I can’t believe it’s been a year since 1981. Or, at least, it’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote about the games of 1981. I’m still moving forward and playing catch-up to understand more about the wild, wacky world of video games. So I’ve come to 1982. For some context: in 1982, Canada finally became fully independent from the United Kingdom, E.T. won the hearts of many American children (and destroyed quite a few of them when his video game found its way to some Atari 2600s), and everyone found out that Joan Jett loved rock and roll. Additionally, six games seemed to define the quality of the medium in 1982, and continue to do so thirty-two years later.
Note: Due to the increasingly complicated nature of this idea, it’s going to be pretty difficult to write at any sort of length about every game I played. So I won’t, although some help will come in the form of fellow Invisible Gamer writers. Every game will get some sort of blurb or opinion statement on my part as well, but only the Game of the Year will get a thorough treatment from me.
#6 – Frenzy
Developer/Publisher: Stern Electronics
Frenzy is the sequel to Berserk. While frenzy, as a word, is a tone down from the insane implications of a word like berserk, Frenzy as a game only improves upon the satisfying robot-killing of its predecessor. Breakable walls, skeleton and octopus robots, and interactive elements in the rooms may not seem like crazy advancements, but they’re significant enough to make Frenzy the best game in the Berserk series. That’s probably not saying much, though, because there’s only two of them. Still, Frenzy is a quality obscure game with tight controls and fast-paced arcade action.
#5 – Millipede
Like Frenzy, Millipede is the less notable sequel to a more successful game. Also like Frenzy, Millipede brought just a few improvements and additions that enhanced the killing of insects. For starters, shooting a millipede instead of a centipede makes everything better, but the strategic placement of bombs, more enemies, and continued bright color design also help a bit. The still-novel mechanic that turns a vanquished enemy into an obstacle adds to the frantic pace of Millipede. So do the spiders. I hate the spiders.
#4 – Pitfall!
Pitfall! is a great Indiana Jones game. Maneuvering Pitfall Harry through the treacherous jungle feels like you’re taking part in an epic adventure, even though most everything is a different shade of fecal matter. Still, Pitfall! is one of the most detailed and visually impressive games on Atari 2600, and it’s one of the best exclusives, as well. The unprecedented pseudo-sidescrolling action is a little stiff, but it’s satisfying, and the overall goal of collecting all the treasure embodies the natural greediness in all of us. That’s what makes it fun!
#3 – Ms. Pac-Man
Developer/Publisher: Bally Midway
I recently discovered that the first game I ever played was Ms. Pac-Man, and not the original, masculine, Miss-less, and inferior Pac-Man as I previously believed. During a visit to my old home town and favorite pizza place seven years in the making, I was surprised to walk into Vallejo’s Napoli Pizza and not see a cocktail Pac-Man machine. Instead, a cocktail Ms. Pac-Man machine greeted me. And it was the machine that served as my introduction to video games back when I was three or four years old. Surprisingly, my couple of quarters allowed me to see more of Ms. Pac-Man than I expected, and the more I saw further convinced me that Midway’s illicit Pac-Man sequel is ironically better than the real deal made by Namco. It’s not just nostalgia, but the varied maze designs, bouncing fruits, wonderful music and effects, and of course, that tight, timeless pellet-eating gameplay that bring Ms. Pac-Man into the illustrious company of not just the best games of 1982, but the best of the golden age of arcade games. It helps that I associate it with the best pizza I’ve had in my entire life.
#2 – Donkey Kong Jr.
Donkey Kong Jr. made Mario the villain — so that’s weird. But at least he was known as Mario: the Mario who, uh, kidnapped Donkey Kong and attempted to murder the ape’s only son when Jr. set out to free his father from a life of captivity. Maybe it would have been better if he was still known as Jumpman at that point; it wasn’t his brightest moment. And while Mario gave into the decaying nature of revenge, Donkey Kong Jr. took a heroic stance and starred in a game that shined bright even as Mario sank into darkness. Donkey Kong Jr., certainly more than its predecessor, really set the groundwork for what would come from the Donkey Kong series. Crocodile-like enemies and vines may make up most of that groundwork, but it’s an important thematic groundwork nevertheless. Donkey Kong Jr. focused on the abilities and movement of an ape, and translated them into incredibly solid platforming gameplay. Swinging across the vines feels very natural, even if jumping feels more restrictive and tight by modern standards, much like it does in Donkey Kong. Still, control is very much there, and once the rules and feel of Donkey Kong Jr. are established for you, a very enjoyable and important game unfolds from just four, one-screen levels.
#1 – Dig Dug
Publisher: Atari (North America)
Dig Dug is an immensely charming game. It’s hard to deny the aesthetically pleasing qualities of the music and sprite designs, but it’s even harder to play just one short level that illustrates Dig Dug’s genius and satisfyingly simple gameplay concept. Controlling Dig Dug (I don’t care what you say, that’s his name), you dig and pump monsters full of so much air that they explode. It’s really quite brutal, and most importantly, fun. Of course, the game starts off that simple; the rotund Pookas and reptilian Fygars don’t present too much of a threat at first, but like any great arcade game, Dig Dug ramps up the difficulty accordingly, and even adds some risk-for-reward action. Dropping rocks and eliminating enemies deeper in the earth award more points, but that’s fittingly more difficult. And eventually, the enemies move faster, get smarter, and generally become more effective at killing your harpoon/air pump-wielding hero. Dig Dug is a wonderfully balanced, rewarding, and satisfyingly challenging arcade game that benefits from fantastic presentation. It’s a shame that music only plays when Dig Dug is moving.
1982 may have had fewer great games than the previous year, but the quality of the great ones was not diminished in the slightest. In some instances, it was greater. Regardless, another year is in the video game history books, and I’m a little bit closer to my goal of expanding my already sizable interest and passion for the medium.