Millipede, Arcade

Millipede is a direct sequel to Atari‘s Centipede and was first distributed into video game arcades in 1982.

It’s basically the same trackball-controlled gameplay as before, but with a few changes and enhancements.

You control a small elf (yes, an elf – called Archer) who can move anywhere within a small area at the bottom of the screen. Millipedes – long, multi-sectioned insects – move side to side and down the screen, turning when they hit a mushroom (or the side of the screen). What this basically means is that hitting mushrooms makes the millipede move down the screen quicker, so shooting the mushrooms and removing them from the millipede’s path helps keep it higher up the screen for longer. The ‘elf’ fires constantly if you hold the fire button down, but – crucially – he will not fire another bullet until the last one has gone. So shooting becomes tactical at certain times.

Differences to Centipede include: DDT bombs that can be shot once and will kill any insects caught in the blast radius; a bonus level where a swarm of bees replace the usual millipede; the choice of whether to start at an advance level before the game starts; and the introduction of a variety of new enemy bugs. The millipede itself also moves faster than the centipede in the previous game, which makes it harder to hit.

Millipede is a fast and enjoyable shooter from the early days of video game arcades. It’s also been converted to many home systems and is still popular today. Considering that it’s been 37 years since it’s release, that is quite remarkable.

More: Millipede on Wikipedia

Pong, Arcade

Atari‘s Pong is a legendary black and white ‘bat and ball’ game from 1972, and was one of the earliest video game successes.

It’s basically a two-player table tennis simulation, with two ‘bats’ on either side of the screen, moving vertically to return a bouncing ball. If you fail to return the ball your opponent scores a point, and the first to eleven points wins.

If you dig into the history of Pong you’ll no doubt discover that the idea was actually “lifted” from a ping-pong game included with the first ever video games console, the Magnavox Odyssey. Magnavox later sued Atari for patent infringement and both parties settled out of court. The settlement included a clause that gave Magnavox rights to Atari-developed products for a year, so what Atari did was hide its products and delay their release for a year, so Magnavox didn’t get them… The scoundrels.

Anyway, what Atari (and all the other manufacturers cloning Pong) had to do from 1974 onwards, though, was pay royalties to Magnavox, or cease production of Pong-like clones.

During the mid to late 1970s electrical retailers were awash with different Pong systems – most of which were stand-alone, meaning: you could only play Pong on them. One of my earliest video-gaming memories is playing Pong on a Binatone system at home. I was probably six or seven and it seemed quite revolutionary to me at the time. Pong definitely swept the world in the 1970s and was in the global consciousness of people of all ages.

These grabs are from the original 1972 arcade game. Looks exciting, doesn’t it? 🙂

More: Pong on Wikipedia

Desert Falcon, Atari 7800

Desert Falcon is an obscure isometric shooter with an Egyptian theme, released exclusively for the Atari 7800 in 1987.

You play as a falcon, flying diagonally over the landscape, shooting stuff as you go, in a way similar to that seen in Sega‘s classic coin-op, Zaxxon.

Unlike Zaxxon, however, your falcon can land, stop, and even walk around on the ground, which is key to how the game plays, because one aim is to collect items that litter the landscape. Some items give you points, while collecting random hieroglyphs bestow one of ten different “Super Powers” on your falcon (these can be anything from invincibility, to employing a decoy). You actually begin the game on the ground and must pull back on the joystick to take off, which is nice. The falcon’s altitude can of course be increased or decreased by pushing down, or pulling back on the stick.

Avoiding collisions with pyramids, sphinxes, needles, and other obstacles is also a priority, as of course is avoiding collisions with, or the bullets of, enemies. Most enemies fly at you in waves although some come up out of the ground to attack you if you’re walking, so you have to be quick to react to survive. There are four skill levels of play, although all these seem to do is speed up the scrolling (and Expert level is ridiculously fast). If you do manage to reach the end of the stage you then have to fight a boss battle against the “Howling Sphinx”. Beat him and you then get to collect as much treasure as possible in a bonus round.

Graphically, Desert Falcon is pretty good. The scrolling is smooth, and the sprites and backgrounds are reasonably well-defined and colourful. Gameplay-wise: Desert Falcon does provide a bit of a challenge and is fun to play for a while, although it doesn’t have much long-term appeal. Atari 7800 fanatics might try to claim it’s “the best game on the system”, which it is not. It’s not a bad game though and is still worth a play today.

Chip’s Challenge, Atari Lynx

The Atari Lynx version was the original version of Chip’s Challenge. It was developed by Chuck Sommerville at Epyx and first released in 1989.

Sommerville – the story goes – coded a demo of Chip’s Challenge on an Apple II home computer, in order to develop the game’s logic, and also to show it to Atari execs as a pitch for a viable project. This approach worked, and the game was green-lit by the Atari bigwigs for launch on their new colour handheld console, the Lynx. And – as the Lynx was developed by EpyxSomerville and his team had a head start on the hardware.

The aim of Chip’s Challenge is simple: collect the various computer chips, hidden within a series of mazes. Getting to the chips is not straightforward, though, because they are almost always hidden behind a logic puzzle or two and you have to clear the way. How you do that differs, depending on the level, and on-screen instructions guide you as you progress. Needless to say: it starts off easy, then gets harder. By level 10 you’ll probably start to feel the pinch. Thankfully Lynx Chip’s Challenge uses level codes for access to any one of the 148 available levels, so you can play them at your leisure.

Chip’s Challenge may have tiny, titchy graphics, but they work extremely well in the context of the game, and are pretty much perfect for a Lynx-based game. It’s the captivating gameplay that rules in Chip’s Challenge though. It feels good to play; it really taxes the braincells, and it is something of a ‘killer app’ on the Atari Lynx. Whether it’s this or the later home computer versions that are the best, is debatable. In my opinion: they’re all great, and well worth a play today.

In fact: Chip’s Challenge is still available to buy, play, and enjoy today. The rights were acquired by one of the original developers, and Chip’s Challenge was re-born in 2015 on more modern formats, which is testament to the game’s greatness.

More: Chip’s Challenge on Wikipedia
Steam: Chip’s Challenge (2015) on Steam

Gauntlet II, Arcade

Gauntlet II is the 1986 sequel to the classic four-player arcade game, Gauntlet. It was made by pretty much the same Atari Games team that made the first game, so retains a lot of its qualities. Which is great, because the first Gauntlet was brilliant and fans wanted more of the same – only with enhancements. Which is exactly what they got.

There are quite a few new features in Gauntlet II. Most interesting and unique of which is the “You’re It!” addition to the gameplay. Just like the infamous schoolyard game, individual players can be made “it” by a floating ball thing that comes after you on certain levels. Whoever the ball touches becomes “it” and monsters will then gravitate towards that particular player. Not a good place to be in if you’re that player, and a ‘nice-but-evil’ addition from the dev team. 🙂

Other new features include: transportability (transporting through walls), rebounding shots, fake exits, ‘Super Shots’ (kill multiple monsters with one shot), repulsiveness potions (which cause monsters to run away, which is hilarious), stun tiles, movable blocks, poison that makes you wobble around uncontrollably, thieves who steal your food and items, plus traps, traps, and more traps! Also: each player can now choose between each of the four available characters, which you couldn’t do in the first game.

Gauntlet II has aged very well. Graphically and sonically it still looks and sounds great. If you’re looking for a good four-player party game: look no further – Gauntlet II has all you need.

More: Gauntlet II on Wikipedia

Defender, Intellivision

Intellivision Defender is a very good conversion of the timeless Williams arcade game. It was developed by Atari and released for the Intellivision in 1983.

The graphics are a bit bigger than in the original, and the scrolling isn’t as smooth, but the basic gameplay is intact. It certainly looks like Defender (more than can be said about the sad Atari 2600 version), and plays like Defender. The explosions are impressive too.

All in all: Defender fans will probably be satisfied with this.

More: Defender on Wikipedia

Vindicators, Arcade

Vindicators is a one or two-player futuristic tank combat game released into arcades by Atari Games in 1988.

The simultaneous two-player co-op mode is arguably the most fun you can have with Vindicators, although the single-player game is also challenging.

The fuel in your tank is constantly draining, which acts a timer, and there are a variety of obstacles and enemies to deal with as you trundle vertically up the screen. The game uses ‘caterpillar’ controls, meaning that you can control the tank’s track and turret movement independently, as you would in a real tank. This sometimes causes confusion for some people when they first play the game, but when you get used to it it’s quite intuitive.

Vindicators uses similar video and sound hardware to 720 Degrees and Toobin’ and has that distinct Atari Games‘ look and feel that was so prevalent in late 1980s video game arcades.

It’s also a great game to play with a joypad with two thumbsticks – especially two-player – if you can get it set up right in an emulator.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vindicators

Super Sprint, Arcade

Released into arcades in 1986, Atari‘s Super Sprint was remarkable because the cabinet had three steering wheels, thus could accommodate up to three people playing simultaneously.

Super Sprint‘s race tracks (eight in total) are all single-screen, overhead representations, and because of that the cars and trackside details are all tiny. The racing cars themselves are extremely responsive and swerve all over the shop if you’re not paying attention. Cars can be upgraded by collecting wrenches on the track and trading them in between races.

Races themselves are a lot of fun. Computer-controlled cars cause mayhem on the track; shortcut doors open and close on some tracks; oil slicks make the cars spin around. Hitting a wall head-on will usually result in your car being destroyed, but it is replaced by helicopter after a short delay.

Super Sprint is an arcade classic that has stood the test of time well and is still very playable today. It’s been re-released on more modern systems a number of times, which is testament to its greatness.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Sprint

Klax, Arcade

It says “copyright 1989” on the title screen, but Klax actually made it into arcades in June 1990.

Klax is a realtime puzzle game – for one or two players – with falling tiles that you must catch, then drop, into a small trough at the bottom of the screen. The idea is to arrange the tiles in rows of colours, either in straight lines or diagonals. The paddle, on which you catch the tiles, can hold up to four of them at once and drops them from top to bottom (ie. it drops the first tile you caught last and the last tile you caught first).

A ‘Klax‘ is a row of three tiles. A row of four tiles counts as two Klaxes. Some levels require you to get a certain number of Klaxes, and others: a certain points total. Early levels are fairly easy, but quickly increase in difficulty.

Klax is a very easy game to understand (even if my explanation doesn’t quite cut it), and an absorbing and exciting game to play. It’s a bit like Tetris in some respects, and is almost as good.

This arcade original was created by Atari Games and remains a solid challenge.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klax_(video_game)

Dark Chambers, Atari 800

Dark Chambers is an overhead maze shooter in the style of Gauntlet. That said: it is actually a direct descendent of Dandy – another overhead maze game written by John Howard Palevich and also an influence on the design of Gauntlet.

The game is rather simple. You run around, looking for keys to open doors, weapons and armour to improve your offence/defence, bombs to blow everything up, and food to replenish energy. You can fire in eight directions. Generators produce more enemies, so shooting them is priority. Some generators are disguised as items, and are traps.

Dark Chambers has a simultaneous two-player option and two levels of difficulty, which helps make the game a bit more enjoyable than it might otherwise have been.