Given the age we live in where retro collecting is popular – or people just emulate everything – it is always handy to know what games you should get for a system. That is more important when collecting for hardware of course since you can end up spending a lot of money very quickly on old games. While this isn’t an original blog post idea by any means, perhaps I can focus on more obscure stuff than the mainstream systems everyone already has the must haves for anyways.
As such, here are some ‘must have’ games for the TI 99/4A which was my earliest computer experience.
Games from the late 70s and early 80s are generally going to be rather simple by modern standards, fitting more into an early arcade style of play. For me, the TI was the very first game machine my family had so I was familiar with it before Atari stuff. It had variations on other popular games so I think that led to it not being ‘considered’ by many kids at the time, even though games like TI Invaders were still plenty fun. Here are my recommendations:
PARSEC – This is one of my favorites, a sidescrolling space shooter that is is one of the better examples of what the hardware could do. Visually they attempted to go for a psuedo-vector graphics look, with the enemies being outlined in single colors and there is a scrolling surface below. The do pull off a few tricks to make it seem like there are more objects floating around there really are but it all works out fine to create a fun game. When I first played it I thought it wasn’t too awesome as I didn’t realize that you had to use the 1/2/3 buttons on the keyboard to adjust the vertical speed of your craft. For battles it is usually best to keep it at 3 and for refueling use 1. The refueling sequence is interesting, albeit a little long as you have to navigate into a narrow passageway, not touching any of the sides. If you do, you are treated to a sweet pixel explosion.
The other part that made this game stand out was the voice. Using the TI Voice Module that plugs into the right hand side of the computer, this game had various voiceovers, which were the clearest computer generated voices I’ve come across from that time frame.
Hunt The Wumpus – This is an early horror game. You navigate the maze which are circular rooms connected with narrow passageways on a single white screen. The layout is randomized with each play and the number of rooms is determined by your difficulty setting. You are a hunter seeking out a creature called a Wumpus. Armed with a bow and a single arrow, you need to determine which room the Wumpus is hiding in without going into it (that means insta-death). You figure it out by discovering rooms with pools of blood in them(making this a pretty bloody game for the time) which surround the Wumpus lair. You only get one chance to make the right shot, which you do by pushing the button to arm then pushing the direction you are firing it in with the joystick. If correct, you get the Wumpus and one point. If you miss, the Wumpus hears the twang from your bow and it turns you into another pool of blood. There are also elements such as a slime pit (insta-death) and a bat which will pick you up and randomly drop you somewhere on the map, which could mean the Wumpus lair, a slime pit or a safe spot. The tension this game creates makes it a lot of fun, especially as a kid.
Microsurgeon – I’m sure someone at Atari had to regret the policies which caused a lot of their star talent to leave and form other development groups such as Activision or Imagic. Imagic created some excellent games at the time, its too bad they didn’t stick around although I’m sure the creativity they started with would have waned much like what happened with many other companies. Anyways, they gave us the excellent Microsurgeon for the TI. Similar in concept to Fantastic Voyage, you control a microscopic drone that navigates a human body, eliminating bacteria, tumors, tar, viruses and other problems that you come across. Each patient has different stats from the brain to the gallbladder, if any one of those reaches critical status then you are hosed. The goal is to bring each one to ‘good’ and then leave the body. Thanks to the random nature of the stats, there is plenty of replayability here and you can challenge yourself with patients that are near critical on everything.
Given that you are navigating a body the art would be a little visceral but where things are single colored, it isn’t photo-realistic by any means. They also have a cut off point beneath the intestines so they didn’t have to worry about any genital issues. Overall it is a great game and an innovative one, being the first videogame to focus on the human body. It is a little odd that there aren’t many games like it since, you’ve got the Trauma Center series but not a truckload of others. This game also makes great use of the Voice Module, even doing little things to make it seem like you are in a hospital with the computer paging a doctor and so on. They aren’t essential touches to the game, but they do help give it a more interesting and memorable personality.
Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator – As a TV show, Star Trek had to try and do action scenes but it never really got into dogfights (DS9 got close a few times) with the other aspects of exploration or morality plays, it hasn’t always been the easiest property to translate into the world of arcade action. Sega managed it thanks to some inspiration from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and making the simulator be based on the Kobayashi Maru simulation that the film started with. In arcades it worked out pretty well, the only hindrance being the lack of reliability on the color vector monitor (which could catch fire). The game itself though was well made and a lot of fun.
Sega created home ports for various systems, including the TI. Having played all of them, I believe the TI version is the best. Each one is playable and mimics elements of the arcade version to some degree and lacking true scaling abilities, none of the platforms could truly recreate the vector effects. But the TI gets as close as you could want. The high resolution raster graphics are certainly more detailed than other versions (the C64 and Apple II versions have more color in the sprites but much lower resolution) and the overlay looks pretty similar to the vector style. Then you have the voice module. This is the only home version to feature voice work, which is different from the arcade version (which had Nimoy and Doohan providing the VOs) since it is computer generated but it is still good and sounds Nimoy enough.
Moon Mine – Released later in the TI’s life, this was a 1st person shooter game that was screaming for an arcade yoke controller to handle the action. It still works fine with the joystick, if you have a decent one for the system. You are driving a tank through the mines, shooting monsters that come along to attack you.
The most interesting idea in the game is that you will come across objects in the mine such as water to restock your coolant and green rocks (which I assume are gems) – kind of like Blaster Master which would come along a few years later on the NES. You always get attacked when outside of the vehicle but you can shoot the monsters still – or they can eat you. The game also makes use of the Voice Module, with the Zygonaut taunting you (the programmer confirmed that you cannot get it, he is just there to taunt).
Tombstone City – For a long time I did not like this game. I would give it the occasional chance but as a kid having no manual, I had no idea what to do. I can’t remember exactly when I discovered what the trick was but in finding that out, it is a fun game.
The game has you driving a “schooner” fighting to survive in an Old West ghost town (represented by the blue blocks in the center of the screen). Outside is made up of a desert, cacti and green alien monsters that want to eat you. When you blast one of the little guys, they transmogrify into a cactus. The trick of the game is that you want to shoot them when they are standing next to another pair of cacti. When a group of three are next to each other (vertically, horizontally or diagonally) then they all change into one. Once all of the cacti pairs are gone, you progress to the next level. It is a little weird in overall concept but it is a fun game and better than some of the other single screen games for the system, like The Attack.
Alpiner – Climbing a one of the Earth’s tallest mountains is more than just a challenge to write off the bucket list, if you survive the experience then you are certainly lucky. Fortunately Alpiner is here to let’s you enjoy virtual mountain climbing – no oxygen deprivation, frostbite, hidden chasms or death.
Like the other titles on this list, it is all straightforward – scale the mountain and pass the level by reaching the top. Obstacles like trees, falling rocks, mountain lions, mountain goats, bears, snakes and fires are all there to make it more difficult for you. The animals will have these orbs in their paws/hooves that you can grab for points although fortunate for the player, they just sit there and will not chase after you.
Munch Man – Yes it is just a Pac-Man variation but it is a really good one – better than stuff like K.C. Munchkin. Munch Man features mazes and four enemies that chase you around relentlessly which can only be destroyed when you eat a power-up. The main ‘feature’ it does differently is that you have to cover the map with the chain that Munch Man generates out of his…uh…back as opposed to clearing the maze from dots. So that opposite way of handling it was enough to prevent lawsuits, as far as I am aware.
The game also changes the four enemies on each level, which is something that I always found interesting as a kid. I wanted to progress just to see what the next enemy would be. The mazes didn’t change configuration, just color but the enemies always kept me interested plus the satisfying ‘crunch’ sound the game makes when you eat one of them. The graphics make use of the TI’s ability for higher resolutions than many of the competitors at the time and overall it is a great game to have for any TI collection, especially if you need Pac-Man (Ms. Pac-Man was released for the TI but I’ve never come across a cart whereas MM is super common)
That should do it for now, I won’t say that this is the end all list but any collection with these games on the TI should find it a satisfying one. What are your favorites for the TI 99/4A?