(with video clips)
8 Bit Game Reviews
From Asteroids to Zaxxon, there were so many classic video games released in the eighties that it's hard to know where to begin. Of course, there were also some naff games, and on this this page you'll find details of both the best and worst games from the 80s.
Many games in the 1980's were instantly accessible and weren't dogged by complex controls, unnecessary options and cinema-style interludes, which, quite frankly, I could do without. Sometimes less is more, which is why so many games from this era are considered true classics. This was a time when games were instant fun and were perfect for releasing the strains and stresses of modern day living. I don't know about you, but after a hard day at work the last thing I need is to be bogged down with even more complexities.
Some of my all-time favourites were the text adventure games (remember them?) where the graphics were entirely in your imagination and played like an interactive book. I sometimes wonder whether there is still quite a sizeable niche market for such games.
Here you will find details and snapshots of your favourite eighties games, and the companies behind them. So let's relive those golden days in the eighties spent on your old 8-bit or 16-bit computer.
DIG DUG (1982)
Dig Dug was the original digging game (other similar games such as Boulderdash were released shortly afterwards) and was released by Namco in 1982 for Namco Galaga hardware. It could be found in most video arcades, too. The game was also released by Atari for most popular home computers. The game was based on a simple concept and, therefore, became a top-seller.
DONKEY KONG (1981)This classic game first appeared at the arcades in 1981, and was the first to introduce such characters as Mario, Donkey Kong and Peach. Donkey Kong was the product of a Nintendo artist named Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto did the entire game himself (even the music) and the only help he received was with the title name.
He and a manager decided they'd call it "Donkey Kong" because "kong" would imply a gorilla was involved, and "donkey" was used because their Japanese-to-English dictionary said it meant "stubborn, wily, and goofy." There were also copyright issues which meant that the name King Kong couldn't be used.
The story : Donkey Kong has stolen Mario's girlfriend and taken her to the top of a steel structure. You move Mario over girders and upladders, leap over tumbling barrels, dodge lethal fireballs and jump onto fast-moving elevators, trying to rescue Mario's girlfriend from Donkey Kong.
Play the game
In the year 1981, young people called children would while away the tedium of living in 1981 by daring each other to run out in front of heavy traffic. It was a global phenomenon. Hundreds of bored feral kids were mown down by articulated lorries and racing cars during the infamous highway massacres of late '81.
At the same time in a bizarre coincidence, Japanese company Konami created a video game called Frogger, its basic principle similarly based on roadkill, but this time a frog was dodging the vehicles instead of a small child.
Your goal is to safely guide five frogs across the road and river so that they each in turn reach their lily pad homes. There are many obstacles along the way: if you're not too careful you could be flattened by a car, drowned in the river or eaten by a crocodile. So take it easy on the little froggies.
Gauntlet was a fantasy role-playing game released by Atari in 1985. It could be played by one to four players simultaneously, which was a unique feature for arcade games of the time. Released at a time when the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons/Role-Playing games was soaring, the game was a sensation! On the Atari and Commodore computers the game looked particularly good, and I remember being hooked on this for a good part of the mid-80s!
Do you remember the four characters in Gauntlet? They were Thor (The Warrior), Merlin (The Wizard), Thyra (The Valkyrie) and Questor (the Elf). The Warrior was strongest in hand-to-hand combat, the Wizard had the strongest magic, the Valkyrie had the greatest armour and the Elf was the fastest in movement. Personally, I like being Thor, probably because I was as skinny as a rabbit in those days!
ONE MAN AND HIS DROID (1986)
Anyone remember playing this cassette-based game from Mastertronic? It was definitely available on both the Commodore 64 and Atari XL/XE home computers, but may also have been around on other formats, too. It was released on the budget "1.99 range" label by Mastertronic.
"Time is against you in your efforts to round up the alien sheep and to teleport them back to earth in this fast moving colourful arcade/strategy game. Fortunately, your faithful droid who can fly, dig and tunnel is at your side."
The poor Atari 2600 version The 2600 Box Artwork The original Namco version
At the start of the 80s, Atari was the fastest-growing in US history. The 2600 colour game console, which Atari introduced in 1977, pushed the company's revenue to over $1 billion. But Atari was plagued by monumental marketing errors.
In 1982, the release of Pac-Man for the 2600 console was a disaster. Despite the original Namco version being massively popular in the arcades, the 2600 version was poorly executed due to its limitations (see the flickering ghosts above!), and the company was left with millions of returned cartridges from disgruntled customers.
Most other versions were brilliant, though, and Pac-Man remains one of the most loved games of the decade - a true classic!
POLE POSITION (1982)
Pole Position was a 3D motor racing game released in 1982 by Namco. Now before you all say it was an Atari game, well it was published by Namco in Japan and by Atari in the USA. The game looked sensational at the time due to the use of sprite-based, psuedo 3D graphics.
I remember inviting my friend round to play Pole Position on my Atari 800XL and he had a real look of amazement on his face. He said it was the "best game he'd ever played!" Well, he was more used to ZX Spectrum games. Mind you, he spent more time off the track than on it!
In this early 80s classic, you had to guide a Jet-Spacecraft across a sideways-scrolling terrain, battling obstacles along the way. Your ship was armed with a forward-firing weapon and some bombs. You also had to avoid colliding with the terrain and other enemies, while simultaneously maintain its limited fuel supply, which diminishes over time. More fuel could be obtained by destroying fuel tanks in the game. There were many clones of this game across virtually all of the 8-bit computer range.
80s DIGI INVADERS
Calculators were actually quite advanced in the eighties. They featured an impressive array of features and you could even play games on them. Do you remember playing invaders on your Casio? Well, now you have the chance to play it all over again! Simply use the left arrow key to select a number so that it matches the first number that is advancing towards you from the right. Then use the right arrow key to fire and delete it. You have to work really fast to destroy those invading numbers before they reach you. Yes kids, your dad really did waste many hours of the day playing simple games like this!
Apologies, but this game has been deleted.