Star Castle

Star CastleThe Game: You control a lone space fighter in the immediate vicinity of the nearly-impenetrable Star Castle. Its three layers of shields rotate, but those layers aren’t solid, so you might be able to get a shot in and destroy the alien craft at its center – but it’s also just as likely that the alien will get a clear shot at you…and its firepower is far greater. (Cinematronics, 1980)

Memories: Tim Skelly’s all-time arcade classic managed to get a cult following despite being eclipsed technologically by some of its contemporaries. In order to get its three rotating shield rings to be multicolored, Star Castle relied on transparent overlays on the monitor – not unlike the TV screen overlays of the original Magnavox Odyssey home video game console – to provide that color. Continue reading

Space Invaders

Space InvadersSee the videoThe Game: It’s quite simple, really. You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Is there actually any history to this game that you don’t already know? Space Invaders was what Combat and Super Breakout weren’t – namely, the Atari 2600‘s equivalent of a killer app: a home version of an arcade game that had reached a critical mass of public recognition, even among non-video-game fans. People bought the then-expensive 2600 console just to play this game. Continue reading

Super Breakout

Super BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: More walls, more balls. The object of the game is the same as the original Breakout, except this time, you face things like moving walls, “cavities” which, when opened, will release additional projectiles that you’ll See the videohave to keep in the air, and more. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: As with the arcade version of Breakout, Breakout on the VCS was one of the better-selling launch titles on that machine, so it made sense in both cases to follow up with a sequel that had a few new twists. Originally unleashed in the arcade in 1978, Super Breakout added those twists, and this cartridge brought them home. Continue reading

Satan’s Hollow

Satan's HollowBuy this gameThe Game: It’s the ultimate, cataclysmic battle between good and evil – expressed as a variation on the basic theme of Phoenix! Hellish green flying demons try to formation-dive your well-armed, devil-fryin’ vehicle at the bottom of the screen. Each time you knock one of this gargoylesque beasties out of the sky, they drop a piece of a bridge you must drag over to the appropriate spot on the screen. When you’re close to completing the bridge, the Prince of Darkness sends in some heavier artillery – a spooky floating demon head who spits fire at your cannon – to do away with you. Once you’ve toasted the flying meanies out of the sky and cross the bridge, it’s time to do battle with Satan himself, though he starts out looking a little bit like that cute little mascot you see on cans of deviled ham. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: While it presents some interesting variations – bridge-building while shooting? – Satan’s Hollow really had little to distinguish it from the other dozens of Space Invaders variants which had been appearing in arcades for three years at this point. Continue reading

Scramble

ScrambleBuy this gameThe Game: Once again, you’re apparently the only space pilot willing to take on this dangerous mission – though there’s probably a reason for that. You’re storming a heavily-armed installation which has loads of missiles and other defenses. And there’s one thing you don’t have a load of – fuel. If your gas needle lands on the big E, you’re going to your doom in a big rush. For some reason whose physics I can’t even begin to explain, bombing fuel depots in the enemy base will replenish your tank. Good luck! (Stern [under license from Konami], 1981)

Memories: A fun little Defender-style game, Scramble is a real challenge, especially the pesky, persistent problem of fuel shortage. But it proved to have a pesky, persistent problem of its own in the courtroom. Scramble was the basis of a major landmark copyright case in the history of computer-based works. Continue reading

Space Odyssey

Space OdysseyThe Game: Look out below – and above! You pilot a space fighter taking fire (and potentially kamikaze collisions) from all sides, zooming over an alien cityscape through the night sky and trying to blast your way through their inexhaustible defenses. If you succeed (and in this context, “succeed” = “survive”), you then switch from a side-scrolling perspective to a vaguely 3-D overhead view of the action as your fight zooms over a heavily defended alien fortress and then into deep space, where you’ll need to avoid black holes and comets, as well as a very likely lethal onslaught of fast-moving alien ships. If you manage to survive that, then (A) damn, you’re good, and (B) you’re going to do it all again, over a slightly different background. (Sega, 1981)

Memories: This interesting, if somewhat lesser-known, entry from Sega featured what were some eye-popping graphics for its day, but it seems unlikely that anyone played long enough to notice, since the game was so unbelievably difficult. Continue reading

Stargate / Defender II

StargateSee the videoThe Game: The alien abductors are back. Their henchbeings are back. And fortunately for the hapless humans on the planet’s surface, you’re back too, in a fully armed warship with a belly full of smart bombs. But the aliens have brought new and unusual reinforcements, and now the ultimate X-factor is seen visibly floating in the night sky – a stargate which could deposit your space fighter anywhere, delivering you to safety…or a rendezvous with a swarm of aliens. (Williams Electronics, 1981)
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Memories: This sequel to Defender was a game I positively hated way back when. Why? Because I just flat-out sucked at the controls of Defender, so Stargate showed me no mercy whatsoever. With an even more complicated control scheme than its ancestor, I didn’t stand a chance at Stargate. But watching the people who had learned how to really make the game theirs? That was something else. Continue reading

Skeet Shoot

Skeet ShootThe Game: Line up moving targets in your sights and blast ’em away. The more targets you hit, the more points you get. Simple enough, eh? Just don’t expect everything to travel in a straight line – and keep in mind that something like 80% of the time you won’t have a chance of hitting anything at all due to where you’re positioned. (Games By Apollo, 1981)

Memories: The 198384 crash of the home video game industry has often been blamed on an unstoppable tsunami wave of lousy games being produced by companies that had never before shown an interest in the field. Some pundits point at Activision‘s defeat of an Atari lawsuit – which claimed that third-party games would be unfair competition, as they alleged Activision‘s four principal programmers were using Atari trade secrets – as the first crack in the dam. And maybe they’re right. But at first, with Activision and Imagic releasing well-programmed, colorful, cutting edge and most of all fun games, it was all good – and Atari was still selling hardware, so how could they prove they’d lose out on the deal? Continue reading

Snafu

SnafuThe Game: As one of four color-coded player icons on the screen, you begin the round at one edge of the rectangular playing field. Your icon leaves a solid wall behind it, tracing your path. You try to trap other players or computer-controlled See the videoBuy this gameicons in your wake, while avoiding the solid walls tracing their icons and your own trail, which is just as deadly. (Mattel, 1981)

Memories: Look familiar? A year later, and this gem of simplicity undoubtedly would have been titled Tron Light Print new overlaysCycles (and just for giggles, we’ve prepared a special keypad overlay to fit that theme. The light cycle sequence from the movie Tron (as well as the similar screen in the arcade game based on the movie) and the basic premise of Snafu are the same. Continue reading

Space Armada

Space ArmadaBuy this gameThe Game: You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your See the videoonly defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When the aliens manage to land on Earth…it’s all over. (Mattel, 1981)

Memories: Sound familiar? It should. This early entry in Mattel’s library of Intellivision games is, rather obviously, a not-very-thinly-disguised version of Space Invaders, the game whose home version had made the Atari 2600 a household name in the home video game biz. Continue reading

Spacechase

SpacechaseThe Game: Piloting a lone spaceship zipping over a planet’s surface in a low, fast orbit, your mission is to kick some evasive alien butt. Drawing a See the videobead on the aliens is much harder than it looks, and they arrive in waves of four. Naturally, it seems like it’s much easier for them to target you… (Games By Apollo, 1981)

Memories: Quite an improvement over Richardson, Texas-based Games By Apollo’s first game, the disastrously bad Skeet Shoot, Spacechase isn’t going to blow the doors down in the game originality department, but it wasn’t bad for the VCS at all. The scrolling planetscape beneath the player’s ship may look like an artist’s vague impression of some Arizona landscape, but with games like Defender struggling to get the side-scrolling thing right, it was quite an accomplishment. Continue reading

Space Battle

Space BattleBuy this gameThe Game: You command a mighty battleship with three squadrons of fighters at your disposal to fend off five alien attack fleets. You can manually dispatch your fighter squadrons, send them directly into battle, and recall them to See the original TV addefend your ship. When your fighters go into battle, you can assume control personally and engage in a dogfight with the agile enemy fighters, or you can let the computer fight your battles on autopilot (it’ll get the job done, but usually with an undesirable, if not unacceptable, rate of losses for your side). The game ends when your squadrons have eliminated all of the converging alien fleets, or when the aliens have made quick work of both your squadrons and your command ship. (Mattel Electronics, 1979)

Memories: In 1979, Glen Larson’s TV space epic Battlestar Galactica was as hot a property as you could get on the small screen, with its movie-scale special effects (or at least, the show’s underbudgeted and overworked producers and special effects wizards hoped you thought the effects were movie-scale). Having watched rival toy maker Kenner score a major coup with the license to manufacture toys based on Star Wars, Mattel quickly stepped in to snag the rights for Battlestar Galactica. Short of whatever Star Wars sequel George Lucas turned out next, Galactica was as close as you could get to the next big thing. Continue reading

Star Strike

Star StrikeBuy this gameThe Game: Flying low over an alien installation, you are the last hope for the planet Earth. When the alien space vehicle has Earth lined up in the sights of its launcher, the planet will be destroyed. Your mission is to blast alien defensive See the videofighters and bomb their mothership into oblivion before that happens. (Mattel, 1981)

Memories: Star Strike was one of the games Mattel waved in everyone’s face to prove how superior the Intellivision was to its rival, the Atari 2600. But for its time, and considering that Atari’s biggest hits at this point were chunky home versions of Print new overlaysthe distinctly 2-D Asteroids, Missile Command and Space Invaders, Star Strike‘s Star Wars-inspired 3-D animated trench was quite impressive. However, the game was notoriously difficult for those weaned on the excessive simplicity of the aforementioned arcade adaptations. Continue reading

Sneakers

SneakersThe Game: Alien invaders are descending on your world, taking on unusual forms in the process: sneaker-clad stomping creatures, roaming eyeballs, “H-wing fighters,” flying saucers and more. Try to use their unusual patterns of See the videomovement against them and keep them from destroying your fighter. (Sirius Software, 1981)

Memories: If this description sounds an awful lot like Activision‘s early hit Megamania!, it’s no coincidence – both games attempted to add a dash of whimsy to the basic game play of the ubiquitous arcade sleeper hit, Astro Blaster. Both Sneakers and Megamania! nearly duplicate the unique meandering movement of Astro Blaster‘s alien invaders. Continue reading

Solar Fox

Solar FoxThe Game: Your ship is confined to a grid-like playing field, which isn’t all that bad until you take into account that armed ships are gliding along all four of the “walls” surrounding that grid, blasting away at you like a fish in a barrel. Your job is the clear the grid of the objects filling it, and wherever possible, to fire a well-timed shot at the ships trying to destroy you. Clearing the grid advances you to the next level. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Another variation on the clear-the-maze concept, Solar Fox only climbed its way up to “sleeper” status, if even that. I don’t recall any reports about Solar Fox burning up the arcades. It had some fairly nice cabinet artwork, playing on the word play of fox (as in a hunted animal) vs. fox (as in slang for an attractive woman), which featured heavily in the advertising campaign. Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Sega, 1982)
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Memories: In the wake of the unexpected theatrical success of the second Star Trek movie, Sega revamped the popular Star Trek computer game that has been – and still is – available on almost every computer platform since the beginning of time, giving it vector graphics renditions of the movie Enterprise, Klingon ships, and starbases, not to mention cool-looking phasers and photon torpedoes (actually the best part of the game). Continue reading

Super Pac-Man

Super Pac-ManBuy this gameThe Game: Once again, Pac-Man roams the maze, pursued by four colorful ghosts. But instead of dots, this maze is peppered with other goodies, ranging from the usual fruits (apples, bananas, etc.) to donuts, cake, and burgers. And in addition to the traditional four “power pellets” in each corner of the screen, there are two green “super power pellets” per screen, which give the mighty yellow one the power to fly over the monsters’ heads and to break down doors that confine some of the yummy treats in the maze. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: The earliest of several very strange departures from the successful Pac-Man formula, Super Pac-Man was still a fun and, more often than not, fondly remembered game, even if it was ever so slightly baffling. Admittedly, even the mention above of Pac-Man flying is my own interpretation, based on the Pac-Man-going-on-Superman artwork on the arcade cabinet. It’s a bizarre little concept! Continue reading

Super Mouse

Super MouseThe Game: Super Mouse is on the case. He’s trying to grab all the food from every level of the screen. While he’s on the case, cats are on the chase, trying to catch Super Mouse. Two blocks of cheese on the top levels of the screen can be dropped on top of the cats, or the cats can be tricked into chasing Super Mouse over a trap door that’ll dump them in a water tank. But the cats don’t stay gone for long. Super Mouse advances to a new level when he takes every piece of food back to his secret hideout. (Taito, 1982)

Memories: Barely remembered by anyone, Super Mouse was one of the hundreds of games that heralded the 1982 arcade “boom,” when no idea was too strange or too derivative. Super Mouse combines elements of Donkey Kong and Turtles (not exactly two games that one hears mentioned in the same breath a lot) to create something intriguingly unique. But it’s not all that and a piece of cheese. Continue reading

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