51 Shades of Geek

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress (vaguely inspired by the Death Star trench scenes in Star Wars), your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as much of the defenses as you can in the See the videomeantime. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: Zaxxon drastically changed the nature of side-scrolling shooter games by introducing a somewhat 3-D perspective to the game. Not only were altitude and forward motion taken into account, but you could also move side to side, banking, diving, and gaining altitude. Bearing in mind that Zaxxon was the first game to feature this kind of movement, its experimental nature and great graphics occasionally got in the way of the player’s attempt to ascertain exactly where he was in the playing field. Also, some of the actual obstacles in your path were indistinguishable from the harmless scrolling background. Continue reading

Zoo Keeper

Zoo KeeperBuy this gameThe Game: You are Zeke the Zoo Keeper, and apparently you’re asleep on the job because the critters are breaking free! Your job is to nab them with a net which appears occasionally (a la Donkey Kong’s hammer), and otherwise avoid the stampeding animals until you can wall them back into their cage. (It seems odd, caging the animals with bricks – wouldn’t that make them rather difficult to feed or show to the public?) See the videoThen you keep going until you reach Zeke’s girlfriend Zelda. (Taito, 1982)

Memories: Taito may have jumped the gun a little on their publicity campaign for Zoo Keeper, which touted Zeke and his girlfriend Zelda (no, not Nintendo’s Zelda) as the next wave of franchise video game characters, right up there with Mario and Pac-Man and family. Instead, Zeke and Zelda wound up in the same class as Mappy and Venture‘s Winky – the victims of the video arcade’s equivalent of the old Hollywood stand-by line, “Don’t call us – we’ll call you.” Continue reading

Zzyzzyxx

ZzyzzyxxThe Game: You control a hapless creature who can jump between rows of moving bricks and even temporarily build a brick around himself. You’re trying to help him gather gifts for Lola, the object of his desires, at the opposite end of the screen; she won’t even pay attention to you until you’ve accumulated a certain number of gifts for her. (Demanding, isn’t she? I can hear Dr. Phil screaming “Stay away from her! She’s bad See the videofor you!” already.) Other than Lola’s curiously materialistic outlook on life, your biggest obstacles are colorful critters who would happily jump on you and end your quest. You can hide from them temporarily by building a brick around yourself, but if they catch you, it’s time to start over again. (Cinematronics, 1982)

Memories: First off, I have no idea what’s up with the title of this game. I really don’t. It’s like someone’s trying to make sure they’re absolutely the last thing in the white pages. Other than that, though, it’s strangely fun and frustrating, with the rows and rows of moving blocks providing you with more stuff than you can hope to keep track of. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: You’re the pilot of a lone fighter ship, screaming down the trench-like, heavily armed confines of a spaceborne fortress, on a mission to find and destroy the Zaxxon robot – the most heavily guarded of all – at the heart of the See the videostructure. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: In 1983, Sega’s Zaxxon was the hottest new thing in the arcade, and quickly became a windmill for home video game consoles to attempt to topple. Its vaguely-3D perspective was the game’s claim to fame, and was the hardest thing for home video game programmers to try to emulate. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: You’re the sole space fighter pilot penetrating a heavily-armed, mobile alien fortress. If you can survive wave after wave of fighters and ground defenses, you’ll have the opportunity to destroy the Zaxxon robot at the heart of the complex. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: Just about the only thing this game has in common with its arcade progenitor is its name. Now, keeping in mind for the moment that Zaxxon was the most visually stunning arcade game of its day, it was quite a challenge for Coleco to grab the rights and translate the game for home console systems. Even the version of Zaxxon Coleco produced for its own platform, the ColecoVision, fell a little bit short of the mark. But the Atari 2600 edition of Zaxxon may serve as proof that Coleco should have stopped with the ColecoVision adaptation. Continue reading

Zork I: The Great Underground Empire

Zork I: The Great Underground EmpireThe Game: You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a mailbox here. (Infocom, 1982)

Memories: A direct descendant of the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired all-text mainframe adventure games of the 1970s, only with a parser that can pick what it needs out of a sentence typed in plain English. In truth, Zork‘s command structure still utilized the Tarzan-English structure of the 70s game (i.e. “get sword,” “fight monster”), but the parser was there to filter out all of the player’s extraneous parts of speech – anything that wasn’t a noun or a verb, the game had no use for. Many a player just went the “N” (north), “U” (up), “I” (inventory) route anyway. Continue reading

Motorace USA / Traverse USA / Zippy Race

Motorace USAThe Game: As the lone motorcyclist in a cross-country car race, you have to dodge your opponents at high speed, one two-ton vehicle at a time. You drive through city streets, highways, and through the rough desert, trying to reach See the videoyour goal without running out of gas or getting splattered across the asphalt. (Williams Electronics [under license from IREM], 1983)

Memories: Whatever you called it, this was one of my favorite driving/racing games, combining the best elements of both maze games and scrolling obstacle course games, and handling things differently from the Pole Position and Turbo formula which dominated this particular genre at the time. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress, your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as much of the defenses as you can in the See the videomeantime. (Datasoft, 1983)

Memories: Probably the best of the early wave of translations of the groundbreaking arcade game, John Garcia’s Apple II edition of Zaxxon successfully boils the game down to its most vital elements: the basics of its graphical look and smooth, fast motion. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress, your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as many of the defenses as you can in the meantime. (Sega, 1984)

Memories: In 1984, Sega entered the home video game business for the first time, with their first Stateside products being games for the Atari 2600 and 5200. Some of the titles released – Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom and Zaxxon specifically – had already been licensed by Coleco for the ColecoVision, and Coleco had even released Zaxxon for other systems such as the 2600. But Sega wanted its own piece of the pie, and not just licensing percentages, when it came time to release more of their properties for home video game systems. Continue reading

Zaxxon 3-D

Zaxxon 3-DThe Game: As the lone pilot daring enough to breach the defenses of Zaxxon’s space stronghold yet again, you take on a fleet of perimeter fighters, some of whom helpfully leave power-ups behind when destroyed. Then it’s into the See the videospace base once more, bristling with gun emplacements, fuel tanks that gas up your fighter when they’re shot (we haven’t quite worked that one out either), and walls that you can run face-first if you’re at just the wrong altitude. Just beyond the walls of the base lies the new and improved Zaxxon itself; if you survive that encounter, you begin again. (Sega, 1987)

Memories: With so many major Japanese game makers committed to the Famicom and NES, the Sega Master System didn’t have quite the impressive array of arcade titles in its library. But one thing it could have that everyone else couldn’t was Sega’s own in-house games and updates thereof – hence, this updated, almost-first-person remake of the groundbreaking Zaxxon. Continue reading

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