Asteroids

AsteroidsThe Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of free-floating asteroids, but the job isn’t easy – Newton’s laws of motion must be obeyed, even by asteroids. When you blow a big rock into See the videoBuy this gamelittle chunks, those chunks go zipping off in opposite directions with the speed and force imparted by the amount of energy you used to dispel them. To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable hyperspace escape mechanism and a pesky UFO that likes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: So you thought Asteroids didn’t become a creature of slick full-color graphics until the Playstation era, eh? Or maybe you didn’t think that. First off, Atari rehashed the game in colorful raster form as Blasteroids in the arcades, and then it included a copy of this rendition of Asteroids with every Atari 7800 console it sold. Continue reading

Dig Dug

Dig DugThe Game: You are Dig Dug, an intrepid gardener whose soil is infested with pesky Pookas and fire-breathing Fygars. You’re armed with your trusty pump, which you can use to inflate your enemies until, finally, they blow up. But both the Pookas and Fygars can crawl through the ground and can pop out into your tunnels, and if a Fygar sneaks up behind you, he can toast you if you’re not careful. (INTV Corp., 1987)

See the videoMemories: From the ashes of Mattel Electronics, which suffered a multi-million-dollar loss in the 1982-83 crash of the video game industry, several stalwart members of the “Blue Sky Rangers” development team banded together to form INTV Corporation, a leaner, meaner entity that would do what seemed unthinkable in the market climate of the time: keep supporting the Intellivision with new software until further notice. After the NES helped the industry make a comeback, Atari dusted off the 2600 and the stillborn 7800 – which had been ready to hit stores as early as 1984 – and tried to reposition them as budget alternatives to Nintendo’s increasingly ubiquitous machine. Continue reading

Diner

DinerThe Game: Chef Peter Pepper is back, and he’s been served up a second helping of inedible trouble. Roaming the vast, maze-like expanses of Ray’s Diner, the chef has to round up the scattered ingredients of dinner before he finds himself on See the videothe menu. For every four screen he clears, Peter Pepper gets a chance to catch more ingredients in a bonus round (but must avoid the flashing ingredients at all costs). The chef is also still armed with his trusty pepper shaker to stun his enemies briefly, and he can still replenish his short supply of pepper when bonus items appear. (INTV Corp., 1987)

Memories: A loose collective of “survivors” of Mattel Electronic’s Intellivision division, INTV Corp. slowly but surely got off the ground to offer new titles to Intellivision owners by mail-order, even as the NES was taking over the world. INTV’s library of new titles wasn’t a huge one, but it was at the very least a respectable selection, including arcade games such as Dig Dug and Pole Position whoses licenses had once been exclusive to the now-all-but-dormant Atari. INTV Corp. had access to the back catalog of started-but-not-finished (and finished-but-shelved-indefinitely) titles that had been swallowed in the fall of Mattel Electronics, and it was from one of these unfinished games that Diner got its start…but you might be surprised to find out where Diner really came from. Continue reading

Galaga

GalagaThe Game: Commanding a small fleet of sleek fighter ships, you’re up against an alien invasion, arriving in wave after unfriendly wave. Alien fighters resemble butterflies and bees, but the real prize is the handful of motherships which arrives See the videowith each wave. Capable of taking two hits – the first weakens them and turns them dark blue, the second destroys them – the motherships also come equipped with a tractor beam with which to snare your fighters. But if one of your fighters is captured, and you can destroy the mothership which is towing it, your wayward fighter will be returned, doubling your firepower. (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: It took three years for anyone to bring this game to any home video game or computer platform. Who knows why? I never thought it was all that complicated, but apparently not even the ColecoVision or the 5200 were up to the task. Continue reading

Food Fight

Food FightBuy This GameThe Game: Poor Charley Chuck. He just wants to make it across the screen and eat that big, inviting ice cream cone before it all melts away. But there are a bunch of chefs who want to stop him. This, of course, means war – an all out food fight breaks out. Charley and the chefs can both grab whatever morsels are at hand and fling them at each other. If Charley beans a chef, that chef temporarily disappears, but if Charley gets nailed too many times, he’s force-fed a solid diet of game over. (Atari, 1984 – released in 1987)

See the videoMemories: Food Fight on the Atari 7800 almost has an unfair advantage: both the coin-op and this home version were programmed by General Computer, a subcontractor which handled many of Atari’s better home ports of arcade games. In addition to their usual skill in transferring arcade games to home consoles, this time they had intimate knowledge of the original too. Continue reading

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 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. (Atari, 1987)

Memories: A few years after releasing an excellent port of Ms. Pac-Man, during the twilight of the 2600 platform, Atari visited the Pac-Man well one more time with Jr. Pac-Man, a game which rehashed the basic Pac-Man concept, only this time with a much larger, scrolling maze. Jr. Pac-Man was Atari 2600 Pac-nirvana. The graphics, the music, and the sounds were absolutely spot-on. Continue reading

The Legend Of Zelda

The Legend Of ZeldaThe Game: Link wanders the kingdom of Hyrule, attempting to defeat the minions of the evil Ganon and trying to gather the weapons, tools, and items he will need to free the kingdom. Most vital on his quest is the recovery of all the pieces of the magical Triforce, the most powerful force that can be brought against Ganon. But as each piece is recovered and each part of the quest is completed, the next leg of the journey is even more difficult. (Nintendo, 1987)

Memories: If Super Mario Bros. and the Donkey Kong series hadn’t already marked the arrival of Shigeru Miyamoto as a master video game designer, the deal was sealed with the arrival of The Legend Of Zelda, which was a game-changing entry in the adventure genre, to say the very least. Zelda was the title that finally blew down the door and gained wide acceptance for adventure games that couldn’t be finished in a single sitting. Prior to this, adventure games had a niche audience, but tweaking the conventions and expectations of the genre and putting it on a console instead of a computer made Zelda a winner. Continue reading

Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-ManThe Game: As the bride of that most famous of single-celled omniphage life forms, your job is pretty simple – eat all the dots, gulp the large blinking dots in each corner of the screen and eat the monsters while they’re blue, and avoid See the videothe monsters the rest of the time. Occasionally various fruits and other foods will bounce through the maze, and you can gobble those for extra points. (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: I know I keep repeating this theme in the Phosphor Dot Fossils coverage of the Atari 7800, but the Tramiels did their new company – and gamers everywhere – a grievous disservice by putting the 7800 on ice until the NES was on top of the world. Continue reading

One-On-One

One On OneThe Game: Dr. J and Larry Bird take to the hardwood for one-on-one half-court basketball action. Each player has his own signature moves, from lay-ups to three-point shots to steals. One or two players can play to a predetermined score or to a time limit. See the video(Atari [under license from Electronic Arts], 1987)

Memories: Having already become a hit on such home computers as the Commodore 64 and Apple II, Electronic Arts’ One On One ushered in a wave of celebrity-driven sports games that would eventually lead the company to a far more profitable franchise in the Madden [insert year of your choice here] football games. Atari had courted (no pun intended) EA as a potential developer of games for the Atari 7800, and while that courtship was short-lived, it did result in one of the better looking iterations of One On One. Continue reading

Pole Position II

Pole Position IIThe Game: It’s your big chance to qualify for the big race at one of four tracks: the oval test track, Seaside, Suzuka, and the Mt. Fuji track from the original Pole Position. First, you try to get through the qualifying heat, racking up laps around the track as fast you can and accumulating as few wrecks as possible. If you pass muster, then you get to try it again with other cars on the track! (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: Until the Namco Museum series came along for the Playstation, featuring true emulation of the original arcade code and graphics, this is as close as we were going to get to the finesse of an arcade Pole Position game at home – at it wasn’t too far off the mark. Continue reading

Robotron: 2084

Robotron: 2084The Game: In the year 2084, all hell has broken loose on Earth. Robotic servants, created to perform dangerous tasks and defend their human creators, have decided they can do without their masters. The robots have evolved into new and terrifying varieties – the ever-multiplying Ground Roving UNit Terminators (GRUNTs), indestructible Hulks, self-replicating Quarks and Tanks, and most horrfying of all, the Brain robots, which capture humans and reprogram them into super-fast killing machines. And the only thing protecting the last remaining survivors of homo sapiens is your strength, endurance and cunning. (Atari, 1984 [released in 1987])

Memories: Robotron, like Zaxxon, was one of those holy grails of the early home video game industry, a game that seemed almost impossible to translate to a home console properly, and yet would reward anyone who succeeded in that endeavour with a legion of satisfied consumers. Continue reading

Slam Dunk Super Pro Basketball

Slam Dunk Super Pro BasketballThe Game: One or two players can set a budget and begin recruiting a top-notch basketball team (or, alternately, recruiting from who’s left after someone else has recruited a top-notch basketball team), and then it’s time to hit the court. See the videoEach player controls a team of three with offensive and defensive moves; the player can control any member of his team. (INTV Corp., 1987)

Memories: Several of the “Super Pro” sports games released by INTV Corp. – the entity that took on the task of continuing software support for the Intellivision long after Mattel Electronics had given up on the system in the face of the then-looming video game industry crash – began life as re-coded single-player versions of existing Intellivision sports titles. Slam Dunk is an example of a game that diverged completely from the code of its two-player-only predecessor (NBA Basketball). Continue reading

Winter Games

Winter GamesThe Game: The Olympic torch is the warmest thing to be found in this multi-event recreation of the Winter Olympics. Downhill skiing, luge, slalom skiing and other events are represented here, and See the videoplayers can even pick which country they’re representing as they go for the gold. (Epyx, 1987)

Memories: One of the more elaborate attempts to recreate Olympic events on the Atari 2600, Winter Games benefits from a few additional years of knowledge on overcoming that system’s limitations. But it’s also, largely, an afterthought: Epyx made its real money from Winter Games on the Commodore 64 and other home computer systems. Continue reading

Xevious

XeviousThe 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 See the videomothership. As you progress further behind enemy lines, heavier aircraft and more versatile and deadly 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. (Atari, 1984; released circa 1987)

Memories: Y’know, the more games I get for my trusty little 7800 – admittedly a recent acquisition in my gallery of classic consoles – the more I’m convinced that the Tramiel regime at Atari did the video game indsutry (and the consumers and players) a vast disservice by mothballing the 7800 and then not unveiling it until the NES had dominated the landscape. Continue reading

Zaxxon 3-D

Zaxxon 3-DThe Game: As the lone pilot daring enough to breach the defenses of Zaxxon’s space stronghold yet again, you take on a fleet of perimeter fighters, some of whom helpfully leave power-ups behind when destroyed. Then it’s into the See the videospace base once more, bristling with gun emplacements, fuel tanks that gas up your fighter when they’re shot (we haven’t quite worked that one out either), and walls that you can run face-first if you’re at just the wrong altitude. Just beyond the walls of the base lies the new and improved Zaxxon itself; if you survive that encounter, you begin again. (Sega, 1987)

Memories: With so many major Japanese game makers committed to the Famicom and NES, the Sega Master System didn’t have quite the impressive array of arcade titles in its library. But one thing it could have that everyone else couldn’t was Sega’s own in-house games and updates thereof – hence, this updated, almost-first-person remake of the groundbreaking Zaxxon. Continue reading

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