Armor Attack

The Game: One or two players are at the controls of speedy ground assault vehicles which can zip around an enclosed maze of open areas and buildings with almost mouse-like speed. Heavy tanks and armed helicopters routinely appear in this maze, attempting to shoot any player vehicles they spot; the player(s) can, in turn, fire back at both of these vehicles. Caution: a damaged tank may still be able to draw a bead, so it’s best to keep firing until the tanks are completely destroyed. (Cinematronics, 1980)

Memories: However popular Atari’s vector graphics games were, the real rock-solid workhorse of that genre of gaming was the comparitively small Cinematronics. Armor Attack (whose marquee cryptically punctuates the title as “Armor… …Attack“) was no household name like Asteroids, and it may have been a mere sleeper without being a sleeper hit; the game play, for the most part, dated back to Kee Games’ Tank! from several years earlier. But it’s fondly remembered today – and made enough of a mark for a unique home version. Continue reading

Astro Invader

Astro InvaderThe Game: Those pesky invaders from space are back, and this time they’ve devised a handy delivery system that drops entire columns of kamikaze invaders and motherships through a series of airborne chutes from an orbiting Stern command ship. Players can try to intercept invaders as they plummet toward Earth, but as their impact sends a cloud of debris spreading outward which can also destroy the player’s cannon, avoidance is a perfectly acceptable (if not exactly high-scoring) survival strategy. (Stern [under license from Union Denshi Kogyo Company], 1980)

Memories: As with numerous other big names in the industry at the end of the 1970s and the dawn of 1980, pinball maker Stern‘s angle of entry into the burgeoning video game business was a remix of Taito‘s Space Invaders. Yes, even the company who brought us Berzerk and Frenzy – as well as numerous licensed imports from Konami, among others – rode Taito’s coattails into the video game business. Continue reading

Asteroids Deluxe

Asteroids DeluxeThe Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of free-floating (and yet somehow deluxe) asteroids, but the job isn’t easy – Newton’s laws of motion must be obeyed, even by asteroids. When you blow a big rock into little chunks, those chunks go See the videoBuy this gamezipping off in opposite directions with the speed and force imparted by the amount of energy you used to dispel them. To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable hyperspace escape mechanism and a pesky UFO that likes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. Only this time you have shields. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: As an unspoken, unwritten internal rule, Atari’s coin-op division just didn’t do sequels. While other companies were happy to keep turning out endless variations on the same basic themes and attaching a number to the title each time, or some extra designation like “plus” or “deluxe,” Atari’s arcade designers reasoned that they had so many good ideas that they didn’t need to do sequels. The surprise success of Asteroids, however, was one case where Atari realized it could cash in if only it could ignore that rule. Continue reading

Battlezone

BattlezoneBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a heavy tank, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and landing vehicles. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Though the above description is exceedingly simple, See the videoBattlezone was another pillar of Atari’s stable of outstanding vector graphics games (which also included Tempest and Asteroids). With its two-stick control system, mimicking a real tank’s controls, its slowly lumbering game play, and its periscope-like screen, Battlezone was, for its day, an incredibly cool and realistic game (with a huge cabinet too). Continue reading

Balloon Bomber

Balloon BomberThe Game: Why worry about space invaders when there are more pressing earthly threats? Players guide a mobile cannon at the bottom of the screen, trying to take out a constant barrage of balloon bombers dropping live bombs. A direct hit to the cannon costs the player a “life,” but if the player allows a bomb to hit bottom, the results can be almost as dangerous: bombs crater the surface that the player’s cannon moves across, and allowing those pits to collect on the surface can severely limit the player’s movements, to the point of leaving the cannon a motionless sitting duck for the next round of balloon bombs, or a plane that periodically drops cluster bombs from overhead. (Taito, 1980)

Memories: One of the more obscure exponents of the same basic hardware platform that brought us Space Invaders Part II, Balloon Bomber is an interesting twist in the slide-and-shoot genre that’s based on a real (and very strange) footnote in history. Continue reading

Berzerk

BerzerkThe Game: You’re alone in a maze filled with armed, hostile robots who only have one mission – to kill you. If you even so much as touch the walls, you’ll wind up dead. You’re a little bit faster than the robots, and you have human instinct on your side…but even that won’t help you when Evil Otto, a deceptively friendly and completely See the videoindestructible smiley face, appears to destroy you if you linger too long in any one part of the maze. The object of the game? Try to stay alive however long you can. (Stern, 1980)

Memories: If Berzerk sounds a little bit familiar, it’s no coincidence. To some extent, the running-alone-through-an-enemy-filled-maze premise had been mined by Midway’s Wizard Of Wor (a game released around the same time), which even looked somewhat similar. Unlike the glut of Pac-Man clones, it’s probably not so much a question of plagiarism as a question of several game designers arriving at the same good idea at the same time. Continue reading

Carnival

CarnivalThe Game: Step right up, put your quarter on the table (well, okay, technically in the slot), and take your best shot. There are plenty of targets to hit, but no big plush bears to win. If you don’t take out the ducks before they reach the bottom row, they don’t cycle back to the top like the other targets – they start flying and can take See the videoserious amounts of ammo off your hands and end the game early! (1980, Sega)

Memories: In the wake of virtual shooting gallery games like Space Invaders, Carnival arrived on the scene to make the shooting gallery metaphor more literal. Well, more or less – killer ammo-grabbing ducks aren’t exactly standard issue at the state fair. (But seeing how much finesse they add to Carnival, they should be!) Continue reading

Centipede

CentipedeBuy this gameThe Game: Apparently, the exterminating business is getting more dangerous. In the course of trying to wipe out some vermin, you find yourself on the defensive – any of them can kill you simply by touching you. Fleas drop from the top of the screen, leaving bothersome mushrooms in their way. Scorpions periodically See the videopoison the mushrooms, making them impossible to destroy. And a pesky spider is always dancing around the screen. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: I was never that hot on Centipede, but this is mainly due to the fact that its trakball controller pretty much ensured that I sucked at this game. But many people just loved it. With the benefit of hindsight, and slightly better hand-eye coordination, I can now see why. Continue reading

Cosmic Guerilla

Cosmic GuerillaThe Game: The invaders are back, and this time they plan on making quick work of Earth’s defenses. Columns of alien invaders descend from space, staying safely outside of the range of the player’s cannon. A few aliens at a time break formation and attempt to reach the player’s floating stockpiles of ordnance and extra ships floating in the center of the screen; if the aliens are able to reach these items, the player will lose a life. The only option is to take out the invaders before they succeed. (Universal, 1980)

Memories: In the beginning, some of the most respectable future names in the video game business got their start cranking out clones of Pong. The ubiquitous success of Space Invaders had a similar effect; some of the earliest arcade efforts from some surprising names (including Nintendo) either remixed Taito‘s quarter-grabbing mega-hit, or copied it outright. Universal, the future makers of Mr. Do! and Ladybug, was not immune to Space Invaders fever either. Continue reading

Crazy Climber

Crazy ClimberBuy this gameThe Game: You control a daredevil stunt climber on his trip up the side of the Nichubutsu building, using no ropes, no nets, and nothing but his hands and his feet. Obstacles such as a large stork with (apparently flaming) droppings and a large gorilla (perhaps on loan from the Nintendo building) can cause you to plunge to your See the videodeath several stories below, and even minor things such as annoyed building tenants dropping potted plants at you from above can have the same disastrous effect. When you reach the top – if you reach the top, that is – a helicopter lifts you away to your next challenge. (Taito [under license from Nichibutstu], 1980)

Memories: A bit of a cult favorite that never achieved a major following, Crazy Climber was a staple of many arcades and game rooms in the early 80s. The two-joystick control scheme took a little bit of practice, but once players got used to it, it was a major and unique part of the game’s appeal. Continue reading

Defender

DefenderBuy this gameThe Game: Alien invaders besiege the helpless population of a planet, and you are the last line of defense. Ideally, you must destroy the aliens before they can abduct humanoids from the ground; if an alien ship gets to the top of the screen with a captive, it absorbs that unlucky soul and it becomes a much more dangerous and aggressive Mutant. Smart bombs give you the option to wipe out everything alien on the See the videoscreen, but of course you only have three of them at the outset of the game. You can also perform an emergency hyperspace warp, but you could rematerialize in a far more perilous situation than the one you just left. When you go to the next level by eliminating an entire alien fleet, you receive a bonus multiplied by the number of humans who are still safely on the ground. (Williams Electronics, 1980)

Memories: For many people, Defender is the pinnacle of video games, hands down. Fast-moving, unrelenting, hard to beat but easy to become addicted, Defender was always a bit too fast for me – but it’s a perennial favorite for so many others. Continue reading

King & Balloon

King & BalloonBuy this gameThe Game: Manning a fairly agile cannon located on a platform at a castle, your task is simple: protect the King! However, there’s a flotilla of even more agile balloons above you who are there to kidnap his royal highness. As the King is hoisted away by his assailants, he yells “Help!” If you shoot down the offending balloon, the King See the videoshouts “Thank you!” as he floats back to the safety of the castle via an umbrella. The balloons can ram your cannon kamikaze-style and flatten it for a few seconds, but curiously, you have an unlimited supply of cannons. However, if the balloon marauders get three Kings off the screen, your game ends. (Namco, 1980)

Memories: One of the most bizarre and obscure entries in the resumè of Namco (also responsible for classics like Galaga, Xevious, Dig Dug and a little thing we call Pac-Man), King & Balloon comes across as nothing so much as a bizarre attempt to repurpose Galaxian into a cutesy game. The one-shot-on-screen-at-a-time, the attack patterns of the balloons and some of the sound effects hammer the similarities home. Continue reading

Magical Spot

Magical SpotThe Game: The good news: Darwin was right, evolution is a thing. The bad news: this does not work in your favor. You man a laser cannon trying to intercept alien insects making their way toward the bottom of the screen; at the most inconvenient times, the bugs revert to a pupal stage during which they’re either impossible to hit or invulnerable. They then emerge in a newer, faster, deadlier form bent on destroying you. (Universal, 1980)

Memories: Evolution is a pretty interesting idea to try to frame in the context of a game; almost without exception, it’s been used as an excuse for the game to suddenly make either the player’s enemies stronger and faster. The strangely titled Magical Spot – referring, perhaps, to the single-pixel points on the screen upon which enemy bugs can perch and shrink down to un-shootable size – is a prime example. Continue reading

Missile Command

Missile CommandBuy this gameThe Game: Tucked away safely in an underground bunker, you are solely responsible for defending six cities from a relentless, ever-escalating ICBM attack. Your three missile bases are armed with nuclear missiles capable of intercepting the incoming enemy nukes, planes and smart bombs. One nuke hit on any of your three launch bases will incapacitate that facility for the rest of your current turn, but one nuke See the videohit on any of your six cities will destroy it completely. (The only chance you have of rebuilding a city comes when a bonus city is awarded for every 10,000 points scored.) And when all six of your cities have been destroyed, the cataclysmic end of the world proceeds. Game over. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Possibly the first video game ever to register on the so-called moral compass, Atari’s Missile Command contained a strong, anti-nuclear message, arriving at the dawn of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. For those of you who weren’t alive at that time, here’s a little bit of historical context. Continue reading

Moon Cresta

Moon CrestaBuy this gameThe Game: As commander of the three-stage fighter rocket Moon Cresta, your job is to ward off endless varieties of evasively weaving space attackers. Every time you knock out two consecutive screens of assailants, you’ll have an opportunity to dock your ship to another one of Moon Cresta’s three stages, until all three See the videoportions of the ship are combined to create one bad-ass weapons platform. But you can also lose stages very quickly, ending your game – a bigger ship makes a bigger and easier target. (Sega/Gremlin [under license from Nichibutsu], 1980)

Memories: Moon Cresta had a very cool idea which was ripped off by a handful of its contemporaries – instead of giving the player a set number of “lives,” players had three rocket stages. Losing even one stage could seriously hamper your life expectancy in the game in later levels, and you could lose a stage to anything from enemy fire to not lining your stages up correctly during docking. This actually made Moon Cresta a very challenging game – but also a very fun one. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManBuy this gameThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). See the videoPeriodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

Memories: It began in 1979 when a young Namco game designer named Toru Iwitani made his fourth video game. Fascinated with pinball, Iwitani had created a series of games combining pinball physics with Breakout-style brick-busting elements, and while Gee Bee, Bomb Bee and Cutie Q were moderate successes for Namco, enough to keep Iwitani employed and developing new titles, the designer himself was finally ready to move beyond video pinball. Cutie Q was one of the first hints as to Toru Iwitani’s next project, with its colorfully cartoony monsters. With a small team of developers at his disposal, Iwitani – supposedly inspired by the shape of a pizza with one slice removed – set about creating a new game with nearly universal appeal. Continue reading

Phoenix

PhoenixThe Game: In a heavily armed space fighter, your job is pretty simple – ward off wave after wave of bird-like advance fighters and Phoenix creatures until you get to the mothership, and then try to blow that to smithereens. All of which would be simple if not for the aliens’ unpredictable kamikaze dive-bombing patterns. The See the videoBuy this gamePhoenix creatures themselves are notoriously difficult to kill, requiring a direct hit in the center to destroy them – otherwise they’ll grow back whatever wings you managed to pick off of them and come back even stronger. (Taito, 1980)

Memories: Phoenix is one of my two favorite games to emerge from the shooting game genre which emerged from the success of Taito’s own Space Invaders. Most shooter games involve chance, luck, and precious little skill, and very few of them give you the chance to try to work out any kind of strategy. Two exceptions I can think of are Midway’s Galaga and this game. Continue reading

Rally-X

3-D computer rendering of Rally-X cabinetThe Game: Go, Speed Racer, go! (Well, almost.) As the driver of a high-powered race car, you rocket around corners and down straightaways, trying to pick up every yellow flag in the maze-like course and avoiding deadly collisions with pursuing red cars. Watch out for rocks and oil spills, and use your smokescreen See the videoBuy this gameonly when necessary to distance yourself from the red cars. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1980)

Memories: Namco released Rally-X at the same time as Pac-Man, and like Pac-Man, Namco licensed Rally-X to Midway. In fact, the major buzz at that year’s AMOA (Amusement Machine Operators’ Association) annual trade show – where arcade owners tried to figure out which would be the hottest new games to buy for their establishments – was for this dandy little racing/maze game, and Pac-Man was considered an also-ran, perhaps a little too abstract for the U.S. market. Continue reading

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