51 Shades of Geek

Jr. Pac-Man

Jr. Pac-ManBuy this gameThe 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 the 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… (Atari, 1984; released by AtariAge.com, 2003)

Memories: A victim of former Commodore executive Jack Tramiel’s takeover of Atari‘s home video game and computer division, Jr. Pac-Man was one of the many “orphaned” games that were finished and ready for mass-production, but despite the money that had been spent on acquiring the license and developing the actual software, Jr. Pac-Man stayed off the schedule, never to hit the stores. Continue reading

Shark Hunter

Shark HunterBuy this gameThe Game: In the Arctic Circle, there are two certainties: not eating will kill you, and being in the water too long will kill you. You have to brave both possibilities in this game, trying to keep the fishing nets intact, and trying to fend off the roaming sharks intent on biting through the nets. There are both stationary and moving ice floes, and you can jump from one to the other (or to the shore), with your spear at the ready to impale a shark – but sooner or later you also have to jump into the freezing water to repair the nets, leaving you at the sharks’ mercy. (GST Video, 1984 / released by Classic Console Center in 2006)

See the videoMemories: This unreleased gem from the Odyssey2/Videopac library is a fine specimen of the best Odyssey2 games – offbeat, original (or at least adding original twists to popular themes) and unique. Shark Hunter was designed for the European market, but was never released in this form when the crash of the video game industry caught up with overseas game makers. (A version of it later appeared for MSX computers overseas.) It’s fun and frustrating, and would’ve been a more than welcome addition to the Odyssey2 or Videopac libraries. Continue reading

Cabbage Patch Kids: Adventure In The Park

Cabbage Patch Kids: Adventure In The ParkThe Game: You are one of those ubiquitously cute icons of the ’80s, a Cabbage Patch Kid, and your mission is to convey your pigtailed self across the screen, circumnavigating whatever dangers await you –See the video rolling balls, puddles of water, and so on. You can jump (and, with the aid of strategically placed trampolines, you can jump really high and snag some high-flying bonus prizes), you can swing across water with ropes hanging from trees, and if you mess up any of the above, you can only do it a few times before you’re a Cabbage Patch Greasy Spot on the ground. Remember, the death of any Cabbage Patch child diminishes the entire Cabbage Patch. (Coleco, 1984 – unreleased prototype)

Memories: Essentially a copycat of Activision’s Pitfall, Cabbage Patch Kids was originally released on the Colecovision, capitalizing on Coleco’s two big sellers at the time – that console, and the newly-acquired Cabbage Patch Kids doll license. At this point in the 1980s, video game publishers were virtually clueless about what drew women and girls to some games, and repelled them from others, so it wasn’t uncommon to see bizarro licensing moves such as Cabbage Patch Kids and Strawberry Shortcake. Only development on this game was still ongoing when the bottom dropped out of the video game industry, so the Cabbage Patch Kids were strictly confined to the Colecovision until a 2008 flea market find which put this reasonably finished and playable game into the hands of an Atari collector. Continue reading

Garfield

GarfieldThe Game: You are the world’s most famous lasagna-munchin’ mouser, hopping from fencepost to fencepost, grabbing airborne hamburgers (!!?) and dodging potted plants being thrown at you. Eventually you reach home, where you can antagonize Odie the dog, who has somehow made his way to the top of Jon’s house. (Atari, never released [developed circa 1984])

Memories: Who here didn’t love Jim Davis’ Garfield comics 20+ years ago? I loved ’em. Of course, I too had an unpredictable, feisty, and every-so-slightly overweight striped feline of my own, so I was a little biased. Atari’s unreleased Garfield game fell under the axe of the great video game industry crash, which is a great pity – it would have made a very nice kids’ game, with its easy and not-even-remotely-violent game play (the worst that can happen to you is that you seem to “bulge” when hit by a potted plant). It also had some rather nice graphics, with recognizable renditions of Garfield and Odie. Continue reading

Revenge Of The Jedi Game I (Return Of The Jedi: Ewok Adventure)

Revenge Of The Jedi Game ISee the videoThe Game: They’re responsible for the deaths of countless Imperial officers in battle, and served as a vital ally to Luke, Han, Leia and the Rebel Alliance in their darkest hour. Surely every gamer wants to join their ranks and experience the battle of Endor from their perspective! That’s right, you’re an Ewok, flying a primitive hang-glider behind enemy lines, avoiding AT-ST fire and trying to take out as many Imperial troops as you can. Stormtroopers on speeder bikes are both tempting targets and formidable foes for you; if you can, try to fight your way to the Imperial bunker and clear the way Ewok Adventurefor your friends. Good timing can allow you to temporarily take over the Empire’s walking terrors and use them against their own forces. Face it: you’re a short, stubby teddy bear, armed with rocks, and the fate of the universe depends on you. (Parker Brothers, 1984 – never released)

Memories: A real curiosity, this was planned to be the fifth in a series of Star Wars cartridges for the Atari 2600, and yet it never saw the light of day. A prototype of the game exists in completed form, as does a prototype of the packaging, bearing the obvious work-in-progress title of Revenge Of The Jedi Game I. (There was a Game II as well, of which more in a moment.) Continue reading

Super Pac-Man

Super Pac-ManThe Game: Once again, Pac-Man roams the maze, pursued by four colorful ghosts. But instead of dots, this maze is peppered with other goodies, ranging from the usual fruits (apples, bananas, etc.) to donuts, cake, and burgers. And in addition to the traditional four “power pellets” in each corner of the screen, there are two green “super power pellets” per screen, which give the mighty yellow one the power to fly over the monsters’ heads and to break down doors that confine some of the yummy treats in the maze. (Atari, 1984 – never released)

Memories: Super Pac-Man was one of many Pac-Man spinoffs that made only a minor splash when it hit the arcades in 1982. Nixed by the sudden cancellation of new releases caused by the video game industry crash, Atari’s 5200 edition of Super Pac-Man is actually very good. Continue reading

Targ (Universal Chaos)

TargThe Game: You’re trapped in a symmetrical maze with a bevy of robotic target vehicles – “Targs” – which are programmed to do just one thing: collide with your vehicle. You have one advantage on these decidedly mean streets, however – you can fire missiles ahead of your car (but the Targs are capable of dodging your projectiles too, so don’t get too cocky). Every once in a while, one of the impregnable blocks in the maze will disgorge a new enemy which is just a little bit faster and deadlier than the rest. Clearing the screen of Targs advances you to a new level with faster enemies – and eventually they’ll put the brakes on your attempts to survive. (CBS Video Games, 1984)

Memories: Exidy‘s offbeat menagerie of arcade games was ripe for licensing in the early 1980s, and for the most part it was Coleco that jumped on that bandwagon, grabbing the rights for games such as Mouse Trap, Venture, Ladybug and Mr. Do, both for their own ColecoVision console and as a third-party title for competing platforms like the Intellivision and the Atari 2600. CBS‘ short-lived entry into the video game market saw them licensing games originating with Bally/Midway (Gorf, Omega Race, Blue Print, etc.), but at one point CBS won the rights to, and advertised, a cartridge version of Targ. The game was completely programmed and ready to go – and then the crash hit. Continue reading

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