Arabian

ArabianThe Game: Bring your turban up to speed! As you’re serenaded with a monophonic rendition of Rimsky Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”, you climb and jump and kick your way to collecting all the letters on the screen. If you collect them in the See the videocorrect order to spell ARABIAN, you get a bonus before moving on to the next screen. And watch out for the big genie… (Atari, 1983)

Memories: This is a rather cute and simplistic game, but it’s not a pushover. I can’t tell you how many quarters Arabian relieved me of. And even while playing it in MAME to grab screen stills for this page, it kicked my scrawny little pixellated butt. Continue reading

Astron Belt

3-D computer rendering of Astron Belt cabinetThe Game: You’re a lone space pilot on patrol in the middle of an intergalactic war. In deep space, on craggy hazardous planet surfaces and at all points in between, you’re a target for enemy forces, and while you can defend yourself, danger See the videocomes from all sides without warning: enemy fire, collisions with the landscape or enemy ships, and that old standby, pilot error. The video footage in the background comes from Toei Studios’ 1979 opus Message From Earth and, somewhat surprisingly, Star Trek II. (Sega / Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: In 1983, several companies seemed to simultaneously roll out arcade games based on the engineering principle that some or all of the game’s graphics would be played by a videodisc player. In the age of videotape, videodisc technology wasn’t perfect, but it presented something that was absolutely vital for bringing pre-recorded video to a game environment: random access. Without that, any game using pre-recorded video would’ve been forced to show the same sequence of visuals no matter what the player did. Continue reading

Blaster

BlasterBuy this gameThe Game: The human race narrowly escapes the conquering of Earth by the merciless Robotrons. The last surviving remnants of mankind See the videoscatter as they leave the planet, heading for a distant world known as Paradise. Your job? Make sure they get there – by blasting away at anything and everything along the perilous journey. (Williams Electronics, 1983)

Memories: In the continuation of the Defender / Stargate / Robotron story cycle, Blaster builds nicely on the nearly-movie-worthy saga by picking up from the inevitable conclusion of Robotron (i.e., the protagonist’s death). Now humanity is on the run, and there are all kinds of nasty creatures waiting to finish the human race off, including the Masterminds, which look a lot like Robotron‘s Brains, only more hideous (imagine a large brain wearing a Darth Vader faceplate, and you’ll get the idea.) Continue reading

Botanic

BotanicThe Game: Players control a caterpillar, hungrily navigating a twisty maze of twigs and branches to eat leaves. Sometimes the player’s caterpillar will have reached a dead end, but this is not revealed until the leaf covering that dead end is consumed. Other insects swarm around the caterpillar, trying to catch and eat it for themselves. At the beginning of each “life” the player can press a button, giving the caterpillar a brief bug-zerker rage, allowing it to eat its enemies for a change, but this change is short-lived; special flowers must be consumed to regain the ability. Once all of the leaves have been eaten in an entire maze (which takes up more than a single interlinked screen), a “home” appears, into which the caterpillar must be successfully guided for transformation into a butterfly. Then the player is given a new caterpillar to guide and a new maze to navigate. (Valadon Automation [under license to Iti S.A.], 1983)

Memories: If you remember playing Botanic in your local arcade, your local arcade must have been in France or Spain, since Botanic did not receive worldwide distribution. Valadon Automation, the originators of Bagman (a game which did receive worldwide distribution), licensed Botanic from Palamos, Spain-based game maker Iti S.A. Continue reading

Bubbles

BubblesBuy this gameThe Game: This is an interactive documentary about the life of a Scrubbing Bubble. As a small bubble, your job is to scoot around the sink, See the videosoaking up smaller bubbles, bits of dirt, and any ants that wander into your path. As you accrete more common kitchen debris, your bubble grows bigger and begins to form a face. When your bubble is big enough to sport a big ant-eating grin, you can start to do real damage. Razor blades are always deadly; roving brushes are deadly until your bubble has a mouth, and roaches are deadly unless you can dispatch them with a broom that periodically appears. When the drain at the center of the sink flashes green, you can slide down the drain and advance a level – something which you can only otherwise accomplish by clearing the sink of “edible” items. (Williams Electronics, 1983)

Memories: Okay, and the designers at Williams were smoking what, exactly, when they dreamed this one up?

But I kid Bubbles. It’s actually a pretty cool game, and a rare example of a cutesy game from Williams, a company which usually turned out such macho, kill-’em-all shooters as Defender, Sinistar and Robotron. Williams’ only other entry in the cute game genre was Make Trax (which almost doesn’t count, since it was licensed from an obscure Japanese manufacturer). Continue reading

Cliff Hanger

Cliff HangerThe Game: You’re Cliff, a lovable rogue who’s just pulled off a major heist. But as you’re high-tailing it for your hideout via your getaway car, you encounter another crime even more heinous – a carload of armed thugs pursuing a young woman. You have to rescue her as soon as possible – and since she already has mobsters and other villains after her, the danger just piles on from there. (Stern, 1983)

Memories: Another exponent of the laserdisc genre that begat Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, Cliff Hanger was Stern’s entry into the then-crowded field. But rather than create new animation from the ground up – a costly endeavour for those aforementioned games created by Don Bluth – Stern simply licensed footage from a couple of classic animè movies from the Lupin III series, drawing primarily from The Castle Of Cagliostro (whose DVD these screen captures are from). Continue reading

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: Bongo the Ape, presumably Donkey Kong’s third cousin, sets your toes on fire while you’re asleep during a jungle expedition. So naturally, you drop everything to take revenge on the goofy gorilla. But first you have to reach See the videohim. The first level is a hazardous assortment of ramps and levels and a waterfall to jump across. Be careful of pesky little monkeys who can weigh you down so you move slower (and jump lower). And watch out for snakes. Then you have to hop across various islands and dodge more snakes as you try to get across a river. The most difficult level is the third, where you must try to dodge charging rhinos (and I don’t mean they have credit cards), occasionally ducking out of sight in little sinkholes where you get to squash other critters. The fourth level is very Frogger-like, consisting of riding across another river on the backs of hippos, fish, and lily pads. When you complete this screen, you set Bongo’s toes on fire as he sleeps…and then the whole thing starts again. (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Congo Bongo was entertaining enough, though it suffered from some of the same frustrations caused by the overhead 3-D graphic scheme that originated with Sega’s own Zaxxon. In some ways, Congo Bongo was nothing more than a 3-D version of Donkey Kong, right down to the pesky primate. Continue reading

Crossbow

CrossbowThe Game: Your friends (wait a minute, I’ve never seen these people before in my life!) are venturing through treacherous deserts, unfriendly See the videovillages, and a variety of other inhospitable settings. Armed with a crossbow – controlled with a fancy light gun mounted on the arcade cabinet – your job is to pick off any threats, be they nasty critters, falling projectiles, snipers, or what have you, and allow your friends to pass safely. (Exidy, 1983)

Memories: Y’know, I had to play Crossbow on MAME to remember what the heck the game was about…but once I did, I remembered that it was a very influential game on me at the time it was released. The novel concept of picking which game screen you’d explore next by shooting a representative icon on a menu-style screen was very cool, as was the watered-down, vaguely-D&D-ish atmosphere of the whole thing. Continue reading

Crystal Castles

Crystal CastlesBuy this gameThe Game: You are Bentley the Bear, cuddly defender of a vaguely 3-D fairy tale realm just loaded with ruby-like crystals. While this would seem like an idyllic existence for many sentient stuffed animals, it is, of course, not that easy. Berthilda the Witch has sent her evil minions to seize the crystals for her. Walking trees, See the videoupright centipedes, and animated skeletons prowl the geometric vistas to keep Bentley from claiming the crystals. Finding the wizard hat will briefly give Bentley the power to dispose of Berthilda if and when she makes an appearance. Bentley also has a weakness for the pot of honey that appears on each level – and if he grabs the honey, a swarm of bees suddenly has a problem with him. Clearing each screen of crystals advances to the next level. Keep in mind that the enemies can also consume crystals, so they may actually clear the level – Bentley gets a bonus if he’s the one who nabs the last gem on the screen. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: A bizarre little game with play elements of Pac-Man set in an almost Q*Bert-like perspective, Crystal Castles was actually quite the quantum leap forward for graphics back in ’83. (It would later be blown out of the water by Atari’s own Marble Madness not long afterward.) It was also one of the earliest games to utilize Atari’s System 1 hardware. Continue reading

Discs Of Tron

Discs Of TronBuy this gameThe Game: It’s the final confrontation between good and evil in the digital world! As video warrior Tron, you unleash up to three deadly discs in the direction of your arch-enemy Sark, who can return the favor in kind – with interest, since he has a larger arsenal at his See the videodisposal. All the while, you must also avoid falling off of the floating platforms, and try to keep a good aim on your opponent. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Midway’s second salute to Tron, that 1982 cult-classic film favorite among computer users and video game enthusiasts alike, took the form of a positively enormous “stand-in” wraparound cabinet with a large screen. (Not seen in the ubiquitous MAME-generated series of screen shots is the colorful background artwork, which was a scene from the movie.) Continue reading

Dogfight

DogfightThe Game: Enemy fighters arrive, wave after wave, attempting to outflank the player’s fighter jet and trap it in the path of their fire. The player can only move the jet side to side to avoid incoming fire and attempt to line up a shot on the enemy fighters. Each new wave of enemies brings new tactics, new weapons to evade… and a new batch of targets. (Thunderbolt [under license to Orca], 1983)

Memories: It’s easy to imagine the design and planning meeting for this game. It goes something like this:

“You know what my favorite part of Galaga is? The challenging stage. I hate all those other stages. They’re just there to trip me up on my way to the challenging stage. What if we made a game where the whole thing is like the challenging stage, except they occasionally shoot back at you?” Continue reading

Donkey Kong 3

Donkey Kong 3The Game: As Stanley the gardener, you’re trying to repel a swarm of pests unleashed by that meanest of pixellated gorillas, while also using your pesticide to propel him off the screen. Protect your flowers and yourself, and wear plenty of Off. (Nintendo, 1983)

See the videoMemories: The third entry in the still-ongoing series of games spawned by the original Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong 3 wasn’t as successful as the previous sequel, Donkey Kong Junior. One possible reason for this could be Nintendo’s brief abandonment of the climbing/jumping game elements in favor of a shooting game whose roots could easily be traced back to Space Invaders. Continue reading

Dragon’s Lair

Dragon's LairThe Game: As valiant but clumsy knight Dirk the Daring, you’re on a hazardous quest to rescue Princess Daphne from a huge, hungry dragon. There are all kinds of dangers on the way, including Giddy Goons, the Black Knight, the See the videoBuy this gameSmithee, the Lizard King, and all kinds of other evil critters and contraptions. (Starcom, 1983)

Memories: Dragon’s Lair was the first laserdisc game to hit the arcades, an early field that included Starcom’s Space Ace and other manufacturers’ Cliff Hanger, among only a handful of others. The Sega laser game Astron Belt was actually in development earlier than Dragon’s Lair, but it languished in the video game equivalent of Hollywood’s “development hell,” meaning that it didn’t arrive until it was an also-ran. Continue reading

Elevator Action

Elevator ActionThe Game: Love in an elevator, it’s not. As a daring spy, you break into a top secret enemy facility, trying to grab vital secrets and evade or kill as many enemy agents as you can. Your only means of getting from floor to floor through most of the game is via the elevator – which gives you an advantage and also makes you vulnerable. (Taito, 1983)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: This neat little entry from Taito wound up eating a lot of my allowance money back when I was eleven years old. There was a genuine sense of trying to reach a goal (though, to this day, even with emulation and official retro collections, I have no idea what lies below, say, the 20th level of the enemy compound). Elevator Action is also a real test of one’s mental multitasking abilities: agents closing in on all sides, elevator going down…do you jump? Duck? Shoot the agents? Shoot out the overhead lights? Some combination of the above? Whew. Continue reading

The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes BackBuy this gameThe Game: You are Rebel snowspeeder pilot Luke Skywalker, flying low over the surface of Hoth, prowling for Probots and waging war on AT-ATs and AT-STs. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: The description sounds rather glib, but there’s a simple reason for it – this game, based on the 1980 sequel to Star Wars, is – in case you hadn’t guessed it from the screen shots – merely a very thinly-disguised makeover of Atari’s original Star Wars arcade game. Ripped straight out of the second level of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back replaces the towers and bunkers with probe droids and Imperial Walkers, replaces the X-Wing gunsights of the earlier game with two Snowspeeder blasters, and voilà, it’s a new game – almost. Continue reading

Food Fight

Food FightThe Game: You are Charley – but you don’t have the Golden Ticket. Instead, what you have is a playfield littered with immobilizing potholes, lots of food, and four feisty chefs (is there a different word for the plural of “chef”?). Charley Chuck can pick up handfuls of food and fling them at any one of his opponents, but keep in mind that they can do the same. Charley’s ultimate goal? Reach the yummy ice cream cone at the opposite end of the screen without falling victim to any of the above. To do any less causes every piece of food on the screen to hurl itself at Charley. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: This bizarre little game is the first original arcade effort from a small game design firm called General Computer, which was actually responsible for Ms. Pac-Man, which started out as an unauthorized modification kit. Caught in the act, General Computer’s founders offered the game to Namco, and it went on to become the best-earning arcade game of its day. A similar “enhancement” devised for Atari’s Missile Command, however, got them in hot water. Continue reading

Guzzler

GuzzlerThe Game: As a fluid little fellow, you zip around a maze flooded with flaming foes who’ll fry you with fire without fair warning. However, since water can put out fire, you can belch forth a mighty stream of water at your enemies, extinguishing them instantly. However, you’re only a little Guzzler, so you only contain a certain See the videoamount of water. You replenish yourself very slowly, but you can gobble up clouds full of moisture or drink from a fountain that occasionally appears at the center of the maze to refill yourself more quickly. And some fires are bigger than others, and putting them out will accordingly take more out of you. And you do eventually run out of clouds… (Tekhan, 1983)

Memories: An incredibly fun, easy-to-learn, challenging, and cute game, Guzzler was always a favorite of mine, though I only got to play it in the arcade a handful of times. But this innovative take on the maze-chase theme that pervaded many an ’80s arcade game appears to have barely made a drop in the bucket of video game history. Continue reading

Gyruss

GyrussThe Game: The aliens are taking their complaints to the home office! As the pilot of an agile space fighter, you have to blast your way through the alien forces from Pluto all the way back to Earth. Occasionally you can boost your ship’s firepower, but that’s the only help you’re going to get. The rest is up to your speed, your See the videoBuy this gamestrategy, and your ability to nail the attackers in mid-dive. (Centuri [under license from Konami], 1983)

Memories: Konami’s cult classic basically put a vaguely Tempest-esque 3-D spin on the strategy of Galaga, borrowed some music from a certain Mr. Bach and blasted it out as a stereo techno-symphony, and got a lot of people to blow their hard-earned money. It was also a lot of fun. Continue reading

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