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Bubble Bobble

Bubble BobbleBuy this gameThe Game: You control a friendly-looking lizard named Bub (and, if you have a second player, they control his blue-tinged twin, Bob). Your See the videomission is simple – use your natural defenses to do away with a multi-tiered screen full of monsters. And your natural defense? Of course, like so many members of the reptile family, you blow bubbles which trap your enemies, and then jump up to pop those bubbles (popping the predators in the process). In many cases, a just-popped enemy will deposit a tasty treat which you have to grab for bonus points within seconds before the treat vanishes. Clearing the screen of critters takes you automatically to the next level. (Taito, 1986)

The Game: I’m not going to delve too deeply into how original this game is (or isn’t) – one can see the Mario Bros. influence pretty clearly – but Bubble Bobble is a lot of fun, and it’s the starting point of Taito’s most enduring “cute” franchise. Continue reading

Halley’s Comet

Halley's CometThe Game: Defend Earth from the comets! Halley’s Comet is on a collision course with Earth, and it’s teeming with evil aliens bent on destroying humanity. They attack the player’s ship in endless waves, even building walls in space that the player can collide with before they realize what’s happening. Power-ups can be revealed by blasting away at meteors, though catching them and accumulating their firepower in the middle of a fierce firefight is a skill unto itself. Smaller comets plunge toward the Earth at lightning speed. Any alien ships or comets that the player doesn’t destroy keep going and attack the planet; if too many are allowed to strike at Earth directly, or if the player runs out of ships, the game ends. (Taito, 1986)

Memories: An interesting take on the slide-and-shoot genre, Halley’s Comet finally addresses what happens when dive-bombing alien invaders zoom past the player’s ship at the bottom of the screen – they keep barreling toward whatever the player was protecting in the first place. This raises the stakes nicely and holds the player accountable for any stragglers who slip past the defenses, something that most shoot-’em-ups since Space Invaders (which ended the moment the invaders landed) didn’t bother to do. Continue reading

Rampage

RampageThe Game: Monsters are running amok in cities across America… and you’re one of them! A giant lizard, a giant werewolf and a giant gorilla walk into a bar and tear it down. Monsters can compete to see who will topple tall buildings first, or they can qang up on puny defenseless human scum. It’s pretty easy to knock over buildings, and pretty easy to take a lot of damage from the armed forces who have been called out to stop the creatures. If they accrue too much damage, the monsters de-evolve to their un-mutated original human form, and require quick action (and additional quarters) to stay in the game. (Midway, 1986)

Memories: A devilishly fun masterpiece of pure destruction, Rampage appeals to any current or former kid who’s ever gained an innate understanding that the next best thing rto building something is to knock it over again. Rampage‘s implied violence is cartoonish at worst, with just a wink and a nod toward the classic Toho and Universal Studios monster movies. And that is a great combination. Continue reading

Super Xevious

The Game: As the commander of a sleek Solvalou fighter, you’re deep into enemy territory, shooting their disc-shaped fighters out of the sky, bombing ground installations and artillery nests, bombing tanks, and trying to destroy the mothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and Buy this gamedeadly ground-based defenses become the norm. Also look out for tumbling airborne mirrors – they’re impervious to your fire, but you’re toast if you fly right into them. (Nintendo [under license from Namco], 1986)

Memories: Adapted for the Nintendo Vs. arcade cartridge system, which used the same technology as the NES console, Super Xevious underwent a transformation, trading in its extremely vertical view for an extremely crunched horizontal/almost-square screen, typical of games which were ported to the Vs. system. Continue reading

Joust 2: Survival Of The Fittest

Joust 2Buy this gameThe Game: Mount up that ostrich and ride into battle once more, this time in strange new environments such as “The Altar,” “The Blues,” a deadly mechanical warrior which can be dismantled by lancing strategic points, and crystal caves filled with killer bats. If all this sounds like too much for an armored guy on a lousy See the videoostrich, you’re right, it is – and this is why you can transform into a Pegasus, which is a larger target and harder to keep in the air, but can take out more armored guys on lousy ostriches – and they can’t turn their steeds into flying horses. Beware, buzzard bait! (Williams, 1986)

Memories: I have to admit, I only became aware of the existence of a sequel to Williams’ immortal Joust in the late ’90s…and even now that I’ve gotten to play it, the jury’s still out. Joust needed a sequel about like The Matrix needs a sequel – meaning not at all. Both were fine as stand-alones, and didn’t need to be turned into franchises. 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, 1986)

Memories: As much as many gamers don’t grow as attached to Donkey Kong 3 as they did with the first games in that series, with its Mario-less sidestep into shooter territory, it’s still quite a bit of fun, and this NES cartridge captures the arcade experience perfectly. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps Mario’s girlfriend and hauls her up to the top of a building which is presumably under construction. You are Mario, dodging Donkey Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and “foxfires” in your See the videoBuy this gameattempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Kong. You can actually do this a number of times, and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Nintendo, 1986)

Memories: Once upon a time, Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision was the Donkey Kong experience to beat: short of going to the arcade, it didn’t get any better than that. But Coleco had only negotiated the console rights to the game, and nearly lost that contract when they goofed and showed a version of the game for their ill-fated Adam computer at a 1983 Consumer Electronics Show – though the home computer rights had been granted to Atari. In just two years’ time, none of that would matter – the crash came and went, Coleco exited the home computer and video game businesses, a seriously weakened Atari refocused its efforts on computer hardware, and Nintendo had its own video game console on the US market. Continue reading

Donkey Kong Junior

Donkey Kong JuniorThe Game: Mario has Donkey Kong in captivity, and it’s up to Donkey Kong Jr. to rescue his dad by scaling vines and chains, avoiding nasty-toothed traps and pesky birds, and reaching the key to free the great ape from Mario’s clutches. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: A fairly popular arcade game like Donkey Kong Junior was bound to be ported to home consoles, and the translations ran the gamut from not-good-at-all to good enough. Surely if anyone could really capture the essence of the coin-op, it’d be Nintendo itself. Continue reading

Tower Of Doom

Tower Of DoomBuy this gameThe Game: Abandon hope, all ye who enter the Tower of Doom. Armed and armored, adventurers enter seeking treasure, mystery and glory…but all that stands between them and those goals are dragons, monsters, bizarre traps that twist space and time, and, of course, twisty little passages (there are always twisty little passages). When a battle is lost in the catacombs, the player returns to his starting point for another attempt to plumb the depths, but eventually every player will run out of opportunities…or will have to grow powerful enough to conquer most of the Tower’s denizens. (INTV Inc., 1986)

See the videoMemories: Originally conceived as another entry in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons video game franchise, Tower Of Doom seems terribly familiar to anyone who played Mattel’s original AD&D cartridge: the overhead maze crawl and the close-up battles go back to the original game’s basics, rather than trying to further develop Treasure Of Tarmin‘s first-person perspective and interface, which was considered a step forward for graphics but not for game play. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: How high can you go? Help Jumpman (Mario) save Pauline from Donkey Kong’s clutches by climbing ladders and avoiding barrels. (Ocean Software, 1986)

Memories: Three years after the release of AtariSoft’s Commodore 64 Donkey Kong port, European software developer Ocean Software decided it was time for another Donkey Kong remake and accepted the challenge.

It goes without saying that the more familiar programmers become with a particular platform, the more advanced their games will look and play. This is generally why games released later in a platform’s lifespan often seem more advanced than earlier titles. Such is the case with Ocean’s version of Donkey Kong. With an additional three years of familiarity with the Commodore behind them, Ocean was really able to crank one great looking port. Continue reading

Tetris

TetrisThe Game: Various shapes consisting of four blocks each fall from the top of the screen, giving the player a short time to rotate, move (left or right only), and ultimately drop each piece into place. The goal is to put complementary shapes together, forming a solid line (or several solid lines) and leaving no gaps. Completed horizontal lines disappear from the screen, and the remaining pieces drop to the bottom. Bonus points are awarded for using the tallest piece – four blocks tall – to eliminate four lines at once. Allowing the shapes to pile up until they reach the top of the screen ends the game. (freeware, 1986)

Memories: Created in 1984 while the programming trio of Alexey Pajitnov, Dmitry Pavlovsky and Vadim Gerasimov were working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Tetris was first programmed on a mainframe computer and its commercial potential was immediately recognized. Since it was designed and coded “on the clock” in Soviet government facilities, the government automatically had ownership of the program. The Soviet technology and software export bureau, Elektronorgtechnica (ELORG for short), had never dealt with a computer game, and dropped the ball. The programmers shrugged it off; Gerasimov’s MS-DOS PC port was released into the wild in 1986 with no expectation that anyone involved would ever profit from it, and that was that. Continue reading

Topper

TopperThe Game: As Topper the top-hat-wearing turtle, your job is to jump from platform to platform until every platform on the screen is the same color, all without jumping into the empty space beyond the platforms. But as easy as this task See the videomay sound, it’s not that easy: rambunctious rabbits are ready to pounce on you, or at the very least keep you from reaching all of the platforms. Random explosives appear on some platforms and you have to avoid that platform until the danger has passed – and not even all of the platforms stay in one place. (Navarone Software, 1986)

Memories: The TI 99/4a version of Q*Bert is a decent port of Q*Bert, but on this computer, I much prefer Topper. With tense seconds ticking by as Topper stares down the slow approach of the evil rabbits (who actually look more like evil guys in evil rabbit suits, to be honest), there’s an element of patience and strategy that brings an almost chess-like dimension to what could easily have been just another Q*Bert clone. Continue reading

Ultima IV: Quest Of The Avatar

Ultima IV: Quest Of The AvatarThe Game: Darkness has fallen anew upon Britannia, and Lord British calls for your service again. You start out alone, accumulating traveling (and fighting) companions along your journey, striving to live by the Eight Virtues that govern conduct in the kingdom. Along the way, numerous creatures, both evil and simply pesky, challenge you. As you go forth on the quest, you must also collect the mantras of each Virtue, travel to the corresponding Shrines, and meditate there until you reach enlightenment. With enlightenment and experience come the strength to rid Britannia of evil – but, to quote a little pointy-eared green guy, beware the dark side… (Origin Systems, 1986)

Memories: Richard Garriott’s fourth classic role-playing installment was one of the most addictive games I ever played on the Apple II computer. I kid you not, I spent hours playing Ultima IV. Then, and I’m sure you know this story, I moved a few times, lost track of my original floppies, and missed the game terribly the next time it crossed my mind to play it. I shall now spend hours waxing rhapsodic about why this is still my favorite computer RPG of all time. Continue reading

Uridium

UridiumThe Game: Destroy massive motherships while fighting waves of enemies and avoiding obstacles at breakneck speeds in this groundbreaking horizontal SHMUP. There’ll be time to rest when you’re dead. (Hewson, 1986)

Memories: Uridium is one of the fastest games I’ve ever played. At top speed, things whiz by you so quickly that your reflexes simply aren’t fast enough. You’ll have to memorize the levels to fly at that speed – too bad you can’t memorize where the next wave fleet of enemies will be coming from. Continue reading

The Halley Project

The Halley ProjectThe Game: Your sleek spacecraft is launched from a base installation on Halley’s Comet (!). Your mission is to scout various bodies in the solar system – both planets and moons – which meet strictly defined criteria as dispensed by the computer. In some cases you must land, in others you must simply achieve orbit. You must learn to navigate the solar system using the constellations of the Zodiac, and learn to judge distance so you won’t overshoot your target (and therefore exceed your allotted mission time) with brief bursts of your faster-than- light drive. You climb in the ranks as you complete more missions. (Interscope, 1986)

Memories: As a life-long space buff, I adored this game. I was always a big fan of such interplanetary missions as the Vikings, Voyagers, Pioneers and Mariners launched by NASA (and, for the most part, overseen by JPL, though to give credit where it’s due, the Pioneers were an Ames project). This game put me into the role of a surrogate space probe, navigating planets and their moons and generally exploring the solar system. Continue reading

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