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Baseball

BaseballThe Game: Baseball returns to the small screen – the very small screen – on the Game Boy. Step up to the plate and take a swing; after three outs, take control of the pitcher, basemen and outfield, trying to keep the computer from scoring a run. (Nintendo, 1989)

Memories: If Baseball! on the Odyssey2 was my favorite iteration of baseball as a video game during the 1980s, Nintendo‘s Baseball was my favorite of the late ’80s and ’90s. I remember spending a lot of quality time with this game on my first Game Boy – and most of that time was fun and challenging rather than frustrating, placing this well above quite a few baseball video games. Continue reading

Off The Wall

Off The WallThe Game: A worm-like dragon taunts you from atop a multi-colored wall, one which you must topple to reunite your divided village. To accomplish this task, you must bounce hurled projectiles into the wall. Collecting power-ups along the way will affect the behavior of the projectile, from making it a weapon capable of wiping out See the videolarge portions of the wall to making it return to you repeatedly, like a boomerang. You advance to the next level by eliminating the wall. (Atari, 1989)

Memories: In the beginning, there was Breakout, a game which Atari itself cloned and put through endless permutations; even Warlords, a favorite among classic gamers everywhere, was a stepchild of Breakout and QuadraPong. Eventually, after turning out Breakout and its clones for the home video game market, Atari turned to other ideas. In the late 1980s, Taito unleashed Arkanoid – essentially an updated version of Breakout – and brought the breaking-down-brick-walls genre back into the public eye. Continue reading

Q*Bert

Q*BertThe Game: Q*Bert, a nosey little guy with a propensity for hopping, spends his time hopping around a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes, avoiding Coily the Snake and other assorted purple and red creatures, including a few who operate on a slightly different plane (i.e., they move down the pyramid as if it were rotated one-third). Any green objects and creatures Q*Bert can catch will not hurt him – in fact, the little bouncing green balls will stop time briefly for everyone but Q*Bert. If he gets into a tight spot, Q*Bert can jump off the pyramid onto a flying disc which will despoit him back at the top of the pyramid – and lure Coily to a nasty fate by jumping into nothing. Changing the colors of the top of every cube in the pyramid to the target color indicated at the top left of the screen will clear the pyramid and start the craziness all over again. If Q*Bert is hit by an enemy or falls off the pyramid, he hits bottom with a resounding, arcade- cabinet-shaking splat and a burst of incomprehensible obscenity! (Konami/Ultra, 1989)

Memories: Ah, the eternal conundrum of Q*Bert – to turn the controller, or try to do diagonals with an NES joypad? The original arcade incarnation of the mighty orange one solved the problem pretty simply by turning a standard four-directional joystick at a 45-degree angle within the coin-op’s casing. To truly replicate that effect, you’re given the option of rotating the NES controller 45 degrees or to try to do diagonals while holding it straight (in effect, hitting the left and down portions of the plus-shaped pad simultaneously to move in that direction). There’s a whole pre-game startup screen devoted to controller orientation here. And as awkward as it is, the 45-degree angle option is much more responsive on the NES. Now, a joystick such as the Advantage may help here, but again, the hardware itself dictates that the controller won’t be as responsive diagonally. Continue reading

Ultima IV

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 See the videogovern 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 beware the dark side… (Sega / Origin Systems, 1989)

Memories: I’ve played Ultima IV on both the NES and the Sega Master System, and hands down, the Sega edition comes out on top. For such a relatively complex game, the Sega version of Ultima IV keeps the controls incredibly simple, with a menu-driven system that has a lot of options and yet never overwhelms the player. Continue reading

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek V: The Final FrontierThe Game: Sybok, a charismatic Vulcan cult leader, has tried to disrupt the peace process on the neutral planet Nimbus III. Players take control of one Enterprise crewman at a time to: retrieve the Nimbus III hostages (Sulu), save Kirk and Spock from a cell aboard the Enterprise (Scotty), pilot the Enterprise through asteroids and attacking Klingons (Sulu again?), and finally make a mad dash into the heart of the lair of the “god creature” (Kirk). Running out of life energy aborts the mission; fortunately, Dr. McCoy is standing by at all times and the mission can start from scratch. (Bandai, 1989 – unreleased)

Memories: After the surprise hit that was the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Paramount Pictures was ready to entertain any and all licensing ideas for the next movie, 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (which was therefore perversely considered the worst of the original series movies). Bandai bid for the video game rights, and then proceeded to create a rather uninspired run-and-shoot platformer around what would appear to be an early synopsis of the movie’s plot. (To be fair to Bandai, the movie wasn’t exactly the most inspiring entry in the Star Trek captain’s log, so the fault doesn’t lie entirely with the developer.) Continue reading

Revenge Of Defender

Revenge of DefenderThe Game: Players slide into the cockpit of Defender once again, defending the power generators on the surface of a human space colony from intruding aliens. As usual, the Defender is a versatile, fast-moving attack ship, but the aliens have an advantage in sheer numbers. Vaporizer bombs can clear the screen of attackers, but they’re in short supply. Eliminating all invaders clears the level and starts anew; running out of Defender craft means the aliens win. (Ensign Software, 1989)

Memories: Among the most obscure offshoots of the Defender family tree spawned by the 1980 coin-op, Revenge Of Defender is a dressed-up PC remake of the classic game, trading the complicated control scheme and uncluttered graphics of the original for a easier player controls and background graphics that actually get in the way of the game. Continue reading

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Transinium Challenge

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Transinium ChallengeThe Game: Captain Picard places Commander Riker – that’s you, by the way – in charge of the Enterprise, which is currently on a mission to find out who is launching terrorist attacks on mining stations in the Aquila solar system. Riker can use the Enterprise’s computer to analyze objects and ships, or to look up Federation data files on the various people involved in the growing conflict. And of course, he can call upon the knowledge and experience of his crewmates for advice, or bring them along as he beams down to the various locales on each planet or asteroid in the game. One thing not at Riker’s disposal is time: the attacks continue, and whoever is mounting the attacks is getting bolder with each attempt. And someone in the Aquila system knows more than they’re telling. (Simon & Schuster Interactive, 1989)

Memories: Though it sailed through some troubled creative waters behind the scenes of its first two seasons on television, Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the receiving end of a remarkable amount of patience from its viewers, simply on the strength of its name. With an unprecedented amount of money riding on a series that was sold directly into syndication rather than to a network, Paramount Pictures was eager to cash in as soon as possible. Even so, the first computer or video game to be set aboard the new Enterprise took some time to complete. Continue reading

Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble Space TelescopeThe Game: Well, it’s not really a game. A NASA-published electronic press kit walks you through the basics of the then-upcoming Hubble Space Telescope, from its impending launch aboard the Space Shuttle to how it collects and transmits images. Thanks to a problem with its optics, it would be a few years before the Hubble Telescope, launched in 1990, would begin to fulfill the hype surrounding it. (NASA, 1989)

Memories: Created and published in 1989, months before the Shuttle mission that lifted Hubble into orbit, this interactive guide to the next big thing in astronomy made the rounds. Continue reading

Super Mario Land

Super Mario LandThe Game: As intrepid plumber (and explorer) Mario, players have to jump through new environments and enemies to help Mario rescue Daisy. Egyptian pyramids guarded by fire-breathing Sphinxes, seaside platforms invaded by space aliens, and the usual Goombas and Koopas await Mario as he tries to reach the end of each level. As always, there are mushrooms, stars and fire flowers to help Mario power up, and helpful hidden chambers full of coins. (Nintendo, 1989)

Memories: One of the original Game Boy launch titles, Super Mario Land was almost the game that was included with the Game Boy itself. And why not? Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 were certified smash hits with the same kind of household-name recognition that had once been the sole domain of Pac-Man. Continue reading

Hyper Lode Runner

Hyper Lode RunnerThe Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the holes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you See the videohappen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Bandai, 1989)

Memories: A nifty revival of the computer classic, Hyper Lode Runner actually manages to pack in a surprising amount of what made the original game so addictive – right down to the “edit mode” that allows players to build their own levels. Continue reading

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