Rebound

ReboundThe Game: Live in glorious black & white, it’s the first-ever game of video volleyball! Two players square off – well, okay, rectangle off – against each other as horizontal Pong paddles situated on either side of a dotted-line “net.” The ball drops out of mid-air toward one player or the other, who must move into See the videoplace to (hopefully) bounce the ball into the right direction. It may take a couple of tries to get the ball over the net, but don’t let it take three bounces or you forfeit a turn (and a point). (Atari, 1973)

Memories: Created on a hardware with a very similar architecture to that of Pong, Rebound was Atari’s first attempt to think outside the Pong box. Obviously, there are similarities: Pong paddles stand in for volleyball players, and the ball and “net” graphics are familiar enough to anyone who’s ever laid eyes on Pong. But where Pong only needed to simulate artificial action and reaction, Rebound actually has a tougher job: simulating real live gravity. But Rebound‘s gravity is a bit unpredictable and not quite authentic. Sure, volleyballs have been known to go astray, but Sir Isaac Newton would be left reeling by Rebound‘s first-ever video game simulation of real physical laws. Continue reading

Rally-X

3-D computer rendering of Rally-X cabinetThe Game: Go, Speed Racer, go! (Well, almost.) As the driver of a high-powered race car, you rocket around corners and down straightaways, trying to pick up every yellow flag in the maze-like course and avoiding deadly collisions with pursuing red cars. Watch out for rocks and oil spills, and use your smokescreen See the videoBuy this gameonly when necessary to distance yourself from the red cars. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1980)

Memories: Namco released Rally-X at the same time as Pac-Man, and like Pac-Man, Namco licensed Rally-X to Midway. In fact, the major buzz at that year’s AMOA (Amusement Machine Operators’ Association) annual trade show – where arcade owners tried to figure out which would be the hottest new games to buy for their establishments – was for this dandy little racing/maze game, and Pac-Man was considered an also-ran, perhaps a little too abstract for the U.S. market. Continue reading

Radar Scope

Radar ScopeThe Game: Why is it that, when aliens invade the Earth, you’re the only person on call? Doesn’t the front office have a more recent phone list? At any rate, wave after wave of aliens attack, dive-bombing you repeatedly and – providing See the videoyou don’t blast them out of the sky – rejoining their formations to attack anew. These aliens are a particularly nasty breed, as they can fire while diving and retreating. If you can clear the screen of extraterrestrial nasties, the invasion begins again. Are you getting overtime for all this alien-blasting? What are the benefits like? (Nintendo, 1980)

Memories: A pretty obscure entry from Nintendo, this 1980 rip-off of Galaxian adds some cool touches, such as the odd perspective which barely hints at 3-D, and the turning, tumbling alien ships. When one considers that Zaxxon was at least two years away with its primitive (but at the time impressive) isometric graphics, Radar Scope‘s obscurity is not well-deserved. Continue reading

Red Baron

Red BaronThe Game: Take to the sky for some biplane battle with Baron von Richtoven himself! In a combat environment where banking too sharp can either be a daring maneuver or certain doom, your mission is to take out as many enemies as you can See the videoBuy this gamebefore you yourself accumulate too many bullet holes in the sides of your biplane. Dirigibles also make tempting targets and, for the truly daring, there are land-based tanks nestled near mountains and civilian homes. The game is over when the last of your planes is shot down. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Emboldened by their first-person tank combat simulator Battlezone, Atari also set out to create the first ever first-person flight combat simulator. (Presumably this fascination with first-person combat sims predated Atari’s shotgun wedding with the U.S. Army that resulted in the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle Trainer.) And lest you think there’s no connection between Battlezone and Red Baron, take a close look at that cabinet – it’s exactly the same design as the Battlezone cabinet, minus the periscope-style viewer and second joystick. Continue reading

Rock Climber

Rock ClimberThe Game: You control a daredevil stunt climber on his trip up the side of a steep mountain, using no ropes, no nets, and nothing but his hands and his feet. Obstacles such as a large purple bear, pesky monkeys and waterfalls can cause you to plunge to your death several hundred feet below. (Taito, 1981)

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Memories: Imagine, for a moment, Crazy Climber, only with less fun and more frustration. That, in a nutshell, is a fairly accurate description of Taito’s Rock Climber, obviously an offshoot of Crazy Climber, which they had licensed from Nitsibushu. Instead of climbing a building, now your climber – still guided with two joysticks – is now trying to scale a mountain, plagued by annoying monkeys and deadly purple bears. (The bears probably wouldn’t be all that mean, except that they’re overcompensating for being what must seem to a bear to be an embarrassing shade of purple.) Continue reading

Reactor

ReactorThe Game: In a bizarre combination of pinball, zero gravity, and nuclear physics, you pilot your “ship” around a reactor chamber, trying to eliminate rogue radioactive particles (which are about the same size as your ship). Anything touching the outer walls of the chamber will be destroyed, including your on-screen alter ego. Two pairs of See the videofive rods can be used to cool down the ever-expanding nuclear reaction at the center of the screen, but you can only push the rods in by bumping the particle into them head-on. Trapping particles in either of two cul-de-sacs in the upper right and lower left corners of the playing field will earn you bonus points, and the best way to accomplish this is to plant one of your limited number of decoys at the entrance to one of the smaller areas. In early levels, you can keep your back to the reactor and hug it as you bounce the particles off of it, but in later levels, the reactions are exposed and become just as deadly to you as to the walls are. (Gottlieb, 1982)

Memories: A decidedly weird but incredibly addictive game. You may find yourself spending ages on it before you know it, and getting better and better at the game. This is a game which would probably be a hit in a graphically updated edition – providing the game play was left as is. Then again, adding detailed graphics would probably rob Reactor of a lot of its mystique. Continue reading

Robotron: 2084

Computer-simulated view of Robotron cabinetBuy this gameThe Game: In the year 2084, all hell has broken loose on Earth. Robotic servants, created to perform dangerous tasks and defend their human creators, have decided they can do without their masters. The robots have evolved into new and terrifying varieties – the ever-multiplying Ground Roving UNit Terminators (GRUNTs), See the videoindestructible Hulks, self-replicating Quarks and Tanks, and most horrfying of all, the Brain robots, which capture humans and reprogram them into super-fast killing machines. And the only thing protecting the last remaining survivors of homo sapiens is your strength, endurance and cunning (and the multi-directional weaponry helps too). (Williams Electronics, 1982)

Memories: Hands-down one of the most challenging and addictive games of all time, Robotron: 2084 was a brilliant masterpiece of design and engineering. The sounds were unearthly, the graphics, though simple, were easy to interpret, and the two-joystick control scheme (one for moving your character, the other for firing your lasers in any direction) is what the phrase “sweaty palms” was invented for. Sheer genius! Continue reading

Racquetball

RacquetballThe Game: One or two players try to keep a ball in motion in an enclosed space; standard racquetball rules apply. (Games By Apollo, 1982)

Memories: As discussed earlier in our review of Skeet Shoot, Games By Apollo was the first third-party game software supplier for the Atari 2600 founded by a speculator with no prior ties to the video game industry. Skeet Shoot, Apollo’s first game, was rushed out as quickly as possible, whereas programmer Ed Salvo had a little more time to roll out Racquetball, and the graphical difference is huge. Continue reading

Ram It!

Ram It!The Game: Controlling the on-screen “ramroid,” you’re up against what appears to be a malevolent bar graph. Your job is to keep the colorful bars from reaching the center of the screen from the left and right sides of the playing field; once they reach the center, you can’t eliminate them unless you’re playing a game variation where they might randomly become flashing “bonus” bars that can be eliminated with a single shot. If two bars meet at the center of the screen, they form an inpenetrable barrier that traps you above or below them. A round ends when the timer runs out (it counts down from 5000), when you’ve eliminated the last oncoming bar from the screen that you can reach, or – preferably – when you completely clear the screen of those bars. (Telesys, 1982)

Memories: This is a game that shouldn’t work in terms of being entertaining, but it does. This is a game that, by 1982, was certainly graphically behind the times, but it still works. Ram It! is a seemingly simple game that is nothing short of a maddening addiction for me – I’m always compelled to hit the reset switch again, to try and do better one more time. Perhaps the best description of it would be “Breakout from both ends,” but that just sounds wrong somehow. Continue reading

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Raiders Of The Lost ArkThe Game: You’re guiding a pixellated rendition of famed adventurer Indiana Jones as he embarks on his search for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Meander through Middle Eastern marketplaces, obtain weapons and items of value, and watch out for snakes as you try to overcome a series of obstacles and hazardous environments, find the clues, and recover the Ark. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: One of the two movie licenses that landed on programmer Howard Scott Warshaw’s desk, the Atari 2600 game Raiders Of The Lost Ark is a near-perfect specimen of an adventure game on this console: it makes sense from reading the manual, but in practice, the way in which the game’s various settings and characters interlock and interact is almost abstract. Maybe this is one of those games where I’m just not getting the point, but I’ve always wondered why E.T. is held up as an example of what not to do with a 2600 game, and Raiders is held up as an example of a great game – to me, they’re almost identical. Continue reading

Reactor

ReactorThe Game: In a bizarre combination of pinball, zero gravity, and nuclear physics, you pilot your “ship” around a reactor chamber, trying to eliminate rogue radioactive particles (which are about the same size as your ship). Anything touching the outer walls of the chamber will be destroyed, including your on-screen alter ego. Two pairs of five rods can be used to cool down the ever-expanding nuclear reaction at the center of the screen, but you can only push the rods in by bumping the particle into them head-on. Trapping particles in either of two cul-de-sacs in the upper right and lower left corners of the playing field will earn you bonus points, and the best way to accomplish this is to plant one of your limited number of decoys at the entrance to one of the smaller areas. In early levels, you can keep your back to the reactor and hug it as you bounce the particles off of it, but in later levels, the reactions are exposed and become just as deadly to you as to the walls are. (Parker Brothers, 1982)

Memories: A game attempt at translating Gottlieb‘s sleeper hit coin-op, Reactor for the Atari 2600 may lose some of its first audiovisual grain in the translation, but it’s still Reactor – well, kinda. The rockin’ music is mangled (though I have to give the programmers of the 2600 port some points for the effort of even trying to mimic it), and its free-roaming action was never intended to be confined to the clumsy control of a joystick. (Though after playing Reactor with the Wico Command Control trakball, I still have to say that this is a long way off from playing Reactor in the arcade with a trakball.) Continue reading

River Raid

River RaidBuy this gameThe Game: You’re piloting a fighter jet on a canyon run through enemy territory. You can’t fly outside the canyon walls, so stay over the river and blast everything in sight. Well, almost everything – flying your plane on top of “FUEL” buoys instead of shooting them puts a little bit of gas in the tank, and if you run out of fuel, you might as well just swallow the next enemy bullet, because you’re goin’ down. (Activision, 1982)

Memories: As you advance through the levels and it gets more challenging, River Raid becomes the same kind of balancing act between self-preservation and going on the See the TV adSee the videooffensive that is a hallmark of all-time classics like Robotron. River Raid was the brainchild of Activision programmer Carol Shaw, one of the small number of women who had a vital hand in the early video game industry (such as Carla Meninsky, programmer of numerous early Atari 2600 titles, and Dona Bailey, an Atari arcade programmer who co-designed Centipede). And yet River Raid is a shoot-’em’-up that’ll challenge any hardcore joystick jock. Continue reading

Room Of Doom

Room of DoomThe Game: One man and one hideous mutant creature enter! A bunch of guys peek through holes in the walls and shoot at them! No one leaves! Room Of Doom turns the player into a gladiator, trapped in an enclosed arena with alien creatures. The rules are simple: kill or be killed. The only problem is that it’s always audience participation night: armed guards around the periphery of the arena will open doors at random and fire into the arena. With a well-timed shot before the doors slide shut, the player can do away with these extraneous attackers too. Only by eliminating all of the guards can the player advance to the next level. (Commavid, 1982)

Memories: One of those games that doesn’t exactly look sophisticated but is actually kind of addictive, Room Of Doom was heavily promoted by Commavid back in the day by way of an extensive print advertising campaign in the major video game magazines. Those print ads concentrated more on the stylized packaging artwork than the game graphics themselves, which was probably wise, but Room Of Doom is no slouch when it comes to pure fun. Continue reading

Rocky’s Boots

Rocky's BootsThe Game: Rocky is trying to build machines to kick stuff. He provides players with a number of connectors and components, and shows them how they can be used to achieve See the video!different tasks. (The Learning Company, 1982)

Memories: Fresh from leaving Atari and then taking a vacation, game designer and programmer Warren Robinett was ready to get back into the game, literally. But he had languished in anonymity at Atari as one of the last holdouts at a time when many of the company’s original pool of programming talent was defecting to Activision and Imagic; when Robinett returned to game making, he’d do it on his own terms. Continue reading

Rabbit Transit

Rabbit TransitThe Game: Oh, it’s just a harmless little bunny, isn’t it? But this bunny needs some help to navigate a garden crawling with other critters to reach his ride to find his family (in this case, on the back of a See the videoturtle). The turtle takes the bunny to a series of platforms. The bunny needs to change the color of every platform – and avoid projectiles being dropped from above – to rescue his fellow bunnies. Once the platform level has been beaten and more bunnies have been led home, the garden level begins again with increased difficulty. (Starpath, 1983)

Memories: No one can deny that Starpath‘s games for the Supercharger add-on were often on a whole different level than the average third-party game (i.e. much of what wasn’t released by the clearly above-average Activision and Imagic). But it’s also hard to deny that Starpath, for some reason, chose to show those capabilities off with game concepts that were derivative. Continue reading

RealSports Baseball

RealSports BaseballThe Game: Batter up! Take charge of a team on the baseball diamond for a practice round, or a game lasting 3, 6 or 9 innings. And if you think being behind a joystick will save you from hearing from the umpire, think again. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoMemories: In 1979, the mainstay of home video gaming was space, not sports. That’s hard to imagine these days, when you have giants like Electronic Arts dropping the equivalent of some small countries’ gross national debt to lock down entire professional sports leagues. Sure, there was sports games in 1979, but they were at such a primitive level that they just weren’t a match for Space Invaders and Asteroids; the most realistic sports simulations still lived in the arcade. In 1980, Intellivision changed the playing field, literally and figuratively, as Mattel introduced sports games that actually bore some resemblance to their inspiration. A surprisingly aggressive marketing campaign for a relative newcomer to the video game field put Atari on notice: take sports games seriously. Continue reading

Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle

Return Of The Jedi: Death Star BattleSee the videoThe Game: Presumably, you play the part of Lando Calrissian in this game, which seems to follow the events in the latter half of the film Return of the Jedi. Piloting the Millennium Falcon, you dart around the perimeter defense shield of the Empire’s new Death Star, which is still being constructed before your very eyes. You must eliminate a certain number of TIE Interceptors before a hole opens in the shield, allowing you to get close enough to start blowing pieces out of the Death Star itself. But an automatic defense system won’t take long to track you down and eliminate you, so you have to work fast. The sooner you can hit the Death Star power core, the better. And when you accomplish that, you have to worry about dodging the flaming debris of the huge space station… (Parker Brothers, 1983)

See the TV adMemories: Possibly the best game Parker Brothers released out of its series of four Star Wars titles, Death Star Battle had some truly great graphics considering which machine they were squeezed out of. The vaguely 3-D grid of the Death Star’s defense perimeter would constantly shift colors, and it was actually very pretty. The game play itself was no slouch either – one out of five times is about how often I manage to evade all the Death Star debris without getting creamed. Continue reading

River Raid

River RaidThe Game: You’re piloting a fighter jet on a canyon run through enemy territory. You can’t fly outside the canyon walls, so stay over the river and blast everything See the videoin sight. Well, almost everything – flying your plane on top of “FUEL” buoys instead of shooting them puts a little bit of gas in the tank, and if you run out of fuel, you might as well just swallow the next enemy bullet, because you’re goin’ down. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Early in Activision‘s foray into publishing games for the Intellivision, the company issued a strange edict to its programmers: if it was a port of a game also released for the Atari VCS, don’t make the game look significantly different from the Atari version. River Raid is a good example of what happened once Activision abandoned that extremely odd policy. Continue reading

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