Sunday, January 30, 2011

Game of the Week: Tron Deadly Discs for Intellivision

In the early 1980s, Disney put out a movie called Tron. It was about being trapped inside a video game world. Considering how popular video games were at the time, you would think this movie would have been a huge hit at the box office.

It wasn't.

In fact, it pretty much tanked. Though, to be fair, Tron the movie does have a loyal following to this day, though it's not yet had major mainstream success. Maybe that will change when the sequel movie, Tron: Legacy, hits the theaters next month.

Tron Deadly DiscsAnyway, before the original movie came out, the folks at Mattel worked out a deal with the Disney folks to make a bunch of games for the Intellivision, Mattel's home video game system, and to release those games about the time the movie was released.

Well, unfortunately the games were about as much success as the Tron movie, though some of them were darn good games.

One of those darn good games is Tron Deadly Discs.

It's kind of difficult to explain the gameplay, but I'll try. You play the Tron character from the movie, and you are being hunted onscreen by evil computer-generated warriors. Your only weapon is a throwing disc which can take out enemy warriors but can also be used to block, and thus temporarily destroy, the throwing discs of your opponents. You face three enemies at a time, and after you take one of them out, a new one will be added to the group so that you're pretty much facing three enemies most of the time but not all of the time. Also, you can open doorways at the top, bottom and sides of the screen which will allow you to jump around to the opposite side of the screen. Every once in a while those doorways are closed up by a Recognizer, a giant flying robot-looking thing, but with some skill and luck you can take out the tough Recognizer before it completes its job.

The game keeps going and going until all your lives are gone. If you are good, a game can last quite a while, which is impressive because the more enemy warriors you kill, the tougher they get.

The graphics here are quite plain by modern standards, but they hold up nicely when compared to the graphics of the time. The colors were bright, but a bit simplistic. The sound is sparse, as it was with many home video games of the time, but what sound there is is appropriate for play. The gameplay itself is where this game really shines, because it's awesome to toss around your disc and watch enemy warriors be disintegrated.

All in all, I think this Intellivision game stands up well to time. I still play it today, and still find it tons of fun.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Game of the Week: Lock 'N' Chase for Intellivision

Lock 'N' Chase was originally an arcade game released in 1981 by Taito in the U.S. and Data East in Japan. It must have been a popular enough arcade game because there were several ports of it made to home video game systems, including the Atari 2600, the Apple II and eventually even the Nintendo Game Boy.

But after nearly 30 years, I've yet to run across a Lock 'N' Chase arcade game. I've never seen one. And back in the golden days of video games of the early 1980s, I spent tons and tons of time in arcades because my step-dad worked in an arcade and I got to play thousands upon thousands of games for free.


Lock 'N' Chase (Intellivision)Still, I did have Lock 'N' Chase at home for my Intellivision home video game system, and it was a blast to play.

It was basically another maze game, thanks to the popularity of Pac-Man, but in this one you played a robber on the run from the police. The object is to collect all the coins (dots) on the screen before the police can catch up to you. To help the robber, he can close doors between himself and the police, and with a bit of luck can trap police between two doors. Also, special items appear in the center of the screen from time to time for bonus points.

This is perhaps my all-time favorite home maze game, specifically the Intellivision version. It had quality sounds which were fun, solid gameplay, and great, brightly-colored graphics, at least for the time period.

Sometimes it was a bit difficult to move the robber character exactly where you wanted him, but that was mainly due to the disc-like controls of the Intellivision. Still, once you became familiar with the Intellivision controls and its quirks, you were good to go.

Lock 'N' Chase was so much fun on the Intellivision, I have to rank it as one of my favorite games on the system, easily in the top five.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Game of the Week: Pitfall! for Atari 2600

Back in the early 1980s, the Atari 2600 was the top selling home video game system on the market. But one of its weaknesses was graphics. The 2600 often did not have the greatest graphics for its games. But then along came companies such as Activision and Imagic, made up at least in part of former Atari employees, and suddenly the Atari 2600 had some great games with great graphics.

One such game was Pitfall! by Activision, which came out in 1982.

What was the goal of Pitfall! The player controls an onscreen character known as Pitfall Harry through a jungle while search for 32 treasures. Along the way, Harry has to swing on vines over the heads of crocodiles, jump over scorpions, avoid falling into bog pits and avoid all kinds of other nastiness. And toughest of all, Harry only has 20 minutes to find all 32 treasures.

Pitfall!Believe me, that was no easy task.

One of the great things about Pitfall! was that it was the first really popular Atari 2600 game to have solid graphics for the time period. Sure, that little image of Pitfall Harry on the screen was still a little blocky, but that was better than most former Atari 2600 images of characters which were often just big dots. There wasn't a ton of sound to Pitfall!, but that was uncommon for the time, though there was some and it wasn't too bad. The game play was easy enough.

But I have an admission to make. I never finished a game of Pitfall! all the way to the end. Why? To be honest, I found the game to be a bit tedious. By no means was it the worst Atari 2600 game I played back in the day, but it seemed all Pitfall Harry did was run and jump and swing. Plus, in my opinion, it didn't help that the game had a definite ending. Back then, games generally went on as long as the player could save enough onscreen characters. Plus, being only a 20-minute game, it wasn't as if Pitfall! was going to keep my interest all day long.

But really, I did enjoy Pitfall!, it just wasn't my favorite game.

Here's a bit of trivia for you: Do you know what comedic movie star got his start doing a television commercial for Pitfall! in the early 1980s? If you don't know, take a look at the video below.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Game of the Week: Night Stalker for Intellivision

Night StalkerNight Stalker was a shooter game. You ran around a maze shooting at robots before they shoot you, all the while trying to avoid spiders and bats (because they can freeze you temporarily on screen) and grabbing more bullets for your gun.

Simple enough. Right?

Admittedly, Night Stalker for the Intellivision home video game system was pretty easy. But only in the lower levels. The higher your score went, the tougher the robots became. And the last thing you wanted was to face off with a bunch of robots when your gun is out of ammo.

So, simple game. Lots of fun. It was the early '80s, so what more could you ask for?

How about being creeped out? Night Stalker by no means is the scariest or creepiest game ever made, but for the early 1980s, it was pretty spooky. How? I mean, come on, it was just a bunch of blips on the screen, right? Well, yeah, but there was that spooky heartbeat sound that was always playing in the background. No matter what happened, that heartbeat kept beating and beating and beating. It was enough to drive you bats. Or shatter your nerves.

But you had to keep a cool head. There were robots to kill, after all.

Night Stalker was always one of my favorite games on the Intellivision, and it proved popular enough that it was ported to several other home gaming systems and computer of the day, including the famous Atari 2600. Here's a piece of trivia for you: The version of this game for the Atari 2600 was not called Night Stalker, but was labeled Dark Caverns. However, in 1989, some years after the golden age of the Intellivision, a PAL version of Dark Caverns was released and it was called ... you guessed it, Night Stalker.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Game of the Week: Astrosmash for Intellivision

Astrosmash is one of those classic Intellivision games that fans will always remember. At first Astrosmash seems somewhat like Space Invaders; after all, you're controlling a cannon moving across the bottom of the screen while shooting at objects higher on the screen. But the resemblance ends there. In Astrosmash, the player's cannon not only shoots at alien spaceships, but also has to shoot at meteors falling from the sky, spinning objects in the sky and yes, the alien spaceships.

In a way, Astrosmash was sort of a mix of Space Invaders and Asteroids. Funny enough, Astrosmash started off as the Intellivision rip-off of Asteroids, but the creators of the game decided upon a game that was more different. Why did they do that? Well, potentially to avoid any legal hassles with Atari, the owners of Asteroids. But also because they found Astrosmash to be more fun than the original Asteroids clone they'd made.

AstrosmashAnd boy am I glad they went with Astrosmash as it is, because it's a fantastic game. Besides, for the Intellivision there was eventually the Space Hawk game, and it was quite a bit like Asteroids in many respects.

Despite looking to be a relatively simple game, Asteroids had some unique properties. For one, as the player progressed in the game, it got harder. Okay, that's not so special. Lots of games do that. But few games allow for the game itself to actually get easier if the player isn't doing so well. Guess what? Astrosmash does that. Cool!

Also, there's a hidden game within the Astrosmash cartridge. What is it? It's the original Asteroids clone game that Intellivision never used. How do you get it? Well, it's quite difficult and rarely can you get to it on purpose. Basically, sometimes when one hits the Reset button on an Intellivision, there is a bit of a blip or glitch. Sometimes, just every once in a while, when doing this for Astrosmash, that other game will appear. It's almost impossible to do this, however, so good luck trying to get to it.