51 Shades of Geek

Video Pinball

Video PinballThe Game: Pull the plunger back and fire the ball into play. The more bumpers it hits, the more points you rack up. But don’t let the ball leave the table – doing so three times ends the game. (Atari, 1979)

Memories: Having done Basketball and Football as successful video games, Atari turned its attention to other sports and other balls…so to speak. One such experiment was the not-quite-successful Video Pinball, the company’s attempt to bring the excitement and physics of pinball to the video screen.

The game’s dazzling disco-era look was the result of the video display being generated backward by a monitor laying flat inside the cabinet. The monitor’s display was then reflected toward the player by way of a half-silvered mirror with the overlay decal attached. The result was that the video display now magically shined through the artwork. (The animation seen here shows a rough approximation of the screen as seen in the arcades, the actual video display, and the artwork overlay that made things a bit more colorful.) This was actually a very common trick in early arcade games: Space Invaders used it, and so did many others right into the 1980s…until processing power increased enough for most games to generate their own backgrounds. Continue reading

Vanguard

VanguardThe Game: Your Vanguard space fighter has infiltrated a heavily-defended alien base. The enemy outnumbers you by six or seven to one at any given time (thank goodness for animated sprite limitations, or you’d be in real trouble!). You can fire above, below, ahead and behind your ship, which is an art you’ll need to master since enemy ships attack from all of these directions. You can’t run into any of the walls and expect to survive, but you can gain brief invincibility by flying through an Energy block, which supercharges your hull enough to ram your enemies (something which, at any other time, would mean certain death for you as well). At the end of your treacherous journey lies the alien in charge of the entire complex – but if you lose a life at that stage, you don’t get to come back for another shot! (Centuri [under license from SNK], 1981)

Memories: Very much like another SNK-originated game from this period, Fantasy (which was licensed out to Rock-Ola), Vanguard was an early entry in the exploration game genre. Sure, shooting things was fun, but this game made it clear – through the “radar map” of the alien base at the top of the screen – that there was a clear destination to be reached. And if you weren’t good enough to get there with the lives you had, you could continue the journey – for just a quarter more – again and again, until you got there. Continue reading

Venture

VentureThe Game: Trapped in a maze full of HallMonsters (TM, pat. pend.), you are adventurer Winky (TM, pat. pend.), on a mission to snatch incredible treasures (TM, pat. pend.) from hazardous underground rooms inhabited by lesser beasts such as re-animated skeletons, goblins, serpents, and so on (TM, pat. pend.). Sometimes even the See the videowalls move, threatening to squish Winky (TM, pat. pend.) or trap him, helpless to run from the HallMonsters (TM, pat. pend.). The deeper into the dungeons you go, the more treacherous the danger – and the greater the rewards. Just remember two things – the decomposing corpses of the smaller enemies are just as deadly as the live creatures. And there is no defense – and almost never any means of escape – from the HallMonsters (TM, pat. pend.). (Exidy, 1981)

Memories: Okay, maybe I went a little too far making fun of Exidy’s hopes that Venture would become a Major Video Game Franchise (TM, pat. pend.), but this game is peppered with trademark symbols – a sure sign that Exidy was banking on this game being the kind of breakthrough licensing windfall that Pac-Man was for Bally/Midway and Namco. Continue reading

Video Pinball

Video PinballBuy this gameThe Game: Pull the plunger back and fire the ball into play. The more bumpers it hits, the more points you rack up. But don’t let the ball leave the table – doing so three times ends the game. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: I’m just not a huge fan of video pinball simulations – see my review of Thunderball! for Odyssey2 if you have any doubts – but having tried out Atari’s Video Pinball, I can say that it’s more fun than Thunderball! Itself a home version of one of Atari’s late 70s arcade titles, Video Pinball offers some finer graphics than you’d expect from the early waves of VCS titles. Continue reading

Vanguard

VanguardThe Game: Your Vanguard space fighter has infiltrated a heavily-defended alien base. The enemy outnumbers you by six or seven to one at any given time (thank goodness for animated sprite limitations, or you’d be in real trouble!). You can fire above, below, ahead and behind your ship, which is an art you’ll need to master since enemy ships attack from all of these directions. You can’t run into any of the walls and expect to survive, but you can gain brief invincibility by flying through an Energy block, which supercharges your hull enough to ram your enemies (something which, at any other time, would mean certain death for you as well). At the end of your treacherous journey lies the alien in charge of the entire complex – but if you lose a life at that stage, you don’t get to come back for another shot! (Atari, 1982)

VanguardSee the TV adMemories: Viva Vanguard! I remember quite a few of my buddies at the time preferring this cartridge edition to the arcade game that inspired it, and with a little bit of thought it’s easy to see why. With only one button, Atari’s home version of Vanguard allowed players to dispense with the arcade’s compass rose of fire buttons; for lack of any better way to handle it, this version of Vanguard just unleashed white-hot electric death in all directions everytime the fire button was pressed. Hey, problem solved! No more getting broadsided by enemies dropping down from above. Simple, elegant. Even those of us who regularly got our butts handed to us by the coin-op could be Vanguard victors now. Continue reading

Venture

VentureThe Game: As intrepid (and perpetually happy) adventurer Winky, armed only with a bow and arrow, you’re on a treasure hunt of the deadliest kind. HallMonsters try to stop you at every turn, and their minions guard the individual treasures that lie in the rooms of the maze. You can kill the smaller creatures (though their decomposing remains are still deadly to touch), but the HallMonsters are impervious to your arrows – and you’re lunch. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: Based on the addictive arcade game, this game is an excellent home translation, complete with background music and sound effects. Though the ColecoVision was more than capable of displaying more colorful and more detailed graphics, Venture is one of the better “simple” games made for this console. Continue reading

Venture

VentureThe Game: Trapped in a maze full of HallMonsters, you are adventurer Winky , on a mission to snatch incredible treasures from hazardous underground rooms inhabited by lesser beasts such as re-animated skeletons, goblins, See the videoserpents, and so on. Sometimes even the walls move, threatening to squish Winky or trap him, helpless to run from the HallMonsters. The deeper into the dungeons you go, the more treacherous the danger – and the greater the rewards. Just remember two things – the decomposing corpses of the smaller enemies are just as deadly as the live creatures. And there is no defense – and almost never any means of escape – from the HallMonsters. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: A nice adaptation of an unsung classic, Venture on the Intellivision retains much of the arcade game’s charm and is genuinely fun. Controlling Winky with the disc controller can be a bit challenging at times, especially when you have a Hallmonster trying to invade your room and you’re already fighting to navigate in a hurry. Continue reading

Venture

VentureThe Game: Trapped in a maze full of HallMonsters, you are adventurer Winky, on a mission to snatch incredible treasures from hazardous underground rooms inhabited by lesser beasts such as re-animated skeletons, goblins, serpents, and so on. Sometimes even the walls move, threatening to squish Winky or trap him, helpless to run from the HallMonsters. The deeper into the dungeons you go, the more treacherous the danger – and the greater the rewards. Just remember two things – the decomposing corpses of the smaller enemies are just as deadly as the live creatures. And there is no defense – and almost never any means of escape – from the HallMonsters. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: Coleco was widely rumored to be deliberately making its third-party games for Atari and Intellivision total stinkers – look up the 2600 version of Donkey Kong or the even more miserable Intellivision version sometime. But Venture for the VCS was a bit of a surprise: it wasn’t a total stink bomb of a game. Continue reading

Vulgus

VulgusBuy this gameThe Game: Piloting a lone space fighter, you carve a leisurely path through an endless onslaught of alien marauders, none of whom seem to be in any particular hurry to go anywhere either. Despite all this lack of hustle and bustle, however, it must be noted that they’re still shooting at you, and you still need to shoot back, using lasers or a limited supply of missiles. Some aliens will line up in a vertical formation that, if taken out with a missile, means big points, though you should also be saving some of your heavy ammo for larger alien ships that, if lasers were used, would require several shots to kill. (Capcom, 1984)

Memories: Another of Capcom’s long line of vertical-scrolling shooters – a design craze that can be traced back to Namco’s Xevious – Vulgus may seem like it’s terribly leisurely, but it’s actually one of the most grueling hand-eye coordination challenges since Robotron. Continue reading

Venture

VentureThe Game: Trapped in a maze full of HallMonsters, you are adventurer Winky, on a mission to snatch incredible treasures from hazardous underground rooms inhabited by lesser beasts such as re-animated skeletons, goblins, serpents, and so on. Sometimes even the walls move, threatening to squish Winky or trap him, helpless to run from the HallMonsters. The deeper into the dungeons you go, the more treacherous the danger – and the greater the rewards. Just remember two things – the decomposing corpses of the smaller enemies are just as deadly as the live creatures. And there is no defense – and almost never any means of escape – from the HallMonsters. (unreleased prototype, 2017)

Memories: There may be nothing quite as bittersweet as an unreleased prototype that turns out to be awesome, we gladly would’ve paid full retail for it back in the day had it ever gone to market. It’s not that it was hard to find a good port of Venture back in the day – there was an excellent port on Colecovision and a more than passable version for the Atari 2600. Continue reading

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