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The Activision Decathlon

The Activision DecathlonBuy this gameThe Game: Let the games begin! The Activision Decathlon puts players in the middle of ten summer Olympic events, each of which requires fast and furious joystick action, and careful timing on the fire button, to measure the player’s physical prowess. Events include 100 and 400 meter dashes, long jump, discus, shot put, high jump and more. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Olympic-themed video games began to pile on pretty thick starting with Track & Field in the arcade, and Activision was ahead of the curve as well, getting See the videoThe Activision Decathlon on the market a year before the 1984 games. Like Track & Field, Decathlon made use of a unique control scheme that brought some real physicality to the game, requiring players to work up at least a little bit of a sweat. It also cost many an otherwise well-constructed controller its life. Continue reading

Air Raid

Air RaidThe Game: Players fly a fighter jet that can somehow maintain perfect altitude and lateral control despite constantly flying with its nose pointed straight up. Oncoming invaders, resembling UFOs, upside-down houses, upside-down stick figures (presumably the residents of the upside-down houses) and other airplanes appear; the player can either shoot them down, let them pass (with no apparent damage to the structures that the player’s jet is apparently protecting) or be blown to bits. (Men-A-Vision, 1983)

Memories: This game is not renowned for its compelling, must-hit-the-reset-switch-and-do-it-all-again game play. It’s not memorable for its searingly colorful graphics or amazing, how-did-they-get-that-sound-out-of-that-chip audio. Air Raid has none of these things. What Air Raid does have, however, is the dubious distinction of being the rarest commercially released game made for the Atari VCS, while simultaneously being one of the worst. Continue reading

Atlantis

AtlantisThe Game: Hostile spacecraft are bombing the underwater paradise of Atlantis from above. Manning two cannons, you can knock the attacking ships out of the sky – or try to hit them at close range if they dive to bombing See the videoaltitutde. When all of Atlantis’ landmarks have been wiped out, the game is over. (Imagic, 1983)

Memories: Once again, Imagic turned out a superb port of their already well-known Atari 2600 and Intellivision chestnut for the underserved Odyssey 2. Of Imagic’s two games for the Odyssey, Atlantis is the better title, though both were excellent games. Continue reading

Battlezone

BattlezoneThe Game: As the pilot of a heavy tank, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and landing vehicles. (Atari, 1983)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: Battlezone, in its arcade incarnation, was a huge, lumbering hulk of a beast with controls which were at best difficult to master (and at worst impossible), though it did sport some very good faux-3-D vector graphics. How on Earth was Atari going to turn this into a 2600 game? Continue reading

Balao Travesso! (“Looney Balloon!”)

Balao Travesso!The Game: You’re piloting a balloon-toting brat around an amusement park. Ride the rides! Slide down the slide! Crawl under the trees and play! But watch out for that balloon – the thing is vital to your survival! Don’t let it get popped See the videoagainst the trees, or the rides, or the walls of the amusement park. Worse yet, a cloud may appear at the side of the screen and blow your balloon away, forcing you to run after it and catch it before it collides with something and pops. Birds will also fly over the park, and they can pop your balloon too. Even if you’re not holding onto it at the time, the balloon popping ends your game. (Frankly, this reliance on the balloon seems to be a bit unhealthy, and will probably lead the game’s kid to be a shut-in with another inflatable friend by the time he’s 40.) (Phillips, 1983)

Memories: Released in Europe as Loony Balloon, Balao Travesso! is essentially a near-beer version of the late 70s Taito arcade game Crazy Balloon – only, quite frankly, Balao Travesso! has more elaborate graphics than the arcade game (who here thought they’d ever be reading that about an Odyssey2 game?). Continue reading

B.C.’s Quest For Tires

B.C.'s Quest For TiresThe Game: As beleaguered caveman B.C., you’ve just discovered the wheel. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, on the same day that you harness mechanical motion for the first time, you’re also going to discover the traffic See the videoaccident. Jump over holes in the ground, rocks and rolling boulders, and duck under tree limbs – and then you’ve got to survive showing your new evolutionary step off to the Mrs.! (Sierra On-Line, 1983)

Memories: B.C.’s Quest For Tires is one of those games that immediately brings the word “Colecovision” to mind – it was a striking game for its day, and this was the platform where it truly excelled (though it was also available on several home computers as well). Johnny Hart’s comic strip wasn’t quite in the Garfield stratosphere of daily newspaper comics, but it was popular enough that its characters would seem familiar. 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, 1983)

Memories: Already released in a near-picture-perfect version on the Atari 2600, Berzerk was surely an easy game to port to that console’s newer, more powerful sibling. But the 2600 version was so good, what could Atari do to top it? Continue reading

Blue Print

Blue PrintThe Game: You are the intrepid, barbershop-quartet-suited J.J. (hey, it’s better than being O.J.!), out to save a damsel in distress from a pursuing monster. How does a guy in a little striped suit do this? By building a mobile, tennis-ball-launching contraption to dispatch said dastardly monster, naturally. The catch? The eight pieces of your mechanical creation are hidden somewhere among ten little houses in a maze – and those houses that don’t contain parts of your machine contain a bomb that must be dumped into the bomb pit immediately (else they’ll explode and kill J.J.). Critters also roam the maze to annoy you, including one pesky monster who will prematurely jump on the “start” button, rattling your still-unfinished machine to bits. If you don’t build your Rube Goldberg gizmo in time, the monster catches the damsel and you lose a life. (CBS Electronics, 1983)

Memories: One of my favorite genre-crossing arcade titles, Blue Print was one of several in-house gems from Bally/Midway which were licensed under an overall deal with CBS Electronics. And while I mourn the fact that they never got around to making Kickman for the 5200, I can take come comfort in the work of art that is CBS’ home version of Blue Print. Continue reading

Blue Print

Blue PrintThe Game: You are the intrepid, barbershop-quartet-suited J.J., out to save a damsel in distress from a pursuing monster. How does a guy in a little striped suit do this? By building a mobile, tennis-ball-launching contraption to dispatch said See the videodastardly monster, naturally. The catch? The eight pieces of your mechanical creation are hidden somewhere among ten little houses in a maze – and those houses that don’t contain parts of your machine contain a bomb that must be dumped into the bomb pit immediately (else they’ll explode and kill J.J.). Critters also roam the maze to annoy you, including one pesky monster who will prematurely jump on the “start” button, rattling your still-unfinished machine to bits. If you don’t build your Rube Goldberg gizmo in time, the monster catches the damsel and you lose a life. (CBS Electronics, 1983)

Memories: Sometimes arcade translations for the Atari 2600 miss the mark, and sometimes they’re right on the money. Blue Print isn’t necessarily either extreme; it’s close enough for government work. Continue reading

The Blobbers

The BlobbersThe Game: Amoeba-like monsters spawn and grow in an enclosed space with moving platforms. Players control a very mobile cannon, tasked with the mission of destroying these creatures, or at least trying to keep their population under control. The newly-spawned creatures pose no threat to the cannon – they’ll simply attach themselves to it, slowing it down unless it can shake them off. But the creatures rapidly grow in size and change colors; when a creature turns red, it is capable of destroying the cannon on contact. The cannon’s shots regress the creatures into earlier evolutionary stages; firing on a creature that has been regressed to its newly-spawned stage will destroy it. Both the cannon and the creatures can hitch a ride across the screen – either to safety or into the jaws of the enemy – aboard the platforms. (GST Video, 1983)

Memories: Even if this wasn’t a European-only release for the Videopac – the version of the Odyssey2 that did better in Europe than the Odyssey2 did in the Americas – The Blobbers would be hard to find. Hitting the stores at the end of the Videopac’s life span, this nifty little enclosed-space shoot-’em-up got very little attention and sold very few copies, and as such few copies made their way into the hands of game collectors and traders. Continue reading

Boing!

Boing!The Game: You’re a bubble bounding around a series of platforms, changing the color of every segment on which you land. Your job is to change the color of the entire playing field while avoiding everything else, including an equally mobile See the videoneedle that has a point to make. If you run into your adversaries too many times, I hate to burst your bubble, but the game’s over. (First Star Software. 1983)

Memories: One of the earliest entries into the video game arena by First Star Software – an outfit which is actually still in business, unlike a lot of other latecomers to the ’80s video game race – Boing! is obviously another take on the basic game play concepts of Q*Bert, and truth be told, it doesn’t bring any new innovations to the table, but it’s a slight improvement audiovisually. Boing! can also boast an easier control scheme, since it doesn’t ask the player to rotate the joystick 45 degrees. That’s a big help. Continue reading

Bump ‘N’ Jump

Bump 'N' JumpThe Game: The race is on, and no moves are off-limits – bump your competitors off the road (and into apparently highly volatile vegetation that causes them to explode), or jump over them and any other obstacles that get in your way, See the videoincluding areas of water that cover the road. If you survive the race, you live on to the next round – at least until you run out of cars. (M Network, 1983)

Memories: One of a very few arcade licenses snagged by Mattel for the Intellivision and for the M Network line of games for the Atari 2600 and other platforms, Bump ‘N’ Jump has a bumpy ride as it jumps to the relatively underpowered Atari. Continue reading

Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom

Buck Rogers: Planet Of ZoomThe Game: As space pilot Buck Rogers, you pilot an agile star fighter across a hazardous alien landscape, dodging buildings and destroying enemy vessels. (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Bearing only the most superficial resemblance – just the design of the star fighter – to the television series of the same name, Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom may seem like nothing terribly special these days, but at the time, it was a breakthrough in 3-D, not-quite-first-person aerial/space combat video games – from the same people who brought you Zaxxon, the first vaguely-3-D game. Continue reading

Chase The Chuckwagon

Chase The ChuckwagonThe Game: You control a dog trapped in a maze. Find your way out of the maze without being snared by a dogcatcher, and work your way toward the PurinaTM ChuckwagonTM for some kibbles ‘n’ bits. Chasing the Chuckwagon is only part of the fun, though, for then you have to time things just right to help the dog eat. (Ralston Purina Corp., 1983)

Memories: Long considered a must-have in the game library of any hardcore Atari 2600 collector, Chase The Chuckwagon is hard to come by due to its unique distribution method: it could only be obtained with proofs of purchase from Purina dog food as a premium promotion, and was never sold outright through normal game distribution channels. Continue reading

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: Bongo the ape 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 traverse craggy outcroppings, cross See the videotreacherous bridges, hop across a river on the backs of hippos, duck the attacks of charging rhinos, all to set Bongo’s toes on fire as he sleeps… and then the whole thing starts again. (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Possibly the single rarest Intellivision game that doesn’t require extra gear such as the ECS computer keyboard, Congo Bongo was Sega‘s singular foray into providing home versions of its arcade titles for Intellivision players. Sega had already been collaborating with Coleco for some time, but had recently gone it alone with Atari 2600 and 5200 editions of such games as Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator and Congo Bongo. If Sega had a single problem with its early attempts as a software publisher in the American market, it was timing: most of its games arrived just as the video game industry crash was forcing retailers into a no-win scenario of price cuts and losses. Continue reading

Congo Bongo

Congo BongoThe Game: You’re a jungle explorer hot on the trail of Bongo the Ape. The first level in your quest 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 See the videoyou move slower (and jump lower). And watch out for snakes. Then you have to hop across a river using lily pads, the backs of hippos, and other floating objects – just try not to miss! (Sega, 1983)

Memories: Egads. Didn’t Sega learn the lesson from Coleco’s horrid VCS version of Zaxxon? Guess not, because their in-house attempt to translate the equally elaborate Congo Bongo arcade game for the 2600, while a bit less of a graphical and game play train wreck than Zaxxon, is still a train wreck. Continue reading

Crackpots!

Crackpots!The Game: You are Potsy, a flowerpot-chucking tenant in a building being overrun by spiders. As they come up the walls, hurl potted plants at ’em to squish them before they can climb into the windows; if too many spiders make it Buy this gamethrough, they eat away at the building from the ground up until game is over. Black spiders follow a straightforward, no-nonsense path to the windows, while blue spiders zig-zag a bit. Red and green spiders follow more unpredictable paths, forcing you to try to nail them as they crawl the walls diagonally. Super powers will not be granted to you if you get bitten. (Activision, 1983)

Memories: Sort of like a slide-and-shoot game in reverse, Crackpots! is a fun little number with some cute graphics and game play speed that gradually (but inevtiably) goes off the scale. Still, it’s incredibly simple and loads of fun too – and not surprisingly, it’s been revived for more modern consoles as part of Activision’s classic game compilations. Continue reading

Custer’s Revenge

Custer's RevengeThe Game: As a rude, crude, lewd nude dude in cavalry boots and hat, your mission is to avoid a hail of airborne arrows, make your way over to an Indian maiden tied to a pole, and have your way with her. That’s the game. Replay value and any actual titillation value not included. (Mystique, 1983)

Memories: Before Night Trap, before Grand Theft Auto Vice City, and before those X-rated Playstation “virtual sex games” marketed in far east countries, there was Custer’s Revenge, a smelly dog of a game which was the first attempt to portray sex in a video game. The problem was, it wasn’t just sex. Custer’s Revenge portrayed rape, and did so against the backdrop of one of American history’s most controversial chapters. The National Organization for Women wasn’t happy. Native American organizations were even less happy. And were it possible to be even less happy than that…well, that’s where you’d find the rape victims’ advocacy groups. Continue reading

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