If you were to ask the average gamer what was the first arcade game to incorporate maneuvering around a maze in order to make dots disappear, the likely answer would be Pac-Man. Unfortunately for that hypothetical person (but fortunately for arcade enthusiasts), he or she would be wrong. Released by Sega/Gremlin in 1979, which was the year before Pac-Man made its smashing debut, Head On lacked the cute characters of Pac-Man, but it did feature somewhat similar gameplay, at least in terms of its basic objective.

 

Head On Arcade Machine 1979

 

Head On was never directly ported to a home console, but Atari, not wanting to pay licensing fees for the game, cloned it as Dodge ’Em, a simple , but engaging maze/racer that was perfectly suited to the confines of the relatively underpowered Atari 2600. In both Head On and Dodge ’Em, players race a car around a top-down maze, driving over (and thus eliminating) dots lining the pathways. The playfield in the arcade game is a grouping of four squares making up a larger concentric square while the 2600 rendition is a grouping of four horizontal rectangles making up a larger concentric horizontal rectangle. There are five maze pathways in Head On, but only four in Dodge ’Em.

 

     

                    Atari 2600 Dodge 'Em 1980                                              Head On Arcade 1979

 

The reason the 2600 game is called Dodge ’Em is that as players maneuver around the maze, an opposing car drives in the opposite direction. The enemy car doesn’t erase dots, but it does tend to change lanes in anticipation of the player’s car, causing plenty of head-on collisions (hence the title of the coin-op version). When the player crashes into the oncoming car, the maze starts over, meaning all the vanquished dots reappear. Once a maze has been cleared , the player scores eight bonus points, and the game continues as it started, with a maze full of dots.

 

Dodge ’Em is simplistic, but super challenging, especially in terms of twitchy, on-the-fly strategy. The car moves at a steady pace automatically, but pressing the action button accelerates it to a higher speed. The racetrack is divided by four intersections (two vertical, two horizontal) in which the player and the opponent vehicle can change lanes. A typical game of Dodge ’Em is fast, furious, and fun (if all-too-brief ), with players frequently changing lanes and speeding up and slowing down in order to avoid crashing . Once the player crashes three times, the game will end.

 

        

            Original box 1980                             Rerelease box 1981                             Action Pak box 1981

 

Dodge ’Em is indeed a hard game, made more so by a second crash car entering the maze after two mazes have been cleared. Further, when the left difficulty switch on the 2600 console is in the A position, the computer car or cars travel at twice their normal speed after the first and third sets of bonus points are awarded. In the B position, the car or cars travel at a slower or normal speed. When the right difficulty switch is in the A position, the computer car begins gameplay in different playfield positions. In the B position, the computer car always begins gameplay next to the player’s race car.

 

Unlike certain other early Atari 2600 titles, which offer tons of game modes, Dodge ’Em has a mere three, but that’s all you really need. Game 1 is for one player while games 2 and 3 let a second gamer in on the action (alternate against the computer, or, better yet, one player clears dots while the other drives the crash car). As much fun as it is to play by yourself, Dodge ’Em really shines in game 3. It’s one thing to dodge the computer-controlled car, which is robotically predictable (if hard to avoid), but another thing entirely to try and avoid a car driven by a living, breathing, trash-talking human. This is riotous two-player simultaneous action at its best.

 

          Atari Game Catalog Revision E 1980. First appearance of Dodge 'Em in Atari game catalog.

 

Despite its quality, Dodge ’Em is sometimes underrated (or at least overlooked), even among gaming gurus. In the July/August issue of 2600 Connection (#94), which contains my listing of “The Ten Best Atari 2600 Games” (Dodge ’Em came in at number four), editor Al Backiel rebutted with “I’m not so enthusiastic about Dodge ’Em .”

 

Most reviewers, however, hold the game in high regard. In Ken Uston’s Guide to Buying and Beating The Home Video Games (Signet, 1982), the author referred to Dodge ’Em as “an exciting, fast-moving maze-type game” that “requires a blend of hand-eye coordination and strategy that will make it of interest to a variety of players.” More recently, the Video Game Critic (videogamecritic.com) called it “a real winner” and a “gem of a game.” Keita Ida of Atari Gaming Headquarters (atarihq.com) lavished Dodge ’Em with praise—especially the two-player mode—calling it “remarkably fun.”

 

 Orignal text label game program cartridge 1980    Re-release illustrated label game program cartridge 1981

 

Everyone agrees that Dodge ’Em isn’t an audio/visual feast. The sounds consist largely of buzzes and beeps, but the graphics, though flat, are solid enough to get the point across, especially considering the era of release.

Programmed by Carla Meninsky (who also did the Atari 2600port of Warlords ), Dodge ’Em was announced in The Atari Video Computer System Catalogue Rev. E (1980), Atari’s final game catalogue of that year. The tract hailed the game as “crashing good fun for the whole family,” which is a statement that avoids hyperbole since it is true.

 

The first iteration of Dodge ’Em was released in 1980 during the heyday of the Atari 2600. The complete package includes: pink box with large game program text on front; small-format black instruction manual; and cartridge with red text label. The second released was in 1981 and includes: pink box with small game program text on front; large format white instruction manual; and cartridge with illustrated label. In addition, the game was one-third of the Atari Action Pak (1981) boxed set, which also included Breakout and Othello. The Action Pak version features: white box with black text; large format white instruction manual; and cartridge with illustrated label.

 

Sears Dodger Cars video game box

 

There was a Sears release of Dodge ’Em as well. Gameplay is exactly the same, but Sears changed the title to “Dodger Cars” (1981) and packaged the game cartridge (featuring text labeling) in a black box with a black instruction manual. Regarding the foreign market, CCE and Polyvox released the game in Brazil . The Polyvox cartridge label is in Portuguese, with Dodge ’Em spelled “Desvie se!”

 

Head On may be a long forgotten arcade game, but its spirit lives on in Dodge ’Em , which was popular enough to inspire a trio of homebrew hacks, all of which were programmed in 2004. Borg ’ Em substitutes Borg ships (from Star Trek the Next Generation) for the cars; Dodge Blinky replaces the cars with Pac-Man ghosts; and Vader vs. Luke pits Darth Vader’s ship against Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing Fighter.

 

   

      Atari 2600 Borg 'Em 2004               Atari 2600 Dodge Blinky 2004        Atari 2600 Vader vs. Luke 2004

 

Next time you fire up your Atari 2600, plug in Dodge ’Em, and get ready for a rollicking good time. Just be prepared to pull the reset lever again and again as this is one tough, but addicting game.

 

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Copyright 2010 Atari2600.com, with content by Brett Weiss, http://brettweisswords.blogspot.com/

 

Explore Video Game History

Atari 2600

Released in October 1977, the Atari Video Computer System (VCS), which is now better known as the Atari 2600 (hence the atari2600.com website), hit store shelves. It was packaged with two joysticks, two rotary paddle controllers, an AC adapter, a TV/game switch, and a Combat cartridge. Eight other games hit the shelves at the same time as the 2600: Air-Sea Battle, Basic Math, Blackjack, Indy 500, Star Ship, Street Racer, Surround, and Video Olympics.

The second cartridge-based console (after the Fairchild Channel F), the 2600 dominated the industry in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, crushing such competitors as the Odyssey2, the Intellivision, and the Bally Astrocade, and helping make obsolete such dedicated systems as the original Odyssey and Atari Video Pong. The system was originally designed to play simplistic racing games, Pong variations, basic educational titles, and the like, but that would soon change as programmers and marketers for the company got more savvy.

One of the primary reasons for the success of the 2600 was the release of the Space Invaders (1980) cartridge, which was a phenomenal reimagining of Taito’s 1979 arcade smash. Space Invaders put the 2600 on the map and was followed by such popular arcade conversions as Missile Command, Asteroids, and Centipede. Most of these titles were blocky and less detailed visually than their arcade counterparts, but they usually captured the spirit of their respective coin-op cousins, making them very popular with consumers.

During its heyday, numerous peripherals were released for the 2600, including keyboard controllers for such games as Basic Programming and A Game of Concentration, a touch pad for Star Raiders, a trackball for such games as Missile Command and Centipede, a Kid’s Controller for Sesame Street games, a joypad for Mogul Maniac, the Starpath Supercharger for cassette-based games, a driving controller for Indy 500, and lots of different third-party joysticks.

Prior to the release of the Nintendo NES in 1985, the Atari 2600 was the most recognized and most commercially successful videogame console, ultimately moving around 30 million systems. Today, the 2600 maintains a rapid following, as evidenced by the plethora of homebrews being produced by fans and programmers. Collectors love the system for its large library (more than 400 titles), its rarities, its label variations, and more. Gamers love it for its fast, fun, arcade-like games, and for such groundbreaking titles as Adventure and Pitfall!

 

Atari 5200

The Atari 5200 SuperSystem was released in the fall of 1982 as a follow-up the Atari 2600, which was starting to show its age, and to compete with the Intellivision, which had more power and better graphical capabilities than the 2600. Unfortunately for Atari, the highly popular ColecoVision hit store shelves several months before the 5200 (which, in terms of processing power), was basically an Atari home computer sans the keyboard), taking away much of its market and starting the second console war (the 2600 vs. the Intellivision was the first).

The 5200 was a large, black system that came with a power supply and two fragile, non-centering controllers that were met with much derision. The 5200 itself is a great system, but the loose analog controllers made playing such games as Pac-Man and Frogger unnecessarily difficult. Games with broader ranges of movement, however, worked fine with the controllers. One good thing about the controllers is the pause button. Even better, there were three third-party controllers released for the 5200: the Wico Command Control, the GIM Electronics Fire Command, and the Coin Controls Competition Pro. Unfortunately, all three are tough to find today. Other peripherals include a trackball and a hard-to-find Atari 2600 adaptor.

Like the ColecoVision, the Atari 5200 was a victim of the Great Videogame Crash of 1983/84, and Atari quit producing the unit in 1984. Prior to its demise, numerous graphically and aurally superior (when compared to the 2600 offerings) arcade ports, including Missile Command, Kangaroo, Pac-Man, Pengo, Dig Dug, and Defender. Two titles in particular stand out: Robotron: 2084 and Space Dungeon, both of which came with dual controller holders for arcade-like control.

The Atari 5200 maintains a loyal fan base to this day, but most gamers still complain about those analog controllers.

 

Atari 7800

The Atari 7800 ProSystem was released in 1986, which was about a year or so too late, since it had to compete with the vastly superior Nintendo NES. The NES trumped the Atari system with its plethora of longer, mission-based games, including such popular (not to mention groundbreaking) titles as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. The 7800 was home to fine translations of such arcade classics as Joust, Asteroids, Centipede, and Ms. Pac-Man, but most consumers were clamoring for the more modern, more sophisticated NES offerings.

The 7800 should have hit store shelves in 1984, but former Commodore executive Jack Trammiel (who had purchased the videogame and computer divisions from Atari in 1984) sat on the system for a couple of years. Legend has it that he preferred computers and that he was skeptical about videogame systems until he saw the success of the NES. Also hurting matters was the fact that the 7800, which didn’t get much marketing push to begin with, got lost in the Atari lineup, which included the aging 2600 and the newly released Atari XE (which was compatible with Atari home computers).

Comparisons to the NES and marketing concerns aside, the 7800 is a solid system. Its sound capabilities are pretty sad (essentially the same as the 2600), but it can display lots of moving images at once with little or no flickering, and the arcade ports are nice improvements over the 2600 and 5200 versions. Perhaps more importantly, the system is backwards compatible with the 2600, giving it a large library of games. On a less positive note, the controllers, though more durable and more accurate than the 5200 joysticks, are stiff and have side buttons that can be tiring on the hands.

Atari stopped production on the 7800 system in 1991.

ColecoVision

Originally dubbed “The Arcade Quality Video Game System,” the ColecoVision was released by toy manufacturer Coleco in August of 1982, changing gamers’ expectations of what a home video game system could be. The pack-in game with the console, Donkey Kong, was the perfect showcase for the ColecoVision’s formative processing power (the system offered 48K of RAM and was powered by an 8-bit Z-80A microprocessor), exhibiting rich sounds and colorful, detailed, arcade-like graphics that such previous systems as the Atari 2600 and Intellivision could only dream of (though its closest competitor, the Atari 5200, boasted similar quality).

Other arcade classics (and semi-classics) released for the ColecoVision during its lifespan include Zaxxon, Lady Bug, Mouse Trap, Pepper II, Mr. Do!, Time Pilot, and Cosmic Avenger, among others. Coleco released a number of these titles for the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision, but those versions paled in comparison to the more faithfully adapted ColecoVision versions. The system was also home to several interesting computer titles, such as Jumpman Jr. and B.C.’s Quest for Tires, as well as a handful of original titles, including Tarzan and Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle.

In addition to being known for state-of-the-art graphics and sounds, the ColecoVision was famous for its peripherals, including a steering wheel with pedal (Expansion Module #1) for such driving games as Turbo and Dukes of Hazzard, an adaptor (Expansion Module #2) allowing gamers to play Atari 2600 titles on their ColecoVision, a Roller Controller trackball for such games as Centipede and Slither, and four-button, gun-grip Super Action Controllers for such games as Front Line and Super Action Baseball.

Coleco stopped production on the ColecoVision in 1984, a victim of the Great Video Game Crash. Also hurting the system was the commercial failure of the Adam, which was a bug-ridden peripheral that could turn the ColecoVision into a computer. Regardless, the ColecoVision remains one of the most beloved systems of the classic era, thanks in large part to its stellar arcade ports.

 

Intellivision

Mattel Electronics released the Intellivision (short for “intelligent television”) in December of 1979, ultimately starting what would be the first console war. The relatively sophisticated system was designed to compete with the Atari 2600, and Mattel produced commercials showing how their system’s graphics were superior to those of the 2600. The Intellivision became a popular and even beloved next-gen system, but it couldn’t dethrone the 2600 as the console of choice for most gamers.

Some of the more well received offerings for the Intellivision were its sports titles, which including professional league licensing, detailed graphics, and complex gameplay. These include Major League Baseball, NFL Football, and NBA Basketball, among others. The system also had some impressive space games, such as Astrosmash, Star Strike, and Space Spartans, the latter of which used the Intellivoice speech module to nice effect (other Intellivoice titles include B-17 Bomber, Bomb Squad, Tron Solar Sailer, and World Series Major League Baseball).

In 1982, Mattel released the Intellivision II, which was a smaller, sleeker system (which plays the same games, though Coleco titles won’t work on it) with more efficient and cheaper circuitry. More importantly, its controllers were detachable and replaceable, unlike the hard-wired controllers of the original system (both the Intellivision and Intellivision II had keypad-supplemented control discs instead of joysticks). 1982 also saw the release of a formidable competing system, the next-gen, super powerful (for its time) ColecoVision, which made it tough for Mattel to brag on their system’s superior graphics in comparison to other systems.

In 1983, Mattel released peripheral for the Intellivision called the Entertainment Computer System, which plugged into the cartridge outlet of the Intellivision II. It included a Music Synthesizer with a 49-key keyboard, a Melody Blaster game cartridge, and a System Changer allowing gamers to play the Atari 2600 on their Intellivision II. Unfortunately, the ECS is very tough to find today as it was produced in low quantities.

In 1984, INTV bought the rights to the Intellivision and kept the system going until 1991. The Atari 2600 had faster, more arcade-like games, and the ColecoVision stole its graphical thunder, but the Intellivision remains a highly popular system from the classic era of gaming.

 

Nintendo NES

Released in the U.S. in 1985 via test-marketing in New York City, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which would see wide release in 1986, hit stores when videogames were an all-but-dead industry (after suffering The Great Videogame Crash of 1983/1984). Retailers were skeptical of carrying a videogame system, so Nintendo packaged their console with a mechanical Robot Operating Buddy (R.O.B.) and a Zapper light gun (for Duck Hunt and other target shooting games), calling the NES an “entertainment system” and their cartridges “game paks.”

Based on the popular Japanese Famicom, the NES made it onto store shelves thanks in part to the aforementioned robot and gun, but the system really took off with the release of Super Mario Bros., which impressed gamers and mainstream consumers alike with its expansive worlds, secrets and surprises, and cartoon-like graphics. From there, the videogame industry was viable in theU.S. once again, and Nintendo replaced Atari as the company most Americans associated with videogames.

Through the course of its relatively long life (the last licensed game for the NES was Wario’s Woods in 1994), the NES was home to numerous popular and groundbreaking titles, including The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Super Mario Bros. 3 (which was showcased in the movie, Wizard). The gray, boxy system, which changed controllers forever with its cross-shaped pads (as opposed joysticks), was also home to tons of popular third-party titles, such as Baseball Stars, Contra Castlevania, Ikari Warriors, and Double Dribble.

 

One of the most popular, most influential game systems ever released, the NES remains a favorite among collectors, nostalgia enthusiasts, and hardcore gamers. One of the most desirable NES collectibles is the top-loader version of the console (1993), which plays the same games, but is more reliable (in terms of connectivity between the cartridge and the console) than the original “toaster” version of the NES. The NES, which killed its rival competitor, the Sega Master System, was followed by the Super NES, which debuted in 1991.

 

Odyssey2

Released by Magnavox in 1978, the Odyssey2 was a follow-up to the primitive Odyssey system (circa 1972). Unlike the more well-known Atari VCS (a.k.a. the Atari 2600), which was released the year before, the Odyssey2 came with a 49-button membrane keyboard that made the machine more like a real computer. The keyboard, which was used to good effect in such educational titles as Compute Intro!, also made the system more “respectable” in the minds of parents and other non-gamers.

The Odyssey2 had boxy, one-button controllers with a sturdy, eight-direction joystick that worked pretty well in controlling ships, characters, and other implements accurately. Unfortunately, most models of the O2 contained hard-wired joysticks, meaning you couldn’t simply plug in a new joystick when one went bad. Graphically, most O2 games had a simplistic look (stick figures are a common sight), but the system could generate up to 16 moving, flicker-free objects onscreen at once, helping give the visuals for most games a sharp, clear, streamlined look.

Ultimately, the Odyssey2 couldn’t compete with the massive success of the Atari 2600, which boasted a much larger library (third-party support for the O2 was limited to Imagic) and faster, more colorful games. In addition, the Atari 2600 benefited from numerous popular arcade-licensed games, such as Ms. Pac-Man, Missile Command, and Space Invaders. In the U.S., Turtles! was the only coin-op game ported to the Odyssey2.

Production on the Odyssey2 stopped in 1983, giving it a respectable six-year run. Unfortunately, only 49 games were released for the system, around half of which were programmed by a single man: Ed Averett. Some of the better O2 carts include: Turtles!, Power Lords, Killer Bees!, Attack of the Time Lord!, Pick Axe Pete!, S.I.D. the Spellbinder (which benefitted from The Voice speech module), and Quest for the Rings!, the latter of which was part of the ambitious Master Strategy Series and included a game board, tokens, and a keyboard overlay.


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