Popeye

PopeyeThe Game: Well, blow me down! Popeye the sailor man gets his own video game. On level one, you’re trying to catch Olive Oyl’s falling hearts before they descend to sea level and are lost, while ducking Bluto’s punches at the same time. A can of spinach appears every so often, giving you the opportunity to read the big bully the riot act (comic strip-style, of course). On level two, the falling hearts are replaced by falling musical notes, and you’ll need Wimpy’s hefty help to keep Swee’Pea from drifting away on a balloon. (Nintendo, 1983)

Memories: A true licensing coup for relative newcomers Nintendo, this project hooked them up with the cartoon marketing savvy of King Features Syndicate (and don’t think for a moment that Nintendo didn’t soak up as much knowledge as it could to put to use on its next hot property, Mario Bros.) But even though it’s a well-loved and remembered game, it wasn’t Popeye’s first arcade outing. Continue reading

Professor Pac-Man

Professor Pac-ManThe Game: The denizens of Pac-Land must surely know how to do something other than just devour dots and munch monsters. And they learn from Professor Pac-Man himself, the dean of dot-gobblers. Professor Pac-Man poses questions See the videoof all kinds to you (and an opponent, if you have a second player), including visual recognition tests and matching puzzles. A Pac-Man gobbles a row of dots from left to right, counting down the seconds you have to correctly answer the question. Correct answers gain points and fruit, while incorrect answers will cost you. Lose more points than you have to spare, and the game’s over. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: This is one of those games where you can just picture someone in the marketing department saying “How can we exploit the Pac-Man license from Namco in a way that’s never been done before?” Video trivia games were nothing new, but the Professor Pac-Mantalent assembled to produce Professor Pac-Man was appropriately prodigious. Marc Canter and Mark Pierce, both Midway staffers, went on to form their own company in 1984 called MacroMind; a few changes in direction and a few strategic mergers later, MacroMind became none other than creativity software powerhouse Macromedia, and Canter and Pierce, along with longtime Midway veteran Jay (Gorf designer and Bally Astrocade console creator) Fenton, had a hit on their hands with a little software package called Director. You may have heard of it. Just about anyone who has ever slapped a Flash animation onto the web certainly has. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManThe 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, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an See the videoescalating score . 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… (Atarisoft, 1983; re-released by INTV Corp., 1984)

Memories: This version of the world’s most famous coin-op does not disappoint. It’s a little surprising that Atari could do a better Pac-Man for the Intellivision than it could for the VCS. And, not to insult Mr. Tod Frye, who programmed the 2600 version of Pac-Man, but the programmer of Atarisoft’s Intellivision translation of the game was someone who had previously worked for Mattel Electronics itself, and knew how to milk the most out of the machine’s graphics and sound capabilities. And what a difference it made! 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 they 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. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: One of the last Sega games to be released by a manufacturer other than Sega itself, the 2600 edition of Sega’s cutesy coin-op is pretty to look at sometimes, but doesn’t offer much in the way of game play. Continue reading

Pick Axe Pete

Pick Axe Pete - Odyssey3 versionThe Game: As Pete, you start out in the center of a multi-tiered mine – not at the bottom – and your boulder-smashing pick axe begins to deteriorate after about one minute. Then you either have to jump over or duck See the videounder the onslaught of falling rocks, or you’re toast. Falling to the lower levels won’t kill you, if you time it just right so as not to land right in the middle of an avalanche. When two boulders collide, they can uncover treasures such as a fresh pick axe or, more importantly, a key to the next level. (N.A.P., 1983)

Memories: Released in Europe only for the Videopac G7400 – the European hardware equivalent of the Odyssey3 – Pick Axe Pete is a good barometer of how the classic Odyssey2 games would’ve been “enhanced” for the ultimately unreleased Odyssey3. And when I say “enhanced”, I mean that very loosely. On the plus side: the game is untouched in and of itself, which is a good starting point. (I think I’ve made clear that I consider Pete the pinnacle of gaming on the O2.) Continue reading

Plaque Attack

Plaque AttackBuy this gameThe Game: One of the great dental scare games (also see Tooth Protectors and Jawbreaker), Plaque Attack pits you against tooth decay itself! Wave after wave of burgers, hot dogs, fries ‘n’ fruit assault a mouth with eight teeth in it (only eight? Something tells me this patient’s beyond help already), and you pilot a tube of toothpaste packing enough fluoride to blast them all into sparkly white oblivion – if you can keep up with all of them. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: It’s a weird topic for a game, but truth be told, that’s one of the many things I loved about the early era of video games: it wasn’t all fighting, driving, first-person shooter, RPG, flight sim or dancing. Anything was game (to coin a phrase). Now, in all honesty, Plaque Attack is little more than a rehash of Megamania (right down to the killer burgers) with a dash of Missile Command thrown in for good measure (if you’re doing well and survive a wave where you’ve lost teeth, you’ll actually get a tooth back). Continue reading

Popeye

PopeyeThe Game: Well, blow me down! Popeye the sailor man gets his own video game. As Popeye, you’re trying to catch Olive Oyl’s falling hearts before they descend to sea level and are lost, while ducking Bluto’s punches at the same time. See the videoA can of spinach appears every so often, giving you the opportunity to read the big bully the riot act (comic strip-style, of course). (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Well, shiver me timbers! It took me just shy of twenty years to get it, mateys, but this old landlubber has finally gotten his mitts on Popeye for the Odyssey2 – and blow me down, it’s seaworthy! Continue reading

Power Lords

Power LordsThe Game: As superhero Adam Power, you’re the pilot of a space sled on patrol around the explosive Volcan Rock, an active volcano which frequently blows its top. And what better cover for the bad guys? Gryptogg, Raygoth and See the videoArkus are perfecting their evil plans for a “gravitational ray” which basically amounts to a portable black hole – its gravity can alter the course of your space sled if you’re on a direct horizontal line-of-sight with it. Add to that meteors pummeling the ground from space and the enormous laser-eyed space serpent, and you’ve got your hands full just staying alive, let alone battling evil. (North American Philips, 1983)

Memories: So, friends, it all comes down to this – the last Odyssey2 game ever to hit the store shelves in the United States – and to tell you the truth, it’s a doozie. Power Lords is everything I ask for in a classic video game – a real numb-thumb, sweaty-palms experience that doesn’t let up. Continue reading

Popeye

PopeyeThe Game: Popeye the sailor man gets his own video game. On level one, you’re trying to catch Olive Oyl’s falling hearts before they descend to sea level and are lost, while ducking Bluto’s punches at the same time. A can of spinach appears every so often, giving you the opportunity to read the big bully the riot act (comic strip-style, of course). On level two, the falling hearts are replaced by falling musical notes, and you’ll need Wimpy’s hefty help to keep Swee’Pea from drifting away on a balloon. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: After you’ve seen a few of Parker Brothers’ 2600 games, a bit of a style begins to emerge: simple characters that dispense with trying to be too graphically elaborate, and instead settle for being a decent light-and-shadow silhouette of what they’re representing. Such was the case with Parker Brothers’ version of Q*Bert, and it’s also the case here. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionThe Game: It’s your big chance to qualify for an unspecified big race at a track near Mt. Fuji in Japan. First, you try to get through the qualifying heat, racking up laps around the track as fast you can and accumulating as few wrecks as possible. If you pass muster, then you get to try it again with other cars on the track! (Atari, 1983)

Memories: A reasonably faithful version of the then-megahit arcade game, this home port was actually very good considering the 2600’s graphics limitations. But it shared the arcade game’s repetitious nature, which made it a short-lived game which quickly depleted the novelty associated with its name. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss See the videoout on the subsequent race. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: When Atari announced its home versions of Pole Position, its first-person racer licensed from Namco, there was rejoicing (for the 5200 version) and scoffing (for the 2600 version). As it turns out, both expectations may have been off the mark: the 2600 version was unexpectedly good for what it was, and by comparison the 5200 version seems at times as though it’s not all it could have been. Maybe the biggest surprise is that these two interpretations of the game weren’t wildly different. Continue reading

Popeye

PopeyeThe Game: Well, blow me down! Popeye the sailor man gets his own video game. On level one, you’re trying to catch Olive Oyl’s falling hearts before they descend to sea level and are lost, while ducking Bluto’s punches at the same time. A can of spinach appears every so often, giving you the opportunity to read the big bully the riot act (comic strip-style, of course). On level two, the falling hearts are replaced by falling musical notes, and you’ll need Wimpy’s hefty help to keep Swee’Pea from drifting away on a balloon. (Parker Brothers, 1983)

Memories: Possibly the most faithful home version of Nintendo’s game about a certain sailor man there is, Popeye for the ColecoVision does this game proud. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss out on the subsequent race. (GCE, 1983)

See the videoMemories: When GCE (and, briefly, the eager-to-get-into-the-video-game-business Milton Bradley) debuted the Vectrex, any argument that there was another system better-suited for home ports of arcade vector graphics games was over, period. With willing licensing partners like Cinematronics, Vectrex was a shoo-in. There’s only one problem: by 1983, vector graphics were rapidly falling out of wide use as more advanced raster graphics technology, driven by faster processors, came into play. What games would Vectrex play then? Continue reading

Pressure Cooker

Pressure CookerBuy this gameThe Game: The orders are flying fast and furious. The customers are waiting. The clock is ticking. And you’re the only short-order cook in the kitchen. Your job is simple: arrange a series of hamburgers with ingredients indicated by the symbols at the bottom of the screen. Don’t waste any condiments if you can help it, and whatever you do, don’t make a burger with toppings and condiments and then drop it into the wrong delivery chute. If you fill all the orders correctly in the time allotted, you might just get promoted to manager…but chances are, you’ll have to do it all again, only faster this time. (Activision, 1983)

See the videoMemories: This jewel of a game was the second Activision release for Garry Kitchen, who would later bring himself – and Activision – acclaim for a computer program called Game Maker. But for now, Kitchen had recently signed up, along with his brother, as the east coast branch of a company who – along with any other video game company that expected to stay in business – was decidedly located on the west coast. He already had a solid pedigree in the form of a slightly obscure shoot-’em-up, Space Jockey, published by Vidtec (later known as U.S. Games), and a little best-seller called Donkey Kong. He had also been one of the engineers responsible for the very popular miniature electronic pinball game, Wildfire. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManThe 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… (Atarisoft, 1983)

Memories: Having spent the better part of a year suing nearly every Pac-Man clone off the home video game market, Atari finally released its own version of the game for several consoles and home computer systems, including the TI 99/4a. TI had already released its own first-party take on the basic play mechanics of Pac-Man, Munch Man, which is generally considered one of the better arcade-style games released by TI itself. So did Atari’s “official” Pac-Man live up to its competition on the TI? Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManThe Game: As a round white 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 for an escalating score. 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… (Atarisoft, 1983)

Memories: Atari came by the code for its Apple II version of Pac-Man by the same means used by pirates of the high seas: they vanquished their foes and took their booty. Continue reading

Pogo Joe

Pogo JoeThe Game: Pogo Joe has a pogo stick, a screen full of barrels whose colors need to be changed to the same target color, and a bunch of bouncy enemies too. Players guide Joe from barrel to barrel, sometimes requiring a big bounce if a barrel isn’t immediately adjacent to Joe’s current location, avoiding enemy creatures who are out to get him. Joe advances to the next level when the color of every barrel on the screen has been changed. A limited number of barrels per level act as a kind of “smart bomb” – landing on them wipes out all of Joe’s enemies temporarily (though they quitely repopulate the screen). (Screenplay, 1983)

Memories: An obvious riff on the basic game play of Q*Bert, Pogo Joe rewrites the DNA of the original game more significantly than most knock-offs: the shape of the playing field changes from level to level (a trick that Q*Bert borrowed back when it made the jump to Game Boy Color), the cubes have become cylindrical barrels (and nicely drawn ones too, whether on the Atari computers or the Commodore 64), and in a few spectacularly frustrating screens, the barrels disappear completely, leaving the player with an almost unplayable screen if they haven’t planned their moves very, very carefully. In some ways, Pogo Joe is a game that Q*Bert experts could graduate to once they’ve mastered a pyramid of cubes. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-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… (Atarisoft, circa 1983 [never released])

Memories: There are only so many ways you can really slice Pac-Man, but this unreleased ColecoVision edition – unearthed just in time for the 2001 Classic Gaming Expo – is one of the better ones. Continue reading

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