Monaco GP

Monaco GPThe Game: Players get behind the wheel of a roaring race car, viewed from overhead, as it navigates a series of roads and occasional tunnels whose width varies dramatically. Tunnels are illuminated only by See the videoheadlights, which means that collisions with other cars are, if not certain, then at least much more likely. Any collision results in the player’s car having to get into traffic again from a dead standstill at the side of the road. (Sega, 1979)

Memories: Monaco GP looks like just about any other overhead racing game, though it certainly upped the ante in terms of color. Its interesting take on the concept of “road widening” also made it uniquely frustrating and amusing at the same time. But as similar as it may seem to rest of the overhead-view racing games of its day, Monaco GP does hold one distinction in video game history. Continue reading

Math-A-Magic! / Echo!

Math-A-Magic! / Echo!The Game: Wow! We must be in the future, for we now have electronic flash cards! This is more or less the function fulfilled by Math-A-Magic, while Echo is a slightly watered down version of the classic See the videoelectronic game Simon. (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: This may sound a wee bit pretentious, but this “game” – at least the Math-A-Magic! side of things – was instrumental in me getting through some problems comprehending basic math many years ago in grade school. I’m still not a math wizard – I barely passed any applied or theoretical math classes beyond Algebra I in high school and college – but way back when, this actually helped. Who said that video games can’t change anyone’s life for the better? Continue reading

Major League Baseball

Major League BaseballThe Game: Play ball! Two teams play until they each accumulate three “outs” per inning. Try to hit the ball out of the park, or confound the outfielders with a well-placed hit none of them can catch. Steal a base if you’re feeling really brave – and then try to cover your bases as best you can when the other player tries all of these same strategies on you. (Mattel Electronics, 1979)

Memories: After Atari’s barely-there VCS baseball title Home Run, and the much better but still graphically simple Baseball! cartridge for the Odyssey2, Major League Baseball was a revelation. This was the moment, for many of us, when video sports games started to look like the sport they represented on home consoles. It almost redefined sports game sound too: the Intellivision has a good swipe at emulating the phrase “You’re out!” at the appropriate moment, an innovation which was nipped in the bud quickly by Mattel Electronics. Why? Continue reading

Magical Spot

Magical SpotThe Game: The good news: Darwin was right, evolution is a thing. The bad news: this does not work in your favor. You man a laser cannon trying to intercept alien insects making their way toward the bottom of the screen; at the most inconvenient times, the bugs revert to a pupal stage during which they’re either impossible to hit or invulnerable. They then emerge in a newer, faster, deadlier form bent on destroying you. (Universal, 1980)

Memories: Evolution is a pretty interesting idea to try to frame in the context of a game; almost without exception, it’s been used as an excuse for the game to suddenly make either the player’s enemies stronger and faster. The strangely titled Magical Spot – referring, perhaps, to the single-pixel points on the screen upon which enemy bugs can perch and shrink down to un-shootable size – is a prime example. Continue reading

Missile Command

Missile CommandBuy this gameThe Game: Tucked away safely in an underground bunker, you are solely responsible for defending six cities from a relentless, ever-escalating ICBM attack. Your three missile bases are armed with nuclear missiles capable of intercepting the incoming enemy nukes, planes and smart bombs. One nuke hit on any of your three launch bases will incapacitate that facility for the rest of your current turn, but one nuke See the videohit on any of your six cities will destroy it completely. (The only chance you have of rebuilding a city comes when a bonus city is awarded for every 10,000 points scored.) And when all six of your cities have been destroyed, the cataclysmic end of the world proceeds. Game over. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Possibly the first video game ever to register on the so-called moral compass, Atari’s Missile Command contained a strong, anti-nuclear message, arriving at the dawn of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. For those of you who weren’t alive at that time, here’s a little bit of historical context. Continue reading

Moon Cresta

Moon CrestaBuy this gameThe Game: As commander of the three-stage fighter rocket Moon Cresta, your job is to ward off endless varieties of evasively weaving space attackers. Every time you knock out two consecutive screens of assailants, you’ll have an opportunity to dock your ship to another one of Moon Cresta’s three stages, until all three See the videoportions of the ship are combined to create one bad-ass weapons platform. But you can also lose stages very quickly, ending your game – a bigger ship makes a bigger and easier target. (Sega/Gremlin [under license from Nichibutsu], 1980)

Memories: Moon Cresta had a very cool idea which was ripped off by a handful of its contemporaries – instead of giving the player a set number of “lives,” players had three rocket stages. Losing even one stage could seriously hamper your life expectancy in the game in later levels, and you could lose a stage to anything from enemy fire to not lining your stages up correctly during docking. This actually made Moon Cresta a very challenging game – but also a very fun one. Continue reading

Maze Craze (A Game Of Cops ‘N Robbers)

Maze CrazeBuy this gameThe Game: The goal of the game is simple: race through a twisty maze and beat your opponent to the exit. Some game variations adds randomly moving “robbers” to the maze, in some cases as prey and in other cases as hunters to be avoided. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: A fairly recent transplant from Fairchild, programmer Rick Maurer’s first game for the Atari VCS was pretty familiar to anyone who See the videohad been playing games on the Fairchild Channel F: it was essentially a port of the Channel F’s Maze game on the Atari console. Like its forebear, Maze Craze is a marvelously compact piece of coding, packed into a mere 2K. Like so many early titles for the 2600, it’s a lot of fun with the right crowd. Continue reading

Monkeyshines!

Monkeyshines!The Game: An elaborate game of tag, only the simian players have an advantage; human players, when tagged, must be “un-tagged” by the other player to return to the game. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: This was the first attempt to mine the “ladder-climbing” style of games – i.e. Donkey Kong for the Odyssey2, and it wasn’t all that successful. Oh, it had levels you could jump up or down on, and it had monkeys, but it wasn’t quite in the same genre. Continue reading

Mystery House

Mystery HouseThe Game: You find yourself outside an inviting two-story house, and when you go in, you find several people waiting for you – and that inviting front door suddenly locked behind you. When dead bodies turn up on the second floor and night See the videobegins to fall (hope you found the matches in the cupboard already!), it quickly becomes apparent that among the friendly faces of the first floor is a cold-blooded killer. (On-Line Systems, 1980)

Memories: The very first game released by a new company formed by husband-and-wife team Ken and Roberta Williams, Mystery House is the first in a series of “Hi-Res Adventures” combining simple graphics and text descriptions and actions. The “Hi-Res Adventures” series would grow to include titles licensed from Disney and the Jim Henson Company, and would even survive the Williams’ company’s transformation from On-Line Systems into Sierra On-Line. Continue reading

Make Trax

Make TraxThe Game: You play the part of a free-roaming paintbrush, trying to fill an entire maze with color. Unfortunately, a couple of equally free-roaming (and, apparently, amphibious) fish are out to stop you. You must avoid them at all costs. There are two rollers you can use to squish the fish, but they’re only found in two parts See the videoof the maze – and you can only roll them so far. Periodically, such things as kittens, cars, and mice will run through the maze, leaving tracks in your fresh paint which you must then cover up. You can also stop them dead in their tracks by running over them. (Don’t ask me why two fish are a threat to you when your paintbrush can ice a whole car.) Fill the maze with the pigment of your imagination, and you’re off to the next level. (Williams Electronics [licensed from Kural Electric], 1981)

Memories: One of Williams’ only non-shooter entries (and one of its few games licensed from Japan), it’s easy to see that Make Trax is inspired by Pac-Man, even though the connection is very cleverly covered. Instead of clearing a maze by eating everything in it, you clear the maze by painting it. This makes things a little harder than you might expect – every pixel of the maze has to be filled. In Pac-Man terms, this would be equivalent to the yellow one leaving crumbs in corners of the maze that have to be cleaned up. Messy eating metaphors aside, it makes Make Trax very challenging. Continue reading

Mouse Trap

Mouse TrapThe Game: In this munching-maze game (one of the dozens of such games which popped up in the wake of Pac-Man), you control a cartoonish mouse who scurries around a cheese-filled maze which can only be navigated by strategically opening and closing yellow, red and blue doors with their color-coded buttons. See the videoOccasionally a big chunk o’ cheese can be gobbled for extra points. Is it that easy? No. There is also a herd of hungry kitties who would love a mousy morsel. But you’re not defenseless. By eating a bone (the equivalent of Pac-Man‘s power pellets), you can transform into a dog, capable of eating the cats. But each bone’s effects only last for a little while, after which you revert to a defenseless mouse. (Exidy, 1981)

Memories: Though its seemingly Tom & Jerry-inspired food chain made a cat vs. mouse variation of Pac-Man virtually inevitable, Mouse Trap frustrated that potential with a complex control system – too complex, actually. Continue reading

Missile Command

Missile CommandSee the videoThe Game: Tucked away safely in an underground bunker, you are solely responsible for defending six cities from a relentless, ever-escalating ICBM attack. Your missile base is armed with three banks of nuclear missiles capable of intercepting the incoming enemy nukes, planes and smart bombs. One nuke hit on your base will incapacitate one bank of missiles for the rest of your current turn, but one nuke hit on any of your six cities will destroy it completely. (The only chance you have of rebuilding a city comes when a bonus city is awarded for every 10,000 points scored.) And when all six of your cities have been destroyed, the cataclysmic end of the world proceeds. Game over. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: After the runaway success of the licensed Space Invaders and its own in-house Asteroids translation, Atari started mining its own vaults for new cartridges – and Missile Command, the legendary Cold War video game that had given its designer nightmares about nuclear war, was a prime target. Continue reading

Muncher

MuncherThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, See the videolarge flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Bally, 1981)

Memories: 1981 was the year of Pac-Man fever, when everybody wanted to get the yellow gobbler on their console, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. Bally – having already tried to play fast and loose with licensing by releasing a dead-on accurate but unlicensed version of Galaxian under a different name – took another roll of the dice (appropriately for an outfit that also had a healthy stake in the casino business)…and lost. Continue reading

Mouskattack

MouskattackThe Game: Plumber Larry Bain is out to earn his hazard pay, trying to run pipes through a rat-infested maze. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that the rats are as big as he is. He can lay a limited number of traps in the maze that will temporarily stop the rats in their tracks so he can double back and eliminate them, but in the end Larry’s best chance of survival is to stay on the run and fill the maze with plumbing. (Sierra On-Line, 1981)

Memories: Cut from the same “let’s do Pac-Man but make it different enough from Pac-Man that we don’t get sued” cloth as his own Jawbreaker, John Harris strikes again with Mouskattack, which was actually advertised as being “by the author of Jawbreaker,” which may be one of the earliest instances of a game being advertised as something that should be bought on the strength of that programmer’s previous works. Continue reading

Millipede

MillipedeBuy this gameThe Game: Once more unto the breach, your garden of mushrooms is now under attack by a millipede, and the big bug’s even nastier insect entourage has come along too. The spiders, scorpions and fleas are now joined by mosquitoes and inchworms, among others. The only advantage you have? Occasional containers of DDT (can you tell this was the 80’s?) will allow you to wipe out all targets within a given radius…but use them wisely! (Atari, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Another rare Atari sequel – from a company that tended to at least try to stay away from repetition – Millipede of course picks up where Centipede left off – in the same garden, with lots of bugs. A major ad campaign kicked this one off, with Atari using the then-world-champion of Centipede as a spokesperson to verify that this game was, indeed, fun and challenging. Continue reading

Moon Patrol

Moon PatrolBuy this gameThe Game: Driving an agile, armed moon buggy across the lunar surface, you must jump over craters and land mines, shoot large boulders (some occasionally mobile) out of your way, and try not to be on the receiving end of hostile fire from alien ships that try to strafe you. Some of the ships, which look very suspiciously like See the videothe triangle-of-spheres enemy ships from Gyruss, can even bomb the moon and make new craters for you to jump over – which may put you right into their line of fire. Later on, you also get to blast away tanks and dodge pesky jet cars which “tailgate” and then try to ram you. (Williams Electronics [under license from IREM], 1982)

Memories: Moon Patrol is a cool game with an actual goal, and with that in mind, it shares a common trait with SNK’s Fantasy – a “continue game” feature which allows you to continue from your last position for just 25 cents more. Continue reading

Mr. Do!

Mr. Do!The Game: As the clownlike elfin dweller of a magic garden, you must avoid or do away with a bunch of nasty critters who are after you, while gobbling up as much yummy fruit as you can. (Taito [under license from Universal], 1982)

See the videoMemories: Mr. Do! is a curious chicken-or-the-egg case. Many elements of Mr. Do! are very similar to Dig Dug. However, Mr. Do! is a much more challenging game.

It was also one of the earliest entries from Universal, a company – unrelated to the Hollywood studio of the same name – whose business model appealed to arcade owners, but became a bugbear for competing arcade game manufacturers. Though Mr. Do! was sold as a standalone cabinet licensed through Taito, Universal’s primary product line was “kit games” – a kit with a new circuit board, marquee and cabinet artwork that could transform any cabinet with similar controls into Universal’s latest offering. Continue reading

Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-ManThe Game: As the bride of that most famous of single-celled omniphage life forms, your job is pretty simple – eat all the dots, gulp the large blinking dots in each corner of the screen and eat the monsters while they’re blue, and avoid the monsters the rest of the time. Occasionally various fruits and other foods will bounce through the maze, and you can gobble those for extra points. Every so often, just to give you Buy this gamea chance to relax, you’ll see a brief intermission chronicling the courtship of Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man (and a little hint at who the next game would star). (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: The first real sequel (excluding any altered pirate clones or enhancement kits for the original Pac-Man) in the Pac-Universe, Ms. Pac-Man added quite a few new twists to the original game without changing how it’s played. The new mazes, extra side tunnels (on some mazes), and bouncing fruit were about the only things that could be changed without drastically altering the game (though the later Jr. Pac-Man addition of a scrolling maze was interesting). Continue reading

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