Ah, 1982. What a year. There was a whole lot of nothing going on that year. It is perhaps a little more than fitting that it’s been quite a while since my last entry in the Retro Rewind series. Playing these games, many for the first time, the overall theme I gathered from it was one of stagnation. On one side, the West, you have “sequels” (almost more of a “GOTY Edition”, really) and space shooters. On the other hand, Eastern games, you have the continued trend of colourful mascot-able games. The two markets stayed in their trenches and stuck to what was working for them. It was more of the same.
It is worth noting that the year closed out with the release of Atari’s E.T. game in December. It has since gone down in video gaming history as one of the worst video games ever released and a major contributing factor in Atari’s astronomical financial losses and the crash of the industry the following year.
And that, in short, was 1982 in gaming – industry stagnation, market saturation, and an inability to see the writing on the wall.
But it wasn’t all bad. Keep reading to check out some of the highlights. Maybe you’ll want to explore them on your own via retro game shops or digital game stores like the Virtual Console. There’s actually a fair bit that still holds up today. Case in point: Dig Dug…
- Developer: Namco
- Publisher: Namco
- Release Date: April 19, 1982
- Original Platform: Arcade
- Version Played: Famicom, 1985
This is a fondly remembered game of the early days of arcade gaming fever. Picture the inverse of Pac-Man, and you’ll have a rough idea of what Dig Dug is and how it came to be. Still riding on Pac-Man‘s coattails, Namco conceived of yet another maze chase game. But this time around, instead of searching through the maze, the players build the maze themselves.
Like Pac-Man, the game is mascot-able with colourful characters and enemies; consisting of the titular Dig Dug – who you may know today as Taizo Hori in the Mr. Driller series, the balloon/tomato-like Pookas, and the fire-breathing dragon derivative Frygars. I like the almost cutout-esque artwork adorning the boxart and arcade cabinets. The music and sound effects are appropriately catchy too. Instead of collecting fruit like in Pac-Man, this time around Namco throws vegetables at you. That’s different enough, right?
You play as Dig Dug, a sadistic gardener in a tacky jumpsuit, navigating through the underground, drilling a maze of tunnels along the way – dodging fire and falling rocks, in an effort to protect his garden above from being invaded by pesky creatures.
Your enemies are trying to make their way up to the surface. Who knows what for, you never give them a chance. Maybe they just want to stop and smell the roses? But you choose to stop them in the least efficient method of garden pest control possible – by attaching a pump to their bodies and individually inflating them until they explode. If you’re so inclined, you can also drop rocks on their heads if you plan your tunnel-digging just right.
The best part of this is that you are your own worst enemy. Like accidentally cornering yourself in Pac-Man, the way you craft your tunnels can be your undoing.
The game features a unique points system. Depending on how deep into the stage you are, the method with which you destroy the enemy, and how many creatures you take out at the same time all combine to determine your score. These variations and multipliers are expected today, but this was novel stuff back in the day. It introduced just enough additional strategy to keep players coming back to the arcade cabinet to perfect their score.
Overall, it is another fun title in Namco’s early library. It sadly never really caught on in the West though. While it was released for the Famicom, a NES version never surfaced as ports to other platforms did not sell as well as hoped. It’s one of the more polished mechanics in an early age arcade game though. Overall, I think it’s worth your time to check out at lease once should you have the chance.
Furthermore, a curious addition graced the Game Boy port of Dig Dug in 1992. It included a unique game mode titled New! Dig Dug – a sort of arranged adventure mode. You don’t have to clear every enemy here, but rather navigate the maze collecting keys to escape. Adding to your peculiar array of gardening tools here are 16-tonne weights and bombs. Looks a bit like Dig Dug and Boulder Dash had a baby. I must admit that I have not played this take on the formula, having only discovered it while researching this topic, but I am very much intrigued by it. Unfortunately, I was not aware of its existence when I was playing in preparation to write this article. But I would love to track it down and try it out.
- Developer: Atari
- Publisher: Atari
- Release Date: May 1982
- Original Platform: Atari 2600
- Version Played: Pong / Asteroids / Yars’ Revenge (GBA, 2005)
It is really hard to believe that this game was released when it was. The West’s graphical advancements seem to be really slow-moving compared to Japan – archaic in comparison, even. This is not a pretty game. The graphics look like what you expect when you think of the Atari 2600 (which… makes sense, since this is a 2600 game). Very blocky with limited colours, but not in that charming way that the Japanese game designers had perfected. Heck, the ion strip “neutral zone” down the middle of the screen just looks like a giant glitch.
But what do I know? It was somehow a critical and commercial success. And designed by Howard Scott Warshaw at that – Atari’s superstar behind games like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saboteur, and…E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial…
Yars’ Revenge is Space Invaders turned on its side, coupled with elements of Breakout and hints of Atari’s own Asteroids. You play as a giant space insect of the Yars race from the planet Razak (flip this around and you get Ray Kassar, the CEO of Atari at the time). You are fighting the evil Qotile, who is protected by a defensive barrier. Qotile will fire at you. As a mutant housefly, you can protect yourself by hanging out in the glitch strip for some reason I haven’t determined. You can also choose to attack Qotile directly, shooting away at its barrier, or take time to nibble away at it – doing so will charge up the Yars’ powerful Zorlon Cannon. Defeat Qotile and repeat.
Qotile’s barrier also rotates around it, which is actually a rather neat trick for the time. It gives off a slight feeling of being 3D, despite the graphical limitations.
Technically unimpressive, this game may be, but what is particularly noteworthy is the attempt at a story. The game was released with a comic book outlining the backstory and plot of the game. In addition to this, Atari released a couple of radio drama-like recordings further expanding upon this story. It is an interesting early attempt at science fiction gaming in that regard. It also play-tested well with women, according to Atari; which kind of throws Namco’s food-centric market research out the window. If I recall, Centipede also worked well with female gamers. I guess women in the ’80s just had a thing for giant bugs.
In the end, this game both looks and feels far older than it actually is.
- Developer: Williams Electronics
- Publisher: Williams Electronics
- Release Date: July 16, 1982
- Original Platform: Arcade
- Version Played: Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits (Sega Genesis, 1996)
Prepare to joust!
Okay, now this unheard of: a game from Williams Electronics that I actually enjoyed! Maybe because it was produced by a different development team lead by John Newcomer, who was previously a toy designer. Or maybe the appeal of the game, for me at least, is in its incredibly bizarre concept.
You play as a lance-sporting knight who flies around on an ostrich jousting against waves of rival buzzard-mounted bannerettes. The bizarre battle to the death takes place within a mysterious cavern filled with lava. Get too close to the lava, and a troll’s claw will pull you down just because. Take too long on a stage, and you’ll get attacked by a pterodactyl.
Sure, why not?
Defeat an enemy on birdback to turn them into an egg – out of which a new enemy knight will emerge if left alone to hatch. The game also does that weird move off one side of the screen to reappear on the other side thing – as if the universe converges upon itself.
Flap your wings repeatedly to fly, descend, and float. Being adept at flying and controlling your ascent and descent is paramount. However, it is fast-moving and imprecise. Defeat enemies by colliding with them; bearing in mind that where you hit them is of utmost importance. Hit them above their lance and they are defeated. If you’re below it, then they defeat you. If you’re of an equal elevation, you bounce off of each other.
There are three different types of knights with their own attack patterns: Bounders, Hunters, and Shadow Lords. The game also sports co-op play and popularized the concept in gaming, although I did not have the opportunity to experience it. There is a reasonable amount of depth and strategy here, despite being gloriously goofy in remise. It is memorable and still enjoyable today. While I found the game to be fun and wonderfully quirky, it is a little too one-note, really.
I am also fairly certain too that this game served as the germ of inspiration for two later Nintendo titles that improve upon the formula: Mario Bros. – a multiplayer enemy battle atop multiple platforms with similar acceleration and skid physics where enemies can recover if left alone – and, most obviously, Balloon Fight, which, excluding the Balloon Trip mode, plays almost like a clone of Joust.
Joust was a well-received and quirky game at the time. Whenever something was released that wasn’t about spaceships or giant insects it was a welcome breath of fresh air in the industry. It was popular enough to see a pinball spinoff released a year later and eventually a failed sequel released in the waning days of the golden age of arcade games.
- Developer: Data East
- Publisher: Bally Midway
- Release Date: 1982
- Original Platform: Arcade
- Version Played: NES, 1985
Let’s get cookin’!
In BurgerTime, you’re a chef named Peter Pepper with a simple ambition – to make burgers. Perhaps not the best use of your culinary education, but still. The game has you constructing gigantic burgers while being chased by hot dogs with eyeballs and eggs with legs across a maze of platforms. Something is clearly wrong in your kitchen.
The components of your burger – the bun, meat, lettuce, condiments, etc. are situated on the numerous levels of your workstation. They’re acting as floorboards in an unsanitary manner. Some serious health code violations are going on here. You must climb ladders to reach the food floors and walk completely over them – this causes the food components to plummet one level below. A burger is completed once you have successfully aligned all the fallen ingredients. Well done.
As a chef, your most trusted weapon of choice is salt. Obviously, even though your name is Pepper. Your enemies – Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Pickle. and Mr. Egg don’t want to be well seasoned. With a handful of salt available to be tossed at the evil, mutant, likely overly expired food chasing you about your kitchen, you must use it sparingly. Why does salt damage a hot dog? Is it made of slug meat? Besides salt, the pieces of the burger that you topple over can damage and take out your enemies in the process. A gigantic burger, with a fried egg on tops sounds simply divine.
While Joust was also absurd like BurgerTime, it actually had solid and fun gameplay to make it worth playing. I didn’t enjoy my time playing BurgerTime. It felt very clunky and hasn’t aged well.
- Developer: Coreland
- Publisher: Sega
- Release Date: September, 1982
- Original Platform: Arcade
- Version Played: Game Gear, 1990
Squash the Sno-Bees!
Pengo is Sega’s attempt at cashing in on the cute arcade mascot craze following the success of Namco’s Pac-Man and Konami’s Frogger. And it worked for them too; being one of Sega’s early big arcade hits. Pengo is a game with a simple concept and catchy sounds meant to appeal to a wide audience. Sega even adopted Pac-Man‘s notable intermissions between levels – here demonstrating a rainbow of adorable dancing penguins.
You are a helpless penguin trapped in a maze of ice blocks, where you are trying to escape from the patrolling clutches of the evil blobby Sno-Bees. Them Sno-Bees are a crafty bunch, alternating between swiftly hunting you down and periodically destroying items that would help you against them. It is a cute survival maze game wherein you squash the Sno-Bees by sliding ice blocks into them for points. As everything is on ice, the blocks will slide about and push easily with little effort from your little penguin flippers. Eliminate all the Sno-Bees to clear the level. You can also crush Sno-Bee eggs before they hatch; Pengo has a dark side underneath that cute exterior.
That’s really about all there is to say about Pengo. You’re a penguin, there’s an ice maze, and you push things. And, I was not particularly good at it.
For what it’s worth, I played Sega’s own adaptation for their Game Gear handheld. This would seem not to fall under the realm of consoles I outlined in my introductory article (NES, SNES, Genesis, GameBoy, and GBA). However, an enterprising group of tech-savvy Sega fans have managed to port several Game Gear games to the Sega Master System. The Sega Genesis was backwards compatible with the Master System game library… if you bought the necessary accessory of course. Despite including the Master System’s central processor and sound chip for this explicit purpose, the “Power Base Converter” was required as a pass-through port to play Master System games on the Genesis. So, there you have it – a Sega arcade game ported to the Game Gear by Sega, ported to the Master System by fans, and playable on the Genesis via an official accessory. Gives me more games to subject myself to in this project.