Sunday, April 24, 2011

Game of the Week: Defender for Atari 5200

Fans of retro video games are familiar with the Defender arcade game from Williams Electronics that was a hit in 1980s. Most are also familiar with the Atari 2600, especially as it was the king of home video game consoles in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

But not so many people are familiar with the Atari 5200, the home gaming system Atari released in 1982. The Atari 5200 had better graphics than its 2600 cousin, but it never caught on well with consumers.

Still, the Atari 5200 had some cool video games. Including its ported version of Defender.

One thing that makes Defender on the 5200 so great is that the graphics are darn near the same as the arcade Defender, which is a good thing since Defender had sweet graphics for the time. Also, the sounds are the same as the arcade game, which is another good thing.

Atari 5200 - Video Game Console (System)Most importantly, the gameplay itself is quite similar to the arcade Defender, and this is important because Defender is a video game in part dependent upon its controls and its gaming scenario for its awesomeness. Of course the controls here are different because the Atari 5200 utilizes a joystick with multiple buttons as compared to the six buttons and joystick of the arcade Defender, but once you become familiar with the 5200's joystick you won't have any problems with play.

Just like the arcade Defender, you control an onscreen spaceship that shoots at aliens while rescuing humans on the grounds. Also, like the arcade version, your ship can use warps and has a limited supply of smart bombs that destroy all the enemies on the screen.

Still, the biggest problem with Defender on the Atari 5200 are the controls themselves. The 5200 joystick just isn't very good. Yes, you can get used to it, but it still sucks compared to other gaming controls of the day, including the Atari 2600 joystick, and even the Intellivision and Colecovision controls. So, if anything takes away from the enjoyment of this game, it's the sub-par 5200 controllers.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Game of the Week: Defender for arcade

In the late 1970s and 1980s, there were a lot of shooting arcade games that involved blowing invading aliens out of the sky. Space Invaders, anyone? Remember Galaga? Most of those games seemed pretty similar, and could possibly bore a gamer after a while.

But then in 1980 the pinball wizards from Williams Electronics decide to make the move into the arcade game business, and they did so with style. The company's very first venture into the arcades was with a game that has become a classic, Defender.

What made Defender so different? It was just another game in which you shot aliens out of the sky, right?

Not exactly.

Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits (Defender, Joust, Sinistar, Robotron 2084)Most alien shooting games at the time were modeled after Space Invaders, meaning the player controlled a ship at the bottom of the screen that shot at advancing aliens at the top of the screen.

Defender wasn't like that. In Defender, the player controlled a spaceship that could fly all over the screen horizontally while shooting at aliens, but not like Asteroids where a player could go anywhere. In Defender, the player's ship could go left and right, the screen scrolling along with the ship, and the player's ship could go up and down but there was ground beneath that prevented the ship from scrolling down and a monitor at the top of the screen that prevented the ship from going up. Many have called Defender the very first scrolling shooter game, and there's a lot of truth to that; at the least, if Defender wasn't the very first scrolling shooter video game, it was at least the first popular scrolling shooter.

In some ways it is surprising that Defender was such a popular game. For one thing, it's a pretty complicated video game for the time when it was released. There's a lot going on on the screen, and the player has a lot to keep track of. Also, the controls were quite complex, featuring a joystick and five buttons.

Five buttons!?!

Yep. That doesn't sound like anything special today what with all the multi-button game controllers for home consoles, but back in 1980 most video games only had one joystick and maybe two buttons, sometimes only one button or no buttons.

To gamers of the day, Defender looked somewhat intimidating. But once one got familiar with Defender, and that didn't take long, it was soon evident how much fun this game actually was.

Defender shined in part because of its complexity. Few other video games had that at the time, and it made the player think and think fast. It also didn't hurt that Defender had great graphics and great sounds.

Defender became so popular that there were a number of sequel games based upon it, even a pinball game. And of course Defender was ported to just about every computer and home video game console of the time. Defender is even available for today's computers and home gaming systems, usually on a greatest hits collection disk.

But not only did Defender have sequels and home ports, but it basically created a whole genre of video games, the scrolling shooter. Tons of other games have been based upon the style of Defender, from Chopper Commander back in the 1980s to modern scrolling shooters such as Sonic Rush.

One last historical note about Defender: This game was originally developed by Eugene Jarvis, one of the more famous video game creators. Jarvis not only lead the team that came up with Defender, but he also created such famous games as Robotron 2084 and Smash TV.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Atari games now available for iPad and iPhone

Would you like to have ALL of the classic Atari arcade games and Atari 2600 games at your fingertips?

It's easy enough nowadays with the release of the Atari's Greatest Hits app for the iPad and the iPhone. If you're interested (and you should be), head on over to iTunes and get this app.

But first, how about a preview of this new Atari app? Check out the video below to see all the amazing games (and there'e a lot of them -- including nearly every Atari 2600 game) available for the iPad and iPhone.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Game of the Week: Space Invaders for Atari 2600

Has any video game ever been more played, more emulated or more ported than Space Invaders? Maybe Pac-Man, but I'd say it's a close call.

More than perhaps any other video game, it was Space Invaders that truly kicked off the gaming craze in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There have been sequels of the game, pinball games, all kinds of apps and ports, online versions ... you name a computer, gaming system, cell phone, just about any modern type of technology, and there's probably a version of Space Invaders made for it.

But all that got started back in 1980 when Atari released its ported version of Space Invaders for the Atari 2600 home video game system, the king of home gaming systems at the time and for several years to come.

Space Invaders (Atari 2600)The Atari 2600 has been lambasted often because of lousy graphics, but here it works just fine. What can you expect, however, since Space Invaders is a pretty simple game graphically? The gameplay, too, was pretty much the same as the arcade version, and the sound isn't that different.

Some fans of retro games even find the 2600 version of Space Invaders better than the arcade version. How is that possible? Well, this Atari game had color, which Space Invaders initially did not have in the arcades. Also, the Atari version offered 112 different versions of Space Invaders, including movie shields, different-sized shields and much more, though admittedly it was still basically just Space Invaders.

Perhaps most importantly, the Atari 2600 Space Invaders game is historic for video games. Did you know it was the very first official home port of an arcade game? It's true. Also, the Atari 2600 version of Space Invaders has been called the first killer app video game.

So, not only was the arcade game Space Invaders groundbreaking, but so was the Atari 2600 version. And most importantly, both versions of the classic game provided years of fond memories for kids growing up in the early 1980s.

And is still fun to play today.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Game of the Week: UFO for Odyssey 2

If you sit down to play the video game UFO on a classic Magnavox Odyssey 2 home system, it's impossible not to make comparisons to the arcade hit from Atari, Asteroids.

Much like Asteroids, the player controls a ship that floats around in space while shooting at enemy spacecrafts. The first noticeable difference between UFO and Asteroids is that in UFO your ship has a force shield that not only can protect your ship from attacks, but can also be used to take out enemy ships by running into them.

Admittedly, the graphics aren't that great, but they're also not the worst there are, especially considering the time period when the Odyssey 2 was originally available, the early 1980s. Most of the enemies attacking you are simply circles or X's, and even the toughest bad guy, a flying saucer that comes by from time to time, isn't much more than a straight line.

Odyssey 2 Video GameStill, UFO is a challenging but fun game to play. Much like Asteroids, the longer you play, the tougher the game gets. One cool thing, or at least I though so, was that with a little practice you can fly your ship in one direction while shooting in another, allowing you to blow away the enemy while escaping.

Also, as with all Odyssey 2 games, the colors here are exceptional and the sound fair. Overall, I'd say the gameplay is a touch above decent, though not quite unique or extraordinary.

UFO for Odyssey 2Retro gaming buffs will want this game for their collection.

If you are in or from Europe, you might remember the Odyssey 2 under a different name, the Philips Videopac.