Robot Tank

Robot TankBuy this gameThe Game: So much for the tank platoon. You’re in charge of a lone robotic tank on a battlefield buzzing with bad guys. A radar sweep gives you advance notice of approaching enemies, but there are so many of them out there that even that warning may not come soon enough. A series of critically-placed blasts could leave you immobile, or worse yet, unarmed and helpless to do anything but take a pounding until it’s all over. Repair systems can restore these lost abilities – if you survive that long. The fighting doesn’t stop at night either – the sun goes down, leaving you in the dark for several minutes, capable of fighting and navigating only by instrumentation with little in the way of visual cues. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Just as Activision beat Parker Bros.‘ rendition of Frogger to the punch with Freeway, they also bested Atari’s own unexpectedly impressive Atari 2600 port of Battlezone with their own first-person tank entry, Robot Tank. Designed and programmed by Alan Miller, Robot Tank has some of Activision’s familiar signatures – the near-impossible color palette they squeezed out of the 2600, the almost flicker-free graphics, and just plain addictive game play. But in this case, Atari’s home version of Battlezone was no slouch either, so it’s hard to pick a clear winner. Continue reading

Robin Hood / Sir Lancelot

Sir LancelotThe Game: In Sir Lancelot, players assume the role of the legendary knight atop his flying steed (who knew that the Arthurian mythos could be mixed with the Greek legend of Pegasus?), battling a sky seething with dragons. Killing all the dragons on the screen will advance Lancelot to another level featuring a “boss” dragon and a damsel awaiting rescue.
In
Robin Hood, players don’t exactly get to rob from the rich and give to the poor; instead, the game involves hiding in the forest and exchanging volleys of arrows with the Sheriff of Nottingam and his thugs. (Xonox, 1983)

Memories: Other games archived in Phosphor Dot Fossils were produced by companies that had never produced video games before, and have never produced video games again – companies like Purina and U.S. Games, owned by Quaker Oats. Many of these johnny-come-lately entrants in the video game race knew they weren’t in it for the long haul: they were simply cashing in on a fad, and taking advantage that games could be made for the Atari 2600 without Atari‘s permission or oversight. The glut of low-quality product had a lot to do with the crash of the video game industry, but not everyone who got into the video game biz circa 1982 or ’83 was consciously pumping out stinkers. Continue reading

Rocky Super Action Boxing

Rocky Super Action BoxingThe Game: Spin up “Eye Of The Tiger” on your turntable, power up your Colecovision, and get ready to go ten rounds with Clubber Lang. If you think you’re tough enough to take on a digital Mr. T, take a swing at helping Rocky See the videoBalboa reign victorious once more. Just be ready to taste the mat along the way too. (Coleco, 1983)

Memories: Alas, my feelings on video boxing are a lot like my feelings on video pinball: once you take either activity into the virtual realm and remove the inherent physicality of it, sure, you might be able to nail the look and sounds of boxing or pinball, or just about any other sport, but in so doing you’ve lost so much of the essence that it’s almost a meaningless exercise. Continue reading

Robotron: 2084

Robotron: 2084The 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), indestructible 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). (Atarisoft, 1983)

Memories: I loved the arcade version of Robotron. I loved the idea of it, the graphics, the sound effects…but there was one rather major problem between me and this game: I sucked at it. Pure and simple. Continue reading

RealSports Basketball

RealSports BasketballThe Game: Two players each control one man in one-on-one, full-court action. Whoever has the highest score by a predetermined time limit wins. (Atari, 1983 [unreleased])
See the video
Memories: Atari’s RealSports series was created to challenge the upper hand Intellivision’s sports games had gained over the blocky, primitive virtual versions of the same sports on the Atari 2600. The RealSports brand was extended into the 5200 line as well, and did manage to score some firsts, including the first home video game to offer speech without additional custom hardware (RealSports Baseball). But for some reason, neither the 2600 nor 5200 versions of RealSports Basketball ever saw the light of day. Continue reading

Robot City

Robot CityThe Game: Four robotic tanks search methodically through a maze, trying to hunt you down. If you wind up in a straight line across or above/below the robot tanks, they will fire, even if a maze wall is in the way. Your job is to See the videoevade their fire, use the robots’ logic against them (i.e. try to get one tank to shoot another just because you’re in a straight line with them), or sneak up from behind and destroy them. Destroyed tanks leave a radioactive crater that you must avoid for the rest of that round; you advance to the next round by eliminating all of the tanks without being shot yourself. (Philips, 1983 – unreleased prototype)

Memories: This is one of those Odyssey2 games that was prepared for release only in the foreign market, but could’ve been one of the machine’s signature games in North America. It may be as simple as a game can get, but Robot City is a load of fun. (Come to think of it, I can’t imagine why it was left at the prototype altar elsewhere, either.) Continue reading

Robot Rubble

Robot RubbleThe Game: Robots descend from the mountains with one mission in mind: they’d like to fry you. In fact, they’re pretty adamant on that point. You’re armed with a weapon that can fling anti-robot grenades at them, but you have to account for a trajectory that can be affected by your own movement; mountainous See the videooutcroppings give you shelter, but not for long, since they also give the robots target practice. If you score a direct hit and blast a robot apart, you’re left with a narrow window of opportunity in which to land another grenade and permanently dismantle the remaining robot parts…if you can’t accomplish that, the robot will gather up its parts and reassemble itself to have another go at you. (Activision, 1983 – never released)

Memories: One of the strangest marketing policies to emerge from the golden age of video games was Activision‘s absurd – and eventually abandoned – strategy of trying to make its early Intellivision titles look and sound exactly like their Atari 2600 counterparts. While Activision was doing this, possibly to save the marketing department from having to prepare two different sets of artwork per game, Imagic vaulted ahead of them and became the definitive third-party software provider for the Intellivision. One only needs to look at the 2600 and Intellivision versions of Demon Attack or Atlantis to formulate the question “Why on Earth would Activision hobble their own developers like that?” Continue reading

Return Of The Jedi

Return Of The JediBuy this gameThe Game: In the first screen, you’re zipping through the forest of Endor on a stolen speeder bike, with Imperial stormtroopers on their own bikes chasing you. While you can shoot the stormtroopers’ bikes or bump them off the playing field, they can shoot you, and running into trees isn’t good for anyone’s health. Your only advantage? The indigenous Ewoks, those furry little critters who occupy a special, beloved place in every Star Wars fan’s heart, will help you out if you lead the stormtroopers into their primitive traps. The second screen is much like the first, only you’re flying the Millennium Falcon through the Death Star trenches, and the other speeder bikes are now TIE Interceptors. (Atari, 1984)

The Game: Though graphically superior, and almost certainly guaranteed to gross more quarters just because of the Star Wars association, this game was, more or less, Zaxxon with a new paint job. Still, many players at the time hailed it as a vast step up from the vector graphics Star Wars game which Atari had released the previous year, even if the controls were aggravating. 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 in sight. Well, almost everything – flying your plane on top of “FUEL” buoys See the videoinstead 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, 1984)

Memories: A dandy upgrade from the Atari 2600 River Raid, the Colecovision edition plays much the same. There are some audiovisual improvements, but it’s also surprising to see what’s been left alone in the graphics department too: these elements of the game weren’t broken, so there are no “fixes” for their own sake. Continue reading

Revenge Of The Jedi Game I (Return Of The Jedi: Ewok Adventure)

Revenge Of The Jedi Game ISee the videoThe Game: They’re responsible for the deaths of countless Imperial officers in battle, and served as a vital ally to Luke, Han, Leia and the Rebel Alliance in their darkest hour. Surely every gamer wants to join their ranks and experience the battle of Endor from their perspective! That’s right, you’re an Ewok, flying a primitive hang-glider behind enemy lines, avoiding AT-ST fire and trying to take out as many Imperial troops as you can. Stormtroopers on speeder bikes are both tempting targets and formidable foes for you; if you can, try to fight your way to the Imperial bunker and clear the way Ewok Adventurefor your friends. Good timing can allow you to temporarily take over the Empire’s walking terrors and use them against their own forces. Face it: you’re a short, stubby teddy bear, armed with rocks, and the fate of the universe depends on you. (Parker Brothers, 1984 – never released)

Memories: A real curiosity, this was planned to be the fifth in a series of Star Wars cartridges for the Atari 2600, and yet it never saw the light of day. A prototype of the game exists in completed form, as does a prototype of the packaging, bearing the obvious work-in-progress title of Revenge Of The Jedi Game I. (There was a Game II as well, of which more in a moment.) Continue reading

Rush’N Attack

Rush'N AttackBuy this gameThe Game: You’re a lone soldier behind enemy lines, but this is no Front Line. Armed with a knife and some serious kickboxing skills, you weave your way through an enemy installation, doing away with soldiers who are trying to block your way. Occasionally, you can pick up a weapon from a downed enemy, including flame-throwers, machine guns and rocket launchers. (Konami, 1985)

Memories: I remember encountering only one Rush’N Attack machine, which was one of the last arcade games I ever became hooked on. There’s actually something addictive, in a bloodthirsty sort of way, about this little war game. Continue reading

RACTER

RACTERThe Game: The player engages in conversation with RACTER (short for raconteur) in normal English sentences via the keyboard. RACTER responds with phrases that may (or may not) be relevant and may (or may not) make sense as part of a cohesive conversation. (Mindscape, 1985)

Memories: RACTER had a build-up of hype like no other non-sequel, non-movie-based program in its day – as well as a set of consumer expecatations that it probably had absolutely no chance whatsoever of meeting. After all, could a program running on a floppy disk on a home computer equipped with 64K of RAM really boast true artificial intelligence? Continue reading

Rampage

RampageThe Game: Monsters are running amok in cities across America… and you’re one of them! A giant lizard, a giant werewolf and a giant gorilla walk into a bar and tear it down. Monsters can compete to see who will topple tall buildings first, or they can qang up on puny defenseless human scum. It’s pretty easy to knock over buildings, and pretty easy to take a lot of damage from the armed forces who have been called out to stop the creatures. If they accrue too much damage, the monsters de-evolve to their un-mutated original human form, and require quick action (and additional quarters) to stay in the game. (Midway, 1986)

Memories: A devilishly fun masterpiece of pure destruction, Rampage appeals to any current or former kid who’s ever gained an innate understanding that the next best thing rto building something is to knock it over again. Rampage‘s implied violence is cartoonish at worst, with just a wink and a nod toward the classic Toho and Universal Studios monster movies. And that is a great combination. Continue reading

Robotron: 2084

Robotron: 2084The 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), indestructible 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. (Atari, 1984 [released in 1987])

Memories: Robotron, like Zaxxon, was one of those holy grails of the early home video game industry, a game that seemed almost impossible to translate to a home console properly, and yet would reward anyone who succeeded in that endeavour with a legion of satisfied consumers. Continue reading

Revenge Of Defender

Revenge of DefenderThe Game: Players slide into the cockpit of Defender once again, defending the power generators on the surface of a human space colony from intruding aliens. As usual, the Defender is a versatile, fast-moving attack ship, but the aliens have an advantage in sheer numbers. Vaporizer bombs can clear the screen of attackers, but they’re in short supply. Eliminating all invaders clears the level and starts anew; running out of Defender craft means the aliens win. (Ensign Software, 1989)

Memories: Among the most obscure offshoots of the Defender family tree spawned by the 1980 coin-op, Revenge Of Defender is a dressed-up PC remake of the classic game, trading the complicated control scheme and uncluttered graphics of the original for a easier player controls and background graphics that actually get in the way of the game. Continue reading

Ribbit!

Ribbit!The Game: Two frogs, Bull and Pip, set out on a hazardous journey…to find some flies to eat. They must grab yummy flies while avoiding several lanes of poisonous spider “traffic”, and they also have to cross the occasional river on See the videothe backs of turtles and logs, snatching more flies out of the air without falling into the water. Each screen is cleared by the frogs eating the required number of flies. (Sega, 1991)

Memories: It’s not Frogger. It’s not even officially a sequel to Frogger (by this time, Konami, the originators of that game, had reasserted their ownership rights). But I’ll be croaked if Ribbit! isn’t at least “inspired by” Frogger – how that one didn’t get the lawyers suited up for an amphibious mission, we may never know. Continue reading

ReBoot

ReBootThe Game: No one said it was easy being Mainframe’s Guardian, and this game is proof. You’re Bob the Guardian, trying to protect the citizens of Mainframe from a series of deadly tears unleashed upon the unsuspecting populace by an unholy alliance between Megabyte and Hexidecimal. Various characters show up along the way, like Mike TV, to offer advice, but aside from some vital health power-ups, you’re on your own. As you advance from level to level, a new ReBoot adventure is gradually revealed until you reach the end of the story – but if you fail in your mission to protect Mainframe, that episode’s going to come up short. (Electronic Arts, 1997)

Memories: What better property to base a game on than ReBoot, the all-CGI animated show from Canada which has never gotten a decent time slot in the U.S.? Originally shown on ABC in the early 1990s, ReBoot started out as standard kid-friendly fare. Its second season introduced some more violent elements, after which ABC dropped the show and its third season – complete with battles, psychological drama and character development aplenty – wound up in a dead-of-night slot on the Cartoon Network. (And this treatment of the show hasn’t changed – the fourth season was aired on the Cartoon Network, and went almost completely unpromoted.) Continue reading

Red Dwarf: Beat The Geek

Red Dwarf: Beat The GeekOrder this gameThe Game: Holly (and Holly) tax your brain with trivia questions about Red Dwarf (at either “viewer” or “geek” level) or about any number of other things (at “general knowledge”), with a time limit on each multiple-choice question. Some Red Dwarf-specific questions ask players to identify elements of scenes or even pieces of soundtrack music from the series. There are eight levels of six questions each; players who complete a round with no wrong answers will be given a code to enter at the main menu for a bonus game, and players who complete the entire quiz with no wrong answers will be given a two-point bonus question. Along the way, Holly (and Holly) offer helpful advice and critique your knowledge. (BBC Video / 2|entertain, 2006)

See the videoMemories: This interactive DVD game contains the first new Red Dwarf footage shot since the BBC’s cult SF comedy series bowed out in the 1990s; that along is cause for some small celebration at the very least. Granted, it’s not a new episode or the delayed-until-it’s-vaporware feature film, but it’ll do. Norman Lovett and Hattie Hayridge reprise their roles as the two incarnations of Holly; that’s got to be worth the price of admission alone. Continue reading

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