Blue Thunder

The Rarest of the Rare Video Game System – Exploring Action Max’s Blue Thunder VHS Game

When the Action Max system made its short-lived debut in 1987, it promised gaming fun and excitement with VHS tapes and light guns. What it delivered with no user interactivity, your actions having no bearing on what happens in the game, and, well, no playability whatsoever. What one essentially got when they bought (suckers) or received (again, the person who bought it for a lucky recipient was a sucker) an Action Max was the most unexciting gaming experience ever intended.

There were a total of five games created and marketed for Action Max. Well, there’s actually six if you count the unreleased game that there is no information/pictures for, but supposedly exists in some form. If that form is pure energy, I’d like to know all about it. And while four of the system’s “games,” The Rescue of Pops Ghostly, .38 Ambush Alley, Sonic Fury (the system’s pack-in game), and Hydrosub 2021 are all easy to find at flea markets, on eBay and Amazon, and in tape trades (seriously, the twenty people who owned this system all owned The Rescue of Pops Ghostly – myself included), there is one rather elusive game that has proven to be a much harder one to find than the rest, which has led me to believe it is the best of the bunch, and therefore, the rarest.

That game is based on a film of the same name. That “game” is Blue Thunder.

All images courtesy of Allison Venezio.

All images courtesy of Allison Venezio.

Yes, Blue Thunder. While all of the other games prove to be a silly haunted house game, a ridiculous simulation of a police academy shooting range, a rip-off of Top Gun, and a submarine adventure of the future, there was a game based on an actual movie. That people have actually heard of. And it was rare. So it either has to be incredible and mind-blowing…or just a terrible low-budget rip-off. Ok, fine, Action Max games don’t exactly bring quality, innovation, and creativity, but they created a game around a movie people actually saw…in 1983. So they were four years late to the party. But hey, they arrived.

And this was the result.

But before we start, and this is REALLY important (!), we need to check the brightness level of your TV. Don’t worry, you probably are doing it right, but Worlds of Wonder just wants to make sure. You know, CYA.

Action Max - Brightness Test Screen

The announcer (whom I hope they paid nicely for his time and effort) teaches “players” (can we really be considered players?) to adjust the screen. All games have this brightness adjustment/calibration screen, but this was the ultra-rare “star” version. Ultra rare for the ultra-rare game it was included on!

And then, the second most important test you will need to perform on your television in order to play this game…the TV adjustment test!

Action Max - TV Adjustment Test Screen - Suction Cup Placement

Mr. Announcer now teaches us how to adjust the television for optimal “game play.” First, you place the suction cup in the designated area (over the black circle in the lower right hand corner of the television screen). Then, “players” are to turn on the “on” switch on the base unit, and then adjust the “game switch” to normal, then to special. Ah yes, special. Just like this system and all the “games” it has. Very special.

Action Max - TV Adjustment Test Screen - Reflex Game

But we’re not done yet!!!

When the seizure-inducing white circle on the screen begins flashing, take aim at the screen, and check the “score” on the base unit. If you’ve haven’t collapsed from a seizure yet, you’re doing everything right. Actually, if the score isn’t changing, then you need to go back and calibrate the color on the television. Refer back to Lesson One: The Star Test.

So many complicated instructions for a game that doesn’t exactly work the way we (or the minds at Worlds of Wonder who made this a thing) envision it should. After you’ve done this (and assuming your eyes haven’t completely glazed over by this point, or you haven’t had a seizure from the flashing), adjust the base unit to standard game by sliding the switch to “Normal.” Which describes nothing about the process one must go through in order to “play” this “game.”

And now…get ready for ACTION!

If only the announcer sounded nearly as enthusiastic as he wants you to believe he is.

But wait, you can’t play the game yet! There’s more!!!

There’s this epic introduction, the stuff of low-budget 1980s goodness…

Oh Action Max logo music, you’re reminiscent of low-budget home video labels that the 1980s were silly with!

And just when you thought you were all ready to play an amazing “game” of Blue Thunder…you’re forced to endure one more test.

Standby for…TARGET PRACTICE!

Action Max - Gun Test Screen

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Action Max forces you to endure one more test/test of endurance to ensure that every aspect of your barely-working Action Max works perfectly. Because it assumes you are dumb and have no ability to actually play a video game. Or, “play” this “video game.”

Mr. Announcer, who is barely containing his boredom and “I’m just here for the paycheck” tone,reminds “players” that “a steady aim is critical.” Yes, yes it is. Mr. Announcer reminds you to adjust the distance control for the game pistol (toward minus if close to the screen, plus if further away from the screen). Hitting a “target” nets you “points,” and a “faster response” nets more points. If you hit a “Friend,” the base unit (or the shoddy Action Max headphones that you may have plugged into the unit”) will indicate it with a sound of disappointment, and points will be deducted. You must now turn off the base unit to reset the score (but don’t forget to turn it back on), and PREPARE FOR ACTION!!!!

FINALLY!!!

2:57 seconds later, it’s finally time to play Blue Thunder!

As the film…er, game begins, you are thrust into a debriefing about the meeting of the World Peace Coalition, meeting in Los Angeles in two days. And what get next is stock footage of the 1983 movie Blue Thunder. We’ve got pilots grabbing helmets, we’ve got helicopters revving up…we’ve got an announcer telling us our mission: provide surveillance and air support in the attempt of any hostile attempt to disrupt this critical meeting of world leaders. Or people who come up with ways to royally rip off footage of good movies. How Worlds of Wonder pulls this off is an elusive mystery, but my mission, by the end of the video is to prove that it can happen.

Pray for me and my “helicopter.”

And hence, “Day 1: Special Training and Tactics,” has begun.

Screenshot (2)

You, “The Player” are a new recruit, in a training mission on the heels of, as mentioned, the World Peace Coalition. You are taken to a practice facility and given your instructions – red silhouettes and black cars are terrorists, and white silhouettes are civilians. The aim – don’t “take aim” at the civilians. It is implied by the video that you are successful (though there is really no accountability for it), and you’re then thrust headlong into the action.

And then “Day 2: World Peace Coalition Los Angeles” happens.

Barely three minutes into the actual feature, and you’re on your way to the streets of Los Angeles, where you go on a stock footage-laden adventure, taking out enemy craft, while maneuvering your prototype copter (which costs fifteen million dollars…each!) under bridges and avoiding the temptation to shoot a media helicopter.

So tempting…

Your Fearless Leader/Trainer’s chopper is hit during the action, so you’re left on your own, with the help of the police chopper that has made its way into the area, along with that elusive media helicopter. Because we all know how much they like action!

Screenshot (29)

KBLA High in the sky, with another police calamity! (No lie, that’s the actual dialogue!)

Enemy jets place their heat-seeking missiles on your chopper, but you’re undaunted. The missile takes out a building, in a terrifying show of foreshadowing…

Screenshot (33)

And stock footage. Terrifying stock footage!

Screenshot (36)

The attempt to blow up the peace conference is thwarted, but you and your Fearless Trainer/Leader (now back in action), is ready to take out the enemy, once and for all.

Screenshot (37)

And the stock footage shows success!

Ground control informs you that all enemies are finished off, and there are now clear skies over Los Angeles. There sure is, I mean, no smog in sight! It’s at this time that Fearless Trainer/Leader congratulates you on the success of the “mission,” and both of you head off into the sunset.

And if your base unit was keeping score the whole time, you can rank abilities as a newbie Blue Thunder pilot:

Screenshot (38)

Do you have what it takes to be Squadron Leader…or are you better suited for Ground Crew?

And before Blue Thunder is even over, we’re getting Mr. Announcer, informing us to stay tuned for more exciting previews of other Action Max titles. Don’t cut in until it’s the right time, Mr. Announcer. I know you’re not exactly enjoying your job at this exact moment, but this is the best Action Max title – don’t ruin it!!!

We’re treated to the final round of stock footage from the actual film, the fact that two someones wrote this:

Screenshot (39)

The reminder of where the source material came from…

Screenshot (43)

And the fact that Coca-Cola Telecommunications was a thing in 1987.

Screenshot (44)

As was Worlds of Wonder…but not for much longer.

Screenshot (45)

And how about those “exciting” previews?

And by exciting, Mr. Announcer means The Rescue of Pops Ghostly, which was not exciting at all.

Screenshot (46)

Seriously, everyone owned this game. Everyone! And by everyone, I mean the twenty people who owned an Action Max.

Screenshot (47)

And more excitement lurks around every corner, in the shadows, and in places you don’t expect in .38 Ambush Alley!

Screenshot (48)

And, because they wanted to make the previews a three-part harmony of excitement, we’re taken beneath the seas of the 21st century, battling lasers from enemy subs. Come aboard Hydrosub 2021!

And that’s the Action Max game Blue Thunder! In all, this is clearly the most quality game of the Action Max games…and that’s saying a lot about a game that offers no interactivity, and no viable outcome for your actions. In other words, it’s like watching a video, with seizure-inducing targets at every turn, swoop, and flyby. While much of the footage (especially the action) is stock footage from the feature film, there are some obvious moments of new footage, particularly with Team Leader, And Central Control. In terms of its quality, I refer to the footage used, not the actual gameplay. There is no gameplay. You take aim, fire your Action Max Pistol, and hope to hit a target. What you get is…nothing.

You may hit your target, but nothing happens.

Nothing.

The music in this video is by composer Sylvester Levay, responsible for the music on another high-tech helicopter venture, the 1984-1987 television series Airwolf.

After all of the tutorials on how to adjust your television’s brightness and getting an optimal shot on the targets, as well as testing the television you are using, as well as the previews at the end of the video, Blue Thunder barely runs fifteen minutes. It is on par with the other Action Max games of the time, with tape running times averaging just under twenty minutes. However, this one tends to be the more exciting of the lot, and the least cheesy.

And considering that there is something else that hijacked the Blue Thunder name, the Action Max video couldn’t possibly be the worst adventure for the high-tech helicopter.

[Via] Miguel Ferreira

This. Eleven episodes.

As I said, of the lot of Action Max videos, this is the rarest of an already-rare video gaming console, which lived and died within the span of one magical year – 1987.

On eBay, Action Max’s Blue Thunder isn’t even a thing…it’s not even listed. On Amazon, it has a listing, but is currently unavailable. When I wrote my original Action Max two-part article in November 2013, this was the same availability. Which leads me to believe that Blue Thunder is magic of the bad video game gods…or the pitfall of bargain bin gaming, so bad that it is impossible to ever find physical proof it existed. However, it is available courtesy of several You Tube users.

And if you’re very much inclined to see the whole thing, in glorious seizure-inducing quality, look no further than Captain Devereaux and his inclusion, or Retro Reality and their inclusion.

[Via] Captain Devereaux

Thanks to You Tube users Captain Devereaux and Retro Reality for their amazing contributions to YouTube! Their videos are incredible, be sure to check them out! And to read my original articles about the Action Max system, click on either of the related links. Because everyone likes to feel educated!

Related Links

Action Max: The Rise and (Quick) Fall of a Video Game System
Part 1 – November 26, 2013
Part 2 – December 27, 2013

About Allison Venezio

This is hardly Allison’s first go-around with the short-lived Action Max system. She not only owned one of these “consoles” in 1987 (and managed to hang on to it until the mid-1990s), she is one of those twenty proud owners of The Rescue of Pops Ghostly, as well as Sonic Fury (but only because it came with the Action Max), and .38 Ambush Alley. Allison and her twin brother received a Nintendo for Christmas in 1988, effectively ending the reign of Action Max being their first/only game console. They did play it until the early 1990s, when it went into the entertainment center cabinet and never re-emerged. She also lived to write about the console in a two-part article in 2013. She can be found lurking around her blog, Allison’s Written Words (with archives on Blogger), can be contacted via Twitter @DancerChick1982, and (if you dare) you can also follow her blog on Facebook. She is an amateur writer/blogger and nostalgia geek, with a day job as a Secretary for a non-profit. She resides in southern New Jersey. Her mom thinks she’s a talented writer, and would like you to know this too. You really don’t want to disappoint her mom, do you?

Conan - Mock Up Poster

What The Conan The Barbarian Poster Might Have Looked Like (1982)

I was checking out some reviews of the new Terminator film (Not seeing a lot of praise) and in the search an image happened to catch my eye. I followed the link and ended up at an auction page from 2011 featuring this mock up poster from the art department for the film, as you can see the artwork is by the legendary Boris Vallejo.

To be honest I actually prefer the theatrical one-sheet that I own.

Image courtesy of IMP Awards.

Image courtesy of IMP Awards.


I’ve mentioned this before but when my Father and I went to see Conan the Barbarian back in 1982…we also took along my Grandparents. When we left the theater my ten-year-old brain was swimming with the glories of the sword and sorcery genre. Sadly my Grandparents were less than thrilled by the film, they were absolutely stunned by the violence and amount of bloodshed they had just witnessed. So no ice cream on the way home that night, it was a very, very quiet car ride back.

[Via] Movieclips

Thankfully my Father was just as impressed by the film as I was…which is why we went to the matinee to see it again the next day!

A big thanks to IMP Awards of the more common one-sheet but feel free to follow the link to Julien’s auction page for that item, you can also see some other cool Conan items that were available for purchase.

Casio MSX PV-16

The Casio PV-16 MSX Computer

I was recently browsing through the Flickr photostream of user JINsMac and came across this very lovely looking computer. Back in 1983 when this was released, home computers really only came in two colours – black or beige – so a bright red machine with cute “chicklet” keys and a joy pad built onto the casing must have been quite eye-catching.

Once I was done trying to decide if my wife would let me hang a print of this beauty in my house, I noticed a familiar logo on the case – MSX! Regular readers might know that I have a thing for the MSX computer range, owning a Toshiba variant myself as a youngster. I can tell you, the Toshiba was NOT a looker, at least not when compared to the PV-16!

According to MSX.ORG, you could also get this in black but, honestly, who would?

I went in search of more information about Casio’s foray into the MSX world and discovered that they didn’t limit themselves to just one type of red computer, they also had models called MX-10 and PV-7 too!

msx_pv-7
msx_mx-10

MSX Zone has a nice section with hundreds of MSX variants, Casio’s included. To be fair to Toshiba, they did produce a red version of the machine I owned but my MSX heart now belongs to the PV-16.

ibm-pcjr-ad-01

The Advantages of Owning an IBM PCjr? The Ladies…

In this ad from the mid-eighties we see a very Jason Bateman-esque looking kid extolling the virtues of the IBM PCjr not just for its computing power, but because of its power to attract the ladies. You know because “sometimes it’s easy to forget, but there’s more to life than just computing.”

Personally I am still not 100% sold on that.

ibm-pcjr-ad-02

transformers-rubsign

The Joy of Transformer’s Rubsigns

I didn’t own a lot of Transformers when I was a kid, but the ones I did were treasured and played with often. What was not to love about them? Vehicles. Robots. Dinosaurs. They have everything a kid could want. They also had something that captured my imagination, the Rubsign.

The Rubsign was the small heat sensitive decal the came on Generation 1 Transformers starting in their second year. They allowed the identity of a Transformer to be kept secret until heat was applied, usually through rubbing. I am not sure why, but this small piece of technology quickly became an obsession of mine and I would show it off to whoever would allow me to demonstrate it. This was usually my Mother or Grandmother, who would humor me and pretend I had not shown them it 1000s of time before.

This novel use of mood ring technology might seem simple, but it just added another later of gee whiz to an already amazing toy line and I would not consider buying a Transformer that did not have one.

Here is an ad from the mid eighties featuring the rubsign…

Paul Williams

Paul Williams Performs “The Hell Of It” On The Brady Bunch Hour (1977)

A couple of days ago while helping Daniel XIII down in the Retroist Vault we had a moment to sit and chat. He asked me if I had ever seen the talented Paul Williams perform “The Hell of It” from Phantom of the Paradise on the Brady Bunch Hour. I informed him that not only had I not seen this segment but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a segment from the Brady Bunch Hour.

[Via] BrosKpr

The Brady Bunch Hours was conceived by Sid and Marty Kroft (Land of the Lost) and changed the Brady’s from a simple suburban family to hosts of an ABC variety show starting in 1976 and lasting until 1977. All of the original actors returned except for Eve Plumb who backed out of the project because the Producers demanded she be in all episodes of the show when she felt she could only commit to five of them. So the Producers had a search for a replacement and settled on Geri Reischl…

[Via] BBVHFan
…or as Brady fans have nicknamed her “Fake Jan”.

programmable-cube

Metacomet Software’s “The Programmable Cube”

In 1982, Connecticut’s Metacomet Software released a program aimed at Cubing enthusiasts called “The Programmable Cube”. The program allowed you to explore the various ways to solve the cube and even allowed you to build your own cube.

programmable-cube

All of my experience with “The Programmable Cube” is from secondhand sources and old reviews. But I have learned that the program was pretty intuitive, featuring simple key commands to turn and twist your cube in various directions, it was written in Pascal and that the software came in two flavors, 48K and 64K. I guess the program was pretty robust, because even with the 64K, you were limited in how many solution you could load. The program itself could solve a cube for you, but it also had its own programming language that allowed you to write your own solutions and test them out.

I have not been able to find a copy of the program being used online, nor do I have the hardware to run it myself nowadays. Does anyone else have any experience with “The Programmable Cube” that they would be willing to share?