Day 257: My 8-Bit Youth – Video Games Of 1985

originally published September 13, 2012

A number of tremendously important, historically significant events took place in 1985: the Night Stalker killer was apprehended in LA, the wreck of the Titanic was discovered, and Dian Fossey was found murdered in Rwanda.

I didn’t care about any of that. I was nine, turning ten, and I cared about music, movies, television, and video games. Also, probably bacon. Some things are eternal.

If 1967 was the year when pop music grew up, then 1985 would be the equivalent year for video games. I could pen a kilograph each (and someday I might) on the preeminent games of the Nintendo Entertainment System, which stood proudly in our living rooms like that monolith before the cavemen in the opening scene of 2001. Except it was better, because you could play Excitebike on it.

Wikipedia was kind enough to offer me a list of the games released in ’85. Some I played, some I overplayed, and others I can’t believe were even made. Let me know if these ring a bell.

Not only did someone opt to create a Benny Hill video game called Benny Hill’s Madcap Chase, it would appear they managed to save money by not actually injecting anything remotely close to quality into the experience. I watched a Youtube video of this buffoonery for the British ZX Spectrum home computer system, and I admit, I’m perplexed. You control Benny, who runs around and crashes into things, then gets stomped upon by an angry woman. The real crime here is that they chose not to include the classic Benny Hill chase music. Why bother then?

Let me start this section by saying, “Fuck Ice Climber.” In this Nintendo release, you control a parka-laden character who must jump up to crack the ice above with your wooden mallet (does that ever happen?), beat up polar bears and yetis, all in search of stolen vegetables which are inexplicably hidden at the top of each level. I hated Ice Climber, yet I played roughly 800 hours of Ice Climber. I should have a degree in Ice Climber. I never learned why the vegetables had been stolen by a giant condor, or why the climbers didn’t just buy new vegetables. I was nine; it was a Nintendo game.

I never owned a Commodore-64, but if I did you can bet your sweet nu-wave soul that I would have owned Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the video game. Based solely on music by the band of the same name, the object of the game is to reach the Pleasuredome (probably located a long way from home. Someone will get that joke). There’s a murder to solve, Clue-style, and a bunch of mini-games to play while you try to fill your character’s attributes to the maximum: sex, war, love and faith. The soundtrack consists of 8-bit renditions of Frankie’s hits, like “Relax” and “Two Tribes.” I scanned through the video, but couldn’t make them out.

You know what was great? Blade Runner, the 1982 Ridley Scott sci-fi film starring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer. You know what wasn’t great? Blade Runner, the 1985 video game that was totally not a licensed adaptation.

I guess Warner Brothers didn’t want to hand over the adaptation rights to CRL Group – possibly because they feared the video game would be awful, which, according to what I’ve read, it is – so the publishers found a loophole. They based their game, and subsequently named it after the soundtrack album by Vangelis. Not the movie. The game was said to be an interpretation of the film score. Coincidentally, it involves a guy who looks a lot like an 8-bit Deckard chasing after ‘replidroids’ (I guess ‘replicants’ would have been too obvious) who are banned from Earth. So basically the movie story. But that’s only because Vangelis scored the film perfectly.

Lest you worry that I’m only dwelling on the strange and perverse from the world of ’85 gaming, I will tip my fire-engine red fedora (yes, I always wear one whilst writing) to one of the greatest games of my childhood or anybody else’s, Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? The original version of the game, which I played to death on the Apple II, came with one of these:

Yes, an 800+ page book full of useless trivia. The answers to the clues you receive in the game were buried in the book, which taught me the valuable skill of researching information in books. This skill is, of course, useless today, thanks to Google. But I can still break it out at parties and get some polite applause.

Again, never had a Commodore-64. So I never played Sex Games. From what I’ve read, it’s just moving your joystick (heh) back and forth for about ten minutes, then feeling ashamed. Also, it would appear that bisexuality was part of the game, so kudos to the good people at Commodore for being progressive for the mid 80s.

Back To The Future was the highest-grossing movie of 1985, and one of the favorite films of almost anyone in my generation. The video game tie-in, also for the Commodore-64, was terrible. The object is to get George McFly to spend as much time with Lorraine so that they fall in love. Because nothing inspires love like a guy following a woman everywhere she goes. They found a way to throw a skateboard, the alien suit, and a guitar into the game in a painfully clumsy manner. It’s no surprise this thing was rushed to the assembly line before anyone had time to program the fun into it.

I really want to meet someone who has played this game. Released on cassette (yes, that used to happen) for the British ZX Spectrum, Don’t Buy This was a valid warning, as well as the game’s title. Firebird, the software company to blame for this, took five of the worst games submitted to them for publication, and released them together in this set as an effort to mock the programmers. Luckily, there’s a Youtube video for this one as well. I think the name was apt.

This was fun. I’d like to write more: about Ghosts & Goblins, King’s Quest II, Super Punch-Out, and the two games that soaked up most of my obsession that year, Super Mario Brothers on the NES and Ultima IV: Quest Of The Avatar on the Apple II, but that’ll have to wait for another day.

For now, I’m a little bit impressed by how many classic video game walkthroughs are posted in their entirety to Youtube. I think I’ll watch twenty-five minutes of Contra. I love the internet.

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