Odyssey 100

Odyssey 100The Game: A simple version of video ping-pong; players use three knobs, one to control horizontal movement, one to control vertical See the videomovement, and a third to control the “English” or spin of the ball. (Magnavox, 1975)

Memories: Caught flat-footed by the success of Atari‘s Pong home console, Magnavox found itself struggling to hang onto the very market that Ralph Baer‘s original Odyssey console had created in the first place. Perhaps not surprisingly, Magnavox turned back to the Odyssey, not just for inspiration but to – at least in a limited fashion – put the machine back on the market. Continue reading

Odyssey 200

Odyssey 200Talk about upscale. The Odyssey 200, released not long after the Odyssey 100, added an extra game to the mix, bringing the machine’s built-in game total up to three. In addition to Tennis and Hockey/Soccer, the Odyssey 200 adds Smash, essentially a vastly simplified game of racquetball. (Magnavox seemed to feel that the extra game – and the slightly more sedate paint job on the casing – merited a whole new unit and model number.) Continue reading

Odyssey 300

Odyssey 300Taking Atari’s lead for the first time, the Odyssey 300 – in its bright yellow shell – saw the console abandoning the trio of horizontal/vertical/English controls that had been in place since the original Odyssey. In addition to mimicking the all-in-one controls of Atari’s Pong, Odyssey 300 – still boasting the standard Tennis, Hockey and Smash variations of its predecessors – introduced digital on-screen scoring. The Odyssey games were no longer reliant on the honor system: at 15 points, one player won the game. Continue reading

Odyssey 500

Odyssey 500With the same trio of games as the Odyssey 400 – Tennis, Hockey/Soccer and Smash – the Odyssey 500, released in 1976 by Magnavox, would appear See the videoto not be much of an upgrade, but in fact, it’s an absolutely critical turning point for home video games: the Odyssey 500 did away with squares and rectangles to represent the player, and introduced character sprites – hardware-generated characters that roughly mimicked the shape of a human being. Continue reading

Odyssey 2000

Odyssey 2000After the baffling backward step of the Odyssey 400, Magnavox’s Odyssey 2000 saw a return to the Pong-inspired, single-paddle control scheme, with digital scoring restored as well – Magnavox had decided to rest the Brown Box design (and the subsequent variations on it) permanently in favor of, once again, the General Instruments AY-3-8500 “Pong on a chip” processor. Packaged in a red casing, this would be the last anyone would see of the smoothly rounded-off, integrated Odyssey console. The next system to bear the name would return to its roots – with wired controllers that weren’t necessarily stuck to the main console – and look forward, with a futuristic new design that stands up even today. Continue reading

Odyssey 3000

Odyssey 3000It adds nothing to the Odyssey 2000’s “four action-packed video games,” but the Odyssey 3000 is a quantum leap in the design aesthetic of the console itself. Finally breaking away from the basic casing design that had been in place since the Odyssey 100, Odyssey 3000 packs four games (well, really just three plus a Tennis “practice mode”) into a sleek, futuristic-looking black wedge with highlights that almost anticipate – believe it or not – the look of the computer screens in Star Trek: The Next Generation (though to be more realistic, it may have been influenced by the design line of Atari’s Fuji logo). The controllers are detachable but hardwired, and nestle snugly into the console itself. Continue reading

Odyssey 4000

Odyssey 4000The final member of the Odyssey stand-alone console family tree, the Odyssey 4000 boasts more games than any of its predecessors since Ralph Baer’s original Odyssey, and was only the second of the dedicated Odyssey consoles to feature color (after the experimental Odyssey 500). And for those who have ever held the joystick of a Magnavox Odyssey2 in their hands, the Odyssey 4000 offers another familiar element – its joysticks are exactly the same mold as those of the Odyssey2, only rotated 90 degrees, and sporting some major differences in internal mechanisms. Though multidirectional, the joysticks are designed to favor vertical movement and offer some resistance to horizontal movement. Continue reading

Out Of This World! / Helicopter Rescue!

Out Of This World! / Helicopter Rescue!The Game: In this two-for-one game, you take to the skies in one of two different ways. Out Of This World! is a classic lunar lander game, in which you must balance your descent speed and your remaining fuel to make a safe landing on the surface of the moon, and then safely return to dock with your command module in orbit again. Helicopter Rescue! is a simplistic game in which you pilot a helicopter, trying to retrieve as many people as possible from a doomed hotel and take them safely to a nearby ground station. Precision and timing are of the essence. (Honestly, though, we never see what’s wrong with that hotel – there’s no evidence of fire, terrorists, massive fiddygibber infestations…) (Magnavox, 1979)

Memories: I grew up a space buff, and by the time this game came around – and keep in mind, kids, 1979 was only the tenth anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing – I thought it was so cool to have even a rudimentary spaceflight simulation on my state-of-the-art Odyssey2. Continue reading

Omega Race

Omega RaceThe Game: In an enclosed track in space, you pilot a sleek, lone space fighter up against an army of mine-laying opponents. In early rounds of the Omega Race, only a few minelayers activate at a time…but in later rounds, they all deploy their full arsenal at you at once, leaving you to dodge through a deadly maze in zero gravity while trying to turn to draw a bead on your opponents. You can bounce off of the walls of the track, but anything else is deadly to touch. (CBS Electronics, under license from Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Cashing in on Omega Race‘s cult following in arcades – it was Midway‘s direct response to the Newtonian physics of Atari‘s AsteroidsCBS gave its home version of Omega Race the dubious distinction of being playable only with the included Booster Grip joystick “enhancer” – and as many second-hand copies of Omega Race have circulated on the collectors’ market without the Booster Grip, some gamers have been scratching their heads in bewilderment. Continue reading

Oink!

Oink!Buy this gameThe Game: As one of the Three Little Pigs, your job is to make sure the bricks of your porcine pals’ dwelling is strong enough to withstand the assault of the Big Bad Wolf, whose tongue resembles that of some kind of poisonous frog (if he knocks a big enough hole in the pigs’ brick wall, he can fire his tongue through the opening and “sting” your pig…!?). The game continues until you repair the wall…or run out of little pigs. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: This amusing little gem from Activision seems to borrow a little bit from Taito‘s Zoo Keeper coin-op, in which one controls the zoo guru in question, trying to make sure that wild critters such as snakes and elephants stay bricked into their cages. At least the same basic game concepts seem to be shared.

Oink! is a hysterical little game whose deceptively cutesy 4 quarters!characters may have caught more than one player off guard – the game soon achieves a frantic pace. The three little pigs/big bad wolf elements are also present in Konami‘s Pooyan, in which Mama Pig fights back (and boy, does she look pissed!).

Oo-Topos (Apple II)

Oo-ToposThe Game: A prisoner awakens in a cell aboard an alien spaceship, parked on an unknown world. with nothing more than the meal that’s been provided and his wits, the prisoner has to escape his cell, overcome guards and automatic defense system , collect items that could help him escape his captors. The guards always seem to be just around the corner, always helpfully prepared to escort you back to your cell to start again… after a little bit of needless brutality, of course. (Polarware, 1987)

Memories: A former Infocom designer and programmer (Infidel, Suspended) who stuck around just long enough after Infocom’s acquisition by Activision to design Tass Times In Tonetown, Michael Berlyn became a freelancer after the slow-motion debacle that was the Activision/Infocom merger. One of his final Apple II games took him to Polarware (which had started out the 1980s as Penguin Software, makers of a nearly-ubiquitous Apple graphics toolkit called Graphics Magician), where he proceeded to remake one of his earliest pre-Infocom games. Continue reading

Off The Wall

Off The WallThe Game: A worm-like dragon taunts you from atop a multi-colored wall, one which you must topple to reunite your divided village. To accomplish this task, you must bounce hurled projectiles into the wall. Collecting power-ups along the way will affect the behavior of the projectile, from making it a weapon capable of wiping out See the videolarge portions of the wall to making it return to you repeatedly, like a boomerang. You advance to the next level by eliminating the wall. (Atari, 1989)

Memories: In the beginning, there was Breakout, a game which Atari itself cloned and put through endless permutations; even Warlords, a favorite among classic gamers everywhere, was a stepchild of Breakout and QuadraPong. Eventually, after turning out Breakout and its clones for the home video game market, Atari turned to other ideas. In the late 1980s, Taito unleashed Arkanoid – essentially an updated version of Breakout – and brought the breaking-down-brick-walls genre back into the public eye. Continue reading

One Piece Mansion

One Piece MansionOrder this gameThe Game: You control Polpo, the fleet-footed landlord of a bustling apartment building. Tenants come and tenants go, and as new ones move in you have to make sure they’re not getting on the nerves of their neighbors and potentially chasing away other paying tenants. You must also be wary of mischief-makers employed by a rival apartment complex, intruding on your property to drive your renters away. Successful management will lead to expansion of your apartment building, but losing track of what’s going on can leave you with an empty building, no matter how big it is. (Capcom, 2001)

Memories: In this era, where it seems like most new games fall into one of just a handful of popular genres (fighting, driving, first-person shooter, combat sim, etc.), it’s so refreshing to get a completely off-the-wall gem like this Japanese creation, which caught me completely off guard by (A) being translated to the U.S. market in the first place, and (B) being hilariously fun. The One Piece characters have a major cult following all their own in Japan, so this is just one of a series of games in that country. Over here, it’s a one-off oddity, but its simple, strategic, addictive style warrants repeat play. Continue reading

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