Pengo, Arcade

Sega‘s Pengo is an arcade classic from 1982 and is a block-pushing maze game starring a cute penguin called – you guessed it – Pengo.

Pengo must push the ice blocks around to squash the Sno-Bees, while at the same time avoiding any contact with them. He can also push the diamond blocks together, which stuns and makes the Sno-Bees vulnerable for a short period of time. And one other ability he has is to ‘push’ and the perimeter fence to stun any Sno-Bees chasing him (and once stunned they can be killed by walking over them).

Pengo is both visually and sonically appealing, and also very challenging. Like many early arcade games: it’s no kid’s game, even if it might look like one.

Another classic from Sega‘s early catalogue, Pengo and has been re-released and re-made a number of times, so remains popular to this day.

More: Pengo on Wikipedia

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

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

Amidar, Arcade

Konami‘s 1981 arcade classic, Amidar, is a maze game with a difference.

Rather than moving through a maze (a la Pac-Man), you instead move along the edges of a series of interconnected boxes, trying to ‘paint’ them a different colour (or pick up coconuts, depending on the level). If you manage to paint around all four sides of a box it fills itself in, and the ultimate aim on each level is to fill every box on-screen. Which is not easy because there are a variety of chasing monsters and they are tricky to avoid.

The key to getting anywhere in Amidar is to learn the movement of the enemies. They move ‘deterministically’. Meaning: to set, recognisable patterns. The game calls this “Amidar movement”. Regular enemies are called “Amidar” and these move left and right, and up and down the screen. A single enemy, called a “Tracer” moves around the outside of the maze at the same time. If you watch enemy movement carefully you can avoid them and go about your painting duties. That is, however, until the Tracer has done a certain number of ‘laps’, after which point it starts to chase you.

You do have a ‘jump’ ability to help you, although pressing jump makes the enemies jump – not you. They jump, and you move underneath them. Which is weird, but it works well enough and can save your skin when in a tight corner. You start with only three jumps but can be awarded more.

Another useful thing to remember is that you can attack the Amidar if you colour all four corner boxes in the maze. The Amidar change colour and you have a short space of time in which to touch them to kill them for a bonus.

As the game gets harder the mazes become more complex, and more enemies are added. And if that wasn’t enough, the time it takes before the Tracer starts chasing you reduces – to the point where it only has to do one lap before homing in on you.

Amidar is another classic Konami arcade game that takes a simple idea and turns it into a challenging and compelling video game. And for that it should be fondly-remembered.

More: Amidar on Wikipedia

Frogger, Arcade

Konami‘s Frogger was released into video game arcades in 1981 and was an instant hit with gamers.

The basic premise of Frogger is to guide a hopping frog over a road and a river, to reach a safe haven on the other side. The road is full of dangerous traffic that will squish the frog on contact. The only way of crossing the river is by jumping on a series of floating logs that move from left to right at varying speeds. It’s basically an amphibian assault course…

Get five frogs to their homes on the other side and you complete the stage. Bonus points are also awarded for catching and guiding other frogs home.

Every new stage sees the introduction of new and more dangerous hazards. The first stage is relatively easy, with a quiet road and fewer dangers on the river (there are diving turtles that you can only stand on for a limited time). By the second stage, the road is much busier, and there are now alligators to contend with on the water. Later stages also introduce otters and snakes as frog predators. There are so many ways to die in this game…

Frogger is a very simple game to play (requiring only a single joystick – no fire button needed), but feels very satisfying – the game is a masterwork of timing and design and is both challenging and absorbing. Frogger has seen a number of sequels over the years, plus the usual torrent of clones and tributes. It is undoubtedly one of the best and most fondly-remembered games of the early arcade years, and is still worth a play today.

More: Frogger on Wikipedia

Space Panic, Arcade

Universal‘s 1980 arcade platformer, Space Panic, may not look like much by today’s standards, but it is a hugely influential video game.

For starters: it pre-dates Donkey Kong by a year, which makes it one the very first (if not the first) platform games ever made. Certainly one of the very first to use the now familiar brick platforms and ladders style of graphics.

The aim of the game is simple: you avoid the monsters; dig holes for them to fall into, and batter them on the head with your spade when they fall into a hole. You’ve only got a limited time to get to one that has fallen into a hole, and if it climbs out it fills the hole as it exits – sometimes becoming more powerful.

You can score more points by dropping a monster through multiple holes, which means digging a series of them underneath each other. Which is easier said than done… The chasing monsters have pretty sketchy AI, but since there are five of them it is very easy to get caught out. On later screens different-coloured monsters appear and these require dropping through more than one hole.

There’s also a timer in the form of an oxygen counter. Take too long to squash the bug-eyed beasties and your man goes red-faced as he slowly asphyxiates…

Space Panic is reasonable fun to play now, and the ironic thing about the game is that there are probably better (con)versions out there, and almost all of them are unofficial clones. The 8-bit home computer market was awash with Space Panic clones in the early 80s – most were poor, but a few were arguably better than this arcade original.

More: Space Panic on Wikipedia

Pac-Man, Arcade

Known as “Puck Man” in its native Japan, and renamed as “Pac-Man” in the West*, this 1980 video game is one of the most iconic brands ever created in the history of the human race. And I’m not being funny here – Pac-Man is actually seen by historians as exactly that: instantly recognisable to most people and indelibly fixed in our consciousness.

While not the first colour video game ever made, it was certainly one of the very earliest, and one of the very best.

The aim of Pac-Man is simple: move around the maze and eat all the dots to complete the stage. There are four ghosts, however, whose role it is to stop you, and they can do that simply by touching you. So avoiding them is paramount.

You can turn the tables on the ghosts for a limited time by eating one of four ‘power pills’, located in each of the four corners. Once eaten the ghosts turn blue, allowing Pac-Man to chase them and eat them for bonus points.

The maze has a useful ‘portal’ which allows Pac-Man to exit one side of the screen and come out on the other side. There’s a ‘pen’ in the middle where the ghosts come out (and are sent back to when eaten). There’s also a space underneath the pen where a series of fruits and other bonus items appear, which Pac-Man can eat for extra points.

As the game progresses the difficulty ratchets up ever tighter as the ghosts get faster, and the time power pills last gets shorter (until, at the highest difficulty level, they no longer turn ghosts blue).

Pac-Man was originally intended to have no ending, but a bug in the game meant that a so-called “kill screen” appeared on level 256, corrupting half the screen and making it impossible to eat the required number of dots to complete the stage (the kill screen is shown at the very bottom of this article).

Still great fun to play now, Pac-Man spawned a number of sequels and remakes, and an inevitable tsunami of clones. Check out Pac-Man Championship DX for a modern take on the concept.

* = When releasing the game into English language territories Namco were concerned that people might change the ‘P’ in the original title to an ‘F’, and therefore bring the game into disrepute, which is why they changed it to Pac-Man. 🙂

More: Pac-Man on Wikipedia

Pac-Man Kill Screen

Pac-Man Kill Screen

International Karate Plus, Game Boy Advance

This handheld conversion of Archer Maclean‘s classic IK+ was published in 2002 by Ignition Entertainment and is generally quite excellent.

The only real complaint I have is that the fighters are slightly oversized (in relation to the backgrounds), although you probably wouldn’t notice unless you’d played the C64 version, or Amiga/Atari ST versions. Those of us who have played the earlier versions might be slightly irked by this scaling discrepancy, because it gives the player less room to fight in. Does this affect gameplay adversely in this GBA conversion? No, no really. Yes, there is less room to fight in, but International Karate is more about close-quarters combat, and timing your moves correctly, than jumping all over the shop like in Street Fighter II. So the oversized characters aren’t really a major problem.

This GBA conversion seems to have more responsive controls than previous versions, probably because it runs at a higher frame rate. I’m not entirely sure if that’s true of not. One thing is true: IK+ on the GBA runs at a blistering pace. Later levels require zen-like skill to beat and are often over in seconds.

IK+ is excellent on the Game Boy Advance, although does have limited appeal. It is a game you can pick up, play and enjoy at any time, though.

More: International Karate Plus on Wikipedia

Magic Carpet 2, PC

The full title of this 1995 sequel is Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds, and it is an excellent continuation of the series.

Magic Carpet 2 features exterior and interior (cavernous) levels that are more dense than the original, with more new monsters, secrets, and evil wizards to defeat. It also has a multiplayer mode (which the first game didn’t have).

Graphically, Magic Carpet 2 is more impressive than its predecessor and the use of night and day in the game results in a more varied colour palette – and a more interesting landscape – than previously. Again: the landscape is deformable to some degree by shooting it with fireballs, and various locations hide triggers that spawn monsters, new spells, and bosses. Unlike the first game, Magic Carpet 2 features a useful ‘Help Mode’, that points out what everything is – until you get sick of it and turn it off. It helps get into the game quicker, and not miss any important gameplay features.

The gameplay in Magic Carpet 2 is pretty much the same as before: build a castle; collect mana with your balloon; build your castle up; collect more mana; rid the landscape of monsters; complete any quest objectives.

Most monsters are pretty tough, so the best tactic is to lure them away from groups to deal with them one at a time. The killer bees, for example, will kill you quickly if a number of them swarm you, so it’s best to split them up if you can, which you can do with your deft carpet skills. Mastering the carpet is key to beating the game, and the controls work extremely well, allowing you to perform very tight and precise manoeuvres with just a modicum of skill. You can also fly backwards and sidewards, which helps a lot. The controls are very responsive, though, so do take some getting used to.

There are 25 levels to play through in total – all of which can be completed quickly (by completing quest objectives), or can be scoured for more spells and mana, and a higher completion percentage, if so wished.

Magic Carpet 2 can also be changed to SVGA mode (640×480) ‘on the fly’, meaning: you can switch between the default VGA (320×200) resolution, and SVGA resolution by just clicking an option in the menu, although I couldn’t find a way of making SVGA the default (every time I restarted the game it ran in VGA, and I had to manually change the resolution). The game also crashed quite a bit for me in SVGA mode (usually preceded by graphical glitches), and I had some problems saving the game (and having to restart from the beginning – four times so far). Playing in VGA proved to be more stable (no crashes). And this is the bought GOG.com version I’m talking about… In spite of that I really enjoyed playing Magic Carpet 2 again – it is better than the first Magic Carpet, and it is also a superb game in its own right. Another classic DOS game from Bullfrog.

More: Magic Carpet 2 on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds on GOG.com