51 Shades of Geek

Football!

Football!The Game: Woooooo, Packers. Classic pigskin comes to sluggish life in this over-complicated video game edition. Despite the Odyssey’s full keyboard, the game forces players to look up plays in the manual and execute them with joystick commands. After that, aside from some minimal control of whoever has the ball, it’s a bit like watching an ant farm. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: Granted, Atari’s black & white arcade football game didn’t exactly conjure up a pixellated Howard Cosell, nor did any of the attempts to adapt that game for Atari’s own VCS. But when one looks at what an improvement Intellivision’s NFL Football was over either the VCS or the Odyssey2’s football games, one wonders what the Odyssey designers were thinking. Continue reading

Home Run

Home RunBuy this gameThe Game: From the great American pastime to the great Atari pastime, the sport of baseball is boiled down to its bare essence in this early game for the Atari VCS. One or two players can play. In a one-player game, players start as the pitcher/outfielders (selecting different game variations will provide a different number of outfielders; the default is a single pitcher/outfielder), while the second player starts as the batter in two-player games. The rules are simple: three strikes mean you’re out, three outs mean it’s time to change sides, the player who gets more little digital dudes across home plate wins. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: In the context of RCA‘s Studio II Baseball cartridge, Home Run is actually quite the improvement. Rather than abstract rectangles and squares, Home Run‘s baseball players actually look, well, humanoid. But much like its predecessor, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Home Run wasn’t that much of a home run. Continue reading

Las Vegas Blackjack!

Las Vegas Blackjack!The Game: Place your bets, ditch some cards, or play with the ones you’ve got. The computer offers the usual enticements – double down and insurance – but the odds are firmly in favor of the house. There’s no limit on how big your bet is, so you’re even free to bet an ante that’ll have you screaming “uncle!” if you lose. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: I’m not a big fan of card games. In fact, when I got hold of this rather common cartridge recently, the lovely Mrs. PDF actually had to teach me how to play blackjack. I was hopeless. But it’s grown on me. I’ve now had the opportunity to play both this Odyssey 2 version and a Game Boy Color edition which is part of a card game cartridge called Las Vegas Cool Hand. And I have to say I like the Odyssey version better. Continue reading

Slot Machine

Slot MachineBuy this gameThe Game: The one-armed bandit joins forces with the one-button, one-joystick wonder. Place your bet, pull the lever and take your chances; lining up the symbols in the three windows of the slot machine will pay off (in a virtual kind of way). Messing up just makes the house richer. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: An early title by prolific Atari VCS programmer David Crane – still working directly for Atari at this point, well See the videobefore his Activision and Pitfall! years – Slot Machine is an good snapshot of where console gaming was in 1977/78. Console games seemed to fixate, at this time, on simulations (or rough approximations) of existing sports and games that could be played “in the real world” without computer assistance. More fanciful fare – such as space games – were left, for the most part, to the arcade. Continue reading

Speedway! / Spin-Out! / Crypto-Logic!

Speedway! / Spin-Out! / Crypto-Logic!The Game: In Speedway!, one player guides a race car through an endless onslaught of slower-moving traffic, Monaco GP style; colliding with anyone stalls the game for a moment. Two players are required for Spin-Out!, a copycat of Atari’s Sprint 2 coin-op, in which two race cars zip around a convoluted little track in an attempt to be the first one to rack up three laps. Crypto-Logic! lets you type in up to 18 characters on one line, and hit the enter key to completely scramble those characters. A second player then has to figure out what the jumble of letters was with as few misses as possible. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: The Odyssey2 was born from the ashes of Magnavox’s aborted Odyssey 5000 project, which would have housed 24 dedicated games for 2 to 4 players in a large, silvery console – and chances are, a lot of those games would have been along the lines of Speedway! and Spin-Out!. Continue reading

Stellar Track

Stellar TrackBuy this gameThe Game: Welcome to the bridge. Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating alien incursions 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… (Atari [Sears exclusive], 1978)

Memories: Quite a bit more rare than the VCS edition of Sega’s Star Trek arcade game is this Sears exclusive – and, unless you’re trying to put together an insanely complete collection of 2600 cartridges, don’t sweat it if the rarity of this game prevents you from ever getting your hands on it. Stellar Track sucks like a hull breach. Continue reading

Polo

PoloThe Game: Climb onto your trusty four-legged ride for a good old fashioned game of horse hockey. Try to knock the ball into your opponent’s goal, but don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t defend your own. (Atari, 1978)
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Memories: One of the earliest Atari VCS games to go unreleased, Polo was never intended for general release as its own game; rather, plans were apparently afoot within Atari to offer the game as a premium giveaway item to buyers of Ralph Lauren’s recently-introduced Polo cologne. (If that sounds a little difficult to believe, keep in mind that, in its early heyday, the $200 VCS was very much a high-end luxury item – not unlike Ralph Lauren’s products.) Continue reading

Star Battle

Star BattleThe Game: As a lone space pilot flying down a seemingly endless trench, your job is simple – blast or bomb all of the vaguely-bow-tie-shaped space fighters that you see. If your fighter is on the lower half of the screen, you’re blasting See the videostraight ahead/upward; if you move your fighter near the top of the screen, you can bomb any fighters below you. The game ends when you run out of ships; fortunately you never seem to run out of ammo. (Bally, 1979)

Memories: With arcade games such as Star Fire (with its obvious TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers) and Starhawk (with its own animated trench) gobbling quarters, it might just be that Star Battle for the Bally Professional Arcade is where it all begins in the console realm – the sub-genre of the Star Wars-inspired space game. Continue reading

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