I wanted to try to do a video review in addition to my normal reviews, just for fun. They’re just as off-the-cuff as my text reviews, if not more so, with the added bonus of trying to keep them under ten minutes for Youtube to like them! Let me know what you think of the format. These won’t replace the text reviews, but merely supplement them if I decide to continue doing them.
This particular test review covers the games already done by me on Disk 6, that is to say: Buck Rogers, Joust, Kaboom!, Popeye, and BC’s Quest for Tires.
One day, in the distant past, a frog needed to cross a busy highway and a log-filled river in order to, I dunno, mate or something. This tale of bravery in the face of certain danger seized the imaginations of people everywhere. His story can be told in the game Frogger. However, all was not well in the universe. While this plucky amphibian might entertain the simple plebians with its down-to-earth humble story, what about the upper-middle class? How would it be even conceivable that a golf-playing junior executive with a Lacoste alligator polo, argyle sweater, cuffed chinos, and cordovan loafers would be remotely interested in something so below his station as a simple frog hopping across logs? The simple matter of the fact was: junior executives had no time for helping frogs! They didn’t preserve wetlands; they destroyed them to make room for their gated communities and exclusive country clubs! No game company had the guts to crack into this key demographic.
In Preppie you play Mr. Bigshot’s prep-schooled junior executive (read:golf caddy), who has to go get his stray balls and avoid paying that extra fee at the pro shop every time that the CEO, well, hit the ball. The problem is, in order to keep the fairways and greens looking their finest, there is a constant stream of lawnmowers, both manual and motorized, which are immediately fatal to anyone with a polo shirt. Sometimes the ball will be across the water hazard, but fortunately it is filled with canoes, logs, and alligators to cross. Our poor caddy only has enough room in his pocket for one ball at a time, though, so he has to pick up one at a time and bring it all the way back to the start before attempting to pick up another one. As levels go on the objects move faster and there are more balls to collect. To make matters worse, apparently the golf course was built over where the original Frogger takes place, because the frog himself jumps across the middle in later levels, trying to exact revenge on whoever stole his hopping grounds and mutated him until he was twice the size of any normal human being. Unfortunately, the developers aren’t around, so the frog will settle on maiming any caddies that cross its path. I tell ya, the life of a caddy is a hard one.
Fortunately, the whole thing is set to some upbeat tunes from the early 1900’s, including “I Was Strolling Through the Park One Day” and “Down Among the Sheltering Palms,” giving the whole thing a sort of box social feel. In short, while Preppie is basically just a Frogger clone, it is a well-realized catchy one, and I recommend it for anyone too bourgeois to take on the role of a lowly frog.
The first thing you may notice about Qix is its complete disregard for the precedents set by the English language. A Q without a U? How is that pronounced? Kix? Quix? Should I be controlling a kid-tested, mother-approved corn crunch ball? Am I to expect to be fighting windmills to win the heart of my beloved Dulcinea?
The true purpose of this game is both simpler and far stranger than either of those two scenarios. As a purple diamond thing, you must form boxes on the playing field. Each time you complete a box, it fills in with blue and becomes permanent. However, to menace you are little sparks (creatively named Sparx) that travel along the edge. Leaving the edge renders you safe from the Sparx but vulnerable to the Qix, a strange construct that looks like that old “dancing lines” screensaver that makes a noise that is a cross between a lawnmower, hairdryer, and annoying fly. If the Qix touches you or a line of an unfinished box trailing behind you, you’re toast. The object is to fill at least 75% of each playing field, at which point you move to the next level where everything goes faster. Also, after a few levels the Sparx can travel up your unfinished line and there are two Qix.
Qix is a simple game requiring fast reflexes and a whole lot of luck. Since the movement of the Qix is so unpredictable, especially on later levels, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether you can survive long enough to fill in the required amount or not, and it can get quite frustrating. Still, it’s a great little game, and I recommend it as well.
Hard Hat Mack
While Preppie appealed to the fortunate prep-schooled business executive, Hard Hat Mack targets the other end of the spectrum: the hard-working blue collar construction worker who’s just trying to get in a good day of work before he goes home to his split-level to watch some NASCAR. The game consists of three levels, in which our protagonist is trying to complete various construction-related tasks while avoiding vandals and OSHA representatives. In the first he is laying some flooring and hammering it in with a jack hammer, in the second he is grabbing everyone’s lunchboxes from a death-trap of a construction site, and in the third he is processing some scattered boxes into nails Any contact with the vandal or OSHA guy, as well as falling too far or contact with other dangerous objects such as spitting nailguns, giant chompers, and plain open flames spell doom for our hero, who will contract into his helmet like a turtle (or Bounty Bob). Hmm. With all these deathtraps around, maybe letting the OSHA guy inspect the place wouldn’t be a bad idea! It would beat having poor Mack live off workman’s comp for the rest of his life with a wrench imbedded in his spine, simply because the foreman didn’t have the foresight to leave his lunch in a place other than on the conveyor belt leading to the furnace!
Mixed messages about occupational safety and hazards aside, Hard Hat Mack is full of fun, Donkey Kong-esque gameplay. The controls are a little fussy, and many jumps have to be ridiculously well-timed in order to succeed, but that’s part of the challenge. The sound is well-done: a catchy little rhythmic ditty plays over and over again, but only when Mack is actually moving, compelling a musical person like myself to keep the guy active so as to not break the rhythm. After you’ve beat it once there’s not a whole lot to go back to except perhaps improving one’s time, but it’s still a pretty fun game.
That’s disk 10! Coming up next: side 1 of disk 11, with Kangaroo, Flying Ace, Mouse (aka Mouskattack), Tumble Bugs, and Galaxian. Catch you then!
Only you can save the universe from random brightly-colored shapes that don’t really move! Onslaught puts you in the place of the defender of all mankind. Flying inside your spaceship shaped like a barn, you must destroy as many random shapes as possible. If you miss any. . .well, you don’t get the points for shooting them. I guess that portends. . .doom for humanity?
OK, so this game really has no storyline. The point is, shapes scroll toward you on a rapidly moving starfield. You shoot them and avoid getting hit. Occasionally they shoot back with a slow-moving bullet that actually usually ends up destroying another one of them instead of you. As time goes on they get more closely-packed, until it’s nearly impossible to maneuver. That’s why, sometimes, a flying rainbow-colored diamond flies by, and if you hit it then everything on the screen gets destroyed and you get a bunch of points. There are several game modes: different combinations of flying a thin or a fat ship, shooting thin or fat bullets, the choice to have three or five “shields” (really just extra lives), and one or two alternating players.
Onslaught is an OK game which can be good for some mindless hand-eye reflex fun. Also, a unique feature of this game was the ability to keep the high score. Most of these games reset the high score as soon as you turned off the computer, but this one saved it to disk, therefore keeping it for all posterity. See that high score in the screenshot? That was actually set by my own late father in the early ’80’s. That alone raises my estimation of my copy of this game, if only for sentimental reasons. Nerdy sentimental reasons.
APPLES!!!! AAAAAAHHHH!! This game is a good game struggling to break free of a really crappy one. You’re on a network of platforms and ladders, which are also inhabited by antennaed creatures (apples, I guess?) You dig a hole for one, and if it falls in then you hammer its head until it dies. Once they all die you move onto the next level, where there are more of them.
Sounds like some simple fun, no? Well, it would be, if the controls were any good! The problem is that you can’t just dig anywhere; there are certain sections of the brick that can have holes in them, due to graphics limitations, kind of like in Dig Dug you can only turn at certain spots. These have to be pixel-perfect; otherwise, your guy just stands there and waits for an apple to kill him. Then, when you finally find a spot and hold down the trigger to dig a hole, you have to let go of the trigger in a precise instant for the hole to be complete. If you don’t hold it long enough the hole is only half-dug and an apple will just pop right out of it if it falls in, and if you hold it down too long then your hapless digger man starts filling in the hole, giving you the exact same problem. This might not be a problem if each hole didn’t take about five seconds each to make, so if you miss the timing you’ve got to wait ten seconds for the man to fill in the hole all the way and then dig again. In addition to that stupidity, the apples seem to wander aimlessly instead of pursuing you, which means you have no way to lure them into a hole, other than digging one nearby and hoping that it doesn’t take the ladder right before the hole and meander over the other half of the board. The solution to that might be to dig more holes and trap the creature, but since digging holes is a fiasco this is a less-than-ideal solution. Plus, if you spend too much time on a hole one of the apples will probably run up and kill you.
In short, Apple Panic is ruined by this extremely frustrating control system, and I recommend you skip it. I’ve heard there are versions of this game for other systems. Perhaps they have better control systems and can be fun to play, but for the love of all that’s good in this world, do not play the Atari 8-bit version of Apple Panic unless you enjoy gaming masochism.
Wizard of Wor
What do you get when you cross Ghostbusters, gladiatorial combat, Pacman, stealth technology, Dragnet, and wizards? The answer: either just the facts about Peter Venkman eating dancing fruit while Spartacus and Merlin fly F-117 Nighthawks, ma’am, or the game Wizard of Wor. You play the role of one or two “worriors” placed inside a maze. There are also several panther-like creatures (called “Burwors”) wandering around that you have to shoot with your proton-pack-looking guns. Once you have killed enough of them, other yellow creatures which look like walking cheese wedges (”Garwors”) and red creatures that resemble bell peppers (”Thorwors”) appear in the maze. However, these creatures are invisible unless they are directly in your line of sight, so you have to use your primitive radar at the bottom of the screen to locate them. Also, all of these creatures can shoot you.
Once you have dispatched all these wor-creatures, a “worluk” appears which rapidly circles corridors and is worth mondo points if shot before it escapes out one of the passages marked with an arrow in the screenshot. Sometimes, after it is dispatched, the “Wizard of Wor” himself appears, shooting at you for a few seconds, and then rapidly teleports to a different part of the maze, until you either kill it or it escapes too. Once you finish a level, the theme from Dragnet plays! Neat! Each maze is different, and some have names (like “The Arena,” or “The Pit,” which has no walls at all.)
All of this might seem like a lot, but don’t “worry,” for you can team up with a friend to help rid these mazes of this Wor Machine. You can also gain points for shooting each other if you want to be sadistic. Wizard of Wor is a very fun arcade-style game, especially if you grab a second player to join in the fun. You need all the help you can get, for as Generol Shermon once said, “Wor is Hall.”
“The evil Gorfian Robot Empire has attacked! Your assignment is to repel the invasion and launch a counterattack. You will engage various hostile spacecraft as you journey toward a dramatic confrontation with the enemy flag ship…”
So goes the introduction to Gorf a game which is essentially four simple arcade games in one package! You’re a little spaceship dude that has to defend the planet from space invaders. The first level, oddly enough, is a nearly exact clone of Space Invaders, the only difference being a minor one involving your shield! After you beat that game, um, I mean, destroy the invading Gorfian Robot Empire forces, you proceed to the “Laser Attack” level, where two enemy squadrons throw cats at you and shoot you with lasers half the width of your ship that move more slowly than you do. If you destroy the laser shooters and all of the, uh, space cats, you move to the third level, the “Space Warp.” In here random lines are drawn from the center, from which fly more space cats and other ships. In the screenshot you can see them hucking a land-line telephone at you. Once you’ve warped long enough you finally face the enemy flagship, a boss fight of sorts. The first thing you may notice is that he stole your shield from the first level! That fiend! You think robots could come up with innovative technology! But since the best they can do is throw cats at you I guess their artificial intelligence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Anyway, you’ve got to shoot through the shield and then the outer plating of the mother ship, which flies off and can damage the player. Once you finally shoot the core of the mother ship it explodes in a colorful fireworks display! You get half a second to enjoy the fact that, once again, you’ve saved mankind, when the whole thing starts over, only faster now!
Gorf is a pretty fun shoot-’em-up. It touts itself as four different games in one, even though each game is pretty much the same thing, with just a different enemy configuration in each level. I guess it could be accurately described as Space Invaders Plus.
Fun fact: Gorf was originally supposed to be a tie-in game with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which is why the player’s ship looks kind of like the Enterprise flipped upside-down. However, after the film came out they realized that a game truly based on that movie would be composed mainly of still shots of the ship while dramatic music played in the background. So they dropped the franchise name, forcing people to wait at least ten or so more years before a pixelated William Shatner was released on the world.
That does it for Disk 9. Coming up: Disk 10, featuring Preppie, Qix, and Hard Hat Mack. See you then!
Jumbo Jet Pilot
I have absolutely no idea how this game works. I never learned how when I was a kid. I searched online recently for a manual, a review, anything regarding this game other than a ROM download and a cartridge scan, but to no avail. I assume you are a Jumbo Jet Pilot somehow taking off and landing and stuff. The controls, however, are entirely inscrutable. Moving the joystick caused the little lines to move across the top of the screen (the viewport, I assume), while pressing the trigger caused the view to turn red. Random keyboard buttons caused some of the boxes to turn on and off. I guess there’s an altimeter, an artificial horizon, and a fuel gauge, but as for the rest of the controls I have no idea what they are. A scan I found of the back of the cartridge contained the helpful hint to lower the wheels when you landed. In conclusion, go buy Microsoft Flight Simulator or something. Or help me figure this bloomin’ game out. Whatever.
Eastern Front 1941
I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint fans of WWII simulation games with my review. This game, according to many online sources, is an intricate strategy game wherein you actually control the German forces for once, invading Russia. You have two unit types: infantry and cavalry, and can enter up to eight moves for each unit per turn. Then the computer simulates combat for a week (of game time, not real time), after which the units that were attacked and defeated must retreat. The strength and muster of each unit could be damaged in combat, but could be built up again due to supply lines (contiguous units) In time the winter would set in, and the lakes and rivers would become passable, but the units would be weaker and more vulnerable. After winter there is a short spring, but the game ends in March of 1942, giving the player 41 turns to overcome the evil Russian forces, who outnumber the player in terms of units and land controlled, at least at the beginning of the game.
Eastern Front suffers from what I call “manualitis,” that is, a dependence on the manual that makes gameplay incomprehensible without first reading the manual. While this isn’t by itself a problem, it becomes one when a person has acquired this game without a manual and therefore has no idea what’s going on, as I did growing up. Still, according to many online sources, this game is a satisfying war simulation, especially for the time, and I would recommend it for strategists and war buffs. Plus, not many WWII games let you play as the Germans without playing some sort of horrible Nazi character, so I guess that’s something.
It has been said that, in terms of creative, unique, and compelling gameplay, the king of the Atari 8-bit games was Synapse Software. With classics I’ve already reviewed such as Claim Jumper, Necromancer, Picnic Paranoia, and Fort Apocalypse, as well as some other excellent games I will be reviewing down the line, Synapse certainly does have a unique style of game. But perhaps no Synapse game is as unique as Drelbs, a two-phase game in which you play a nervous eyeball with feet. Your object during the first phase is to wander around a maze of walls that flip when you press against them. Every time you make a box with these walls (and you’re not inside said box), a phone-ringing sound goes off and the box turns into a abstract expressionist painting (well, OK, it’s just a rectangle with two lines, but it makes me think of a Mark Rothko work). Pursuing you during this attempt to enlighten the world with a sense of 1950’s artistic style were two opponents: a stripety zig-zag enemy that circled the playing field taking potshots at you that would ricochet off the walls, and an angry-looking rectangle face with a mouth like the Yip-yip aliens from Sesame Street (or, more appropriately, Telly). Occasionally one of the Rothko works would turn into a green alien with Bart Simpson hair, who would look around shiftily and then destroy your box, turning it back into empty walls that you’d have to reform into a rectangle again. Also occasionally, a heart or diamond would show up, and if you grabbed it you got some points and the mean rectangle guy would turn green and freeze, allowing you to seal him up in a box. This creates a giant close-up of his face where you can see right up his nostrils (not a pretty sight), and he’d destroy your box after a certain time period and begin wandering again, but at least he’d be out of your hair for a while. And rarely, when the green-faced alien would show up in a box, for a brief second a woman’s face would appear and shout “HELP!” Jumping onto the box when the alien was showing was instant death, but jumping onto the woman resulted in a kissing sound and a short cutscene in which your eyeball-foot would cover up a grid of that green spiky-haired alien. This leads me to believe that the underlying plot of this game is that classic sad tale of girl meets walking eyeball, girls falls in love with walking eyeball, girl ends up leaving walking eyeball, girl meets spiky green alien, girl falls in love with spiky green alien, girl feels trapped by spiky green alien, girl misses walking eyeball and wants to be with walking eyeball again. I mean, how many times have we heard that old story?
In any case, once the entire playing field is filled with expressionist rectangles, every single one, in turn, turns into a green alien box. Also, occasionally one turns into a portal that looks like several of you. Jumping onto one of these causes a jump to the second phase of the game, in which you find yourself on a black field with several frozen blue versions of yourself and that green alien again. He starts shooting at you while you run around this field, and every time you touch one of your frozen kin, it turns purple and flies off the screen. That’s it. I don’t know how this game was made, but it totally had to involve LSD.
If you get killed by the green alien you go back to the first screen (with the boxes still filled in, luckily). If you grab all of the frozen versions of yourself, you move to the next level, which is the whole thing all over again, but with two frownie-faced orange rectangles in the first part and two green aliens in the second. Also, as was the style at the time, the colors change a bit and everything moves faster. Also, the title screen features the tune “Wilder Reiter” by Robert Schumann.
Drelbs is one of the weirdest games I have ever played. The graphics are fine if you don’t think about them too hard, and the sound is equally demented, especially during the first stage. However, an odd concept does not a great game make, necessarily. Fortunately, Drelbs is a whole lot of fun, too. The gameplay is varied enough with the two stages and the fact that during the first stage you basically make your own maze, since you create the rectangles. Highly recommended, and it probably works even better if you’re stoned. (Note: the creator of this blog does not promote or condone the use of drugs in any non-prescribed way, particularly in the case of video-game-experience enhancement.)
In Miner 2049er you take on the role of “Bounty Bob” whose job it is to run over every segment of floor in this, mine, I suppose, although what is being mined is never made clear. Every time you run over a bit of floor it turns solid. Once the entire level has been made solid you move to the next one. Sounds pretty simple, eh? There are a few obstacles to this mine inspection process, however. For starters, if you fall too far poor Bob gets squashed inside his own hat, earning him a permanent job as a citizen in Agent USA. To complicate matters there are little radioactive creatures left wandering around that also mean instant death for Bob, making him grow and shrink to some electrical-sounding noise, and also making him inexplicably get squashed inside his hat. To counteract this threat, though, each level has mining tools scattered about (pickaxes, dynamite, candles, inexplicable items like flower pots or wine glasses, etc.) and when Bob grabs one of these, the radioactive creatures turn into happy green harmless drones worth 80 or 90 points each! What a bargain!
There are ten levels in all, and in addition to the difficult jumps, mining tools, and radioactive creatures, each level has its own challenges, from slides to elevators to moving scaffolding machines to a giant vat of radioactive waste to even a cannon. Once you beat all ten levels you start the first one over where (repeat after me) everything changes color and the enemies move faster.
Miner 2049er is an excellent game. The ten varied levels of gameplay add a good replay value, as does the timer, which leads to a higher score if you can finish a level in a shorter time. There is also a cheat available: by typing in the game company’s phone number (found on the title screen) you can pick which level to start on, which is useful if you want to see that tenth cannon level that everyone’s talking about. This game also inspired a sequel, Bounty Bob Strikes Back, which is also an excellent game, I’ve heard, since for some reason I haven’t been able to get it to work on an emulator.
According to online sources, Bounty Bob is apparently a Mountie, although his dayglo outfit doesn’t really fit with their conservative red uniforms. Also, he has no horse.
This is probably the only Atari game that revolves around peeing dogs, at least that I’m aware of. In this two-player game, you play as the yellow dog or the red dog. A flashing blue fire hydrant appears on the playing field, and the dogs must race each other to mark the hydrant as his or her own (you can also throw a bone at a flashing hydrant to mark it, but if you miss you have to go pick the bone up before you can throw another one). Every time you get a hydrant you get a point, which is represented by a row of hydrants at the top of the screen. You also get points if your opponent runs into a hydrant of your color, which also stuns him/her. Once you take over the point meter with your color, you win! Ruff! Occasionally, a car honks and drives through, and if your opponent gets run over you automatically win! Woof!
Dog Daze is very simple, and the graphics are very minimalist. In addition, there is no one-player mode, so you must team up with someone to get the most doggy fun out of this game. It’s pretty fun, although very one-note (since it doesn’t have any customizable game options like Race in Space from disk 8), so if you and a friend are bored you might as well take the chance to pee on some hydrants.
That’s it for side 1 of disk 9. Stay tuned for the second side, in which we review Onslaught, Apple Panic, Wizard of Wor, and Gorf. Catch you then!
Dig Dug was another classic arcade game published by Namco (the Pacman guys) You’re a little white guy named Dig Dug (presumably American; if he were British or Canadian he’d be Dig Doug and his name’d be more normal), and your object is to dig. The dirt you dig will be dug, and you get points for all the dug dirt you dig. In addition, two types of creatures are found in your dirt: little dwarf-looking dudes with scuba goggles on and some sort of dragons wearing vests that breathe fire (duh). Your real object is to rid your poor garden of these pests. One way is to dig underneath a “rock” which looks way more like an eggplant. The rock will fall, and hopefully crush a dwarf or dragon. The other way is a bit more grotesque: you’ve got a little air pump that you can use to inflate a creature until it explodes in a gory fashion. Well, gory for a game made in 1981, anyway. Well, fine, there’s no gore, but it still looks like a horrible way to go. I’d rather have a rock dropped on me!
When you’ve destroyed all the creatures you move on to the next level, where there are more creatures. This may prove to be more difficult that originally predicted, however, as both the dwarf-things and dragons have an ability to suddenly turn into uncrushable, uninflatable ghosts that come straight at you until they touch you and you also turn into a ghost (or at least just lose a life). Since the beasts obviously are going for you when they pull this trick, one may wonder why they don’t just swarm you in their unkillable state, providing no escape for poor D(o)ug. Instead they just (sometimes) turn back into inflatable creatures when they hit a tunnel. One also may wonder how many early video game heros would suffer quick and/or painful deaths if early video game antagonists could do more than move in a line and shoot. Sheesh, it’s like the Daleks! “Oh no! Stairs!”
Anyway, back to the game. Dig Dug is another game in the Namco tradition of “super-simple concept made addicting” and it’s a pretty fun game. The controls are a little quirky, as you can’t turn unless you’re at an exact spot in a tunnel, as you can only make tunnels a certain distance apart. The graphics ain’t too hot on this port, so if you want better graphics go find an arcade version, but this one holds up all right in terms of gameplay.
Side note: apparently Dig Dug (the character) was later referred to as the “Hero of the South Island Incident.” This fires the imagination much more than exploding vest-wearing dragons using an air pump. Or maybe that’s just me.
Rating: C (like Pacman, there are better versions out there)
Pogoman is a surprising little game, and one of the most influential games I played as a kid. For anyone who’s played this game that may seem surprising, as the game, while fun, is certainly nothing incredibly groundbreaking. You’re a little blue guy on a rolling pogo stick (yeah, I know it doesn’t make sense) rolling through a town at night, although you look more like the international handicapped sign guy without the wheel on the back. Occasionally you have to jump over sewer grates, fire hydrants, and cars. If you hit one you fall down and your pogo stick becomes a neutron star apparently, as it looks like all your limbs get sucked into it until you’re a painful blue blob. There are certain street lights along the route that you can jump up and swipe for extra points, giving this seemingly law-abiding pogo man a dangerous criminal undertone.
At the end of the first level you go back to the start and do it again. You don’t even loop back to the start; you’re just going along and suddenly the grassy-looking park in the background glitches back to the buildings at the beginning. But now, the city’s a bit more populated: there are cats, ducks, and unicyclists (!!) that are now coming at you, and you get neutron-starred if you hit any of them as well (oddly enough, the unicyclists breeze on by as if nothing happened. Those guys have got inner ear control to die for). Starting at the third level, a bird comes screaming out of the sky at your face every few seconds. Presumably the bird can’t see where it’s going to be flying into people’s faces, possibly because, oh, I don’t know, somebody stole all the freakin’ street lights in the city!! Well, you made your bed; now you’ve got to lie in it.
While Pogoman is a pretty fun, simple game in its own right, what made it one of my favorites was the tune that played over and over during the whole game. It seemed…peaceful. That was rare for any video game at the time, what with limited sound hardware trying to bleep and bloop its way into your brain. Playing this game was my childhood equivalent of turning on Enya, going into some sort of yoga pose, and doing those deep breaths that help a person control his or her inner chi or kai or whatever. After a hard day of schoolwork and kids kicking you down hills because you’re two years ahead of them in math and you pick your nose, it was nice to have something to relax to. The music here was one of the pieces that influenced me to become interested in music later in life. In fact, not too many years ago I even did a remix of it that you can find on my Soundclick page (note: the clarinet sound suuuucks!).
In any case, check it out when you’re feeling stressed enough that you just need to relax and think of nothing but jumping over convertibles and unicycles for a while. You’ll be glad you did.
Race in Space
This game is so obscure that my blog pops up fourth in a Google search for “race in space” atari. It’s a fun little multiplayer game in which you race a friend to the top of the screen several times. Every time you hit the top of the screen you get a point. Whoever had the most points at the end of three minutes wins! Normal obstacles include the stars that drift across the screen. They’re not really stars, I assume (unless these are freakin’ huge spaceships), since hitting one sends you sprawling back to the beginning.
The real fun in this game, though, comes from the options to customize the gameplay. You can change what the joystick trigger does: it either has no effect, shoots a missile at the other player (which gets you a point if it hits him), turns on a shield (which makes you immune to the stars, but you can’t move while it’s on), or move at super-fact speed. You can change the density of the stars until there’s almost more star than space onscreen. You can change between rockets (which can only go straight up and down) and saucers (which can move anywhere). You can turn on comets, which are giant glowing balls of static that blow by at varying speeds and take your ship down with them if they make contact. And finally, and most strangely, you can switch between a “positive” and “negative” universe. In the negative universe every few seconds the screen flashes white with a strange sound effect, causing seizures in all the poor epileptic kids playing the game.
Race in Space automatically gets some brownie points for being a competitive multiplayer game rather than a turn-based one, which was a rarity at the time. In addition, it’s pretty fun, and with all the different options you can play the game in dozens of different ways. I recommend it for anyone looking to kill three minutes with a friendly rival. (You may also note that the timer in the screenshot above doesn’t have a colon and a dot, but a line and a weird cat-looking thing. I have no idea why, but I bet the reason would make Johnny Hart’s head explode.)
Fort Apocalypse was one of my favorite games growing up, for the main reason that the game was set in a much bigger world than, say, Dig Dug or Centipede. According to Wikipedia, you’re a Rocket Copter pilot flying for the Sky Dwellers, flying into Fort Apocalypse, a dangerous Kralthan prison located deep within the Earth’s mantle. What that translates to is you’re flying a yellow helicopter that shoots and drops bombs in a big system of caverns, with tanks, little floating dudes that move slowly back and forth (see Dig Dug), and a purple helicopter flown by a guy so bent on your destruction that he often flies into walls trying to get to you rather than, you know, flying around obstacles trying to stay alive. Those poor, gullible Kralthans, with their Kralthan ways, deep in the Earth’s mantle, I tell you, boy.
Your job is to fly in these caverns and pick up guys walking around, presumably downed pilots or hostages or something. Your fuel drops steadily, but fortunately, the Kralthans have kindly provided you with two refueling stations (one in each section of the caverns), which is very thoughtful of them. The caves are not only filled with enemies, but Blue Lasers and transporters, and walls that randomly disappear and reappear. After you get to the bottom of the first level (named the Vaults of Draconis), you enter the Crystalline Caverns. This level has four main sections: a tunnel at the top, a cavern filled with lasers and tanks, a cavern filled with shootable walls, and some sort of reactor core that you must blow up. Unfortunately, the game randomly picks which of the two caverns leads to the reactor core, so you can spend fifteen freakin’ minutes shooting through all those walls just to find a dead end. Anyway, once the reactor core blows up all the lasers (and transporters, sadly) stop working and you can easily fly back up to the Vaults of Draconis and fly out. Yay! You’ve saved the nameless people from the random bad guys, and more impressively, you flew a helicopter into and out of the Earth’s mantle! I mean, what the foo?!?
Fort Apocalypse shares some attributes with later-generation games: a larger world for you to explore rather than a repeating screen with progressively faster and harder enemies. Unfortunately, unlike, say, Pitfall II, the world isn’t interesting enough to return to, so after you beat the game once there isn’t much to keep you coming back. Oh sure, there’s a score, but it’s like the score in Super Mario Bros.: nobody really cares unless you’re playing in some sort of tournament or something. Do try it though; it’s fun at least once!
And now, another sports game for you hopeless computer game nerds. Fortunately, this game is a lot easier to figure out than Starbowl Football, mostly because baseball itself is much less complicated than football. I’m not going to explain the rules of the game (it’s frikkin’ baseball), but I will say that it’s pretty easy to control as either team. The sound effects are pretty good for the time, from the crack of the bat to the crowd’s cheering, to the fanfares played between innings and when bases are stolen or loaded. The most entertaining part of the game, however, comes at inning breaks, when it cuts to the Jumbotron screen advertising random things from the scores in that day’s American League games to the day’s attendance to a plug for a waterskiier jumping across the Bermuda Triangle the following week. Goony!
As far as sports simulation on the Atari goes, Gamestar Baseball was a very good, intuitive game, and if you are into old-school sports games I would advise you to put this one near the top of the list.
That does it for Disk 8. Coming up next: the first side of Disk 9, which covers Jumbo Jet Pilot, Eastern Front 1941, Drelbs, Miner 2049er, and Dog Daze. See you then!
♥ Utah – I only give this one a heart because you ain’t gonna find a program like this in many other places. It gives you a map of Utah, then outlines a county. You’ve got to guess it and the county seat. It’s pretty much the only way you’re gonna learn these on a computer, dude, short of working at a post office or title company.
Fract1 – Gives you a rectangle or other object, a certain fraction of which is shaded. Guess the fraction. If you’re right, an ASCII space rocket takes off! USA! USA! USA! USA!
Slope – You give it two points on a graph. It finds the slope, y-intercept, and equation, and graphs it.
PFactors – Give it a number. It will give you its prime factors. Eventually. It takes a while to compute.
KeyFind – Another “press the right key program,” this one also draws a bit of a picture for each right key press then plays “The Stars and Stripes Forever” when you finish.
Aptitude – A college entrance exam, like the title screen says?!? No, just silly puzzles like:
Man overboard! Et cetera.
Quadrat – Solve a quadratic equation! Or get the solution and fill in the quadratic formula!
CompHist – A brief history of computing, from the dawn of time to 1980. You learn, then take a quiz. (Hint: the first computing tools were apparently fingers.)
PValue – Place Value. Uses ASCII drawings to help you learn decimal places, both before and after the point.
SolarSys – Learn about planets. Take a quiz. Laugh at the pitiful knowledge we had about some of the planets before Voyager 2 visited them (esp. Neptune). Cry when you realize Pluto isn’t a planet anymore.
Jeff.Q – Wouldn’t load. Presumably questions for the CATS program from disk 4, although it causes an error when I try to load it using said CATS program.
♥ ABoxes – Attribute Boxes. A fun, venn-diagram-esque game. You’re given two boxes, each with certain attributes (for example, one box will accept large things, while the other accepts only circles). You input a certain shape, color, and size, and the computer draws it either in one box or the other, in both boxes, or outside both boxes (i.e. a large yellow circle would go in both boxes, where a large green triangle would go in box 1, a small blue circle would go in box 2 and a small red square would go outside both boxes). Once you’ve put a few objects on the screen you guess what the attributes for each box it. Sometimes the attributes are negatives (e.g. one box only accepts things that are NOT blue).
AddWCar – It gives you an addition problem and you solve it (using the joystick). It lets you do the carrying as well. Notable only because the sound effects make it very stressful.
AlgSpell – I guess they were trying to go for two academic categories in one game here. A word quickly flashes on the screen and you’ve got to type it, spelled correctly and all. The gimmick: all the words have to do with algebra or higher math (words like “finite,” “hypotenuse,” or “vector”).
Americas – Give it a country in North or South America and it will give you the capital. Also vice versa. Can take a countries/capitals quiz. Fun?
Amortize – Loan Amortization. Give it a principal, interest rate, and a certain number of years and it’ll give you how much interest you will owe, along with monthly breakdown. Depressing.
Anthom – An antonym and homonym game. In the antonym game, it gives you a word and you type the opposite. The homonym game doesn’t work and just makes you play the antonym game anyway.
Astronom – Give it a day and time (in PST or PDT only, for some reason) and a longitude, and it gives you a bunch of statistics that contain the word “Greenwich” in them.
♥ ATrain – Alphabet Train. It gives you a word and you pick up letters from the Alphabet Train to spell it. Notable mostly for the OCD plungers that get mad when you pick a wrong letter and the fact that this is the game that taught me “I’ve Been Workin’ On the Railroad.”
Average – Put in numbers. It will give you the sum and average. Obviously made for teachers, since it says “Enter scores” and at the end “Press Return to do another student.”
Bagelsup – Bagels SUPREME!!! Just like that Bagels game from Disk 1, except with a two-player option. Still pretty much Master Mind.
BarChart – Put in info. It draws a pie or bar chart. I guess this was what passed for PowerPoint in 1980.
Compound – It’s supposed to teach you compound words. Really just an exercise in tedium, as it gives you something like “book mark” and you type “bookmark.”
Counting – It displays objects, moving objects, or plays beeps. You count them.
♥♥ Dairy – Dairy Farmer. This one gets two hearts because it’s the only thing on these disks worth playing for more than two minutes. A fairly advanced dairy farm simulator, where you buy cows, feed them and milk them, and sell the profits. You’ve got to maximize milk-producing by buying the right kind and number of cows for the acreage and feed storage capacity of your farm. You’ve got to be smart about it too, for after you gain a certain amount of profit the game ends and tallies up how efficient you were. It’s a challenge to do well, but a lot of fun, too.
Datasort – Enter up to 100 items. They get sorted alphabetically and/or numerically.
Decimals – Another arithmetic game, this one with decimals added to the mix.
Dinosaur – Some brief info about dinosaurs with a quiz at the end.
DulBingo – A 5×5 grid of numbers appears. Simple addition problems appear at the bottom of the screen. You select the answer to the problem in the grid. Once you get five in a row, you win. Can be two players.
♥ Engineer – I’m not sure what this game has to do with engineering, other than the fact that you build a bridge in it. You’re in a canyon and you can build either upward, to the right, or diagonally. The catch is there’s a little inspector guy wandering around and you can’t build above him (so you can’t just draw a line over the whole canyon). Instead, you’ve got to slowly build up so the inspector will be high enough for you to connect the top edges of the canyon. As you can see, often these bridges do not conform to sound engineering principles, but oh well, it’s still relatively fun.
English – A dubious spelling quiz. Dubious because in the age before computers could adequately synthesize voice the only way you could show a word to spell was to spell it! This clearly defeats the purpose of a spelling quiz. It’s OK anyway, since this particular quiz doesn’t spell everything right (moviestar is not one word, for example) so its education value is suspect anyway.
Estimate – Gives you a list of numbers out to two decimals then asks you to estimate the total. I guess the alternative is to add the numbers so this is a bit pointless as well, unless there’s some written lesson to go with this that I don’t have.
Excused – You get to save a list of names! For an excused list(?). Apparently I saved a list of names sometime in elementary school, which goes as follows:
- How should I know?
- Mr. Warbucks
- Name 1
- Name 2
- Name 3
- Name 4
- Name 5
- Name 6
- Name 7
- Name 8
- What a yutz!
- ZZZ… I’m at the bottom!
Fiboprn – Didn’t load
Flashcds – Another arithmetic quizzing program. Ye gads, how many different boring ways of making people solve addition problems are there?!?
Mult12 – Multiplication problems. Oddly enough you can only work on the tens, elevens, or twelves times tables.
♥ Doggie – A variation of that game played with eight pegs, four of each color, set in a row with one space in the middle. You have to move all the pegs of one color to the opposite side and vice versa. You can only move a peg into an empty space next to it, or by jumping one peg and one peg only. This version, instead of using pegs, uses barking dogs that are actually pretty cute and jump up and down and wag their tails and bark and all turn their head in a cascading fashion to look at the one dog you picked to move. Of all the versions of this simple game you can find this one is pretty fun to deal with.
Fraction – A variation of “guess the number” that uses fractions. It also has a number line that shrinks every time you guess to show you the possible range in which the number lies.
Goldbach – A proof of Goldbach’s conjecture, which states that every even number greater than two can be expressed as the sum of two prime numbers. You put in an even number and it gives you the primes that add up to it.
Graphit – You type in a graphing equation and the program graphs it. Doesn’t actually work.
Graphit8 – Same as the above, but the program actually works.
♥ HiSchool – High School Confidential. This was both a fun and frustrating experience. It was basically a text adventure like Zork that took place in high school. The object supposedly was to take at least six subjects and then graduate if you did well in the classes. In practice, however, you ended up wandering around campus, skipping classes and searching for the elusive hall pass (which expired after a while), since the game never tells you how to take classes. You’re all like “Take ye exam.” And the game says “You can’t take ye exam.” And you just have to sit there and wonder why you can’t take ye exam, because the game’s certainly not going to tell you, and there are no fancy graphics to help you out. Forsooth! Of special note, however, is if you ever wander into the school vault you end up in a dark passageway which winds around in the bowels of the school. Unfortunately you meet no trolls or grues and you just end up in the English room or something (assuming you find your way anywhere instead of wandering forever and dying of starvation). If I could figure out how to pass this game I’d be happy, but so far: nothin’!
HorzDril – Another freakin’ arithmetic program!! How many of these are there?!?!?!?
♥ Hurkle – You’re given a 10×10 grid, in which a Hurkle is hiding. You give a pair of coordinates and the game tells you in which direction the Hurkle hides (N, E, NW, etc.) Once you guess it, it appears and smiles for you! Awww! Notable mostly because of the goofy-looking hurkle and because you only have a limited number of guesses, so you can work on your deduction and direction skills.
MusicFl – Draws a staff (treble, bass, or both) and a note. You type what note it is, and then it plays it. Interesting for two reasons: it times how long it takes for you to guess each note (and works that in to your score), and according to the title screen it was created by James Brown?!? The Godfather of Soul? I guess he wanted funky schoolchildren to follow in his musical footsteps. Sadly, the game does not play “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” if you do well.
Nameplay – Strange little typing game where it gives you a name and then you type it. Strange because the list of names it gives you is, verbatim: Mommy, Daddy, Suzi, Shelley, Dixie, Cinder, Bingo, Barney, and Grandma. I guess it’s useful if a hillbilly needs to type the names of the people living in the second-story bedroom (including the dog).
Rockspel – A Hangman knockoff, but instead of building a hanging man you build another one of those ubiquitous ASCII rocket ships. USA! USA! USA! USA!
TTest – This is, and I quote, a “T-Test for two independant(sic) variables.” I have no idea what that is. The program doesn’t explain it. As far as I know, you enter in some numbers and then get an error message because the numbers weren’t valid.
Change – The program asks you for a certain amount of cents, and you have to tell it how many quarters, dimes, etc. you would have to give it. Effective for preparing young minds for the fast food industry.
Oregon – The lamest version of Oregon Trail ever. Your options are severely limited as to what you can purchase, you can’t name your traveling party, and instead of hunting you just type “BANG” to get food. Lame lame lame.
♥ Snark – From the smarty-pants programmers that brought you Hurkle. This game is very similar, with a unique twist: instead of just guessing coordinates, you input the center point and radius of a circle. If the Snark is inside the circle it is drawn in red; if it’s outside, it’s drawn in green, and if it’s on the circle, it’s drawn in white. Once the center of your circle matches the snark’s hiding place, it pops out and dances! Hurray! Quite a bit of thinking involved here, but it’s fun.
World – Like the American Capitals game on disk 6, but in Europe and Asia (and North Africa). Obviously outdated. Bonn isn’t the capital of nothin’ no more!
WhatIsIt – A picture gets drawn, and you guess what it is. Usually it’s pretty obvious, but sometimes the pictures may be a bit too crudely drawn:
Sadly, I got that one wrong.
WhatDoc – Doesn’t work.
Usage – Tests your knowledge of regular and irregular verb tenses, especially past. Yay.
Triples – Gives you Pythagorean triples less than a given number you put in. (Pythagorean triple = any three integers that can be the measurements of the sides of a right triangle.)
♥ Nuke – Why does this one have a heart? Oh, simply because this program details the inner workings of a friggin’ nuclear power plant, that’s why! Your job: maximize the power output inputting different control rod amounts without melting the plant down. That’s right, it’s Homer Simpson’s job, but even more primitive. Homer makes it look easy, though, as this is the diagram you get of the workings of the plant:
Then you get a crash course in how the control rods work, as well as a notice that this particular plant has no automatic safety precautions in place. Your mission: don’t be Chernobyl. Good luck!
Addition2 – The last program on all of these disks turns out to be. . .oh, look. Another addition quiz program. Kill me now.
So, what was the point of these disks, anyway? The range of education one expected to possess or gain by using these programs ranged the gamut from “find the key on the keyboard” to “operate a nuclear plant.” For whom were these disks intended? Who put them together? What does L.E.A.P. even stand for? Some, if not all, of these questions may never be answered by mankind in our lifetime, and go down in history as one of Earth’s greatest mysteries, next to “Where’s the beef?” and “No, really, how many roads must a man walk down? ‘Cause I’ve gone down a lot of ’em.”
In any case, I’m done with this L.E.A.P. stuff. Next time you read an Atari Review on this site, it will hopefully be of a game that doesn’t involve addition. Chau!
Vous vivez…pour maintenant…
Here’s a quick sub-category in my Atari Reviews that will be interspersed with the original ones. These are reviews of nine different “L.E.A.P.” disks that we possessed. Now, I don’t actually know what “L.E.A.P.” stands for, but presumably it’s something to do with education, since almost all of these are lame little BASIC programs that are often educational and rarely anything more. Since a lot of these programs are super-simple to play and describe and rarely have any interesting screenshots, I will give mostly a simple summary of what each one is, including more verbosity and maybe a screenshot if the program is in any way deserving of it. Any program of note I will also mark with a red heart (♥)
Note:each L.E.A.P. disk had a program on it called “Menu.” This program, when loaded, well, re-loaded the menu. Due to my desire not to be redundant, I’m not going to mention that on every disk here.
Second note: A reader of my blog may ask, “Why are you reviewing these when there isn’t a soul out there who would possibly find this information useful?”
You’ve got some nerve, mister.
Besides, you’re wrong! I write this blog mainly for myself, and I’d sure like to know what all these L.E.A.P. games are! So, with no further adieu, let’s get started.
Bagels – Like the game Master Mind, the object is to guess a 3-number sequence and the game will tell you (by using confusing terminology like “pico” and “fermi”) if you have a number in the right spot, the right number but the wrong spot, or no right numbers at all.
Trap – Guess the number with a twist: put in two numbers and the computer will tell you if the number is inside, higher, or lower than your range. Oh, you also only get six guesses total.
♥ Geography – Now this one’s an interesting one to play, although very outdated. It might make a fun game to play in the car or something. The object is to name a geographical location (you’re limited to continents, countries, U.S. states, Canadian provinces, U.S. state capitals, major world capitals, oceans, and major rivers) and then the computer names another one that starts with the last letter of the one you just named (e.g. Delhi-Iran-Nebraska-Athens). When you can’t think of one you type “challenge” and if the computer can’t think of one either, you win! If it can, you lose. Since the game was made in the early eighties there are some entries that don’t exist and some that would be valid today that didn’t exist then, but it’s still an exercise for the geography lover (Nate Winder, I’m looking in your direction!)
Romans – Two players alternate either converting Roman numerals into Arabic ones or vice versa.
MltBingo – Bingo, but using times tables. Since you aren’t given what numbers make up each square on the grid it’s basically just a multiplication quiz with patronizing comments (like “Tens are fun!”)
Scramwds – It gives you a word. You unscramble it.
Sinewave – You can plot out a sinewave equation. Useful if you lug an Atari around instead of a graphing calculator.
Hangman1 – Just a simple hangman game, with a disturbing message if you win:
*cue maniacal laughter*
Bourreau – The same Hangman game, but in French.
*cue snooty laughter*
Fanrose – Plots a polar graph: r=sin (n*Θ). Makes a fancy rose!
Mathquiz – Barebones elementary-school-level math quiz.
Statecap – Given the state, name the capital. Or vice versa. You can do it multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank style.
Findkey – Apparently for pre-schoolers (since the intro asks “What is your child’s name” and colors the screen pink or blue depending on gender), it shows a giant letter made of smaller letters, and asks you to find it on the keyboard.
Hangquot – Hangman again, but with famous quotes instead of just words. (Although I’m not sure of some of these quotes: “A fool’s honor is summer snow”?!? What the crap?)
Geometry – A very slow trigonometry lesson. That’s about it.
Graphics – A semi-interesting look into how some Atari graphics are created (the solution is a lot of POKE-ing).
♥ GeoQuiz – Kind of a reversal on the normal quiz, this one plays “20 questions” to try to guess the country you’re thinking of. Some of the questions are a little dated (did the country sign the Warsaw Pact, for instance), but nevertheless kind of a fun little game to see if you can stump the computer (or know enough about the country you’re thinking of to answer the questions right).
Lifequiz – Answer a bunch of questions and the program will tell you your life expectancy (mine is apparently 82 years).
Alcohol – I find this one hilarious. You enter in how much alcohol you’ve had, the proof of the liquor, and your weight, and it tells you how drunk you are. When is this program gonna get seriously used? “Hey, Jed, we’ve sure had a lot of beers tonight! Let’s see how drunk we are by using this educational program I found on this disk for my 25-year-old computer system! And if our blood alcohol level is over 100, we’ll know it’s OK to puke on the keyboard!”
Biorythm – Made by an author who can’t spell. This plots your biorhythm based on your birth date. If you want to know what a biorhythm is, look it up, man. I can’t do it all for you.
Calories – A calorie-counting program. Incredibly exciting, but obviously not too useful (it didn’t recognize “steak!”).
♥ Light – A scientific explanation of light. I only give this one a heart because it’s got some trippy graphics, man.
Remaindr – Give the computer a number and it divides it into a number it’s thinking of and give you the remainder (or tells you if it’s odd or even, or just if there is one or not on higher difficulty levels). Then, guess the number.
Matches – I dunno. The program’s got an error in it.
Algegrap – You can plot points, or a simple linear or quadratic equation.
Hanoi1 – A simple version of the Towers of Hanoi. You can choose from three to nine disks.
Morscode – Displays letters or numbers on the screen while sounding out the morse code STOP Useful to learn morse code STOP Messages are gibberish STOP
Noteprac – Gives you a music staff and a note on it. Name the note.
Numbline – Odd little program that lets you pick an upper limit and a number to be the multiplier. Then you fill in a six-digit number line under the limit you picked, using the multiplier for an increment. The title screen inexplicably features an ASCII rocket
♥ Slide – A pretty fun game for two to four players. Each player starts at the beginning of a line. Then the computer gives out three numbers and a player is allowed to perform any arithmetic operations they wish using the three numbers. The end result is how many spaces they move forward (provided, of course, that you can solve the math problem yourself). If you land on an opponent’s spot he/she gets bumped back to the start, a la Sorry.
Typing – A simple typing tutor.
♥ Volcano – Produced soon after Mt. St. Helens erupted, this gives you some facts about how devastating it was (and how idiotic people were by camping out waiting for the eruption). It also includes a little choose-your-own-adventure section which lets you see if you can survive a volcano erupting nearby. It’s pretty fun, until you realize that a lot of people played this game for real in 1980, and those who picked the wrong option ended up dead.
Primeset – Lists all the prime numbers from whatever you put in as an input until the end of time (or you hit the BREAK key). Also calculates cube roots (to two decimal places) and does a bubble sort routine. I have no idea what that is, but if you’re a math person you might.
Alphamus – Type in the alphabet. For every letter you type it plays the next note of the Alphabet Song. Yay.
Alnum2 – A tiny step up from the last program, this one picks a number or letter and you have to type it. The down side: no Alphabet Song. What a gyp.
Countsq – Squares appear on the screen. You count them. If you’re right, a ridiculous four-part harmonious tune plays. Rinse and repeat.
♥ Function – Fun mostly for its graphics, although the idea is intellectually stimulating as well. The computer picks a function (adding a number, subtracting or multiplying a number, multiplying AND adding a number, or random functions). You put a number into the “function” machine and guess what’ll come out the other end. The number then undergoes a painful-sounding process in a caulk gun and comes out the other end all multiplied and divided. After you guess the right outcome several times you guess the function! You win!
Hfile – Wouldn’t run.
Botch – Weird semi-hangman game that bites. There are no graphics, and the guessed phrases are gems such as “Branch on sleepy operator.” ?!?!?!?
Challeng – Another guess the word game! You compete against another player instead of a hangman’s noose this time. Instead of just pressing a letter key, though, you’ve got to move the cursor to the letter you want to guess using a joystick, adding a tedious step to an otherwise simple game.
♥ Haiku – A weird little program. You enter in eight phrases and it makes random poems out of them for you, for non-sequitur fun! Example, using random phrases taken from my other blog:
Simon – A simple Simon game. Each direction of the joystick is a different color (and musical tone). Copy the computer.
Tunein – Also a Simon game, this one has the added bonus of four players that rotate.
Count – Gives you a line of random letters, then you have to count how many of a certain letter are in the line (i.e. How many J’s are in this line?). If you get it right it plays “When the Saints Come Marchin’ In.”
Addition – You add single digits together. Yay.
Subtract – You subtract a single digit number from a double digit number (or a double digit number from itself). Yay.
SciQuiz – A true or false science quiz, made in 1981, although it’s more about the recent history of scientific discoveries than science itself. You decide if this question is obscure or not: “The World’s first transistor radio came from Texas Instruments in 1953. It used 4 germanium junction transistors and cost $40.” This is true, by the way.
OldMac – Match farm animals. Or count them. Or some other damn thing. The interface doesn’t make it clear.
Flags – It displays a flag. Guess what country it’s from. Of dubious educational quality. Compare:
Even taking into account that this program was made in the ’80’s, where the crap does the “C” come from?
Cats – Easy (for 1980) way to make a quick multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, or true/false test and print it.
Cats2 – Wouldn’t run.
Kris – Wouldn’t run.
The remaining disks I will review soon!
What could be more American than an ol’ fashioned game of football? Starbowl Football aims to bring the excitement of the gridiron into your own home! Now you, the armchair quarterback, can choose and execute the plays to lead your team to victory!
Of course, the preceding paragraph describes every football video game ever made. What it doesn’t say, however, is how freakin’ hard this particular one is! Consider this: I grew up with this Atari to play on. Instead of playing sports, I played with the computer. About the only things I knew about football is that a bunch of guys huddle, then hike the ball and run into each other. Eventually, somebody’d get a touchdown. I didn’t know how it happened, just that it did (and if I tried to play it with kids my own age, I’d get laughed at until I cried and hid under those giant tires they used to have in playgrounds). So, coming into this game, I had virtually no knowledge of how it worked.
Now consider that we got all these probably pirated games with no instruction manuals, and you had a recipe for the computer beating me soundly every single time without me knowing what was going on. Now add to this the fact that, even if I had the instruction manual, it had instructions such as this:
“Press and release the RED button on joystick to designate as eligible; otherwise, choose a pass pattern by pushing the joystick in the appropriate direction: square out, screen, fly, or slant in. TR will turn to face defense once programmed. Choose blocking assignments for OL (as a group) by pushing the joystick in the appropriate direction: sweep top, pass protect, trap middle, or sweep bottom. OL will turn to face defense once programmed.”
Heck, I barely understand that now, let alone when I was an eight-year-old computer nerd. Even playing the game now, knowing at least a marginal amount about football (thanks, EA Games!), I still can’t figure out how to execute some basic commands, like, say, passing the football! The quarterback just runs around with his arm raised, no matter what button I press or direction I run, until he passes the line of scrimmage, and if every play I call is a running play, the computer pretty much murders me.
There may be a fun game in Starbowl Football, but I sure as heck couldn’t figure it out. In this day and age there are tons of better football games out there anyway, so stick to something else and pass this one by.
The premier racing game back in the day, Pole Position puts you in a first-person-view F1 racing car. You pick a track from four options (although one is a practice course and all four have the exact same map, so I don’t really know what the difference is) and how many laps you will complete. Then, you’re off; but first, you complete a qualifying lap, which will determine in what position you begin the race, the pole position, of course, being first. You seem to have filled up your car with nitrous oxide instead of gasoline, however, since your car is at least twice as fast as any other car on the course. If you crash into anything (another car, a road sign, etc.) you will immediately reappear, but since the time ticks over a crash, it becomes more unlikely that you’ll finish the race with each crash. This is preferable to actual car racing, where each crash results in fireballs and thousands of dollars in property damage and hospital bills, so there’s something to be said for that.
Pole Position defined a lot of what makes up the racing car game genre, including checkpoints that increase your time remaining, the first-person view (instead of top-down), and many other innovations. The sound is surprisingly good for the Atari 8-bit era, and the course, while the same each time, is always pretty difficult due to the other cars on the track. Of special note is what I call the Dead Man’s Curve: a really sharp turn about halfway through the course that inevitably results in a crash with a red road sign off to the right of the road, unless you turn early enough, brake, or downshift (that’s right, you’ve gotta shift in this game too, but you only get two gears so it’s not too difficult). All in all, Pole Position isn’t just a pioneer, it’s a great game, and I recommend it for anyone into racing games.
Another racing game, PitStop has an added gimmick that Pole Position lacked: namely, the fact that racing is hard on a car and it might explode if you’re not careful (and not just by running into other cars or road signs)! The racing part is fairly elementary: you’re on a course, with a map in the corner that you kind of follow (the road gently curves every time there’s a bend on the map, but it’s not exact by any means). You race against some amount of yellow cars, whose main objective is apparently to bump into you like bumper cars (they even make a “bump” noise if you collide with one). Every bump wears down your tires a bit, but if you try to off-road it your tires wear down super-fast. Once the tires wear out too much, KABOOM! Your game’s over.
This is why, every lap, you have a chance to stop in the pit stop area and refit your tires (and fill up your gas, which is also running out). Unfortunately, this is done by a laborious process of selecting a man who slowly walks up to your car, grabs a tire (if you can get the pixel-perfect collision-detection to work), drags it over to a barrel, turns it blue, and drags it back to the car. All of this takes time out of the race. Since you’re just racing against yourself (and the clock) I guess it doesn’t matter, but it is a little annoying.
PitStop is an all right racing game, but it’s a little subpar when compared with games like Pole Position, as the racing part itself isn’t nearly as fun and the pit stop gimmick doesn’t do much for me than be annoying. Give it a shot if you want, but I’ll stick with Mario Kart.
You may think, with the racing motif on this disk, that a game with a name like Speedway Blast would be another along those lines, but that’s not the case. Here you’re some sort of car-driving, um, character, whose job is to pick up eggs left at intersections in an upscale suburban neighborhood somewhere. If you don’t pick up an egg fast enough it ends up hatching into a weird, buck-toothed creature who pees all over the road. At least, that’s sure what it looks like. You then have to shoot all the creatures and their, um, droppings, to advance to the next level, where (boy am I sick of writing this next phrase) the colors change and the enemies move faster. If you run into a monster or its leavings, you blow up. Also, you can drive off-road (in the grass), but if you hit a bush, house, swimming pool, or other landmark of suburbia, you also blow up.
I don’t really know where the “speedway” part comes into it, since you’re driving around some WASP neighborhood shooting monsters (although you can go pretty fast in later levels), but what really baffles me is the premise for the game. I mean, eggs left at intersections that hatch into buck-toothed creatures who pee all over the street? Who comes up with ideas like that for a game? Oh, that’s right. (Careful with that link: the video does contain some profanity.)
Anyway, the game itself is pretty fun, although in later levels it moves at an insane speed. I’d recommend it if you’ve got some time to kill in a weird way.
Honestly, I’ve got very little to say about this game. It’s an Atari version of Othello. You pick the computer’s difficulty level and whether you go first, although you’re always white. If you like Othello, this version’s a nice vanilla version of it.
That’s about all I got on that.
I like pie.
You would think that a video game from Parker Brothers would be more of a Monopoly or Risk-based title, but this is apparently a port of a Konami arcade game. You pilot the Super Cobra helicopter over some pretty unfriendly territory, what with the tanks shooting and rockets being shot at you. In addition, the terrain itself is pretty jagged and often you fly into tight tunnels with little room to maneuver. You’re armed with a gun and little bombs, and each press of the trigger alternates between shooting the gun and dropping a bomb. You’ve also got to keep an eye on your fuel meter, which can be refilled by shooting or bombing fuel containers on the ground. I’m not quite sure how that works, though, but if every time I needed to fill up my car I had to take a hood-mounted rocket launcher and blow up the nearest Chevron—well, let’s just say that I’d do a lot more driving.
In any case, after every two levels a really goofy tune plays and a message appears showing how many miles you’ve gone (1000 miles for each two levels passed). Also, every pair of levels share a common theme. Sometimes it’s just rockets and tanks in narrow caves or in cities, but sometimes you also have to contend with flying aliens or UFOs or, um, whatever is flying across in the screenshot above. (Ping-pong paddles? Happy flying fish?) What’s nice about this game is the unlimited continues: if you run out of lives you can start on the same level you were on, just with your score reset. This way even the most inept game player can still slog through and see the end of this game without too much repetitiveness.
Speaking of the end of the game, the objective is not to save the world from space invaders or save civilians or even blow up the enemy base. No, the very last level requires you to pick up a giant crate with a dollar sign emblazoned on the outside. That’s right, much like the “terrorists” from Die Hard, your real goal isn’t anything altruistic or even political; it’s simple thievery. Unfortunately, John McClane doesn’t end up driving a car over a ramp to collide with your helicopter in a giant fireball, as that would make this game about a thousand times more awesome.
Still, Super Cobra is an excellent game, with a lot of varied, challenging gameplay, colorful graphics, and fun sound and music. Definitely recommended.
So much for disk 7. Coming up next: Disk 8, featuring Dig Dug, Pogoman, Race in Space, Fort Apocalypse, and Gamestar Baseball. See you then!
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!