Game Reviews: Boxing through Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom

boxing_2Boxing (Activision, 1980)

This early Activision title is a testament to the virtue of simplicity in design. Instead of what would most likely have been an awkward side view, Boxing sports an overhead view of the in-ring action that, while fairly crude, allows for some decent boxing action. There is an element of strategy involved when playing the computer; in the manual, programmer Bob Whitehead encourages players to, essentially, float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Both you and your opponent can get tired, with reaction time slowing accordingly. For such a rudimentary game graphically, Boxing has some surprising nuances. The grade here is more of a reflection of my antipathy towards boxing games in general moreso than the quality of the game – your own mileage may vary. C+

More Info: Boxing on the Atari Age database. For current listings of Boxing for sale on eBay, click here

braingames_2Brain Games (Atari, 1978)

The story behind Brain Games is a thousand times more interesting than the game itself. Believe it or not, Brain Games’ first four game variations are kind of a port of a mid-‘70s electronic (not video) arcade game by Atari called Touch Me. In that game the player attempts to play back increasingly difficult combinations of lights and sounds. Starting to sound familiar? It should be, because it’s the classic handheld game Simon, aka Ralph Baer’s revenge. Video game historians will recognize that name as the co-developer of the original Magnavox Odyssey, a console which featured a number of Pong-style games. Allegedly, Nolan Bushnell took the idea of Pong from Baer’s pre-release prototypes. So it must have been pretty satisfying for Bayer when, in 1978, he explicitly took the idea behind Touch Me and converted it into Simon, a now-legendary game that possibly hit an even higher market saturation than Pong. As far as this game’s concerned, meh. There are a few variations where you memorize number and picture sequences but to be honest it’s all pretty boring in a video game context. Better to track down an actual Simon unit. F

More Info: Brain Games on the Atari Age database. For current listings of Brain Games for sale on eBay, click here

breakout_2Breakout (Atari, 1978)

Breakout is Breakout. Like Pong – its direct predecessor – it’s pretty much impossible to mess up. Such elegant simplicity. Some complain that it’s a little too basic, but compared to what? Criticizing Breakout by comparing it to modern video games (or even games released just a few years later) is roughly on par with bashing Rubber Soul because it doesn’t have any big bass drops. Like so many things in life, you need the right tool for the right job, and when it comes to mindless, relaxing fun, Breakout delivers par excellence. The cart as a whole isn’t perfect (invisible bricks and timed events do not really add much) but there’s enough variety to keep players occupied for some time. Guided ball variations are particularly fun. If given a choice between the two, I’d probably pick the later Super Breakout because of the multiball and progressive variations that I really like. However, the earlier Breakout features the rainbow formation of bricks, which must have blew some peoples’ minds back in ’78. A-

More Info: Breakout on the Atari Age database. For current listings of Breakout for sale on eBay, click here

bridge_3Bridge (Activision, 1980)

Apparently, Bridge was Activision’s lowest-selling cartridge and I can see why. It was pretty clear even by 1980 that the adult audience for video games was pretty limited, and few games scream “suburban adult” (especially in those days) like Bridge. The manual makes it clear that Activision is not interested in teaching you how to play Bridge itself, just how to do it on the Atari. Instead, they recommend reading books or taking a class. Sorry, but no – I take this job seriously but I can think of few things I’d like to do less than go to great lengths to learn Bridge. But for whatever it’s worth, the game is bright and colourful and it appears that a great deal of thought and love for the game was put into its programming. So, I offer my standard grade for all games I find unplayable for reasons other than design flaws: C.

More Info: Bridge on the Atari Age database. For current listings of Bridge for sale on eBay, click here

buckrogers_2Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom (Sega, 1983)

I remember being blown away by the graphics on Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom on the ill-fated Coleco Adam computer. To be honest, I do not remember if it was even a very good game or not, but if it was anything like its scaled-down Atari 2600 version it couldn’t have been anything special. The game is played by flying your spaceship through a series of electron rods, then taking off into outer space to fight some aliens and a boss of some kind. Either the collision detection in the space scenes is really bad or there is some kind of Zaxxon-style mechanic wherein the height of your ship can prevent you from being hit by aliens or you hitting them. However, unlike Zaxxon there is no instrument in the game that allows you to monitor your horizontal plane. Like Imagic’s Moonsweeper, the game is a third-person shooter in a pseudo-3D playfield. However, the alien ships scale as poorly as they did all the way back on Atari’s primitive 1977 first-person space shooter Star Ship. Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom isn’t terrible, but I found myself getting bored quickly. For a better example of this kind of gameplay on the 2600 I would recommend the aforementioned Moonsweeper instead. D+

More Info: Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom on the Atari Age database. For current listings of Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom for sale on eBay, click here

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