Video games are supposed to emphasize the visual, but my love for Sea Wolf was totally about the eerie ping ping of the faux-sonar and the hypernasal buzz of the racing PT boat. You can’t get more basic than the premise of Sea Wolf — you’re blasting enemy ships from your periscope below the water. Watch out for the mines, and get extra points for each exploded PT boat.
I am sure the bartender heard that buzz and ping in her sleep.
My first encounter with Sea Wolf was on vacation in Wisconsin Dells. We’re not a party-hearty family, so we stayed way outside of town on a lake where my father and uncles could fish for bluegill and pike. There were two resorts on the lake: the old-fashioned one with the 1950s-era cottages and the cool one next door with the bar and A-frame motel. Guess which one we stayed at. But we did order pizza from the bar, and while we waited for it, I could play a few games of Sea Wolf. We stayed on this lake for a good decade of vacations, and I got better at Sea Wolf as I got taller. Other video games joined it in the bar, but none had Sea Wolf’s straightforward and noble goal of keeping the oceans safe from floating enemies. I hear that ping ping now and I think of the stink of cigarettes and beer-wet cardboard in the resort bar, and soggy pizza eaten on a picnic table on a Wisconsin summer night.
Possibly one of the simplest early arcade and home console games is Pong. The idea is dead simple: you have two flat paddles on each side of the screen that move up and down to bounce a small ball back and forth. Anyone who has ever played or watched tennis, table or full court, knows exactly how to play Pong and how to win.
Over the years, Pong has gotten numerous sequels, clones and variants; in fact the brick-breaking classic Breakout, is a single-player variation on Pong. But the pure and true retro remake of Pong is Pong: The Next Level for the Sony Playstation. This game takes the classic gameplay mechanics of Pong, throws a 3D engine on it and pimps it out with some innovative new features. There are six themed zones each with three different types of Pong challenges. For instance, the first stage is a simple matter of hitting the ball back and forth across a snowy icecap. Until you hit the penguin waddling back and forth down the center of the playing field, then it lays another ball into play. There are also power-ups unique to each level that change the playing field to give you an advantage or disadvantage against your opponent.
The graphics and sound are very whimsical with the paddles wiggling and jumping around making sounds like chipmunks. Also instead of the timeless Beep. Bop. of the paddles, you get a solid, satisfying thock. The environments are bright and vibrant, but not too hard on the eyes.
As far as extra features go, there’s a handful of single-player Pong challenges that test your skill on controlling the ball alone in various environments. If you’re feeling like some straight up classic Pong, you can unlock the original arcade version to play as well.
After all this praise, I should probably mention Pong: The Next Level‘s major downfall: the controls. Now the controls aren’t broken by any stretch, they’re just not optimal. Using the analog stick or d-pad isn’t quite as accurate or fluid as the original wheel/knob/dial controls on the original arcade or console.
So what about the original Pong? How does it stack up against this “new” 3D remake? Pretty well, actually. Pong excelled in its simplicity; there were no difficult controls and no complicated gameplay mechanics. It was just you and the ball. While its simplicity still holds up today, it also makes for a rather boring game after a time. Granted, playing with a friend can help, but still, how long can you really sit there going beep, bop. Beep, bop? The Next Level adds so much more that will keep you coming back, plus it keeps the super simple gameplay intact and the fancy audio/visual wrapping is a bonus. While The Next Level sacrifices some precision in its controls, it mostly makes up for it in content and presentation.
This may be a bit sacrilegious for a retro gamer, but I have to give the final award to The Next Level for truly taking Pong, to the next level.
A huge thanks as always to the incredible Arcade Flyer Archive for this wonderful scan of the Astro Zone flyer from Taito!
The Archive says this game was European only and I’ve certainly never come across it in the wilds of the arcade. Reading the hints for higher scoring I was taken a bit aback by “In Frame 4, be sure you shoot the first monster that appears. An accurate shot will allow you to proceed to Frame 5 and 6. If you miss the first monster but hit the second you can only proceed to Frame 5.”. So if you miss that shot you can’t reach the ‘end’ of the game? Wow…that’s pretty hardcore rules even for 1980!
Tooling around the internet this evening I stumbled upon a rather wonderful stop-motion video over on YouTube, entitled Game Over. It was created by PES, who is actually Adam Pespane, and he uses all manner of various food products and other items from the home to recreate some moments from the classic 80’s arcade games.
There is a wonderful interview with PES over on the The Animation Show site. So when you have a moment, make sure to hop over there and check it out!
Now I’m also including something that PES didn’t have a hand in, at least that I am aware of, but it is just as awesome. Enjoy this Tron Evolution trailer and tell me if you didn’t get chills at the end of it…especially when you realize who is narrating.
Do you remember the first time you walked into an arcade? That overwhelming feeling of wonder? Did you feel that when you first saw the Atari 2600? How about the NES? I remember feeling that several time during the 1970s and 1980. I could only imagine what seeing this electric wonder in 1936 was like…
That is an original 1936 Seeburg Ray-O-Lite duck shooting game. It’s one of the earlier light ray games and its just beautiful.
Seeburg was a company with an engineering departments focused on the design of vacuum tube amplifiers and gearing systems for jukeboxes. It was no surprise then that when the electric eye light sensing vacuum tube was introduced in the early 1930s that the Seeburg design teams would introduce a light ray game. In January of 1936 Seeburg was the first out with the Ray O Lite. This game featured a flying duck with a light sensing tube that would drop the duck when you shot it with the rifle, which produced a beam of light when the trigger was pulled. After years of making Jukeboxes, Seeburg knew how to build a quality veneer wood cabinet.