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

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

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

Pyjamarama, ZX Spectrum

Pyjamarama is the 1984 follow-up to Automania, and features the same lead character – Wally Week. Which makes it the second game in the Wally Week series.

Wally, in this one, has forgotten to wind his alarm clock and is in danger of overlaying, and you play his subconscious on a quest to wake him up. And to do that you have to find his alarm clock key. None of which makes any sense whatsoever, but that doesn’t really matter because Pyjamarama is still a very good game.

Pyjamarama is basically a flick-screen adventure/puzzle game, with each screen representing one room in Wally’s house. Scattered throughout the rooms are various items, and some of these items have specific uses. Discovering what the items do is a key part of the game – as is item-juggling, because Wally can only hold two items at a time.

Graphically, Pyjamarama is iconic – it really does capture a distinct look and feel of ZX Spectrum games of the time; in particular the colour clash, which – while being pretty horrendous – doesn’t seem to mar the game in any way.

The Wally Week series:
Automania (1984)
Pyjamarama (1984)
Everyone’s A Wally (1985)
Herbert’s Dummy Run (1985)
Three Weeks in Paradise (1986)

More: Pyjamarama on Wikipedia

Sam & Max Hit the Road, PC

Sam & Max Hit the Road, released by LucasArts in 1993, marks the video game debut of the infamous dog/rabbit crime-fighting duo.

Created by artist Steve Purcell, Sam & Max are “freelance police” and basically engage in a series of surreal mysteries involving bigfoot, and a whole host of other weird characters and strange situations.

The game begins with an animated cut scene that sets the tone, and then you have to use Sam & Max to find your way into the story. The control system is mouse-based and you use right-click to cycle through five cursor icons – walk, look, take, talk, and use. Left-clicking one of these ‘verb’ icons on a specific object or person on-screen, or in your inventory (a brown cardboard box!), will usually illicit some sort of response. The simplified control system is a joy to use, at least compared to other SCUMM games. Not having the usual verb list frees up the screen to hold more great graphics. And the graphics in Sam & Max, I think, are some of the best, most iconic, and most memorable visuals of the PC DOS era.

Like most point-and-click adventures: Hit the Road is extremely challenging. Playing is easy enough, but solving puzzles and making your way into the game is not easy. But it is very much worth it. The surreal nature of Sam & Max Hit the Road sometimes means that the nature of the puzzles is beyond anything you might have ever seen, but that’s okay. Just go with it…

My favourite parts: “Holy mackerel!” – “I’m a trout, stupid!” – “Holy trout!”, or Max retrieving the message from the cat… And my favourite character has to be the foul-mouthed, spanner-bending, turban-wearing man in the revolving restaurant. He still makes me crease up with laughter today… Sam & Max Hit the Road is packed full of wacky characters, crazy dialogue, and dangerous stunts. There are even a bunch of “minigames” hidden away in there too…

Often referred to as one of the best video games ever made, Sam & Max Hit the Road is probably the best adventure game LucasArts ever produced. It’s certainly one of funniest games I’ve ever played and will appeal to anyone with a sense of humour.

If you’re one of those with a low tolerance to frustration, play it with a walkthrough. There’s no shame in it. 🙂

U.S. Gold published the game in the UK in 1993. A number of sequels have also been released over the intervening years.

See also: Sam & Max Comics

More: Sam & Max Hit the Road on Wikipedia
Steam: Sam & Max Hit the Road on Steam
GOG.com: Sam & Max Hit the Road on GOG.com

Sam-And-Max-Clean

Day of the Tentacle, PC

This is the original 1993, VGA, MS-DOS version of Day of the Tentacle, with graphics presented at a fairly low-resolution 320 x 200. They still look great to me though.

Compare this to the high def Double Fine remake of 2018 and there is no contest – the high def version wins every time – although there is still a perverse nostalgic thrill to be had from playing the original VGA version.

Day of the Tentacle is the sequel to the classic Maniac Mansion, but is far funnier and far more interesting. Bernard, one of the main playable characters from Maniac Mansion, makes a comeback in this as the ‘lead’. And he is helped along by two other playable characters, Hoagie (a roadie), and Laverne (a ‘kookie’ girl). Together they embark on a surreal time-travelling mission to stop an evil tentacle from taking over the world… With hilarious results.

If you’ve never played Day of the Tentacle: you’re missing out. It’s one of the greatest point-and-click adventure games of all-time and is still available to buy and play today.

More: Day of the Tentacle on Wikipedia
Steam: Day of the Tentacle Remastered on Steam
GOG.com: Day of the Tentacle Remastered on GOG.com

Day-of-the-Tentacle-Cover

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, PC

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was initially published by LucasArts in 1992 and was immediately recognised as something rather special – at least better than what most of the competition were doing at the time.

What makes Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis so good is the melding of the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie mythos, and the great writing, art and animation talent of LucasArts.

The story is: you – as Indiana Jones – with psychic sidekick Sophia Hapgood, trying to stop the Nazis from using the hidden power of Atlantis to take over the world. The plot is set on the eve of the Second World War, in 1939, and it’s basically a globe-trotting race to uncover the hidden city of Atlantis before the Nazis do.

Visually Fate of Atlantis is relatively simple, but is beautifully-embellished with great animation and lots of surprises. Puzzle-wise: this is as tough as any other point-and-click adventure on the market. ie. easy if you know how, but difficult if you don’t. Discovering what to do is part of the fun of these games, isn’t it? But… if you’re easily frustrated, you can also refer to a walkthrough. There’s no shame in it – if you’re stuck. 🙂

Still available on Steam and GOG today, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is LucasArts at the top of their game, but without the overt surrealism of Day of the Tentacle or Sam & Max.

More: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis on Wikipedia
Steam: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis on Steam
GOG.com: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis on GOG.com