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.