Bank Buster, Atari ST

Programmed by M. Pezzotta and published by Methodic Solutions in 1988, Bank Buster is an obscure, single-player Arkanoid clone in which you break into a bank by tunnelling underground.

Bank Buster is a strange idea, but somehow works quite well. It certainly had me captivated for a few hours, even though my first impressions of the game were not that favourable.

Graphically, the game is adequate – arguably a little rough around the edges – but, gameplay-wise, it seems to have something compelling about it that isn’t easy to pinpoint.

The idea is to bounce a ball upwards into the underground soil, which removes it, eventually opening up a hole into the next screen. You then bounce the ball into the next screen and follow it, repeating the process until you reach the bank’s vault. “You” being a bat with a pair of eyes underneath (and in a nice touch the eyes constantly follow the position of the ball).

Like Arkanoid, the bat can collect power-ups to give it extra abilities, such as spawning extra balls, or allowing it to fire upwards. Unlike Arkanoid, this has various bank-robbing tools scattered around the various screens which you collect for points, and to open up previously locked doors.

When you near the vault itself, extra hazards start popping up, such as robots and alarm bells, and your ultimate aim is to avoid them and reach the treasures inside.

If you like bat and ball games, Bank Buster is worth searching out. It’s sufficiently different to other bat and ball games out there, and has a certain je ne sais quoi about it that makes it worth playing. Just don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

More: Bank Buster on Moby Games

Arkanoid, Arcade

Taito‘s Arkanoid was released into arcades in 1986 and did for bat and ball games (often referred to as Breakout clones) what Mario did for platform games. That is: revitalise them with new ideas and features.

The name “Arkanoid” refers to the ship that the player’s vessel – the “Vaus” – escapes from, which is shown in the introduction. Controlling the Vaus was by a dial, or paddle, on the cabinet, which allowed for quick, analogue movement of the bat. This was pretty much essential, because the ball speeds up the longer it is on-screen. Playing the game now, in MAME for example, the analogue controls are often switched to digital, which seriously hampers the player’s ability to move quickly. It pretty much ruins the game… So anyone wanting to play Arkanoid the way it should be played will have to switch the controls back to analogue and set them up to work with a mouse, a thumbstick, or an actual paddle.

The aim of the game is to clear every screen, either by bouncing the ball up at the blocks, by shooting them, or by picking up a falling capsule that opens up the next level. Fail to return the ball up the screen and you lose one of your bats. Lose all your bats and it’s game over.

Arkanoid is colourful, compelling, and very challenging. The game has stood the test of time well and has also been very influential over the decades. An even better sequel – Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh – was released in 1987.

More: Arkanoid 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

FIFA Street 2, XBox

I do enjoy a game of FIFA Street 2 on my XBox from time to time. It doesn’t have all the pompous dramatics of a regular FIFA game, although it does have the players.

Developed by EA Canada and published in 2006, FIFA Street 2 is the sequel to the footballing experiment where they combined star players with 4-a-side street football. So you get top-class players like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henri, and even Franz Beckenbauer playing on dirt roads and in caged-off urban pitches. To win you’ve got to score goals using tricks, or by scoring within a set time limit.

There’s a single-player career mode called “Rule the Streets” where you create a character and build him up by beating a succession of increasingly talented teams across the world. It’s pretty absorbing for a football game and there are quite a few unlockables, such as classic ‘legendary’ players, like Zico, Carlos Alberto Torres and Abedi Pele, so plenty to play for.

More: FIFA Street 2 on Wikipedia

FIFA-Street-2-XBox

Revolution, ZX Spectrum

Costa Panayi‘s Revolution was published by U.S. Gold in 1986. It is an isometric puzzle/action game with well-designed, monochrome graphics and a bouncing ball that you control around a series of rooms, levels, and puzzles.

Holding down the fire button makes the ball bounce higher and you must manoeuvre it towards a series of black cubes in order to touch them. Touching these cubes turns them white temporarily, and you have to keep touching them until they turn white simultaneously. Each puzzle has two associated cubes and each level has a number of different puzzles. When you complete every puzzle on a level you ascend to the next level, and there are nine levels in total.

You start with five lives and lose one if you fall off the edge into the abyss, or hit a spiked ball, or any of the other nasties trying to thwart your progress. You’re also up against a time limit.

Revolution is typical Costa Panayi – beautifully-designed, simple, but interesting and playable. It won’t appeal to everyone, but if you like unusual puzzle/action games then there’s some mileage to be had with this classic ZX Spectrum game.

More: Revolution on Wikipedia

Rocketball, Commodore 64

IJK Software released Rocketball on the Commodore 64 in 1985. It is based on the infamous 1975 film, Rollerball.

Just like in the film, Rocketball is played on a oval, inclined rollerskating track. Two teams of skaters must collect a rolling ball that is fired into the arena and throw the ball into the correct hole to score a goal.

There are four teams to choose from in the game: Houston, Madrid, Tokyo, and Moscow.

One big downside to Rocketball is the fact that there are two goals, which is very confusing and often leads to own goals (I scored a last minute own goal to give my opponent the match on one occasion). The goals are colour-coded, but it’s not clear at all which is yours. Rocketball would have been better with one goal, but then again: it’s ridiculously simple anyway and removing one goal might have made it too simple.

Rocketball is an entertaining distraction for an hour or so, but not much more than that. It would obviously have been better with motorbikes in it (like in the film), and it might have benefited from a few more player moves, or at least a bit more depth to the gameplay. As it stands, Rocketball is alright – nothing special.

Note: It’s funny to see the advertising boards in the game, including one for the now defunct fizzy pop brand “Quatro”. There’s an ad for IBM, Kodak and one for Coca Cola too, so I’m guessing they were paid-for slots.

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

Chip Shot Super Pro Golf, Intellivision

Although it’s not quite Leaderboard, Chip Shot Super Pro Golf is a decent enough golf game on the Intellivision console. Arguably even the best.

Graphically it’s quite nice, with the golfer represented as a sprite in a black box and the various courses shown from an overhead view.

Making shots is easy enough; you rotate a direction cross; choose your club, then make a double press on the fire button to decide shot strength and amount of ball slice/hook. That said: there does seem to be an element of luck involved as wild shots are the norm when first playing. Eventually (if you practise enough) you’ll get the hang of it and start getting the ball onto the green.

On the putting green the view switches to a closer overhead view of the hole; markings on the ground indicate whether there are any slopes on the green. Sand bunkers and water traps must obviously be avoided.

Chip Shot Super Pro Golf can be played solo, or with one other human opponent, and there are plenty of courses available to play, and even a built-in course designer. It’s very simple stuff, though, so don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

Zany Golf, Atari ST

Zany Golf was released by Electronic Arts in 1988. It originated on the Apple IIGS but was quickly ported to 16-bit computers, including this fine Atari ST version.

Zany Golf is a crazy golf simulator, with simple controls and complex courses. Up to four players can compete at once.

You make a shot by left clicking and dragging on the ball, then letting go of the button. If you’re skilled (and lucky) the ball will go where you want it to go. Invariably, though, things do go astray…

There are nine holes – plus a bonus hole – in total. Some holes have weird animated objects on them (like the iconic giant hamburger) which you have to deal with, and some have special abilities (like the magic carpet, which allows some control of the ball with the mouse). You have a limited number of strokes per hole, but can pick up extra by touching fairies or hitting certain other targets. Getting to the ninth hole can be quite an achievement.

Zany Golf is a classic physics-based golf/maze game. I have fond memories of playing it back in the day, and still find it fun to play now.

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

Ballblazer, Atari 800

Another Lucasfilm Games‘ classic that originated on the 8-bit Atari, Ballblazer is a one-on-one, futuristic ball game played out on a giant checkerboard, with players inside floating hovercraft.

The game gives you a first-person view of the action and the aim is to get the ball and hold onto it for long enough to shoot it towards the goalposts and to score a goal. The further away from the goal you are when you score: the more points you get.

The other player can ‘hit’ you to try to get you to drop the ball, but otherwise it’s you and him in the small arena, trying to outwit each other in these weird floating ships that always snap in the direction of the ball.

Droids with various difficulty levels give a single-player game, and of course a split-screen game like Ballblazer is made for two-player games, so playing against a human opponent is where the game is best.

Ballblazer might be simple, but it is also video-gaming at its best, and this Atari 8-bit version is the daddy of them all.

Note: I previously said that the Commodore 64 version of Ballblazer was the best. It really is debatable which version is the best. The Atari version runs faster and has a neat little intro. All the 8-bit versions are top notch. Which do you prefer?

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

Ballblazer, Atari 7800

Lucasfilm Games’ brilliant futuristic sports sim, Ballblazer, was converted to the Atari 7800 in late 1984.

As a ‘no-nonsense’, one-on-one ball game there is little better, in terms of video games, and this Atari 7800 version is one of the fastest and smoothest around.

What makes Ballblazer so good is the speed of the action, and the way you can use subtlety and tactics to your advantage. Just like in regular football…

But this is a futuristic ball game and you’re inside floating ships. Floating ships that snap onto the location of the ball instantly. Meaning that full concentration is required to win games against better players, because the matches are so intense.

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