The next (and last) three Channel F Videocarts I’ll be covering this month are Videocart-16 (Dodge It), Videocart-17 (Pinball Challenge) and Videocart-18 (Hangman). The videocarts with numbers in the late teens are still considered part of the first run of Channel F games released during the 1976-1977 timeframe but you’ll notice that the visual appearance of the cartridge, manual and box for Hangman (#18) differs slightly from the first seventeen Videocarts. For starters, on the box, the graphic representation of the game along with the title takes up significantly more space than the number, which is different. Also missing is the mini-rainbow located in the lower right hand corner. The manual also has similar differences where the graphics/design and title of the game are much more prominent than the words “Videocart-18”. As for the cartridges, they still maintain the large yellow shape with labels affixed to the top and end but as with the boxes and manuals, the name of the game is highlighted on the end label in larger type than the videocart nomenclature. I’m not sure why Fairchild chose to redesign these later games but I like what they did with them and think it more accurately reflects the content of the games themselves.
As for the gameplay, Dodge It is an interesting one or two player game where you maneuver a small square inside a larger square or rectangle playfield. The goal is to avoid getting hit by a bouncing ball that ricochets all around the playfield until it hits you. As you successfully avoid the bouncing ball, the game ramps up the difficulty by introducing additional bouncing balls, one at a time, up to nine total. The playfields themselves don’t change in appearance much beyond the inner dimensions. The larger the inner dimension, the easier it is to avoid the balls. Dodge It also offers two ball speeds and a timer that keeps track of how long you are able to stay alive. In the two player version of the game, the winner of the round is the player that doesn’t get hit by the ball, obviously. Once you or your opponent is hit, you’re treated to an interesting graphic of multi-colored boxes filling inside each other until it looks like you’re looking down on a green/red/blue pyramid. I certainly don’t know why they chose to add this graphic to indicate the end of a round, but it looks cool!
Pinball Challenge is a poorly named cart that once you turn on, you’ll instantly recognize as a Breakout style game. The primary mode of play includes a bar you move back and forth across the lower portion of the playfield, attempting to keep a ball in play in order to completely break the 3 rows of colored blocks from above. Pinball Challenge attempts to keep the Breakout concept fresh by adding a variety of one and two player options but most of them fall flat. Who really wants to play two player co-op Breakout where one player is required to move the bar to the left while the other player must move the bar to the right. To me, that sounds like torture and a clear example of how to take the fun out of Breakout. Also, I have to say that the controls of Pinball Challenge are not something I would recommend any designer of this style of game to mimic. The longer you hold the controller in the direction you want to move, the faster it goes. Which is fine, except it seems to only work sometimes. I would much prefer a steady, consistent speed like every other version of Breakout employs. Too many times I would try to move my bar to save the ball from getting past it and my excessively slow speed resulted in failure. I could have sworn that my controllers weren’t working until I actually researched it to find out it was by design.
Hangman is the Channel F take on the classic pen and paper game where you attempt to guess what a pre-determined word by selecting letters of the alphabet one at a time. With each incorrect guess, a body part is drawn into a nicely animated gallows noose. First the head, then the body, then each arm and each leg. If you guess the word correctly before the person is drawn into the noose, you win and you are treated to an animation of the person escaping death by hanging. If you make too many incorrect guesses, the man will drop down slightly indicating he’s been hung. Hangman really only has value as a one player game as there’s no reason to go through the effort of playing it electronically with two players when it’s just as easy to use a pencil and paper. If played as one player, the computer selects the words, but none of them are vulgar and that was the whole point of playing Hangman as a kid if I recall. Hangman for the Channel F is good at what it does but there’s no way this game has the variety or intrigue to keep your interest for very long.
Currently in my collection:
Videocart #16 (Dodge It) – game, manual, box B
Videocart #17 (Pinball Challenge) – game, manual, box D+
Videocart #18 (Hangman) – game, manual, box C-