Monday, February 15, 2010

Who remember's Merlin?

This was an amazing gadget. It was the precursor to the modern day "Simon" and built by Bob Doyle a genius electronic engineer. He also was responsible for the Super 8 double system sound device which made the small format movie cameras come to life with synchronous sound. Anyhow Merlin is a toy way ahead of it's time which could play "Echo", a game like Simon, Blackjack, Music Machine - replay a song you create, Magic Square (like Lights Out), and Mindbender (like Mastermind). If I only still had this game. But you can play it online here! (ONLY WITH IE) Thanks, Bob for the memories!

Top 10 Games for the Atari 2600 VCS

If you're reading this blog, you've probably got a fond remembrance for Saturday mornings with your belly on the carpet, joystick in hand, staring up at a glowing console TV shooting away at blinking dots. My favorite phrase was "not now mom!" Ok, so on to my list of "not now mom" games which destroyed many an hour in front of our Sharp Lynatron 19" color tv:

Drum roll:

Ms Pac Man

No doubt, this was the Pac Man the VCS needed from the start. Truly, I think the original Pac Man VCS port was the worst of all time, and probably had a lot to do with the Video Game Crash of 1983. I remember as a kid being totally excited to HAVE Pac Man, then a feeling of completely being ripped off when I got to PLAY Pac Man. Sigh. Ms Pac Man is such a well done port, with its music, animations and cute characters. It's a shame that it didn't come first.

#9: Superman

I will probably get a lot of flak for putting this in the top ten, but hear me out. This was an early adventure game, one of the first that I got as a kid. I can't recall if it came before or after "ADVENTURE" was released, but it has a lot of gameplay quality. I know that I got it after the ADVENTURE game, and yet I played it a lot. Firstly, you get a FAST gameplay experience. The Superman character moves smoothly, and is colorful and animated. The mazes are daunting, but after a bit, you do get it. There is a real mission involved also.

#8: Space Invaders

This game was the first that Dad brought home from the store, just after Combat (which was the throw in game). I got my first taste of "Reset button cheating", where my brother and I were supposed to take turns, but if I lost a man early on, I'd just hit reset and prepare to get hit in the arm "Mark, you're CHEATING again!" Little did I know that if you just held down the reset button when TURNING THE GAME ON you'd get to double shoot! Anyhow, Space Invaders is a great game with a ton of variations over the usual advancing aliens. The most challenging levels are where the missles wiggle down the screen!

#7 Crystal Castles

This game came out late in the VCS's reign, probably just as the Nintendo was coming out. However, this had a lot of good things going for it. The character was fun to move around, and he had a lot of jump span - something most games for the VCS just didn't have. The action is much like Pac Man, collect the dots without getting hit by the baddies. But there was even more fun if you had the optional Trac Ball controller - which I had! There, you can spin the white ball frantically whilst jumping to get over the landscape faster. I think it is almost mandatory to have this for a good experience playing Crystal Castles.

#6 Centepede

While we're on the topic of the Trac Ball, there's another must play game - Centepede. This game has all the fun vertical play as Space Invaders, with a bit of vertical play on your base's part. You can move up and down to evade the onslaught of worms, bugs and nasty spiders. The VCS plays up a good deal of creepy sound effects to make this an excellent game for the mid 80's.

#5 Yars Revenge.

When you hear Yar's Revenge, you are experiencing the quintessential ATARI sound. The pulsing buzz of the mothership is so cool! The gameplay is unique in that you have to evade being hit by your own bullet while taking out the mothership. The game has real replay value, and is a challenge. Since there are only two screens to master, this is all about stamina. You are playing for points, and of course this is why we play Atari in the first place, right?

#4 Gravitar

I personally didn't own this game. But I made it a point to visit my friend who HAD this game to get my fix. Gravitar is packed with four mini games, a feature not found in many VCS titles. It also has realistic game play physics, again - way ahead of it's time! A true challenge to pilot though the colorful course.

#3 Missle Command

This game actually gave me the creeps. It was 1982 when the game came out, and I think it wasn't long after I had seen the movie "The Day After" on TV, which was about nuclear war. In this game, you are defending cities from certain doom from oncoming nuclear missles which split up (MIRV) and soar down from the sky. You must line up your cross hair (a line), and fire an interceptor missle before the bomb hits your cities. You play as long as you still have cities to defend. All throught the game, you hear the hypnotic roar of the weapons exploding, and the screen flashing as if there were real bombs going off. Later levels show wild shades of green and purple - makes it almost seem like a war is going on with nuclear winter in effect. A truly fun shooter.

#2 Kaboom

This game made the knob paddles come alive. You control a bucket which you are to catch falling bombs from certain explosion by the bad guy. The effect is that you are following the mad bomber as he drops the bombs at a pace just behind him. If a bomb hits the ground, you loose one of your three buckets. And that makes it a lot harder to continue. I recall that Activision had a contest - the first to make 3000 points got a patch, enrolling you in the elite bucket brigade! I unfortunately was not lucky enough to gain entrance, but my cousin did. Dad got out the Polaroid camera to take the screen shot and we all waited by the mailbox... his prize was a big deal to us kids! Kaboom is a great game. I even made a port for it on the web. See below.

#1 Adventure

This is a game with a simple mission: carry the golden chalice to the yellow palace. But watch out for the ducks! (Dragons). They will EAT you! You kill the ducks with the arrow (sword), and then they sag over and not hurt you anymore. The flying M (bat) will carry away your arrow if he touches it. These were the directions in my 6 year old mind as I played my number one game. It still has a lasting gameplay even today. Little did I know that it is the first game to have an Easter Egg - a secret room which displays the game maker's name if you carry out an elaborate set of moves. I never found it until last year. But all the same, this is my favorite VCS game. I even dreamed about being the dot as a kid. It's that good.