Monday, December 26, 2011

Video game of the week: Centipede for Atari 7800

In the early 1980s, vertical shooting arcade games were all the rage, with Space Invaders being the godfather of the genre. One of the most popular of such games was Centipede, released by Atari in 1980.

Centipede was in many ways like a lot of shooter games of the time. The player controlled an object at the bottom of the screen that blasted away at objects further up the screen. But Centipede was a bit different. For on thing, it wasn't a science fiction or military game. The shooter in the game is a little head, sometimes referred to as a garden gnome, that blazes away at centipedes, mushrooms, spiders and other crawling critters. In another way Centipede was unlike most vertical shooters of the day in that the villains (ie. the targets) weren't all the same, but each moved in a different way and posed different dangers.

All of this combined with great gameplay and solid replay action created one of the more popular arcade games of the early 1980s, and many still remember and even play Centipede today on computers or on one home gaming system or another.

But back in the early to mid-1980s, most of the home gaming consoles didn't have all that great of graphics. Most of the home versions of arcade greats just didn't match up to the originals.

Atari combated this by releasing its Atari 7800 system, initially in 1984 but to a wider audience in 1986. One of the first 13 games released for the Atari 7800 was Centipede.

Finally gamers could play arcade quality games at home, and the Atari 7800 version of Centipede did not disappoint. This game wasn't exactly like the arcade version, but it was pretty darn close. The graphics were bright and solid, and the gameplay was almost exactly the same as the arcade game.

The biggest difference was in the controls. Centipede in the arcade was played with a trackball, while the Atari 7800 used joysticks. This could be alleviated to some extent by hooking up an old Atari 2600 trackball to the 7800 (yes, the Atari 7800 was compatible in nearly all aspects to the 2600), but it still wasn't quite the same.

One place the 7800 version of Centipede improved upon earlier versions of the game was that two players could play the game at the same time, so you could sit down with a buddy and blast away for hours.

Truly, the Atari 7800 version of Centipede is one of the best home versions that can be found of the game. If you are a doubter, give it a try.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Video game of the week: Mouse Trap for Colecovision

It's often difficult for some people to imagine nowadays, but there was a time when the greatest fun one could have was running around a maze while eating dots and being chased by some kind of monsters. Of course I'm referring to video games from the early 1980s, but I'm not necessarily meaning the great maze classic of that time, Pac-Man.

No, I'm talking about another great arcade maze game, though it's not as well known today as is the famous yellow guy who runs from ghosts. I'm talking about Mouse Trap.

Mouse Trap was fairly popular during its time, released in 1981 during the height of the maze craze in arcades. It was so popular that Coleco ported it to three home gaming consoles of the time, the Atari 2600, the Intellivision and, of course, the Colecovision.

Of all three ports, the one for the Colecovision is probably best remembered today, mainly because it was the version closest to the arcade experience.

The Colecovision Mouse Trap featured solid, colorful graphics that were darn near equal to those of the arcade game. Also, because the Colecovision joystick and controls generally allowed for more types of gameplay than did other joysticks for other consoles at the time, the Colecovision Mouse Trap's gameplay was nearly identical to that of the arcade version.

The basics of this game are quite simple. You're a mouse running around a maze eating up cheese, your goal being to eat all the cheese without being caught by a cat or the occasional hawk that shows up. To help your mouse, you have multi-colored doors you can open and close in a bid to escape your foes or to block them off. Also, there are bones usually near the corners and if you eat one of those your mouse turns into a dog that can temporarily put the bite on the cats, though the hawk can still take out the dog. Another helper are teleportation squares in the corners; go to one of them and your mouse instantly jumps to the "IN" square in the middle of the screen, though this isn't always helpful because sometimes cats are hanging out there.

As mentioned, the Colecovision version of Mouse Trap is quite close to the arcade game, which is to be expected because the Colecovision console was known for solid graphics. Gameplay is pretty much the same, but it can take some getting used to which buttons to hit on the controller, and Mouse Trap has a lot of buttons needing pushed, one for each of the three differently-colored doors, one for activating the bones, etc.

All in all, this version of Mouse Trap is true to the arcade classic and should be in any retro gamers collection. It is still fun to play today.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Video game of the week: Video Pinball for Atari 2600

Since 1978 there have been several games from the Atari company with the name of "Video Pinball," but the one that usually comes to mind for gaming fans is the 1980 cartridge released for the Atari 2600 home video game console.

The Atari 2600 cartridge simulated a pinball game on your television screen, and it worked quite well. Admittedly it was not much to look at with that dominant but flat blue coloring and the blocky graphics, but it was a thrill to play and even include an onscreen ball that followed the physics of a pinball, bouncing and rolling around the screen. Everything else you would expect in a pinball game was also included, such as bumpers, flippers, spinners and a shooter.

Playing with a simple joystick and only one button to push might appear to make this a tough game to play, though it was anything but. Moving the joystick left and right controlled the flippers, while pulling the joystick back and hitting the button would launch the ball from the shooter onto the playing field. Also, once the ball was in play, the player could nudge the ball on the screen by holding down the button and jiggling the joystick; however, too much of that could lead to a tilt, and tilting meant a dead ball and a dead screen, ending that ball's round.

Extra points could be scored by taking out some diamonds at the top of the screen, and extra balls could be earned by your ball hitting the onscreen Atari symbol several times. With a little practice, a player can keep a single ball going onscreen for a very long time, practically forever. Learning the tricks of nudging were quite important for longevity of play.

Though Video Pinball doesn't look like real pinball, one of its best aspects is it is easy to learn and not too difficult to master, all while having great replay possibilities. More than 30 years later, this is still a favorite game of many Atari 2600 enthusiasts, so much so it has been released for modern PC computers, the XBox 360, and even the iPad and iPhone.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Video game of the week: Castlevania for NES

In 1986 gamers across the globe were called upon to face the wrath of no other than Dracula himself. Armed with a trusty whip, and other weapons picked up along the way, gamers by the thousands ventured into the depths of the vampire counts castle, ready to wage war against chambers and halls filled with the evil Dracula's monsters.

Sound familiar? It should. For anyone who has spent a lot of time gaming over the last quarter century, the Castlevania series should be commonplace. Not everyone has played the original game, and not necessarily even the dozens of games and ports that came later in the series, but all gamers should at least recognize the title and the basic game background.

The original Castlevania was released by Konami in 1986, and it hit big in 1987 when it became available for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

The year in the game is 1691, and players control the character Simon Belmont, who is descended from a long line of vampire hunters. Simon's job? To enter that castle and do away with Dracula.

Along the way, players face vampire bats, monsters, deadly pitfalls and a host of bosses, each one tougher than the one before. Special weapons and a few other helpful items can be picked up along the linear landscape that makes up the castle. Altogether there are six levels, each one ending with a boss fight.

The music from this game is quite classic, and stands up well today. The graphics are a little bit more iffy by today's standards, but they still compare well to the arcade graphics of the time and are much stronger than those of other mid-1980s consoles such as the Atari and Intellivision, perhaps even being a little stronger than the graphically-superior Colecovision.

Gameplay also holds up well all these years later, with relatively simple controls that allowed for a lot of fun without having to think too much about what your hands are doing.

This classic game has been ported to other consoles and computers time and time again over the years, and every so often a new game in the series is released. The original Castlevania game was quality in and of itself, and it showed the potential that was to come. Decades later, I'm honored to get to play this game from time to time.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Video game of the week: Armor Battle for Intellivision

It seems everywhere you turn nowadays there is a military video game. You get to blow up armies. You get to blow up terrorists. You get to blow up ... heck, most times you get to blow up dark near anything. But in the early days of home video gaming, there were not a lot of options if you wanted to play a military game.

Most games were pretty simplistic back then, at least by today's standards, and military games were no exception. In 1977 Atari came out with the game Combat for its 2600 console, and it proved quite popular, especially since it was one of the first nine cartridges released for the 2600. The game was somewhat fun, but the graphics were plain and block and the colors were boring. Then in 1979 Mattel released Armor Battle for its Intellivision home gaming system.

Armor Battle (Intellivision)Armor Battle has its drawbacks, but it did accomplish one big thing: It had fantastic graphics. Keep in mind I'm talking about 1979 here, so when I say fantastic graphics, I mean for the time period. Actually, I'd say the graphics for Armor Battle were ahead of its time for home systems by at least a year or two.

The graphics for this game actually looked like tanks, and the random backgrounds actually showed trees and buildings and roads. The colors were bright but not painful to the eye, and the sounds did their job.

One big problem right off the start was that Armor Battle was a two-player only game. That's right, you had to have a friend along if you wanted to play. No computer enemies here. For some reason the Intellivision folks thought two-player only games would be a big hit, so many of the console's early games are set up that way. How wrong they were.

As with several of the more complex Intellivision games, it took some getting used to the complicated controls. But once that was figured out, Armor Battle could be tons of fun to play. One of the unique features at the time was you could have your tank drop land mines.

Another great thing was that it took three hits to destroy your tank, so you could be a little daring because you didn't have to worry about getting wasted with that first shot. You could play one round, with your tank taking the mentioned three shots, or you could keep playing a whole game, which ended when either you or your enemy had been hit 50 times. The computer kept track of the scoring, and one game could last for a good long time, a half hour or so. Hey, a half hour of gaming was a long time in 1979.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Video game of the week: Zaxxon for Colecovision

When Sega released Zaxxon to the arcades in 1982, it had a huge affect upon gamers' expectations of graphics. Colorful but two-dimensional graphics had been the norm for a couple of years at least, but now Zaxxon brought along isometric graphics, basically giving the gamer three-dimensional graphics thought of a relatively rudimentary sort. Zaxxon was the first game to bring isometric graphics, and those graphics remain popular today in many games, including Diablo and Fallout.

Zaxxon was popular enough that versions for the home consoles of the time were rushed to market. Unfortunately, at first Zaxxon did not transfer well to the home systems. Because of limitations of the consoles, the versions of Zaxxon for the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision, the two most popular home systems of the very early 1980s, could not be produced with the isometric graphics. Which meant Atari and Intellivision players were stuck with a 2-D version of Zaxxon, and to be honest it did not look very much like Zaxxon.

In 1983, there would be a quality version of Zaxxon for the Atari 5200 system, but that was a year away.

What were true Zaxxon fans to do?

Buy a Colecovision.

Yes, Coleco released the Colecovision in August of 1982, just in time for its improved graphics to take advantage of such a game as Zaxxon.

For the first time, home gamers could play Zaxxon away from the arcade and it actually looked and played like Zaxxon.

If you're not familiar with Zaxxon, the game's plot in similar to many arcade games of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The player pilots a ship across a screen while blowing away enemy ships, rockets and other potentially dangerous objects. The big difference is the viewpoint, that three-dimensional isometric view. Whereas before most space shoot-em-up games had a flat view, in Zaxxon it looked as if you were flying an actual spaceship through space and across the top of an enemy mother ship or base.

If the player made it far enough, he or she actually got to duke it out with Zaxxon itself, a giant enemy robot.

If not for the Colecovision, it's possible this awesome game might not have made it to the home market until years later.

As for the Colecovision version of Zaxxon, it plays much like the arcade version. The basic gameplay is the same as are most of the levels. It might take a few tries to become familiar with how the Colecovision controls work with the Zaxxon game, but it's not all that complicated.

Zaxxon was a classic arcade game, and rightfully so. This game was also quite popular for home consoles, and the Colecovision had a lot to do with that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Video game of the week: Realsports Baseball on Atari 5200

In the early 1980s, if you mentioned sports video games and Atari in the same breath, you were usually laughed at. The Atari 2600, despite being one of the best-selling home gaming consoles of all time, just didn't have quality sports games, at least not early on.

In 1982 Atari released Realsports Baseball for the Atari 2600. This won over some fans, but it still wasn't quite enough.

Then in 1983 when the Atari 5200 system was released, lots of sports gaming fans had high hopes. And they weren't disappointed.

Soon after the 5200 was released, Atari also put out a 5200 version of Realsports Baseball.

This game had everything. Line scores. Nine different complex pitches. Base stealing. Solid graphics. Great sound, including umpire's calls. You name it, this game had it.

In my opinion, not until the mid-to-late 1990s when graphics improved tremendously on gaming systems, did a better baseball video game come along.

But before then, there was Realsports Baseball for the Atari 5200.

As many owners of the 5200 can attest, this gaming console did not have the easiest of joysticks. In fact, the Atari 5200 had clunky joysticks with buttons on the side that were sometimes hard to push and a keypad that was just about useless. This did not make for ease of play when dealing with more complicated games, which Realsports Baseball was at the time.

Still, once you got used to the joystick and could figure out all its little quirks, Realsports Baseball was a thrill to play. It seemed like you could control just about everything on the field, and you could, or at least you could control each and every player (with a little help from the computer, of course). Also, controlling the pitches and the batters is a highlight of fun in this game.

As a little added bonus, you could also play against a friend, which could double the fun.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Game of the week: Halloween for Atari 2600

In 1978 the world was introduced to serial killer Michael Myers in the first Halloween movie by John Carpenter. Since then, horror movies have never been the same.

But unless you are a hardcore retro gamer, you might not know that in 1983 Wizard Video came out with a Halloween cartridge for the Atari 2600 home gaming console, perhaps the most popular gaming console of all time.

What was great about the Halloween game was that it actually could be quite scary. Yes, by today's standards the graphics are a bit hokey, but the gameplay kept you on the edge of your seat.

The plot of the game is relatively simple, as most games were at the time. The player controls a babysitter who has to escort children to safety within a house. There are two floors to the house, making the screen look somewhat like Pitfall!, with doors and windows throughout. That's the easy stuff. The hard part? Oh yeah, Michael Myers is stalking you throughout the house.

Just like in the movies, Myers sometimes shows up out of nowhere, popping out of doors or from the side of the screen. He is slow, so you can outrun him usually, but you never know just when and where he is going to show up. To make matters worse, sometimes the lights go out in the house, which leaves you in the dark with no way to know where Michael will show up next.

It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while the player's character can find a butcher knife and attack Michael with it, which is a nice touch. Keep an eye open for the gory graphics, which are sort of laughable today but were creepy back in 1983.

The gameplay here was excellent, and an added bonus was the awesome theme music from the Halloweenmovies. Every time Michael shows up, the Halloween music can be heard.

With the actual holiday of Halloween coming up, you might consider buying this game as a gift if you have a hardcore retro gamer in your family or among your friends. But good luck, because this game is a rarity. Still, it can be found on eBay from time to time, though it might cost you a little money.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Game of the week: Lady Bug for Colecovision

In the early 1980s, Pac-Man brought fame and fans to the world of arcades like no game before had done, being a bigger hit than even the famed Space Invaders. This meant lots of quarters were being plugged in at the arcades, and other companies wanted to get in on the action. To that end, the company Universal Games in 1981 released its own maze game, Lady Bug.

Unfortunately, Lady Bug was not a hit at the arcades. Today it is mainly remembered among the home gaming market for its popularity on the Colecovision console, though there was also a version of the game for the Intellivision system made by Mattel.

It has been remarked by more than a few fans of the Colecovision system that the games for it were as good as those of the arcade, and that sometimes the Colecovision version of a game was better than that of the arcade. This is the case with Lady Bug.

In Lady Bug, the player controls a lady bug around a maze on the screen. There are other insects out to eat the player's lady bug, and to help with this there are several doors that can be opened or closed to block off the enemy insects, much as doors could be opened and closed in such games as Lock 'n' Chase and Mousetrap. The main object is for the lady bug to eat all the dots in the maze, just like in Pac-Man.

To spice things up a little, the lady bug can also eat bonus letters and bonus vegetables which help to build up the score by adding multipliers. When a vegetable is eaten, all the enemy bugs on the screen will freeze for a short time, allowing the lady bug some freedom. Also, the player needs to watch out for skull icons on the screen, as those are deadly to the lady bug, but they can also temporarily kill the enemy bugs and send them back to their little home in the center of the screen.

The action of Lady Bug is fairly commonplace by today's standards, but in the early 1980s it was a somewhat complicated game, at least compared to more simple maze games, the most logical comparison again being to Pac-Man. There was a lot going on on the screen, and it was not always easy to escape from the enemy insects. Still, this complexity is what made the game fun for a lot of fans who found other maze games too easy or too staid.

The Colecovision version of Lady Bug has gameplay at least equal to if not better than that of the arcade game. The graphics also are quite strong, though I personally think they are just a little weaker than the arcade version. The sounds here are excellent, especially the background music that seems to follow around the onscreen lady bug.

Lady Bug was one of the most popular of Colecovision games, and if you are a fan and/or collector of this system, you need to have at least one copy of the Lady Bug cartridge in your home gaming library.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Game of the week: Zaxxon for Atari 5200

In 1982 when Sega released Zaxxon to arcades, the game was an immediate hit with gamers, and this was well deserved as this was such a groundbreaking arcade game. Of course by today's standards Zaxxon is no big deal, but in 1982 it was the first game that most gamers got to experience in some sort of three-dimensional environment, even though the 3D effect in Zaxxon is actually only a simulation.

Zaxxon was so popular that there just had to be a home version of it for the most popular console of the time period, the Atari 2600. Unfortunately for many fans of the game, the Atari 2600 version was a let down. Though the 2600 game was fun to play in its own way, the graphics were flat and had none of the edge of the arcade game.

But then something else happened in 1982. Atari released its new Atari 5200 home gaming console, which had much better graphics than the 2600 console.

Soon after the Atari 5200 was released, a version of Zaxxon for this console also was released.
And suddenly many fans were quite pleased.

Back were the isometric graphics and bright colors that gave Zaxxon much of its thrill. Back was the awesome gameplay of lying a small ship over top of a gigantic enemy ship while avoiding crashing into objects and shooting at enemy missiles and ships. Even the big boss robot was there at the end of the stages, just waiting to be blown to smithereens by avid Zaxxon fans.

Zaxxon was back, and it was well worth the wait.

The only real problem with the Atari 5200 version of Zaxxon is the same problem with many Atari 5200 games: The controllers just aren't that great. Still, you could get used to that to some extent, or you could be new, second-party controllers.

Either way, Zaxxon on the Atari 5200 was a blast to play, and still is if you have an old Atari 5200 sitting around.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Game of the week: Dr. Mario for the arcade

With the popularity of Tetris in the mid- and late 1980s, every video game company in the world suddenly seemed to be putting out their own puzzle games. Nintendo came up with Dr. Mario, which initially grew popular on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the GameBoy, and still later on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).

What few gamers seem to remember, however, is that there actually was an arcade version of Dr. Mario, sometimes called Vs. Dr. Mario. The "Vs." was added to a number of Nintendo games, both in the arcade and for home consoles, that could be played head-to-head, player against player on the same screen.

Dr. Mario was never one of the major arcade titles, though it did garner success in the console market. But however one played Dr. Mario, it was an intensive but fun game.

The object of the game was to destroy viruses. How the player did this was by dropping colored pills onto the colored viruses. The colors had to match in a row of four for the virus to be killed. The colors were red, yellow and blue. So for each screen there would be so many yellow and red and blue viruses, and the player had to line up the colored pills to kill the viruses.

Sounds a little crazy, and it was at faster levels. As things sped up, it became more and more difficult to get the right colors on the pills to match up with the appropriately colored viruses. Remember Tetris at those really fast levels, with the blocks plummeting from above seemingly as fast as bullets? That's how fast Dr. Mario seemed at times.

Dr. MarioAfter the player killed all the viruses on the screen, he or she moved on to the next screen where there would be ever more viruses to kill. Believe me, the difficulty level rose fairly quickly.

If you are a hardcore arcade buff who likes to find the more obscure titles, keep an eye open for Dr. Mario. I think you'll find a game you might enjoy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Game of the week: Q*bert for Odyssey 2

The glory days of the arcades, mainly the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, was full of colorful characters. You had the likes of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, just to name a couple. Then in 1982 the company known as Gottlieb came out with a new arcade game called Q*bert which featured a little, round orange character with big eyes, a funny-looking nose, and little legs but no arms.

Q*bert became quite the hit game in the arcades, so much so the Q*bert character became recognizable to much of the world. Eventually there were sequel games to Q*bert, and even an animated cartoon show for a while.

If you're not familiar with Q*bert, it's a fun little game. The player controls the Q*bert character as it jumps around on a pyramid, and each time Q*bert lands on top of a cube that is part of the pyramid that cube changes color. The goal is to get all the pyramid's cubes to be a particular color. Sounds like a simple game? Don't worry, because it gets more complicated. While jumping around on this pyramid, Q*bert has to dodge balls falling from above, monsters who chase after him and a snake that spring around all over the board. Two floating discs, one on either side of the pyramid, allow Q*bert an opportunity to temporarily escape its foes by taking Q*bert back to the top of the pyramid and away from immediate danger.

It was a great, fun game, though for some gamers it took a little getting used to the controls because the joystick was made to have Q*bert jump at angles and not move directly left or right nor up and down.

Because of Q*bert's popularity, the video game was ported to many of the home gaming consoles of the early 1980s, including the Magnavox Odyssey 2, which also went by the name of the Philips Videopac outside of the U.S.

The Odyssey 2 never sported that many third-party games, meaning games made by companies other than the creators of the Odyssey 2, but there were a handful. The company Parker Brothers released some games for the Odyssey 2, and Q*bert was one of them.

The version of Q*bert for the Odyssey 2 was kind of a mixed back for gamers. It had all the elements of the arcade game, including an introduction scene that explains how to play and some decent sounds, but the graphics just weren't all that good, at least not compared to the arcade game and most of the other console versions. Immediately noticeable is the fact the cubes on the pyramid don't like like cubes, but more like flattened squares. Then there's the colorful discs on the sides of the pyramid; here, they're not very colorful. The graphics for the Q*bert characters itself are passable, though nothing special, as are those for Q*bert's enemies.

Odyssey 2 Video GameFortunately, the quality of play for the Odyssey 2 version of Q*bert was quite strong, much like that of the arcade version. And it helped that the Odyssey 2's joysticks were of the eight-direction variety, making it much easier than more stiff joysticks (such as those with the Atari 2600) in controlling Q*bert as it bounced around the screen.

Overall, I'd have to say Q*bert for the Odyssey 2 was fun to play, but I wish it had had better graphics, though admittedly graphics were not a strength of this home gaming system.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Retro video game console quiz

  1. What was the very first cartridge packaged with the Atari 2600 console?
  2. By what name was the Nintendo Entertainment System known in the Middle East and Asia?
  3. In what year was the Colecovision released to consumers?
  4. What was the name of the company that developed the Intellivision?
  5. The Vectrex console came with a built-in game. What was it called?
  6. What is the full name of the Atari 5200?
  7. In what year was production of the Super Nintendo discontinued?
  8. What was the original price for an Atari 2600?
  9. The Atari 7800 had its own games, but it could also play games from what famous home video game system?
  10. What is the all-time best-selling video game for the Atari 2600?
  11. What is the name of the company that made the River Raid game?
  12. Who was the actor and writer who famously appeared in several Intellivision TV ads during the early 1980s?
  13. A famous comedian and actor first appeared before TV audiences in a 1982 advertisement for the Pitfall! video game. Who is he?
  14. How many colors could the Colecovision make use of?
  15. The Sega Genesis was known by what name outside of North America?
  16. What was the name of the first ever Star Wars video game?
  17. Who made it?
  18. For what console system?
  19. In what year?
  20. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a 1991 game initially released for what home console gaming system?

Go here for answers to the quiz.

Answers to home video game quiz

For questions to this quiz, go to this link.

1. Combat
2. The Family Computer (or FamiCom)
3. 1982
4. Mattel (or Mattel Electronics)
5. MineStorm
6. Atari 5200 SuperSystem
7. 2003
8. $199
9. Atari 2600
10. Pac-Man
11. Activision
12. George Plimpton
13. Jack Black
14. 16
15. The Mega Drive
16. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
17. Parker Brothers
18. Atari 2600
19. 1982
20. NES

Game of the week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for NES

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were hugely popular in the late 1980s. These mutant heroes got their start in comic books, but in 1987 a cartoon television show really kicked off the career of these turtles. Soon there were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) lunch boxes, action figures, and kinds of other merchandise. So it was a natural that a video game would come along in the franchise.

There would eventually be more than 20 TMNT video games made, but the very first one came out in 1989, created by Konami for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

The objective of the game was to control one of the Turtles while on a mission to save the Turtles' friend April from the villainous Shredder. After a cartoon-like opening scene that explained who each of the Turtles were, the player's character traveled around an overhead map. The action began when the player's character went down a manhole into the sewers beneath the streets.

Down in the sewers, there were all kinds of enemies to fight. Your basic goons. Giant spiders. Fire monsters. And lots more. To help in the battle against these monstrosities, every so often your Turtle could pick up some special weapons.

Unlike most arcade games of the time period, instead of having the usual three lives, here the player gets four lives, one for each of the Turtles. So, if you played this game enough, you would likely get around to playing all four of the Turtles.

There are six main stages to this game, each ending with a boss.

The graphics were decent, but in my opinion not quite the best the NES had to offer. The action was smooth for the most part, but sometimes there was some flicker during heavy combat scenes. One highpoint of the TMNT game was the sound, which was full of great music.

This game proved popular enough that in 1990 it was ported to numerous computer systems at the time. Also, Nintendo Power magazine named TMNT the 1989 Game of the Year. Today, this game is still around, available on the Virtual Console for the Wii.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Game of the week: Turtles for Odyssey 2

As soon as the Namco and Midway companies released Pac-Man to the arcades in 1980, maze games suddenly became a huge craze. To cash in on that craze, other companies began to put out their own maze games.

One such game was Turtles, by Konami and Stern and Sega. Turtles was never a very popular arcade game. In fact, I only ever remember seeing one of them, and that was at a bowling alley in the mid-1980s.

However, Turtles was one of the few arcade games to be ported to the Odyssey 2 home gaming console made my Magnavox.

Turtles had simple graphics and simple rules. The player moves a mother turtle around a screen while trying to collect baby turtles and then take the babies to a house that appears randomly on the screen. The main problem with this is there are beetles trying to kill the mother turtle. In self defense, the mother turtle can drop bombs which will temporarily stun the beetles.

Sounds simple, and it was. But it was still a decent game. My biggest complaint was that the maze was too simple. Even the maze in the original Pac-Man was much more complex.

The Odyssey 2 version of Turtles, however, really stretched the capabilities of this home gaming system, so much so that it was almost like playing Turtles in the arcade. Graphics were never a strength of the Odyssey 2, though the colors were always bright, but for Turtles they really stood out, looking a fair amount like the arcade version's graphics.

The Odyssey 2 also had available an expansion module called The Voice, which allowed for some speech and extra special effects sounds. The Voice added quite a bit to the Turtles game, mainly through music that sounded quite like the arcade music for Turtles.

Now, all that being said, keep in mind I'm talking about very early 1980s home video game technology. To be perfectly honest, by today's standards all of this was garbage. But for the early 1980s, the graphics and sounds and gameplay for the Odyssey 2 version of Turtles was pretty good. Not great, put pretty good. There were worse games, but there were also better. Still, Turtles on the Odyssey 2 always held a special place for me because the arcade game is so rare (at least in the U.S.) and because the Odyssey 2 had so few arcade games ported to it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Game of the week: Super Mario World for SNES

If you ever owned a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), there's a pretty good chance you've played the game Super Mario World.

How so?

Super Mario World was the game that originally came packed with the SNES when you bought the console.

And what a game it was!

Though somewhat similar to earlier two-dimensional platform games of the day (early 1990s), Super Mario World was so much more. Which should be no surprise as this was the fourth video game in the Mario franchise (not include the Donkey Kong franchise games).

Super Mario WorldThe plot is fairly simple. Brothers Mario and Luigi team up with a baby dinosaur named Yoshi to help save Princess Toadstool and the other dinosaurs from the evil King Koopa Bowser.

The player picks to play either Mario or Luigi, then leads his character through maps upon maps of various lands in search of the princess and to halt Bowser and his buddies. The running through levels and jumping around that can be found in earlier games is here, but from time to time there's also the potential to fly.

At first glance, Super Mario World appears little different than earlier games in its genre, but that's simply not true for two reason. First, the worlds here are quite in depth and go on and on and on. Second, the gameplay is awesome, featuring unique foes that are challenging but not unstoppable.

Super Mario World's popularity has remained strong throughout the years. Not only has this game earned constant high ratings among critics, but it has also been re-released in different versions and has been ported to modern gaming systems.

Great games like this are why the Mario franchise keeps on going and going.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Game of the week: Galaxian for arcade

With Space Invaders from Taito and Midway being such a huge hit arcade game upon its introduction in 1978, other companies soon wanted to get in on the video game action as well. One such company was Namco, and to enter the arcade universe this company launched a shooting game known as Galaxian.

At a quick glance, Galaxian would seem to be little more than a clone of Space Invaders, but it was much more than that.

For one thing, Galaxian was the very first video game to use full RGB color for all of its graphics. That's right! Color! Ooooo. Ahhhh.

Of course Galaxian had the typical approaching alien horde that the player had to blase out of the sky with his or her own attacking spaceship across the bottom of the screen. Still, there were noticeable differences from Space Invaders. For one thing, these alien attackers didn't just slowly crawl down the screen to attack. They did do some of that, but every so often several of the alien attackers would dive bomb down on the player's ship.

Galaxian was also one of the earliest arcade video games to include a musical background. And not only did this game use RGB colors, but it used them well, giving the player an eye-popping background of stars in space that actually twinkled and changed colors. Those colors were also bright to the eye, and stood out well on the screen perhaps better than any other game that came before.

Galaxian was hugely popular in the arcades, so much so that it ended up being ported to just about every home gaming console and computer console in the early-to-mid 1980s. Even today there are many home ports of Galaxian for modern gaming systems and computers.

Also, Galaxian was so popular that several sequel games were based upon it. The most popular of these games was another arcade hit, the classic Galaga, which expounded further upon the alien-shooting arcade genre.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Game of the week: Space Invaders for Atari 5200

When the Atari 5200 home video game console was released in 1982, the Atari corporation was hoping their new system would be just as popular as their classic Atari 2600 system had been. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. The Atari 5200 was never that popular of a console with game fans, which was unfortunate because the system had decent graphics for the time period and a good number of great games.

One of those great games was the Atari 5200's version of the arcade classic game Space Invaders.

By the time 1982 rolled around, Space Invaders had been in the public eye for quite a while. Plenty of new games, and better technology, had come along. So what could Atari do to spruce up this arcade classic?

Well, most notably, lots of color was added. The attacking aliens come in a variety of different colors, and even the space shields that protect the player's gun at the bottom of the screen come in varying bright colors. But colors are nothing special, right?

Okay, so you want more changes. How about fast shooting? Or maybe even missiles you can guide? Those are just a couple of the changes that were possible in the many different skill levels and variety of play the Atari 5200 offered for its version of Space Invaders. There were many other possible ways to play as well.

The action here was quite a bit faster than the arcade and other versions of Space Invaders, so gamers had to be on their toes to rack up a high score. The sound, too, is superb and quite eerie in that the sound of the approaching aliens grows louder and louder as they near the bottom of the screen.

All in all, it's still Space Invaders, just with a touch of panache. If you you own or want to own an old Atari 5200, do yourself a favor and get the classic that is Space Invaders. It's still fun to play all these decades later, and it's a proper addition for any serious retro gamer's collection.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Game of the week: Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness for Macs

Long before modern gamers were playing World of Warcraft, an earlier generation of video game fans was introduced to the fantasy world of Azeroth in 1994 through the real-time strategy game Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.

That original Warcraft game was a solid vehicle, but the series from Blizzard Entertainment really showed its potential and shined with the game's sequel, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, available for both PC platforms and Macintosh computers by 1996.

This game was basically a campaign war game and had several different modes. The player could enter campaign mode and play either as the orcs or the human forces against the opposing side run by the computer. Also, the player has an editing tool to create his or her own maps and can then go to war on those maps against the computer.

Gameplay consisted of a single player mode or a mode for multiple players, in which case the player could go online and face off against other opponents. Despite this game being more than 15 years old, Warcraft II still has a sizable following online that consistently battles against one another.

Combat might be the main function of this strategy game, but it is not the only one. Players also have to spend quite a bit of time building up their resources before they can go to war, or during the middle of a war. This includes cutting down trees for wood and digging into mines for gold. Then the wood and gold is used to build buildings and troops.

The main difference between this game and its predecessor is that Warcraft II allows for battle on water. Yep, you can build your own ships and send them off to war against the enemy. That being said, there were several other cosmetic changes from the original Warcraft game, the most noticeable one being a better user interface.

Warcraft II did well with reviewers of the mid-to-late 1990s, and it was popular among gamers. It's popularity was enough for Blizzard Entertainment to release multiple add-on packages for Warcraft II as well as the eventual creation of many sequel and related games. Just think, without Warcraft II there might not have ever been a World of Warcraft.

When comparing the PC and Mac versions of this great game, there is little difference in actual gameplay, though a slight edge might be given to the Macs of the time for slightly better graphical capabilities.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Game of the week: Ms. Pac-Man for Atari 7800

Everybody loves Ms. Pac-Man. It's a great game to play. You've got much of the great action from the original Pac-Man arcade classic, plus you've got even more. New levels, new mazes, new intermissions, it's all there.

And the popularity of Ms. Pac-Man proved in the early and mid-1980s that it was an obvious choice for porting to home gaming consoles, of which there were many. One of the best at-home versions of Ms. Pac-Man was the cartridge for the Atari 7800 system.

The Atari 7800 came out in January 1986 as Atari's then latest bid at re-taking over the video game world after the crash of the gaming market in 1983. Unfortunately Atari would never regain the spotlight as it had in the early 1980s with its 2600 system, but the Atari 7800 was still a decent gaming system on par in many ways with the more popular Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) of the day.

Ms. Pac-Man was one of those games that showed just how good the Atari 7800 system could be.

The 7800 version of this arcade classic was about as close to the original as it could be. All the action was there, as were the bright colors, the maze gameplay, the ghosts, the story intermissions, the prizes that were the fruits, etc.

If one wanted a home version of Ms. Pac-Man that was faithful to the arcade original, you couldn't do much better than the Atari 7800 version of the game.

There are a couple of notable differences between the 7800 Ms. Pac-Man and the arcade version. First up, the player starts with five Ms. Pac-Mans instead of just the three the arcade version offered. So, this would seem to make the 7800 version a bit easier. But hold up there. The 7800 version of Ms. Pac-Man is actually faster than the arcade version, which will make the game harder! So, in my opinion, it about evens out. Why the game makers decide upon these minor changes is a mystery to me, but the changes don't much effect the fun you can have.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Game of the week: Kick for arcade

In 1980, the company Midway had a huge arcade hit game on its hands when it distributed the Namco game Pac-Man in the United States. Everybody knows Pac-Man. It's more than just a video game. It's an icon.

But the folks at Midway obviously wanted to keep going with their success. To that end, they came up with more arcade games.

One of those was Kick, also known as Kick Man or Kick-Man or Kickman. Um, which title should be use for this arcade game? Who knows? Different versions of the game have different names on the screen and the marquee at the top of the machine. Personally, I prefer Kick-Man because that was the first incarnation of the game I ever saw in an arcade back in the day, though apparently the original name was the simple "Kick."

Kick-Man was never a very popular game, despite the fact it featured the famous Pac-Man.

With Pac-Man involved, you'd think this would be a maze game, right? Wrong.

In Kick-Man, the player controls a clown on a unicycle who goes back and forth at the bottom of the screen. At the top of the screen are rows upon rows of red, yellow and blue balloons, and every so often a Pac-Man will be floating among the balloons. The balloons will fall, pretty fast after the first couple of screens, and the clown can't let the balloons hit the ground or the player loses one of three clowns. On the first screen, the clown has a pin atop his head which he can use to pop the balloons; on subsequent levels, the clown must catch the balloons on top of his hat.

To give the clown a little extra help, while on the unicycle he can kick, sending any near falling balloons back up into the air.

Past the first stage, when the balloons must be caught on the clown's head, those balloons can pile up pretty quick. The stack of balloons on the clown's head keeps growing and growing until it can almost touch the top of the screen, which makes it nearly impossible to catch any more of the balloons. That's where Pac-Man comes in handy. When the clown catches a Pac-Man on top of his head, the Pac-Man will eat all the balloons stacked there. Also, every once in a while the clown will stop momentarily the pop the balloons on his head, but this doesn't happen often enough, so players shouldn't plan on this happening.

Due to the lack of popularity of this arcade game, it was never ported to any home gaming consoles or computers, which is a shame. This would have been a perfect game for the Atari 2600, with simple graphics and simple gameplay.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Game of the week: Excitebike for NES

After finding some success on the Famicom home video game console in Japan in 1984, Excitebike was released in 1985 on the North American version of the Famicom, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

At the time, Excitebike was a step forward for racing games. For one thing, it wasn't just a simplistic race around an oval track or along a first-person view of the road. Excitebike offered bike racing that included plenty of obstacles, some worse than others, but also allowed the player's bike to do some limited stunts, basicaly jumping up high (which might not seem all that awesome today, but in the early-to-mid 1980s this was pretty exciting for a racing video game).

Basically, the player competes against other bikes along a variety of tracks. The object, of course, is to win. Barring that, the player wants to at least come in second or third place, and to move on to other races and other tracks.

One of the unique features about this game was that it allowed player's to design their own tracks. You could go in and place obstacles wherever you wanted, then play on the track against the computer or friends. The created racing tracks could even be saved on a special cassette recorder, but this machine was, unfortunately, only available in the Japan market. Still, today, through the Virtual Console, these racing tracks can be saved onto the Wii's memory.

Over the years, Excitebike has proved quite popular, and understandably so since the gamplay is quite addictive and holds up well over time. In 1985, an arcade version of this game was released, known as vs. Excitebike. This game has also shown up on several modern and semi-modern gaming consoles, often as a bonus game to unlock. There have also been a couple of sequel games on more modern systems, such as Excitebike: World Rally, which is available for the Wii, and Excitebike 64 for the Nintendo 64.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Game of the week: Basketbrawl for Atari 7800

More than a decade before hit video games like NBA Street were on the market, there was a little-known game called Basketbrawl for the Atari 7800 home gaming system.

Basketbrawl was released in 1990 for the 7800, then later in 1992 for the Atari Lynx system.

It's a shame this game was not better known, because it had a lot to offer.

First up, Basketbrawl has solid graphics for its time. The Atari 7800 home video game system, which was released in 1986, was really pushed to its graphical limits on this game. The graphics here are just as good as those of any Nintendo NES game of the same period. Colors are bright, action is not choppy, and the action on the screen lines up well with the controls.

Then there's the actual gameplay. This is where Basketbrawl truly shines.

Atari 7800 SystemAt the beginning of the game, the player gets to pick from one of six basketball players to control for the onscreen game. Each of the basketball "brawlers" has various strengths and weaknesses, and it can be fun trying out each one.

Then the games' player can choose between playing one-on-one basketball or a two-on-two game. You can play against the computer or go up against a friend.

An extra fun bonus are the power-ups in the game. These can give the player's character more punching power or extra speed.

Did I say "punching power?" Yes, I did. Why do you need punching power? Because while you can try to play Basketbrawl as a straight-up, regular basketball video game, it's really more than that. It's also a fighting game.

Yes, your character can get slugged in the middle of going up for a shot. But the fun thing is that your character can slug right back, even go for cheap shots.

So, if a basketball battle on a neighborhood court sounds like a blast of time to you, then you should probably check out this game for the Atari 7800 home gaming system. And don't forget that those classic Atari 2600 games can also be played on the 7800.