Vintage Online Gaming: Part 1 The 1980s
These days, gamers take online play and downloadable content for granted. Did you know it has been around for more than 30 years? Most were failed experiments, others just didn’t have the subscriber base to get off the ground, and one ended up taking the internet to a whole new level. I’m going to list the first examples of network gaming going all the way back to the Intellivision.
In 1981, Mattel came up with a way to allow local cable television companies to let gamers download games over the same cable they used for their TV. The PlayCable adapter fit into a standard cartridge slot like any other game. It worked by downloading data into memory on the cartridge and playing it like any other cartridge. Most games of the time were around 4kb in size and more complex games were coming out and sometimes doubling in size. Because the games were getting bigger and the limited memory space available for the games, it was discontinued in 1983.
The CVC GameLine was a device created for the Atari 2600 to provide games, news, stock quotes, sports scores and much more. The company went out of business before anything other than games were implemented. The cartridge looked like an larger than normal game cartridge except it was silver and had a phone jack on the side. It worked by calling up a server and downloading a game that the gamer paid for. The price per game was cheap, because the game would work for 5-10 plays before it had to be bought again or until another game was purchased.
Interesting note: After the company met it’s demise, the founders started another company that networked Commodore computers together and offered much of the same content planned for the Gameline. That company eventually was renamed America OnLine.
Nintendo Famicom Network System
Japan in the 80s had the Nintendo Famicom instead of the NES, and it had all the cool goodies. Along with the Famicom Disk System, they also had a modem. The modem connected to a server and allowed a few downloadable games. Mostly it was for accessing weather forecasts, entertainment, stock trading and game cheats.
Even though online connectivity started here, it didn’t end here for the classic systems. Part 2 will cover the 90s.
Jakks Pacific Atari 2600 Paddle Plug n Play
Yet another Jakks Pacific plug n play system, although today I bring you the paddle controller. There is another version of this that has an attached player 2, but mine is strictly single player. Even so, Jakks Pacific added a few games from their joystick and more paddle controller classics: Breakout, Canyon bomber, Casino, Circus Atari, Demons to Diamonds, Night Driver, Steeplechase Street Racer, Super Breakout, Video Olympics, Warlords and 2 bonus Arcade quality versions of Pong and Warlords.
The paddle controller is quite unique, not only in it’s design, but also in it’s menu design. The system is limited to one button, which is the menu button, other than the game play button on the side. When the menu button is pressed during game play it brings up a 6 switch Atari 2600 on the bottom of the screen allowing users to: Exit game, change TV type, change left and right difficulty, Game select and Game reset.
There is no mistaking this behemoth for the original Atari paddle controller, clearly, but it still works just the same. This time Jakks Pacific seemed to get the game selection right, while adding 2 bonus arcade versions as well. As I said earlier there are two versions of this, both single and 2 players.
Again, this is simply another good plug n play to keep those classic paddle games in your conscious. For me the real thrill is playing it on the original hardware, but again Jakks Pacific delivered a decent replication of the experience in a plug n play system.
Jakks Pacific Atari 2600 Joystick Plug n Play
It seems in recent years there is a bandwagon of sorts to cash in on the ever growing popularity and nostalgic wave of retro games and systems. It seems as if Jakks Pacific rode shotgun in said bandwagon, at least for the plug n play market. At some point I picked up a Jakks Pacific Atari 2600 controllers for $1 in a thrift store, I was aware of the company but I wasn’t sure if they could pull of an authentic Atari 2600 experience in just a joystick.
Jakk’s Pacific’s take on the Atari 2600 joystick is a reminiscent design of an original 2600 joystick, with a little more bulk for the system board, battery compartment as well as the AV cables and main buttons for operation. Packed inside are 10 classic Atari 2600 games: Adventure, Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, Circus Atari, Gravitar, Missile Command, Pong, Real sports Volleyball and Yars Revenge. Anyone who grew up with these games may immediately see an issue with the selection of games for this unit, but I’ll be discussing that later.
Overall the feel of the controller is comfortable and, despite it’s weight and operational buttons, once you start playing you may find yourself thinking it is an original Atari 2600 joystick. The games are all functional and fun, as the system delivers a fairly decent facsimile of a classic Atari 2600 experience, despite being strictly single player and having the option of 10 games without needing to swap out the cartridges. That fact may attract or put people off, depending on your demands from Atari 2600 style hardware.
So lets look back at the issue I mentioned earlier, some of the games included are for use with the paddle controller, and since this is a joystick that doesn’t really allow for the same control as the original intent. I think Jakk’s Pacific was in a rush and wanted to grab the rights to a handful of games and quickly shove the unit on the market without thinking of keeping true to the software needs. That isn’t to say you can’t play Circus Atari with the joystick, it just isn’t as smooth as it was on the original hardware.
Do I have any gripes about this unit other than it’s game selection? No. I love having a good selection of games packed into one simple and easy to use unit. Since both of my Atari 2600 systems don’t work, I can still play a handful of video games I can’t otherwise play.
This was the unit that started my interest in retro gaming plug n plays, and now I own quite a few. I won’t be covering them all, but I will be covering the rest of Jakk’s Pacific’s Atari 2600 inspired systems. Needless to say, I enjoy them all, but I’m just wanting to inform you guys of what they do and why I like them.
Vintage Gaming Cleaning Kits
In the days when cartridges ruled the world it seemed as if anyone and everyone put out a cleaning kit to keep your systems in working order. Which was a big selling point made all too easy by the NES and its, more often than not, ability to put on a light show rather than play a game. If there is one thing I believe about retro gaming, it has to be the fact that if you keep your systems and games clean they will last longer and give you much better functional results.
Although I now know the true cause of these glitches, I was still taken in by the cleaning kits propaganda when I was younger. They made promises to keep the blinking NES, or just a black screen on other systems, away forever! Almost every cartridge based video game system had some form of cleaning kit, and although most of the time it worked for just a short while, the fact that it worked at all made them feel like essential hardware.
My first cleaning kit was a Doc’s Fix-a-system, which had what I still feel is a genius idea in the clip on NES cleaner. You simply took any NES game cartridge, clipped the contraption to the front of it and you proceeded to stab the living daylights out of your NES. Doing so cleared unwanted dirt and gave way to a few more minutes of uninterrupted gameplay.
After that cleaning kit was lost or broken, I’m sure, I purchased a Player’s Edge NES cleaning kit. This one was a stand alone unit with a handle, and everything you needed fit conveniently inside the unit itself. Again you just took the unit and stabbed the living daylights out of your NES and you were good to play for a little while longer.
That would be the last cleaning kit I bought for nearly 14 years, until one day at a Salvation Army store I found a Player’s Edge cleaning kit for the SNES. Later, at another Salvation Army, I found an incomplete Doc’s 2000 kit, which brought back a flood of memories of the good old days. Sadly the NES clip was broken, but I decided to take what was left of it and turn it into a cleaning kit inside of an old Gyromite cartridge I had laying around. (Original article: Here)
It seems nowadays I go through thrift stores and find cleaning kits for almost every system, and if they’re at a reasonable price I’ll pick them up. Just this year I’ve accrued quite a few system cleaning kits, and although I may not use them I still pick them up when I can.
As an adult, I know the best way to keep my systems running is to clean both the games and the systems. But it seems a good Q-tip with rubbing alcohol thoroughly rubbed through a game keeps all my systems running well. Admittedly I have had some hiccups with my Sega Genesis, N64 and SNES, but nothing a good game cleaning hasn’t remedied, so far!
Back in the day cleaning kits were pushed in our faces, and as time went on they faded away. I still get nostalgic for cleaning kits and make room for them in my collection. Though they serve no practical purpose to me, as I’ve learned far better ways to keep my systems running, they still connect me to a time when video games were problematic, but so much fun.
Willow for the NES
Willow was a 1988 film starring Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, written, in part, by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, so did it’s video game counterpart suffer the same fate as many other movie to NES titles? Well fans seemingly had luck on their side as the job went to Capcom, the company who brought us the Mega Man series, so it seemed as though everything had fallen into perfect order. But would Capcom be able to translate the story of the movie into an enjoyable game, or slaughter it instead?
In both cases the main character, Willow, must overcome many perils to protect a baby who is destined to grow up and bring peace to the lands, which are currently ruled by the evil Queen Bavmorda. Willow treks a long way meeting many dangers along his journey, yet he always surpasses them with help from acquaintances. The video game follows it’s movie counterpart closer than many other NES games did and does a really good job of leaving the main plot in tact, while taking it’s own liberties to make the game fun.
The game play is action/adventure and you may immediately find yourself comparing it to The Legend of Zelda. Starting off with simplistic analysis of the sound and animation of entering/exiting dungeons and caves, which are highly reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda. But most notably the maps are cut into sections and once you go any of four directions the screen will scroll in that direction, again, much like The Legend of Zelda.
Yet this game also has a heap of Crystalis thrown in with it’s simplistic and strictly “hunt down” weapon selection, they’re more a part of the story so there are no stores to sell you weapons nor armor. The game also uses a leveling system much like Crystalis, being that there are only 16 levels. With such few levels spread out between 0 and 99,999 exp, you’ll find yourself doing quite a bit of grinding, rather than gaining experience along the journey.
You would think that such a leveling system would be well backed by a plethora of monsters to sustain the need to gather such necessary exp to fight the handful of boss battles, and this is true, but also not. I found that sometimes monsters won’t respawn in a section when they’re suppose to, while in other sections monster will always spawn. I’ve also found sometimes there are key points that you need to walk over to cause the spawn event.
As I hinted to early all items within the game are merely collectables, which break down into: weapons, shields, magic and items, all of which are key ingredients to survival and progressing through the game. In some cases items can easily be completely passed over while trying to progress through the game. Sometimes you will even find yourself doing the normal RPG backtracking to talk to a few NPCs to unlock obtaining a certain item.
But sadly Willow is plagued with a faulty, at best, save system, using passwords instead of a battery backup, which causes you to start at the last heal point, on the exact amount of exp it took to obtain your last level, without anything equipped. This means any further progress you made on the trek or exp toward a level, regardless of whether you’ve entered the password or hit continue, have now been voided back to a certain state, yet all items will be retained. This disjointed style of game play is so inhibiting and frustrating that I literally took a year away from the game, before finishing it to a point where I felt I could justify a full review on it.
I loved Willow the movie, I love both games this one reminds me of, and I also enjoyed almost anything Capcom put out on the NES, but Willow falls short (pun NOT intended). Maybe that all boils down to Capcom’s lack of experience (pun intended!) with making RPGS, yes they made a few but Capcom isn’t well known for them. Even so, are we to believe that Capcom’s version of Willow was possibly the best movie to NES adaptation? I would say yes, because it could have been dreadfully worse!