Universal‘s 1980 arcade platformer, Space Panic, may not look like much by today’s standards, but it is a hugely influential video game.
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.
Crazy Climber is an early colour video game, released into arcades in 1980 by Nichibutsu. The basic premise is to climb up the face of a large building to reach the helicopter at the top.
Controlling the climber is not that straightforward though. Crazy Climber uses two joysticks and requires the player to learn a pattern of moving them upwards and downwards to make the climber actually climb. It’s not a case of simply pushing upwards to make the climber climb. Which produces a challenge whereby you’re fighting with the controls – at least initially. After some practise you’ll probably get the hang of it, if you’re determined.
Next on the agenda is actually getting to the top of the building. Again: not easy. There are falling items that – if they hit you – will knock you down to the start. Windows open and close too, so you have to avoid being located on a window when it opens fully, or you’ll also take a tumble. Thankfully the windows open slowly, so you’ve at least got a chance of moving when you see one opening. From time to time you’ll also get more interesting hazards, like a King Kong-like monster that tries to knock you off the building, or balloons which will do the same if they hit you.
If and when you do eventually reach the top of the building you then have to grab the helicopter with your outstretched hand. Again: not that easy to do, because it’s constantly moving around, and you have a time limit before it leaves. Grabbing it is more luck than judgement.
Crazy Climber is an interesting game though. The gameplay is a bit archaic, but the underlying double joystick game mechanic is fun. For a while.
Larry Zwick‘s 1980 game, Auto Racing, is like an early, prototype version of Codemasters‘ famous Micro Machines.
It’s an overhead racing game for one or two players.
In the two-player game each player is awarded points for getting ahead of the other car (by touching the edge of the scrolling screen as you race ahead, just like in Micro Machines), or by not crashing (ie. allowing the other player to crash instead if you).
In the single-player game the race becomes a time trial test, with the aim being: to beat the current record.
There are five different courses in total, with the higher-numbered ones being more difficult to drive.
Auto Racing is a pretty good game – especially two-player. It’s a little weird in that you don’t accelerate – the game does it for you. You simply steer and brake (and hope for the best). But for a very early racing video game it is reasonably playable and somewhat fun.
Moon Cresta was released by Nichibutsu in 1980 and was extremely popular in arcades.
It is another colourful, fixed-screen shooter, this time with a scrolling starfield to give the impression of movement.
Moon Cresta is novel because the game gives you a three-stage spacecraft to control. At the beginning you start off with just a single stage module – a single bullet-firing nose cone – and if you complete subsequent waves you can then attempt to dock with the second stage to give you more firepower. Moon Cresta doesn’t stop there, though. You can then dock a third time to create a three-stage super rocket.
In some respects Moon Cresta was a very early example of a progressive weapons shooter. Nemesis later took the idea further; R-Type even further, and so on.
Moon Cresta‘s alien wave movement was fairly standard, but the eyes that split in half when shot were new, and added to the big mix of ideas that were all being traded in this first wave of colourful arcade shooters.
Atari‘s 1980 hit Battle Zone was one of the first ever video games to use 3D polygonal vector graphics to represent the playfield.
It’s a tank game, and you’re basically hunting down tanks, flying saucers, and other baddies. Shooting them before they can shoot you.
It starts out easy, then quickly becomes more difficult. The enemy tanks start shooting back much more frequently. On higher levels you have to employ fairly drastic evasive manoeuvers. You can use the scenery to hide behind as well.
Battle Zone is quite primitive by today’s standards, but it really set the bar high for shoot ’em ups back in the early days of video gaming. It’s still a challenge to play now and the use of a vector display still interesting.
Note: the grabs here are a pixellised approximation of a vector display. A real vector display would be higher resolution. I’m working on a fix for this.
Phoenix is another great vertical shoot ’em up from the golden age of video gaming. It was developed by Amstar Electronics of Arizona and manufactured by Centuri in 1980, and featured even more progressive gameplay than Space Invaders and Galaxian.
Space Invaders had a single, relentless wave; Galaxian had its dive-bombing waves, and this had different types of enemies, distinctly different waves, and even a mother ship boss battle at the end (possibly the first video-gaming ‘boss battle’ of all time). Phoenix really did ‘up the ante’ when it came to the early days of “bullet hell” shooters.
It might not be as smooth as Galaxian, or as pure as Space Invaders, but it does bring some “Hollywood” set-pieces to the party. It also brings enemies that land on the ground and crawl up to you, killing you, which is a new one for the genre too…
Phoenix was a very influential arcade game. It may not be as well-remembered as some of its peers, but it did bring some new ideas to the genre and they were dilligently copied by everyone else. I certainly have very fond memories of playing it in arcades (and chippies – Phoenix always seemed to appear in fish and chips shops in and around the UK) in the early 1980s.
Released into arcades in 1980, Stern Electronics‘ Berzerk is a simple multi-directional shooter where the aim is to rack up as many points as possible by shooting robots in a maze.
As your score gets higher the robots change colour, and can fire more and more bullets back at you. Obviously you have to dodge their bullets, and also avoid touching the walls.
There’s also an annoying ‘smiley face’ type thing (called ‘Evil Otto’) which appears – and chases you – if you take too long on a screen. Unbelievably, the smiley face is completely indestructable, so you can’t stick around when he appears.
Berzerk was one of the first ever video games to use speech synthesis. The game taunts you as you play (calling you “chicken” if you leave a screen without clearing the robots), and even says “coin detected in pocket” during the attract mode. The voice effects for Berzerk have been sampled and used in various dance music hits, including “Humanoid Must Not Escape” by Richard D. James (aka The Aphex Twin).
The arcade version (shown here) was one of the first colour video games ever released onto the market and was moderately successful. The 1982 Atari 2600 version of Berzerk is probably slightly better known.
Atari‘s 1980 arcade hit, Missile Command, is a frenetic and chilling race to destroy nuclear warheads raining down on your cities.
Using a trackball controller (or a mouse, if you’re playing in an emulator), the player must move a cursor to the correct place, and fire defensive shots towards the oncoming missiles, although the timing has to be right, to enable you to catch them within the blast radius of an explosion.
You have six cities to defend, and when they are all destroyed it is game over.
Missile Command is an extremely challenging and tense game, made even more difficult by the fact that the incoming missiles speed up as the waves progress. It’s easy to lose control in all the mayhem…
Always relevant, while there are nuclear missiles (and madmen controlling them), throughout the world.
Richard Garriott’s Akalabeth was first released in 1979 for the Apple II home computer (and shortly afterwards for PC MS-DOS), and is arguably the first ever graphical Role-Playing Game ever released.
Sure: Akalabeth: World of Doom doesn’t look like much, but you have to remember that this game was made in 1979, and this is pre-Ultima Garriott, and in many respects this is the prototype of that famous series of RPGs made by Lord British for Origin Systems, and as a result cements its place in gaming history as a first.