With news of new consoles, Sony vs. Microsoft, policy changes, and MOAR GAMES! hanging heavy in the air, my desire to drive my DeLorean back to a simpler time feels stronger than ever. With that in mind, I’m going to be playing the “deserted island” game over my next several posts. You know the typical ice breaker question: “If you were stranded on a deserted island, which five movies/games/tv shows/people, etc., would you want to have with you?” Well, with each post I plan to highlight a single console and at least five games for that console that I’d want to have. Though the island and its infinite supply of electricity aren’t real, the games and consoles are; and I’ll only be writing about consoles that I’ve owned or used and games that I’ve actually played. (Sorry Sega fans, no Sonic and Knuckles here.) And while I’ll be covering my favorite games, I wouldn’t call these my “top 5 favorite games” lists – simply liking a game doesn’t imply that I want to spend my life with it. Also, the lists are not in any order because on a deserted island, there is no order. There is only time.
So as with all things, we shall begin at the beginning with my first console, the Atari 7800.
Unlike the tykes of today who start gaming as soon as their little hands can grasp a controller, my console gaming days started rather late in life as a young pre-teen. Our Atari 7800 was sleek and cool, though we didn’t have its “modern,” two-button controllers. Instead, we used the classic, one-button joysticks which I mashed upon as much as I could. (And those things could take a beating!) We had lots of games for the console – a mix of those for Atari 2600 and 7800 – and these are five that I could probably enjoy for an extended amount of time under blue skies, among the albatrosses and smoke monsters.
P. S. The game name links will take you over to Atari Age, a great, comprehensive site that’s all about Atari, obviously.
Galaga was…and still is…a wonderful game; and it was definitely one of the most entertaining Atari games in our collection. It looked supremely simple on the surface, but underneath all the shooting was a game that required a surprising amount of strategy and thought. Move your ship and shoot all the aliens as they moved into and out of various formations was its basic premise – kind of like Space Invaders only better. Like Space Invaders was the skim milk to Galaga’s Häagen-Dazs’s vanilla ice cream. Better. Now it’s true that Galaga was a game about patterns, but it offered enough randomness in the alien’s movements to keep it new enough with each playthrough.
I was pretty bad at Xevious, and I wouldn’t call it a favorite games in any language. But when I got into the right groove with the game, Xevious was addictive. This top-down scroller/shooter presented players with ground and air targets. There were plenty of things to shoot and bomb…and miss and avoid. But Xevious was a hard game for me to get started. I just wanted to destroy EVERYTHING, which, because of my sort attention span, often led to quick deaths. But like I said, once I relaxed and simply enjoyed progressing through levels without worrying about those two ground targets that I just missed, the game became much more fun.
I’ve played lots of racing games over the years, but none remain closer to my heart than Pole Position. (We had the Atari 2600 version.) As with Xevious, I was not good at the game, and I got plenty frustrated at times, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Being an Atari game, Pole Position was not at all flashy. No concept cars with shiny paint, no pedestrians cheering you on from the sidelines, no cityscapes, and nothing was on fire. It was all about you and the road….and coming in first place, of course. I don’t know how many tracks the game offered because I never made it past the first few. But I’d be more than willing to find out if I could play the game ad infinitum.
With as many hours as I lost to the side-scroller Defender (like with Pole Position, I’m talking about the Atari 2600 version), you’d think I was some sort of expert. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I loved this game as much as I hated it. All those hours were pretty much spent trying to get past the first dozen or so waves. But with my frustration came determination. And each time I passed a wave, I praised my own awesomeness to anyone who would listen. There were enemies to blast, humans to save, and slippery controls to overcome. The game was far from perfect (I swear enemies would flit on and off the screen, thereby adding to my rage), but it was also very captivating. It was one of those games were you had to…needed to…wanted to…get in just one more level before bed.
Of course I’m going to pick a Pac-Man game; and of course it’s going to be Ms. Pac-Man! (Mainly because we never had the original Pac-Man on the Atari.) With hundreds of different levels, I could maneuver that little bow-wearing circle for years and not get bored. And I need not espouse upon the brilliant fun of outwitting four ghosts, chomping and fruit and power pellets, and gathering up all the dots in a stage – I know you’ve played it! And to know Ms. Pac-Man is to love Ms. Pac-Man.
Next week, I move up in the gaming world to the 8-bit wonder that was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Will I be saving princesses and shooting helpless waterfowl in between stints of basking in the lonely sun? While you’re pondering the answer, hit us up with a comment or three. What old school games could you play for forever and a day?