Avalanche

1978 arcade title Avalanche is a game I’d not heard of prior to encountering it on Atari Flashback Classics for Nintendo Switch, and it’s entirely possible you might not have come across it either.

The reason for this is that its official home port (developed by the creator of the arcade game, Dennis Koble) only came to Atari 8-bit computers rather than the popular 2600, and even then only through Atari’s “Atari Program Exchange” system, whereby community-developed games and software would be published by Atari.

Meanwhile, Activision, seeing a good concept that wasn’t being leveraged as much as it could be for the home market, decided to release Kaboom! for the Atari 2600 in 1981, and as a result, the idea of paddle-controlled platforms catching falling things at an increasingly unreasonable tempo tends to be credited to them rather than Atari.

You now know the truth! Shout it from the rooftops!

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Quartz

An unusual and very pretty shoot ’em up today, from the mind of the man who gave us Spindizzy.

Quartz is a game that combines free-roaming, vaguely Asteroids-esque sequences with more traditional forced scrolling stages in a variety of different directions. It’s simple but effective… and damned addictive.

It’s also a great example of a popular graphical style at the time — raytracing, or at the very least, a pixel art approximation of raytracing. Today, graphics cards are just starting to get into real-time raytracing for the latest “new thing” in graphical fidelity, but back in the ST era, prerendered raytraced graphical assets were quite commonly used as a means of making sprites look “3D” without going full-on polygonal.

Whether it’s “real” raytracing or not doesn’t really matter at the end of the day… what does matter is that this is a gorgeous game that’s a ton of fun to play!

Vanguard

This one was a new one on me until quite recently. I present to you Vanguard, an unusual shoot ’em up originally released by SNK in the arcades.

Vanguard is unusual because it’s not just being one thing, unlike a lot of shoot ’em ups at the time. Instead, it shifts between horizontal, vertical and diagonal scrolling at various points in the levels, and even has some rudimentary boss fights. It’s also quite unusual to find a game of this era with a proper “continue” system, particularly in its home incarnations.

While its visuals may not look like much these days, it’s a great shoot ’em up that is still worth revisiting today — and there’s an Atari 2600 version too, for those who prefer to console it up.

Asteroids Deluxe

How do you make Asteroids better? Add the word “Deluxe” to its name, obviously.

Okay, 1980’s Asteroids Deluxe adds a bit more to the basic Asteroids formula than that, but it’s still very much recognisable. The whole experience is a bit smoother than the original, the presentation is sharper and cleaner (and blue!) and there are some additional enemies to deal with. But you’re still rotating and firing and dodging. And dying. Dying a lot.

I’m still no good at AsteroidsDeluxe or otherwise, but I actually enjoy it a lot more today than I did back when it was “current”. It’s a game that’s held up extremely well, and it’s a pleasure to revisit both of its most famous incarnations in the Atari Flashback Classics collection for Switch.

Pac-Mania

There have been numerous attempts to improve on Pac-Man over the years by both Namco and third parties.

One such attempt by the former was Pac-Mania, a game which transplanted Pac-Man’s simple single-screen maze-based gameplay into a scrolling, oblique-perspective affair with jumping, power-ups and visually themed worlds.

Opinions vary as to whether it’s actually an improvement on Pac-Man or not, but one thing is certain: Grandslam’s port to Atari ST was very solid indeed, and one of the few Atari ST games I actually remember buying for myself back when I was a kid!

Up Up and Away

Some days it just feels like everything is out to get you, when all you want to do is go for a nice peaceful ride in your beautiful hot air balloon.

Of course, in Ringblack Software’s Up Up and Away, everything literally is out to get you, whether it’s punks on the ground throwing rocks at you, birds who have apparently been eating nothing but razor blades for the last week or even Mother Nature herself.

This “avoid ’em up” goes well beyond “NES Hard” into a whole new territory of difficulty. If you even clear the “training” level you’re doing well… but I suspect you’ll be plummeting towards the ground long before that happens.

Asteroids

Asteroids is a longstanding classic with good reason: it made a solid impact on the early video games industry, and it has influenced a great many subsequent games over the years ever since.

There’s a beautiful simplicity to the sparse black and white vector graphics of the original arcade game, and it’s still enjoyable and playable today… so long as you can get your head around the whole “turn and thrust” movement system, which is something I’ve always struggled a bit with over the years!

Still, if you want to play early era space games, it’s a mechanic you better get used to pretty quick… and there’s no better place to practice than the original never-ending field of space rocks.

Atari games, software, hardware… and memories