Thursday, March 31, 2011

At Random: Bowling (Atari 2600, 1978)

There are a lot of bowling videogames on the market, and the sport has made a bit of a video comeback in recent years -- both the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft's XBox 360/Kinect system count motion-controlled bowling as a major attraction.

But it all started out very simply, with Atari's 1978 Bowling cartridge for the 2600 console.  There were also bowling games for the 2600's contemporaries, the Mattel Intellivision and the Magnavox Odyssey^2, and they all boiled the game down to basics.  My most recent random grab into the collection came up with the Sears Tele-Games edition, so we're going to take a closer look at it this week. 

I have to show you the cover art from my well-worn copy -- it's the late 1970s, for sure, with afros and shaggy combovers in vogue:

The gameplay is schematic -- there's a single male bowler available (despite the game's packaging), a chunky elliptical ball, and some smaller square pins, all clustered in an existential void:

On the 2600 we only have a joystick and one button to work with, so there's no fancy footwork involved -- we move our bowler up and down to get into position, hit the button to throw the ball, and (through the remote-control magic of videogames) nudge the ball as it rolls down the alley, trying to take out all the pins per standard bowling rules.

The Atari version manages to provide most of the critical features of genuine bowling -- it scores strikes, spares and open frames for 12 rounds of bowling, with scoring box symbols and a running point total onscreen.  As was usually the case with 2600 games, the packaging promises an impressive"6 GAMES," noting in smaller print that it actually "CONTAINS ONE CARTRIDGE."  The six variations in this case are derived from just a few options -- one or two players, multiplied by three degrees of control over the ball once it's thrown -- single-nudge in one direction, full-steering down the lane, and no post-throw control.

The graphics aren't bad by 2600 standards -- there's nothing obviously missing, at least, and the bowler even has a color table applied, so that his head is a different color from his shirt, a neat trick on the 2600 and fairly rare among the early cartridges.  (The 2600 could not display a single object in multiple colors on the same television scan-line, which is why it appears he has pulled his shirt sleeves over his hands.)  The sound effects aren't convincing -- the bowl thrums heavily down the lane like a bulldozer, and the pins sound like they're going down in a hail of Star Wars laser fire.  When the bowler gets a strike or a spare, the score and our hero's shirt flash briefly as he jumps up and down in excitement, which is actually not a bad little reward after trying for several minutes to get the ball into just the right position.

There isn't much more to say about 2600 Bowling -- it's another one of those vintage cartridges that provided hours of fun back in the day, perhaps because there was nothing more sophisticated available.  But it delivers a passable game of bowling, and in two-player mode I'm sure it supported its share of healthy living-room competition.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Elsewhere: Play Vintage Handheld Games - Online!

My brother passed this excellent link along... it's a site that not only features high-quality images of a plethora of vintage LCD handheld electronic games, but makes them actually PLAYABLE in emulated form.

Pica-Pic - Hipopotam's Digitalised Collection of Handheld Electronic Games

There are 20 games currently available, and while a few of them are recognizable, many of them are interestingly obscure; there's even one from Russia.  Well worth sampling if you're a fan of, or have never experienced, these kinds of games.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Advent X-5 (1984)

This week, we're taking on a vintage type-in text adventure, Advent X-5, written in BASIC by J.D. Casten and published in 1984 in the pages of Antic Magazine.  The original article doesn't tell us much about the game or its solution, but it does provide some important interface information and can be referenced here.  The title screen is utilitarian but colorful enough:

This is yet another escape-the-spaceship adventure, with one twist -- it's not necessarily an alien spaceship, and our objective is not only to get off the ship, but find safe passage away from the asteroid where we've crash-landed, before another asteroid crashes into it at noon.  As BASIC adventures go, Advent X-5 has a large and complex map, but it's a really playable design by the standards of the era -- we can often see our next objective from a distance, and the player is not often at a loss as to what to do next.

As always, I urge interested readers to set this blog post aside and sample the game independently before proceeding here.  In the interest of placing this adventure in historical context and examining its approach to the genre in detail, I will provide a full walkthrough (also available at the CASA Solution Archive), and there are plentiful...

**** SPOILERS AHEAD!!! ****

The story opens on the ships [sic] bridge; we have a wrist watch (which keeps time at the rate of 1 minute per move), and can see the surface of Klybex-7.  There's also an elevator, which we will spend quite a bit of time using to navigate around the ship.  If we leave the bridge by heading downward, we find that it's too dark to see down there.  But we can successfully GO OUT from the dark room to discover a shuttle, an unfriendly alien, and instant death, as we suffocate on the asteroid's surface because You can't breath!!! [sic].  We can GET SUIT (no need to WEAR it) in the dark room as well, which allows us to breathe just long enough for the alien (described initially as opening it's [sic] mouth) to devour us whole.  So we'd better use the well-lit elevator for a while before venturing outside.

In time-honored pulp sci-fi radition, the voice-activated elevator allows us to move Uplez, Norec, Eafop, Dowes, Sourk and Wesox, which coincidentally resemble English nomenclature for the standard adventure game navigational directions.  Except these terms are actually deck names, just to make things confusing.  Here also, visiting DOWES finds the area too dark for visibility at the beginning of the game.

The crew barracks are behind a red door.  There's an observation deck which contains an item representing the universe, but we're obviously not allowed to GET that.  We can see the ship's recreational facilities from up here, but if we try to GO REC ROOM from 20 feet above, we are tersely informed that You missed the swimming pool / Broken neck!!! / You're dead.  So there will be no showboating, hotdogging or cannonballing permitted in the pool area.

The medical lab has a vent and a cabinet containing some interesting items, but it seems that we can't TAKE anything in the cabinet, which is annoying, because usually adventurers like to READ BOOK whenever we find one.  But I went back to read the original Antic magazine article, and was surprised to learn that we have to explicitly TAKE BOOK FROM CABINET to get hold of it.  Advent X-5 uses a two-word parser for most purposes, but FROM comes into play when dealing with containers.

READ BOOK (now that we have taken it) indicates that its title is HOW TO KILL AN ALIEN, and suggests that we will need a battery-powered laser pistol for the job.  The book also contains a red card, labeled DOOR, presumably useful as some sort of key.  As it turns out, we don't have to do anything special with the card -- if we possess it, the ship's red doors open automatically, though some of the passages are one-way.

The air duct contains a knife (no good against the hungry alien) and leads to a couple of additional dark areas, so it seems we will need to turn on the lights before we get too much farther.  It also leads to the computer room, where the screen reads "asteroid collision-12:00 / shuttle code lost in pool / shark is sick to stomach,"  providing some rather unsubtle clues about the game's objective and puzzles.

The ship's Cafeteria (to the SOURK) has another red door.  Further exploration of the darkness beyond establishes that it's actually safe to maneuver with the lights off in this game -- there are no lurking grues or other beasties, or neck-breaking obstacles invisible in the light, to cut our journey short.  But we can't really see what we're doing either -- I ran into a robot saying, "Improper identification / Passage denied," and decided I wasn't going to get anywhere this way and I had better refocus on getting the lights running.

With the doorcard, we can also access our own Captain's Quarters and get a key (labeled P.B.K.) and an ID plate.  The game has a tight inventory limit of 5 items, so we will need to do a little juggling along the way.

We can also access the Rec Room via the cafeteria using the door card.  There's a barbell nearby that can be used to pull us deeper into the pool if we want to go for a swim, but we drown if we do so without collecting the proper equipment.

In the Power Control Room, there's a power box, described as metal, bolted to the floor, and locked.  It can be opened with the key from the Captain's Quarters -- P.B.K. apparently stands for Power Box Key -- and then we can simply TURN DIAL to restore the ship's power.

Now that the lights are on, we can find a number of other useful items.  A fuel storage area accessible from the air vent system contains something called puddy fuel.  And a nearby loading dock has a snorkelizer.  The east cargo hold provides an asbestocine bag.  And there's a battery in the engine room.

There's also a Giant Terrarium deck with a spear gun, a tree, a fern, and an aquarium containing a shark that can't be entered from this location.  Nearby is the Primate Room, containing a cage, a monkey with a shaved head (I never did figure out what that was all about -- I assume he was the unfortunate subject of some sort of experiment, or perhaps a Hairy Krishna -- sorry), and a swim mask.  Given the equipment at hand, it appears that we need to assemble a shark kit before we go diving.

With the mask and snorkelizer, we can go to the bottom of the pool and find our way into the aquarium.  The shark bites us as soon as we encounter him, and while it's not immediately fatal, the game informs us that You're bleeding! and shortly we do in fact bleed to death.  There's no way to prevent the shark's attack; we can only survive if we thought to examine the container from the medical lab, which contains a bandage.  Now we can USE GUN to kill shark after it attacks, and then USE BANDAGE to stop our own bleeding.  We also need the knife to CUT SHARK and USE KNIFE, so that a piece of paper plops out.  Somehow the shark has swallowed the all-important shuttle code, fortunately written in shark-digestive-acid-proof ink; the code is randomized for each game and should therefore be noted before discarding the paper to free up the inventory slot.

Now we should be able to activate the shuttle, but we need to dispose of the hungry alien first.  There's a laser pistol in the bowels of the ship, but we can't seem to INSERT BATTERY to power it up.  Actually, we just have to carry the battery and the pistol at the same time, then we can USE PISTOL to shoot the alien.

The shuttle code allows us to enter the handy escape shuttle parked very near our crash-landing site, where we discover that it needs fuel, and learn that the puddy fuel is VERY hot.  This implies that we can use the asbestocine bag somehow -- and yes, we can deviate from the two-word parser structure again to PUT FUEL IN BAG.  We bring the fuel to the shuttle, put the fuel into the tank, and push the button to blast off, arriving victoriously at a local star base to hearty but repetitive kudos:

Advent X-5 is not a difficult game once we've mapped out the spaceship, but it's entertaining and atmospheric without taking itself too seriously.  And while there's a lot to do, the design is very fair -- I didn't need to dig into the code to solve its puzzles, and I needed to dawdle and waste a lot of moves to confirm that if we don't escape by 12:00, an asteroid hits Klybex-7 and ends the game unhappily.  It can be solved in less than half the available move limit; my walkthrough is below the fold.


Monday, March 28, 2011

The LoadDown - 03/28/2011

In like a lion, out like a... well, here in Michigan, it's still a mighty chilly lamb.  But at least we can stay inside and play the latest downloadable games!

WiiWare -- No new titles this week, just two free demos for the motion-controlled Dart Rage and the early-learning title, Learning with the PooYoos: Episode 2.

Wii Virtual Console -- Nothing here this week.  With the 3DS debuting, Nintendo's probably hoping we'll all buy the latest reworking of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, now in true 3-D.  And we probably will.

DSiWare -- Two new titles this week.  Simply Solitaire is the umpteenth such title on DSiWare, or if it isn't one assumes that it is anyway.  Faceez: Monsters! allows users to take photos of friends and family with the DSi's camera, then dress them up with scary/funny monster accessories.  It's rated E for Everyone with intriguing citations of "Mild Blood" and "Alcohol Reference" -- can you dress Uncle Carl up to look like he's been in a bar fight?

XBox Live Arcade -- Two new titles last week.  Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime is a mini-sequel to the most recent Ghostbusters game, with 4-player co-op, albeit without the participation of the movies' cast; our favorite 'busters are replaced with generic equivalents.  Swarm is an action/platformer with some interesting artificial-intelligence group dynamics.

PS3 on PSN -- Four titles this week.  Swarm and Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime (see above) also arrive on the PS3.  The movie tie-in first-person shooter Battle: Los Angeles is now available.  And the venerable Amiga-era UK football (soccer) management simulation Premier Manager arrives in a new PS3 edition.

PSOne Classics -- Sigh.  I really need to learn not to be disappointed when these promising retro platforms lie dormant for long periods of time.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cover to Cover: Acorn Software Fall 1981 (pp. 12-13)

We're paging through the Acorn Software Products Fall 1981 catalog, and are now entering the realm of productivity software for the TRS-80 Model I.  At the time, a state-of-the-art machine had 48K of memory, a line printer and a couple of floppy disk drives.  Acorn published games and productivity software, which was common at the time but has become rare in today's more specialized industry.

Page 12 features one of many spiritual predecessors of Quicken, a program called Money Manager by Andrew P. Bartorillo: 

The program apparently runs completely in memory -- it was designed to work on a tape-based system with no random access disk storage available.  That's why a 32K system can only handle up to 100 checkbook entries per month, and a 48K system can manage 250.  Every byte was precious, and capabilities were doubtless limited.  But I'm sure a lot of people found this kind of checkbook balancing and categorization tool valuable, and the household finance category remains healthy today (at least for Quicken -- Microsoft abandoned its MS Money product a few years back.)

Turning to page 13, we see this item, which will take a little bit of explaining:

See, Radio Shack published a decent word processing package called SCRIPSIT, but it was designed to work exclusively with Radio Shack's own printers, and it had a few bugs.  SUPERSCRIPT is really just a patch set -- you modify your original SCRIPSIT disks with this software, which fixes some issues and adds some new capabilities.  This wasn't common at the time and is even less so today -- generally, applications that cry out for expandability (like Photoshop) now have defined plugin architectures for external developers to use.  But in 1981, you backed up your original SCRIPSIT disk, ran the SUPERSCRIPT program to modify it, crossed your fingers and hoped that your new hybrid executable would run.  And if you had a Model III with only one disk drive you couldn't even get that far.

Games were an obvious application for early personal computers; tools of practical value really struggled to do something useful within these machines' limitations.  But that didn't stop the nascent software industry from trying -- in our next installment, the saga continues.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cover to Cover: Acorn Software Fall 1981 (pp. 8-11)

Our page-by-page review of Acorn Software Products' Fall 1981 catalog continues, picking up the pace a little bit now that we're past most of the games.

There's just one game left at the end of the catalog's Entertainment section, on page 8 -- it's QUAD by Charles Asper, which I have not been able to find in the digital archives.  This is a rendition of the four-by-four-by-four tic-tac-toe game seen under various other titles in board and video game formats; this version was probably inspired by Atari's 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe title for the 2600 videogame console.  You can "rotate the cube six different ways," which at the time probably meant that you could hit a key to see the screen redrawn from one of six different perspectives; real-time 3-D rotation was still past the technology horizon.

Next up, on page 9, are the ordering instructions, notable mostly as a reminder of how much software purchasing has changed since 1981.  At the time, there weren't many computer stores, and no World Wide Web, so you had to send in a check or money order, or speak to someone over the phone with your credit card in hand, then wait for the physical disk or tape media to arrive in the mail so you could finally load and use the software.  Today we can make a quick trip to Best Buy, or even just download the software and purchase a license online to get up and running almost instantly.  Computer users had to be much more patient in the early days.

Pages 10 and 11 are filled with a couple of copies of the order form -- photocopiers and laser printers were not yet standard home-office items, and FAX machines and email were not in evidence either, so it was important to provide potential customers with the necessary paper artifacts.  We also note that Acorn Software Products, Inc. was based in Washington, D.C., slightly unusual at a time when most personal computer software publishers operated out of California, Massachusetts, Texas and Michigan.

Tomorrow, we'll enter the catalog's personal business and utilities software section, and wonder how we ever got anything useful done with such limited tools...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Mamono Hunter Youko - Makai Kara no Tenkousei

The digi-comic genre had a limited lifespan in the early 1990's, and that really only in Japan, but many of the properties adapted to the format are familiar to Western audiences who experienced the early, limited years of anime in the US.  One such title is Mamono Hunter Youko - Makai Kara no Tenkousei, which I believe roughly translates as Devil Hunter Yohko -- Exchange Students From Hell.  This was the first of two such digital comics released for the PC Engine CD-ROM format, published in 1992 courtesy of NCS / Masaya, based on the Toho/Madhouse anime series which was released in North America by A.D. Video.

The game opens with a simple title screen and a CD-quality rendition of the series' opening song:

It's Mamono Hunter Youko, all right -- this still screenshot looks pretty good, but it's preceded by a rather clunky bit of cross-cutting between the logo and various barely-animated images of our heroine.

There's also not a lot of actual demon-slaying action to be had here; we spend most of our time with Yohko and her friends attending school, shopping, and exploring various environments.  Production values are also limited compared to other digital comics on the PC Engine -- while the cutscenes are fully-voiced, many of the conversation/action interactive menu sections that dominate the gameplay are text-only.  And while I suffered through it on the Magic Engine emulator to capture these screen shots, something about the audio code appears to be non-standard -- there's a lot of static obscuring the music when it's played on an emulator.

There aren't any of the usual "extras" on the Mamono Hunter Youko disc either -- no encyclopedia or sound samples, just the comic itself with a no-frills presentation.  The story eventually gets moving as the day at school is interrupted, and Yohko and her friends are sucked into some sort of magical vortex:

And much pain and embarrassment ensues after the crash-landing in a faraway place:

And our heroes set off to find a way to get back home.  This alternate dimension, if it is meant to be Hell, comes off as surprisingly mundane -- there are shops and shopkeepers to talk to, spicy food to eat, and outfits to try on.  Eventually our heroes meet a wise old witch who gives Yohko a familiar-looking amulet.

There's even a brief dungeon-crawl included, though the menu-driven navigation means it's not really a pleasure to play.

Eventually we encounter a tiger-like beast, and must collect what looks like a red ball to distract it so we can get past.

Then we arrive at a large room filled with sarcophagi, where we discover a mystical sphere and fight a tall demon who transforms into a giant serpent.  Yohko destroys it with the force of her mystical powers, as it screams and shatters into fleshy fragments:

Then we reach the edge of a crater lake, where we fight a giant fish/serpent creature.  And ride another giant creature, briefly.  And make a fire in a small cabin to stay warm for the night, where the boy Yohko apparently has a crush on lends her his jacket.  Then we discover a village, where the local powers-that-be challenge Yohko to prove herself, and we must explore the local roads to meet and converse with a few characters to continue our journey.  This woman apparently sits in a ramshackle shed all day, just waiting for adventurers to wander in and talk to her:

And I actually got stuck at this point -- I explored all three roads leading out of town, talked to the characters I encountered, and tried to poke methodically through all of the available menu options.  But this game is less linear than most digi-comics, and for clueless gaijin like myself it ultimately proved impenetrable.  I'm sure I could have gotten through it, but twenty minutes of going in circles seemed like enough.

So I declared my exploration done, and put Mamono Hunter Youko - Makai Kara no Tenkousei away.  There are some rather nice watercolor illustrations in the manual, but they seem to be there mostly to pad it out and make it seem more substantial.

That's a fitting metaphor for the whole digital comic genre, actually.

Digital comics don't provide a lot of play value, but they are generally inexpensive to collect and may be of interest to anime fans. You might be able to find a copy of this PC Engine Mamono Hunter Yohko adventure for sale here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ultra Review Roundtable: Golden Axe (Sega Genesis)

Ed:  Time for another Ultra Review Roundtable from the team, including yours truly, Sushi-XPired!  Thanks to Hagen Dragmire at for doing the heavy lifting on this project every month!


Golden Axe is classic hack ‘n slash all the way, complete with combos and similar moves sets for multiple characters. Your three characters are Ax Battler with a short sword, Tyris Flare with a short sword, and Gilius Thunderhead who is a dwarf with a powerful axe. Each character has unique magical spells that increase in power as you gain more potions. The story of Golden Axe is your typical Tolken inspired fantasy. The evil Death Adder and his followers have massacred the villages of Yuria, have stolen the Golden Axe, and killed off the royalty. The families of the three main characters have been killed and it is up to them to stop Death Adder’s evil reign of terror.


Golden Axe’s gameplay is simple, chop down everyone in your way, kick little men with bags for magic and health, and mount beasts to control them for added power. There are nine stages which get more difficult as you progress. While using the normal attack is sometimes good enough, there is also a shoulder tackle and jumping attack in order to allow you to change up your tactics. It is also notable that the attacking in the 16-bit port is much slower than the arcade version. Each time you attack you are limited to about two or three swings in a row max which can let enemies gang up on your if not timed properly. There is also a duel mode where once you pick your character you fight each enemy in the game, sometimes in hordes.

Graphics and Sound

Graphically Golden Axe sticks pretty closely to its arcade counterpart although it does seem to cut corners on the amount of color used. The only way you will notice this degradation is if you have played the arcade version a lot. The level graphics stick with the whole fantasy theme and do a decent job of drawing you in to the land of Yuria. Each of the character graphics is decently done, although Ax Battler’s sword does look a bit like a white stick. What really sticks out as outstanding graphically is the magic effects which usually take up the entire screen. This being said, there is always noticeable slowdown in the frame rate whenever magic is being dispelled.

The music in Golden Axe is a drab rendition of the arcade version that uses too much bass but overall gets the fantasy feel across. The sound effects have that same off feeling to them when you compare to other games in the 16-bit era. The magic sounds the best, but it also uses too much bass to create false intensity.

Tag Lines

“How better to kill an evening than by progressing level after level through a medievalfantasy slash-fest?” -

“If you own a Genesis, this is one game you should have in your collection.” -

“Each play through doesn’t go much longer than 30 minutes which makes for a great game for a quick go.” -

“The fantasy land of Yuria is a nice change from the dark, gritty urban environments typical of the genre.” -


Published and Developed by: Sega
Released: August 14, 1989
Platform: Sega Genesis / Mega Drive
Genre: Beat ‘em Up, Hack ‘n Slash
Perspective: Side-Scrolling

Sushi-Xpired from

Favorite Gaming Collectible You Own: Donkey Kong Bubble Gum Cards circa 1982

Most Valuable Gaming Collectible You Own: Atari 2600 Custer's Revenge CIB

As I recall, my younger cousin Ellard was afflicted with a terrible speech impediment when this game came out. He laced up his Oxfords, rode his velocipede to the general store, walked up to the video game dispensary and asked for a copy of Golden Axe. Oh, those old boys did have a laugh at his expense! It sounded like he was saying Golden A$$, of course, and Parson Withers gave him a right good boxing around the ears for using profanity in public. Ellard died shortly thereafter of an awful cranial hematoma, but everyone at church just called it "the consumption."

Gilius Thunderhead readies his Battle Axe against the uh, Club of Carnage! And the Grapes of Wrath. I guess.

I came to the Sega Genesis version of Golden Axe in a roundabout way. The first serious time I spent pursuing Death Adder was with the 3-D remake included on the PS2 Sega Ages collection released in the US.  Then I heard the great music from the otherwise awful PC Engine port on a podcast, inspiring me to play the original coin-op version. I only played this cartridge for the first time when I got hold of a copy in a rummage sale Genesis bundle a few years back, and while it's a competent conversion it does pale in comparison to the arcade game. I enjoy the scrolling beat 'em ups once in a while, and the fantasy land of Yuria is a nice change from the dark, gritty urban environments typical of the genre (though, based on the name, one suspects it still smells of pee.) But these games haven't evolved much since Double Dragon, so even the best of them doesn't rate very highly in my book. I like the addition of dramatic magic attacks, and the rideable beasties. But there's not really much to do besides swat or be swatted. It's clearly designed to suck quarters, and home videogame design had already moved on when this game was new.

3 Dead Death Adders out of 5

Mr.Armitage from

Favorite Gaming Collectible You Own: Rollergames Pinball Machine

Most Valuable Gaming Collectible You Own: Dance Dance Revolution Extreme Machine (I actually have 3)

Back what seamed to be a life time ago there where Arcades and in them, depending on your skill level, you could suspend reality for as long as you could make a quarter last. One of the leaders for a while in the side scrolling beat ‘em up, after Double Dragon, was Golden Axe. About a year after the arcade version came the Genesis port which back then was a huge deal.

A fairly good arcade port to a home console was unheard of. Was it the beginning of the end of arcades? Sega cranked out a few other arcade to console ports for their Genesis with Strider, Altered Beast, Alien Storm, and Golden Axe. While nowhere near a perfect conversion from the arcade, Golden Axe was indeed very good for its time. With most of the levels intact and actually contained a few bonus levels on the Genesis as well as new modes. These new modes included the Duel where you can battle a friend or each enemy one on one and Beginner which is a dulled down version of the first three stages. Golden Axe has suffered a little in the graphics department with time. The graphics are very washed out color wise, not that the Arcade version was very colorful to begin with. The sound is quite good with a decent number of tracks to rock along with. If some of the screams and death sounds are familiar, it’s because Golden Axe reused some sound bytes from Rambo, Conan, Commando, and American Werewolf in London.

Golden Axe has got fairly good replay value because for the three player choices. It was one of the first games to have an option of player select rather than just one player. The characters are all balanced with fighting skill and magic, good fighting/weak magic, middle of the road on both, or week fighter/good magic. I prefer Tyris Flare which was the weakest in fighting but had huge fire magic when levelled up to the max. Plus you can play as a kick ass dwarf but sadly due to the Genesis lack of Graphic capability he now has a brown or gray axe instead of golden one. What no Golden Axe in Golden Axe? Also one of the few games I can remember that you can kick gnomes, little #$@@ stealing my magic and food. I'm going to kick the @!#$@# out of them. With all beat ‘em ups you usually have the ability to pick up weapons. Since the heroes already have weapons, Sega used a different tactic with the ability of using mountable enemies to power up your attack, one of them which was featured in Altered Beast.

While not an incredibly difficult game, you can beat Golden Axe in about 40 minutes with the continues available. I find it great fun. Golden Axe has a reasonable move set for the use of three buttons with magic, attack, and jump. It often tends to be a little frustrating if you have an enemy on either side as you will get cheaply attacked. It is definitely a handle one enemy at a time game. Golden Axe is one of the few built in games I play on a GenMobile often when I have about an hour to kill. If you own a Genesis, this is one game you should have in your collection. I would however warn you to stay away from the Sega Ages or Sega Collection version on the PS2. Sure the gameplay is similar and the graphics are updated, but the charm is definitely lacking and the controls are very broken.

4 Dead Death Adders out of 5

HagenDragmire from

Favorite Gaming Collectible You Own: Sharp Nintendo Television

Most Valuable Gaming Collectible You Own: Either the Super NES Kiosk or Original Galaga Cocktail

So we jumped into the 2-player mode of Golden Axe after not playing the Genesis version in years. It was very easy to pick up and play. Very quickly, we found ourselves bashing in the brains of enemies with very little damage being taken. Right off the bat I noticed the slowdown in the attack speed as we have been playing arcade beat ‘em ups a lot lately at parties. My friend made the mistake of choosing Ax Battler who he said, “Looks like he is attacking with a toothpick.” I chose the little axe wielding dwarf as I always liked his short stature. Boss Rushes always meant you were near the end of a stage.

Right off the bat, we both ended up using our magic on accident as we didn’t bother to check which order the buttons were in. We also both commented on how easy the game seemed to be with the default difficulty setting. Besides for a few jumping deaths and inadvertent dragon burn deaths, we rarely died until the eighth or ninth levels. Once we got to the later levels, that’s when the enemy team ups started to occur. Once they started teaming up on us, especially the skeletons, there was nothing we could do to shake them. Every once in awhile we could save each other, but usually that just resulted in hitting each other on accident. By the time we got to the boss fights at the end of the later levels, we were but a hit away from death.

Golden Axe is a fun play through and a solid experience on a 16-bit console. Besides for a few annoying gripes, it is a great first edition of the series and a decently solid arcade port. Most of my gripes were fixed in the sequels so at least Sega listened to the game players/testers. One of the best things about Golden Axe is that each play through doesn’t go much longer than 30 minutes which makes for a great game for a quick go.

3 Dead Death Adders out of 5

NintendoLegend from

Favorite Gaming Collectible You Own: Golden holographic Majora's Mask cartridge. Is it really all that collectible or rare? No, but it's still my favorite.

Most Valuable Gaming Collectible You Own: My NES cartridge and weird controllers collections.

Golden Axe is the perfect game. I know, I know, that sounds incredibly audacious and maybe even ridiculous – but think about it: Whether by yourself or with a friend, it’s a good stand-by, always fun for a playthrough. It’s like a Snickers bar, or Wednesdays – nobody would say it’s their favorite, but you just kinda like it.

The sound effects are wet, crunchy, and impactful. The action is at the perfect challenge for a casual gamer. Those little dwarf things are a riot. How better to kill an evening than by progressing level after level through a medieval-fantasy slash-fest? Be on the look-out for those fire-breathing creatures and enjoy the ride. It may not be the best video game in any technical, graphical, auditory, or gameplay aspect, but there is a reason why it is a long-time, much beloved classic: It is just fun. If you haven’t fired it up in years, give it a try, and see what the pacing, difficulty level, and fun-with-a-friend component stand the test of time.

4 Dead Death Adders out of 5

Ultra Review Roundtable
Overall Rating

4 Dead Death Adders out of 5

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Play for Japan

Okay, gang, it's time to get serious and do something for our fellow gamers and human beings in the East.  As you know, Japan was recently hit by a major earthquake and tsunami.  The videogame industry has rallied to auction off rare memorabilia as a fundraiser.

Play for Japan - A Game Industry Relief Effort

If bidding for unusual game swag doesn't interest you, please consider donating directly to the relief agency of your choice, such as the American Red Cross.  This isn't a big planet; we're all in this together.

Angry Birds: A Usability Study

Human factors engineer Charles Mauro has written a detailed dissection of the popular iPhone game, Angry Birds, looking at what makes it so addictive from an interface and brain-science perspective.  It's lengthy and geeky, and fascinating if you have an interest in understanding how humans experience games from a cognitive perspective.  I don't have anything to add -- here's a link.

The End of Game Manuals?

It seems that game manuals are becoming less and less important as the game industry matures.  Once upon a time, players really needed the documentation to confirm that variation 83 was actually different in some way from variation 82, or to understand that the red blob with a white blob on top of it was actually a healing potion.  But modern games tend to build the instructions into the early rounds of play, and many games now fall into one of many well-established genres with more-or-less standardized rules and controls.

The current trend toward downloadable games is also a factor -- when there's no physical box on a shelf, there's no way to include a print manual.  And in fact, I rarely look at a contemporary game manual unless I just can't figure out something basic and critical, like how to save and exit the game, or if I want to check out the development credits without actually finishing the game (also less necessary than in the past, as more games today include a "credits" option on the main menu.)

Ubisoft recently took a little heat from fans and game journalists over the single-page manual included with Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, but I'm not sure this is a bad thing in the long run.  It's an ecologically progressive direction, for one thing, and while the collector in me likes the idea of having something physical in my hands, if I'm rational about it I have to admit that I really have no good arguments against this trend.

See, if I miss manuals, it's mostly for nostalgic reasons.  I'm recalling past times when I was not driving the car, could not postpone other errands to rush home, and so could only read and re-read the manual, building anticipation for playing the actual game as soon as circumstances permitted.  I don't personally run into that situation much as an adult.  And modern games have plenty of resources available for tutorials and learn-as-you-play tips, so I have no problem with treating pick-up-and-play-ability as an aspect of modern game design standards, and letting the paper manual vanish altogether.

What do you think?  Are game manuals rightly fading into the past, or is that collection of decorated paper still a vital part of the gaming experience?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Bone - Out From Boneville (2007 Director's Cut)

I haven't previously written in detail about the recent adventures created by Telltale Games, but the company's launch titles are now far enough past their commercial prime that I'm willing to spoil them a little.  And Telltale's built-in hint system means that you're not going to learn any secrets here that would otherwise have kept you happily (or unhappily) stumped for days.

Bone: Out From Boneville was originally released in September 2005, as the first of what was meant to be a series adapting Jeff Smith's popular Bone comic books and graphic novels.  The series was unfortunately interrupted after two releases based on the first two collected Bone books; slightly improved "Director's Cut" editions were released in 2007, but the recent movie rights sale means it's unlikely we'll see more Bone stories from Telltale any time soon.  But Smith's continuing story exists in print form, and these games provide an engaging introduction to the world of Bone.

One thing I appreciate about Telltale Games is that their licensed titles are unfailingly affectionate, faithful to and respectful of their source material.  Telltale's games have led me to some great new fictional "friends" -- I was not familiar with the worlds of Bone or Homestar Runner before playing the Telltale adventures, but now I'm a fan of both.

Telltale's later productions are generally telling new stories in familiar universes; Out from Boneville, however, is a direct adaptation of Jeff Smith's book, and as such there are some compromises and edits necessary.  I played the game before reading the original, and didn't miss the cuts, but afterward it's clear that the story has been compressed, streamlined and rearranged to work as an adventure game, with some key events merely alluded to, and others moved into the second game.  Almost all of the puzzle elements are completely new, of course, and while all are inspired by the events of the book, some are better integrated with the story than others.  But most of my favorite dialogue lines in the game originated in the book, all of the new material seems completely in character, and the basic story works well in these two fundamentally different formats.  Both the books and the games are worth exploring on their own merits.

Bone: Out from Boneville is a point-and-click adventure, and it's not particularly difficult; the emphasis here is on character and story.  But there are some decent and varied puzzles to deal with -- a few are visual and kinetic, many are conversational, and others are traditional item-use situations.  I will recommend the Director's Cut of Out from Boneville over the original, primarily because a couple of potentially frustrating arcade-style chase sequences can be skipped in the more recent version.  It's available for purchase at Telltale Games' website, and I strongly recommend that interested readers give it a go before continuing here.  Because there will be copious and thorough...

The game opens with a prologue (added to the Director's Cut version) describing the game world's idyllic past, and a present looming danger, in stirring mythological terms.  The action comes down to earth as we discover our hero Fone Bone and his cousins Smiley Bone and Phoney Bone lost in the desert, after fleeing from Boneville after Phoney's mayoral campaign picnic went horribly awry.

Though the character animation and voice-acting aren't up to Telltale's current standards, this sequence is an efficient and entertaining introduction to the three personalities at play here -- Fone is the Everyman character with whom the player is likely to identify, Phoney is the selfish, wealthy curmudgeon, and Smiley the happy-go-lucky ne-'er-do-well.  The first puzzle (new for the game) is triggered by an item discovery but is primarily conversational in nature -- Fone Bone spots a map tucked under the boulder Smiley Bone is sitting on, then Smiley retrieves the map but won't give it up unless Phoney gives him a dollar.  Fone Bone has to convince Smiley to play "The Old Gray Mare" on his banjo to provoke the grumpy Phoney into giving up a dollar to get him to stop.

The victory is short-lived, however, as a swarm of locusts buzzes into view, leading into one of the game's two arcade-style mouse-controlled sequences.   Fone Bone must run and jump to avoid the cloud of ravenous insects, and becomes separated from his cousins in the process.

While the exhausted Fone Bone sleeps after escaping the swarm, he is discovered by some mysterious monsters apparently searching for Phoney, but they do not disturb him.  He wakes up after they have departed, conveniently leaving a torch behind, and must now must find his way through the mountains in search of his missing companions, following a trail of Smiley's still-glowing cigar stubs (as seen in the book.)  There's some game-style platform jumping in this section, though it's strictly point-and-click, with no quick hand-eye coordination required.  At the end of the mountains we see this beautiful reveal shot, unveiling the Valley -- inspired by one of the nicest pieces of art in the original comic, it's Bone creator Smith's professed favorite moment of the game:

Next, Fone Bone befriends Ted the bug, who summons his big brother to fell a tree so Fone can cross the river, after we help Ted across first in a puzzle sequence.  Ted moves by making two short hops and a bigger third hop, so navigating the stones requires a little bit of visual puzzle-solving.

On the other side of the river, Fone Bone meets an argumentative pair of rat creatures.  It took me a while to solve this puzzle -- it's not hard to get them arguing with each other, but there are no dialogue paths that lead to a safe escape, access to inventory isn't available, and if Fone tries to run away while they are arguing, they stop him.  What we have to do is get them arguing about issues of quiche versus stew and self-image problems, and back slowly away, one step at a time, whenever they have momentarily turned to face each other.

The rat creatures give chase, but are scared off by a laid-back red dragon at the river's edge.  There's a funny bit of dialogue here, drawn from the book, that I completely missed on my first playthrough -- if Fone Bone challenges the dragon as to why he let the monsters get away instead of blasting them with fire, the laconic creature blackens his nose with a brief blast, and advises him, "Never play an ace when a two will do."

Next, we encounter a charming trio of possum kids.  (Incidentally, I suspect that Jimmy Two-Teeth from Telltale's Sam & Max games was derived from the possum character model, and reuses some of the same animation.)  These characters are seen only briefly in the book, but we will spend considerably more time with them in the game.

Fone Bone can help the young possums play "dead" by roaring like an angry bear, and can tell them a story -- an improvised one, or a truncated version of the story of Ishmael from his favorite book, Moby Dick.  He must play hide-and-seek with the bored li'l possums to learn how to reach the Hot Springs; the location features a number of possible hiding places, with the youngsters calling out to let Fone Bone know if he's getting warm or not.  We spend a fair amount of time in the possum's clearing, so the lively ragtime musical theme here is appreciated -- it was composed by Jared Emerson-Johnson, who has since written scores for many Telltale projects.

At the Hot Springs, Fone Bone encounters the beautiful Thorn and is instantly infatuated with her (as denoted by the cartoon hearts that pop up around his head.)  There's a great bit of interactive character development through conversation here -- no matter what we choose as his introductory line, he stands dumbstruck, and his subsequent utterances are never as articulate coming out of his mouth as he means them to be when we select them from the menu.  Eventually Fone gets himself back on track, and asks if she has seen his cousins.  Thorn hasn't seen them, and doesn't believe in dragons, but she does believe in the rat creatures he's recently encountered, and she takes him to Gran'ma Ben's farm for safety's sake.

The focus now shifts back to Phoney Bone, who has emerged from the mountains on his own near the same stream Fone Bone crossed earlier.  We must help him contend with his grumbling tummy -- with which he has an irritated conversation -- by rounding up a fallen apple nearby, after provoking Ted's big brother bug into knocking himself out against a rock (Phoney Bone's people skills and insect skills are equally lacking.)

Phoney Bone can try but fail to engage the red dragon in conversation.  Passing through the clearing, he also has to entertain the possum children, as they don't know what a dollar is when he offers them one to tell him where Fone Bone is.  Phoney is not really cut out to enjoy this sort of thing -- he hides in plain sight and has to guide the three possums to his location.  It took me a while to figure out that the possums don't directly respond to his cold, warm and hot indications -- instead, we have to observe their movement patterns and orientation when they stop, using the three commands to move each of them to Phoney's hiding spot.  The possums and Ted the Bug help him get to Gran'ma Ben's farm, where he is reunited with Fone Bone (after getting beat up by Gran'ma Ben when he gives her a little too much attitude about her "crummy little farm.")

The next few puzzles are farm chore-related.  Fone Bone has to chop wood and haul water, while Phoney Bone has to dig up turnips and collect more apples from the tree.  Apparently Boneville favors traditional gender roles, as in another sequence drawn from the book, Thorn offers to chop the wood but Fone Bone insists it's a man's job.  Of course, he's too short to even take the axe from the stump it's embedded in, and has to summon help from Ted's friends the termites to free the axe... head.  Fortunately he can use a flat rock to pound the metal wedge into a log, splitting it.  He also needs to grab a corn cob and get the dragon (lurking out-of-sight in the farm's well) to pop the kernels off of it, so that it can be used to plug a hole in the wooden bucket; before we can do this, we have to establish that it's a good idea by initially trying to plug the hole with the corn cob as-is, which proves too large to fit.

Phoney carries out his chores with his usual casual disregard for ethics -- he has to "borrow" the possums' shovel while they are playing "dead" to dig up the turnips near the Hot Springs, and provoke Ted's big bug brother into knocking him into the air so he can pick the tree's remaining apples.

With the chores done, a little dinner conversation establishes that Gran'ma Ben plans to compete in the Great Cow Race, and then the rat creatures return in force.  Fortunately, so does our pal the Dragon, who scares them off... and apparently knows Gran'ma Ben, whom he refers to as Rose.  This conversation also takes place in the original book, setting up an interesting backstory that the game series unfortunately never got to resolve.

But there's one more game to play, and now everybody's off to the Fair, with an ending that overlaps the next game and skips over a couple of events covered in the book.  For the moment, we can just be happy to see Fone and Phoney reunited with Smiley Bone.  And the story leads into "act two," Bone: The Great Cow Race, as an ominous hooded figure hints at a dangerous deal entered into by Phoney...

Bone: Out from Boneville isn't a difficult game -- the built-in hint system makes it possible for anyone to enjoy the complete story, and there's nothing wrong with that.  The hints are textual, not worked into the story, so using them is completely optional.  Sometime soon, we will tackle the second and unfortunately last Bone release from Telltale Games -- Bone: The Great Cow Race.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The LoadDown - 03/21/2011

The month of March, er, marches on, and there are more new games to consider, though we seem to be entering the quieter spring and summer window...

WiiWare -- The recent trend continues with one new game and one free demo.  The new title is not entirely original -- Arcade Essentials is a collection of five classic arcade-inspired games, borrowing concepts from Space Invaders, Qix and other vintage coin-ops.  There's also a demo version of the underwater action-adventure Dive: The Medes Island Secret.

Wii Virtual Console -- One unusual new title arrives -- Natsume Championship Wrestling for the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, supporting up to four players with twelve colorful (though unlicensed) wrestlers to choose from.

DSiWare -- Just two new titles this week, perhaps because the new Nintendo 3DS debuts this coming Sunday March 27 in North America and DSiWare may be taking a bit of an interest hit.  G.G Series D-TANK is a simple tank game with defense and attack missions.  Shapo is a matching puzzle game, with a novel weight-based scale-balancing element.

XBox Live Arcade -- One I missed and one new one.  I overlooked the late arrival of Battle: Los Angeles back on March 11th, a first-person shooter based on the recent movie, which accounts for the odd timing.  There's also Full House Poker, built on the technology developed for Microsoft's 1 vs. 100; I'd rather have the trivia game show back on the air, to be honest, but this seems like a worthy attempt at a followup.

PS3 on PSN -- Two new games this week.  Konami's spiritual Contra sequel, Hard Corps: Uprising, arrives on the PS3 after debuting on XBLA a few weeks earlier, none the worse for wear.  Slam Bolt Scrappers is an interesting attempt to meld the fighting, puzzle and strategy genres.

PSOne Classics --  All's quiet on the Western front here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cover to Cover: Acorn Software Fall 1981 (p. 7)

You know the drill by now -- on to page 7, with more games from the Acorn Software Products Fall 1981 catalog:

I was able to find all three of these titles online -- machine-language games and Leo Christopherson's work seem to have sold rather better than some of Acorn's other titles.

Space Rocks is, per tradition in the wild-and-woolly early days of computer gaming, a wholly unauthorized version of Asteroids.  You'll note that no screenshot is featured in the catalog, possibly because the game's biggest limitation is the massive size of the player's ship -- it's rendered as a square with a fat aiming point that rotates around it.  Movement is sluggish, and the net effect is that the player's ship feels almost as large as the incoming asteroids, making survival a matter of chance more than skill.

Duel-N-Droids is by the TRS-80 graphics master Leo Christopherson (Dancing Demon), who managed to put large, well-animated characters on the Model I screen when everyone else was struggling to get tiny spaceships moving around.  This game introduced an interesting if not entirely successful new technique -- using rapid flickering of black and white on a three-phase cycle, Christopherson was able to simulate two distinct, flickery shades of gray between the TRS-80's normal black and white pixels.  Emulator screenshots can't really capture the effect -- Acorn's catalog photo on this page does a much better job.  The effect is wearing on the eye after a while, but it's a novel idea that I don't recall seeing elsewhere.

Space War is a version of (what else?) Space War, a.k.a. Computer Space, where two players orbiting a dangerous gravity well try to shoot each other down for points.  The Space War name was apparently never copyrighted, nor was the academia-spawned design protected, so myriad versions of this game appeared in arcades, on the Atari 2600 and on many home computers under the same "official" unlicensed name.  This version of the game was produced by Device Oriented Games, also responsible for the 4K Haunted House TRS-80 adventure published by Radio Shack.

We have one more page of games ahead, and then we'll pick up the pace a bit as we delve into personal productivity software circa the early 1980s.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cover to Cover: Acorn Software Fall 1981 (p. 6)

What's next in the Acorn Software Products catalog for Fall 1981?  Page 6, featuring more games of the sort we played at the dawn of the industry:

I wasn't able to find either of these games in the online archives, though there are some similarly-named titles by different authors out there.  So this discussion is purely speculative, based on the descriptions and the technology of the time.

Everest Explorer claims it "goes beyond most adventures" to present a thrilling tale of mountain-climbing conquest, but in TRS-80 terms we can speculate that this concept becomes a turn-based logistical simulation, requiring the player to manage resources and make decisions under severely constrained circumstances.  These types of games can be a lot of fun -- Oregon Trail remains an enduring classic -- but in practice many of these experiences tend to break down as soon as the player figures out how the simulation "thinks."  Also, with a text-based interface, the actual gameplay experience tends to go something like "Buy supplies?  Climb?  Rest?  Hire guides?  Make Camp?  Quit?" -- Q, please.

Word Wars is a pair of word games; one appears to be a hangman-style guess-the-phrase game, the other a deduction exercise similar to Mastermind.  At least the program includes a database of words to support single-player mode, but in 16K of tape-based memory the range of possibilities was likely pretty small.

Okay, folks, there's nothing much to see here.  On to page 7!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Of Import: Götzendiener

Ha ha!  Fooled you, import gaming fans!  Despite the name, tzendiener is not from Germany.  It's from Japan, for my favorite import machine, the PC Engine.

It's an isometric action/adventure game released in 1994 for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM format, late in the system's life.  And it's probably most notable today for the animation studio responsible for the graphics:

Gainax was a successful Japanese anime studio (Gunbuster, Otaku no Video) that also did artwork and animation for a number of games during the 16-bit era, including Alisia Dragoon on the Genesis, the Princess Maker series on multiple platforms, and some "adult" games like the Battle Skin Panic series.

The story of tzendiener finds our heroine freed from her shackles, just after her demon kidnapper and the generic hero who has come to rescue her both expire of wounds sustained during the climactic battle of someone else's story.

With the bad guy and the good guy both lying dead, she has no choice but to doff her princess gown, pick up her would-be-rescuer's sword, and soldier forth herself to escape her demon captor's large and puzzle-filled tower:

Götzendiener seems to be inspired by Jordan Mechner's classic Prince of Persia -- I offer the Arabian motif and the swordplay as supporting evidence -- but it's even more puzzle-oriented, with very brief action interludes to break up the mazey wandering bits.

I spent quite a bit of time exploring the levels -- we can pull chains, cut ropes, break down walls, and attack the occasional enemy creature.  But our heroine is no Lara Croft -- she can really only walk, draw her sword and climb; here, we have to place a broken ladder over a narrow gap in the flooring that even I could jump across in real life:

The battles aren't particularly challenging, either -- at least in the early going, as long as we have the right weapon in hand and keep swinging, it's not hard to take any of the creatures we encounter down.  And some creatures are friendly, like this gryphonesque animal that carries us to another part of the castle.

The graphics are lovely, but after a while, the map-heavy gameplay becomes wearing.  There really isn't very much going on most of the time, leaving our spunky princess to wander endlessly in circles, looking for some doorway, ladder or object she hasn't noticed before that might make something new happen.  In my first quest, I even ran across a fatal bug: I hit the SELECT button to drop the sledgehammer, after breaking some rocks blocking access to this ladder.  It ended up being thrown into the middle of a wall, and the game promptly froze.

Götzendiener is one of those late-in-the-life-cycle games that occasionally turn up when a system is past its prime -- it has great artwork and an interesting gameplay approach, and maximizes what the PC Engine can do.  But it's pushing the hardware in ways that ultimately compromise the experience.  The isometric look is very nice, but priority breaks are common, with doors that open in front of what should be occluding walls, and staircases that half-block our heroine's legs when she's walking up them.  And the CD-based opening music gives way to atmospheric but repetitive chiptune themes once the action gets underway, keeping the disc free for rapid access, but making what's meant to be an absorbing experience a shade less than it could have been.

Nice graphics, okay gameplay, and some technical issues that make it feel unfinished -- back on the shelf with thee, Götzendiener!

I'm not recommending this one, but more patient gamers than I may find it interesting.  It may be available for sale here or here:

Gotzen Diender PC-Engine SCD

Thursday, March 17, 2011

At Random: Speedway! Spin-Out! Crypto-Logic! (Odyssey^2)

This week, my random pick has come up with one of those easy-to-find, dirt-common games known as a "pack-in."  As the industry has matured and launch libraries offer more experiences to different kinds of gamers, the practice of including a game in the box with the console has started to fall by the wayside.  But if you bought a Magnavox Odyssey^2 console in 1978, you also got a copy of the three-in-one cartridge, Speedway! Spin-Out! Crypto-Logic!  And if you're collecting Odyssey^2 videogames today, you probably already have multiple copies of this one.

Keeping in mind that the entire three-game cartridge is a mere 2048 bytes in size -- less space than it will take me to discuss the game here, not including screenshots -- it wasn't a bad choice for a pack-in.  It offers some variety -- enough to keep new players interested, but not so much that they wouldn't go out and buy a new, more polished cartridge sometime soon.  And it's a game that would probably not have sold particularly well if it were not the console's pack-in.

Speedway! Spin-Out! Crypto-Logic! fires up with a no-frills menu - a black screen with text reading SELECT GAME.  We have to refer to the manual to figure out what this really means -- pressing 1, 2, 3 or 4 on the system's keyboard fires up one of the available games (2 and 3 cover two variations of Spin-Out!)  To select a different game, the player must reset the console to return to this start-up screen, no doubt saving a few opcodes.

Speedway! (game selection 1) is a vertically-scrolling "race" game -- and at least the box description is accurate, offering the opportunity to "Race against the clock and an electronic maze of other cars!"   The other cars aren't actually competing in the race, you see -- they just present a set of obstacles as they drift lazily from one side of the road toward the other, suffering no damage at all when they knock the player's car into a crumpled heap of pixels.  And the scoring is simple -- the player scores points while the two-minute clock is running, but does not score points while recovering from a crash.  There are two difficulty levels, with the second level running twice as fast as the first.

The second title, Spin-Out!, is a completely separate racing game, patterned after the classic Atari Sprint coin-op (which for some odd reason bore the name Indy 500 on the Atari 2600.)  Start-up option 2 provides 3 laps of play, option 3 15 laps.The track is squarish and there's no player-vs.-computer support, but with two players competing to rack up laps it's not a bad rendition of the concept.  And the track walls are solid, preventing the "rack up laps by circling tightly around the center of the playfield, crossing the two demarcation lines" trick some other versions of this idea allowed.

As game number 3, Crypto-Logic! is the "cheater" here -- it relies on the Odyssey^2's built-in character set and so does not have to devote precious cartridge space to new graphics.  There's no built-in dictionary, either -- instead, one player uses the system's keyboard to type a phrase on the enciphering line, the computer scrambles it, and a second player attempts to decipher it.  Wrong guesses are counted after the puzzle is solved.

All of these games, and the genres they represent, have become relics in the modern era -- they're so very simple that it's hard to imagine anyone spending more than a few minutes with them today.  But back when simple interaction with an image on a TV screen was itself the "wow factor," Magnavox introduced lots of new players to the thrill of videogaming with this very cartridge.  As gamers who want to appreciate where we are today, we owe it to ourselves to, on occasion, take a look back at where we've been.

As a typical pack-in, there are almost certainly more copies of this game available than there are people who really want one these days.  I'm kind of surprised it's not less expensive, but if you want a copy, you may be able to find it here: