Gravitar

GravitarThe Game: Various worlds lie near a powerful gravitational vortex. From the moment you leave your launch pad, you’re in trouble – the vortex will draw you in if you don’t act quickly and fire your thrusters to take you to one of the planets. On each planet, you arrive in a deadly free-fall, requiring you to point your ship Buy this gameupward and fire retro-thrust, all the while turning to blast cannons which are attempting to shoot you down. Your fuel supply is also dwindling all this time, requiring you to find enemy fuel depots and siphon energy away from them. If you succeed in destroying all enemy installations on one world, there are several other planets waiting – with the deadly gravity vortex in the middle the whole time. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Damn, but this is a tough game! Tough but fun. It’s pretty embarrassing to get oneself iced on what basically amounts to the menu screen. Sheesh. Not that I’m saying that’s happened to me lately, of course. Read More

I, Robot

I, RobotThe Game: A huge, Big Brother-like head pops up and says “The law: no jumping!” to your little robot, and naturally, the cocky little automaton has other ideas (replying “Oh yeah!”). And so your mission begins, guiding the robot over See the videoramps, around narrow catwalks, and leaping across huge chasms. If the all-seeing eye opens while your robot it jumping, however, a blaster turns your hero into a heap of spare parts. If you successfully claim all of the red area on the screen, you have a narrow “launch window” in which to jump across to the eye’s platform and destroy it. The your robot launches into space, blowing away obstacles in his path, avoiding saucers and solid objects, and eventually landing on another series of ramps and catwalks to begin the quest anew. And if that doesn’t do it for you, you can put in another quarter and relax in Doodle City. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: Once arcade games caught on as the profitable concern of the 80s, it seemed like everyone who had even the tip of a single finger in the electronics or coin-operated business glutted the market with barely-disguised riffs on the Pac-Man or Defender or Space Invaders concepts, saturating a previously innovative market with cheap copycat games (or, in a few cases until the attorneys caught up with them, outright bootlegs). In many ways, this parallels the Atari-era crash of the home video game cartridge industry, and it’s hardly a coincidence that both industries suffered simultaneous catastrophic shakedowns. Read More

Journey

JourneyThe Game: Just another day in the life of the rock group Journey, as you help Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Jonathan Cain and Steve Smith evade alien “groupoids” intent on keeping them from reaching their next gig. (Bally/Midway, See the video1983)

Memories: Not one of the brightest ideas ever to occur in the history of arcade games, Journey is an stepchild of the much better Tron video game. Someone, somewhere, thought it was be a brilliant idea to recycle the basics of Tron‘s game play, while attaching a new celebrity licensing opportunity to it. Fresh from two hit rock albums (Escape and Frontiers), Journey seemed a likely choice. Read More

Jr. Pac-Man

Jr. Pac-ManThe Game: As the offspring of a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a bigger maze than your parents ever had to deal with, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. Six large flashing dots in the maze enable you to turn the tables and eat See the videothe monsters for a brief period. Periodically, assorted toys will begin hopping through the maze, turning every uneaten dot they touch into a larger dot which yields more points, but also forces little Pac to slow down to digest them. 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… (Namco, 1983)

Memories: In yet another sequel to the most profitable and popular arcade game of all time, the backwards-titled Jr. Pac-Man did away with the life-saving warp tunnels of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, instead confining the little Pac and his opponents to a larger, horizontally-scrolling maze. The only other innovation was the digestion dilemma caused by the bouncing toys – equivalent to the earlier Pac games’ fruit – turning uneaten dots into larger dots which slow you down enough for the monsters to catch up. Read More

Krull

KrullThe Game: In the video-game adaptation of the movie – which, at the time, was expected to be the next Star Wars-type franchise – you are Colwyn, the hero of the piece. Your first job is to climb a treacherous mountain, dodging boulders, and finding the five pieces of the throwing-star-like Glaive weapon. On the second level, you get to use it against a bunch of nasty swamp creatures who are trying to kill your army. You get to do this for two levels. Then you have to break your men out of a stronghold, and then lead the fight against the invincible chief monster, all to save the princess. (Gottlieb, 1983)

Memories: Krull wasn’t a bad little game. It might take you a few quarters to get through, and that last level with the main monster was a killer. In a way, Krull is sort of like the opposite of Tron – whereas Tron is best remembered as a game and not a movie, Krull is virtually forgotten as a video game, and the movie still enjoys a small cult following. Read More

Libble Rabble

Libble RabbleThe Game: In a peaceful garden dotted with a gridwork of posts, the player must simultaneously move two pointers, connected to each other by a tenuous string, to trap mobile mushrooms and pointy-hatted garden gnomes. If either pointer comes into contact with a gnome, a life is lost (and, for the record, it’s not the gnome’s life). A scissor-like critter occasionally crosses the screen, and he’s capable of severing the string; a new one instantly forms between the two pointers, but any progress that was made in creating a trap with the string is lost. When all of the creatures invading the player’s garden are trapped, the game begins again at a higher difficulty level; if all of the player’s lives are lost, or time runs out, the game is over. (Namco, 1983)

Memories: This interesting obscurity from Namco wouldn’t appear to have much historical significance, and it made little or no headway beyond Japan’s borders. What makes Libble Rabble at least a little bit significant is that it was the last arcade game design hurrah of Toru Iwitani, the creator of Namco’s global megahit Pac-Man. Read More

Marvin’s Maze

Marvin's MazeThe Game: Marvin built a maze on two levels, with habitrail-style tunnels to take him from the first floor to the second and back again, and all was well until the Robonoids moved in and took over. Now they’re out to evict Marvin from his own turf! It’s up to you to guide Marvin through his maze, using cunning one-way bridges to escape from the Robonoids and find the power-ups he needs to zap them. Marvin moves on to See the videothe next maze (and the next level of difficulty) only by clearing this maze of power-ups and dots. (SNK, 1983)

Memories: I hadn’t heard of this one before, and now I wonder why. In a way, there’s more than a passing resemblance to Crystal Castles, but there’s also a little bit of an homage to Pac-Man‘s power pellets and a little bit of shooting too. So now it’s like Crystal Butt-Kickin’ Castles. With cute character designs that are worthy of Q*Bert. Read More

Mario Bros.

Mario Bros.The Game: Twin brothers Mario and Luigi give up the illustrious life of ape-chasers and damsel-rescuers for their original line of work… plumbing. But this doesn’t mean the job’s any less dangerous. Killer lobsters and turtles abound in the sewer system (well, isn’t it that way everywhere?), along with airborne fireballs not unlike the foxfires in the original Donkey Kong. Another key event in this game? Nintendo solidifies its near-total dominance of the video game industry for the better part of the following decade and a half. (Nintendo, 1983)

Memories: The fourth game in an ongoing line of coin-ops starring either Mario or some member of Donkey Kong’s family, Mario Bros. cemented the rotund plumber as the star of the show, rather than a simian’s sidekick. Read More

Mappy

MappyBuy this gameThe Game: Mappy the Mouse stars in “Micro Police!” You are Mappy, a mouse determined to bring Boss the Big Bit and his kooky kitty kohorts to justice before they make a huge hail on a house heist. You can snatch up the potential booty yourself to keep it safe, and can temporarily foil your feline foes by slamming doors on them, or by opening special glowing doors which blast them away with a burst of sound. If you snatch up all the treasures and avoid the cats, it’s off to the next level. Periodically, you get to pop balloons on a bonus level for extra points. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1983)

Memories: You know, it’s just possible that Namco and Bally/Midway put the tail before the dog (or, in this case, the mouse) this time around. With the arcade cabinet’s positively mammoth marquee, and the hint that Mappy was the star of this game and would presumably star in future games, one wonders if the American distributors of Pac-Man were perhaps just a little too certain that everything coming out of their plants would be the dawn of a new franchise. Read More

Marble Madness

Marble MadnessBuy this gameThe Game: You control the speed and direction of a marble which is racing other marbles to reach the finish line. Obstacles along the way include marble-eating creatures, treacherous cliffs and drawbridges, and the game’s own trakball controller! (Atari, 1983)

Memories: One of the most bizarrely abstract games to emerge from the post-Pac-Man ’80s, Marble Madness is like a virtual homage to those wooden maze-under-glass games, in which you’d try to shift the game to various angles and get a ball bearing to go where you wanted it to go. Marble Madness does away with the moving-the-whole-maze element and puts the marble under its own power – and that’s just where the frustration begins! Read More

Major Havoc

Major HavocBuy this gameThe Game: Journey through space, visit free-floating outposts, and raid ’em in search of oxygen. Then you just have to get back out with your precious loot – and that’s the hard part. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoMemories: Introduced to much fanfare in 1983, Atari’s Major Havoc may well have been the last of the red-hot vector graphics games – and truth be told, it didn’t catch on like the wildfire their marketing materials seemed to be hinting at. It was a really challenging game too – it was easy to lose a lot of quarters to this machine. Read More

Motorace USA / Traverse USA / Zippy Race

Motorace USAThe Game: As the lone motorcyclist in a cross-country car race, you have to dodge your opponents at high speed, one two-ton vehicle at a time. You drive through city streets, highways, and through the rough desert, trying to reach See the videoyour goal without running out of gas or getting splattered across the asphalt. (Williams Electronics [under license from IREM], 1983)

Memories: Whatever you called it, this was one of my favorite driving/racing games, combining the best elements of both maze games and scrolling obstacle course games, and handling things differently from the Pole Position and Turbo formula which dominated this particular genre at the time. Read More

Mr. Do!’s Castle

Mr. Do!'s CastleThe Game: As cuddly clown Mr. Do, you’re scrambling to squish all the unicorns who are invading your castle. You can repel them momentarily with your clown hammer, but you can only squish them permanently by knocking a brick out from the floor above. Most bricks contain cherries, but some also contain keys that See the videounlock the door at the top. When that door is completely unlocked, touching it will transform the unicorns into letters that make up the word EXTRA. As with Mr. Do!, collecting all five letters merits an extra “life.” Clearing the screen of monsters or cherries advances you to the next level. (Universal, 1983)

Memories: Another of my favorite obscure games, Mr. Do!’s Castle is truly cool, fun and addictive – all the requisite qualities of a good video game. In my mind, it easily outshines the original Mr. Do! by miles, and is one of the most unique and original entries in the ladders-and-levels genre since Donkey Kong. Read More

Pac ‘N’ Pal

Pac 'N' PalThe Game: Once again, you are a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, maneuvering around a relatively simple maze. But this time, you have a Pal! A little round green Pal who is here just to help you. (Pal appears to be wearing a little bow, so there’s no indication of whether or not Ms. Pac-Man knows about See the videoBuy this gamePac-Man’s pal…) Those four pesky monsters are back. This time, the handful of treats in each maze is locked away behind doors vaguely reminiscent of Super Pac-Man. These doors can be unlocked by munching one of the cards lying around the maze. Fruit will score points for you, but if you eat one of the two Galaxians in each maze, Pac-Man is briefly imbued with a super shout which stuns the monsters for a little while. The only problem? Pac’s Pal will grab the fruit or the Galaxians and…very slowly…get around to bringing it to him. Sometimes this helps – Pal is impervious to the monsters, and there are no power pellets to help Pac-Man this time – but sometimes Pal dimwittedly marches your much-needed Galaxian right into the middle of the monsters, making it inaccessible. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: Possibly the most bizarre entry in the Pac-Man series, this game is a little bit confusing…and is, perhaps, the final indication that Bally/Midway and Namco had gone to the Pac-Man well one too many times. By this time, the only resemblance the latest Pac-game bore to the original were the elements of Pac-Man, the monsters, and the maze. And don’t even ask where Pal came from. I haven’t a clue. Read More

Phozon

PhozonThe Game: You control a “Chemic,” a free-floating object while can adhese itself to passing Moleks, but is vulnerable to the Atomic. Within a limited amount of time (charted by a meter at the bottom of the screen), gather and repulse Moleks around your Chemic until you’ve duplicated the example shape shown in the center of Buy this gamethe screen. Beware of the Atomic, however – it will not only become more aggressive in its deceptively aimless wanderings, but it can also separate into its own component molecules – and regather its shape right in your path. It also shoots, in later levels, energy that can dislodge Moleks from the Chemic’s pattern. You advance through the game by successfully duplicating the sample shape – and surviving the Atomic’s attacks. (Namco, 1983)

Memories: If someone pinned me up against the wall and demanded that I name my favorite coin-op manufacturer – and I’ll admit that this isn’t terribly likely to happen – I’d have to say Namco. They brought us such immortal and inexplicably (and insanely) fun games as Pac-Man, Mappy, Dig Dug, Galaga, Motos, Pole Position and Warp Warp – to name just a few. Among these popular titles are games so indescribably weird that they almost defy description, but I have to hand Namco the prize for sheer conceptual brilliance. Phozon, more obscure than any of the games mentioned above (even moreso than Motos, which is pretty esoteric itself), may well be the first video game ever to concern itself with molecular bonding. Read More

Pole Position II

Pole Position IIThe Game: So, you survived the qualifying lap and the big race in Pole Position and you’re ready to move on to bigger and better challenges? Well okay then. Now, in addition to the Fuji track, there are others to choose from – Buy this gamethe simple oval of the Test track, and the elaborate (and sometimes deadly) curves of the Seaside and Wonder tracks. As before, going over the shoulder isn’t a good thing – nor is crawling up the tailpipe of the cars in front of you, for the explosions in this game are even more spectacular than those of its predecessor. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1983)

Memories: Namco knows a thing or two about decent sequels, having given us such classics as Galaga (the sequel to Galaxian), Dig Dug 2 and the obscure Hopping Mappy. Pole Position II‘s controls are even more responsive, the graphics more fluid and realistic, and the explosions? Well, let’s put it this way – Pole Position kills you with a nice big explosion. Pole Position II throws debris. Read More

Popeye

PopeyeThe Game: Well, blow me down! Popeye the sailor man gets his own video game. On level one, you’re trying to catch Olive Oyl’s falling hearts before they descend to sea level and are lost, while ducking Bluto’s punches at the same time. A can of spinach appears every so often, giving you the opportunity to read the big bully the riot act (comic strip-style, of course). On level two, the falling hearts are replaced by falling musical notes, and you’ll need Wimpy’s hefty help to keep Swee’Pea from drifting away on a balloon. (Nintendo, 1983)

Memories: A true licensing coup for relative newcomers Nintendo, this project hooked them up with the cartoon marketing savvy of King Features Syndicate (and don’t think for a moment that Nintendo didn’t soak up as much knowledge as it could to put to use on its next hot property, Mario Bros.) But even though it’s a well-loved and remembered game, it wasn’t Popeye’s first arcade outing. Read More

Professor Pac-Man

Professor Pac-ManThe Game: The denizens of Pac-Land must surely know how to do something other than just devour dots and munch monsters. And they learn from Professor Pac-Man himself, the dean of dot-gobblers. Professor Pac-Man poses questions See the videoof all kinds to you (and an opponent, if you have a second player), including visual recognition tests and matching puzzles. A Pac-Man gobbles a row of dots from left to right, counting down the seconds you have to correctly answer the question. Correct answers gain points and fruit, while incorrect answers will cost you. Lose more points than you have to spare, and the game’s over. (Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: This is one of those games where you can just picture someone in the marketing department saying “How can we exploit the Pac-Man license from Namco in a way that’s never been done before?” Video trivia games were nothing new, but the Professor Pac-Mantalent assembled to produce Professor Pac-Man was appropriately prodigious. Marc Canter and Mark Pierce, both Midway staffers, went on to form their own company in 1984 called MacroMind; a few changes in direction and a few strategic mergers later, MacroMind became none other than creativity software powerhouse Macromedia, and Canter and Pierce, along with longtime Midway veteran Jay (Gorf designer and Bally Astrocade console creator) Fenton, had a hit on their hands with a little software package called Director. You may have heard of it. Just about anyone who has ever slapped a Flash animation onto the web certainly has. Read More