1980 was the year that color video games started taking over American arcades. It was weird, sitting at home and playing color games on the Atari 2600, but only having black & white games (sometimes with cheesy color overlays) to choose from at the arcade. Were color monitors that much more expensive? One of these days I’m going to have to track down the answer…
Anyway, it was a glorious day when I walked into the arcade and saw Galaxian for the first time. Finally, a color arcade game! It didn’t take long before most of the black & white games were gone, replaced by the sexy new color ones:
Star Fire (Exidy, 1980) – This was my favorite game when it came out. The arcade I went to had the sitdown version. The logo ripped off Star Wars, as did the TIE fighter enemies. This was the best simulation of flying through space I’d seen, at least, until I got an Atari 800 computer with Star Raiders.
Tempest (Atari, 1980) – Atari’s weird color vector game was very, very different from other games. It was like staring down a weird mecha-tube that had space bugs crawling up it. I never could master killing the bow-ties once they got to the rim, which meant I sucked. But Tempest let me skip ahead to the hard levels, one of the first games to do so.
Centipede (Atari, 1980) – Videogames used to seem so slow, like the CPU couldn’t draw stuff fast enough. Oh yeah, that’s exactly what was happening! But Atari had the best programmers, and they knew how to milk the 6502 for all it was worth. And they knew how to design games so it seemed like there was a lot going on. Centipede could be rather frantic, and the sound effects made it moreso.
Phoenix (Centuri, 1980) – The local 7-11 had one, back when 7-11s had mini-arcades. I liked it better than Galaxian or Galaga. GK used to have one, but I was one of the very few that played it regularly, unfortunately, so it went into storage.
Berzerk (Stern, 1980) – “The humanoid must not escape!” Berzerk was a simple, yet exceedingly difficult game, which I only played to hear the cool robot voices.
Missile Command (Atari, 1980) – There was one in the basement of my college dorm. This guy named Bobo would skip class and play Missile Command all day. The game had a bug which would give him a whole bunch of bonus cities (150?), at which point he’d get bored, and go get a beer. He’d let me play while he was gone. Being able to play at the high levels without worrying about dying made me a decent player pretty quickly. After that, I could make 200,000+ points pretty regularly. No Bill Carlton, but good enough to make the top score on most Missile Command machines. Oh yeah, Bobo flunked out – no surprise there!
Defender (Williams, 1980) – Great sound, and a world that seemed bigger than those in other video games. Too bad I sucked at it.
Warlords (Atari, 1980) – Kinda like a weird 4 player competitive version of Breakout. Each player had a castle in their corner of the screen, and the object was to deflect the fireball ricocheting around the screen destroying castles. If you pressed your button at the right time, you could catch the fireball, then release it with spin at your opponents. I think this was the best 4P game, ever. Oh, how I wish GK had one!
Monaco GP (Sega/Gremlin, 1980) – An overhead view driving game, with a cool twist – while in tunnels, you could only see what was illuminated by your headlights. The arcade I frequented had the nice sitdown version.
Crazy Climber (Nihon Bussan, 1980) – the pizza joint where we used to hang out had one of these. I loved the smug look of the vultures and the terror in the face of the falling man on the marquee. The two-fisted joystick control over the climber’s arms was a great concept, but poorly executed. The arms would never go where I wanted them to, so I never made it to the top of the fourth building.
Pac-Man (Bally/Midway/Namco, 1980) – Not my favorite, but I have to give Pac-Man his due. This was the game that catapulted video games into the mainstream. Pac-Man was on the covers of magazines, and “Pac-Man Fever” was on the radio. The arcade became very popular, and video games started showing up in other places.
It’s hard to believe so many great games were released in one year. I know I’ve left out some other classics, but these are the ones I remember playing. Sorry if I missed your favorite!