EDIT: A video review of these games is available!
Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom
It’s Buck Rogers! And he’s having adventures in the 25th century or whatever! I know pretty much nothing about the early 20th-century phenomenon that is Buck Rogers, so I can’t really compare to see if this game stays faithful to its source material or if it just uses the name in an attempt to get people to buy the game. In any case, you’re in a ship flying over a pseudo-3D planet landscape that consists mostly of scrolling lines and mountains in the background. Your mission: fly through goalposts. No, really, that’s your mission. It’s basically an intergalactic slalom course. Occasionally little flying saucers show up that look like mushrooms that you have to kill lest they run into you and blow you up, and sometimes a little hopping guy comes along with a freckly face and squinty eyes that look like a bully staring at the sun (in later levels the hopping bully (and occasionally the goalposts) shoot at you). Every third level you’re suddenly in space and you have to destroy a certain amount of mushrooms, after which a “mother ship” shows up that looks like a flugelhorn gone horribly wrong. Once you shoot it twice, it blows up and. . .you guessed it, you do the whole thing over again, only the background has changed color and the enemies go faster!
Something fairly unique to the game (if you haven’t played Zaxxon, anyway) is the fuel meter, which goes out faster if you miss too many slalom posts. Even that, though, isn’t really enough to save this lackluster game from failing on several counts: the gameplay is a little too repetitive, and in later levels, extremely frustrating when there are so many mushrooms, bully-things, and posts on the screen that flickering happens and a mushroom takes you out before you notice it was even there (there is also a very noticeable lag when there is anything on the screen besides just your ship and a pair of posts). There ae better shooters out there, and there are better skiing games as well, and if you’re looking for any sort of tie-in to the actual Buck Rogers mythos you won’t really find it here. I’d say play if you’re bored, but don’t expect to be wowed.
Joust, on the other hand, is one of the best arcade games out there, and still popular at Nickelcades. You play as a man on a flying bird with a lance, and your object is to bop the other birds on the head, killing the man and letting the bird fly off the screen. A certain number of birds spawn each level, and your object is to get rid of them all. The difficulty comes once the levels start progressing: platforms begin disappearing, giant hands come out of the lava to try to grab you (and the other birds: it’s an equal-opportunity lava monster), and sometimes the birds drop eggs when killed that you have to collect before they hatch into more birds. In addition, each wave has a slightly different goal: a survival wave, where you get bonus points for not dying; an egg wave, where you have to grab a bunch of eggs before they start hatching, and the dreaded Pterry wave, where a pterodactyl comes along that is nearly impossible to kill (you have to bop him right on the nose with your lance).
Joust is a lot of fun on one-player mode, but where the game really shines is in its multi-player mode. A second Jouster comes on the scene, and you can either work together to rid the world of the little red jousters, or just concentrate on killing each other. In fact, there are certain waves designed for both: a gladiator wave where you get bonus points for killing each other, and a team wave where you get bonus points for not killing each other.
This game is a game that, similar to Mario Bros. but even moreso, shines in its simplicity. While the gameplay might seem like it gets repetitive, somehow it never really seems so, as the flight patterns of the birds, as well as the different configurations of the platforms each level, always propel you to the next one, just to see what kind platform will go next, or if it’s a Pterry wave, or if it’s finally a gladiator wave so you can justify killing off Player 2. Add to that some corny medieval elements (such as the game stating “Thy game is over” when you lose) and you’ve got a winner in the form of Joust. But you don’t have to take my word for it!
A game that takes a deep look at market research, what makes a deep, engrossing storyline and a multifaceted gaming experience, and then tosses it all out the window in favor of “Guys like stuff that blows up!” Kaboom! stars you, three pad-things that move in parallel motion on the bottom of the screen. Your mission: catch all the bombs that the poker dealer/Hamburglar tosses at you in an erratic and increasingly rapid fashion. If you miss one, all of them on the screen explode, the Hamburglar gets a smirk on his face like “Finally! I just blew up this city! Now for a quarter pounder!” and you lose one of your pads. Once you’ve lost all three, the game is over.
Kaboom! doesn’t offer a ton in the way of variety (you can play with a joystick or a paddle, and you can either have narrow or wide pads), but for some reason it’s infectiously fun. Every time you catch a bomb it plays the next note of the 1812 Overture, which goes pretty dang fast in the later levels. Also, if you catch enough bombs, the villain gets this shocked look on his face like he expected a McRib sandwich and ended up with a Whopper. In addition, there is a two-player mode where the players can alternatively control the burglar and the pads which is a lot of fun.
Kaboom! makes no pretenses: it’s a simple hand-eye reflex game, but it’s a good, colorful, fun one, and I recommend it for anyone who just wants to turn off their brain for a moment and play the 1812 Overture.
Ahh, licensing. The creation of many a game, good or bad, came from a licensing deal. In this one, based off Popeye the sailor man, you are Popeye, trying to win your beloved Olive Oyl from the clutches of the big brute Bluto. There are three distinct stages. In the first, shown here, Olive Oyl stands at the top of the screen and tosses love to Popeye, who must catch the hearts and use them to build a house (I guess). In the second Popeye is running around the outside of a building at nighttime, while Olive Oyl tosses down music notes that spell out, I dunno, their love theme, I suppose, although the background music during this scene sounds like the Harry Belafonte song “Matilda” featured in Forever Plaid. The third and final level Popeye the sailor man fins himself on a sailing ship, catching “HELP” letters thrown by Olive Oyl to build a ladder to the crow’s nest where she is sequestered.
Common to all these levels are two things: a hag that tosses cans of something at Popeye on occasion, and, of course, Popeye’s nemesis Bluto, who roams around each level looking to pummel poor Popeye. Also common to each level is a one-use can of spinach, which causes the Popeye theme to play and Bluto to run away from Popeye. If you can catch the guy Popeye pops ‘im one and sends him off the screen for about 10 seconds or so.
Popeye is a pretty fun pseudo-platformer and worth a look. It may, like the cartoon and comic before it, get the kids to eat their spinach, and that, at least, makes it a worthy cause. (Besides, a good spinach vinegarette salad is one of the best things in the world, and if I can beat up guys more easily after eating it, well, why eat anything else?)
Side note: is the buff guy that is Popeye’s nemesis named Bluto or Brutus? I’ve heard both, and I don’t know who to believe!
BC’s Quest for Tires
Loosely based on the comic strip B.C., this game stars you as the title character, who is riding on a wheel to rescue your sweetie pie. You’ve got to jump over holes and rocks, duck under tree branches, jump on turtles over lakes while avoiding being hit by some broad with a club (no, really, her official name is “The Fat Broad”), all to end up in a cave inhabited by a dinosaur who kidnapped your girl. You start at a certain speed but can increase it by holding down the trigger and moving the stick (an essential tactic later in the game, when you have to jump over a lake). It’s a colorful, well-designed game, with a parallax-scrolling background, fun sound effects, and challenging but not frustrating gameplay.
Back when I first played this game I had no idea of the comic strip connection, but it isn’t really necessary to understand the comic strip in order to enjoy the game. Our version, however, had some sort of weird graphic glitch (that you can see on the edge of B.C.’s wheel in the screenshot), so instead of getting sad and falling over whenever he hit a tree or rock of whatever, his head just plain exploded into a mess of glitchness. I’m sure that Johnny Hart’s head did something similar when he first saw this game. Another fun fact: this game was designed by Sierra On-Line, a company that would soon go on to define the adventure game genre with classics like King’s Quest and Space Quest.
That’ll do it for disk 6. Coming up next will be disk 7, featuring Starbowl Football, Pole Position, Pitstop, Speedway Blast, Reversi, and Super Cobra. Catch you next time!