Category Archives: Consoles

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for the Atari 2600

The Empire Strikes Back is regularly quoted by fans as their favourite Star Wars film, focused on Luke’s development as a Jedi knight, and his relationship with his evil nemesis Darth Vader.

AT AT Walkers from the Empire Strikes Back
AT- AT Walkers from the Empire Strikes Back

The stand-out action scene in the film is the battle on the ice planet Hoth, where the Imperial forces locate and launch an attack on the rebel base with ground troops and the iconic AT-AT Walkers. These huge lumbering machines resemble giant camels, carrying troops and spitting lasers, and in the film’s equivalent of the Death Star trench run, have to be slowed down by the rebel forces to allow the evacuation of the base.

Intriducing The Empire Strikes Back on the Atari 2600

This scene forms the premise for Parker Brothers 1982 game, released on the Atari 2600, where you as a rebel pilot take on the mighty walkers, in a game resembling the classic Defender by Williams. Piloting a rebel Snowspeeder, you can fly horizontally across the landscape to locate and attack 5 imperial walkers, which are moving from the left to the left towards your base.

The location of the walkers is shown on a map (Defender again) at the bottom of the screen. In the film the only way to bring the walkers down was using a slingshot to wrap around the huge legs to trip them over, but on the Atari 2600 you have to shoot down the walker with repeated hits of your laser. Multiple hits to the body were required, slowly turning the colour of the walker from black to red and orange, before finally destroying them. You could also aim for a weak spot indicated by a flashing blob.

The Empire Strikes Back Atari 2600 Screenshot
Atari 2600 Screenshot

The walkers themselves were not without their own weapons, requiring you to dodge lasers while you zipped around the walkers, and whilst at first they were “hollow” allowing you to fly through them, on later levels they were solid, increasing the difficulty level. Your ship had 3 lives, indicated by the colour of the snowspeeder, but could be repaired by landing at the bottom of the screen, but this consumed valuable time. On later levels the AT-ATs would also fire smart bombs, and march more quickly towards your base.

The level is complete when you have destroyed all 5 walkers, or the walkers reach your base and the game is over.

Is ESB the best Star Wars Game for the Atari 2600?

So the big question is, was Parker Brother’s Empire Strikes Back any good? I certainly remember playing it as a teenager and spending hours perfecting my technique, and on replaying the game today it feels just as good as it was in 1982. Given the gaming potential of the original Star Wars film, it is an interesting fact that this was the first ever computer game from the iconic series. It certainly captures the essence of the film, and the battle scene that we all wanted to be in, playing hero Luke Skywalker. At the time my only regret was that you couldn’t use a tow cable to trip the AT-ATs.

Later recreations of the Hoth Battle Scene

Since the release of this game there have been Star Wars games released for every home computer and console from the NES to the XBOX 360, including recreations of the Hoth battle scene. The best of these was part of the Rogue Squadron series of games starting with the Nintendo 64, and later the Gamecube. In these later releases you finally had the ability to take down the AT-ATs with a tow cable, just like in the original film, and it was worth the 15 years I had to wait for this to happen.

There have been some great Star Wars games over the years, as well as some spectacularly poor releases, but this first game falls into the former category, and a great gaming memory for any Star Wars fan around in the early 80’s.

My Top 10 Sega Megadrive – Genesis Games

An All-Time Top 10 List of Games for the Sega Megadrive – 10 is not enough!

The Sega Megadrive (Genesis in the US) created many a playground row, mainly with loyal Super Nintendo owners who insisted that their machine was superior.  In reality both were great machines, capable of producing arcade quality graphics, and each with its own catalogue of unique games.  Today I’m looking at the best games for the Megadrive, based mainly on my personal favourites. I’ve also backed up with some research and feedback from the web, retro games forums and my friends on Twitter.

Sega Megadrive Genesis
Sega’s 16 Bit Megadrive Console

For a console that had many hundreds of quality games released, this is no mean feat. I think any Megadrive owner will find something here to relate to – if not please let me know the error of my ways!

So without further ado, my Top 10 Sega Megadrive Games of all time.

10. Aero Blasters

Sega Megadrive Aero Blasters
Aero Blasters

The Best of the Megadrive Shooters

The Megadrive had no shortage of great shooters, from the ThunderForce series to the fantastic Gynoug, but for the me the best was a game from Namco called Aero Blasters (aka Air Buster). Unlike some shooters which are overly reliant on the amassing of a huge arsenal of weapons in order to progress, Aero Blasters focuses more on old school avoidance tactics.  Progressing to later levels requires a steady hand and memorising ship movements and bullet patterns, presenting a real challenge to even the most hard core shmup fan. The levels themselves are hardly groundbreaking, featuring shooter staples ranging from bright coastal areas through to dark caves and mechanised fortresses, as well as huge and fiendish bosses to defeat. What the game does do well is maintain a fantastic pace, with no hint of slow down despite the huge number of enemies, bullets and explosions that seem at times to completely fill the screen.

No Megadrive Top 10 would be complete without a decent shooter, and although it was a tough choice with so much to choose from, Aero Blasters is my pick of the bunch.

9. Golden Axe 2

Sege Megadrive Golden Axe 2 Box Art
Golden Axe 2 Megadrive Box Art

Golden Axe was one of those arcade games that was best played with a friend – and once you got started it had to be played through to the end.  The first conversion for the Megadrive was a great game, and the sequel was, basically, the same.  But better!

There is a bit of a “sequel” theme running through this Top 10, where games that were already good are made truly great with small but significant enhancements.  This is true of Golden Axe 2 which is identical to the first game, set in a fantasy medieval world, where you play as one of 3 warriors, a barbarian, an Amazon and a dwarf battling through 7 stages to defeat the evil Dark Guld. Where the sequel differs is in the small details, the improved fighting moves, more controllable magic, as well as better character and background graphics.

Many people criticised Golden Axe 2 for being being too similar to the original, but experienced in isolation it is a great game, and a firm favourite amongst Sega Megadrive owners.

8. Strider
Sega Megadrive Strider
Strider vs. Gorilla Boss

The 16bit Megadrive was ideally suited to arcade conversions, and Sega had a great back catalogue of games to plunder. We’ve already covered Golden Axe in this Top 10, and the next game to get the home makeover treatment is iconic platformer Strider. Famous for its huge sprites, multiple mini bosses and incredibly detailed graphics, Strider at times feels more like an animated film than a game.

Your character, the Strider of the title, runs, somersaults, dives and slides acrobatically through the 5 varied levels on a mission to defeat the evil Grand Master.  Along the way Strider must defeat all manner of enemies, with the help of his mechanised pals, including an eagle, and a huge robot panther.

As well as being one of my Top 10 Megadrive games, this is also one of my favourite arcade games, and you can read the full review here.

7. Revenge of Shinobi

Sega Megadrive Revenge of Shinobi
Revenge of Shinobi Box Art

The Shinobi series of games follows a tradition of side-scrolling platform games, such as Ghouls & Ghosts and Contra, that offer players a real challenge, games that require patience and continued play in order to progress – a contrast to many of today’s “casual” games.

Revenge of Shinobi is the second game in the series, and sees your character Joe Musashi battle against the criminal Zeed clan, who have kidnapped Joe’s wife in revenge for their defeat in the first game.  Joe uses traditional Ninja weaponry including throwing knives and stars to fight his way through 8 levels, starting in Tokyo and finishing up in New York.  In addition to his weapons, Joe also has access to special magical attacks that can act as smart bombs, wiping out multiple enemies, as well as improving jumping and defensive capabilities.

The bosses in Revenge of Shinobi are famous for including likenesses to  famous comic book characters, Batman and Spider Man, and for a cameo from Godzilla.  Later versions were adjusted for legal reasons, although Spider Man was officially licensed and was retained in all versions.

6. Rocket Knight Adventures

Attack of the Armoured Opossum

Sega Megadrive Rocket Knight Adventures
Rocket Knight Adventures

Video games are not short of bizarre animal mascots – such as Sonic the Hedgehog, or Crash Bandicoot, but none quite as strange as Sparkster the Opossum, star of Rocket Knight Adventures.  Konami’s game was a side scrolling platformer similar in style to Gunstar Heroe’s, featuring slick animation and huge screen filling battles and explosions.

Rocket Knight Adventures features a complex storyline, which can be boiled down to Opossums vs. Pigs.  Sparkster was the most heavily armed marsupial ever, having a full suit of armour and a working rocket pack, which could be used in short bursts to traverse obstacles and attack the enemy porkers.  Some of the gameplay and animation is reminiscent of Metal Slug, with various vehicles such as tanks being used by the enemy forces.  As well as classic platform levels, there are shooter style flying levels, with Sparkster shooting waves of enemies attacking from the right of the screen.  There is a great sense of humour in the gameplay, with some wonderful sprite animation, as well as huge multi-part bosses that require use of the rocket pack to attack weak spots.

Rocket Knight Adventures never had the following of many

Gunstar Heroes for the Sega Megadrive

The Sega Megadrive was never short of great games, but developer Treasure managed to create a smash with Gunstar Heroes, it’s very first commercial release in 1993. Back then the name Treasure was relatively unknown, well before they received worldwide acclaim for games such as Bangai-O, Sin & Punishment and Ikaruga.

gunstar heroes megadrive case
Gunstar Heroes for the Sega Megadrive

Gunstar Heroes uses the horizontal run and gun format familiar to players of Contra, Metal Slug and Forgotten Worlds, scrolling left to right with multiple platforms and routes through each level.  An over-complicated game intro establishes that your heroes “Red” and “Blue” have to cross deserts, aerial platforms, caverns and huge battleships on a mission to rescue Red’s brother “Green” from the evil “Black”.

Gunstar Heroes Gameplay

There are 7 levels to complete, each featuring unique locations and level bosses, and a whole bunch of minor enemies and mini-bosses to defeat along the way. In fact so many that the screen sometimes seems filled with sprites, projectiles and huge blooming explosions, all of which dont seem to incur any kind of slowdown from the 16 bit heart of the Megadrive.

Gunstar Heroes Megadrive screenshot
Gunstar Heroes – Explosions!

You can choose from 4 weapons, Force, Lightning, Fire and Chaser, which can be combined to make hybrid weapons, which give different perks and allow for different playstyles. In two player mode you can even work in tandam, throwing each other at weaker enemies being another way of destroying them as well as the huge bosses.

Bucking convention, you could pick from any one of 4 levels to start, allowing you to take different routes through the game should you get stuck, which due to the advanced difficulty levels, would often happen. Death would come when you took a certain number of hits and drained your power bar, giving you the opportunity to quit the game or return to the start of the current level.

As with all Treasure games to follow, the sprites were incredibly detailed, and they wrestled every last inch of processing power out of the Megadrive, with the kind of graphical scaling and rotation normally associated with the FX chip augmentented Super Nintendo.

Gunstar Heroes Bosses

Gunstar Heroes Cavern Level
Gunstar Heroes cavern level

Some of the stand out moments include the “sand” boss, created from shifting blocks of sand forming different shapes including a “running man”, a Treasure hallmark, with this character also featuring in later shmup Radiant Silvergun.  There is also a “boardgame” level full of bosses, and a mine level featuring an Indiana Jones style minecart chase.

Playing Gunstar Heroes Today

Getting hold of Gunstar Heroes these days is hampered by its relative rarity and cult status, but you can still obtain a copy on ebay for around £20, and you can also find it on the Sega Megadrive Classic Collection, with 3 other games – which bizarrely is cheaper.  360 owners can also download from XBOX Live Arcade.

There was also a sequel, Gunstar Super Heroes on the Nintendo Gameboy Advance, which had great reviews but didn’t achieve the same cult status as the Megadrive original.

Whilst not selling in the volumes it deserved, due to Treasures’ lack of previous form at the time, and any kind of marketing muscle – it just couldn’t compete with the kind of money being spent on the Blue Hedgehog.  For lucky gamers who did stumble upon it, they got to experience one of the great games of the 16 bit era, and the birth of a developer who would go on to be recognised as one of the greatest.

Moon Patrol for the Atari 2600

Moon Patrol was a classic 2600 conversion of the arcade game of the same name. Developed by Irem and launched by Williams, this side scrolling driving game was the first of its kind. The arcade version also featured parallax scrolling, a simple optical illusion where different background graphics move at different speeds to give the illusion of depth.

moon patrol marquee Atari 2600
Moon patrol arcade cabinet marquee

Moon Patrol Atari 2600 version

Back to the 2600 version and your mission, as pilot of the moon patrol vehicle, was to traverse the lunar surface, avoiding multiple challenges along the way, and complete the journey as quickly as possible. Sounds pretty basic, but this was an Atari 2600, and backstory was not always a huge feature of these early games!

Moon Patrol Atari 2600
Atari 2600 Moon Patrol

The classic Atari “orange button” joystick allowed you to speed up or slow down by pushing left or right, and pushing up would jump – handy for getting over the craters and also for jumping missiles or other enemy characters, rocks and landmines.

Multiple waves of enemy ships would drop missiles, which also need to be avoided, especially those that create new craters with their bombs. You also suffered ground based attacks from the rear by enemy buggys, which you had to jump to get in front of you and destroy, as well as oncoming enemy tanks. Fortunately you were armed with a laser that fired both forwards and upwards, destroying both enemy ships and obstacles. The game required careful thought as to when to shoot and when to jump, and whether a long jump could clear several obstacles at once, requiring a lot of strategy for a humble 2600 game.

Successfully clear 5 zones with increasingly agressive enemies, and more and more tricky obstacles, and you start again on a new difficulty level.

Moon Patrol had the kind of simple gameplay mechanic that translated well on the seminal Atari console, and this was a well executed example, and still playable today.

Frogger for the Atari 2600

Frogger is one of those classic video games, up there with space invaders and pac-man having broken out of the arcade entered popular culture. The premise is simple – get your frog across the busy road, over the crocodile infested river, and home to his lily pad. The gamaplay was all about timing, when to cross the road, when to jump on a fast flowing log, and when to jump from a submerging turtle.

Frogger Atari 2600
Frogger Atari 2600
It’s no suprise then that this classic game from Konami has been replicated on any number of platforms from the Spectrum through to the Playstation (I’m particularly fond of Hopper on the BBC Micro, back when they could get away with straight rip offs of other peoples intellectual property).

Atari 2600 Frogger Box Art
Atari 2600 Frogger Box Art

The Atari 2600 version of Frogger was the first opportunity that most people had to play the arcade game at home, being released a year after the arcade game in 1982, and for a change the experience was a good one (Pac-Man on the 2600 anyone?).

Everything was there, from the multiple lanes of traffic to the fast moving logs, providing an authentic challenge to your seemingly suidcidal frog as he tries to make his way home. You could even jump on the back of a crocodile, as long as you avoid the snapping jaws. Take too long and your frog dies, adding an extra element of challenge to the game. Fill all 5 “home” slots on the far side of the screen and the game cycle starts again.

The graphics featured in this version of Frogger may have been a bit rudimentary, and there was a certain amount of flicker on the screen, particularly when the frog jumps across a lane of traffic or onto a log, which is most of the time, but this can be forgiven.  For anyone who knows anything about programming for the Atari 2600, getting the game to run at all was a significant achievement.

A simple game but very addictive, Frogger is a must for any Atari 2600 collection.

Asteroids on the Atari VCS/2600

Atari released Asteroids in the arcades in 1979 and it became their biggest selling game of all time, up there with Space Invaders as one of the most recognised video games in history.

Asteroids arcade screenshot
Original Asteroids Screenshot

It was only natural that Atari’s #1 property was ported to their new home system, the VCS (later 2600). Featuring solid raster graphics rather than crisp vectors, the game somehow retained the spirit of the original if not the look. This feeling was enhanced by the sound, which retained the menacing 2 notes which, Jaws-like, sped up as the pace of the game increased.

The arcade game felt like you were stranded in a cold and empty space, but the Atari VCS version, with its bright colours was altogether more jolly.

Asteroids Atari 2600

To add a bit of longevity (if this were needed, when all you had to have was a strong forearm and a love of button mashing) there were 66 variations of the game, including various combinations of warps, shields and enemy ships.

Difficult to find the words to describe such a seminal game on a ground breaking platform, so how about some facts I found on the internet so they must be true:

1) Asteroids was the first Atari VCS game to use “bank switching” (whatever that means) to double it’s Rom space from 4k to 8k

2) A home brew version was brought out in 1989 with wire-frame “vector” graphics where the asteroids were the same but hollow

3) Universal Studios have just announced (July 2009) that they are planning to release a film based on the Asteroids game

4) Asteroids was released on every Atari home system and computer except the 5200, which only made it to prototype stage

Still playable today, a great gaming memory from my early teens, and the first game I bought when I got hold of an old 2600 on ebay last year.