Hello and welcome to Retro Rewind! This series is my attempt to experience and better appreciate the games of yesteryear. While not all of it may have aged well, I hope that along the way I inspire you to pick up a controller and try something new.
We touched upon some of the games of 1981 last time around, making our way about halfway through the year with notable releases like Defender, Frogger, and Donkey Kong. In this entry, we continue our examination of the games of 1981.
Today we look at Wizardry, Qix, Stargate, Galaga, Loco-Motion, and Ms. Pac-Man!
Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
- Developer: Sir-Tech Software
- Publisher: Sir-Tech Software
- Release Date: September 1981
- Original Platform: Apple II
- Version Played: “Wizardry: Story of Lylgamyn” (Super Famicom, 1999)
This is an incredibly important and influential game. It is a very early fantasy role-playing game, but beyond that, it was the first example of a party-based RPG. This game birthed an eight-game series and defined standards still in use in the genre today.
However, I am not an RPG person. I want to be, but I am not. Yet. Hopefully this will change along this gaming journey I’m on. This game is very challenging and dated, and for me at least, not the most friendly introduction to the genre. It is a dungeon crawler and heavily text-based being cluttered with menus.
You begin the game by forming your party made up of a possible six characters belonging to five different. You also set stats and character alignment and this in turn determines their class. You can also equip them with items and weapons that you purchase at the trading post. If this all sounds very Dungeons & Dragons to you, that’s because it is.
This game was an early attempt at creating a computer version of D&D and it proved popular in both Japan and North America. However, at the time, D&D did not have a large presence in Japan. Moreover, while American and Japanese developers were both inspired by Wizardry they took that inspiration in different directions. Western developers proceeded to try to make games that better reflected Dungeons & Dragons. Japan, on the other hand, simply tried to improve Wizardry without care or allegiance to D&D – ultimately incorporating some anime and manga influence and forging the JRPG (Japanese role-playing game) genre.
After your party is set up, the goal of the game is to traverse an expansive ten-floor maze. You go into the maze, dungeon crawl, battle enemies, discover items, leave, rest, restock, descend back into the maze, repeat. Until you make it to the big boss –a wizard named Werdna – on the final floor. The maze is visually impressive for the time, seeing as you navigate it while in a first-person perspective. But, everything looks the same. Every wall, every viewpoint. Nearly identical. I could not tell where I was, where I was going, or where I wanted to go. Just… wandering around aimlessly.
So, once my party succumbed to the monsters. I gave up, I’m sorry to say.
If there is a high point in my experience, it is definitely the music. Made all the better by my playing of the Super Famicom port with higher quality audio samples. Seriously, the music is really good. The game was available in Japan via Nintendo Power kiosks that allowed gamers to download games onto a rewritable cartridge – similar to the Famicom Disk Writer kiosks that preceded it. This version of the game is part of a trilogy compilation titled “The Story of Llylgamyn”. In addition to improved audio and visual, the gameplay also sports a couple minor tweaks to try to make things more comfortable. Didn’t really work for me.
- Developer: Taito
- Publisher: Taito
- Release Date: October 1981
- Original Platform: Arcade
- Version Played: Game Boy, 1990
This is a unique, cool, fast-paced, and fun action puzzle game. Bit by bit, you carve your screen out into pieces using your marker to draw lines that in turn limit or fence off the available space on the playfield with which the titular Qix may manoeuvre. Qix is some kind of graceful yet wild and unpredictable snake-like mathematic creature made up of floating line segments that will twist, turn, and bounce around the edges of the playfield. You don’t want it to touch you or your Stix as you lay them – and it seems to be ever gravitating towards you at all times. Wonderful.
Just to keep you on your toes even more, additional enemies, called Sparx, will populate the stage and chase you along the Stix you have drawn. Claim 75% of the available area by drawing Stix until you have successfully confined Qix and move onto the next level – which is naturally faster and more challenging. Simple to learn, difficult to master, and a lot of fun. Like a super-charged Etch A Sketch.
I played the Nintendo-developed version for the Game Boy. Qix seems to be something Nintendo thought would make for a great pick-up-and-play on-the-go type title during the Game Boy’s early days as they tried to market toward adults. And I think they made a good choice. It is a very valid entry in the early library alongside the likes of Tetris. In addition, being a Nintendo-developed adaptation, the game features some Nintendo characters during the intermissions.
The game is currently available on the 3DS eShop should you want to check it out. The original release also saw a special default palette enabled for it on the Game Boy Color and Super Game Boy, if you have the means to play it that way.
Stargate: Defender II
- Developer: Vid Kidz
- Publisher: Williams Electronics
- Release Date: October 21, 1981
- Original Platform: Arcade
- Version Played: “Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits” (Sega Genesis, 1996)
You may recall that I was not particularly fond of the original Defender. Not surprisingly, I did not enjoy Stargate either. It’s just Defender with some additional enemies and abilities for your spaceship.
The Defender now sports an “Inviso” clocking device that makes you impervious to attack and destroys any enemies that touch you when active. To conquer the new enemies – Yllabian Space Guppies, Firebombers, and Dynamos – you need to familiarize yourself with their new attack patterns and counter them accordingly.
Also new this time around is the titular Stargate – which when entered will warp you either to the location of an alien abduction in progress or simply to the other side of the world.
Perhaps it is the definitive version of Defender, but that didn’t make it any more enjoyable to me. Released only eight months after its predecessor, it feels exactly the same despite the refinements and additions.