Las Vegas Blackjack!

Las Vegas Blackjack!The Game: Place your bets, ditch some cards, or play with the ones you’ve got. The computer offers the usual enticements – double down and insurance – but the odds are firmly in favor of the house. There’s no limit on how big your bet is, so you’re even free to bet an ante that’ll have you screaming “uncle!” if you lose. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: I’m not a big fan of card games. In fact, when I got hold of this rather common cartridge recently, the lovely Mrs. PDF actually had to teach me how to play blackjack. I was hopeless. But it’s grown on me. I’ve now had the opportunity to play both this Odyssey 2 version and a Game Boy Color edition which is part of a card game cartridge called Las Vegas Cool Hand. And I have to say I like the Odyssey version better. Continue reading

Lunar Lander

Lunar LanderBuy this gameThe Game: Gene Kranz isn’t around to give you a go/no-go for landing – in Lunar Lander, you’re on your own, trying to use the least fuel to bring your lander down for a soft touchdown on the safest target area available. You can always scrub the landing by pulling the ABORT handle, or you can opt for nerves of steel and try to keep your ship – valued at 100 megabucks, incidentally – in one piece. Failure, as some associated with the moon program have been known to say, is not an option for making that one small step…but if you do litter your landing pod across the lunar landscape so many times that you run out of fuel, you can always try to salvage the space program’s integrity for another quarter. (Atari, 1979)

See the videoMemories: Atari’s first foray into vector graphics was old news by computer mainframe standards. The basic premise of Lunar Lander had been around as a text-only game, blasting craters into college students’ productivity and computer lab time, for years. Continue reading

Lunar Rescue

Lunar RescueBuy this gameThe Game: Those pesky Space Invaders are back and this time they’ve got hostages. Your mothership hovers in orbit over the craggy, uninviting surface of the moon, waiting for you to hit the action button and signal the beginning of your mission. The docking back doors open underneath you and your lander begins See the videodropping toward the surface. You can control where you land, and to some extent the speed, and you’ll have to weave through several rotating zones of meteoroids to reach the surface safely. Once landed, you can take on one passenger, and then you have to blast off again to ferry your man back to the mothership. Only this time, the meteors are replaced by several waves of flying saucers who will not only be happy to ram your lander, but shoot at you from above too. If you get your man home – or even if you don’t – the mission begins anew until you run out of ships. Higher difficulty levels add more enemies, such as fireballs streaking through the sky. (Taito, 1979)

Memories: This very obscure Space Invaders sequel takes some of the same basic ideas as Atari’s Lunar Lander (released the same year) and adds some lunar loonies and other more obviously fictional elements; Lunar Lander was good if you wanted a straight-ahead simulation of an Apollo landing, but you get to land your ship and then take off and shoot stuff in Lunar Rescue. It’s challenging and quite a bit of fun, too – I find myself playing this one for a pretty good stretch if I start. Continue reading

Ladybug

LadybugThe Game: You control a nice, big, juicy ladybug waddling around a complex maze, gobbling up food and avoiding your nasty fellow insects. Doors in the maze can throw pursuers off your track momentarily – or they can trap you into an See the videoeven worse situation than whatever you’re trying to escape. (Universal, 1981)

Memories: Like Lock ‘n’ Chase, Ladybug is a fine example of a game which, though clearly inspired by Pac-Man, features enough unique game play elements to make it an individual game. And it’s a rare instance of a game I have to praise for its music and sound effects – they were really rather catchy. Continue reading

Lock ‘n’ Chase

Lock 'n' ChaseThe Game: You’re in charge of a getaway car loaded with crafty criminals. Your job is to sneak around the maze, avoid four colorful cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another See the videoday. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (Data East, 1981)

Memories: Obviously, Lock ‘n’ Chase was yet another variation on the basic game play of Pac-Man, but in this case, just enough was changed to make it a discernably different new game, instead of just another clone. But even the most open-minded player could be forgiven for looking at the maze full of dots, populated by cutesy “cops,” and walking away, thinking, “Yep, it’s another Pirhana.” Continue reading

Laser Blast

Laser BlastBuy this gameThe Game: What a refreshing change of pace. This time, you control a wave of spaceships attacking from the sky, and the computer is stuck on the ground firing at you. It’s payback time! Destroy the ground defense positions and guide your flying saucers into attack position. But apparently the three-lives rule doesn’t apply to the computer: you can never completely get rid of the ground defenses…you only encounter more agile ones. So, being the unfair world that it is, the game continues until you run out of ships. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: This craftily subversive title from Activision turns a lot of scroll-and-shoot conventions on their ear, but at its heart, it’s a little bit of Defender and a little bit of Sky Diver and a whole lot of madness. Continue reading

Liberator

LiberatorBuy this gameThe Game: So, you’ve always wanted to pilot the Liberator? If you’re talking about the Atari Force’s trusty little flotilla of space fighters, you’re in luck. Your four fighters take up positions at the four corners of the screen, and you use a trackball to aim a cursor; hitting the fire button fires the weapons of the ship nearest the cursor. Basically, the “Malagon Army,” according to the introductory screen, has pulled off a See the videostrategic (to say nothing of logistical) coup in invading the entire galaxy – and you and your four fighters are supposed to free…well…the entire galaxy. Hopefully you packed a lunch. At the beginning of your mission, you’re trying to pick off Malagon scout ships in deep space. You then move on to a succession of planets where you have to take out missiles (and the ground bases that hurl them at you) and enemy satellites. Letting a missile through can begin to cost you ships quickly, and when all four fighters are fragged, you’re finished. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: An interesting game, Liberator, even if it breaks my heart by teasing me with that name and then having nothing to do with the starship of the same name from the 70s BBC space opera Blake’s 7. (Actually, it would almost make as much sense to adapt this game to that storyline as it did to try to attach it to the Atari Force comic books, which were shipped with numerous Atari VCS cartridges but had no prior presence in the arcade.) Continue reading

Loco Motion

Loco MotionThe Game: A train scoots around a twisty maze of tiles representing overpasses, turns, straightaways and terminals. One portion of the maze is blank, and a train will be lost if it hits that blank tile. Using the joystick, you move the blank tile and one adjacent tile around on the map – even if the train is in transit on that tile – in an effort to keep it moving around the maze, picking up passengers. (Passengers that the train See the videocan reach are smiley faces; passengers cut off from the main route are frowning.) If any passengers are cut off for an extended period of time, a monster begins wandering that route, and it’ll cost you a train if it comes in contact with your train. You may have to outrun it with the “speed” button in order to pick up the last passengers and clear the level to move on to a bigger maze. (Centuri (under license from Konami), 1982)

Memories: A very minor star in the constellation of early Konami coin-ops (Konami also being responsible for Frogger, Time Pilot and Gyruss), Loco Motion is actually a variation on a very old theme: the 2-D sliding tile puzzle. Continue reading

Ladybug

LadybugThe Game: You’re a hungry ladybug in a maze full of dangers and morsels. Other insects roam the maze trying to eat you, and skulls scattered around the maze are also deadly to the touch. The only advantage you really have is to See the videomaneuver skillfully through the revolving doors, slamming them shut behind you and forcing your pursuers to take a different route (they can’t go through the revolving doors). (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: With the rights to mega-hits like Pac-Man taken by the time the ColecoVision hit the stores, Coleco grabbed the rights to a number of somewhat more obscure arcade games, including virtually the entire catalog of Universal games, the makers of such games as Mr. Do, Mr. Do’s Castle, and Ladybug. Coleco’s Ladybug cartridge is a very faithful rendition of its arcade inspiration, and it’s quite a bit of fun. Continue reading

Lock ‘N’ Chase

Lock 'N' ChaseThe Game: You’re in charge of a getaway car loaded with crafty criminals. Your job is to sneak around the maze, avoid four colorful cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another day. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (M Network [Mattel Electronics], 1982)

Memories: 1982. The year that everybody – and I do mean everybody – was trying to build a better Pac-Man. Mattel’s Intellivision console was suffering from the perception among mainstream gamers that the new, next-generation machine lacked arcade titles in its library; with titles like Major League Baseball, Mattel owned the video sports market. But this was 1982 and America had yet to sweat off Pac-Man Fever – sports games weren’t “in” at the moment. Continue reading

Lock ‘n’ Chase

Lock 'N' ChaseThe Game: You’re in charge of a getaway car loaded with crafty criminals. Your job is to sneak the crooks around the maze, one at a time, avoid four colorful cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to See the original TV adescape so you can steal again another day. (Mattel [under license from Data East], 1982)

Memories: A fine translation of Data East’s arcade game, this cartridge – one of the earliest examples of a licensed coin-op title from Mattel – is let down by the maddening control problems of the dreaded disc controller. But audiovisually speaking, it was as close as one could get to the original, so I do have to award it some points there. Continue reading

Lost Luggage

Lost LuggageThe Game: Before the TSA, there was… a little pixellated stick man on your Atari. Using the joysticks, your job is to direct this hapless less line of airport defense to catch every piece of luggage before it hits the sides or bottom of the screen. Failure to do so will result in the contents of the luggage spilling out across the floor; on some difficulty settings, black suitcases appear containing explosives that’ll detonate if that case isn’t caught. As soon as the area is successfully cleared of luggage, there’s a moment to catch your breath before the next plane lands and the process begins again. (Games By Apollo, 1982)

Memories: As funny as the game’s programmer thought it’d be to stick bombs in his pixellated suitcases on certain settings, Lost Luggage is one of those games that means something completely different now than it did at the time of release. But unintentionally prophetic dark humor or not, it’s one of the better catch-everything-or-else games on the VCS. Continue reading

Loco Motion

Loco MotionThe Game: A train scoots around a twisty maze of tiles representing overpasses, turns, straightaways and terminals. One portion of the maze is blank, and a train will be lost if it hits that blank tile. You can move the blank tile and one adjacent tile around on the map – even if the train is in transit on that tile – in an effort to keep it moving around the maze, picking up passengers. (Passengers that the train can reach are smiley faces; passengers cut off from the main route are frowning.) If any passengers are cut off for an extended period of time, a monster begins wandering that route, and it’ll cost you a train if it comes in contact with your train. You may have to outrun it with the “speed” button in order to pick up the last passengers and clear the level to move on to a bigger maze. (Mattel [under license from Konami], 1982)

Memories: Mattel’s licensed adaptation of the extremely minor arcade hit by Konami is actually, believe it or not, an improvement in some areas on the arcade game. The graphic look isn’t one of those areas, but in a strange way, the Intellivision’s disc controller is more instinctive for the sliding-tile-puzzle game play of Loco Motion. Continue reading

Libble Rabble

Libble RabbleThe Game: In a peaceful garden dotted with a gridwork of posts, the player must simultaneously move two pointers, connected to each other by a tenuous string, to trap mobile mushrooms and pointy-hatted garden gnomes. If either pointer comes into contact with a gnome, a life is lost (and, for the record, it’s not the gnome’s life). A scissor-like critter occasionally crosses the screen, and he’s capable of severing the string; a new one instantly forms between the two pointers, but any progress that was made in creating a trap with the string is lost. When all of the creatures invading the player’s garden are trapped, the game begins again at a higher difficulty level; if all of the player’s lives are lost, or time runs out, the game is over. (Namco, 1983)

Memories: This interesting obscurity from Namco wouldn’t appear to have much historical significance, and it made little or no headway beyond Japan’s borders. What makes Libble Rabble at least a little bit significant is that it was the last arcade game design hurrah of Toru Iwitani, the creator of Namco’s global megahit Pac-Man. Continue reading

Laser Gates

Laser GatesThe Game: You’re piloting the Dante Dart through the innards of an enormous sentient computer. The computer was originally constructed to defend the galaxy, but now it’s gone haywire and is planning to destroy the galaxy instead. There’s only one problem with such a massive defense computer: its own internal defense See the videomechanisms. Blast through densepack columns and laser gates as they try to fry your ship, and watch out for laser turrets, “byte bats” and other menaces which will pursue you. Your Energy meter is depleted by constant firing, so make every shot count. And your Shield meter drops as you take hits from enemy fire or crash through the defenses with your ship – something you don’t want to do too much of, lest your mission end prematurely and fatally. (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: The scrolling sub-genre of flying through an enclosed space is hardly anything new for the 2600 (witness Atari’s own decent Vanguard translation, Super Cobra, Fantastic Voyage, etc.), but Laser Gates takes this task from a raw “try-not-to-get-killed” level to a puzzle of resource management and timing. Huge stretches of this game will go by where you don’t need to fire a single shot or do a lot of moving around. Continue reading

Lode Runner

Lode RunnerThe Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the holes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you happen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Broderbund, 1983)

Memories: Originally designed and programmed on the Apple II, Lode Runner impressed Broderbund enough that ports to other systems were a high priority. But a major difference in the control scheme for the Apple and Atari computers caused Lode Runner to lose something in translation. Continue reading

Lock ‘n’ Chase

Lock 'n' ChaseThe Game: You’re in charge of a getaway car loaded with crafty criminals. Your job is to sneak around the maze, avoid four colorful cops who are hot on your trail, and grab all the dough – and, of course, to escape so you can steal again another See the videoday. But the cops can trap you with a series of doors that can prevent you from getting away… (M Network [Mattel Electronics], 1983)

Memories: Released early in 1983, this version of Lock ‘N’ Chase further proves my “M Network theory,” which is as follows: somehow, no matter what hardware platform it’s on, an M Network game always winds up somehow looking like it’s a port of an Intellivision game. Not that this detracts from the fun factor of having a decent maze chase game on the Apple II, mind you. Continue reading

Lode Runner

Lode RunnerThe Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the See the videoholes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you happen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Broderbund, 1983)

Memories: Surely one of the “killer app” games of the early home computer era – right up there with anything in the Wizardry, Ultima or Infocom series – Lode Runner rocked my world way back when. I have to limit myself on praising this game, or this page is never gonna finish loading: it buries the needle on the excellence meters in both the action and puzzle genres, makes some of the best use ever of the Apple II’s hi-res graphics mode, and it even sounds good on the Apple (which is no small feat). Continue reading

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