1984 was a tough year for video gaming releases.
For many of us it was just another year and the words “video”, “game” and “crash” were never uttered consecutively. There was still a plethora of Atari, Intellivision and Colecovision consoles and games available in toy stores across the United States, Europe and other parts of the world. The advent of home computer gaming was as mainstream as it had ever been. If anything, those of us in North America may have begun to notice prices falling as retailers attempted to unload large quantities of unsold video games via clearance bins. As far as we were concerned, 1984 was a great time to be a video game fan!
Consoles and Computers
By early 1984, Nintendo‘s Famicom system was a unbridled success over in Japan and the company was making an attempt to break into the North American market with the Advanced Video System. Initially presented at the January 1984 Consumer Electronic Show held in Las Vegas, NV, the AVS looked like yet another console/computer hybrid that had been all the rage at the time, but was falling out of favor with retailers and consumers thanks to poor sales & reviews (see Intellivision’s computer add-on and the Coleco Adam add-on for the Colecovision). Retailers wanted nothing to do with a new, potentially expensive games console and who could blame them?
So what was being released in the first half of 1984 if video gaming as a viable entertainment medium was quickly slipping into the realm of “fad” status faster than you could say “Pet Rock“? Atari was still making moves in an attempt to stay on top of the video game world. They introduced the Atarisoft brand name which was created as a way to port some of their exclusive titles to other home consoles and computers such as the Colecovision, Commodore 64 and Apple II computers to name but a few. This led to releases such as Centipede, Defender, Dig Dug, Galaxian, Moon Patrol and Ms. Pac Man finding their way onto other machines in early 1984. Atari’s iron grip on arcade ports had finally loosened and owners of Colecovision and Intellivision consoles, as well as non-Atari computers, would benefit most.
Yet another arcade port was released in early 1984 to less than stellar reviews. Congo Bongo was an isometric title from Sega released in arcades in 1983 to little fanfare. In Congo Bongo you play as a safari hunter chasing after a big ape named Bongo, all because he played a prank while you were sleeping (hmm, ok!). The playfields have a tilted isometric view, and in the first level you must avoid Bongo’s coconuts while climbing up platforms to reach him….sound familiar?
I remember playing Congo Bongo a few times in the arcade as I was a big fan of Donkey Kong. the game looked similar and the term “derivative” wasn’t yet in my vocabulary. I never really thought much about Congo Bongo during and after playing it, indicating that it was fairly forgettable. There are home console versions available for the Atari 2600, the Atari 5200, the Intellivision and the Colecovision, with a plethora of versions available for every major computer at the time.
The Colecovision version is one of the nicest looking (oh my god, the Atari 2600 version looks horrendous) but it only includes only 3 of the arcade’s 4 levels. None of the ports were considered all that great, but the fact that the source material wasn’t one of Sega’s best indicates that 1984 might have been a transitional year for home consoles and computers. Not much to see here, but it’s an okay game overall.
Just as the home console market was rapidly shrinking, arcades were well beyond their peak of a few years earlier, but there were still new games being developed and released in early 1984.
One of these games, Space Ace, was created by Don Bluth Studios, Cinematronics and Advanced Microcomputer Systems, the makers of 1983‘s smash hit, Dragon’s Lair. Like Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace is a laser disc game that requires the player to watch cartoon action on the screen while quickly moving the joystick or pressing a button to prompt the character to perform an action. Perform the wrong action or perform the action too late and you are treated to elaborate death animations.
Space Ace added some minor improvements to Dragon’s Lair such as difficulty level choices and alternate paths. Your character, Ace, can also revert back to his child form as Dexter for an alternate gameplay option. I have only played Space Ace a few times as laser disc games intimidated me as a child in the arcade. Part of the reason was the cost as they tended to be a bit more expensive (50 cents per play) than your average 25 cent arcade game. The style of quick time event gameplay was also something I wasn’t inherently adept at, so games would inevitably be extremely short and unfulfilling. Nevertheless, Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair seemed like the future of video games at the time and proved innovative and appealing to the many.