51 Shades of Geek

Pick Axe Pete

Pick Axe Pete - Odyssey3 versionThe Game: As Pete, you start out in the center of a multi-tiered mine – not at the bottom – and your boulder-smashing pick axe begins to deteriorate after about one minute. Then you either have to jump over or duck See the videounder the onslaught of falling rocks, or you’re toast. Falling to the lower levels won’t kill you, if you time it just right so as not to land right in the middle of an avalanche. When two boulders collide, they can uncover treasures such as a fresh pick axe or, more importantly, a key to the next level. (N.A.P., 1983)

Memories: Released in Europe only for the Videopac G7400 – the European hardware equivalent of the Odyssey3 – Pick Axe Pete is a good barometer of how the classic Odyssey2 games would’ve been “enhanced” for the ultimately unreleased Odyssey3. And when I say “enhanced”, I mean that very loosely. On the plus side: the game is untouched in and of itself, which is a good starting point. (I think I’ve made clear that I consider Pete the pinnacle of gaming on the O2.) Continue reading

Impossible Mission / Programmed Trip

The Game: On an enclosed grid, you control a robotic drone whose job is to collect certain items on the grid and deflect enemies away from those items. If you can plant obstacles – which deflect your enemies with 90-degree left or right turns – that lock your pursuers into an inescapable infinite loop, all the better…but more will come. (Ectron, 1983 [unreleased prototype] / custom copies released in 2006)

The Game: An interesting unreleased game which was apparently developed for the South American market (where the Odyssey2, known simply as the Odyssey, was quite the success story) by an outfit called Ectron, Mission Impossible / Programmed Trip is a little like playing a video game by programming in a visual variant of the LOGO programming language. Continue reading

Attack Of The Timelord! (Terrahawks+)

Attack Of The Timelord!The Game: The game begins as the skull-like face of Spyruss the Deathless (the Timelord of Chaos, no less!) taunts you (well, only if you had the Voice), and then a bunch of pesky spaceships pops out of a vortex to shoot at See the videoyou. They shoot at you rather a lot. Fortunately, you can shoot back with reckless abandon, but their ammunition – as you ascend into the higher levels of the game – can track you and even, if you don’t destroy their shots in mid-air, crawl along the ground briefly while you head for the opposite side of the screen, neatly trapped for their next volley. (Philips, 1983)

Memories: Known as Attack Of The Timelord outside of Europe and the U.K., this game was released abroard as Terrahawks+ for the Philips G7400+ console. It’s essentially the same game, except with a relatively elaborate background graphic of the Earth and moon (complete with the man in the moon, no less). Continue reading

RealSports Basketball

RealSports BasketballThe Game: Two players each control one man in one-on-one, full-court action. Whoever has the highest score by a predetermined time limit wins. (Atari, 1983 [unreleased])
See the video
Memories: Atari’s RealSports series was created to challenge the upper hand Intellivision’s sports games had gained over the blocky, primitive virtual versions of the same sports on the Atari 2600. The RealSports brand was extended into the 5200 line as well, and did manage to score some firsts, including the first home video game to offer speech without additional custom hardware (RealSports Baseball). But for some reason, neither the 2600 nor 5200 versions of RealSports Basketball ever saw the light of day. 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)

Memories: If Atari’s 2600 version of the arcade wargame was a pleasant surprise, the unreleased 5200 edition of the same game is almost a revelation. Combining adaptations of the menacingly angular vector graphics of the arcade game with more realistic raster backgrounds, the 5200 prototype is not only fun, but rather pretty to look at. Continue reading

Fantasy

FantasyThe Game: Pirates have kidnapped your girlfriend, Cheri, and it’s your job to rescue her, from landing your hot air balloon on the deck of the pirate ship and trying to free her, to flying and climbing your way through the jungle to rescue See the videoher from jungle animals who have abducted her from the pirates. (Texas Instruments, 1983 [unreleased])

Memories: Several years ago, when I wrote up my all-time favorite coin-op, SNK‘s adventurous gem Fantasy (licensed for the US by Rock-Ola), I lamented the lack of a home version. I’ve always thought Fantasy was underappreciated as an arcade game, and a good home translation might have helped. I remember, around the time that NAP finally licensed an arcade game (Turtles) for the Odyssey2, I wrote a letter to them to make the case for an Odyssey2 version of Fantasy, since it now seemed like they were prepared to license arcade titles. When my Fantasy review appeared many years later, TI 99/4a uber-fan Bryan Roppolo wrote in to bring my attention to an unreleased version of the game that had been in the works for that computer system, and I’ve always wondered if it was as much fun as the arcade game. Continue reading

Flash Point

Flash PointThe Game: A zombie infestation has overrun the city. The player, in a mobile unit bristling with weapons, must venture into the infested areas and eliminate the zombies – or die. The center of the infestation See the videoscreens features a green area surrounding the player’s vehicle; this must be preserved as much as possible while fighting off the zombies, as bonus points are awarded for guarding that space. If the player survives, it’s time to move on to the scene of the next zombie attack. (North American Philips, 1983 – unreleased prototype)

Memories: The only game custom-made specifically for the upgraded hardware of N.A.P.‘s never-released Odyssey3 console, Flash Point is a kind of action game that simply couldn’t have been executed with the same finesse on the Odyssey2. Continue reading

Killer Bees

Killer Bees!The Game: You control a solitary swarm of “good” bees, trailed by a couple of handy ray guns on the same vertical axis. The game starts out with a bunch of dim-witted Beebots bumbling around the screen, which you can sting with your See the videobee swarm until the ‘bots slow down and finally expire, marked by a rather grim little tombstone! This probably sounds easy enough, but there are killer bees from outer space emerging from hives around the edge of the play area, and when their swarms collide with your swarm, you lose bees. The only defense against the killer bees is a pair of ray guns, which have to recharge after every use. (North American Philips, 1983)

Memories: Another example of how Philips might have revised existing Odyssey2 games for their new platform, Killer Bees winds up being another example of how ungraceful the transition could’ve been. Continue reading

Lasercade

LasercadeThe Game: You’re manning an experimental laser in a shooting gallery, trying to zap objects as they cross a screen at the far end of the room. A direct hit scores points, but the clock is always ticking down and any objects that haven’t See the videobeen shot down will remain in play until they’re eliminated. At the end of each round, you’ll be tasked with shooting the flame off of a candelabra, though its rapidly melting candles may make this trickier than you think. With each new level, targets get smaller – and rows of floating mirrors threaten to bounce your laser right back at you if you hit them instead of your target. (20th Century Fox, 1983 [never released])

Memories: In video game terms, lasers are like the opposite of the weather – everyone fires them, but nobody ever talks about them. Though Lasercade belongs to the same category as Carnival and Shootin’ Gallery, its 3-D angle on the basic shooting gallery game is unique in the 2600 library, and for the first time, it really plays with the underlying concept and physical reality of firing lasers. Really. Continue reading

Looping

LoopingThe Game: What if you were out to perform daring, air-show-style aerial acrobatics, and someone was shooting at you at the same time? Wouldn’t that be dandy? Lucky you, that’s what you’re doing in this game. With a mandate to DESTROY TERMINAL, you set out to obliterate an airport terminal protected by armed hot air balloons. The closer you get to carrying out that mission, the more fiercely they defend their turf. When you do level the terminal to the ground, a door opens up, allowing you to fly your plane into a massive maze of pipes, and if you can navigate that labyrinth, you reach “the end” – where you must fend off more adversaries to touch down safely and start again. (Coleco, 1983 – unreleased / recovered and released by CGE Services, 2003)

Memories: A positively obscure game in the arcades, Venture Line’s Looping really didn’t get any kind of a cult following until it was ported to the ColecoVision – and that translation was the best thing that ever happened to the game, gaining it a bit of popularity and an exclusive home. Continue reading

Pac-Man

Pac-ManThe Game: As a round yellow creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots (10 points) and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots (50 points) enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score (200, 400, 800 and 1600 points). Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. 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… (Atarisoft, circa 1983 [never released])

Memories: There are only so many ways you can really slice Pac-Man, but this unreleased ColecoVision edition – unearthed just in time for the 2001 Classic Gaming Expo – is one of the better ones. Continue reading

Planet Of The Apes

Planet Of The ApesThe Game: It’s not a good idea being a human on Earth of the future, in a world ruled ruthlessly by intelligent, verbose, violent apes. Or, in this case, persistent, pixellated apes. The player controls a hunted human trying to stay out of the apes’ damn dirty paws. If the human falls into the apes’ hands, an indelicate lobotomy is probably the best treatment he can expect. (20th Century Fox, 1983)

Memories: This is the story of a prototype that was rumored for many years, and with the popularity of the film and TV franchise, it was the subject of much speculation. Little did ardent collectors of unreleased VCS games know that the game was right under their noses the whole time… thanks to being mislabeled. Continue reading

Power Lords: Quest For Volcan

Power Lords: Quest For VolcanThe Game: As superhero Adam Power, you’re the pilot of a space sled on patrol around the explosive Volcan Rock, and what better cover for the bad guys? An enormous laser-eyed space serpent is coiled around the mountain, and you have to take it down single-handedly. Once See the videoyou’ve baked the snake, you land your sled on the surface and have a shootout with Gryptogg, Raygoth and Arkus. Once you’ve beaten them back, you can explore the underground caverns, collecting their instruments of evil and exchanging fire with them again. When you escape from their maze, you advance to the next level and begin the fight anew. (North American Philips / Probe 2000, 1983 – unreleased)

Memories: This Colecovision adaptation of the Odyssey2 game (now there’s a phrase you’re never going to see again), based on a less-than-blockbuster-successful series of comics and action figures, adds more depth to the game than the dear old Odyssey ever could’ve managed. But it’s hard to tell how much depth, as the game was never completed. Continue reading

Robot City

Robot CityThe Game: Four robotic tanks search methodically through a maze, trying to hunt you down. If you wind up in a straight line across or above/below the robot tanks, they will fire, even if a maze wall is in the way. Your job is to See the videoevade their fire, use the robots’ logic against them (i.e. try to get one tank to shoot another just because you’re in a straight line with them), or sneak up from behind and destroy them. Destroyed tanks leave a radioactive crater that you must avoid for the rest of that round; you advance to the next round by eliminating all of the tanks without being shot yourself. (Philips, 1983 – unreleased prototype)

Memories: This is one of those Odyssey2 games that was prepared for release only in the foreign market, but could’ve been one of the machine’s signature games in North America. It may be as simple as a game can get, but Robot City is a load of fun. (Come to think of it, I can’t imagine why it was left at the prototype altar elsewhere, either.) Continue reading

Robot Rubble

Robot RubbleThe Game: Robots descend from the mountains with one mission in mind: they’d like to fry you. In fact, they’re pretty adamant on that point. You’re armed with a weapon that can fling anti-robot grenades at them, but you have to account for a trajectory that can be affected by your own movement; mountainous See the videooutcroppings give you shelter, but not for long, since they also give the robots target practice. If you score a direct hit and blast a robot apart, you’re left with a narrow window of opportunity in which to land another grenade and permanently dismantle the remaining robot parts…if you can’t accomplish that, the robot will gather up its parts and reassemble itself to have another go at you. (Activision, 1983 – never released)

Memories: One of the strangest marketing policies to emerge from the golden age of video games was Activision‘s absurd – and eventually abandoned – strategy of trying to make its early Intellivision titles look and sound exactly like their Atari 2600 counterparts. While Activision was doing this, possibly to save the marketing department from having to prepare two different sets of artwork per game, Imagic vaulted ahead of them and became the definitive third-party software provider for the Intellivision. One only needs to look at the 2600 and Intellivision versions of Demon Attack or Atlantis to formulate the question “Why on Earth would Activision hobble their own developers like that?” Continue reading

Spider-Man

Spider-ManThe Game: The Green Goblin and his henchmen are terrorizing the city once more, and it’s up to Spider-Man to restore order. But the odds are against him: he can only attach his web to the surface of the building, naturally, but the See the videoBuy this gameGoblin’s underlings are ready and eager to cut Spidey’s web should it be planted near them. Worse yet, the difficult-to-navigate high voltage tower at the top of the building is riddled with the Goblin’s bombs, and even if Spidey can defuse them, there’s a Super Bomb waiting for him at the top of the building – and he can only put it out of commission after dealing with the Green Goblin personally. (Parker Bros., 1983 / released by Bas Kornalijnslijper in 2006)

Memories: A chance discovery made by collector Bas Kornalijnslijper among a handful of ROM chips given to him by a former Phillips Electronics employee, Spider-Man was long known to have at least been in the works. Various advertising material touting the other four games created by Parker Bros. for the Videopac (the Odyssey2’s European near-twin) had mentioned that Spider-Man was “coming soon!” But of course, support for the Odyssey2 had largely disappeared by that time in North America (none of the Parker Bros. games were released there), and while it didn’t happen as quickly, the Videopac’s support also faded away in Europe; Spider-Man simply didn’t make it to market within that window. Now, along with another advertised-but-never-sold Parker Bros. title, Tutankham, Spider-Man has been unearthed. Continue reading

Tempest

TempestThe Game: As a strangely crablike creature, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and purple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things which See the videospin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should avoid spikes. (Atari, 1983)

Memories: The above description barely fits this game because it only exists in an unfinished form, with just a few bare essential elements of the game in place. You can shoot stuff and score points, but there isn’t much “game” there – the collision routines don’t exist that would determine whether or not your on-screen flipper “dies” by touching an approaching enemy, or an enemy’s incoming fire for that matter. Continue reading

Tempest

TempestThe Game: As a strangely crablike creature, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and See the videopurple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things (swirly thing alert!!) which spin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should avoid spikes. (Atari, 1983 – never released)

Memories: This version of Tempest never officially saw the light of day…but in looking at this attempt at a 2600 version of Atari’s own popular vector graphics game, one wonders if the game’s no-show wasn’t an attempt to prevent another turkey of Pac-proportions from marring Atari’s recently-repaired reputation. Continue reading

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