Buggy Challenge

Buggy ChallengeThe Game: It’s a duel for dune buggy supremacy, and it won’t be easy. Drivers must contend not only with other drivers, but with dangerous terrain (sand hills that can launch a buggy into mid-air with little or no control over where it might land), killer obstacles including rocks and fence posts, and the amazing ease of losing all sense of direction. (Taito, 1984)

Memories: A fairly obscure first-person racer from Taito, Buggy Challenge is visually impressive, but in an era when it seemed like arcade game manufacturers were desperately trying to add complexity to control schemes – after all, a complex control scheme will probably get players “killed” more often, forcing more coin drop – Buggy Challenge most outstanding feature may be its blissful simplicity. There’s a gas pedal and a steering wheel. Try not to hit stuff that will cause the dune buggy to blow up. It really is that simple. Read More

Circus Charlie

Circus CharlieBuy this gameThe Game: As Charlie the circus clown, you undertake numerous hazardous activities to wow the big-top audience, including ridng a lion as he jumps through flaming hoops, walking a tightrope also inhabited by numerous monkeys over whom you must jump, leaping around on a series of trampolines (and hopefully over fire-breathers and knife-throwers who happen to be displaying their circus skills in an upward direction between trampolines), and finally a death-defying flying trapeze act. You only get three opportunities to strut your stuff, and then the show’s over. (Konami, 1984)

It’s really like Track & Field with clown makeup, which in itself is somewhat disturbing. However you slice it, Circus Charlie is good clean fun, sort of the un-cola of sports games – there are a number of events (the game’s various “difficulty levels”), and the structure of the game is even the same, though here the action is confined to side-scrolling levels and it doesn’t feel like a sports game. Read More

Dragon’s Lair II: Timewarp

Dragon's Lair II: TimewarpThe Game: Princess Daphne has been kidnapped by the evil wizard Mordroc, and before he can embark on the dangerous quest to save her, Dirk must first fend off the angry attack of his Viking-like mother-in-law as he makes Buy this gamehis way to the castle. Once there, Dirk discovers a talking Time Machine which gets him out of one immediate crisis and then plunges him into several more. If Dirk can’t stop Mordroc from placing his ring on Daphne’s finger, he’ll lose her forever – and the world will have gained one more hideous monster. (Starcom, 1984)

Memories: Don Bluth and Rick Dyer turned to the adventures of Dirk the Daring (hero of the original Dragon’s Lair) for their third laserdisc game outing (the second being Space Ace), this time creating more of a storyline for Dirk to fulfill. The animation is nice, the game play is much more fast and furious, and yet I’m still unimpressed with Dragon’s Lair II as both video game and storytelling exercise. Read More

Gaplus / Galaga 3

Gaplus / Galaga 3The Game: The Galaxian/Galaga saga continues! You control a solo space fighter against unending hordes of alien attackers who dive, weave, and evade your fire, while trying to nail your ship with their own shots. But one of See the videoBuy this gamethe aliens is hauling precious cargo: a device used to generate a tractor beam. In Galaga, the aliens used this weapon to capture and control your own fighters, using them against you. Now you can turn the tables by destroying the alien ferrying this precious piece of technology (but don’t shoot the device itself!). You’ll be able to capture an entire row of alien ships, using all of them to fire simultaneously at the next wave of attackers. If alien fire destroys one of your captured ships, the others, and your ship, survive; if they manage to draw a bead on your own fighter, however, all bets are off. (Namco, 1984)

Memories: This sequel to Galaga was titled Gaplus in Japan (and in its limited original release in the U.S., if I’m not mistaken). In an attempt to draw more attention to it by tying it to a familiar property, Namco rechristened the sequel Galaga 3 for widespread American distribution. Whatever you call it (I tend to remember it as Gaplus myself), it’s a very difficult game. Read More


GrobdaThe Game: You’re piloting a lone tank trapped in an arena with numerous indestructible obstacles – and quite a few hostile tanks. The moment you’re sent into battle, those other tanks converge on you immediately, so survival usually Buy this gamehinges on finding an advantageous configuration of obstacles to use as a makeshift fortress from behind which you can try to pick off enemy tanks without giving them a clear shot at yours. When you blast an enemy tank, it’s best not to be too close to it, because the shockwave of an exploding tank can catch nearby tanks and share the destruction, sometimes allowing you to fire one shot and set off a screen-clearing chain reaction. (Also, exploding tanks leave behind craters that slow you down if you try to cross over them.) You have a shielding system that offers very temporary shelter from enemy fire and from the explosions of nearby enemies, but constant firing and shield use will drain your precious energy reserves, and if that happens you’re as good as dead. (Namco, 1984)

Memories: Not one of the most original games in Namco’s history, Grobda borrows game play concepts left and right from some of the all-time arcade greats, boils them into one stew, and speeds things up considerably. Read More

Lode Runner

The 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 happen 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. (IREM [under license from Broderbund], 1984)

Memories: Lode Runner is right up there with the Ultima series and SimCity in my personal hall of fame of the coolest games ever to originate on any model of personal computer. Read More


MillipedeBuy this gameThe Game: Once more unto the breach, your garden of mushrooms is now under attack by a millipede, and the big bug’s even nastier insect entourage has come along too. The spiders, scorpions and fleas are now joined by mosquitoes and inchworms, among others. The only advantage you have? Occasional containers of DDT (can you tell this was the 80’s?) will allow you to wipe out all targets within a given radius…but use them wisely! (Atari, 1984)

Memories: Though the graphics aren’t markedly different from those of the Atari 2600 version of Centipede, the elements of the game are a great deal more challenging. In a way, Millipede isn’t quite so well-suited to the trakball controller…it’s just too fast. Read More

Mr. Do!’s Wild Ride

Mr. Do!'s Wild RideThe Game: Mr. Do, having vanquished unicorns and other beasties, decides to take a little bit of vacation time at the nearest amusement park. But there’s one problem! (Isn’t there always?) The roller coasters are trying to kill him. Your job is to guide Mr. Do along the roller coaster tracks, avoiding deadly fast-moving roller coaster cars and climbing little ladders to reach cherries (is it my imagination, or does this guy eat more cherries than anybody since Pac-Man?). Watch your head at all times! (Universal, 1984)

Memories: The fourth and final entry in the obscure attempt at a Mr. Do! franchise, this one is also my least favorite – but that’s not to say that it isn’t fun. First off, I just find the theme appealing. In Do Run Run!, one is required to kill off endless waves of killer kritters, making Mr. Do the blood-thirstiest clown since John Wayne Gacy. This game, however, takes a less violent approach – things can happen to you, sure, but they’re not the deliberate acts of sinister characters who are hell-bent on destroying you. Read More

Mr. Do! Run Run

Mr. Do! Run RunThe Game: As everyone’s favorite pixellated clown since Bozo, you guide Mr. Do around a multi-level platform, pursued by multicolored killer critters. You have a magic power ball you can shoot at them, but if you score a hit, you’ll have to scramble around and pick up fruit and other items on the platforms until you have the See the videostrength to hurl another power ball. If, in the other hand, your power ball doesn’t score a direct hit, it will ricochet back and forth across the screen until you retrieve it, or it hits a monster that has wandered into that part of the screen. (You can only have one power ball bouncing around at a time.) (Universal, 1984)

Memories: An odd cross between the game mechanics of Mr. Do! and the almost-but-not-quite-3-D graphics of Congo Bongo, Mr. Do! Run Run was actually quite a fun and frantic little game. It also sported some killer music for its time – very weird in places, almost Carl-Stalling-by-way-of-Devo, but still very enjoyable. The graphics are very clean, and the evil critters are actually cute. Considering the game’s “kill-’em-all” premise, it’s pretty cute for such a bloodthirsty exercise! Read More


Pac-LandThe Game: In a total break with any and all previous Pac-Man games, Pac-Land puts the yellow one onscreen as a very good homage to the Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon based on the original game, complete with the show’s bubbly theme song. You wander down the streets of Pac-Land, avoiding those nasty Ghost Monsters and hoping to find Power Pellets, all before your time runs out for that phase of your journey. Ghost Monsters may attack from the ground, or try to bomb you from the air; either way, chomping a Power Pellet will relieve them of their altitude and put them on the run. You may have to jump over them or duck under them until then – and be very careful in the forest, where Ghost Monsters may lurk behind trees. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1984)

Buy this gameMemories: It may have been well-drawn and animated, but Pac-Land really stuck out like a sore thumb to me – in hindsight, it was more like Super Mario Bros. than Pac-Man. Still, for those few of us who initially liked the Saturday morning cartoon, this game was a lovingly crafted valentine to the TV version of Pac-Man – a very roundabout example of a video game inspired by a licensing spin-off inspired by a video game. Read More

Pirate Ship Higemaru

Pirate Ship HigemaruThe Game: Pirates have boarded your ship, and it’s up to you to defend the whole boat. Evade the pirates in the twisty mazes of barrels and treasures in the cargo deck, or pick up one of those barrels and brain the nearest pirate with it. Be careful – some pirates hide inside the barrels, and it’s instant death to pick up See the videoBuy this gamean “occupied” barrel and not back off quickly. Some containers reveal a treasure when you pick them up, and you can go back and grab the treasures for bonus points. Clear the deck of pirates to advance to the next level and start again. (Capcom, 1984)

Memories: Not released in the United States, Pirate Ship Higemaru is a nice little riff on the basic concept of Pengo. You can move the components of the “maze”around as you wish, or use those same components to dispose of enemies. Since the procedure for doing this in Higemaru is a bit more complicated than Pengo, there’s actually a training round that must be completed before the game truly begins – but it’s not risk-free, and you can actually lose a life in training! (I guess the message is that if you can’t get past the training screen, please let someone else put a coin in the machine and defend the boat.) Read More

Return Of The Jedi

Return Of The JediBuy this gameThe Game: In the first screen, you’re zipping through the forest of Endor on a stolen speeder bike, with Imperial stormtroopers on their own bikes chasing you. While you can shoot the stormtroopers’ bikes or bump them off the playing field, they can shoot you, and running into trees isn’t good for anyone’s health. Your only advantage? The indigenous Ewoks, those furry little critters who occupy a special, beloved place in every Star Wars fan’s heart, will help you out if you lead the stormtroopers into their primitive traps. The second screen is much like the first, only you’re flying the Millennium Falcon through the Death Star trenches, and the other speeder bikes are now TIE Interceptors. (Atari, 1984)

The Game: Though graphically superior, and almost certainly guaranteed to gross more quarters just because of the Star Wars association, this game was, more or less, Zaxxon with a new paint job. Still, many players at the time hailed it as a vast step up from the vector graphics Star Wars game which Atari had released the previous year, even if the controls were aggravating. Read More

Snake Pit

Snake PitThe Game: You’re an adventurer with a bullwhip and a hat, and you hate snakes and love treasure – sound familiar? The bad news is that you’re surrounded by slippery snakes, scurrying scorpions and jumping spiders, all of whom can kill you See the videoinstantly on contact. The only way you can eliminate these foes and claim the treasure is with a precisely-aimed crack of your whip…but if you’re surrounded, your treasure-hunting days are probably over. (Bally Sente, 1984)

Memories: When Warner Bros. bought Atari, it quickly became apparent that Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and new CEO Ray Kassar – Warner’s newly installed point man at Atari – were an uneasy fit at best. Though accounts differ between the two men, the final straw seems to have been Bushnell calling an executive board meeting and not quite getting around to inviting Kassar to it, after which Kassar went to his Warner Bros. boss, Manny Gerard, and drew up the legal papers to forcibly retire Bushnell from his duties at Atari. Bushnell was put – as Atari senior staffers called it – “on the beach,” with no say in the company’s future but a healthy percentage of a bonus pool that depended on the company’s performance. Read More

Space Ace

Space AceBuy this gameThe Game: You’re intergalactic hero Space Ace one moment, but the next moment, the evil Borf kidnaps your girlfriend Kimberly and unleashes the Infanto-Ray on you…and suddenly, you’re intergalactic geek Dexter. Borf has placed an enormous number of deadly obstacles between you and him, obstacles which Space Ace could vanquish in no time flat – but you can only turn into the bemuscled one for brief periods of time… (Starcom, 1984)

Memories: Another laserdisc game from the Don Bluth/Rick Dyer team that brought you Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace makes some minor improvements on its predecessor, while still falling victim to many of the same basic problems. Read More

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. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1984)

Memories: The original arcade Xevious was no pushover, but like several of its Namco stablemates, it was possible to outwit the machine by using some of its own pattern-based programming against it. With Super Xevious, this was more difficult, because the game’s internal A.I. was adaptive and could throw more at the player based on his demonstrated skill level. But some players had discovered a solution to this adaptive enemy intelligence, and games lasting more than ten minutes on a single quarter were not uncommon. Read More


TimberThe Game: You’re a lumberjack and you’re okay. Your job is to chop down every tree that grows on the screen, without letting the trees fall on you. Birds are sometime dislodged from their nests as you chop down the trees, and they can be collected for additional points. Bears show up and throw beehives at you, which a lucky swing of the axe can destroy before they do any harm, but it’s altogether more likely that, unless dodged, a beehive will knock your lumberjack over and release a swarm of bees with their own sting operation in mind. You advance to the next level by clearing all of the trees in the time alotted; doing so with time to spare earns a bonus from the big boss; occasional bonus screens challenge you to keep your lumberjack from falling off a rolling log. (Midway, 1984)

Memories: One of those offbeat gems that emerged in the ’80s with Midway’s relatively powerful new MCR (Midway Cart Rack) architecture, Timber is a quirky little game that has the unusual advantage of being nothing like any game that preceded it. (It’s hard to think of another game like it that came afterward, for that matter.) Read More

Time Pilot ’84

Time Pilot '84The Game: You’re back in the hotseat as the Time Pilot, but this time an even more fearsome breed of ships from the future is after you. The good news is that you have a new weapon at your disposal – guided missiles – but the bad news is that the enemy has them too. Blast enough enemy planes out of the sky and lure their See the videocommand ship out of hiding; if you can survive long enough to blow the missile-spewing command ship to pieces, you’re off to the next level. (Konami, 1984)

Memories: Bearing the deliciously Engrish-esque subtitle “Further into unknown world,” Time Pilot ’84 is a re-interpretation of the original game, with a few more bells and whistles in both the audiovisual and game play departments. Those accustomed to just constantly blasting away with both barrels in the original Time Pilot have to adjust to the proper use of the missile guidance system (don’t waste a missile until your screen paints a viable target), but other than that, it’s the same game with a new coat of paint. Read More

Tube Panic

Tube PanicThe Game: You pilot a high-speed starfighter through both open space and narrowly-confined tubes bristling with obstacles and enemies, ranging from scarab-like tanks complete with pincers to tumbling, TIE-fighter-esque ships. Your job is See the videosimple: shoot everything, and don’t collide with anything. Periodically, if you survive long enough, you’ll get to dock with your mothership between stages and refuel, and then you plunge back into battle until all of your ships are lost. (Nichibutsu/Fujitek, 1984)

Memories: If you’re docking with a mothership, it’s gotta be Nichibutsu’s game (see also: Moon Cresta). An interesting and eminently playable coin-op from the makers of Crazy Climber, Tube Panic is a bit of a cousin of Tempest. In fact, Tempest designer Dave Theurer has said that originally, the knob in Tempest rotated the geometric playing field and not the player’s cannon. Tube Panic goes back to the “rotating playing field” concept a bit and, yeah, one can see where Atari might have wound up with some play-testers with motion sickness back in the day. But Tube Panic is its own game, and it’s a lot of fun. Read More