Disclaimer: Before she starts this column the author feels she should mention to the reader that she is getting married in September and so has not had time to play any new video games. As a result, the next few columns will be walks down memory lane. If she dates herself, do not mention how extremely old she is to her face. She has registered for twenty very pointy knives and will not hesitate to use them. You have been warned.
I come from a long line of gamers. My father spent a significant percentage of his college years playing Space Invaders, and my mother passed the secret strategies of Tetris onto me. So it’s safe to say that there has always been at least one game console in my home. The first one I remember was the Intellivision. Intellivision and Atari invented console wars. We owned both, but the Intellivision was the one we had hooked up to the television, so that is the one I cut my teeth on (as legend goes, quite literally).
The console was a standard black box with wires. The interesting aspect was the controller. While the Atari had a simple joystick and button, the Intellivision had a numeric keypad with a silver disk below it. You spun the disk instead of using a joystick. Each game came with inserts to place over the keypad so you knew what you were getting when you pushed each button. Getting those inserts into the controllers was often the most frustrating aspect of the game. And if you were to crease one of the plastic inserts, making it much more difficult to maneuver in and out of the controller, you were in trouble.
We had about twenty or so games, but only three or four truly stand out. The most memorable of them is The Empire Strikes Back. This game started a rather disturbing trend for me: never getting past the Hoth level. It doesn’t matter what kind of game it is, what platform I play it on, I can’t get off Hoth. I may get through a level or two, but I haven’t made it as far as the asteroid belt, let alone Bespin or Dagobah. The only exception is Lego Star Wars II. But I’m not certain that counts, since it is designed so that children can play it with little difficulty. Anyway I would fly my snowspeeder, which was a dark gray triangle, towards the AT-ATs, which consisted of about five light gray rectangles, against a background of white snow and light blue sky. Not the most colorful game I have ever played. I never quite mastered the ability to fire, so I would inevitably plow into the AT-ATs. On some occasions, I managed to evade the enemy only to lose because I hadn’t killed anything. Despite my total lack of progress, I kept coming back to the game. It seems my masochistic tendencies surfaced at an early age.
Another of my favorite games was Snafu. This was a simple game where you were a colored worm. You ran around the screen trying to cut off the tails of your opponents while trying not to run into anything. It has a bit of a Tron vibe. The best part of the game was the music, though. It was a fun ditty, speeding up as time ran out. I would often play just to listen to the music. The gameplay still holds up. I pulled the game out about five years ago and found I liked playing it as much as I did when I was five. And the music was just as enjoyable as ever.
The game that was played the most though was Flight of the Dreadnaught. I didn’t care for this game, but my father and grandfather played it religiously. You flew a tiny starship against a huge mothership. You flew past it again and again until you blew up its engines and gun turrets. It was always fun to watch them play. They would sit in our blue upholstered swivel chair and wave the controller about wildly as they played. Their antics were comical. They played so much that they actually broke the chair. I still remember the look on my grandfather’s face when it collapsed beneath him. Priceless.
I have no doubt that you can find the entire library of Intellivision games online. A few years ago they also released most of them games packaged together for the X-Box and PS2. However, many popular games are missing – specifically any licensed games. Additionally, the control system doesn’t transfer well to the newer controllers, making gameplay confusing and frustrating. So you may want to look elsewhere for the games. If you ever need a break from millions of polygons, in depth story arcs, or surround sound, you should check out some of the games. For many, it will be a trip down memory lane and hopefully a pleasant one. For others, it will be a study in the primitive origins of gaming.
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