Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!


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Kangaroo…

Kangaroo is a 1982 arcade game developed by Sun Electronics and distributed by Atari.  The game is similar in play to Donkey Kong (as I am sure was intended by Sun) with a Kangaroo as the main character and monkey’s as the antagonists.  The goal of Kangaroo is to score as many points as possible by collecting fruits and ‘punching’ the monkeys.  The monkeys are diabolical and will throw or drop apples and apple cores at the kangaroo.  If an apple hits your Kangaroo, you will lose a life and have to start over at the bottom of the screen.   You can advance to the next screen (and score some bonus points) by rescuing joey at the top of the screen.  You can also score additional points by ringing the bell, which will regenerate the fruits.

The arcade units of Kangaroo ran on a Zilog Z80 microprocessor with a General Instruments AY8910 sound generator.  Kangaroo was ported to the Atari 2600, the Atari 5200, and a version was developed for the Atari 8-bit computer line, but never officially released.

Although Kangaroo was only a modest hit in the arcades, Kangaroo was featured on the CBS Saturday Supercade cartoon lineup in 1984.

2600 version…

In 1983, Atari released Kangaroo for the 2600.  Given the limitations of the 2600 back in the eighties, Kangaroo is a pretty good port.  The graphics, although monochrome, are pretty well done and the flicker found in many 2600 games is minimal.  Kangaroo for the 2600 has solid control with a standard CX-40 joystick and the 2600 version features three of the arcade’s four levels.  Given the limitations of the 2600’s TIA chip, the sound for Kangaroo is also pretty well done.   Kangaroo for the 2600 is not an easy game to play and it is surprising addictive….you will find yourself hitting the reset switch over and over!

5200 version…

The 5200 version of Kangaroo was also released in 1983 and is a solid arcade port.  The graphics are well done, but still mostly monochrome.  The 5200 version does feature all four levels of the arcade version and the sound is also well done, but not substantially better than the 2600 version.  Control with the standard 5200 joystick takes a little practice, but Kangaroo does not suffer from the control problems that many 5200 games have.  One strange thing about Kangaroo for the 5200 is that there is not any ‘game over’ message.  When you have lost your last life, the game just stops.  The first couple of times that I played it, I thought that the game just froze.  Even the 2600 version at least takes you back to the start screen.

Kangaroo for the 5200

Kangaroo for the 5200

7800 & 8-bit versions…

Sadly, no 7800 version of Kangaroo was ever developed for the 7800.  For the Atari 8-bit computer line, the 5200 version has been ported over and is available to be played.

Overall thoughts…

If you like Donkey Kong, you will also like Kangaroo.  Both the 2600 and 5200 versions are inexpensive, easy to come by, and fun to play.  If you have a 2600 or 5200, you should pick up a copy of Kangaroo.  Hopefully, one of the 7800 programmers will develop a 7800 version.  With the latest advances in cart boards for the 7800, it should be possible to produce a near arcade perfect port.  Also, with the advances in cart technology for the 2600, I would not be surprised to see one of the 2600 programmers develop a more arcade perfect version for the trusty old VCS!

@Atarigameguy


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Berzerk and Frenzy…

Berzerk…

Berzerk is a 1980 video game developed by Stern Electronics of Chicago.  Supposedly Alan McNeil, the designer of Berzerk, had a dream about a black and white video game involving fighting robots.  During the development of Berzerk, Defender was released and the decision was made to release Berzerk in color instead of B&W.  A few early units were, supposedly, released in B&W with color overlays.   The color units were produced in two distinct batches with the second batch having more variety in the colors of the robots and the number of bullets that they fire.  The Berzerk arcade systems are based around a Z80 CPU and it is one of the first video games to feature speech synthesis.  This may not seem like a big deal in 2013, but it was really amazing in 1980.  The first time anyone played Berzerk, they had to be amazed to hear the game talk to them!

Berzerk at Funspot

Berzerk at Funspot

Gameplay…

The concept of Berzerk is pretty simple…the player is a humanoid in a maze with a bunch of killer robots.  To survive, you must shoot the robots before they shoot you.  You also have to avoid running into the robots, the electrified walls, and Evil Otto.  Evil Otto adds a significant amount of complexity to the game as you must avoid him as you can not kill him.  Alan supposedly named Evil Otto after the security chief at a previous employer.  The robots in Berzerk are not the ‘sharpest tools in the shed’ as they have a tendency to kill themselves by running into the walls or each other.  Although the concept of the game is simple,  players would find themselves putting quarter after quarter into the game.   Berzerk was the first popular ‘shoot em up’ video game and all of today’s popular shooter games can trace their roots back to 1980.  Berzerk was ported to the Vectrex and the Atari 2600 and 5200 consoles.

Frenzy…

In 1982, Stern followed up Berzerk with Frenzy.  Frenzy was similar, but a little more difficult than Berzerk.  There are several key differences between Berzerk and Frenzy.  In Frenzy:

  • The walls are not electrified
  • Portions of the walls can be shot through, other parts ‘reflect’ bullets
  • The humanoid will not die if he comes into contact with a robot
  • Crazy Otto can be shot and ‘temporarily’ killed
  • Every fourth screen, there are interactive maze elements

At least in Frenzy, it is possible to kill Evil Otto.  Frenzy was ported to the Colecovision, but not to any Atari home consoles.

2600 Version…

The 2600 version of Berzerk was released in 1982 and was a smash hit.  Berzerk’s simple graphics were faithfully replicated on the 2600 and the game play was almost identical to the arcade.  Atari included 12 variations including ones with and without Evil Otto, non-shooting Robots, and even one where Evil Otto can be shot and will disappear for a few seconds.  I fondly remember playing Berzerk over and  over on my Sears Video Arcade (Atari 2600) in the early 80′s.  It is a fantastic game and there was something cool about the green label and box.  There was one big thing missing, however, from Atari’s 2600 version…voice synthesis.  Back in 1982, most of us figured that this just could not be done on a 2600.

In 2002, Mike Mika proved this wrong when he developed an improved version of Berzerk featuring voice synthesis.  In ‘Berzerk Voice Enhanced‘, Mike also improved the graphics to make them more closely resemble the arcade.  At various points in Mike’s version you will hear ‘intruder alert!’, ‘chicken, fight like a robot’, and ‘humanoid must not escape’.   Berzerk is a great game for the 2600, but Berzerk VE is an outstanding game that belongs in every 2600 collection!

5200 Version…

The 5200 version of Berzerk was released in 1983 and became an instant classic.  Like its 2600 cousin, the 5200 version faithfully replicates the arcade graphics and game play.  The 5200 version takes it to the next level, however, and features full voice synthesis.  Mike’s Berzerk VE for the 2600 is pretty awesome, but the 5200 version is one step better.  The voice synthesis is tied to the game play so that when Evil Otto is about to appear, you will hear ‘intruder alert!’.  The 5200 port is one of the best arcade conversions in the 5200 library and belongs in every 5200 collection.  The only thing missing is a coin slot and ‘coins detected in pocket’.

7800 Version…

Sadly, no 7800 version of Berzerk was developed.  Until this week, 7800 fans had to settle for playing the 2600 version of Berzerk or Berzerk VE on their 7800.  This coming weekend, at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, everything changes as Berzerk/Frenzy will be released for the 7800 by AtariAge.  The latest game(s) from 7800 master programmer Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo, will be released with a full color box and eight page manual.  Bob has managed to pack both Berzerk and Frenzy into a single 48K, non-bank switched cart.  Even more amazingly, the games feature voice synthesis for an authentic, arcade quality experience.  If that wasn’t good enough, Bob includes two player versions of the games as well.  Having tested the latest release candidate for these two games, I can say that Bob has done a fantastic job!  For those lucky enough to be in Portland this weekend, be sure to pick up a copy for your collection.  For those of you who can’t make it to Portland, don’t worry, Berzerk/Frenzy will soon be available in the AtariAge store.

Berzerk for the 7800

Berzerk for the 7800

One really cool note that I should add is that Alan McNeil was an adviser on this project and assisted Bob with tips and ideas for the games.  Thus, Bob’s 7800 versions are as close to the arcade originals as possible, given the constraints of the 7800.

Frenzy for the 7800

Frenzy for the 7800

Overall thoughts..

Berzerk is now available for all three Atari systems and there is no bad version.  If you have a 2600, go for the Voice Enhanced version as the voice really makes this game.  The 5200 version is one of that console’s best arcade ports and belongs in every library.  For 7800 fans, Bob’s Berzerk/Frenzy is destined to become another classic that fills a void in that console’s library.  No matter which console you have, Berzerk belongs in your collection.  If you are lucky enough to have a 7800, you will absolutely want to get a copy of Bob’s new game!

Wild for Berzerk!

Wild for Berzerk!

@Atarigameguy


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Crazy Otto…

Today, the postman brought some video game history…he brought Crazy Otto for the Atari 7800…

In 1981, MIT classmates Kevin Curran, Doug Macrae, and John Tylko got together and formed General Computer Corporation (GCC).  Their first project was to develop an enhancement kit for the arcade version of Missile Command that they called ‘Super Missile Attack’.  As players got good at arcade games, they were able to play the games longer and, thus, spent less money.  The enhancement kit would add complexity to the game, helping restore the order of balance for the arcade owners.  Atari was not at all pleased and sued GCC.  Ultimately, the suit was settled with GCC actually developing games for Atari, such as Food Fight.  In the settlement, GCC agreed not to sell any more arcade enhancement kits without the game developers permission.

Prior to the suit by Atari, GCC had also developed an enhancement kit for Pac-man called Crazy Otto.  The enhancements included new and varying mazes, moving fruits, a Pac-man like character with legs (Crazy Otto) and ghosts that had morphed into cute little creatures with antenna’s.  After settling the suit with Atari, GCC approached Midway with Crazy Otto.  Midway was still waiting on Namco to release the follow on to Pac-man and loved the work that GCC had done.  In a stroke of marketing genius, Midway took the Crazy Otto enhancements and turned them into Ms. Pac-man.  Ms. Pac-man was a monster hit for Midway, selling over 100,000 arcade units.

Crazy Otto for the 7800

Crazy Otto for the 7800

Very few people have had the opportunity to play Crazy Otto as it was never officially released back in 1981 (since Midway had turned it into Ms. Pac-man).  In 2010, through persistent efforts of the gaming community, Crazy Otto surfaced at the Pax-East conference in Boston.  It also surfaced on the AtariAge forum through the efforts of Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo.  Although Bob shared his work with the community, the only way to play Crazy Otto was if you had a Cuttle Cart 2 (multi-cart for the 7800) or via emulation.  Finally, after more than a three year wait, AtariAge has made copies of Crazy Otto available on cartridges.  Last week, when they went up for sale, I wasted no time in ordering a copy for my collection.

Like most of you, I had never seen Crazy Otto running on a real arcade machine, but a couple of ‘poor quality’ videos are posted on the internet.  Comparing these videos to the 7800 version shows that, once again, Bob has done his usual great work.  The game play, graphics, and sounds are spot on.  He even modified the intermission graphics to match those of Crazy Otto.

If you like Pac-man games or just want to hold some video game history in your hands, you need to head over to AtariAge and get yourself a copy of Crazy Otto!

Wild for Crazy Otto!

Wild for Crazy Otto!

@Atarigameguy


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BurgerTime…

BurgerTime is a 1982 video game developed by Data East and distributed by Bally-Midway in the US.  The game was originally called Hamburger, but was re-named before being released in the US.  BurgerTime was a major hit for Data East and it was offered as both an upright cabinet and as a cocktail table.  The BurgerTime arcade units were powered by a 6502 CPU, had mono sound, and used a standard 19” CRT.

Gameplay…

BurgerTime is a maze game where the object is to complete hamburgers by walking on them and causing them to ‘drop’ one or more levels.  The main character in the game is chef ‘Peter Pepper’ and he must avoid being ‘killed’ while making hamburgers and maneuvering around the four different mazes.   Peter has to deal with three antagonists:

  • Mr. Hotdog:  the red guy that chases Peter
  • Mr. Pickle:  the green guy that chases Peter
  • Mr. Egg:  the white guy that chases Peter

Peter must avoid these antagonists to keep from losing a life.  He can either out maneuver them, cause them to drop, drop hamburger ingredients on them, or spray them with pepper which ‘freezes’ them for a few seconds.  Peter has a limited number of pepper sprays but, periodically, a bonus food will appear on the maze, allowing Peter to earn an ‘extra’ pepper spray.   BurgerTime was ported to a number of home consoles of the era including the Atari 2600, the Colecovision, the Intellivision, and the NES.

2600 Version…

The 2600 version of BurgerTime was released by the M-Network (Mattel) in 1982.  As with most 2600 games of the era, the graphics are dramatically simplified with all of the sprites being mono-colored.  In fact, the graphics are pretty horrible as the hotdog, pickle, and egg are just flickering colored squares and it is hard to judge exactly where they are at and, therefore, it is hard to ‘drop’ them.  Control with the standard CX40 joystick is pretty bad and BurgerTime for the 2600 is not really much fun to play.  I paid a $1 for a copy of BurgerTime and that was about 99 cents too much.  Unless you are a die hard 2600 and BurgerTime fan, don’t waste your time or money on this horrible port.  Hopefully, in the not too distant future, someone in the homebrew community will develop an updated and improved 2600 version of BurgerTime.

5200 Version…

An official 5200 version of BurgerTime was never developed, probably due to the video game crash of 1983 and Atari’s cancelling of the 5200 in 1984.  Fortunately, in 2004, Ken Siders developed a BurgerTime clone for the 5200 that he named ‘Beef Drop’.  Ken started this as an April Fool’s joke on the AtariAge forum, initially claiming that he had found a lost prototype.  In fact, Ken was planning to develop Beef Drop for the 5200 and posted an early version of his work as a tease.  Ken’s 5200 version has all of the arcade elements and the graphics, while simplified, are pretty awesome for a 5200 game.   Ken includes all four arcade screens and took full advantage of the 5200’s pokey sound chip to replicate the arcade sounds.  Control with a standard 5200 joystick is good and the game does not suffer from analog control like many other ports for the 5200.  If you are a fan of the 5200, I can highly recommend that you obtain a copy of Beef Drop for your collection!

7800 Version…

An official 7800 version of BurgerTime was also never developed, so for many years 7800 owners had to make do with the horrible 2600 version.  In 2006, Ken Sliders came to the rescue with his version which he also called ‘Beef Drop’.  Ken’s 7800 version looks and plays like the arcade and includes a cool intro screen.  Since only one button is required for this game, you can use a standard CX40 joystick.  Two versions of Beef Drop were developed for the 7800.  The initial carts that Ken made available had a Pokey chip for arcade quality sound.  My copy is the standard copy without the Pokey chip, but Ken still did a great job with the sounds for the standard Atari TIA chip.  There is absolutely nothing bad that I can say about Beef Drop for the 7800…Ken has made this game almost arcade perfect!  If you have a 7800, you need to go straight to the AtariAge store and order yourself a copy of this great game!!!

Beef Drop for the 7800

Beef Drop for the 7800

Overall thoughts…

Before doing the research for this post, I didn’t really know too much about BurgerTime.  I had purchased Beef Drop for my 7800 about a year ago, but had played some of my other classic games more often and, like b*nQ, it was just taking up space in my collection.  In the past couple of weeks, as I prepared for this post, I have really enjoyed learning about BurgerTime and playing Ken’s awesome versions for the 5200 and 7800.  Although I recommend skipping Mattel’s 2600 version, you can’t go wrong with Beef Drop for either your 5200 or 7800.   If you have multiple systems, Ken’s 7800 version is almost arcade perfect and a must have!

One final note is that Ken also as developed an 8-bit version of Beef Drop for the XEGS and Atari 8-bit computers.  This too is available from AtariAge.

@Atarigameguy


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Q*bert…

Q*bert is a 1982 video game developed by Gottlieb.  Warren Davis and Jeff Lee co-developed Q*bert and gave him a long nose so that he could shoot projectiles.  Fortunately, the shooting aspect of the game was dropped and Q*bert became the lovable character that we all know.  In fact, Q*bert was the third most merchandised game, after Donkey Kong and Pac-man.  Q*bert was a major hit for Gottlieb with more than 25,000 arcade units sold.  It was offered as both an upright cabinet and a cocktail table.  The cocktail table units are fairly rare as only a few hundred were manufactured.  The Q*bert arcade units were powered by an Intel 8086 cpu and had mono sound and used a standard 19” CRT.  Q*bert was ported to a number of home consoles of the era including the Atari 2600, & 5200, the Colecovision, the Intellivision, and the NES.

Gameplay…

Q*bert is an isometric 2D platform game that fools you into thinking that it is 3D.  Q*bert must jump diagonally from cube to cube and change the colors to the target color.  In advanced stages, Q*bert must change the cube colors multiple times to reach the target color.  Q*bert has to deal with several antagonists including:

  • Coily the snake:  The purple snake that hatches and chases Q*bert
  • Ugg and wrong way:  the purple guys that move along the side of the cubes
  • Sam: the green guy that changes the cube colors back
  • -Red balls will appear at the top of the pyramid and bounce down and off the cubes

Q*bert must avoid any of the red or purple advisories to keep from losing a life.  To avoid Coily, Q*bert can jump onto one of the color disks besides the pyramid of cubes and be whisked away to the top.  If Coily is close enough, he will follow and jump off the cubes.  Occasionally, a green ball will appear.  If Q*bert contacts this ball, time will stand still, allowing Q*bert to change cube colors unimpeded.  When all of the cube colors have been changed to the target color, Q*bert advances to the next level.  If Q*bert loses a life, he will say something like…@#?&!

2600 Version…

The 2600 version of Q*bert was released by Parker Brothers 1983.  Later on Atari released Q*bert under their own label, so you may run across this version.  Both versions are exactly the same.  The 2600 incarnation of Q*bert is typically highly rated and definitely plays like that arcade.  As with most 2600 games of the era, the graphics are dramatically simplified with all of the sprites being mono-colored.  There is no intro screen and, sometimes, it is hard to tell what level you are at.  Control with the standard CX40 joystick is good and Q*bert is fun to play.  With today’s technology such as the Melody board, I am wondering if someone will take advantage of 32K of memory and the ARM cpu to develop an updated 2600 version of Q*bert.  This game just screams for an update…any 2600 homebrew developers listening?

5200 Version…

The 5200 version of Q*bert was also released by Parker Brothers in 1983 and, compared to the graphics of the 2600, it looks much better.  The 5200 is capable of some pretty good graphics, so I wonder if the developers at Parker Brothers just settled for ‘good enough’?  The game has mono-color sprites and no intro screens, but the cubes look pretty good .  It also suffers from the 5200’s analog, non-self-centering joystick.  The game designers tried to compensate by having you hold down the fire button in addition to moving the joystick in the direction that you want to move Q*bert.   Even using a refurbished 2nd generation gold Best Electronics joystick, it was hard to control the movements and I found my Q*bert periodically committing suicide by jumping off the pyramid.  If the 5200 is your only system, I am sure that you will adapt as the control isn’t impossible, just more challenging than in the 2600 version.  All in all, Q*bert  is easy to come by, inexpensive, and worth having in your 5200 collection.

7800 Version…

Parker Brothers never developed a 7800 version of Q*bert, so for years 7800 owners had to make do with the 2600 version.  In 2007, Ken Sliders came to the rescue with his version which he has called b*nQ.  B*nQ is looks and plays like the arcade version and includes intro screens and to help the player know which level they are on and what the target color is.  Since only one button is required for this game, you can use a standard CX40 joystick.  The 7800 version doesn’t suffer any of the control problems of the 5200 version and is a blast to play!  There is absolutely nothing bad to say about b*nQ for the 7800…Ken has made this game almost arcade perfect!  If you have a 7800, you need to go straight to the AtariAge store and order yourself a copy of this great game!!!

Overall thoughts…

Before doing the research for this post, I hadn’t really played Q*bert very much.  I had purchased b*nQ about a year ago, but had played some of my other classic games more often and b*nQ was just taking up space in my collection.  In the past couple of weeks, as I prepared for this post, I have almost become addicted to this game.  No matter which Atari system you have, you should definitely have a copy of Q*bert in your collection.  If you have multiple systems, Ken’s b*nQ is amazing and blows the others out of the water!

b*nQ for the 7800

b*nQ for the 7800

@Atarigameguy


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Joust…

Joust is a 1982 video game developed by Williams Electronics.  John Newcomer was the primary developer of Joust and his goal was to develop a two player arcade flying game totally different than the multitude of space themed games of the era.   Joust was definitely a unique concept for the time and was a good seller for Williams with more than 26,000 arcade units sold.  It was offered as both an upright cabinet and a cocktail table.  The cocktail table units were unique in that both players sat on the same side.  This allowed Williams to use the same ROM in both types of arcade units.  The cocktail units are pretty rare as only a few hundred were manufactured.

Gameplay…

In Joust, you must ride your ostrich and compete against enemy knights riding buzzards.  You can ‘kill’ an enemy knight in a joust by ramming him by being at a slightly higher flying level.  When you kill an enemy knight, he will turn into an egg that you must then capture before it hatches.  If the egg hatches, the knight will become the next more-challenging nemesis (a Bounder will become a Hunter, a Hunter will become a Shadow Lord and so on). After the egg hatches, a buzzard will fly out to pick up the new enemy knight.

In the first two waves, the platforms at the bottom of the screen allow you to walk over the lava pits, but in later waves, the platforms will be burned away.  Also, in later waves, flames will start to burn in the lava pits.  Sometimes, a pterodactyl will show up, in later waves, and try to fiercely charge at you.  The only way you can ‘kill’ the pterodactyl is to ram him in the mouth to disintegrate him.

If you fly too close to either of the lava pits, a lava troll can reach out and grab your mount by the legs and pull you both into the lava. If this happens, you must have your mount repeatedly flap really hard to escape.  Also, in later waves, the platforms will collapse and disintegrate. Occasionally, there will be an egg wave where you must collect all the enemy eggs before they hatch.

2600 Version…

Released in 1983, the 2600 version of Joust has dramatically simplified graphics, mono-color sprites, and no fire pits.  Additionally, the eggs will bounce around, rather than remaining stationary.   As far as the game play goes, the 2600 version is one of the better arcade ports of the era.  Control with the standard CX40 joystick is good and it is fun to play.  With today’s technology such as the Melody board, I am wondering if someone will take advantage of 32K of memory and the ARM cpu to develop an updated 2600 version of Joust.  Even if this doesn’t happen, Joust for the 2600 is a solid port and worth having in your collection.

5200 Version…

The 5200 version of Joust was also released in 1983 and, compared to the graphics of the 2600, it really looks awesome!  With the exception of the simplified, mostly mono-color sprites, it is, graphically, almost a perfect arcade port.  The 5200 version looks and sounds great and belongs in every 5200 collection.  I will say that the game play does suffer from the 5200’s analog joystick.  Even using a refurbished 2nd generation gold Best Electronics joystick, it was hard to control the movements of my ostrich.  If the 5200 is your only system, I am sure that you will adapt as the control isn’t impossible, just more challenging than in the 2600 version.  All in all, Joust is easy to come by and inexpensive and belongs in every 5200 collection.  BTW, there is an almost identical version available for the Atari 8-bit computer line.

7800 Version…

The 7800 version of Joust was developed for the 1984 release of the console.  As one of the early releases, millions of copies were manufactured and it is still possible to find sealed copies for less than $10.  If you have a 7800, this game positively  belongs in your collection.  It is even closer to the arcade version than the 5200 version and the control is much better with a digital joystick.  In fact, since only one button is required for this game, I prefer to use a standard CX40 joystick.  There is absolutely nothing bad to say about Joust for the 7800…Joust, in fact, demonstrates that the 7800 was definitely a most capable home arcade system!

Joust for the 7800

Joust for the 7800

Overall thoughts…

Before doing the research for this post, I really didn’t know that much about Joust.  Obviously, I was aware of the game, but can’t remember playing it in the arcade and I didn’t have a copy of the 2600 version back in the 80’s.  All I can say is that I really missed out on a classic game that definitely differentiated itself from all of the space shooters of the early 80’s.  No matter which Atari system you have, you should definitely have a copy of Joust in your collection.  If you have multiple systems, the 7800 version is the hands down winner!

@Atarigameguy


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Dig Dug…

Dig Dug is a 1982 arcade game released by Namco and distributed by Atari outside of Japan.  The goal in Dig Dug is to score as many points as possible by digging and ‘killing’ the two types of antagonists…Pookas and Fygars.  There are two ways to ‘kill’ Pookas and Fygars…by dropping rocks on them or by inflating them until they ‘pop’.  The farther down that you dig and ‘kill’ your enemies, the more points you will score.  Additionally, double points are awarded, if Fygars are pop’d horizontally.  Finally, if a player drops two rocks in  a round, bonus items, such as fruits, will appear on the screen and additional points are awarded for ‘eating’ these items.

Dig Dug was designed to run on Namco’s Galaga arcade board (3x Z80 CPU’s) and was extremely popular.  Many people consider Dig Dug one of the best arcade games of the era.  The game, with it’s simple concept and graphics was a natural to port to home systems.  It was ported to the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, Intellivision, and just about every other 8-bit home console/computer.  The one exception was the Colecovision…a Dig Dug port was developed by Atarisoft, but never officially released.

2600 Version…

The Atari 2600 version of Dig Dug was released in 1983 and, although the graphics were simplified, the game play is intact and solid.  Dig Dug, Pooka, and Fygars have simplified mono-color sprites and the background graphics and rocks are not pretty to look at, but the 2600 version is fun to play and it has a cool start screen!  With the capabilities of the Melody board and the talent of some of today’s homebrew programmers, I wonder how long it will be before someone makes an enhanced Dig Dug for the 2600?

5200 Version…

The 5200 version of Dig Dug was also released in 1983 and features improved graphics and sound over it’s 2600 counterpart.  Dig Dug, Pooka, and Fygar are still rendered in mono-color graphics, but the background and rocks are much closer to the arcade version.  Control with the standard 5200 analog joystick is solid and the game play is very close to the arcade.  Although it should have been possible to have multi-color sprites which would have improved the appearance of the game, Dig Dug for the 5200 is solid and a great addition to every 5200 collection!

7800 Version…

Dig Dug for the 7800 was one of the release titles for the system and is the ‘premier’ version for 8-bit Atari consoles.  The sprites for all of the characters are rendered in multi-color, there is a cool start screen, and the sound (usually a short coming for the 7800) is well done.  The NES version may have slightly sharper graphics, but the 7800 version is that hands down winner for Atari console versions.  All of the arcade elements and scoring are present and it is a blast to play.  If you have a 7800, this game is a must have for your collection!

Dig Dug for the 7800

Dig Dug for the 7800

Overall thoughts…

Back in the eighties, I played Dig Dug a few times, but had never really learned much about the game.  In doing the research for this post, I have learned how the scoring works, the strategy for playing Dig Dug, and why so many people have such fond memories of this great game.  100’s of Thousands (if not millions) of Dig Dug cartridges were made for all three Atari 8-bit consoles, so they are easy to find and inexpensive.  No matter which Atari console you have, Dig Dug belongs in your collection!

@Atarigameguy


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Pole Position…

Pole Position is a 1982 racing video game developed by Namco.  It was licensed to Atari for release in the US and became a smash hit.  It was the most popular coin op game in 1983 and Atari sold more than 20,000 Pole Position arcade units.  Pole Position came in both an upright cabinet and a ‘cockpit’ cabinet where the player could sit inside.

In the game, the player controls a Formula One race car on the Fuji racetrack.  First you must qualify your car, then race against computer opponents.  One of the iconic moments in the game is at the start when you hear ‘Prepare to Qualify’.   Pole Position was one of the first video games to have product placement.  Billboards in the game feature company logos including Agip, Cannon, Champion, Marlboro, Martini, Namco, and Pepsi .  These logos varied by country and included Atari, 7-Eleven and Dentyne in the US.  The arcade units were powered by a Z80 CPU and Namco sound units.  Pole Position was ported to a number of home consoles including the Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800, the Intellivison, and the Vectrex.

Atari 2600…

The 2600 version of Pole Position was released by Atari in 1983.  Play is close to the arcade and control with a standard Atari joystick is solid.  Most reviewers give Pole Position high marks, but I am not impressed with the 2600 version.  The graphics are horrible and don’t look anything like the Fuji race track.   The computer generated opponent cars are ‘blocky’ and you have to use a lot of imagination to see them as Formula One race cars.  Also there are no billboards and the crash graphics are pretty lame.  Even for a 1983 2600 game, Atari should have been able to do a better job with the graphics.

Atari 5200…

The 5200 version of Pole Position was also released by Atari in 1983 and, compared to the 2600 version, it must have seemed pretty amazing.  The graphics are dramatically improved and the track definitely looks like Fuji.  The cars are less ‘blocky’ and control with a standard 5200 analog joystick is solid.  The game play is very close to the arcade and it is challenging to weave your way around all of the computer generated opponents.  Surprisingly, the ‘Prepare to Qualify’ announcement at the start of the game is missing.  Given the awesome voice synthesis in Berzerk, we know it is possible to do this on the 5200.  As good as Pole Position is on the 5200, it could be even better.  The billboards are present, but they are all blank and it should be possible to make the cars less ‘blocky’.  All in all Pole Position on the 5200 is a must have for any 5200 collector.  It was the initial ‘pack in’ game for the 5200 and is inexpensive and vey easy to find.

Atari 7800…

The 7800 version of Pole Position was developed in 1984 and released with the system in 1986.  Actually, the 7800 version is Pole Position II which is even better!  It features the option to select one of four tracks to race and dramatically improved graphics over the 5200 version.  Both the player’s and the computer generated opponent cars actually look like Formula One race cars and billboards are present (even if they all have Atari logos on them!).   One thing that really stands out in the 7800 version is the crash graphics.  The ‘explosion’ actually looks pretty good and it is cool to see the tires bouncing away from the car.  The sound effects are also pretty good, considering that this is one of the weak points of the 7800.  Unfortunately, however, the ‘Prepare to Qualify’ announcement is still missing.  Pole Position was the ‘pack in’ game for the system and was also sold separately.  It is easy to find and inexpensive, often selling for as little as $1.  A copy of Pole Position II belongs in every 7800 collection.

Recommendations…

If you only have one Atari console, then, by all means, pick up Pole Position for which ever system you have.  If you have more than one Atari console, then the 7800 version, with better sound and graphics and four tracks to play, is the clear winner!

@Atarigameguy

Wild for Pole Position!

Wild for Pole Position!


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Millipede…

Millipede is an arcade game developed by Atari and released in 1982.  Millipede is the sequel to Centipede and the original title for the game was ‘Centipede Plus’.  The game play is similar to Centipede with a number of new features:

  • The Earwig acts the same as the scorpion in Centipede and makes the mushrooms poisonous which will cause the  millipede to drop to the bottom of the screen.
  • The Bee is the same as the flea in Centipede, dropping mushrooms in a line.
  • The Spider behaves the same as in Centipede. More than one spider can appear at the same time on higher levels.
  • The Inchworm slows all enemies, for a short period of time, when hit.
  • The Beetle moves around, then climbs up, turning any mushrooms it touches into invincible flowers. When it is hit, everything on the screen moves down one row.
  • The Dragonfly drops mushrooms while zigzagging down the screen.
  • The Mosquito bounces off the sides of the screen as it descends. When it is hit, everything on the screen moves up one row.
  • The DDT bomb can be blown up, destroying all enemies and mushrooms within the blast radius. Whenever the mushrooms scroll down, a new DDT bomb is added at the top of the screen. Up to four DDT bombs can be in play at one time.

One of the neat things about Millipede is that it allows you to start at different point values.  Thus, an experienced player can skip some of the easier levels.  The Millipede arcade units ran off of standard Atari hardware of the time with a trackball, a fire button, a single 6502 CPU, and two Pokey chips.  Millipede was a moderate hit for Atari, but did not sell as well as Centipede.  Millipede was ported to a number of systems including the Atari 2600, Atari 8-bit computers, and the NES.  A version was developed for the 5200, but was never officially released.

2600 Version…

Millipede for the 2600 was released in 1984 and is one of the more challenging carts to find as this was during the video game crash and not as many carts were produced.  Fortunately, Millipede was included as one of the games on the Atari Flashback 2 and can also be played on a 2600 multi-cart.  Like the 2600 version of Centipede, the graphics and sound are lacking, but the game play is solid, the flicker is minimal, and it includes all of the arcade elements.  the 2600 version of Millipede uses a 16kb cart which is one of the largest ever used by Atari.  You can read more about the 2600 version of Millipede here.

5200 Version…

A port of Millipede was developed for the 5200, but never released.  The 5200 port looks and plays very close to the arcade version.  The graphics and sound are outstanding and all of the enemies are well represented and it even has a cool title screen.  Millipede is a blast to play with the normal 5200 controller and even more fun with the 5200 Trakball.  At one time AtariAge sold some Millipede carts for the 5200, so you might be able to find one.  Otherwise you will need a multi-cart in order to play Millipede for the 5200.  I read a review of the 5200 version of Millipede that stated that the 5200 version was too easy.  I do find Millipede a little easier to play than Centipede, but the 5200 version plays extremely close to the arcade.  You can read more about the 5200 version of Millipede here.

Millipede at Funspot

Millipede at Funspot


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Warlords…

Warlords is a 1980 arcade game developed by Atari.   Atari released the game in both an upright cabinet and a cocktail table version.  The upright version featured a 23” black and white monitor that was reflected in a mirror onto a castle wall background to give a 3D effect.  Color overlays were used to give each castle a different color.  The cocktail table version featured a 14” color monitor.

The concept of Warlords is to ‘attack’ the other players by deflecting the fireballs to break through their castle walls and kill their king.  At the same time, you must protect your own castle.  You can either deflect an incoming fireball or catch it and aim it at another player.  As you hold the fireball, however, sparks will attack and slowly destroy your own castle.  When another player’s king is destroyed, an additional fireball is launched.  The upright cabinet version allowed for 1 or 2 players against the computer, but the table version allowed for as many as 4 players to play simultaneously.

Warlords was only a moderate success for Atari with a little over a thousand of each arcade type sold.

2600 Version…

In 1981 Atari released a port of Warlords for the 2600.  The 2600 version was programmed by Carla Meninsky.  Carla was one of only two women programmers at Atari and had previously programmed the award winning Dodge ‘em.  Compromises were made with the graphics, but the game play survived the conversion to the 2600 intact.  On the 2600, Warlords was played with paddles and as many as 4 players could play simultaneously.  Warlords was one of the top selling games for the 2600 and became the ‘ultimate party game’ back in the early eighties.  I can remember playing Warlords with my friends over and over !

In 2006 Darrell Spice set about to develop a better version of Warlords for the 2600.  With a little help from some friends, he developed Medieval Mayhem with improved graphics, AI, and sound.  Taking advantage of a 32K cart and bank switching, Darrell was able to develop a 2600 game that was much closer to the arcade version than Carla’s 1981 port.  Darrell’s version includes an on screen menu with a number of options including fireball speed, catch, and multiple fireballs.  The graphics are dramatically improved and include the dragon that starts the game by launching the fireball.  You can read more about the development of Medieval Mayhem here.

5200 Version…

Atari never developed a version of Warlords for the 5200, but, in 2004, Bryan Edewaard developed a version which he called ‘Castle Crisis’.  Since the Arcade units, used the same 6502 CPU and Pokey chip for sound as the 5200, Bryan was able to make Castle Crisis look and sound almost arcade perfect.  In fact, it was so close to the arcade that Atari was not originally happy with Castle Crisis being released.  Castle Crisis supports up to 4 simultaneous players, but, of course, you need to have a 4 port 5200 to take advantage of this.  You use the standard 5200 joysticks to play Castle Crisis and I found the control to be satisfactory, but not as easy as with paddle controllers on my 7800.  Some 5200 enthusiasts have developed their own paddle controllers to play this great game.

7800 Version…

Sadly, no 7800 version of Warlords has been developed.  Fortunately both the 2600 versions of Warlords and Medieval Mayhem play perfectly on the 7800.

Recommendations…

It is always hard to decide which version is the best and this time it is particularly difficult as all of these versions are awesome.  Although Castle Crisis is almost arcade perfect, I am going to give a slight edge to Medieval Mayhem as it is just more fun to play this game with paddle controllers.

As a side note, Bryan has also developed an Atari 8-bit version of Castle Crisis and you play that one with paddles!

So…if you have a 2600, 5200, 7800, or Atari 8-bit system, make sure that you get yourself a copy of either Medieval Mayhem or Castle Crisis!  Both of these great games are available from AtariAge.