Q*Bert

What does Q*Bert say when he loses a life? That’s a question that’s plagued gamers for many years now… and part of the fun is that everyone’s answer will probably be a little different.

Q*Bert originated in the arcades, but it had a number of ports to 8-bit computer platforms — some better than others. The Atari 8-bit version by Parker Brothers actually ended up being pretty true to the arcade original — albeit lacking a couple of features to squeeze the experience into the limited space a ROM cartridge provided.

It may take a bit of getting used to if you’re not used to isometric controls, but once you get that part nailed there are many hours of addictive fun to be had with Q*Bert and his friends.

Bowling

With a few occasional exceptions, sports games these days tend to be limited to a few “safe” options.

You’ve got your football, you’ve got your American football, sometimes you have your golf; very occasionally you have your Olympics. But ten-pin bowling? I can’t remember the last time I saw a game based around that for a modern computer.

Back in 1978, however, developers were still working out what kinds of sporting rules and structure worked and didn’t work in the electronic space. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not Bowling for Atari 2600 does the noble pursuit of hurling heavy things at skittles justice!

Jinxter

Telecomsoft’s “Rainbird” label was known for putting out a variety of high-quality releases aimed at more “mature” gamers: things like adventure games, strategy games and simulations.

A popular set of games released under this label were the illustrated text adventures composed by Magnetic Scrolls — a range of games with a distinctly British sense of humour about them, along with some excellent writing, some well-crafted “feelies” in the packaging and, as usual for the genre, plenty of crazy puzzles to figure out.

One such example is Jinxter, a game which challenges you to deal with the fact the world is suffering a bit of a spate of… wossname… bad luck.

Pac-Man

We’re all pretty accustomed to arcade-perfect conversions these days, but what about back in the ’80s where programmers had to make home versions of arcade games from scratch without any handy emulation?

The results varied enormously — at least partly because in some cases the programmers in question didn’t have any original source material to work with — but there were a few very solid examples over the years.

One pretty great arcade conversion for Atari 8-bit was the Atari-published version of Namco’s Pac-Man. It’s certainly better than the notorious 2600 version!

Black Jack

I’ve never been especially good at gambling. Largely because I don’t do it a lot.

Experimenting with simulated gambling doesn’t fill me with a ton of confidence, you see, because games like this are an excellent way to see that, inevitably, if you keep going you’ll end up with nothing more often than not.

Here’s Black Jack, a launch title for the Atari 2600, and a game which Video Magazine gave a perfect 10 out of 10 rating in 1979.

I, Ball

Telecomsoft, a division of British phone provider British Telecom, was a pretty prolific software publisher throughout the 8- and 16-bit home computer eras.

The brand was split into several parts: “Firebird” released big-name, high-profile games designed to have broad appeal; “Rainbird” released games intended for more mature audiences such as adventures, strategy games and simulations; and “Silverbird” provided budget-price experiences, usually in the form of arcade-style games.

One title released on the latter label was I, Ball, a game which was particularly well-received on the 8-bit home computers for its Rob Hubbard soundtrack; sadly, this is absent from the Atari ST version, but it’s still a solid — if monstrously difficult — shoot ’em up with some entertaining sampled sounds to enjoy!

Orc Attack

Orcs used to be a popular, even clichéd, fantasy foe to encounter in both video and tabletop games, but I feel like their prevalence has declined somewhat over the years — perhaps in a concerted effort for modern fantasy to move away from Tolkien.

Fear not, though, because this 1983 release from Thorn EMI Video has absolutely hundreds of the little buggers just waiting to make your life an absolute misery — climbing up ladders, shooting arrows directly into your eye, chipping away at your wall and pulling your head clean off. What’s a humble guard to do?

Fight back, of course! Preferably by hurling heavy objects and boiling oil, but as a last resort there’s always the option of a bit of slicing and dicing…

Atari games, software, hardware… and memories