Back in the Day: The Video Games We Were Playing in April 1981

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Andrew Newton on the video games that were proving popular back in April of 1981…

April 1981 saw one of the latest snow storms in the UK (not to mention resulting floods) and Bucks Fizz winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Making Your Mind Up.  Maybe it was because of these two events that there wasn’t a huge amount of video games released that month but there were still a few titles that did make enough of an impression on the masses, a few of which can be seen below.


Lion – Game & Watch

This wonderful little Game & Watch came from their Gold collection and puts players in control of a couple of zoo keepers working tirelessly to keep the lions in the cage.  The lions must have been trained by Houdini though as they keep trying to escape and the only way to stop them is by moving the little zookeepers up and down to block them, that is, if the player doesn’t fall for the lion’s fake moves.

Every time a lion is prevented from escaping the cage the player gains one point but should they get tricked by the lion and he escapes then the responsible (or irresponsible) zookeeper legs it up a tree and hides causing the loss of a life.  Lose thee lives and, just like the majority of games of the time, it’s game over.

This wasn’t the last we ever saw of the zookeepers, Lion was re-released as part of the Game & Watch Gallery for the Gameboy and Game & Watch Gallery 3 for Game Boy Colour. There are also references to the game in the Super Smash Bros. series of games.


New Rally-X – Namco

This arcade title released by Namco was a sequel to the earlier Rally-X (released a year earlier) and had players drive a car around a large maze with the objective of traveling through all checkpoints before the fuel ran out.  The game had very few differences to its predecessor but the maps had less dead ends, new music, a ‘Lucky Flag’ checkpoint for extra points and had slightly easier gameplay (which is always a bonus).

Players take control of the blue car and will need to race through the yellow flags before the fuel goes.  Sounds easy enough to do until you find that you have to avoid the several red cars that chase players around the maze and the obstacles littered around the maze.  Colliding with either of these will cause a player to lose a life although in the case of the enemy cars, they can be frozen for a short time by using smoke screens.

As with Lion, the ’80s wasn’t the last we heard of New Rally-X as it became the loading game in Ridge Racer for the PSP, was included in the Namco Museum Battle Collection on the PSP, re-released on the XBox 360 and numerous Namco branded plug and play games.


Video Pinball – Atari 2600

The Atari 2600 version features a ball launcher and flippers but is far from being like the pinball games released on many systems since.  It certainly hasn’t stood the test of time as we have been spoiled something rotten by the likes of great games like Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies but that said it is still an entertaining little game that makes the best use of what the Atari 2600 provided.

Players score by getting the ball to hit the numbered areas but there’s a little extra, those who manage to get the ball through the little Atari symbol 4 times would be rewarded with an extra ball.

Just a quick note – the earliest reference I can find for this game is in the first issue of Atari Age magazine (spring 1981) which states that this game is one of 4 new titles arriving on the Atari 2600, although Wikipedia does say it is from 1980.

That’s all we have for April 1981, we hope you’ve enjoyed looking back at early ’80s games through rose-tinted specs with us.  Join us next month for more games, more reminiscing and getting more use from those red shaded glasses.

Andrew Newton

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