1984 was a tough year for video gaming releases. For many of us, 1984 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 a mainstream as it had ever been. If anything, those of us in North America may have begun to notice games prices starting to drop 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 Nintendo 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 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 video game 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, as precarious a spot as that might have seemed to them at the time. They introduced the Atarisoft brand name which was created as a way to port some of their previous exclusive Atari titles to other home consoles and computers such as the Colecovision, Commodore 64 and Apple II computers, just to name a few. This led to releases such as Centipede, Defender, Dig Dug, Galaxian, Moon Patrol and Ms. Pac Man among many others, to find their way onto these other machines in early 1984 after a couple years of being Atari console and computer exclusives. Atari’s iron grip on arcade ports had finally loosened and owners of Colecovision and Intellivision consoles as well as non-Atari computers were the benefiters.
Yet another arcade port was released in early 1984 to every major console and computer of the day 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 on you 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 it was fairly forgettable. There are home console versions available for the Atari 2600, the Atari 5200, the Intellivision and the Colecovision as well as 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) home console ports out there but it only includes 3 of the arcade’s 4 levels. None of the ports were considered all that great but considering that the source material wasn’t one of Sega’s best, indicates that 1984 might have been a transition year for home consoles and computers. Not much to see here but it’s an ok game overall.
While the home console market was shrinking rapidly, arcades were also not pulling in the same amount of money as their peak a few years earlier. With that said, there was still new games being developed and released for arcades a decent clip 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 based game that requires the player to watch the cartoon action on the screen and quickly moving the joystick or pressing a button to prompt the character on the screen to perform an action. Perform the wrong action or perform the action too late, and you are treated to an elaborate death animations. Space Ace added some minor improvements over 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 when I would see them in arcades. 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 also wasn’t something I was inherently adept at so my 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 were innovative and appealing to many.