51 Shades of Geek

Super Breakout

Super BreakoutThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. In some games, there may be other, free-floating balls trapped in “cavities” in the bricks, and setting them loose will mean you’ll have several balls – and not all of them necessarily yours, disturbingly enough – to handle. Missing one of your balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Super Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: So let’s see here. Atari had this great new console which sported, essentially, the guts of their Atari 400 computer, quite a bit of processing power (for its day) for a game-playing machine. Capable of detailed, colorful graphics and excellent sound effects, the Atari 5200 would, of course, need a fantastic pack-in title at launch, something which would showcase its amazing abilities. And that’s all fine and well, but what the poor 5200 wound up with was Super Breakout. Continue reading

SwordQuest: Earthworld

Swordquest: EarthworldBuy this gameThe Game: As a lone adventurer, you wander through the labyrinthine expanses of an underground dungeon in search of a lost treasure. You must cross Frogger-esque screens of fast-moving logs, avoid rooms full of deadly spears which will only kill you just enough to drop-kick your sorry butt back to the bottom of the screen, and enjoy the full capabilities of the Atari 2600’s ability to generate varying frequencies of white noise. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: One of the handful of debacles that marked the change in Atari‘s fortunes, the SwordQuest series was a very heavily-hyped four-game saga which tried to break new ground in the adventure genre for the 2600 console. Sadly, it didn’t even get close to breaking ground, or even wind for that matter – the fourth title, Airworld, was never released. Supposedly, the winners of each of the first three games would compete for a bejewelled prize and the opportunity to reconvene for a tournament to complete the fourth game first and win a wildly expensive sword. Continue reading

Threshold

ThresholdThe Game: A lone space pilot is faced with the impossible task of fending off an entire alien invasion force single-handedly. Colliding with either the aliens or their decidedly unfriendly fire costs the player a ship. Clearing the screen of aliens only reveals a further wave of extraterrestrial killing machines. (Tigervision, 1982)

Memories: Tiger Electronics‘ entry into the increasingly crowded Atari VCS arena had a bit of an insurance policy: Tiger had made a deal with Sierra (then known as On-Line Systems) to port some of the company’s home computer hits to the console market. Threshold had a unique place in Sierra history: its programmer, Warren Schwader, was the company’s first employee from “outside the family” (all of the company’s previous products had been programmed by its founders, the husband-and-wife team of Ken and Roberta Williams). Continue reading

Tron Deadly Discs

Tron Deadly DiscsThe Game: You are Tron, a lone video game warrior pitted against three other enemies with much greater armament. You can take a number of hits before you’re “de-rezzed” out of existence, but those hits can pile up pretty quickly. By throwing your disc at certain portions of the arena wall and changing them to the same color as your on-screen character, you can make tunnels for yourself – not unlike the side tunnels in Pac-Man – handy for escape or ambush. (M Network [Mattel], 1982)

Memories: Though it only corresponds to a very brief scene in the movie Tron, Deadly Discs is a very addictive game – and quite a bit of fun, actually! Continue reading

Tron Maze-a-Tron

Tron Maze-a-TronThe Game: You are Flynn, the hero of the movie Tron. In phase one of the game, you navigate a maze of circuitry, avoiding Recognizers, and trying to, as the manual puts it, “gather zeroes to clear the RAM chips.” In phase two, you’re up against the Master Control Program itself, and you can beat it by matching pairs of numbers in the “bit stream” to pairs in the nearby “bit stack”…or something like that. (Mattel, 1982)

Memories: Maze-a-Tron never got around to impressing me. The rule book is thicker than I could imagine the program would be, and the needlessly complicated game play really doesn’t inspire me to come back for more. And in a way, it almost seems like a game that had little to do with Tron, but was barely similar enough that it merited the grafting-on of elements such as the MCP and the Recognizers from the movie, and voila, instant licensed product. Continue reading

Tron Solar Sailer

Tron Solar SailerThe Game: In the third and final game of the trilogy of Intellivision games based on the movie Tron, you’re piloting the solar sailer vehicle stolen by Tron and Yori about 2/3 of the way through the movie. You ride the light beams through the digital realm, avoiding deadly (but dumb) grid bugs and pursuing Recognizers. You can fire weapons at both of the above, but doing this and keeping yourself on a clear path is the real challenge. (Mattel, 1982)

Memories: Of any of the Tron games Mattel manufactured for its own Intellivision platform or the Atari 2600, Solar Sailer is probably the one which is most closely related to a scene in the movie. It may also be the hardest. Continue reading

Tron Deadly Discs

Tron Deadly DiscsThe Game: You are Tron, a lone video game warrior pitted against three other enemies with much greater armament. You can take a number of hits before you’re “de-rezzed” out of existence, but those hits can pile up pretty quickly. By throwing your disc at certain portions of the arena wall and changing them to the same color as your on-screen character, you can make tunnels for yourself – not unlike the side tunnels in Pac-Man – handy for escape or ambush. Every so often, however, a Recognizer will enter the arena, send out a force field to attempt to hold Tron immobile, and will close off those exits to restore the odds in favor of the house. If the Recognizer crushes Tron, that’ll end the game as quickly as letting the video warriors blast him repeatedly. (Mattel, 1982)

Print new overlaysMemories: Easily the most playable of the three Intellivision games based on Tron, Deadly Discs was also later ported to the Atari 2600, and despite the nice graphical bells and whistles bestowed upon this edition, it’s the 2600 version of the game which is most playable. Continue reading

Turmoil

TurmoilThe Game: Players pilot a ship trapped in a maze of vertically stacked level, teeming with aliens who are all deadly to the touch. The good news is that the ship has an inexhaustible supply of ammo. The not-so-good news is that the bad guys have an inexhaustible supply of bad guys. Players have to keep the ship from colliding with the enemy, while shooting at the enemy and watching out for split-second opportunities to grab any bonus items that may make a fleeting appearance. Just one word of caution: the prizes turn into smart bombs if you wait too long to go pick them up. (20th Century Fox, 1982)

Memories: Similar in execution to other “vertical shooters” like Ram It!, Turmoil has speed on its side, along with the cruel twist of forcing the player to retrieve bonuses that may blow up in his face. Continue reading

Type & Tell

Type & TellThe Game: You type! It talks! And occasionally you have to throw the damnedest misspellings at it to get it to say the simplest words. And despite the back of the box claiming that it “plays fun games,” it’s much more likely that it’ll just make some fun (and weird) sounds. (Magnavox, 1982)

Memories: A pack-in cartridge included with the Voice of Odyssey 2, Type & Tell is actually a barely-glorified Odyssey version of Speak ‘n’ Spell, except everything it says is in a monotone robotic voice which one of the video game magazines of the time once described as “Darth Vader on quaaludes.” (One of these days, remind me to tell you about my mother’s reaction when I asked her, after reading that review, what quaaludes were.) Continue reading

Vanguard

VanguardThe Game: Your Vanguard space fighter has infiltrated a heavily-defended alien base. The enemy outnumbers you by six or seven to one at any given time (thank goodness for animated sprite limitations, or you’d be in real trouble!). You can fire above, below, ahead and behind your ship, which is an art you’ll need to master since enemy ships attack from all of these directions. You can’t run into any of the walls and expect to survive, but you can gain brief invincibility by flying through an Energy block, which supercharges your hull enough to ram your enemies (something which, at any other time, would mean certain death for you as well). At the end of your treacherous journey lies the alien in charge of the entire complex – but if you lose a life at that stage, you don’t get to come back for another shot! (Atari, 1982)

VanguardSee the TV adMemories: Viva Vanguard! I remember quite a few of my buddies at the time preferring this cartridge edition to the arcade game that inspired it, and with a little bit of thought it’s easy to see why. With only one button, Atari’s home version of Vanguard allowed players to dispense with the arcade’s compass rose of fire buttons; for lack of any better way to handle it, this version of Vanguard just unleashed white-hot electric death in all directions everytime the fire button was pressed. Hey, problem solved! No more getting broadsided by enemies dropping down from above. Simple, elegant. Even those of us who regularly got our butts handed to us by the coin-op could be Vanguard victors now. Continue reading

Venture

VentureThe Game: Trapped in a maze full of HallMonsters, you are adventurer Winky , on a mission to snatch incredible treasures from hazardous underground rooms inhabited by lesser beasts such as re-animated skeletons, goblins, See the videoserpents, and so on. Sometimes even the walls move, threatening to squish Winky or trap him, helpless to run from the HallMonsters. The deeper into the dungeons you go, the more treacherous the danger – and the greater the rewards. Just remember two things – the decomposing corpses of the smaller enemies are just as deadly as the live creatures. And there is no defense – and almost never any means of escape – from the HallMonsters. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: A nice adaptation of an unsung classic, Venture on the Intellivision retains much of the arcade game’s charm and is genuinely fun. Controlling Winky with the disc controller can be a bit challenging at times, especially when you have a Hallmonster trying to invade your room and you’re already fighting to navigate in a hurry. Continue reading

Venture

VentureThe Game: As intrepid (and perpetually happy) adventurer Winky, armed only with a bow and arrow, you’re on a treasure hunt of the deadliest kind. HallMonsters try to stop you at every turn, and their minions guard the individual treasures that lie in the rooms of the maze. You can kill the smaller creatures (though their decomposing remains are still deadly to touch), but the HallMonsters are impervious to your arrows – and you’re lunch. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: Based on the addictive arcade game, this game is an excellent home translation, complete with background music and sound effects. Though the ColecoVision was more than capable of displaying more colorful and more detailed graphics, Venture is one of the better “simple” games made for this console. Continue reading

Venture

VentureThe Game: Trapped in a maze full of HallMonsters, you are adventurer Winky, on a mission to snatch incredible treasures from hazardous underground rooms inhabited by lesser beasts such as re-animated skeletons, goblins, serpents, and so on. Sometimes even the walls move, threatening to squish Winky or trap him, helpless to run from the HallMonsters. The deeper into the dungeons you go, the more treacherous the danger – and the greater the rewards. Just remember two things – the decomposing corpses of the smaller enemies are just as deadly as the live creatures. And there is no defense – and almost never any means of escape – from the HallMonsters. (Coleco, 1982)

Memories: Coleco was widely rumored to be deliberately making its third-party games for Atari and Intellivision total stinkers – look up the 2600 version of Donkey Kong or the even more miserable Intellivision version sometime. But Venture for the VCS was a bit of a surprise: it wasn’t a total stink bomb of a game. 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

4 In 1 Row

4 In 1 RowThe Game: The constant struggle between cat and dog requires a great deal of concentration. Two players can play, or one player can control the dog while the CPU makes moves as the “Microcat.” Each animal drops a piece into the playing field, trying to line up four pieces horizontally, vertically or diagonally, or trying to keep the other animal from lining up his four pieces. Whoever lines up four pieces first wins the game. (Phillips, 1982)

Memories: Another Videopac title that never quite made it to the North American market, it’s entirely possible that Odyssey2 owners never got to play 4 In 1 Row because such a release would’ve attracted the unwelcome attention of the makers of the board game Concentration – or the attention of Atari, who released a licensed Concentration cartridge. Continue reading

Guardian

GuardianThe Game: Players control a single laser cannon responsible for defending several planets who don’t seem to be able to look out for themselves. The cannon squares off against an alien mothership which deploys its own fleet of attack ships to destroy those planets. Good news: the planets are protected by a force field spanning the bottom of the screen. Bad news? The aliens can shoot through it, exposing the row of fragile planets as they scroll across the screen like shooting gallery targets. Worse news? You can’t defend all of them forever. (Games By Apollo, 1982)

Memories: Two years after Atari turned its iconic home version of Space Invaders into the first killer app on the VCS, Texas third-party publishing upstart Games By Apollo was one of several companies still trying to improve on that basic formula. The obscurity of Guardian probably means this wasn’t the evolution of the concept that players were looking for. Continue reading

Jawbreaker II

Jawbreaker IIThe Game: Ever had a sweet tooth? Now you are the sweet tooth – or teeth, as the case may be. You guide a set of clattering teeth around a mazelike screen of horizontal rows; an opening in each row travels down the wall See the videoseparating it from the next row. Your job is to eat the tasty treats lining each row until you’ve cleared the screen. Naturally, it’s not just going to be that easy. There are nasty hard candies out to stop you, and they’ll silence those teeth of yours if they catch you – and that just bites. Periodically, a treat appears in the middle of the screen allowing you to turn the tables on them for a brief interval. Sierra On-Line, 1982

Memories: Faced with the threat of imminent legal action from Atari, Sierra – known by its original name, On-Line Systems – yanked the very Pac-Man-like Jawbreaker off the market, replacing it with a new version that was less obviously attempting to copy the game mechanics of Pac-Man. Those familiar with the Atari 2600 edition of Jawbreaker will find this game familiar: the maze is out, and the horizontal rows of dots with “sliding doors” are in. Though there are still elements similar to Pac-Man – at this point, really just the power pellet-like energizers in the four corners of the screen – the whole thing is different. Continue reading

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