Wednesday, 28 December 2022

Unique Games! - The Second Encore (Part 12)

Well, I guess five years is long enough a break in the lifetime of this blog to bring back its most interesting series for a one-off. If you don't remember what the Unique Games series was all about, the idea still continues to be, for the duration of this one more bonus chapter, to list a bunch of games that were not only at least a little bit unique in their presentation or style of gameplay, but also completely exclusive for the platform it was released on. Some mistakes were made in the course of the original 11 parts of the series, so I'm not exactly expecting this list to be completely accurate, since internet sources are too numerous and often contradicting in their information to have a 100% chance at getting everything correct here. But anyway, with this second encore entry of Unique Games!, I bid you another happy Christmas and a better next year!

One more thing, though: because I wanted to make this into the longest and most comprehensive entry in the series so far, the number of games for each machine is not restricted to any specific number. So, while you might see some platforms only featuring 3 games on the list, other platforms might have as many as five games featured this time. I'm hoping this will prove enough to make Part 12 the proper finale for the series.



And we're already starting on not so solid ground, with the need for including Mattel's short-lived computer, Aquarius, within a list of games for their more commonly known Intellivision.

1. Utopia (Mattel, 1981/82) - INTV + Aquarius

We start with what's generally considered the grandparent of all Civilization and other empire building strategy games. For its time, Utopia was amazingly complex. First, you set up the number of rounds you are willing to play, as well as the time (in seconds) used for each round. Then, you spend the rest of the game on a single screen consisting of two islands surrounded by water. But it's not as simple as it looks - not even nearly. It is strictly a two-player game, so there is no real sense in playing it alone, particularly since unlike Civilization, Utopia is a real-time strategy game, instead of turn-based. Considering the possibilities given by the phone dial-styled game pad of Intellivision, you definitely need to read the manual, or at least have the overlay so you don't have to blindly guess what's going on.

Mattel Intellivision: Utopia (1981)
The disc-like directional pad moves the cursor. The numerics choose a building or an element you want to build in your island, followed by the Enter button. You can use boats to do some fishing while your land-based units seem to be more grounded. The idea is to build a fully working community within your given island, and try to deal with the natural hazards and pirate ships thrown randomly at you. Fighting the other player isn't exactly possible, although you do compete against the other player by the number of inhabitants on each player's island.

Mattel Aquarius: Utopia (1982)
In 1982, Utopia was also released on Mattel's short-lived home computer, Aquarius, in which the game looks and feels a bit different, but you can certainly see it's basically the same thing. The Aquarius version can be played entirely on keyboard by both players, but it's a bit uncomfortable that way. So, while Utopia is not exactly exclusive in the strictest sense on either platform, at least it is a Mattel exclusive, and certainly a unique experience in the realm of real-time strategy games.

2. Shark! Shark! (Mattel, 1983)

On the more arcadey side of Intellivision games, there are much more brilliant titles to choose from, Mattel's own Shark! Shark! being one of my all-time favourite ones. It's not the most unique game of all time, as it resembles another fish-eat-fish game from Commodore 64 called Chomp!, but Shark! Shark! was made 6 years prior to that.

Mattel Intellivision: Shark! Shark! (1983)
The idea is to start your life as a small yellow fish, and eat smaller fish or similar size to yourself in order to grow gradually bigger. The game's biggest predator is a black shark, which takes a lot to be chomped down, but you can hit its tail to momentarily immobilize the shark and gain some points while at it. You grow to the next size by gathering 1000 points by eating up other fish or performing the aforementioned stunts, but if you get eaten by a bigger fish or a crab, you respawn to a new life as a new small yellow fish.

With the fish behaviour being as unpredictable as it is, Shark! Shark! is one of the most addicting games available for the Intellivision, and it is an exclusive one, too.

3. Thin Ice (INTV Corp, 1986)

By it's full title, Duncan's Thin Ice is one of those games that have a more interesting development story than the game itself. As a game, it's not all that much more than a Qix variant - to be more precise, it's a straight clone of a Data East arcade game called Disco No.1, which was thought to be outdated for its theme and sexism, so Thin Ice started being developed as such in May, 1982, now featuring the cutest protagonist Intellivision had seen yet.

Mattel Intellivision: Duncan's Thin Ice (1983)

There is a more in-depth development history to be read at Blue Sky Rangers' website, but the real point of interest here is, that the game was also being altered to feature the official 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics mascot, Vučko, as the main character. The game was to be released as Voochko on Ice in 1984, but due to Mattel Electronics' collapse, it never happened. Instead, INTV Corporation released the original Duncan's Thin Ice as late as 1986, with Voochko on Ice featured as an easter egg in the ROM. An interesting piece of game history, to be sure, and a Mattel exclusive, at least in this form. Doesn't hurt that it's a very nice game, either.

4. King of the Mountain (Mattel, 1982)

One of the most surprising games I have ever come across on the Intellivision is this early example of a survival game. I'm still a bit confused as to how to actually play King of the Mountain, but it starts off with a shopping screen, in which you can buy and sell equipment for conquering the mountain you're about to hike. You need to pack up some food and other survival items in order to get through certain elements, but having too much things in your backpack will slow you down.

Mattel Intellivision: King of the Mountain (1982)

Your journey to the top is laden with charging bulls, falling and rolling boulders, rain and other natural hazards. With enough experimentation, you should be able to get started eventually, and find out that each mountain features outposts where you can sell the bulls you have killed on your way and purchase more useful items for further hikes. The main thing about King of the Mountain is really just to find the balance of items you need for each play, although you also need a bit of luck not to get rammed down by boulders. There's nothing to do but walk to the top and try to avoid hazards, but finding the right balance is what makes King of the Mountain a truly addicting game.

Of course, it's an Intellivision exclusive, so it does have that going for it, but it has proven to be more popular in the recent years than it perhaps ever was. A homebrew publisher called IntelligentVision has created upgraded versions of King of the Mountain, featuring better sounds and additional graphical content, with the most recent version having been released in 2021. Highly recommended - even in its original form.



I have to admit, I'm not that familiar with the CD-i, but if I had to choose between having a 3DO or CD-i from the two similar machines, the latter would be my choice due to some indirect nostalgia. The problem with CD-i, though, is that it's not particularly well represented by emulators, so I can only give you some preliminary commentary. Of these three games that I managed to find as both unique and exclusive for the CD-i, I had played two prior to writing this entry.

1. Hotel Mario (Philips, 1994)

This was one of them. There aren't that many Mario games, which were not released on a Nintendo console, so any such game will automatically raise some interest. Again, Hotel Mario is one of those games, of which the story of conception is perhaps more interesting than the game itself, since this involves a deal with Sony to make an add-on CD-player for the Super Nintendo, which didn't go well, so a deal was struck with Philips instead. Instead of a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES, we got a few sub-par games with Nintendo characters for Philips' CD-i console, the least horrid of them being Hotel Mario, developed by Fantasy Factory.

Philips CD-i: Hotel Mario (1994)
The CD-i wasn't particularly known for having smoothly playing action games, as the focus then was on having full-motion videos as the main attraction. Perhaps for Hotel Mario's only consolation, it's a single-screen puzzle game, which looks rather nice, and it didn't have to rely on the then-modern gimmicks, although there are some badly animated clips between all the action. The idea of the game is to close the doors to each hotel, and jump on all the koopas and whatnot, collect coins - you know, the usual Mario stuff. The game is brutally difficult as it progresses even during the first area, which makes it not nearly up to par with Nintendo's own Mario games' difficulty curve, but it's still tolerable, and the best of the Nintendo-licenced games on the CD-i.

2. The Apprentice (Philips, 1994)

Considered as one of the best titles for the CD-i, we have a vertical platformer called The Apprentice (no relation to the more recent reality TV-show), developed by The Vision Factory. For me, this game has recently become of more particular interest, because I found out that one of the designers of this game is Stefan Posthuma, whose games on the C64 I always found highly enjoyable, despite them being a bit cheap and practically impossible to find as fully working versions.

The idea is to control the old wizard's apprentice through a series of towers, picking up all sorts of items and dealing with all kinds of hazards by jumping and using your magic wand to blast some sort of a magical thing at your enemies. It's a fairly good platformer, which heavily reminds me of some of the more mediocre but pretty platformers on Commodore Amiga, but for a CD-i game, it's surprisingly good.

Philips CD-i: The Apprentice (1994)
The fact that the Apprentice is a vertical platformer makes it an odd one already, if not exactly unique. But it does have its own thing going on for it, and being a CD-i exclusive, it deserves to be mentioned here. But as it turns out, the Apprentice is practically impossible to play on a modern PC even through emulation, because the emulators most compatible with the available game image files either run too fast or don't load the game at all. Still, it's worth having in your collection, if you're as lucky as to actually own a Philips CD-i.

3. Wacky World of Miniature Golf (Philips, 1993)

My most vivid memories of seeing the CD-i in action, if not exactly on the spot, was a TV game show called Game Over, starring a rubber-masked man called Vito, whose voice became better known on a Finnish radio channel later on. In this show, there would be Finnish celebrities coming to get interviewed and play a round or two of whatever games the show had decided to display that time, and then they would be put against callers who would play the game using dials on their telephones. Sounds awkward, doesn't it? Well, it was, but it was revolutionary, as well. The game I remember the show's guests and callers playing the most is Wacky World of Miniature Golf, although it took me years to actually find out its full title - if I recall correctly, it was only referred to as "mini golf" in the TV show.

Unlike most other miniature golf games for every other platform, Wacky World lets you choose your golfer from a large group of all sorts of misfit characters, and then play each of the game's 18 holes for as long as you wish to, even if the limit of 9 strikes is reached. Although it is certainly an exclusive title for the CD-i, the "wacky" bit about Wacky World is also what makes this game quite unique, and that is the way the game is played.

Philips CD-i: The Wacky World of Miniature Golf (1993)
Unlike most other mini-golf games, there are no actual courses with corners and other usual things. Instead, most of the courses are very straight here, but there are tons of different hazards that go back and forth in each area, and the idea is to select one of three directions to hit the ball at, and time your action in such a way as to hit as little of the moving hazards as possible. Sometimes, you might hit a dog in such a way that he will eat the ball, so you will respawn from the beginning of the course - or other such occasions.

Because of the way Wacky World of Miniature Golf is designed to be played, it is easy to consider it as one of the worst mini-golf games ever. And of course, I would agree with that, but it is an entertaining game, and unique in its own strange way. Perhaps not that much worth playing, but worth a look. It's definitely one of the games that defined the CD-i for me.



Since acquiring my very own CPC 464, I have become considerably more interested in exclusive Amstrad games, which didn't grab my interest 5 or more years ago nearly as much. So, because this is the absolute final time I'm doing Unique Games, let's go with 5 games for the CPC, regardless of whether they're properly unique or not.

1. Icon Jon (Mirrorsoft, 1986)

By no means a unique game in any important way, Icon Jon is a joystick-operated adventure game that takes place inside a computer. Okay, perhaps the setting is a bit unusual. You play as a droid-looking thing, that's actually Icon Jon himself - a program due to be wiped from memory - and your job is to prevent this from happening by any possible means within the given 30 minutes.

Amstrad CPC: Icon Jon (1986)
You can move around in different rooms, interact with objects, talk to your two freely roaming buddies in hopes of making any kind of sense of what are you supposed to be doing. The complex menu system makes the game look like it's trying to be something more elaborate than it needs to be, but it's actually rather easy to navigate. In the style of gameplay, it's fairly reminiscent of Mastertronic's Magic Knight series, although you can't jump here. Graphically, it's mostly unpleasant, but the odd plotline and approach to the genre makes it worth a second look. And of course, it's a CPC-exclusive.

2. Billy la Banlieue 1+2 (Loriciels, 1986/87)

Early on in the CPC's lifespan, France had become the promised land for exclusive Amstrad games, and most of the really good Amstrad games were developed there. One of the most prolific game developers from the latter half of the 80's was Jean-Philippe Biscay, whose games have been featured earlier on in Unique Games. This time, we feature three of his games, starting with the two Billy la Banlieue games, which are apparently considered some kind of classics in French gaming lore.

Amstrad CPC: Billy La Banlieue (1986)
The first Billy sets a nice mood, but like many other French games, you might be put off by having only one life to try to fulfill your destiny with. You step into the shoes of Billy, a suburban teenager with a rockabilly hairdo similar to the guys from Leningrad Cowboys (that's a fairly famous band from Finland who had two movies), and the rocking soundtrack goes nicely together with the graphical style. I haven't found out the goal of the game, but it plays mostly like a puzzle-based platformer. The method of making progress in the game is to combine items with what different people ask of you, such as the heart for a lady, or if you have to fight against a police officer or a thug, you need to fight them with the weapons similar to theirs. There are some mini-games to be found inside terminals, which apparently need to be mastered in order to be able to complete the game, but again, I have no idea what that means. Apart from some unfortunate platforming problems, Billy la Banlieue is a nice and interesting game, a CPC-exclusive and somewhat unique as well.

Amstrad CPC: Billy La Banlieue 2 (1987)
Of course, it's not exactly unique, if there's a sequel, but the sequel is thankfully different enough to warrant its own mention. Billy 2 continues in the same vein, but is more based on fist fighting and dealing with the mini-games, rather than go about taking items to people who ask for them. The controls in Billy 2 are a bit clunkier than in Billy 1, which I suspect is a direct result from trying to make the game more complex to play than the first time around. Still, worth checking out, if you're an Amstrad fan.

3. Atomic Driver (Loriciels, 1988)

Another Jean-Philippe Biscay title for this list is Atomic Driver from 1988, which is a fairly simple maze shooter that takes place in a city environment. One might consider this another source of inspiration for the GTA series, but that would be a bit stretching it. What it reminds me of more is the driving map thing in Sierra's first Police Quest.

Amstrad CPC: Atomic Driver (1988)
But it is primarily a shoot'em-up. The way to make progress is to pick up balls of two colours that enable you to shoot down different blocks and stun enemies and who knows what else. You only have one life to play, so a single crash results in Game Over. I haven't played Atomic Driver all that much yet, but I'm a bit surprised at how hooked you can get once you get going. It's a nice Amstrad-exclusive, if not exactly the most unique game of all time.

4. Contamination (Ere Informatique/PSS, 1985)

For a 1985 game, Contamination was perhaps unnecessarily ahead of its time. This strategy game makes you try to fight a globally spreading virus, which you must first try to contain within the located areas, then work on an anti-virus, and then try to get the decreasing population to halt their decreasing.

Amstrad CPC: Contamination (1985)
It's much more complex than it sounds, but happily, it's still an 8-bit game, so you don't really have to do nearly as much of things you might expect from a 16-bit strategy game of this sort. Despite the game having a somewhat unclear control panel in the main screen, it's easy to get to grips with it. The main thing is to be quick about the first steps, and then do a lot of tinkering, and when all else fails, you can drop a bomb into an unsuspecting country, though you might get kicked from your job for brutality.

For some odd reason, Contamination was only ever released for the Amstrad CPC, even though it's definitely a game that would have had its share of fans on all the other 8-bit computers. I can't think of any other virus-fighting game of this sort, so I'm assuming this is actually a properly unique game, too.

5. Robin (Amsoft, 1985)

Paco Suarez, creator of some of the most infamous Amstrad games from the early Indescomp days, is such a well-known name in the Amstrad world, that hearing his name awakens a feeling of mixed horror and hilarity. Robin was another one of his games, but since it was only ever released in Spain, and on disk, it's a relatively unknown game, which is a shame, because for me, it's Paco Suarez's finest moment.

Amstrad CPC: Robin (1985)
You play as a Robin Hood -type character, whose purpose is to rescue a damsel in distress from the depths of a large castle, with the aid of your trusty sword. There is no jumping in this game, since the main focus is on wielding your sword, which happens by moving the joystick around while having your fire button pressed down. Unfortunately, you drop your sword every time you take a hit, which gives you the unmistakable whiff of mid-European game development; make it look nice, but unnecessarily difficult. The game is played in a sort of faux-3D view, with no actual sense of depth in the graphics, although you drop down a staircase if you happen to walk off the edge. However, it still manages to look rather nice, particularly for an Amsoft/Indescomp game.

Of course, Robin is not exactly a unique game, but I can't think of anything exactly like it on any other machine. At least it's an Amstrad-exclusive, which is enough.



For some reason, NEC's most famous console had not been featured in any of the previous Unique Games articles, much like CD-i hadn't, so since this is the final opportunity to fix this problem, it shall be done with four games. Most of these games were released under a different title in Japan and America, but we start with a game that was only ever released in Japan.

1. Gomola Speed (UPL, 1990)

I never thought I would be saying these words in the Unique Games series, but the first game we have for the PC Engine section is a worm game. Fear not, though, Gomola Speed is nothing less than unique, particularly when it comes to worm games. Actually, Gomola Speed is closer to lesser known arcade games such as Motos and Quantum, both of which have been dealt with here at FRGCB at some point, and perhaps even Gauntlet, to some extent.

PC-Engine: Gomola Speed (1990)
The game starts with you controlling the head of a would-be mechanical snake, the body of which you must first collect, before you can proceed with your actual mission. Each level has its own mission, which must be completed before an exit can be opened, but mostly, you just need to drop bombs with your tail and encircle the stunned enemies, and collect any items you can find from each level. Gomola Speed is a difficult game to get comfortable with, but it's also one of those games that always has something different to offer as you make progress, so it's well worth putting some time into. It's almost a shame that it's only available on the PC Engine, and was released exclusively in Japan, but it's definitely unique.

2. Mesopotamia / Somer Assault (Atlus, 1991/1992)

To my knowledge, games that have Slinky as the protagonist can be counted with less than one hand's fingers. Prior to Mesopotamia, I only knew of a Q*Bert clone called Slinky, written by Paul Norman, released by Cosmi for the C64 in 1984, but Atlus' entry into the world of Slinky-based games is a completely different kettle of fish. Naturally, the thing you control isn't actually called Slinky in the game, but it does look unmistakably like it was designed after the famous toy.

PC-Engine: Mesopotamia / Somer Assault (1991/92)
Mesopotamia (in Japan, or Somer Assault in America) has its levels designed sort of similarly to the usual platform games from the early 90's, but while your Slinky-like character is able to climb any wall or ceiling, it can only jump straight to the direction opposite of it, when aligned appropriately. You can also shoot either to your sides or straight ahead, since your weapon outlets are placed in the middle of your Slinky-like body. You do get to pick up weapon upgrades and other items to get better chances of survival, but the real challenge in the game is to reach the end of each level within the time limit, as well as destroy the level bosses.

I have to say, Mesopotamia (or Somer Assault) is one of the most unique action games that I have come across lately, and it's exactly this kind of uniqueness that makes the PC Engine (or TurboGrafx-16) a worthy machine to be sought for any retrogamer's collection.

3. Kattobi! Takuhai-kun (Tonkin House, 1990)

I cannot honestly say this is a unique game as such, since Kattobi! Takuhai-kun is basically a top-down driving game in a maze similar to Grand Theft Auto and many games before that, but it was a Japan-only release, and exclusive for the PC Engine. In this game, which commonly translates to "Fury! Delivery Boy", you deliver various kinds of goods around the town, and apparently even out of town, on a bicycle, a moped or a motorcycle, depending on how well you're doing.

PC-Engine: Kattobi! Takuhai-kun (1990)
Unfortunately, Kattobi! Takuhai-kun doesn't seem to have an English translation available, so the only way to get anywhere in the game is to understand the Japanese forms of writing (kanji, hiragana and katakana). However, you do get to ride your first two-wheeled vehicles with some minor guesswork, and experience the difficulty of trying to get anything done. My biggest achievement so far is being chased by a police car and get my boss lady angry about wrecking a bicycle. But it is a properly intriguing game, and I wish I could play it without needing to learn a new language.

4. Chew-Man-Fu / Be Ball (Hudson Soft, 1990)

Then, we have a Hudson Soft game that could have easily been a classic on other systems, but there were a couple of things that acted against it. First, the fact that it was released first and foremost on the PC Engine (or TurboGrafx-16, if you will) - it would later get re-released on Wii's Virtual Console service and mobile phones, among other things; and second, the American name didn't give much of a hint as to what the game is all about, seeing as it only reversed the name of a supervillain created by the novellist Sax Rohmer in 1912. Speaking of which, the title of this game must be the only one of its kind, when the American title is basically an Asian name, and the Japanese title is two English words. Well, even if it isn't, it sure is an odd coincidence.

PC-Engine: Chew-Man-Fu / Be Ball (1990)
The game itself is a wonderfully unique single-screen puzzler, in which you need to roll four balls on top of similarly coloured platforms in the room. Each of the rooms are built as mazes, and are occupied by increasingly difficult beasts that you can crush by rolling the ball over them or, in the case of heavier beasts, kick the ball over them - sometimes repeatedly. Chew-Man-Fu, or Be Ball, plays and looks somewhat like the Bomberman games, but has refreshingly different style of gameplay, thanks to the ball mechanics.

Chew-Man-Fu/Be Ball is one of the games also featured in the PC Engine Mini consoles that were released in North America and Europe in 2020, and is definitely one of the more interesting titles on the console. Highly recommended!



Now we're getting to my comfort zone again, and although I have only chosen five games for the C64, there would be a good deal more which would fit the bill. With these five, I'm trying to give a wide range of games from almost 10 years of the machine's original run.

1. Microdot (Commodore Disk User, 1989)

We start with a maze-platformer that I didn't find out about until emulation came along, as it was originally released on a foreign magazine cover disk. That alone makes it easily a C64-exclusive, but it's also quite a quirky little thing to play. Although Microdot could be considered outdated when it was released, at least in terms of graphics, it made up for the lack of cosmetics with the joy of exploration and sheer playability.

Commodore 64: Microdot (1989)
The idea is nothing more unusual than roll and jump around the maze, pick up various kinds of items and avoid getting hit by moving hazards, electrical currents and other creatures. Microdot's only properly unusual feature - at the time, at least - is the inclusion of checkpoints, which activate by running over them, and you would spawn on the last checkpoint when you died. Not that there weren't checkpoints in games before Microdot, but rather that they are properly visible here, and there are plenty of them. Microdot can all too easily be compared to Jet Set Willy and its ilk, but with five years between them, Microdot has some advantageous things in it. Worth checking out, if not exactly unique, but definitely a good C64-exclusive.

2. Dream House (CBS, 1984)

Here's something that can't exactly be even called a game, but it is a curious piece of software that you don't see often on any old machine. Dream House is basically a house designer, in which you can design the exteriors and interiors as far as you would ever wish to on a Commodore 64, and easily beyond.

Commodore 64: Dream House (1984)
The "game" starts off with an options screen, in which you can choose to select a house, work on exteriors, or work on interiors. You are given good instructions upon loading the game, which icon does what, while you're working on your designs. Once you get into the real action, you are given a surprisingly wide array of building blocks you can use to design your chosen area of the house.

It's not exactly something you would expect to see on a C64, much less on any other 8-bit computer, but I have to say, even without having much of aptitude for visual designs, Dream House is a nice, low threshold designer, which can keep you entertained for hours. As far as I know, it's another C64-exclusive, and a pretty unique piece of software. At least it was, until The Sims appeared.

3. Arctic Shipwreck (Commodore, 1983)

One of the most peculiar early games released by Commodore is this little forgotten gem, which was actually written by a bunch of Hungarian developers who went collectively by the name F°451, and went on to create few more interesting little games, such as Quark IX and Save Me Brave Knight for Commodore, and Spitfire '40 for Mirrorsoft.

Commodore 64: Arctic Shipwreck (1983)
Anyway, Arctic Shipwreck was F°451's first game, and made you play as a benevolent mammoth on a large slab of ice, onto which the crew of a wrecked ship has been settled until rescued, or snatched off one by one by a man-eating bird. The slab of ice keeps tilting according to the weight distribution of all things on top of the ice slab, so your job as the mammoth is to keep the slab balanced so that the crew would be kept alive as long as possible, but you also need to be careful not to step on any of the survivors and accidentally kill them yourself.

Although the entire game is viewed on a single screen, it is one of the most impressive games from that time period for the C64, thanks to its advanced programming tricks. It also manages to be funny and properly unique, and as a C64-exclusive title, it could be counted as one of the most important C64 games of its time. Hooray for Hungary!

4. Rags to Riches (Melody Hall Publishing Corp., 1985)

This one here is one of the earliest survival games I know of, unless you count Rogue and its like as survival games. In Rags to Riches, you play as a hobo, and you need to keep yourself out of hunger, well-rested and drenched in alcohol, but in order to do so, you also must earn some money. The ultimate goal is to earn a million dollars, and there is a certain process you go through in the game to reach that ultimate goal.

Commodore 64: Rags to Riches (1985)
Although Rags to Riches looks somewhat like a platformer, the closest point of comparison is probably Mirrorsoft's Andy Capp from two years later. It's a side-viewed adventure, in which you need to avoid contact with robbers and police officers, depending on your personal state, and you have to spend each night at a hotel, which obviously costs some money. Life is tough, but this game teaches that to you in a uniquely entertaining manner, and since it's a C64-exclusive, it's one of the most deserving inclusions in the history of the Unique Games series.

5. Slicks (Codemasters, 1992)

This last inclusion is a bit questionable, since it has been documented, that Slicks was also released on the ZX Spectrum, but it seems to have only been released on a compilation - Supersports Challenge - that hasn't been properly digitized and archived still to this day. Because I love this game so much on the C64, I'm going to include it regardless of the possibility of another version existing, until such time occurs that it is presented as an actuality.

Slicks is basically to the C64 what Micro Machines is to the Amiga, although quite interestingly, Slicks was released later than the first Micro Machines. It's a top-down Formula One racing game, in which you can play a simultaneous two-player game. When compared to a similar racing game, in terms of sheer speed and playability, it easily beats Gremlin's Super Cars, although Slicks focuses entirely on racing, rather than purchasing all sorts of upgrades for your car. Instead, you are practically forced to gamble your car against a selected opponent's car in every other race. Winning the gambled race will either let you keep your current car, or progress to a better one, and losing the gamble will, at worst, drop you to a lower performing car.

Commodore 64: Slicks (1992)

Although the two-player mode is a nice gimmick, similar to those in Rally Speedway and Micro Machines, Slicks reaches its full potential in the championship mode. The game is so fast to play, that you need to memorize each track fully with each of the Formula One cars, so you won't crash and end your run prematurely. Taken that into consideration, it is perhaps a good thing there are only six tracks in the game. And still, Slicks is one of Codemasters' only multi-loading games, and presents the company's point of focus from 1991 onwards rather spectacularly. If it turns out that Slicks is, in fact, a C64 exclusive, the Commodorists should be immensely proud of having this game for themselves.



Oddly enough, finding five unique - or at the very least exclusive games for the C64's main competitor turned out to be more challenging than I expected. It seems like most of the properly unique games have already been featured in this series, but there certainly are some exclusive titles for the ZX Spectrum to fill this space.

1. Astroclone (Hewson, 1985)

The first game for the Spectrum list this time is the last of the Seiddab-quadrilogy, and shares the honour of being Spectrum-exclusive with the first game in the series, 3D Space-Wars. Astroclone differs from the other three games quite significantly, as it is an action-adventure game that is played in two very different genres, while the other three games are strictly first-person space-shooters.

When you start the game, you control a man in a space suit within a pseudo-3D environment of what I assume is your space ship. This bit is similar to Steve Turner, the game's designer's more adventure-based games on the Spectrum, namely Avalon and Dragontorc. You need to take off from the current planet and start conquering sectors, which are played in a side-viewed shoot'em-up style, almost but not quite similar to Defender and such games. In fact, most of the game is played in this 2D space shooting mode, which I suspect the game title comes from. The neat thing about Astroclone, however, is the way your ship shoots according to your steering, so the only way to master the game is to learn to control your ship and its way of shooting.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum: Astroclone (1985)
Later on, you will be able to teleport from your ship to another planet, shoot aliens, pick up and use items like you would in any normal arcade-adventure game. So, being a strange combination of Avalon and Dragontorc-styled adventuring and Defender-styled space shooting, Astroclone manages to be something completely unique and worth putting time into, particularly if you're not a fan of the type of games the other three in the series are. Be warned, though: it's not a particularly easy game to get the hang of.

2. Harlequin (Mr. Micro, 1984)

Game designers never seem to run out of ideas for puzzle games. Harlequin is basically a board game played on a chess-like board, where your goal is to reach the other side of the board. The problem is, you can only move your pieces to a colour which is also directly in front of any of your opponent's four pieces.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum: Harlequin (1984)
While this might seem strange at first, it's easy enough to get the hang of it, but in a true boardgame-like fashion, Harlequin is a slow burner, and is sure to divide opinions. In fact, it's not a particularly well-liked game, but it does offer speech bits, if you happen to have a Currah MicroSpeech module stuck in the back of your Spectrum. The truly unique thing about Harlequin, however, is that it's creators, Kate and Sam Programs, never wrote anything else on any platform, so it's a double-exclusive for the ZX Spectrum.

3. Volcanic Planet (Thorn EMI Video, 1983)

Definitely not one of the games I would have chosen, had I known any better, and had I had the time to do some more research, but Volcanic Planet is a fairly interesting title, particularly considering it is a 16k game, and of course, a Spectrum-exclusive, while at it.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum: Volcanic Planet (1983)
At first, Volcanic Planet looks like a Rally-X variant, but it is much more complex than that. The game does have an uncanny similarity to Rally-X in the style of the mazes, but in this game, you can shoot the vast amount of alien enemies roaming around - not that you necessarily should, unless it's absolutely necessary, since shooting makes them move quicker and home in on you. The idea is to reach the bottom floor of a multi-storey maze, find a clearly defined spot in which to plant a bomb, and run back to the top and out of the area. Perhaps the most unique thing about this game is, for a game of that age and genre at least, that there are absolutely no sounds whatsoever in it. But it is a reasonably exciting game once you figure it out.

4. Octopussy (Ultrasoft, 1992)

I would hazard a guess not many people know about the existence of this particular James Bond game. Granted, Octopussy for the ZX Spectrum is not an official Bond tie-in, so it isn't hard to understand the exclusivity. Besides, Octopussy was made by a Slovakian team called Bytepack, who got the game released in 1992, which was already well past the ZX Spectrum's commercial lifetime.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum: Octopussy (1992)

Unlike most other Bond-games so far, Octopussy, almost thankfully, is an icon-driven graphical adventure game, not unlike the 1990's Sierra adventures, but infinitely simpler. You only need to walk around an undisclosed town in India, where you will come across a few familiar scenes from the movie, and interact with objects in certain rooms. The game's plotline is basically the first quarter of the film, in which Bond goes to India, lures the evil prince Kamal Khan with a counterfeit Fabergé egg in a game of backgammon and defeats him with his own loaded dice. While your short quest here is not quite as easy as it is supposed to be, you can beat the game in less than 10 minutes, once you know what you're doing.

Octopussy cannot honestly be called a particularly unique game, but in the realm of Bond-movie tie-ins, it is one of a kind. Too bad it wasn't an official game, or released about three-four years earlier.

5. Molar Maul (Imagine, 1983)

With this last one, I was getting a bit desperate, since there are well-known dentistry games made for other machines, such as Tooth Invaders for the C64 and Plaque Attack for the Atari 2600. Molar Maul just happens to be one of Imagine's five exclusive titles for the ZX Spectrum, so it might as well go here.

If there's a rare gameplay feature in Molar Maul, it is that the only possible joystick that the game is compatible with is the Fuller joystick. Since I have never actually seen any other game that has this as the sole joystick option, I will have to consider it a unique feature, but please do correct me if I'm completely off there.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum: Molar Maul (1983)
So anyway, in Molar Maul, you control a toothbrush, and you need to brush toothpaste on to the teeth infected by roaming bacteria. The way to get some toothpaste onto your toothbrush is just to align the toothbrush appropriately, and some paste will spurt out. The way to fight the bacteria is to brush the infected tooth with the designated fire button, or if you're playing on a keyboard, which is likely, you press any of the numeric keys. Obviously, a white tooth is a healthy tooth, and the darker the colour on a tooth gets, the less you will be able to save it. Successfully clean enough teeth, and you will get to the next level.

The somewhat fidgety controls are what make Molar Maul a less than optimal experience, but it is different enough from the likes of Tooth Invaders and Plaque Attack to give Molar Maul a certain edge over the other two. As such, it could be considered unique, and as it is a Spectrum-exclusive, it's suitable enough to be included here.



From the two most obvious 16-bit home computers, the Amiga shall have to be the only representative, because the Atari ST simply doesn't have much of exclusive and unique games left to its catalogue. Even finding four unique/exclusive, and fully playable titles for the Amiga turned out to be an almost impossible task, although it did have more obvious choices to be picked.

1. Mind Walker (Synapse/Commodore, 1986)

My first choice for the Amiga is a unique and exclusive game in a couple of surprising ways. Firstly, it's a game developed by Synapse Software's Bill Williams, who wrote such classics for the Atari 8-bit computers as Alley Cat, Necromancer and Salmon Run, making this the only Synapse game that was only ever released on the Commodore Amiga. Second, it's the only Amiga game released by Commodore prior to their CD32 releases.

Commodore Amiga: Mind Walker (1986)
However, Mind Walker also has the grace to continue in the line of old classic Atari games and actually be a bit more evolved in its style. Basically, it is a maze game, but the entire game happens inside a mad professor's mind, and you play as four alternating characters: a Human, a Wizard, a Spriggan (whatever that is) and a Water Nymph, all of which who are able to do their parts in their designated areas of the first part of the game. The idea is to first trace a path of coherent thought through your mind, then enter your brain and gather the Shards of Sanity and put them all together in the deep Subconscious. The whole game is accompanied by suitably atmospheric music, which will hypnotize you within a few minutes, so if that doesn't trip you out, I guess nothing will.

Mind Walker is played by using both mouse and joystick, and after the initial shock, it is surprisingly simple to play. It's only that getting started might prove a bit overwhelming. If you want to own a copy of Mind Walker, be warned that it's extremely rare, so your best bet is to download it and print the manual from Hall of Light. But it is a very recommendable game, and ticks all the boxes for this article.

2. Bob's Bad Day (Psygnosis, 1993)

Here's a lesser-known, practically hidden Amiga gem by one of the bigger publishers, which could well be considered a Cameltry clone, which wouldn't be all too far off. In a similar manner, you control a ball-like object by rolling the entire play area around. The single most major difference is, Bob's Bad Day has a more aggressive gravity and Bob's head's maneouverability than Cameltry or any of its direct ports ever had, so you roll Bob's head, and jump with it, more than float it around the mazes like you do in Cameltry.

Commodore Amiga: Bob's Bad Day (1993)
Because of this one difference, the learning curve is a bit steeper than you would expect, but it is just as addicting as the original Cameltry. That's not all that's different, though. In Cameltry, the goal is always open, although it might be behind some breakable wall, while in Bob's Bad Day, you need to collect all the coins in each level before the exit opens up. So, in a way, there's definitely more of a platforming game feel to Bob's Bad Day than the more racing-like approach in Cameltry.

Bob's Bad Day cannot be called properly unique, but it certainly has its own thing going for it. Being an Amiga-exclusive, though, it arguably deserves a spot here.

3. Agony (Psygnosis, 1992)

Well, there can't be too many shoot'em-ups, in which you play as an owl, can there? Actually, you are a person called Alestes, who has been transformed into an owl, so there's that. Fans of Norwegian black metal will know of the connection to Dimmu Borgir, but we have to be getting a bit desperate to look for uniqueness in a game outside of the game's own merits. It even has the same cover art as Planet of Death on the ZX Spectrum.

Commodore Amiga: Agony (1992)
As it happens, Agony is easily the prettiest shoot'em-up that ever graced the Amiga, and has some amazing sounds to go with it. Because of all this technically masterful ornamentation, the game takes three disks and plenty of loading to get through, but if you're looking for a shoot'em-up as a cinematic experience, this would be your game. As a game, though, it's mostly a painfully average shooter. It is an Amiga-exclusive, though, and deserves to be mentioned because of its earned reputation.

4. Cavitas (Nite Time Games, 1992)

The last one is actually a game I have so far failed to get to play, although it is somehow possible to. I just didn't have the time to fix all the issues needed to get the game to work on WinUAE, which I won't be getting into now. Long story short, Cavitas is one of the most difficult games to get to play, since it is one of the rarest games on the Amiga, and the cracked adf-images simply do not work at all, so some tinkering and further downloading is needed in order to get it working. That is, unless you happen to have a working original copy of it. So, my current observations are based on video footage.

Commodore Amiga: Cavitas (1992)

Cavitas is a cave-flying game of sorts. It feels like a mixture of the general sub-genre of 90's cave-flyers and those sometimes stupidly difficult underground shooters like Airwolf and Fort Apocalypse that originated on the 8-bit computers, but the difficulty level seems less harsh. The uniquely characteristic thing about Cavitas is, that your space ship has a headlight that constantly shines into your facing direction twice your ship's length. You need to navigate through six massive underground areas and exit to the next through a small warp space, and your way is aided by a variety of different weapon upgrades, energy boosters, keys and other such useful things.

For fans of Fort Apocalypse, Mr. Heli and Phantom of the Asteroid, Cavitas should make you feel right at home. When I have the chance to confirm my observations, this entry shall be updated accordingly, but I can honestly say it's singular enough to be included here, as well as an Amiga-exclusive.



Another machine, in which the most unique leftover games are next to impossible to get to play, mostly because the most unique games you're going to find for the SNES/SFC are Japanese.

1. Sanrio World Smashball! (Character Soft, 1993)

One thing I never expected to do was feature a game with Hello Kitty on the blog, but then I never really knew much about Hello Kitty in the first place, other than what the character looks like. Hello Kitty, in fact, is a character in the Sanrio franchise, and only acts as the referee here in the game's sporting event, which obviously is Smashball. And what, you might ask, is Smashball? Well, it's sort of a combination of Breakout, Tennis and Air Hockey, in which you hit the puck with a Sanrio character, of which there are four in the game: Kerokerokeroppi (frog), Tabo (human), Pokopon (raccoon) and Hangyodon (fish).

Super Famicom: Sanrio World Smashball! (1993)
The breakout part comes in the blocks that are placed behind each character's goal line, which the puck must penetrate through in order to score a point. Hitting one of these blocks will often reveal an upgrade item, which you can pick up. The odd mixture of Tennis and Air Hockey comes in the fact that you will actually be hitting a puck that floats in air, but you can hit it with both hands of your character with left and right hit buttons. A full match is won by winning three bouts, and there are many slightly varying arenas in which to play the game, so there's a fair bit of longevity in this one. Sanrio World Smashball! can be found as a fan translation on the internet, if you feel like seeking one, but even the original Japanese version is easily playable. Highly recommended, particularly with a friend!

2. Sutte Hakkun (Nintendo, 1997)

Another unique puzzle game for the Super Famicom is a late entry in the console's life, and was originally released for the Satellaview add-on, but was finally released as a regular ROM cartridge in June 1999. The closest point of comparison for Sutte Hakkun would probably be the likes of Lode Runner and Solomon's Key, but there are definitely elements of the Kirby series in here as well.

Super Famicom: Sutte Hakkun (1997)
You play as Hakkun, whose oddly Wizball-like job is to collect colourful shards of a rainbow. Finding and obtaining a rainbow shard will complete a level, but the way to get your job done is by jumping around, absorbing and depositing blocks and colours from within the blocks. The three possible colours to utilise whenever available are red, blue and yellow, all of which make the otherwise empty blocks move either vertically, horizontally or diagonally.

Sutte Hakkun is the last in-house game Nintendo ever developed for the Super Famicom, and released as a cartridge, so for that reason alone, it's worth mentioning here. Happily, it's a very good and unique puzzler as well.

3. Wonder Project J: Kikai no Shonen Pino (Enix, 1994)

A short-lived Japanese video game developing company called Almanic Corporation (later Givro Co., Ltd.) was only around for about 9 years before their dissolution. During that time, though, they managed to put out such 16-bit classics as Fighting Masters, E.V.O.: Search for Eden and Super Mad Champ, but for the world outside of Japan, their arguably biggest hidden gem was this Super Famicom title, Wonder Project J, which would later get a sequel for Nintendo 64. So, while Wonder Project J isn't exactly a unique game, since it has a direct sequel, the series is Nintendo-exclusive, and the concept of this game is unique enough to be mentioned here.

Super Famicom: Wonder Project J (1994)
Full translated title being Wonder Project J: Machine Boy Pino, this game is something of a life simulator from an odd perspective. I would almost say it's the lesser used second-person perspective, since you're actually controlling the actions of this Pino character (obviously short for Pinocchio) through the actions of his fairy companion Tinker (which doesn't belong in the same Disney universe, really), which is controlled by you, who Tinker is constantly talking directly to. Pino can be made to walk, run, stop, and interact with items, and anything he does can be approved or disapproved, so he may learn from his actions, what is right and what is wrong.

Getting started is unnecessarily slow, and you definitely need to go through a tutorial before you can get into real action, but once you get past all that, the game reveals itself to being a properly magical experience. Wonder Project J is definitely one of those games that you won't be able to play without either a full understanding of Japanese language or a fan translation patched version of the game ROM. Mind you, those aren't exactly legal. But for seekers of unique gaming experiences, Wonder Project J just might be worth the effort of finding either one.

4. Xardion (Asmik, 1992)

For the fourth and final SNES/SFC game, I have actually picked a game that is available outside of Japan. I found out about Xardion through a much bigger retrogaming site - Hardcore Gaming 101. Their Richard Pilbeam wrote a much more elaborate review of Xardion, but I'll try to cut the whole thing in the next two paragraphs, and not be quite as critical of it.

Xardion is a non-linear platforming action game that takes its most direct influences from Metroid and - dare I say it? - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, you play as three different mecha characters that you can practically switch between at any given time (see TMNT), although a fourth one will come along later in the game. In Xardion, your mechas have more distinguishable characteristics and abilities than any of the four turtles, so it's actually more necessary to switch between the mechas on a regular basis than in the other game. The platforming action itself is what reminds me so heavily of Metroid, and there is a similar sense of necessary grinding, backtracking and RPG-like progress, that it's difficult to not like Xardion at least a little bit.

Super Famicom/SNES: Xardion (1992)
Now, I have to be honest: I have never been that big a fan of either TMNT or Metroid, but finding a game that combines the good parts of these kinds of games and makes it all into something very much its own thing, I am a fan of. While I recognize Xardion isn't nearly as initially playable as the more known titles mentioned here, the more impressive graphics and soundtrack do go a long way in drawing you in more easily. Besides, there is no Game Over in this game, so it's easy to pick up and grind for as long as you like, do a savestate and continue later. Which I intend to do exactly when I have more time. So, again, not exactly a unique game, but combines familiar elements in an unusual manner, and it is without a doubt a Super Nintendo exclusive.



Because it's been such a long time since the previous Unique Games, it might be well worth repeating, that it's next to impossible to find any truly exclusive titles for either machine, since most of their games were released on both machines, even if they have some occasional differences. But since we are talking about Japanese computers, these games are still worth pointing out.

1. Dokuron no Yakata (Enix, 1984)

Just seeing the name Enix as the publisher would most logically point towards a game being a Japanese RPG of practically any given sub-genre. Well, Dokuron no Yakata pulls that rug neatly from under your feet, and gives you an interesting arcade-action game, in which you play a snail-looking creature whose mission is to clear houses from all sorts of undead creatures. In order to catch the undead, you must first reach the top of the house and pick up an item that lets out a number of red crosses around the house. These red crosses sort of work like the hammer in Donkey Kong, in that they are only active for a short time, and you cannot go up or down while holding one.

NEC PC-8801: Dokuron no Yakata (1984)
In some ways, Dokuron no Yakata (translated: "Dokuron's Mansion") is very much in the same league as Mr. Do's Castle, Chack'n Pop and other such slightly less classic, yet perfectly okay single-screen arcade-action games. The trick here is really the usage of the descending and ascending ropes, which replace the usual ladders. Obviously, being a PC-88 exclusive, and having no English title, it never had the chance to become more widely known outside of Japan, but it's definitely worth checking out, if you're looking for a new arcade-like experience that reminds you of early Famicom classics.

2. Coron (ASCII, 1984)

Ever since getting an SD-card reader for my MSX, ASCII has become much more familiar to me as a game publisher. They did a few pretty impressive arcade-style games that have become some of my recent favourites, but Coron, one of their best arcade-style games, was only ever released on NEC's PC-8801 computer.

On first look, Coron looks suspiciously like Pac-Man, but the way the mazes are structured in this game is very different. The mazes are built of two types of surfaces: solid ground paths, all of which have consumable apples to pick up, and the other kinds of paths are basically bridges, which are more fragile. The mazes are surrounded by water, and you can cross certain parts with boats floating here and there.

NEC PC-8801: Coron (1984)
Like in Pac-Man and most of its sequels, you need to pick up all the consumables from each maze in order to move on to the next level, but here, you have no consumable power-ups which would enable you to gobble up your enemies. Instead, you are given a small number of bombs to drop behind you, which will also block any movement until they explode. Learn to use the bombs with the fragile bridges, and you're well on your way to become a master at this game.

Coron has become one of my absolute favourite PC-88 games of all time, which isn't saying much, but it does make the machine more appealing to dig deeper into.

3. Produce (dB-SOFT, 1987)

If I have understood this correctly, Produce puts you in the shoes of an evil dungeon master, whose job it is to stop a small group of heroes-to-be from escaping your maze. The way to do this is to drop monsters into the maze, which should at least make the heroes less able to escape without a scratch. Well, actually, there's a more elaborate plot to this game, which the horror story more interesting, but hardly necessary. But as the plot goes, one of the four friends, Toshio, gets lured in by an entity that can communicate telepathically, and makes an offer that he cannot refuse.

NEC PC-8801: Produce (1987)
Although most of the plot-related text in Produce is written in Japanese, the actual gameplay is in English, so it's pretty easy to do what you're supposed to. You see the action from three eyes showing all three characters in the maze, as well as the map of the maze. There are 30 types of monsters you can use, and all three visitors of the maze have their own specific fears, which you must deal with. It's a bit tricky to get started with, since you need to set the appearance point and the timeframe of appearance for the monsters to get things going. This form of gameplay I have never before come across in all my years of gaming, so I suspect it's a properly unique game. You would never guess this was by the same company that created the Flappy series, but there you go.


DRAGON 32/64

Because the Xroar emulator is supposedly able to play both Dragon and TRS-80 games, I was considering having some TRS-80 games in here as well, but due to self-inflicted time constraints, I decided to go with only three Dragon games.

1. Back Track (Incentive, 1984)

Incentive software is more widely known for their first-person 3D adventure games, such as Driller, Castle Master and Total Eclipse, on more capable machines, as well as Splat! and the home conversion of Moon Cresta, but they also created some of their most interesting games strictly for the Dragon 32/64 computers; actually two of them. Back Track was the first of them, released in 1984.

Dragon 32/64: Back Track (1984)
In Back Track, you try to find your way out of a maze by collecting four numerically marked keys in ascending order, and then go through the exit. Of course, there are some hazards in the maze that kill you instantly, such as snakes, but you also have a willpower meter, which decreases with time. As such, Back Track doesn't seem like much to rejoice about, but it's the way the game has been presented, that makes all the difference. You see, the game is viewed from above in a neatly three-dimensional manner, and as the maze is built of square rooms, the 3D-effect in the room-changing animations is always fun to watch. Other than that, there isn't too much of interest in Back Track, but it is still one of the most entertaining games on the Dragon.

2. Eddie Steady Go (Incentive, 1985)

The second Incentive game is no less a variation of other famous games that the last one, but Eddie Steady Go is such a unique combination of Hunchback and BC's Quest For Tires that it also deserves a mention here. It takes Hunchback's single screen approach with Quest For Tires' odd series of obstacles to get through, but adds a little of its own flavour into the sauce.

Dragon 32/64: Eddie Steady Go (1985)
Basically, what you need to do is walk and jump right, getting over obstacles and dodging projectiles. You can move left too, but rightwards is obviously the only way to make progress. Score is given based on your quickness in solving a screen, but picking up an apple along the way will give you 500 extra points. Because there's so much variety in screen design, Eddie Steady Go is actually more interesting than Hunchback, although sadly, the gameplay isn't quite up to scratch. But it's a Dragon-exclusive, and somewhat unique one at that, so for Dragon enthusiasts at least, I can easily recommend it.

3. And All Because... [The Lady Loves Milky Chocs] (B&H Software, 1983)

In a series of long and strange game titles that would fit more easily with the Spectrum catalogue of games, we have (And) All Because The Lady Loves Milky Chocs, which is written in two different ways on the cover art and the game title screen. The game itself is a pretty curious one, too, as it features nine different levels, which must be some sort of a record for a Dragon game.

Dragon 32/64: And All Because The Lady Loves Milky Chocs (1983)
As the name would suggest, though, it's not an easy game, but mostly because the controls and collision detection don't really work well enough for the game to be comfortable to play. It is a funny concept, though - accomplish all kinds of different little tasks in order to get your lady some chocolate. But hey, who wouldn't, right? All of the tasks are played a little bit differently, so you need to acquaint yourself with the controls properly before getting into it. Happily, all you need to know can be accessed from the game's title screen. Although Milky Chocs is definitely not one of the most playable games on the Dragon computers, it is one of the most interesting concepts, and if nothing else, it's an exclusive for the platform.


ATARI 5200

This marathon of Unique Games and exclusive, but not that unique games ends with two Atari consoles, the first of which is best known for its awkward, yet comparatively modern controller. If my research proves correct, these three are the ONLY exclusive games ever made for the Atari 5200, and as you would expect, their uniqueness is questionable at best.

1. Sport Goofy (Atari, 1983)

One of my all time favourite Disney short animations was Goofy Gymnastics (1949), and finding a video game written around Goofy's sporting endeavours was an unexpected discovery. Even more unexpected was, that the game really has very little to do with actual sports that Goofy ever had anything to do with. But perhaps it's enough to have the character represented, since I have always thought Goofy as a criminally underused Disney character in video game history.

Sport Goofy features only two events: Marathon Dive and Pogo Pop, both of which take elements from other fairly well-known games from that time. Marathon Dive most notably combines Jumping Jack and other ladder-based platformers with some sort of a parachuting game, the name of which escapes my mind at the moment. For the first half of the event, you climb ladders and jump over holes in the structure - and in later levels, enemies. For the second half, you jump from the platform at the top and you glide down with your parachute and try to hit the moving platform in the water by steering left and right.

Atari 5200: Sport Goofy (1983)
The other event, Pogo Pop, combines Epyx's lesser-known puzzle game, Silicon Warrior, with Atari's Circus. The idea is to fill up the 5x5 grid with the colour you paint them as by your pogostick bouncing, and popping balloons that glide at the top of the screen will give you extra points. Later levels will have the floor boards disappearing.

Despite not being exactly a sport game as such, it is an interesting use of the often overlooked Disney character, and the game can sort of be called unique, thanks to its strange combination of elements. Perhaps not worth the bother if you're looking for exclusive Atari 5200 games, but it is one of the very few.

2. Xari Arena (Atari, 1983)

Although I haven't actually played much of these few Atari 5200 exclusive games, I can easily say that Xari Arena has quickly become my favourite of the three. The best way to describe it would perhaps be "anti-breakout", but I'm sure there's another way the developers called it.

Atari 5200: Xari Arena (1983)
Being the Pong-variant that it is, Xari Arena makes you control a bat, which can move freely around your half of the screen. The game can be played against a second player, but the idea becomes clear more easily as a single-player game. When the game starts, some junk starts flying around from the middle of the arena, all of which have a distinct look. You have a brick wall behind you, which you should protect by any means possible. The spiralling things destroy the bricks, but you can eat them up with your bat, once you have consumed a thing that enables you to do so. You need to consume the spiralling things, and use them as explosives to destroy the things that look more like traditional balls. You complete a level by destroying all the balls, and bonus score is counted by the amount of bricks you have left in the wall.

It truly is one of the most unique twists to the breakout genre that I have ever come across, and I'm amazed it took me this long to find it. Highly recommended!

3. Meebzork (Atari, 1983) - prototype

The final one of the three possible unique/exclusive games for the Atari 5200 was never actually finished, and the only way to play the game is as a prototype. Meebzork is probably the most potentially interesting game the A5200 ever would have had, had it been finished, but apparently, the game never passed the test phase due to a bug that prevented test players from getting past the first level.

Atari 5200: Meebzork (1983, prototype)
What Meebzork reminds me of quite heavily is Aztec Challenge on the C64. There are seven different levels in the game, six of which can be accessed through the practice selector, and they all play differently. In its still unfinished form, Meebzork's adventure mode only takes you as far as level one, which is a surprisingly layered shoot'em-up, in which you try to shoot gorgons in a 3-D scrolling space environment, while avoiding contact with a demon crab. The rest of the playable levels feature auto-scrolling hedge mazes and rivers, a cave with pillars moving up and down that you need to avoid, a levitation/shooting puzzle, and a lava pit platforming part.

Unfortunately, Meebzork has so many bugs in its prototype form, that it's practically unplayable. It is an interesting relic, though, and something that's pretty easy to get to try out.


ATARI 7800

Because neither Atari 5200 or 7800 had been featured in the Unique Games series before, I thought it only appropriate to end the series properly with the two consoles. The A7800 catalogue is even less well documented online than the previous, but here are three exclusive games for it, some of them even somewhat unique.

1. Ninja Golf (Atari, 1990)

Probably the best-known Atari 7800 exclusive is Ninja Golf, which is also probably the strangest combination of real-life ideas Atari ever came up with, at least on the 8-bits. It's exactly - well, sort of - what it sounds like: golf combined with martial arts. Of course, when making an idea of this complexity into an 8-bit game, you have to drop some expectations of realism, but then you would expect at least some cheapness if there are ninjas involved.

Atari 7800: Ninja Golf (1990)
There are only nine golf courses to get through, although the golfing part of the game only acts as a way to determine your sceneries. You only have one golf club, so you can only get your golf ball so far as to reach just about the half-way point through the course. Getting the golf ball through the most sedate terrain might not always be the wisest choice, or even possible, since you have an energy meter and three spare lives to get through the hordes of enemy ninja, angry rodents throwing pinecones at you, birds pooping on you and even sharks bumping into you when you go underwater. You can kick and throw shuriken at your enemies all you can, but the trick to find the easiest route is actually to find the lines on the map with the most terrain changes. When you finally reach the green, where you're supposed to use the putter to get the ball into the hole, this game throws a boss fight against an increasingly tough dragon for each hole.

Ninja Golf is fairly easy to get through on Easy level, since I did that on my first attempt, but there are four difficulty levels, so there's bound to be plenty of challenge for the more hardcore ninja golfers out there. Definitely a unique game, and as exclusive for the A7800 as you can get. As a final sidenote, there's actually a Japanese garden-style 27-hole mini-golf course called Ninja Golf in Indiana, US; I wonder if they took their inspiration from this game?

2. Water Ski (Froggo Games, 1988)

Another sport game here, which actually qualifies as more of a sport than a mutant, we have Water Ski from some other company than Atari. Froggo Games only ever made two games for the A7800 and a few more for the A2600, but they had a reputation for producing games of extremely low quality. Of course, this was what immediately raised my interest, so I chose the one that felt less obviously a clone of something recognizable.

Atari 7800: Water Ski (1988)

Oddly enough, Water Ski is a fairly playable game, and considering this is a sport that hasn't really been done too often for any computer or console, it's good to have one, even if the quality might not be up to scratch. I have played a Taito arcade game by the same name, but Froggo's Water Ski plays completely differently. First of all, you control both the boat driver and the skier, so unlike in the Taito game, you can actually tell where you're going all of the time. Secondly, you can control the speed of the boat, so you have more time to react to all the obstacles the river throws at you. Third, the game is viewed somewhat from a slightly behind the usual bird's view, so the graphics have some depth to them. Finally, and most unfortunately, each time you fall, the game starts from the beginning.

So, yes, there is a clear lapse in quality control here, but there are enough good things about Froggo's Water Ski to make it worth a try. If for no other reason, then to compare it to Taito's game and see what improvements could be made to either one.

3. Midnight Mutants (Atari, 1990)

Along with Ninja Golf, Midnight Mutants was one of the last games ever produced for the A7800, but the late entry for the console does mean a more evolved game. If anything, I should have included this already in my Unique Horror Games list back too many years ago, but it escaped my notice then. There's enough of ghosts, bats, werewolfs and zombies to go around in this game to be a horror game, but it is also an action-adventure game that makes it feel less horrific than actiony.

Atari 7800: Midnight Mutants (1990)
The idea in this game is to save Grandpa Munster from inside of a pumpkin, who has been imprisoned within one by a Dr. Evil - no relation to the one in Austin Powers. Even though trapped, Grampa is able to give you advice in the game's inventory screen. You can pick up helpful items along the way, but you can't really get anywhere without first picking up a knife, which is somewhere within the mansion to the north of your starting point.

Regarding the general gameplay, Midnight Mutants feels awfully close to Ultimate Play The Game's C64 games starring Sir Arthur Pendragon. It it similarly viewed from a pseudo-isometric point of view, with no real 3D effect, but the isometric movement isn't quite as skillfully crafted. However, the progression of the game makes Midnight Mutants feel more RPG'ish than the Pendragon games, and Grampa's information makes Midnight Mutants a much more player-friendly experience altogether. Of course, this makes Midnight Mutants less unique than merely exclusive, but it is a game worth having a go at, if you want something a bit different.


Okay, it's time to wrap up the absolute final Unique Games entry - at least in its usual form. Perhaps some special themed entries might turn up later on, but there are no plans for such currently. Thanks for reading my ramblings about games I know less about than perhaps I should, yet more than I did before starting writing about them.

Next year will bring some more comparisons and videos, but I will take a small break before resuming. Whenever that may be, resume I shall, and until then, I wish you all a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Stay safe, and as usual, keep on retrogaming!

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