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.