Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Archive for the ‘1981’ Category

First Impressions: Naughty Mouse

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 8, 2016

Naughty Mouse is a 1981 collect-em-up by Amenip.

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - title

First, a point of contention: Arcade-History describes this game as a platformer, and mentions that “The player has a single button with which to make Naughty Mouse jump over [enemies].” In truth, the game is no platformer, and, as far as I can tell, has no buttons. Okay, enough about what it isn’t. What is Naughty Mouse?

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - 01

It’s a collect-em-up, like Pac-Man (and, apparently, runs on the same hardware). The player controls the titular mouse and must touch the eggs on each of the houses while avoiding the birds in order to complete the level, racing against the timer. When touching an egg, the player scores the number of points remaining on the countdown timer. When the timer reaches zero, or when the player touches an enemy, a life is lost and the level is reset.

In the first level, there are five eggs to touch and two enemies.

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - 02

In the second level, there are three enemies, instead.

Naughty Mouse (arcade) [nmouse] - 03

The second level is as far as I got, though. I was never very good at Pac-Man, and this game seems a bit more difficult to me. Also, I don’t really enjoy this kind of game, so I’m going to call 11,810 points good enough.

Amenip also released a very similar variation of this game called Woodpecker.

Posted in 1981, Arcade, Arcade, Bad, Collect 'em Up | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Brickout!

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 3, 2016

Nearly ten years ago, now, I wrote a ‘first impressions’ review of Brickout! for the Intellivision; as it happens, it’s the only Intellivision game I’ve ever reviewed here. I was pretty hard on the game, and I’ve learned some things in the years since that review, so in the interest of fairness, I’d like to take another quick look at it.

The story of Brickout! starts with another cartridge, Triple Action, a multi-game compilation programmed by Rich O’Keefe, containing games inspired by Atari products, developed under the working title Some of Theirs. Originally conceived as containing six, and later five, games, in the final cut two more games were removed as being too similar to Atari games (thus inviting legal trouble), one a Pong clone, and the other–Brickout!.1

Unlike the Pong clone, which to my knowledge does not survive, the excised Breakout clone found its way onto the 1998 Windows and Mac compilation Intellivision Lives!, along with about fifty other games and numerous extras.2 It has since been included in other products such as the Intellivision Flashback reproduction console.

So, does this history lesson change my opinion of the game? Not really. The ball is still tiny, the collision detection is still bad, and the lack of a paddle controller is still disappointing. It’s more forgivable in an unreleased prototype, though. The video game market was already well on its way to the surfeit of low-quality clones that preceded the great video game crash, so it’s in some ways comforting that this game was kept back, even if it was for pragmatic rather than artistic reasons.

So, my prior recommendation stands: if you want to play a Breakout clone, Arkanoid is a much better choice. But, maybe, if you’re in an academic mood, it wouldn’t hurt to take a glance at Brickout!, too.


  1. This history is thanks to Intellivision Productions
  2. Which is still available for purchase in an updated edition, and which was also ported to PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube. There was a compilation under the same title for the Nintendo DS, though I believe it included only games, and no historical extras. 

Posted in 1981, 1998, Bad, Breakout, Intellivision | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Donkey Kong

Posted by Tracy Poff on January 1, 2013

Donkey Kong is a platformer, released by Nintendo on 9 July 1981.

dkong0000

With the proto-platformer Space Panic and its clone Apple Panic out of the way, we can look at something a little more familiar. Though Donkey Kong clearly owes certain design elements to Space Panic, it adds the ability to jump. Without this ability, Space Panic plays more like a maze game than a modern platformer. Donkey Kong‘s kinship to modern platformers is clear.

dkong0003

Donkey Kong consists of four stages, which are presented differently depending on the port. To quote from Arcade-History:

The original Japanese version had all four stages displayed in their original, logical order 1-2-3-4.
For this US version, they changed it to match the ‘How High Can You Try/Get?’ theme, with the stage order as follows :
L-01 : 1-4
L-02 : 1-3-4
L-03 : 1-2-3-4 (as in all levels of the Japanese version)
L-04 : 1-2-1-3-4
L-05 : 1-2-1-3-1-4
L-06 through L-21 all remain the same as L-05
L-22 : 1 (Kill screen).

There are further differences on console and home computer ports of the game–and Donkey Kong has been ported many, many times.

Each stage has its own goal. In the first, it is necessary only to reach the top of the screen, where Pauline stands, dodging barrels and fireballs along the way. Other stages are more complicated.

Donkey Kong is quite good, for its age. The visuals and sound are simple, but attractive, and Jumpman’s movements are smooth and responsive.

It’s a fine game in its own right, but its influence on later games cannot be overstated. Donkey Kong certainly had some direct influence on later platformers, generally, but it also gave us two characters–Donkey Kong himself and Mario, initially called Jumpman–who would go on to greater glory. There were two more arcade games in the Donkey Kong series, Donkey Kong Junior and Donkey Kong 3, and Donkey Kong would go on to star in the Donkey Kong Country series of platformers, and make appearances in many other Nintendo games. Mario, of course, is the star of a massive and ever-growing series of his own, beginning with an arcade game, Mario Bros., and continuing in scores of games on every Nintendo console and handheld since.

Personally, I don’t care for this style of platformer much, but I feel indebted to Donkey Kong for the great games that came after. I’m planning to work my way through as many platformers as possible, so there’ll be plenty of both kinds, coming up.

Posted in 1981, Arcade, Full Review, Good, Platformer | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Apple Panic

Posted by Tracy Poff on December 30, 2012

Apple Panic is a 1981 clone of Space Panic for the Apple II, created by Ben Serki and published by Brøderbund.
Apple Panic (19_000000001

Since Apple Panic is a clone, the gameplay is nearly identical to the original: you climb ladders, dodging the apples and digging holes in the platforms. If an apple falls into a hole, you can beat it over the head to make the apple drop down and die.

Apple Panic (19_000000009

One difference I noted is that in Space Panic, when an alien climbs out of a hole, it ‘levels up’ to the next type of alien, and must fall an extra floor to be killed. In Apple Panic, there doesn’t seem to be any negative consequence to allowing apples to free themselves.

Apple Panic is inferior to Space Panic in several ways. First, it’s not nearly as pretty–a minor detail, I admit. More importantly, it’s very difficult to dig a hole in Apple Panic. As the instructions indicate, if the player character’s feet aren’t in the right position, he won’t dig. Unfortunately, it’s relatively rare for his feet to be in the correct position, making it very hard to dig exactly where you want. This can be fatal, if an apple is coming at you and you hope to dig a hole before it arrives.

If you want to play this kind of game, you should play Space Panic, instead.

Posted in 1981, Apple II, Bad, Full Review, Platformer | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Wizard’s Castle

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 23, 2010

The Wizard’s Castle, published for DOS in 1981 by International PC Owners is an early dungeon crawl.

Avoiding the word ‘year’? Check. Awesome apostrophes? Check. Journey from which no adventurer has ever returned? Yep! Let’s make a journey to the cave of cliches! Good luck!

Cliched-and-basically-nonexistent plot aside, The Wizard’s Castle is actually a pretty solid game. You start by choosing some basic stats for your character (race, sex, strength/intelligence/dexterity, equipment), and off you go to explore the castle and hunt for the incredible *ORB OF ZOT*. You’re aided in your endeavour by a map of the dungeon which is meant to fill in as you explore or use items that reveal information about the dungeon, like flares or the lamp.

Unfortunately, in the version I played, the map is already filled in, which I guess is a bug; I’m told later ports give you a properly blank map to start with. One annoying thing about this game is that the map legend is on the help screen, so you have to keep switching between the map and legend until you learn the meaning of the map symbols. Similarly, the player’s stats are only shown upon moving into a room, so you have to move around to check them. There is plenty of room on the right for both of these, I think. Another, more minor problem is that you must press ‘M’ whenever you wish to show the map; since that is likely to be all the time, it means that the game consists of lots of EMSMEEM, manually checking the map every few moves. It would have benefited greatly from just automatically showing the map.

Map issues aside, how is the game? Well, let’s have a look at the map: the player is on the square marked by angle brackets above; to the west is a monster; to the east is a sinkhole, which drops the player down a level; to the south is a flare, which would ordinarily be very useful, as it lights up the area around the player, but is, in this version, useless due to the map being all filled in. Monsters can be fought, fled from, or bribed, though some (trolls, ogres, dragons) don’t seem to be damaged by the sword I had, so it may be impossible to (successfully) fight some of them. Sinkholes cause the player to fall down a level, and stairs can lead either up or down. Items, such as flares, gold, and treasure, will be picked up automatically, and can be used or (in the case of gold and treasure) traded with the vendors the player will encounter in the dungeon.

Successfully navigating the dungeon involves carefully planning your route, lest you find yourself very dead:

Not all fights should be avoided, though. With the lamp, it’s possible to tell precisely what monster is in an adjacent square, and the weaker ones can be fought for large sums of gold, which is very handy. However, it’s not only the fights that can be hazardous: magic pools can be drunk from, and may either help or harm the player, and books, too,  can be either very helpful or very dangerous–even the chests might explode or release toxic gas upon being opened. After picking up some treasures, the player can choose to leave the dungeon, or continue on, seeking the ultimate treasure in the form of the Orb of Zot.

Seeking the Orb of Zot is harder than it sounds. Scattered about are orbs the player can gaze into in order to gain information about what lies in the dungeon–these will occasionally tell the player that the Orb of Zot is in some particular location, but this isn’t as helpful as it seems–the orbs may claim that the Orb is in several different locations, and I have yet to find it by going to these locations. I suspect there is a trick to it, but I’ve not spent enough time to puzzle it out. For now, I’m satisfied with picking up the lesser treasures.

The dungeon is randomized each time you play, so if you care to, you can play as many times as you like without running out of new dungeons to explore.

The bottom line: The Wizard’s Castle is pretty fun. I’m sure it would have been much more challenging to collect the treasures if the map had functioned correctly in the version I played, so I suspect this game would be good for a few hours distraction here and there. There’s something satisfying about a nice dungeon crawl, and for all its simplicity and lack of polish, The Wizard’s Castle isn’t bad at all. It’s no Nethack, but it’s worth a look.

Posted in 1981, Decent, DOS, Dungeon Crawl, Full Review, RPG | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Donkey

Posted by Tracy Poff on January 1, 2008

After far too long a break, a new game. Or, rather, quite an old one: Donkey, written in 1981 by Bill Gates.

Donkey was written1 as a way to showcase the capabilities of the BASIC programming language which shipped with new IBM PCs. Therefore one might expect it to be a very simple game–and simple it is:

The object is to avoid the donkeys in the road as you drive. The controls consist of only a single button, the space bar, which is used to switch lanes. Each time you successfully pass a donkey, your car moves a bit closer to the top of the screen, so that it will be more difficult to switch in time to miss the next one. If you hit a donkey, the donkeys are given a point, you explode, and you start over:

Every eleventh donkey that you pass, you are reset to the center of the screen and given a point. The game keeps track of the score, but there’s no particular reward for reaching any certain score; the game just continues until you exit. As simple and unrewarding as this game is, that’s likely to be fairly soon after starting.

Update: I’ve added a video demonstrating the gameplay below.

Download the game here.


  1. According to Wikipedia, which has a lengthy article, if you’d like to read more. 

Posted in 1981, Bad, DOS, Driving, Full Review | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

First Impressions: Brickout!

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 26, 2006

A foray into other consoles with the Intellivision’s ‘Brickout!’. It’s clear just from the name that it’s a Breakout clone, but is it a good one?

Brickout!_1

Short answer: No.

It’s very simple. You get 20 lives, you move the bat along the bottom of the screen, the ball destroys the bricks it hits. This wouldn’t make it a bad game, by itself; it would only make it an overly simple one. The problem is that this game has such bad collision detection that the ball will slide through the corners of the bricks occasionally. It will get stuck in a row and take the whole row out. Not bad things, right? They make it easier, yes? They do, but I’d prefer some challenge.

Brickout!_2

But the game does provide that. Since the game is old (I suppose), its controls are somewhat lacking, and the framerate is just bad. The ball is minuscule in comparison to the bricks or the bat, so it’s not that hard to lose track of it. It’s not too clear, when the ball is moving at a shallow angle, where the ball will be when it is on a level with the bat. Now, perhaps these things are minor, and I am just bad at the game, but either way, I won’t soon play this again.

Verdict: Arkanoid is better in every way. Play it instead.

Posted in 1981, Bad, Breakout, First Impressions, Intellivision | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »