At this point, most people know that Super Breakout is a bona fide classic of the early days of gaming. But no-one really talks about how monstrously difficult its original arcade incarnation is.
Well, I’m here to change all that today! Super Breakout for the arcade is really, really hard, primarily because the paddle you control is such a stingy, pathetic little size that it’s very difficult to actually return the ball once… let alone enough times to clear the damn screen.
Doesn’t stop me coming back for more, though… particularly with three different game modes to take on in the vain hope I might be good at one of them!
It’s time for another simple but addictive game from the early days of Atari today: this time around it’s the turn of Skydiver.
Skydiver is slightly more complex than Canyon Bomber, which we saw a few episodes back, but it’s still simple enough that anyone can pick it up with minimal explanation. Mastering it is, of course, another matter entirely, but it was ever thus in these early arcade games!
Skydiver is also one of the noisiest games Atari ever created. Be sure to turn your volume down a bit if you’re playing this one yourself!
Chocks away, tally-ho and all that! It’s time for Red Baron!
A contemporary of the rather more well-known and successful Battlezone, Red Baron sees players taking to the skies in a World War I biplane and challenging an endless variety of enemy pilots, blimps and ground targets to aerial combat.
This is an underappreciated gem from Atari’s back catalogue, so while it may not have been a bit success back in the day, it’s well worth playing today!
Major Havoc is one of the more unusual games from Atari’s back catalogue of arcade titles, and it’s interesting from a historical perspective for being one of the first games Mark “PlayStation” Cerny was involved with.
Making use of vector graphics to provide seamless transitions between three very disparate types of gameplay, Major Havoc challenges you to blast enemies in space, land accurately on an enemy space station, navigate a perilous route to a reactor and then get the hell out of there before the whole thing blows.
It’s frantic, high-energy, super-difficult and a whole lot of fun. Take a look!
Dominos, another early black and white title from Atari’s early days, surprised me by not at all being what I expected.
I was anticipating a fairly faithful adaptation of the tabletop game Dominoes — which wouldn’t have been altogether difficult to put together even with the rudimentary technology of the time — but instead I got a rather enjoyable, addictive two-player game in the vein of what we now know as the Snake genre.
While most people are familiar with Snake from its late-’90s Nokia phone incarnation, the idea of one or more players moving around a field and leaving an impassable trail behind them has been around since the earliest days of video games. Dominos was a very early example, following the genre progenitor Blockade by just a year. As such, it’s very simple in execution… but that doesn’t stop it being fun, particularly alongside a friend.
As we’ve previously seen with Canyon Bomber, sometimes all you need to make an addictive, enjoyable game is a simple concept… and perhaps some gimmicky controls.
Such is the case with Destroyer, a game that featured some satisfyingly clunky physical controls on its original arcade release, which are obviously lost somewhat in this home translation. Interestingly, this never got a home port of its own prior to the release in Atari Flashback Classics; it was instead incorporated into the Atari 2600 port of Canyon Bomber, which was developed by David “Pitfall” Crane.
It’s a simple idea, but an effective one… and one that really does not like being captured at 30fps, so if you can’t see the depth charges for part of this video… uh, sorry! Such are the limitations of my hardware!
Do you know what “trimetric projection” is? If not, take a good look at Atari’s Crystal Castles. That, dear reader, is trimetric projection at work.
This 3D perspective take on the Pac-Man formula is a popular game from Atari’s early days, and enjoyed numerous home ports over the years, particularly on Atari’s own platforms. It’s a fun — if challenging — game, and remains noteworthy from a historical perspective for being one of the first arcade games out there that it’s actually possible to “beat”. Although good luck with doing that.
Also, if you score first place on the high score table, you get to enjoy your initials presented in 3D trimetric projection for everyone to admire on the first level of each new playthrough!
I don’t… really play sports games. I don’t generally like them, I don’t generally understand them and I am certainly not good at them.
However, I have discovered over the course of the last few years or so that late ’70s/early ’80s sports games are about on a level I can understand for the most part, since the games simply weren’t capable of playing host to complicated mechanics or rules that you’d have to understand the actual sport to be able to fathom.
My time with Atari Baseball may have ended in crushing defeat, but I didn’t hate the experience. In fact, I can see this being quite fun in its original double-sided incarnation, facing off against a fellow player across the top of the cabinet. I suspect I’d still suck, though.
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!
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.