Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh, Arcade

Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh (aka Arkanoid 2) is the sequel to Taito‘s hit game Arkanoid and was released into arcades in 1987.

It takes the ‘bat and ball’ genre (aka the ‘Breakout‘ genre) to previously unheard of levels of both playability and difficulty, and it also managed to influence a lot of other games in the process.

Differences to Arkanoid include: Warp Gates which allow you to choose a direction to branch off in, after completing a level (left or right); new power-ups and enemy types; two new brick types; a mid-game mini boss; 64 levels in total, of which 32 are playable in any single game, before a boss battle with mighty Doh himself at the end (if you were wondering who the hell “Doh” was – he’s the end boss).

Revenge of Doh – like its parent – is devilishly difficult, but very compelling. To play the game properly you really need an analogue controller – otherwise you’re going to struggle to reach the ball with your bat in time. Get it set up right, and Arkanoid 2 is a challenge still worth undertaking today.

This game came out around the same time the 16-bit- home computer revolution was happening, so was converted to most home systems. The Atari ST conversion is particularly good.

More: Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh on Wikipedia

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

Mr. Wimpy, Oric

It could be argued that the Oric version of Mr. Wimpy is better than the ZX Spectrum version. It does look slightly better graphically, but I think that a more diplomatic solution would be to say that both are as bad as each other…

Maybe that’s a little harsh. Maybe it isn’t. It depends on your point of view.

Both games feature the same two-screen sections – fetch the food (times three), then a blatant BurgerTime rip-off. Both games have flickery sprites and colour clash. Both games have unremarkable gameplay. Both games have sketchy AI on the enemies… Need I go on?

The Oric version has a better attract screen and a more colourful Mr. Wimpy sprite, so is the best. There – that’s solved that one… 🙂

More: Mr. Wimpy on Wikipedia

Mr. Wimpy, ZX Spectrum

Mr. Wimpy is an early ZX Spectrum game from Ocean Software, first published in 1984. It is based on (and licensed from) the Wimpy chain of restaurants – in particular their mascot: Mr. Wimpy. Wimpy restaurants were more widespread in the 1980s than they are today, but this was still a surprising release from Ocean.

What is not very surprising is that Mr. Wimpy is a clone of BurgerTime, although it does have an extra level that you have to play through before getting to the BurgerTime clone.

That first level is a simple ‘fetch’ game where Mr. Wimpy walks from the left side of the screen to the right, picks up an item of food, then returns back to the starting point – the caveat being: if Mr. Wimpy is touched by one of the moving hazards he loses the item and must try again.

Mr. Wimpy is neither a particularly great game, nor a particularly memorable release from Ocean, although it is an interesting curiosity from the mists of time. Is it still worth playing today? Of course it is! 🙂

More: Mr. Wimpy on Wikipedia

Horace and the Spiders, ZX Spectrum

The third and final Horace game on the ZX Spectrum, written by William Tang and published by Sinclair/Psion in 1983.

Horace and the Spiders is yet another ‘clone’ game, this time copying Space Panic and also elements of Pitfall.

The game is split into two distinct stages. The first one sees Horace walking along a side-scrolling cavern and jumping over spiders that come his way, then climbing moving spider silk strands to cross a ravine. The second stage is a single screen platforms and ladders game where Horace must stomp holes in the web platforms so that spiders fall into them, and when they do he must stomp them again to kill them.

Like Hungry Horace and Horace Goes Skiing, Horace and the Spiders is a game that many see through rose-tinted spectacles – the memory of playing it as a kid is stronger than the game itself. In truth: it hasn’t aged well, and isn’t much fun to play nowadays.

But at least Horace himself has become iconic among Spectrum fans.

A further ‘official’ Horace game, called Horace in the Mystic Woods, was released for the Psion 3-Series palmtop range in 1995, but it wasn’t written by William Tang. Further to that, a ZX Spectrum conversion of Horace in the Mystic Woods was released by indie coder Bob Smith in 2010. Other fan-made Horace games exist too, including Horace Goes to The Tower, released in 2011. It seems that our love for Horace continues ever onwards, in spite of his rather chequered past…

More: Horace and the Spiders on Wikipedia

Horace Goes Skiing, ZX Spectrum

Hungry Horace author, William Tang, also produced this sequel – Horace Goes Skiing – the same year as its predecessor: 1982. It was again published by Sinclair/Psion.

This one is part Frogger clone and part skiing game, and is slightly more playable and enjoyable than its predecessor.

Horace starts off having to cross a busy road to get to the ski slope. The traffic is fast, relentless and deadly, and finding a gap to make it through is not easy. Get hit by a vehicle and Horace must pay $10 for an ambulance. And – since he starts with $30 – that gives him three lives to begin with.

Survive the road, and the scene changes to a horizontally-scrolling slalom course. Horace skis down the screen and his speed is dictated by how much you turn him left and right. If Horace is facing directly downwards he’ll accelerate to top speed. If you turn him left and right he’ll turn and slow down. The route to success is lined with coloured flags, and only by carefully controlling Horace‘s speed and direction will you make it between them. Bash into a tree or a hill and Horace‘s skis will cross and he might break them. If he does, it’s back to the road for another pair (or game over if he doesn’t have the cash).

While Horace Goes Skiing is definitely better than its predecessor, it’s still not what I would call a “classic” game – even for the Spectrum. Sure: it’s steeped in nostalgia, but that’s not good enough on its own. If you were going to play it today, you’d probably be tired of it in 15/30 minutes.

More: Horace Goes Skiing on Wikipedia

Hungry Horace, ZX Spectrum

This ZX Spectrum Pac-Man clone is a legendary early title from Beam Software/Melbourne House, and was published by Sinclair/Psion in 1982.

Hungry Horace is probably as well known as it is because of Horace – a cute blue blob with eyes, arms, and legs – and who is somewhat memorable. It certainly isn’t revered for its sparkling gameplay, which is limited at best (and banal at worst).

Four mazes, repeated over and over; supposedly representing a ‘park’ – Hungry Horace isn’t even a particularly good Pac-Man clone. The faces that chase you have weird AI; the mazes have dead ends; some mazes have corridors; ring the bell and the faces get scared for a limited time and you can ‘kill’ them by touching them…

Describing Hungry Horace any more will just cause me (and you, probably) to yawn, so I’ll just say that this is a game that is fondly-remembered because it was the ‘birth’ of Horace – a character Spectrum owners grew to love immensely. The game itself has unfortunately degraded over time…

More: Hungry Horace on Wikipedia

Tales of the Arabian Nights, Commodore 64

Interceptor Software‘s Tales of the Arabian Knights was the first game I ever played on a real Commodore 64, back in 1984.

A friend, who had a C64, invited me ’round to play it. I remember it taking approximately 30 minutes to load, and I pointed out that games on my ZX Spectrum at home never took so long to load, but he said “it would be worth it.” Oh, how I now laugh…

When I first saw this game I thought it was quite original and was relatively impressed. Years later I saw the Sun Electronics‘ arcade game, Arabian, and realised that this was a rip-off*, so my view of it after that dipped.

Coming back to it now: it’s from that dark, old age of video games when just stepping on the wrong pixel would kill you, so it feels very old and archaic to play. The music is nice, and there’s some variation in the gameplay – like the side-scrolling boat/flying carpet sections – although they don’t really add up to much. The title screen even claims the game has some digitised speech, although I didn’t hear any.

Tales of the Arabian Nights is worth a look if you want to compare it to the Arabian arcade game. Otherwise you’ll probably not get a great deal out of it. Other than frustration.

* = I could be wrong and Interceptor Micros could have paid for an official Arabian license for the conversion, although it doesn’t state that it’s official anywhere in the game. It’s more likely – because it happened a lot at the time – that this ‘tribute’ was unofficial, and therefore remains on shaky ground.

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

Kong Strikes Back, ZX Spectrum

Ocean Software‘s 1984 release for the ZX Spectrum, Kong Strikes Back, is an unashamed clone of Universal‘s Mr. Do’s Wild Ride, but with elements of Donkey Kong also thrown into the mix.

Kong Strikes Back is a playable and reasonably entertaining single-player platform game. I remember buying it, back in my youth, and thinking it was original. Years later I saw Mr. Do’s Wild Ride and couldn’t believe it was a copy of that game. Software publishers eh? Pirates, the lot of ’em – and they were the ones moaning about piracy… 🙂

Kong Strikes Back was programmed by the late, great Jonathan Smith and produced by Jon Woods. Woods was the co-founder of Ocean Software, with David Ward.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kong_Strikes_Back!