Solar Fox

Solar FoxThe Game: Your ship is confined to a grid-like playing field, which isn’t all that bad until you take into account that armed ships are gliding along all four of the “walls” surrounding that grid, blasting away at you like a fish in a barrel. Your job is the clear the grid of the objects filling it, and wherever possible, to fire a well-timed shot at the ships trying to destroy you. Clearing the grid advances you to the next level. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Another variation on the clear-the-maze concept, Solar Fox only climbed its way up to “sleeper” status, if even that. I don’t recall any reports about Solar Fox burning up the arcades. It had some fairly nice cabinet artwork, playing on the word play of fox (as in a hunted animal) vs. fox (as in slang for an attractive woman), which featured heavily in the advertising campaign. Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space 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… (Sega, 1982)
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Memories: In the wake of the unexpected theatrical success of the second Star Trek movie, Sega revamped the popular Star Trek computer game that has been – and still is – available on almost every computer platform since the beginning of time, giving it vector graphics renditions of the movie Enterprise, Klingon ships, and starbases, not to mention cool-looking phasers and photon torpedoes (actually the best part of the game). Continue reading

Super Pac-Man

Super Pac-ManBuy this gameThe Game: Once again, Pac-Man roams the maze, pursued by four colorful ghosts. But instead of dots, this maze is peppered with other goodies, ranging from the usual fruits (apples, bananas, etc.) to donuts, cake, and burgers. And in addition to the traditional four “power pellets” in each corner of the screen, there are two green “super power pellets” per screen, which give the mighty yellow one the power to fly over the monsters’ heads and to break down doors that confine some of the yummy treats in the maze. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: The earliest of several very strange departures from the successful Pac-Man formula, Super Pac-Man was still a fun and, more often than not, fondly remembered game, even if it was ever so slightly baffling. Admittedly, even the mention above of Pac-Man flying is my own interpretation, based on the Pac-Man-going-on-Superman artwork on the arcade cabinet. It’s a bizarre little concept! Continue reading

Super Mouse

Super MouseThe Game: Super Mouse is on the case. He’s trying to grab all the food from every level of the screen. While he’s on the case, cats are on the chase, trying to catch Super Mouse. Two blocks of cheese on the top levels of the screen can be dropped on top of the cats, or the cats can be tricked into chasing Super Mouse over a trap door that’ll dump them in a water tank. But the cats don’t stay gone for long. Super Mouse advances to a new level when he takes every piece of food back to his secret hideout. (Taito, 1982)

Memories: Barely remembered by anyone, Super Mouse was one of the hundreds of games that heralded the 1982 arcade “boom,” when no idea was too strange or too derivative. Super Mouse combines elements of Donkey Kong and Turtles (not exactly two games that one hears mentioned in the same breath a lot) to create something intriguingly unique. But it’s not all that and a piece of cheese. Continue reading

Super Zaxxon

Super ZaxxonThe Game: That armed-to-the-teeth spaceborne fortress is back – and so are you, because you’re (of course) the only space pilot who can take it on. This time, however, you’ll be flying through the trench-like space station faster, the automated missiles and gun turrets will attack you more quickly and aggressively, and instead of flying through space between levels, this time you shoot through a tightly-enclosed tunnel at bat-out-of-hell speeds – trying to battle enemy fighters as well as minelaying hovercraft which drop indestructible mines into your path. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all? Whereas the boss waiting for you in Zaxxon‘s fortress was a big robot, this one’s an animè-cute dragon – and it’ll still kick your ass if you don’t blow it up first. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: Originally sold as a conversion kit so arcade operators could freshen up their year-old Zaxxon machines, Super Zaxxon really did nothing more than swap out the graphics set and increased the speed of the game phenomenally. If you thought Zaxxon was a breeze, this game will wake you up. Continue reading

Swimmer

SwimmerBuy this gameThe Game: You’re a swimmer, and you’re doing what any swimmer does – splashing your way down the river, trying to avoid typical deadly swimming hazards like fast-moving floating logs and gigantic killer crabs. And like most See the videoswimmers, you’re trying to collect yummy prizes from the water, such as cherries and bunches of grapes. Dive under the obstacles, work your way around the predators, reach the finish line and swim on to the next level! (Tehkan, 1982)

Memories: Okay, it has to be said at last. I have to get it on the record. What is it with the diet of early 80s video game characters? Really. Everyone’s eating cherries and apples and other fruit – think about it: Pac-Man, Kangaroo, Mr. Do and Swimmer seem to be subsisting on a largely fruit-based diet. Now, this probably little to do with the produce industry, and everything to do with fruit being the most recognizable foodstuff that could be produced with the graphics capabilities of the time. Still, it’s a funny coincidence that crosses species, game companies, genres and everything except the food pyramid. Continue reading

Time Tunnel

Time TunnelThe Game: As the conductor of a time-traveling train, you must find and collect your passenger cars in the present day, move on to the near future to pull up to several stations and fill those cars with time travelers, and then deposit See the videothem at various attractions in the distant future. That would be difficult enough to do without running out of fuel, but you also have to contend with space creatures and repeatedly avoid collisions with a competing train by controlling the switches on the tracks. (1982, Taito)

Memories: This exceedingly obscure Taito arcade game is cute and innovative – it’s certainly not another riff on Loco-Motion, that’s for sure. But if you don’t remember it, there may be a reason – it takes several minutes to play a single game. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but the very nature of arcade games is to vanquish as many challengers as possible, and quickly – the more people come back to play an arcade game, the more money it earns, so conventional wisdom among arcade operators in the 1980s was to dispense quickly with any game that didn’t chew through players’ quarters quickly. A game that took a long time to play had limited earning potential, three words that could get an arcade game scrapped, sent back to the distributor, or converted into another game in record time. Continue reading

Time Pilot

Time PilotBuy this gameThe Game: You’re flying solo through the fourth dimension! In what must be the least subtle time-traveling intervention since the last time there was a time travel episode on Star Trek: Voyager, you’re blasting your way through dozens of aircraft from 1940 through 1982. From WWII-era prop planes, to Vietnam-era helicopters, to 1982, where you confront jet fighters with the same maneuverability as your plane, you’re in for quite a wild ride. Rescue parachutists and complete the level by destroying “boss” craft such as heavy planes and dirigibles. (Centuri [under license from Konami], 1982)

Memories: One of Konami’s best-ever coin-ops, Time Pilot is an outstanding combination of addictive game play and the concept of “wanting to see what’s on the next level.” If you’re good enough, you get to see what kind of aircraft you’ll be up against in the next time period. Continue reading

Tron

TronBuy this gameThe Game: Based on the most computerized movie of its era, the Tron arcade game puts you in the role of the eponymous video warrior in a variety of contests. In the Grid Bug game, you must eliminate as many grid bugs (who are naturally deadly to the touch) as possible and enter the I/O tower safely before the fast-See the videomoving timer hits zero. The maddening Light Cycle game was the only stage to directly correspond with the movie. You and your opponent face off in super-fast Light Cycles, which leave solid walls in their wake. You must not collide with the computer’s Light Cycle, its solid trail, or the walls of the arena. To win, you must trap the other Light Cycle(s) (in later stages, you face three opponents) within the solid wake of your own vehicle. The MCP game is basically a simple version of Breakout, but the wall of colors rotated counter-clockwise, threatening to trap you if you made a run for it through a small gap. The Tank game is a tricky chase through a twisty maze, where you try to blast opposing tank(s) three times each…while they need to score only one hit on your tank to put you out of commission. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Okay, granted, so there really isn’t much correlation between Tron the game and Tron the movie, but in this case, it doesn’t matter. The game, with its awesome backlit cabinet graphics of special effects stills from the movie successfully, stole just enough of the movie’s millieu to be a successful tie-in – and let’s not forget the awesome polyphonic recreation of Wendy Carlos’ cool synthesized score from the movie, which was heard mainly during the Grid Bug game. Continue reading

Tunnel Hunt

Tunnel HuntThe Game: Piloting a ship navigating a tunnel in space at breakneck speeds, your mission – aside from screaming down that tunnel way over the speed limit without getting too far off course- is to dispatch countless suspiciously bow-tie-shaped fighters before they get a clear shot at you. (Has anyone ever wondered what all these See the videoshort-range fighters are doing out here? Bah, never mind. Probably got separated from a convoy or something.) If the enemy ships do manage to get a shot off, you have a narrow window of opportunity in which to intercept the incoming laser fire – very narrow, considering how fast everything is moving. Fire too much, and your lasers overheat and become temporarily useless. Stray too far off course, and your hull temperature shoots upward until your ship explodes. (Atari, 1979 – released by Centuri in 1982)

Memories: This oft-forgotten gem in Atari’s coin-op library may well be the very first first-person arcade flight sim, and it’s an eye-searingly psychedelic riot of colors to boot. That this game isn’t recognized in the same annals as Atari’s Asteroids or Tempest for innovation probably goes down to its obscurity. Continue reading

Turtles

3-D computer rendering of Turtles cabinetThe Game: You are the Mama Turtle. Your helpless KidTurtles are stuck in a high-rise building, hiding from mean and hungry beetles. The beetles change colors in accordance with their speed and ferocity, from less aggressive green and blue beetles to fast, furious yellow and red beetles. Mama Turtle has to evade the beetles (which are deadly to touch at all times) and touch the mystery squares See the videothroughout the maze. The squares could reveal another beetle, or they could reveal one of the KidTurtles. When Mama Turtle picks up a KidTurtle, a safe house appears – usually all the way across the maze – and she must deposit the KidTurtles in the safe house, one at a time. Mama Turtle’s only recourse against the beetles is to lay “bombs” in the maze. Each bomb – and there can only be one on screen at a time – will reduce the first beetle that hits it back to the lowest speed/danger level, buying Mama Turtle a little time. (Mama Turtle can pass over her own bombs harmlessly.) The catch? You only start out with three bombs (is anyone else drawing some grim biological anologies to what Mama Turtle’s “bombs” might be at this point?), and you can replenish your supply of bombs only by running over an occasional flashing symbol which appears at the precise center of the maze…which is usually the most dangerous spot on the screen. Clearing a maze of KidTurtles allows you to climb to the next floor of the building and start anew. (Stern [under license from Konami], 1982)

Memories: Turtles is among the most obscure exponents of the maze chase format to hit the arcade in the early ’80s. I think I saw – maybe – one Turtles arcade game in my life, and it was only there for a few weeks. Actually, though, it’s not a bad game. Continue reading

Xevious

XeviousThe Game: As the commander of a sleek Solvalou fighter, you’re deep into enemy territory, shooting their disc-shaped fighters out of the sky, bombing ground installations and artillery nests, bombing tanks, and trying to destroy the mothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and Buy this gamedeadly ground-based defenses become the norm. Also look out for tumbling airborne mirrors – they’re impervious to your fire, but you’re toast if you fly right into them. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

Memories: A very cool game indeed, Xevious was extremely challenging and quite nice to look at as well. The controls were smooth, and you really did have a full range of control over where your fighter was on the screen. Continue reading

Wacko

3-D computer rendering of Wacko game cabinetBuy this gameThe 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 See the videothe 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.

Wacko Wacko

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 4 quarters!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.

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

Jin

JinThe Game: The player controls a marker, trying to claim as much of the playing field as possible by enclosing areas of it. Drawing boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves the marker vulnerable to attack from the Jin and from the enemies in hot pursuit of the marker’s every move, is worth many more points upon the completion of an enclosed area. If the ever-shifting Jin touches the marker or an uncompleted boundary it is drawing, a “life” is lost and the game starts again. (Falcon, 1982)

Memories: Not content merely to copy Donkey Kong in the form of Crazy Kong (though that game was actually Nintendo-licensed for distribution in Far East markets outside Japan, and never intended to wind up in North America, though it did anyway), bootleg maker Falcon diversified its offerings by copying another Japanese game maker, unapologetically turning Taito‘s Qix into Jin. But for some bizarre reason, Falcon used a different game’s hardware to do this. Continue reading

Change Lanes

Change LanesThe Game: The future! A dystopia of fast driving! Players are behind the wheel of a multi-terrain vehicle that can switch from fast handling on solid surfaces to amphibious speedboat in the blink of an eye. The currency of this violent future is fuel for this vehicle, and enemies in similar vehicles and in airborne vehicles will stop at nothing to claim fuel for themselves, regardless of the player’s safety. Grey highways and rivers are the usual modes of travel, though brown highways offer faster travel. Checkpoints must be reached in the correct order to rack up bonus points (players who arrive at the wrong checkpoint will be greeted with a checkerboard pattern instead of a number), but all checkpoints, even the wrong ones, grant players extra fuel. Surface enemies can be rammed out of the way, but there’s no honor lost in surviving by throwing the vehicle into reverse gear. Whoever survives the longest and scores the highest is crowned the Supreme King of the World. (Taito America, 1982)

Memories: Before there was RoadBlasters, before the first-person-driving-and-combat genre became a fleeting fixture on the arcade landscape, there was Taito‘s Change Lanes, an aggressive novelty in an increasingly crowded field of first-person racers. Sure, games like Pole Position and Turbo offered us the chance to race with an unprecedented view…but Change Lanes changed the venue, setting it in a kind of genteel Mad Max-inspired world: sure, fuel is a precious commodity, and in-game enemies will kill to keep the player from acquiring it…and yet someone’s maintaining the infrastructure. Good job on those frictionless brown lanes, infrastructure people. Continue reading

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