The next three Channel F carts I will be covering from my collection are Videocart-4 (Spitfire), Videocart-9 (Drag Strip) and Videocart-11 (Backgammon/Acey-Deucey). Like many Channel F carts, they are best played with a human opponents but at least Spitfire and Drag Strip can (sort of) be played with just 1 player.
Spitfire is an aerial dogfight game that pits two WWI era fighter planes (the red plane is the Red Baron, naturally) against each other in a battle to see who can shoot each other’s plane down more frequently. After selecting your mode (1 player or 2 player), a countdown is shown on the screen and at that point you can select the game mode, which essentially just adjusts the speed of the fighters. Spitfire on the Channel F attempts to recreate realistic airplane controls using the system’s unique controller and does a pretty good job of doing so once you get the hang of it. Pushing up or forward (towards the TV screen) will cause the plane to move down. Pulling back or towards you causes the plane to move upwards. Pressing down on the top of the controller will fire your gun. The planes will wrap around on the screen relative to where it was when it left. For example, if you were in the lower left hand corner of the TV screen when your plane left the playfield, it will wrap around on the upper right. I like this game play aspect better than if the game used the TV screen as a finite box, which would make the game feel more claustrophobic considering how big the planes are. Once a plane is shot down, there’s a neat animation of it crashing down, complete with crashing sounds, on what appears to be a airplane tower to signal the ground level. Spitfire has potential as a two player game but gets old quite fast in one player mode.
Drag Strip on the other hand is a deep game with a steep learning curve. As the name of the game implies, this is a two player racing game where you control one of two cars on the screen in a race to the finish line. Once again, the Channel F controller is meant to be used like a stick shift with manual controls in the H-position. Up/left is for 1st gear, down/left is 2nd gear, up/right for 3rd and down/right for 4th. Simultaneously, you must also twist the knob to actually move the car forward (to the right) as well so it becomes quite the feat of coordination to turn the controller’s knob while also ensuring that you are properly shifting gears. Drag Strip ups the difficulty factor by including the ability to stall your car or blow your engine depending on the game mode you select. You can stall your car either by not taking off in time after the light turns green or by not properly shifting gears once you’ve taken off. If you take off too quickly, however, you are disqualified with a “red light” error. You also have to watch out for blown engines as there is an RPM meter shown at the bottom of the screen and if you don’t shift gears in time while the meter increases, the BLOWN message shows up on the screen indicating you’re toast. When this often happens to me, I always imagine an animation of smoke billowing from the hood of the car if this game came out on Colecovision or the NES.
After turning the game on, you must first select the type of car you’ll be racing with. Your choices are family sedan, modified sedan, funny car and dragster. Then you can select your mode which gives you the choices of playing in practice mode, no-stall modes or stall mode intact. While Drag Strip is primarily a two player game, you can glean some fun from it as one player by selecting mode 4, or stalled car mode, and simply play to achieve a best personal time. By selecting mode 4, the second, unmanned player will stall out and you can race to the finish and win, thus showing your time at the bottom. It can become addicting to keep playing trying to master the timing of getting off the starting line faster, maximizing your RPMs without blowing your engine and basically trying to shave tenths of a second off your best time. As a result, I can see Drag Strip potentially being a really fun game but I had quite a difficult time with the control scheme. I stalled out regularly at first and then after some practice when I would finally get the act of getting off the starting line before stalling out, I had very little room for error in the first couple of gears to avoid blowing out my engine. I’d be happy to just make it off the starting line without a RED LIGHT or STALL error message and a couple seconds later my car would stop with the BLOWN message mocking my ineptitude. If there was a Channel F game that I need to go back to in order to master, this one might be it.
Lastly, Backgammon/Acey-Deucey is a video game version of the classic game, Backgammon (naturally). Acey-Deucey is simply a variation of Backgammon added on for some variety. In 2018, there really isn’t much use for a simple and graphically challenged video game version of Backgammon to even exist so I can’t fairly review this game because I didn’t have the patience or a second player to engage me in learning then playing it. It doesn’t help that I never really got into Backgammon and it’s not a game I’m super familiar with so I can’t teach someone else quickly how to play and I can’t compare how the Channel F version plays vs. the original board game version. In the late 70s, being able to use your TV for anything beyond passive program watching and the occasional game of Pong was super novel and likely a revelation. Why else would you want to play Blackjack, Poker, Tic-Tac-Toe or Backgammon on your video game console and TV against another person who is sitting right next to you when its not very difficult to grab a deck of cards or a piece of paper with a pencil? Because you can, that’s why! It was the Bicentennial and dammit, the future was now! Now it’s a completely different century and we’ve been able to do so, so much more with our video games including virtual matchups against opponents hundreds and thousands of miles away that these types of games remain a historical relic. Something tells me that even back in 1977, playing electronic Backgammon might have been a chore (and a bore) considering how well preserved my cartridge and manual are.
Currently in my collection:
Videocart #4 (Spitfire) – game, manual, box C
Videocart #9 (Drag Strip) – game, manual, box B (based solely on potential since I couldn’t get the hang of it at this time)
Videocart #11 (Backgammon/Acey-Deucey) – game, manual, box