The Game: Two armored knights coalesce out of thin air in an enclosed arena, swords at the ready. Before they can do battle, there’s the matter of simply navigating the arena’s geography: a pair of bottomless pits can lead either knight to his death, and each pit is surrounded on two sides by a staircase than can make for a handy resting place – or an even deadlier place to duel. There’s also a narrow catwalk between the pits. If the knights can stay on firm ground, the sword-swinging begins; when a knight is vanquished, he re-forms in the corner where he first appeared and can charge into battle again until he has lost all of his lives. Whoever’s still standing at the end of the game wins. (Cinematronics/Vectorbeam, 1979)
Memories: A great example of how new everything was in the early days of video games, Warrior is the first head-to-head fighting game, allowing two players to bash each other to bits (or stumble into the pits); there was no single-player mode. Graphically, the game is incredibly simple: the black & white vector graphics are responsible for nothing but the knights (nicely drawn and animated for the late 70s) and their respective scores. Everything else is a fluorescent-lit overhead view of the arena. That artwork could be seen through a half-silvered mirror, while the monitor itself actually displayed the graphics backwards so the mirror would show the knights over the playing field. This was a common trick of the day to achieve graphics that there simply wasn’t enough computer power to draw, but it was incredibly effective – and, at the time, it was all so new. Read More
The Game: You’re the commander of a small squad of robots, and your opponent – be it a second player or the computer – is commanding a similar platoon o’ droids. Your job is to avoid the enemy’s robots while you wait for your robots to reach the enemy commander. Of course, the enemy’s robots could reach you first, but that’s another story. The only control you have over your robots is to press the action button and call them toward you. The robots fight hand-to-hand, rather than shooting, and your robots may become incapacitated. You can leap into the fray and touch one of your malfunctioning robots to repair it and return it to the fight, but in so doing, you run a risk of being captured by enemy robots. (Magnavox, 1979)
Memories: This is a game about the Arnold Rimmer vision of combat.
In the Marooned episode of Red Dwarf, Rimmer says “Generals don’t smash chairs over people’s heads. They don’t smash Newcastle Brown bottles into your face and say ‘Stitch that, Jimmy.’ They’re in the nice white tent, on the top of the hill, sipping Sancerre and directing the battle. They’re men of honor!” Which is pretty much your function in this game. Read More
The Game: Think of it as Pong to the death. Two to four players hurl a fireball (multiple fireballs as the game progresses) around the playing field, smashing the walls to each other’s castles and – hopefully – hitting the other players’ kings and putting them out of commission. Your launcher doubles as a mobile barrier around your castle which bounces the fireball right back at your curiously Vader-esque opponents. (Atari, 1980)
Memories: Far more famous at home on the Atari VCS than it was in the arcades, Warlords was a really fun game with the right group of friends (or friendly enemies). I’ve only ever seen one machine, and it was a cocktail table (or, to use less industry-specific jargon, a “sit-down”) version – and now that I think about it, it seems like Warlords would have been a bit difficult to pull off as an upright cabinet, but uprights did exist – with B&W monitors only. Read More
The Game: This should sound pretty famililar to anyone who’s ever played Doom. You (and, if you can find a trigger-happy friend, one other player) suit up as “Worriors” and wander around a twisty maze inhabited by nasty creatures (which can turn invisible and sneak up on you).
You must kill them all.
Glad we got these complicated instructions taken care of. (Midway, 1980)
Memories: This maze game, which hit arcades in 1980, was a true milestone. For one thing, it kept Midway on the map as an arcade game manufacturer (its only previous major successes having been Space Invaders, licensed from Taito, and Galaxian, licensed from Namco) with something other than imported Japanese titles in its repertoire. Read More
The Game: Think of it as Pong to the death. Two to four players hurl a fireball around the playing field, smashing the walls to each other’s castles and – hopefully – hitting the other players’ kings and putting them out of commission. Using the ubiquitous Atari paddle controller, you guide a mobile barrier around your castle which bounces the fireball right back at your opponents. Fun for the whole family; based on an arcade game by Atari which is even more obscure than this rather common cartridge. (Atari, 1980)
Memories: What a great party game! With the right group of people, this game can be intense (and intensely hilarious). In this day and age in which much to do is made of internet multiplayer games, I think I’d rather be in the same room with a bunch of friends playing Warlords than doing any of this newfangled online gaming. Read More
The Game: The Martians are coming! And they’re coming in colorful vector graphics! The tripod-like Martian War Machines land, extend their legs, and begin marching inexorably toward your cannon, pausing momentarily to sweep the bottom of the screen with their deadly heat rays, or hurling spirals of energy your way to slow down your cannon. You have a shield that can offer you mere moments of protection, but if it wears out or you find yourself in the Martians’ sights, your spiky-headed cannon operator is fried, and the cannon is promptly manned by another spiky-headed gunner. When your spiky-headed infantry is exhausted, the Martian invasion continues… (Cinematronics, 1981)
Memories: An entertaining variation on the basic game concept of Space Invaders, War Of The Worlds is quite a tricky game. From a visual standpoint, for line art, the Martian War Machines are menacing foes, and it could be that this is their best moving-image representation, possibly even better than Pal or Spielberg managed. (The rotating “Cylon eye” effect adds a lot of frisson, especially when the heat ray unexpectedly shoots out of it and blasts you!) Read More
The Game: What do you do when you’re alone in a space filled with big-tongued alien meanies? Well, you shoot ’em, naturally! The game starts in a wide-open, unrestricted playing field in which both you and the aliens can move about freely. Two structures in the center of the screen form a “warp” through which you can instantaneously transport yourself into a different playing field, a structured maze also filled with nasties. Only this time, instead of a gun, you have bombs which you can only leave in your wake – and hopefully you can run far enough in that time that the bomb will only blow up the aliens, and not yourself. You can return to the warp – and the first playing field – when it flashes. (Rock-Ola [under license from Namco], 1981)
Memories: This is an oddity in arcade history, and not everyone knew that it came from the same hotbed of creativity that spawned Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Galaga – especially since it really wasn’t that much of a hit. Read More
The Game: Kozmik Krooz’r is back, floating around a desolate landscape in his tiny saucer and blasting away at the menacing denizens of the planet. By shooting two identical creatures, he can eliminate them; failing to match his first target with his next one will either release both creatures or, in later levels, create mix-and-match mutations that will prove to be even more difficult to get rid of. By eliminating all of the creatures on the screen, Krooz’r cruises to the next level; if any of the creatures come in contact with him, he loses a life. (Midway, 1982)
Memories: Video game history is rife with specimens of characters who struck somebody as being promising enough that an attempt was made to bring an entire franchise into being on willpower alone. From Exidy’s promise that Venture‘s “Winky” would star in later games (he didn’t) to Midway’s duo of Kozmik Krooz’r games, these also-ran characters are kind of like pixellated reality talent show wanna-bes, strutting their stuff for the arcade’s equivalent of 15 minutes of fame before the gaming public voted with their quarters.
Kozmik Krooz’r appeared in two games released at roughly the same time by Midway: Wacko and the eponymous Kozmik Krooz’r. Both games were built around a gimmick. Kozmik Krooz’r sported a miniature model of a flying saucer above the screen, and the game’s action revolved around that saucer’s presence; Wacko, on the other hand, had one of the most unique cabinets designed for a coin-op to date: the entire cabinet, marquee, control panel and all, was lopsided, sloping downward from left to right. Whether or not gamers got the joke, however, is another thing entirely. (The answer may well lie in the fact that Krooz’r didn’t appear in any further games.)
With the dark look of the classic arcade of the 1970s giving way to Chuck E. Cheese-inspired day-glo friendliness in the ’80s, Midway was simiarly aiming to make a relatively friendly game with Wacko, and it’s an interesting twitch-gaming experience grafted onto an almost educational concept (shape/pattern matching). As interesting as the “wack”-ed out cabinet was, one wonders if it actually lured enough gamers in to make the break with tradition worthwhile…or if it hurt Wacko‘s chances instead.
The Game: Mario toils away on a construction site when his tools turn against him and start acting like, well, tools. Now Mario has to outfox his own tools and demolish the platforms around them – maybe taking the tools out in the process. He has his trusty hammer, and strategically placed bombs help to speed the process as well (but can be dangerous if Mario hangs around too close). Great care must be taken to demolish the structures in the correct order so access isn’t cut off to areas needed to finish the level. (Nintendo, 1985)
Memories: Possibly the most obscure of Mario’s career detours, this game at least depicts Mario in the same job he was pursuing before Donkey Kong came along: as a construction worker of some kind, rather than a plumber. At its heart, though, Wrecking Crew is about blowing stuff up – in the right order – rather than building anything. It’s a neat puzzle game disguised as a platformer. Read More
The Game: The Olympic torch is the warmest thing to be found in this multi-event recreation of the Winter Olympics. Downhill skiing, luge, slalom skiing and other events are represented here, and players can even pick which country they’re representing as they go for the gold. (Epyx, 1987)
Memories: One of the more elaborate attempts to recreate Olympic events on the Atari 2600, Winter Games benefits from a few additional years of knowledge on overcoming that system’s limitations. But it’s also, largely, an afterthought: Epyx made its real money from Winter Games on the Commodore 64 and other home computer systems. Read More
The Game: Wonderboy’s girlfriend Tanya has been abducted and it’s up to you to get her back. You’ll have to be pretty crafty to avoid the dangers of Wonderland in this classic Sega platformer. (Activision, 1987)
Memories: Call me isolated, but for almost two decades I had no idea the classic platformer Wonderboy for the Commodore 64 was actually ported from an arcade game. While I knew the game was licensed from Sega and written by Activision, it wasn’t until just a few years ago when I happened across a Wonder Boy cartridge for the Sega Master System that I realized the game was released for multiple systems! Read More
The Game: You mean you’re the one person in the country who doesn’t know all the rules and the lifelines? Well, ooooooookay. The computer (sitting in for Regis Philbin) asks you a series of questions with four possible answers. Only one of these is the correct answer. If you’re not sure, you can ask an equally-computerized audience or phone a quasi-friend (actually, the phone-a-friend option in ABC.com’s online version of the game draws from a bank of answers given by people who have actually been contestants on the show), or you can eliminate two of the wrong answers. If you guess the wrong answer, you wind up going home a little less rich than you might be if you simply walk away. (ABC.com, 1999 – this game has since been removed from the site)
Memories: Admittedly, I’m waiting for Sony to get it in gear and release the Playstation version of Millionaire in late June, but for now, there’s the rather good online version of the game on ABC’s web site. At the behest of the benign overlords as Disney, ABC.com repeatedly – and I do mean repeatedly – reminds you that you’re not playing for any kind of money or prizes. Read More
The Game: You know the routine! You and one other player (in this age of the Playstation multi-tap, why not a bunch of players?) compete to see who can give Regis the fastest finger (he’s a New Yorker, I’m sure he’s well accustomed to it by now). Whoever comes out on top earns the right to blast through sixteen increasingly frustrating trivia questions, aided only by two helpful lifelines and one marginally useless one. As the game progresses, gravity begins to fail with alarming regularity in the studio, as demonstrated by your repeatedly flying out of your own chair into the floor, ceiling, and all points in between. (Sony Computer Entertainment, 2000)
Memories: I admit, my summary of the long-awaited Playstation version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? may be a little sarcastic, but I actually expected more – and less – from this game. Read More
The Game: Wii Play gathers a collection of mini-games in one place, from fishing, billiards and target shooting to a futuristic hockey game and tank battles, each showcasing different ways that the Wii remote controls can be used. (Nintendo, 2007)
Memories: As with Wii Sports, Wii Play is an easy-to-pick-up but hard-to-put-down grouping of fairly simple minigames. Some of the games in Wii Play simulate real sports, while others delve into more abstract areas of game play. That’s the good news, and the even better news is that just about all of them are fun, making this another all-in-one first-party home run for Nintendo – if anyone knows a dozen different ways to use the Wii controllers, it should be the folks who made the things. Read More