Tag Archives: Atari

Throwback Thursday: “Pitfall!” for the Atari 2600!

“Pitfall!” was quite the hit when Activision released it in 1982.  (I’m a little unclear on what I’m reading about the relationship between Activision and Atari … it looks like the former was a group of defected employees who were then sued by latter, but who then inadvertently pioneered the third-party-developer arrangement for video games.)

“Pitfall!” hit the shelves the same year that the priceless “Raiders of the Lost Ark” galloped through theaters, which I’ll bet helped with the popularity of the jungle adventure game.  But the game became a bestseller because of its own merits.  Wikipedia informs me that its took a lot of innovation by its creator, David Crane, to get his newer, more advanced graphics stored and operable on a 4-kilobyte game.

And I could kinda see that, as a kid.  “Pitfall!” was far sleeker and seemingly more complex than other Atari games my family had, like “Combat,” “Missile Command,” “Frogger” and “Donkey Kong.”  And it was a lot of fun.  See for yourself; you can play the original game for free right here at the Virtual Atari website.  (Seriously, the people who set up that site did something really cool for the rest of us.)

When I sat down to write this, I actually got my memories of “Pitfall!” confused with a later, more advanced side-scrolling PC game called “Impossible Mission.”  I played that in high school, and I loved it even more than “Pitfall!”  The two games look pretty similar; I wonder if anyone else gets them confused.

By the way, does that kid in the pith helmet in the ad below look familiar to you?  That’s because he’s none other than Jack Black, age 13.


Throwback Thursday: I WAS A TEENAGE NINJA.

As an adult, I am absolutely not prone to fads.  (I bought that fidget spinner last week IRONICALLY, people.)  But, as an adolescent, I was truly swept up in the 1980’s ninja craze.

I mentioned “Ninja” magazine here not too long ago — this was precisely the sort of periodical that fueled the misguided ambitions of tweens and young teenage boys everywhere.  (We also had movies like “Enter The Ninja,” “Revenge of the Ninja” and the “American Ninja” series.  If you’re a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan, and you’ve seen the show skewer Lee Van Cleef’s “The Master” TV movie, that was an unfortunate product of the 1980’s ninja obsession.)

“Ninja” magazine was published by Condor Books between 1983 and 1995.  I had a bunch of issues, including all those shown below, if memory serves.  They were fun.  Those covers you see doubled as pullout posters at the middle of each magazine.  There were a lot of martial arts magazines like this.  (I seem to remember a rival entitled “Ninjamania,” but Google isn’t much help with that.)

It must have been tough for the writers here to generate ideas.  (They were writing a periodical magazine about what was basically supposed to be “an ancient art form.”)  One of the go-to story ideas was to portray different kinds of historically dubious theme-ninjas.  Hence the “Earth Ninja” and the “Fire Ninja” headlines you see on the covers below.  There was even a modern “Rainbow Ninja” — some real, enterprising martial artist had emblazoned his traditional black outfit with rainbows across his chest.   Even an impressionable kid liked me knew that was pretty dopey.  It looked like something you would see today in a pride parade, and I can’t imagine it helped the ninja “blend into the shadows.”

I … wanted to become a ninja, when I was 12 or so.  I figured I would have to eventually travel to Japan to do it.  In the meantime, I studied my magazines, and constructed what weapons I could — including a pretty nifty crossbow (which I’m pretty sure historical ninja never used) and some surprisingly workable nun-chucks.  (My “nunchaku” were crafted by two sawed-off lengths of broomstick, connected by a short chain.)  My mother had forbidden me to purchase any of the ninja knives (“tanto”) or throwing stars (“shuriken”) from the ads at the back of every magazine, so I had to improvise.  She did allow me to have a ninja mask, though.

Hey — I wasn’t the only one doing this.  I had a lot of company — as evidenced by the demand for these products. The fellow members of my “ninja clan,” “The Nightcrawlers,” lived right on my suburban street.  And the fad lasted a lot longer than parachute pants or hacky sacks, people.  It actually lasted longer than Atari.  And it arguably helped get kids reading or (God forbid) outside exercising.

Anyway, not all of “Ninja” magazine’s content was pure cheese.  I actually remember reading a quite decent short story in one issue.  It was called “The Sparrow that Feeds on Hawks.”  It featured, perhaps predictably, a young boy who became a ninja in order to defeat a cruel group of adult samurai.  But it was surprisingly thoughtful and well constructed for a what was essentially the 80’s equivalent of the 1950’s pulp magazines.   If I ever find it on the Internet, I’ll link to it here.






Frankly, Frank, your Atari Retro ain’t retro enough …

So apparently I am not the only one nostalgic for Atari; my “Throwback Thursday” blog post this week about the 2600 console got a lot of hits and shares.  My helpful Mary Wash alum Frank Becker thoughtfully provided the link below:

Atari Flashback 5 Retro Gaming Console

With a “groupon,” you can apparently have this delivered to your home for just $35 bucks.  Forgive me — I have no idea what a “groupon” is.  If I were current with the modern Internet parlance, I probably wouldn’t be blogging about Atari.

The Atari Flashback 5 Retro Gaming Console seems like a nifty product for the cash.  You can play 92 games on it.  Regrettably, these do not include “Pac-Man” or “Berzerk.”

As I explained to Frank, however, I need more to truly achieve the Atari experience.  Look at that little thing.  It’s sleek, it’s compact, it has no metal levers and, most egregiously, it has NO CARTRIDGES.

I need the real thing.  I also need to play it on a carpeted living room floor, maybe with a stick of that awful pink bubblegum that came with “Return of the Jedi” playing cards.  Or, better yet, those ultra-cheap “FLA*VOR*ICE” push-up popsicles.

What the @#$% was the deal with the “FLA*VOR*ICE” brand name, anyway?  Is it a play-on-words meant to evoke the word “avarice?”  Because even if that is spot on, I’m willing to bet it was lost on most kids.



Throwback Thursday: the Atari 2600

Adam Sandler’s “Pixels” was a heavy-handed attempt to invoke nostalgia for the video arcade games of the early 1980’s.  For me, it actually recalled the second wave of the video game invasion — the home video game consoles.

Not every kid in the 1980’s had easy access to arcades.  When I tell people I grew up in New York, I think they often assume I mean the city — where virtually any adolescent could catch a bus or a train.  But Suffolk County was a ruralish suburbia — home game systems were really how the kids in my neighborhood got swept into the craze.

Which brings us to the Atari 2600.  Just look at that relic.  To a kid today, that probably looks like a gigantic Underwood typewriter or a crank telephone.

Yes … those are indeed metal levers that were used to activate game functions.  And that is indeed faux-wood plastic siding.  They … actually designed a video game console to look as though it were made of wood.  They did the same thing with televisions back then.  It was a questionable stylistic choice even for the time, I think.  Did we really want technological products plied by a carpenter?

And check out the screenshots for “Combat,” which came standard with a console purchase.  It actually was a really fun two-player game.  (I can’t remember if players could play against the computer.)

Everyone’s favorite game, of course, was “Pac-Man.”  “Space Invaders” was the other Big Thing.  My family never got its hands on those, however, so I grew to love “Frogger.”  (Lord knows I still went nuts amassing the collectible “Pac-Man” stickers to trade with the kid next door.)  “Berzerk” was a close second favorite of mine; I was into killing robots before 1984’s “Terminator” made it cool.

Honestly, I think it would be a real kick to get a hold of an old 2600, and set it up and play it, just for old time’s sake.  It would be a pretty kitsch excuse to throw a party.


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