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.