Rampart, Arcade

Atari Games1990 arcade game Rampart is a strange but compelling single-screen castle-building action game, with artillery-based shooting sections.

You start off in round one having to quickly build a 2D castle using bricks that you can rotate and place on the ground. The castle’s walls must be completely enclosed otherwise you lose the game. Round two sees you placing cannons inside the walls of your castle. And round three is the artillery shooting section where you must blast away at an invading armada at sea in seingle-player, or your opponent of playing with others. The enemy ships (or your opponent) fire back and damage your castle, so you must then repair your walls before the cycle repeats itself.

Up to three players can play Rampart simultaneously – against each other – and a full-on three-player game is something to behold (and rare). The original arcade cabinet featured three individual trackballs for fast analogue movement, so you had lots of elbows during three-player games! The cabinet – and screen on this arcade game – were pretty big though, so there was just about enough room for three players to play comfortably.

Playing Rampart now is still a blast – especially with friends. The analogue controls of the original arcade cabinet are not absolutely necessary (as they are in something like Arkanoid), Rampart can still be played okay with a digital controller because there’s also a joystick version available.

More: Rampart on Wikipedia

Rampart

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

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

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

Xenon 2 Megablast, Amiga

This 1989 shooter was designed by The Bitmap Brothers but programmed by The Assembly Line – a collaboration that resulted in one of the best-remembered Bitmap Brothers‘ games.

Xenon 2 Megablast is a vertically-scrolling shoot ’em up with five distinct levels, each divided into two sections. The colourful and detailed backdrops scroll parallax and give a nice feeling of depth, and the game has no problem chucking loads of sprites around.

Gameplay is heavily reliant on power-ups and at times can be a bit overwhelming with all the add-ons enabled – they all look cool though and wreak amazing destruction. Xenon 2 has a neat gameplay mechanic where you can reverse the direction of scrolling for a number of seconds, to avoid dead ends, and help defeat bosses.

A shop (called Colin’s Bargain Basement) appears mid-level, and at the end of a level, where you can buy a variety of offensive and defensive power-ups. Credits to buy stuff are awarded when you pick up bubbles left behind by shooting enemies.

Xenon 2 was one of the first games to have a reasonable recreation of a pop song as its title theme, that being: Bomb the Bass‘s “Megablast (Hip Hop on Precinct 13)“, programmed by David Whittaker. The Amiga version probably has the best rendition – later conversions often simplified it.

More: Xenon 2 Megablast on Wikipedia

Rolling Thunder 2, Arcade

Rolling Thunder 2 continues on from the classic Rolling Thunder: it’s secret agent “Albatross” against the sinister agents of “Geldra”, except this time you can play the game as the rescued Leila (from the first game) from the outset. Or, you can play two-player cooperatively with a friend, which you definitely couldn’t do in the original.

Playing Rolling Thunder 2 simultaneously with a friend is a blast, and the single-player game isn’t too bad either. The game doesn’t quite have the exceptional ‘feel’ of the original, though. Nor the same graphical style. It’s faster than the first game, but the character animation isn’t quite so good as seen previously. The colour scheme is also a bit ‘bright’ in places. It’s a pity Namco‘s developers didn’t go for a more subtle look, but it is what it is.

That said: Rolling Thunder 2 is still great fun to play – especially two-player. The time limits are quite harsh although they are designed to encourage players to put more coins into the machine, because you can continue where you left off if you have credits in. So playing it through in MAME shouldn’t be too difficult.

Rolling Thunder 2 is a decent sequel to a great arcade classic, and it’s good to see a female lead available to play alongside the usual all-male hero.

A third Rolling Thunder game was released for the Sega Megadrive in 1993.

More: Rolling Thunder 2 on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros. 2, Famicom Disk System

Super Mario Bros. 2 was initially released on the Famicom Disk System in Japan in 1986, but was not released in North America or Europe in its original form, as you might have expected. It was instead decided that the gameplay was “too difficult” for Western gamers (and also the video games market in North America was undergoing a crash at the time), so Nintendo decided not to release it in English language territories – at least until it was later re-branded as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost levels – and released a different Super Mario Bros.2 in North America instead.

This ‘lost’ version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is just as insanely difficult as the legend describes. It plays very similarly to the first Super Mario Bros. game, but has a variety of new features that seem designed to trick you. Like black mushrooms. You learn not to pick those up quite early in the game… The level designs this time have been designed to make you tear your hair out too. Make one wrong move, and you’re dead. Some sections have easier routes, but these are often hidden and require Mario (or Luigi) to find a hidden block to open them up.

The whole game seems like it was designed with “professional players” in mind. This original, Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is certainly not for beginners. Which is why it is so much loved by speed-runners and modern game pros now. It’s one of the toughest challenges in gaming.

The game sold over seven million physical copies in Japan in its first year of release.

More: Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros., NES

The successor to the 1983 arcade game Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. was released in Japan and North America in 1985, although it wasn’t released in Europe until 1987.

It is considered by many gamers to be one of the greatest video games of all time, and I wouldn’t want to dispute that assessment.

Super Mario Bros. was a gigantic leap ahead for Nintendo at the time, and it expanded massively on the ideas and themes of the original Mario Bros. (which was – let’s face it – quite a limited game overall). In this game Mario (or Luigi – if playing two-player) must make his way across a series of scrolling, platform-based levels; bouncing on the heads of enemies; collecting coins; picking up power-ups (such as mushrooms, which make you bigger; essentially giving you an extra life); and eventually sliding down a flag pole at the end of a level (the higher you slide down it, the more bonus points you are awarded). Occasionally you’ll get to fight a mini boss battle; or slide down a pipe into a secret area; or pick up a ‘Fire Flower’ (which allows you to shoot at enemies).

While none of that might sound very exciting by today’s standards, back in 1985 Super Mario Bros. was revolutionary. It revolutionised platform gaming with its precise controls and brilliantly-designed levels. It raised the bar in the entire video-gaming industry in 1985 – everyone who saw it and played it knew that it was something special. Something better than most leading arcade games could offer at the time… And it remains that to this day: a game marking the transition from the old style of archaic video games, and the new style of console games that were extremely high quality.

The original NES version of Super Mario Bros. sold over 40 million physical copies worldwide during its first run (29 million in North America alone), although many of these were ‘pack-in’ titles sold with a new console. Those sales still count, though, which made it THE best-selling video game of all time until it was usurped by (sigh) Wii Sports (and other games later on).

More: Super Mario Bros. on Wikipedia