predetermined diameter, and once the timer runs out for that stage, your katamari is either launched into the sky to become a new star See the video(don’t ask us about the astrophysics on this one, because this game’s universe throws the whole hydrogen-and-helium thing out the window), or the King of All Cosmos returns to chide you for your puny efforts and makes you start again. There’s also a split-screen battle mode where two players can not only build up their katamari, but hurl their katamari at each other; a katamari of sufficient size can engulf your opponent and his katamari too! (Namco, 2004)

Katamari DamacyMemories: I love Namco. When I go looking up my favorite classic arcade games of all time, they’re almost all by Namco. And some of them are so strange. I mean, think about Pac-Man on a purely conceptual level. Or Dig Dug. Or Phozon. Now apply the same attempt at a logical explanation to Katamari Damacy. (Good luck.) Give up? Even a generation later, Namco’s still turning out some great, offbeat, innovative, fun games. Continue reading

Kill The Attacking Aliens

Kill The Attacking AliensAliens are attacking several idyllic locales on Earth, and it’s your job to fend off the attack. Not only are you charged with blasting the aliens themselves out of the sky, but you must intercept as much of their incoming fire as possible before it hits targets on the See the videoground. If you save the various trees and cars and castles and trains and boats and whatnot, not only have you earned the gratitude of the human race, you get big bonus points too, and we all know which is more important. Your highly maneuverable ship is equipped with shields which allow you to absorb the impact of collisions with the alien ships, as well as protecting you from direct hits from their weapons. But each hit and collision takes a significant chunk out of your shields. You can replenish them with power-ups left behind by fallen aliens, but when your shields run out and your ship takes another hit, your alien-killing days are over. (Soren Gust [published by Packrat Video Games], 2004)

Memories: Let me go back and read that again. Shields and power-ups and scores into the thousands? Did I just write that about an Odyssey2 game? Yes. Yes, I did. Five years in the making, Kill The Attacking Aliens (a.k.a. KTAA) is one of those projects that demonstrates everything that is good about homebrew games for classic consoles. Continue reading

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