Ten Best Games You Never Played

by Joe Santulli

Let me start off on the right foot by saying that you might have played some of the games on this list. If you have, congratulate yourself for having a keen eye for the hidden, non-promoted games of our time. My money is on the fact that most people haven't played these games, though. To you, I introduce ten games that time should not forget. They are prizes in my collection - not because theyíre scarce or beautiful and especially not because theyíre sought after, but rather because these are games that inspire curiousity because their identity has been hidden. Underneath the mild-mannered exterior are challenges with super-hero qualities.

1) Quick Step (Imagic for Atari 2600) One of my favorite games ever for the Atari 2600/VCS is this little Q*Bert clone. In case you donít remember the premise of Q*Bert, the object was to change the color of all of the tiles on a playfield by hopping on each one. Various baddies chase him, change the colors back or otherwise block his progress. When Q*Bert became popular, there were clones all over the place. Each had its own special character and each, in every way, was unremarkable except for te fact that it was "like Q*Bert." Not so with Quick Step. What sets this game apart is the fact that there are two characters constantly competing for territory. A squirrel and a kangaroo hop along the playfield, changing the tiles to their respective colors in their wake. Oh yeah, and the playfield is constantly moving off the bottom of the screen. If a tile leaves the bottom with your color, you get that point. If, however, you leave the bottom of the screen, you die. There are lots of surprises in Quick Step like corridors that suddenly end and force you off the bottom and power-ups that allow the opponent to freeze you in your tracks temporarily. The real challenge is to be just slightly more daring than your counterpart, by changing tiles as close to the bottom of the playfield without being sucked down yourself. This is wild, ultra-competitive stuff. Seek this one out!

2) Diner (INTV for Intellivision) Do you remember Peter Pepper? He was the chef that was pursued by relentless hot dogs, eggs, pickles and french fries in the Data East arcade (later home) classic Burgertime. If you enjoyed that game, you would surely enjoy the sequel, which was only available for the Intellivision in its final moments. Diner expands on the maze-game theme of its predecessor by introducing a quasi-3-D environment. The look is reminiscent of the game Congo Bongo, but there are many more screens and a more focused challenge at hand to really compare. In fact, the game is quite unlike anything before or since. In this maze, your chef has to kick balls of food strewn about the playfield into the oncoming enemy food (once again played by vicious hot dogs and accompanied by angry cherries, bananas, etc.), knocking them out temporarily. Get all of the food balls to roll to the bottom of the screen and youíre whisked off to a new level. There are many of them! There are also conveyor belts, trap doors and bonus levels. Any time my Intellivision is out for a dose of nostalgia, Diner always gets a play. It is one of the few games whose original game play still holds up today.

3) Fortune Builder (Coleco for ColecoVision) Almost everyone who owned a ColecoVision also owns Donkey Kong, Turbo, Zaxxon and Smurf Rescue. There was an over-saturation of some of Colecoís titles that was certainly warranted (all of those listed are very good games), but the super-huge banner that waved over these money-makers hid several others that never escaped the shadows. For the strategist, there are few games that compare to Fortune Builder for its time. It is like a mini-Sim City. In fact, I wouldnít be surprised if someone at Maxis had seen Fortune Builder and had a seed planted in the creative soils of their brain (wow, what a metaphor!). What makes me think that? Well, this game has apartments, malls, restaurants, arcades, roads, gas stations, motels, toll booths, bridges, factories, power units... Need I go on? You start the game on an undeveloped plot of land and attempt to create, well, a city. One thing this game has that the original Sim City never had was a two-player mode. In a split-screen, you could compete head to head with a fellow captain of industry. Fortune Builder really shows its age now, but itís good fun, and a must for any ColecoVision owner.

4) Chew Man-Fu (NEC for Turbografx-16) What the...? Let me tell you something. Every once in a while, a game comes along whose packaging and concept truly belie the effort within. When I first saw this game in a store about six years ago, I recall thinking that even a little kid wouldnít have fun with such a crude game. As it turned out, a purchase of a small collection had Chew Man-Fu included, and I couldnít have been more surprised. It also turned out that this game was the prize of that little collection! The name is silly, the graphics on the box appear very simple, but start playing it and youíll be hooked. Itís basically a puzzle game in which you have to slide giant marbles along a maze and rest them on tiles of the same color. Youíll be thwarted by strange, giant animals, and there are fun little power-ups all over the place. Time is your greatest nemesis here, though. If you donít clear the playfield in time, the strange, giant animals become balls of fire and take you out in a big hurry. To add to the value of this game, there are five different areas and a whopping 550 different screens in all. You can even create your own levels and save them if you have the TurboBooster or a Duo. Like many of the games on this list, Chew Man-Fu allows simultaneous play between two players. Itís war! Itís also totally addictive. See for yourself!

5) Piece O' Cake (US Games for Atari 2600) My second choice in this category for the Atari 2600/VCS is Piece O' Cake, designed and marketed by a company that still makes some pretty good breakfast eats. Yep, US Games and Quaker Oats were owned by the same person, somewhere up that corporate ladder. As unlikely a producer as that may be, US Games turned out some fairly good titles, the pinnacle being this panic-based action game. Do you remember that episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy is the victim of a cake machine mass-producing cakes at a pace just a little too fast for her to keep up with? Youíll soon sympathize with that situation as you attempt, in similar fashion, to create cakes as they roll off of a conveyor belt. The graphics are wonderful, with a very large chef hovering over the juggernaut machine. It even uses the paddle controllers, which I always found very responsive. Another game with a very similar concept and status that could have made this list is Cakewalk by CommaVid, but I find that game a little on the frustrating side and also rather scarce.

6) Midnight Mutants (Atari for Atari 7800) The fact that the Atari 7800 went with little fanfare throughout its very short existence means that there are a score of titles for which I could say "you should try." But of all the titles in the 7800ís small library, none is quite as eccentric as Midnight Mutants. Part adventure game, part shooter, part puzzler, it can almost be compared to a game like Zelda, except that it is much smaller. In this non-linear quest, you have to fend off various halloween-style bad guys (lots of bats, zombies and the like), find objects and ultimately - are you ready for this? - rescue Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis from a fate worse than death. At various points in the game, a large picture of Grandpa Munster pops up to give you advice. Yes, itís as weird as it sounds, but Midnight Mutants packs a real punch. It is very challenging and has loads of unique locations. Youíll travel through haunted houses, graveyards, mazes, caves and more. There are some eye-popping visuals in the form of huge bosses (very unusual at that time) who provide some thumb-blistering shooting action as well. A real blast!

7) Patriots (John Dondzila for Vectrex) There used to be a saying on a local "classic" radio station nearby: "It doesnít have to be old to be classic." This rings true for what is, in fact, a brand new game. A brand new game for the Vectrex! Patriots is a Missile Command clone, but it's done in extraordinary fashion. Two cannons are positioned at either bottom end of the screen. Six cities sit at the bottom center. Enemy ICBMs travel Missile Command-style toward them. As you move the targeting crosshair around, youíll notice that the cannons follow it along. Press the fire button and the rockets really fly! There are many things moving on the screen at once, including the explosions, which not only emanate from an exploding rocket, but another one appears when an ICBM is destroyed. Throw in the UFOs, enemy jets and "smart bombs," and youíve got one heck of a conversion. I truly credit John Dondzila. If you own a Vectrex and havenít hooked up with him yet, give him a holler at pcjohn@crisp.net. You can get your hands on a copy for just $20.

8) Hover Force (INTV for Intellivision) Suffering from the same bad timing that Diner (above) experienced shouldnít keep everyone from knowing that "Hover Force" is a terrific action game. It is in games like this one that you can see the possibilities in the Intellivision and what its future may have been had its developers hung in there! After all, the Intellivision was the only 1970s home console to feature a 16-bit CPU processor (itís true, not a typo). It shows here, where you must pilot a helicopter over a city in flames. There are enemy Ďcopters to take out and fires to extinguish, and it is all done in a very fast and aethetically pleasing way. The game itself doesnít have much depth, but it stands in there with some of the best shooters in terms of overall action.

9) River City Ransom (American Technos for NES) How about a game of Double Dragon with role-playing elements thrown in? Then you must be talking about River City Ransom, which is probably the only game that can bear such a description. American Technos crafted a beauty of a game here, even though it features those same squatty little Japanese-style characters that were so overused in the Nintendo 8-bitís heyday. Somehow it manages to get enough detail out of those characters and adds to the action an interesting storyline, loads of locations, bizarre characters and perhaps the most diverse "shopping" system ever seen in a video game. What other game have you played where you can be cured by purchasing and consuming a cornish hen? The action is great, too. You can play with a pal or alone, smashing computer opponents with your fists, feet, sticks, rocks, tires, boxes, garbage cans, chains and all kinds of wild kung fu (once your level increases high enough). Itís pretty likely that long-time NESers have played this game, but it bears mentioning just in case you havenít. Itís a real gem!

10) Cat Trax (Emerson for Arcadia 2001) Is it the system itself thatís obscure or just the game? Well might you ask. I've been preaching for years that the Arcadia 2001 is not the terrible system many classic aficionados would have you believe. I honestly feel that most of the games are pretty decent. Sure, there are duds, but theyíre in proportion to the library, perhaps an even better ratio than the venerable Atari 2600, whose library is littered with junky titles. It is difficult to find a game of exceptional quality on the Emerson console, however, although Cat Trax is invariably the game I play when dusting off the system to make sure it still works. The tried-and-true maze-game theme is at play here, and this one even borrows a little from Exidyís Mouse Trap. In Cat Trax, you are the cat. Gobble the dots, grab the power pill and become a dog catcherís truck (I never said it was original!) to turn the tides. The graphics are vibrant, and the game play is very smooth. To beat a really old saying to death, if you liked Pac-Man, youíll like Cat Trax.

Iíd love to hear from you if you unearth one of these treasures and get hooked. Video games are meant to be played, and itís always great to know that games that didnít receive their just rewards during their initial release can still be "discovered" today.

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Last updated: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 06:12 PM