Pong

PongBuy this gameThe Game: Avoid missing ball for high score.

(No, really!) (Atari, 1972)

See the videoMemories: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? And who hatched that egg (or fried that chicken) first – Atari founder Nolan Bushnell or inventor Ralph Baer, who licensed to Magnavox his concept for a dedicated video tennis game that could be hooked up to a TV set? Continue reading

Pinball

Odyssey2 Pinball cartridge signed by Ralph BaerThe Game: A virtual pinball machine is presented, complete with flippers, bumpers, and the ability to physically “bump” the table to influence the motion of the ball. Per standard pinball rules, the See the videoobject of the game is to keep the ball in play as long as possible. (Ralph Baer, 1978 – unreleased prototype)

Memories: Ralph Baer’s Pinball, released to the public on cartridge at the 2001 Classic Gaming Expo, was never intended to be a commercially released title. Instead, it’s a tech demo of sorts, a “rough sketch” example of what kind of games Magnavox’s still-in-development Odyssey2 system would be capable of. There are no special graphics to represent the various elements of the game; the bumpers are simply the letter O, and the flippers are forward and backward slashes. Continue reading

Polo

PoloThe Game: Climb onto your trusty four-legged ride for a good old fashioned game of horse hockey. Try to knock the ball into your opponent’s goal, but don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t defend your own. (Atari, 1978)
See the video
Memories: One of the earliest Atari VCS games to go unreleased, Polo was never intended for general release as its own game; rather, plans were apparently afoot within Atari to offer the game as a premium giveaway item to buyers of Ralph Lauren’s recently-introduced Polo cologne. (If that sounds a little difficult to believe, keep in mind that, in its early heyday, the $200 VCS was very much a high-end luxury item – not unlike Ralph Lauren’s products.) Continue reading

Pachinko!

Pachinko!The Game: In a game that bears some slight resemblence to a Japanese offshoot of pinball, you control – for lack of a better description – a man stuck in a gigantic Pachinko playing field. You attempt to keep your ball in play, scoring points as often as possible by landing the ball in one of five cups marked with a point value – some targets can score zero points, others as high as ten. The other player – either a human being or the computer – can temporarily take over your ball by touching it, just as you can with theirs. (There’s nothing quite like making someone else’s balls work for you.) And a third man roams the playing field as well, grabbing your…well, let’s start that again. If the computer-controlled third man grabs a ball in mid-flight, he’ll relaunch it in a random direction, maybe to you, maybe to your opponent. Whoever accumulates 100 points first wins. (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: Hey, we do requests here at Phosphor Dot Fossils, and this one’s overdue. A reader recently wrote to remind me that the Pachinko! review has been “coming soon” for a dog’s age, and wanted to know if “soon” was getting any sooner. I’m glad he wrote in, for I discovered that I had never actually played this game. I’ve had the cartridge sitting on my shelf forever, but I hadn’t plugged it in until now. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManBuy this gameThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). See the videoPeriodically, 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/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

Memories: It began in 1979 when a young Namco game designer named Toru Iwitani made his fourth video game. Fascinated with pinball, Iwitani had created a series of games combining pinball physics with Breakout-style brick-busting elements, and while Gee Bee, Bomb Bee and Cutie Q were moderate successes for Namco, enough to keep Iwitani employed and developing new titles, the designer himself was finally ready to move beyond video pinball. Cutie Q was one of the first hints as to Toru Iwitani’s next project, with its colorfully cartoony monsters. With a small team of developers at his disposal, Iwitani – supposedly inspired by the shape of a pizza with one slice removed – set about creating a new game with nearly universal appeal. Continue reading

Phoenix

PhoenixThe Game: In a heavily armed space fighter, your job is pretty simple – ward off wave after wave of bird-like advance fighters and Phoenix creatures until you get to the mothership, and then try to blow that to smithereens. All of which would be simple if not for the aliens’ unpredictable kamikaze dive-bombing patterns. The See the videoBuy this gamePhoenix creatures themselves are notoriously difficult to kill, requiring a direct hit in the center to destroy them – otherwise they’ll grow back whatever wings you managed to pick off of them and come back even stronger. (Taito, 1980)

Memories: Phoenix is one of my two favorite games to emerge from the shooting game genre which emerged from the success of Taito’s own Space Invaders. Most shooter games involve chance, luck, and precious little skill, and very few of them give you the chance to try to work out any kind of strategy. Two exceptions I can think of are Midway’s Galaga and this game. Continue reading

“Popeye” Pac-Man

Popeye Pac-ManThe Game: As a yellow sailor man consisting of a head and nothing else (jaundice was really bad in those days), 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, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. 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… (unknown bootleg manufacturer, 1980)

Memories: When Pac-Man took off into the stratosphere, there were two ways that everyone who happened to not be licensed to distribute Pac-Man coped: they made games that played, if not looked, very similar (Lock ‘n’ Chase, Thief, Mouse Trap), or they just flat out copied Pac-Man, making ridiculously insignificant cosmetic changes (Hangly Man, Piranha, and this game). The bootleggers of the latter category, in skipping that pesky development and R&D process involved in creating something original, cashed in by getting their games on the street first. Continue reading

PBA Bowling

The Game: Your own digital ten-pin alley awaits by way of the Intellivision. Line up your shots on two axes, and then let it fly; you still havepportunity to exert a certain amount of control on the ball as it rolls down the alley, presumably by Intellivision psychokinesis, and a split-screen view allows you to see the result of your play. You even get to see the ball return bring you ball back to you for the next play. (Mattel Electronics, 1980)

Memories: Before the Intellivision Bowling cartridge came along, video bowling games all seemed to be cut from the same cloth: an overhead view of the alley, and very minimal control of your bowling ball. The thing is, even with a horizontally-oriented display, this resulted in a lot of wasted screen space, and nothing that was in any danger of being a satisfying gaming experience. Mattel‘s in-house team took their cues not from those earlier games, but from television bowling coverage. Continue reading

Pocket Billiards!

Pocket Billiards!The Game: You’ve gotta have balls if you’re going to play this game – lots of ’em. Multicolored ones too. The game is pool, and you use the joystick to rotate your stick around the cue ball, trying to angle for the perfect shot. Whatever you do, See the videodon’t sink the cue ball! (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: Sometimes I feel the same way about simulating pool in a video game as I feel about trying to simulate pinball in a video game. The physics aren’t impossible to simulate, but there’s something about them here that just isn’t right – be prepared for some randomness as you watch your balls go careening around the table (that doesn’t sound right either, come to think of it). Continue reading

Piranha

PiranhaThe Game: As a butt-ugly fish, you maneuver around a simple undersea maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful squids who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters See the videofor a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The squids, 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… (“GL”, 1981)

Memories: Journey back with us now to the first two years of the eighties, when Pac-Man ruled the coin-op video game roost, where arcade owners’ demand for the prized Pac-Man machines was high, where players’ skill at winning was increasing and their repeat business was proportionately dwindling, and everyone wanted a piece of that little yellow pie. Continue reading

Pleiades / Pleiads

Pleiads or PleiadesThe Game: Earth is under attack, but due to defense spending cutbacks (how much planetary defense can you buy for a quarter?), you’re the pilot of the only vessel responding to the emergency. Try to fend off Buy this gameseveral darting waves of alien ships which are attempting to bomb your base. Some of them may briefly land, wreaking even more havoc, and as you may have guessed, all of them will be firing at you. After you’ve secured Earth, you blast off into deep space to take on a wave of larger, more vicious attackers, and then an assault on a heavily armed alien mother ship. Once you’ve vanquished this foe, you’ll be called back to Earth again – it seems the aliens can’t take a hint. Once you’ve maneuvered your way through the landing runway and lined yourself up to fight the next wing of invaders, the battle begins anew. (Centuri [under ilcense from Tehkan], 1981)

Memories: A rather obscure shoot-’em-up, Pleaides (or Pleiads, as the game proclaims on its monitor, at odds with the cabinet artwork) almost looks like a sequel to Phoenix, though Pleiades originated from a different company. It’s a safe bet that the part of the game best remembered by arcade-goers back in the day is the final stage before the game begins again, the runway screen. You can’t shoot anything, you can only avoid it – and let’s face it, it’s pretty embarrassing if you get yourself splattered in a situation where you have no enemies. Continue reading

Puck-Man

Puck ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). 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… (Deluxe, 1981)

Memories: Journey back with us now to the first two years of the eighties, when Pac-Man ruled the coin-op video game roost, where arcade owners’ demand for the prized Pac-Man machines was high, where players’ skill at winning was increasing and their repeat business was proportionately dwindling, and everyone wanted a piece of that little yellow pie. Continue reading

Pulsar

PulsarThe Game: You control a tank – though it seems like an awfully tiny one – zipping through a maze teeming with enemies. Three color-coded keys are tucked away in a corner, and after grabbing one of these keys you must fight your way past enemy forces to open the corresponding lock. The process must be repeated until all of the keys on a given level have been used, allowing you to travel to the next portion of the maze – where more keys, more locks and more enemies await. Additionally, shooting some enemies may have an effect on your tank’s speed, causing it to move event faster through the maze (and potentially face-first into trouble) or slowing it down to the point where it’s a nearly defenseless target for the enemy. (Sega, 1981)

Memories: Somewhere between Tank! and Mouse Trap lies Pulsar, an intriguing and oddly compelling hybrid of game elements. If you missed this one in the arcade, don’t worry: you weren’t alone. Given the surfeit of maze games that were marketed to amusement operators as a cure for the epidemic of Pac-Man fever, there were a lot of games that looked like Pulsar. Besides, in 1980, cute was king, slide-and-shoot derivatives of Space Invaders were still “in,” and tank games that happened not to be Battlezone were so 1974. Continue reading

Pinball

PinballBuy this gameThe Game: It’s a game of video pinball where you can even bump the table to influence the ball’s path. You can even launch the ball into a second level to score big bonus points. Just don’t let it slide out of the reach of your flippers… (Mattel Electronics, 1981)

See the videoMemories: As a rule, I don’t do the video pinball thing. You can look throughout Phosphor Dot Fossils and you’ll find very few big thumbs-up for video pinball. But so help me, Pinball on Intellivision is rather fun. It takes into account some of the physics (though far from all) involved in a pinball table, even the external factors such as the good old-fashioned, time-honored bump-the-machne maneuver. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Coleco Pac-ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small yellow dots and evading four monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of See the TV adthe screen, red power pellets enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. 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… (Coleco, 1981)

Memories: When Atari’s VCS translation of the immensely popular Pac-Man debuted to almost universal scorn, Coleco’s marketing division must have cheered. The market was primed for a good game of Pac-Man, and with the first in its line of licensed “mini-arcades,” Coleco had just the ticket every kid was looking for. Continue reading

Pac-Man Plus

Pac-Man PlusThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). 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/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Admittedly this wasn’t an especially unique game, but it does have an interesting history. Continue reading

Pengo

PengoThe Game: As a cute, fuzzy, harmless little penguin, you roam around an enclosed maze of ice blocks. If this sounds too good to be true – especially for a polar-dwelling avian life form – that’s because you’re not the only critter waddling around in the frozen tundra. Killer Sno-Bees chase little Pengo around the ice, and if See the videothey catch up to him and sting him, it’ll cost you a life. But your little flightless waterfowl isn’t completely defenseless. Pengo can push blocks of ice out of the maze, changing the configuration of the playing field and squashing Sno-Bees with a well-timed shove. Clearing the field of Sno-Bees allows you to advance to the next level. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: This is almost a painfully cute game. Cute, fuzzy characters (both good and bad) waddle around the screen, and even if Pengo gets caught by the Sno-Bees, his little dance of defeat is cute. If you win a few levels, a multicolored lineup of penguins do a little Rockettes-style dance for you. But despite the tooth-rotting overabundance of sweetness, Pengo was a very addictive little game. Continue reading

Pepper II

3-D computer rendering of Pepper II cabinetThe Game: You’re a little angel (of sorts). You run around a maze consisting of zippers which close or open, depending upon whether or not you’ve already gone over that section of the maze. Zipping up one square of the maze scores points for you, but it gets trickier. Little devils chase you See the videoaround the maze, trying to kill you before you can zip up the entire screen. If you zip up enough of the maze and grab a power-pellet-like object, you can dispatch some of your pursuers. Clear the screen and the fun begins anew. (Exidy, 1982)

Memories: Once again, the gang at Exidy tries a new twist on the maze game. Sometimes they rock (as with the adventure game Venture – starring Winky! TM, pat. pend.), and sometimes they reek (Mouse Trap, anyone?). This one…this one’s just weird. It’s Amidar weird, and truthfully, the two games are exceedingly similar. There’s not much rationale for the whole thing – angels and devils trying to zip or unzip a maze made out of zippers? Ooooooookay! Continue reading

  • IP Disclaimer

    All game names, terminology, logos, screen shots, box art, and all related characters and placenames are the property of the games' respective intellectual property holders. The articles herein are not intended to infringe upon their copyright in any way. The author(s) make no attempt - in using the names described herein - to supercede the copyrights of the copyright holders, nor are these articles officially sanctioned, licensed, or endorsed by the games' creators or publishers.