Crazy Kong

Crazy KongThe Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps the girlfriend of an unidentified plumber and hauls her up to the top of a building. You are that plumber who shall remain nameless, dodging Donkey Crazy Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and fireballs in your attempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Crazy Kong. This rescue operation is repeated in several settings: a screen of sloped girders, a cement factory with conveyor belts, a series of precarious platforms and elevators, and the top of the building, with rivets that can be removed to send Donkey Crazy Kong plummeting to the ground… and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Falcon, 1981)

Memories: As was often the case in the early ’80s, when the video game business was a vast, unexplored frontier, there were legal boundaries waiting to be pushed – and quite a few that just didn’t exist yet. From the same mentality that brought about an exact duplicate of Scramble from another company, and brought you Piranha and Popeye Pac-Man, came a Donkey Kong dupe: Crazy Kong. Continue reading

Astrosmash

AstrosmashThe Game: The end of the world is near: asteroids and meteors are careening toward the surface of your planet at breathtaking speeds. Manning a speedy mobile laser cannon, your job is to take out or dodge the falling fragments from See the videoBuy this gamespace. Letting stray impactors past your defenses will actually diminish your score, but blasting them while they’re still incoming can create another dilemma: they split into smaller pieces which are still falling toward the ground. You’ll lose a cannon if debris lands on it, and you’ll lose the game (please note the air of certainty there) when you run out of cannons. Apparently this asteroid apocalypse is no force of nature either, as bombs both large and small fall toward you as well… (Mattel Electronics, 1981)

See the original TV adMemories: As was the case with the Odyssey2, some of the early arcade-style Intellivision offerings were near-beer versions of bigger brand-name hits – to which Atari, more often than not, held the rights. Astrosmash is one of the Intellivision’s signature games, and it’s a beautiful example of making a virtue out of not being able to ape a popular game too closely. 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 See the videoyour side…but even that won’t help you when Evil Otto, a deceptively friendly and completely indestructible 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. (Atari, 1981)

Memories: Despite such atrocities as the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, Atari managed to turn out a fantastic version of Stern’s hit arcade game. Almost flicker-free, and lacking only the arcade game’s primitive speech synthesis (not that much of a loss, truth be told), Atari’s Berzerk cartridge was a very good reason to own the 2600. Continue reading

Defender

DefenderThe Game: You’re a lone space pilot in very unfriendly territory, trying to stop a seemingly endless attacking fleet of aliens from kidnapping and “mutating” hapless innocents on the ground into new berzerker opponents. (Atari, See the video1981)

Memories: Though a bit more faithful to its source material than, say, the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, this first home edition of Defender suffered from many of the same problems, namely an intensely annoying “flickering” effect that affected virtually everything on the screen, from the scrolling “mountains” to the player’s own ship to the enemy fighters. Continue reading

Freeway

FreewayThe Game: Why the chicken crossed the road is no longer the question. Now the question is will the chicken cross the road? That part is up to you. You are the chicken. You must avoid traffic, but that’s a real challenge when Buy this gameyou’re confined to a straight vertical line from the bottom of the screen to the top. You can’t deviate left or right. You can only charge – or retreat. Getting hit by a car will send you back to your starting position to try again. Getting all the way across the street increases your score by one point. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: An incredibly fun game, and one of a then-dying (well, for that matter, it’s still dying) breed of two-player games, Freeway beat the Atari 2600 version of Frogger to the stores by a year. Continue reading

Ice Hockey

Ice HockeyBuy this gameThe Game: Hit the ice and get the puck outta here. You have control of two players in this scaled-down match: one offensive player and one defensive player who can leave his goalie position (but not without giving the other team a better chance to land a shot). Keep the other team – whether it’s a second player or the “Activision computer” – from getting a goal, while trying to get past their defenses to slam a shot into their net. The holder of the highest score when the clock runs out is the winner. (Activision, 1981)

See the videoMemories: Hockey had been a fixture of the video game world long before Activision released Ice Hockey as one of its earliest titles. Early video hockey was essentially Pong with hockey rules, despite attempts to make the players look more like people than paddles (see the Odyssey 500 console). But Ice Hockey flipped the playing field 90 degrees, and made the on-screen characters look and act like human hockey players – right down to being knocked on their butts. Continue reading

Kaboom!

Kaboom!Buy this gameThe Game: No manifestos, no political agendas, nothing like that – there’s just a mad bomber at the top of the screen, with a seemingly endless supply of explosives to chuck at you. You, on the other hand, have rather more limited resources – namely, three buckets of water. Your job is to keep those buckets right under the bombs and catch them all. If a bomb gets through, it costs you a bucket. If you lose your last bucket, you’ll be going out with a bang and a whimper. Catching all of the buckets in a given level of the game gives you a brief pause to prepare for the next wave – because your adversary’s using that brief pause to go cook up more bombs. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: Another one of Activision’s early best-sellers, Kaboom! is good, colorful fun – and it’s about as original as the concept of a madman with a bomb. As was typical in these early days before look-and-feel lawsuits became almost routine, the basic game play of Kaboom! was “borrowed” from an early black & white Atari coin-op called Avalanche. In that game, the bombs were falling rocks, and the whole thing was essentially a variation on the theme of Breakout. Continue reading

K.C. Munchkin!

K.C. Munchkin!The Game: As a small blue spherical creature whose sole sensory organs consist of two eyes, two antennae and an enormous mouth, you are on a mission to eat twelve dots which are floating around a small maze. Pursuing you are three See the videomulticolored jellyfish-like horrors who will gobble you up on contact. (North American Philips, 1981)

Memories: K.C. Munchkin!, for its similarities to Pac-Man, actually got Magnavox sued…by Atari! Huh? Follow me: Bally/Midway were, at the time, the U.S. copyright holders of the concept and code for the arcade Pac-Man…should they not have filed that suit rather than Atari, which was still fuming over the richly-deserved flood of negative reviews for its horrible Atari 2600 Pac-Man adaptation? Continue reading

Keyboard Creations!

Keyboard Creations!The Game: Well, it’s really not much of a game. It’s more like a home simulation of an early-1980s public access cable channel. You can type up crawls that scroll across the screen, as well as setting an on-screen clock. Events can See the videoalso be programmed to trigger special messages either at a pre-set time, or at regular intervals. (Magnavox, 1981)

Memories: Magnavox touted Keyboard Creations! as an essential tool for home videos, or anyone throwing parties, but it turned out more like a home version of that one cable channel that always occupied a slot somewhere in the lower 13, usually right below USA Network – you know, that one that had the time, the temperature, and the city trash pickup schedule. Continue reading

Laser Blast

Laser BlastBuy this gameThe Game: What a refreshing change of pace. This time, you control a wave of spaceships attacking from the sky, and the computer is stuck on the ground firing at you. It’s payback time! Destroy the ground defense positions and guide your flying saucers into attack position. But apparently the three-lives rule doesn’t apply to the computer: you can never completely get rid of the ground defenses…you only encounter more agile ones. So, being the unfair world that it is, the game continues until you run out of ships. (Activision, 1981)

Memories: This craftily subversive title from Activision turns a lot of scroll-and-shoot conventions on their ear, but at its heart, it’s a little bit of Defender and a little bit of Sky Diver and a whole lot of madness. Continue reading

Missile Command

Missile CommandSee the videoThe Game: Tucked away safely in an underground bunker, you are solely responsible for defending six cities from a relentless, ever-escalating ICBM attack. Your missile base is armed with three banks of nuclear missiles capable of intercepting the incoming enemy nukes, planes and smart bombs. One nuke hit on your base will incapacitate one bank of missiles for the rest of your current turn, but one nuke hit 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, 1981)

Memories: After the runaway success of the licensed Space Invaders and its own in-house Asteroids translation, Atari started mining its own vaults for new cartridges – and Missile Command, the legendary Cold War video game that had given its designer nightmares about nuclear war, was a prime target. Continue reading

Muncher

MuncherThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, See the videolarge flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period. Periodically, 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, 1981)

Memories: 1981 was the year of Pac-Man fever, when everybody wanted to get the yellow gobbler on their console, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. Bally – having already tried to play fast and loose with licensing by releasing a dead-on accurate but unlicensed version of Galaxian under a different name – took another roll of the dice (appropriately for an outfit that also had a healthy stake in the casino business)…and lost. Continue reading

Pinball

PinballBuy this gameThe Game: It’s a game of video pinball where you can even bump the table to influence the ball’s path. You can even launch the ball into a second level to score big bonus points. Just don’t let it slide out of the reach of your flippers… (Mattel Electronics, 1981)

See the videoMemories: As a rule, I don’t do the video pinball thing. You can look throughout Phosphor Dot Fossils and you’ll find very few big thumbs-up for video pinball. But so help me, Pinball on Intellivision is rather fun. It takes into account some of the physics (though far from all) involved in a pinball table, even the external factors such as the good old-fashioned, time-honored bump-the-machne maneuver. Continue reading

Skeet Shoot

Skeet ShootThe Game: Line up moving targets in your sights and blast ’em away. The more targets you hit, the more points you get. Simple enough, eh? Just don’t expect everything to travel in a straight line – and keep in mind that something like 80% of the time you won’t have a chance of hitting anything at all due to where you’re positioned. (Games By Apollo, 1981)

Memories: The 198384 crash of the home video game industry has often been blamed on an unstoppable tsunami wave of lousy games being produced by companies that had never before shown an interest in the field. Some pundits point at Activision‘s defeat of an Atari lawsuit – which claimed that third-party games would be unfair competition, as they alleged Activision‘s four principal programmers were using Atari trade secrets – as the first crack in the dam. And maybe they’re right. But at first, with Activision and Imagic releasing well-programmed, colorful, cutting edge and most of all fun games, it was all good – and Atari was still selling hardware, so how could they prove they’d lose out on the deal? Continue reading

Snafu

SnafuThe Game: As one of four color-coded player icons on the screen, you begin the round at one edge of the rectangular playing field. Your icon leaves a solid wall behind it, tracing your path. You try to trap other players or computer-controlled See the videoBuy this gameicons in your wake, while avoiding the solid walls tracing their icons and your own trail, which is just as deadly. (Mattel, 1981)

Memories: Look familiar? A year later, and this gem of simplicity undoubtedly would have been titled Tron Light Print new overlaysCycles (and just for giggles, we’ve prepared a special keypad overlay to fit that theme. The light cycle sequence from the movie Tron (as well as the similar screen in the arcade game based on the movie) and the basic premise of Snafu are the same. Continue reading

Space Armada

Space ArmadaBuy this gameThe Game: You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your See the videoonly defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster and more aggressive – appears. When the aliens manage to land on Earth…it’s all over. (Mattel, 1981)

Memories: Sound familiar? It should. This early entry in Mattel’s library of Intellivision games is, rather obviously, a not-very-thinly-disguised version of Space Invaders, the game whose home version had made the Atari 2600 a household name in the home video game biz. Continue reading

Spacechase

SpacechaseThe Game: Piloting a lone spaceship zipping over a planet’s surface in a low, fast orbit, your mission is to kick some evasive alien butt. Drawing a See the videobead on the aliens is much harder than it looks, and they arrive in waves of four. Naturally, it seems like it’s much easier for them to target you… (Games By Apollo, 1981)

Memories: Quite an improvement over Richardson, Texas-based Games By Apollo’s first game, the disastrously bad Skeet Shoot, Spacechase isn’t going to blow the doors down in the game originality department, but it wasn’t bad for the VCS at all. The scrolling planetscape beneath the player’s ship may look like an artist’s vague impression of some Arizona landscape, but with games like Defender struggling to get the side-scrolling thing right, it was quite an accomplishment. Continue reading

Space Battle

Space BattleBuy this gameThe Game: You command a mighty battleship with three squadrons of fighters at your disposal to fend off five alien attack fleets. You can manually dispatch your fighter squadrons, send them directly into battle, and recall them to See the original TV addefend your ship. When your fighters go into battle, you can assume control personally and engage in a dogfight with the agile enemy fighters, or you can let the computer fight your battles on autopilot (it’ll get the job done, but usually with an undesirable, if not unacceptable, rate of losses for your side). The game ends when your squadrons have eliminated all of the converging alien fleets, or when the aliens have made quick work of both your squadrons and your command ship. (Mattel Electronics, 1979)

Memories: In 1979, Glen Larson’s TV space epic Battlestar Galactica was as hot a property as you could get on the small screen, with its movie-scale special effects (or at least, the show’s underbudgeted and overworked producers and special effects wizards hoped you thought the effects were movie-scale). Having watched rival toy maker Kenner score a major coup with the license to manufacture toys based on Star Wars, Mattel quickly stepped in to snag the rights for Battlestar Galactica. Short of whatever Star Wars sequel George Lucas turned out next, Galactica was as close as you could get to the next big thing. Continue reading

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