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

Basketball, Arcade

This is the 1979, black and white arcade game, Basketball, as developed and manufactured by Atari Inc. It had two trackballs on the cabinet – one for each player.

Atari Basketball is a one-on-one game with ridiculously simple controls and objectives. For a single coin you got a three minute game, and either played against the computer or a second player. Adding more coins gave you more time, and the aim was simple: score baskets; score points; be the highest scorer.

Compared to video games now Basketball looks a bit ridiculous, but – believe me – when this was in arcades in 1979 it was pretty dazzling stuff. In fact, this was one of the earliest video games I remember playing, and I also remember hurting myself on the trackball by nipping the skin on my hand between the trackball and the cabinet! It hurt a lot, which is why I remember it so well after so long has passed (40 years ago!)…

Atari Basketball was also one of the first two-player games I remember playing – against both my brother and my dad (my dad used to play basketball so this game was attractive to him). It’s definitely fun two-player, for a short while at least.

While this is nothing like the basketball games of today, it was an early, important seed in the genre. It was the first basketball game to use the side-on, high-angled view of the court, which you see all the time now. It wasn’t uncommon to see Atari Basketball cabinets in video game arcades up and down the United Kingdom in the early 1980s and it almost certainly had an considerable influence on other video games that followed it. Even if it does look a bit lame by today’s standards… 🙂

More: Basketball on Wikipedia

IndyCar Racing, PC

Papyrus Design Group‘s 1993 classic IndyCar Racing is a fast, MS-DOS-based racing game with lots to interest petrolheads, sim fans, and geeks.

It features most of the drivers and teams from the 1993 IndyCar season, except Nigel Mansell, his moustache, and a couple of other drivers (probably because of image rights) and it sees you pitting your wits against them in either single events or a championship season.

Graphically, IndyCar Racing looks a little primitive now, but back in 1993 it was pretty mindblowing. Especially the Instant Replay feature, which is much more advanced than the one seen in IndyCar‘s predecessor, Indy 500. IndyCar Racing records up to an hour of race time from different angles and allows immediate playback and cutting between cameras. Watching races in IndyCar Racing is almost as much fun as racing in them…

With realism turned up, IndyCar Racing is extremely challenging (one crash and it’s all over). With realism turned down it’s great to just take it out for a spin. The cockpit looks great with all its instrumentation; the tracks twist, tilt, and undulate beautifully; the speed blur on the tyre logos is superb, and the feeling of speed in general is excellent.

There’s a two-player option, via either modem, or null modem (connecting two PCs together via a serial port). I’ve got no idea if you can play multiplayer via DOSBox – I wouldn’t be surprised if you could – which would be the ‘Holy Grail’ for any IndyCar Racing fans out there.

More: IndyCar Racing on Wikipedia

Karateka, Commodore 64

Karateka was Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner‘s first published game. He programmed it (originally for the Apple II) while attending Yale University in 1984.

It’s a simple martial arts fighting game that uses rotoscoped graphics to create realistic animation. Back in 1984 they were pretty revolutionary.

The aim of Karateka is to fight your way into a guarded fortress to rescue your love interest, Mariko. Using well-timed punches and kicks you defeat waves of opponents; defeat attacking hawks; and make your way past deadly falling portcullis – until you reach the boss, Akuma. Who of course you have to fight to free Mariko.

Karateka is – I think – a better-looking game on the Commodore 64 than on the Apple II. Both versions play quite slowly (frustratingly slowly for some, although you can boost the speed in an emulator), but the underlying gameplay is still sound.

Jordan Mechner himself was involved in a 2012 remake of Karateka, released for XBox 360, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and iOS.

More: Karateka on Wikipedia

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Atari 2600

This notorious 1982 release for the Atari 2600 was – at the time – the most expensive movie license ever acquired by a video games company ($35 million dollars it apparently cost), and it also undoubtedly hastened the demise of Atari Inc. as a company (as it was back then), and was also a major contributing factor in the video game market crash of 1983.

Yes: pumping out games as bad and as cynically-rushed as E.T. was created a significant fall in consumer confidence – particularly in North America where the effects of the crash were felt most strongly.

And none of this was the fault of the programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw, who took some persuading to actually take on the project in the first place. Warshaw was given only six weeks to create a finished game from scratch, when normally an Atari 2600 game would take between six to twelve months to program. But complete the game he did, and it was then marketed by Atari some six months after the film had been released (ie. late; when people where starting to become fatigued by the film). Also, Atari suits at the time inexplicably decided to manufacture six million E.T. cartridges in anticipation of high sales. And – while E.T. did sell more than a million copies initially – a lot of the people who bought it were not happy and returned the game for their money back. Ultimately  – after returns – Atari sold less than ten percent of the cartridges they manufactured for E.T. and infamously buried hundreds of thousands of them in the New Mexico desert in an attempt to hide their embarrassment.

Throughout the decades there have been numerous instances where upper management at a video games company have made calamitous decisions, but those made by Atari management in the case of E.T. must rank as the greediest, most cynical, and most stupid of all time. Again: no real blame can be placed on the shoulders of the programmer, but the people who pushed him to make the game in six weeks; and the ones who thought that $35 million dollars was an acceptable price to pay for the E.T. video game license, are nothing but fools. Fools who brought the video games industry to its knees with their blindness and greed.

As for the game: it’s dogsh*t, of course. Of little or no redeeming value. It bears little resemblance to the film, or the characters in it, and few people who play E.T. have got anything positive to say about it.

E.T. on the Atari 2600 is an interesting story, but unfortunately one that highlights the very worst of the video games business.

More: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial on Wikipedia

Chuck Norris Superkicks, ColecoVision

This 1983 action game sees you playing as Chuck Norris – the infamous action hero of the 1970s – and it really is quite bad.

Chuck is on his way to an ancient temple and must fight off various opponents who attack him in order to get his black belt and gain access to the temple… This game really is as bad as it sounds… Which is a pity really, because Chuck Norris deserves better. Or at least he deserved better back then… He was the guy who took on Bruce Lee in the Colosseum in Rome (and lost), in the 1972 classic Way of the Dragon. He was the guy who made chest hair fashionable in action movies… He was the ginger assassin… Unfortunately Chuck is no longer with us (he died in 2001), but he did leave a considerable legacy. I’m not sure, though, if he’ll ever be remembered for this game…

I read the original manual before playing Chuck Norris Superkicks properly and had to laugh at how it tries to make the game sound more involved than it actually is. I mean: a big part of the game involves walking up a path, and you get penalised for walking on the bloody grass for God’s sake! Yes: Chuck walks up a path (avoiding the “tall grass”) and every now and then a fight breaks-out, cutting to a beat ’em up section.

The fighting sections are unsurprisingly lame. Chuck can block, kick, punch, and do a somersault jump. Beating opponents is a case of timing blows correctly, and also avoiding the shuriken they throw your way. If Chuck is hit by a throwing star he gets sent back to the last checkpoint with a time penalty. Beat your opponents and you are awarded a new belt (indicated by the colour change on the info bar at the bottom) and can continue walking up the path. Run out of time and it’s game over.

I’d almost put this into the same category as E.T., in that: there really isn’t much of a game in there, and what there is is pretty pathetic. It certainly doesn’t do justice to Chuck Norris  – or the ColecoVision – in any way shape or form.

Developer Xonox was a subsidiary of K-Tel and was one of the many companies to go bust during the big video game market crash of 1983. With games like this on their roster, it’s no surprise they didn’t survive it.

More: Chuck Norris Superkicks on Wikipedia

Raid Over Moscow, Commodore 64

Raid Over Moscow was a controversial release for Access Software in 1984. The game depicts a fictional nuclear war scenario between the USA and Russia and involves US forces fending off nuclear attacks, then flying into the Russian capital to attack what is supposed to be The Kremlin.

Like most of Access‘s early output Raid Over Moscow is an interesting, playable, and beautifully-programmed action game that is broken down into distinct stages. Firstly there’s take off, which involves piloting a “spaceplane” (their word, not mine) out of a hangar and towards Russia. Secondly, there’s a side-scrolling, isometric shoot ’em up section that plays similarly to Zaxxon, in that you increase/decrease altitude and move left and right to avoid obstacles while at the same time blasting anything that gets in front of you. Eventually you land and then have to take out the troops guarding the gate to the city. Reach the final stage and you then have to destroy a series of robots protecting the reactor underneath the Soviet “Defence Center” (actually the State Historical Museum), and you must do this within a strict two minute time limit.

In spite of the questionably propagandist scenario (Raid Over Moscow was made during the Cold War which kind of explains the thinking), this is still an excellent game. It presents a decent challenge and is extremely well-produced. And it still plays great to this day.

Later re-releases saw the title changed to simply “Raid“, with all references to Moscow being dropped.

More: Raid Over Moscow on Wikipedia

Red Dead Revolver, XBox

Red Dead Revolver was first published by Rockstar Games in 2004. It is the first title in the Red Dead series.

It is a Wild West style third-person shooter, with RPG and adventure overtones. In it you play the lead – a bounty hunter called ‘Red’ who must track down various outlaws and collect the reward on them. Of course there’s more to the story than simply bounty-hunting, and this becomes clear as you progress.

Presentation-wise: Red Dead Revolver is atmospheric, but I thought that it looked a bit ‘murky’ overall. The colours are very subdued and the celluloid scratches out-of-place (scratches were more prevalent in 1930s and 1940s films, and grindhouse pictures, rather than Spaghetti Westerns, which this game is obviously trying to emulate), and the whole game looks very downbeat and un-colourful.

Gameplay-wise: Red Dead Revolver is engrossing and fun to play. The game didn’t do too well critically at the time of release, though, and it wasn’t really until 2010’s Red Dead Redemption that the world really sat up and took notice of the series.

Red Dead Revolver is still a game that should be in any self-respecting XBox collector’s library, though, and shouldn’t be difficult to pick up relatively cheaply.

Note: these grabs were taken on an XBox devkit, which produces lossless screenshots. Even so, with the game being as murky as it is, they still appear quite indistinct.

More: Red Dead Revolver on Wikipedia

Thimbleweed Park, PC

Thimbleweed Park is a point-and-click adventure, released in 2017 by Terrible Toybox, and co-created by ex-LucasArts employees Gary Winnick and Ron Gilbert.

In case you didn’t know: both Gilbert and Winnick have been involved in the making of some of the best games of all time, including (but not limited to) titles such as: Ballblazer, Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Day of the Tentacle.

And in 2014 they launched a Kickstarter to fund development of their “dream game”. Well, their tribute to point-and-click adventures of the past, but using modern technology. As a backer I followed the game’s development with interest. A top team of artists, musicians, voice actors, and technicians were assembled, and the game was completed pretty much as planned, taking three years to develop.

Thimbleweed Park is a mystery adventure set in 1987, with five playable characters and a whole load of puzzles to crack. Fear not, though. If you’re weak on puzzles you can play the game in Casual mode just to enjoy the story and pixel artistry. Real gamers will play it in Hard mode, though, to experience everything it has to offer.

First and foremost Thimbleweed Park looks amazing. The graphics really are a work of pixel artistry and they are further enhanced with great animation, silky smooth scrolling, visual effects, and even real-time lighting. Everything about Thimbleweed Park is just so slick; the useful right-click functionality; the way icons jiggle to get your attention; the screen tilting; the alternative fonts; the voice acting; the language support. If I had any niggles it would be that there’s no manual scroll (I wanted one), and… that’s about it.

Story-wise, Thimbleweed Park is hilarious too. It’s basically an X-Files-type scenario, with lots of satirical horror film and video game references. And jokes. The game starts off seemingly innocuously (although smart players will realise that they’re controlling a doomed man), then becomes a murder mystery, before turning into a curse story, and then cutting back to the murder mystery. All the playable characters have their own plotlines going on, and the game cuts between them as flashbacks as the story unfolds.

The playable characters vary quite a bit and all have their own unique charm. The lead – a female FBI officer called Ray – is laconic and easily annoyed; her male partner, Reyes, is an eager rookie. Then there’s a clown, called Ransome, who is infamous for his *beeping* insults. A computer programmer called Delores, and her rather, Franklin, make up the remaining playable characters.

I can’t recommend Thimbleweed Park highly enough. It is a fantastic love letter to point-and-click adventure games of the past and is genuinely funny, absorbing, and challenging. It’s worth playing to see the beautiful art alone, although the writing, music, puzzles, and usability are all significant contributors to the fact that this is a future classic in the making. Which is quite ironic.

Thimbleweed Park is also available on current gen systems, such as PlayStation 4, XBox One, and Nintendo Switch. Plus Mac, Linux and Android.

More: Thimbleweed Park on Wikipedia
Steam: Thimbleweed Park on Steam
GOG.com: Thimbleweed Park on GOG.com