SEGA: to be this old means you've been around for AGES.

Here is my pick of the best coin-op games ever to appear under the Sega name. It is a name I've seen in arcades all my life. A few years ago I saw a Sega fruit machine (for sale second hand) that used pre decimal money!

The company we know today as Sega came together from the merger of many different companies. In the first years of the 1950's America was fighting the Korean War. US soldiers were often based in Japan. To entertain these customers a company named Nihon Goraku Bussan started to import pinball machines and jukeboxes. In 1965 they merged with a company run by ex US serviceman David Rosen. Rosen had been importing air-rifle games and other coin-operated entertainments since the late fifties. The brand name Nihon Goraku Bussan used was Service Games. This was abbreviated to Sega and the merger with Rosen Enterprises gave the now familiar Sega Enterprises Inc.

When Space Invaders became popular Sega developed video games of its own and also acquired a US company Gremlin Inc. Many of the games I feature here were developed in the US and appeared under the name Sega/Gremlin or even Gremlin/Sega. Namco gained a lot of criticism when they went back to the early 80's and even the late 70's in some cases for their retro compilations. The Sega Ages pack released in the UK contained relatively sophisticated games starting from 1985. But this meant they missed out many classics (and a few duff ones too).

The first video game I've found baring the Sega name is something of a surprise. Fonz was a 1976 game based on the hit TV show Happy Days. The slogan went, "TV's hottest name, Your hottest game". It was a simple motorcycle game that had handlebars on the cabinet. You had to go as fast as possible without skidding off the road or hitting another bike.

The next two are sure not to show up on any proud Sega retrospective. Space Attack (below left) was a colourful Space Invaders rip-off and Invinco was another Space Invader clone but with non-alien targets. 1979's Head-On (below right) was a top down viewed car game. There was a maze of passageways from which you had to collect dots. Your aim was to collect them all without colliding with the computer car coming in the opposite direction. The game definitely crosses the line into impossible and frustrating. It also is exactly like the 1978 Atari VCS cartridge Dodge'Em.

Monaco GP from 1980 is a driving game I remember well. It had a huge cockpit cabinet and a large padded steering wheel, accelerator and gear stick. There were speakers positioned in front of and behind your head. The sound of a passing car would move between these speakers to great effect. The game itself was an avoid-the-other-cars type with an overhead view. However many additional ideas were added to the mix to make it quite special.

One nice touch was a night section where you only got to see a tiny fraction of the road in your headlights. Risky but lots of fun. Sometimes the track became blue in colour, indicating treacherous ice. The siren of an ambulance would sound every so often. This was your signal to move aside as it made its way down the centre of the screen. There were also the occasional bottlenecks were the road narrowed drastically. The game would give you a warning of danger just before the road narrowed. Many of the ideas in this game found their way into the driving games of other companies.

"Fighter Pilots needed in Sector Wars. Play Astro Blaster!" These words always attracted my attention in the arcade to this excellent shoot-em up. The enemy formations and behaviour were very varied, with 29 waves to be seen. The graphics themselves were detailed, animated and often used colour cycling.

Firing aimlessly worked against you. Your laser could overheat so every shot had to count. One lifesaver was the warp button. Hitting this in tight spots slowed the enemies down to a crawl giving you time to wipe them out in safety. After four waves you scrolled through an asteroid field that gave you the opportunity to shoot fire balls for extra fuel. Speech was just the topping as the game featured excellent sound effects throughout. A classic.

Space Fury from 1981 (above) was the first colour vector graphic game. This shoot-em up had elements of Asteroids but took the idea much further. Each wave consisted of alien sections that would drift together to make one large baddie that would then attack you. The pieces or the whole could be shot but only a complete alien could shoot a fireball back at you. Between the levels you could dock with extra weaponry to give extra directions of fire. Colour was well used and speech allowed the head alien to taunt you. Space Fury was fast and frenzied.

Eliminator is another vector graphic game with some of the coolest explosions in history. The Eliminator was a craft at the centre of a rotating base. You were killed on contact with the base but a single shot down the moving tube of its centre would finish it off. Over time the Eliminator ship grew until it finally left the base to come after you. More fun was to be had playing against three other human opponents. To advance further in the game your best bet was to co-operate. Your shots however would bounce the other ships around the screen often straight into the eliminator. Multiplayer games could often turn into huge grudge matches with players more intent on destroying you than the eliminator!

Pulsar is a real forgotten gem. Viewed from above you controlled a little tank around a maze. The aim was to reach coloured keys at the top of the screen and deliver them to the locks at the bottom. The walls of this maze however, constantly disappeared and re-appeared. This could stop you from where you were trying to get or miraculously open up a new path. The detailed graphics showed many little enemies that needed to be shot or avoided. Fast fun.

Frogger is one of the ultimate single screen games. The perfectly balanced gameplay gave you a simple task that hooked you from the start. True thumb candy. For a full look at Frogger check out the article in issue 12 of RETROGAMER fanzine.

Turbo was a graphically advanced driving game. It took many of the ideas of Monaco G.P. and added a 3D perspective. You drove through cities and countryside in varying weather conditions. Your aim was to pass the required number of cars while not hitting them or the ambulance that occasionally sped by. A great version (complete with steering wheel and excellerator pedal) was released for the Colecovision home console.

Pengo (1982) was a game of supreme cuteness than disguised a tough challenge. You were Pengo the penguin on the run from the Sno-Bees. These had to be squashed with well-timed pushes against ice blocks. The gameplay was frantic as you manoeuvred around avoiding contact with the sno-bees. There is a wonderful animation if they get you. You lie on your back crying and flapping you wings and legs! Great music too.

Tac/Scan was another excellent vector game from 1982. You controlled a formation of seven little ships. They were steered with a paddle around the passing bad guys and could dispense serious firepower. The unique bit was that each ship could be destroyed individually. It was game over if you lost them all but extra ships could be obtained in play to fill the holes in the formation. The game had three stages. The first was a vertically scrolling section. The second saw a wonderfully fluid shift to a third person 3D view (below). This was the toughest part as you were pestered by a flying saucer and enemy fireballs screamed towards you. The last part saw you steer the formation down a twisting space tunnel into the next galaxy. Any ships colliding with the edge of the tunnel were destroyed. Lots of variation, great sound and cool changes in perspective made this a real classic.

1982's Zaxxon was a jump in sophistication for raster graphics. This game also had the distinction of being the first arcade game to have a (US) television advertising campaign for it alone. I remember it being very hard to judge your height at first. Gradually though, players got used to the isometric viewpoint. At its heart it was a fun shooter that had you infiltrating an enemy base. With missiles being launched from the ground right next to you, forcefields to avoid and many baddies to blast, it was stuffed full of good ideas.

Star Trek came out around the launch of the second feature film. It was the last of the Sega vector games. It had a screen that was divided into three sections: the helm view from the Enterprise, a map view of the ships nearby and a box with gauges to show shield strength, warp capability and photon torpedoes. Most levels set you the task of defending a starbase. Manoeuvring around space to destroy the Klingons soon became second nature. Once a sector was secured you moved onto the next level. A computer voice would tell you, "Damage repaired Sir", and it was on to the next level.

Upn'Down brings us into 1983. Here you controlled a little buggy down single lane paths. The aim was to collect coloured flags without hitting other vehicles. A joystick steered the car and a single button gave a jump. A well-timed jump on top of an enemy car would destroy it but clipping it or just colliding with it lost you a life. The game had a compulsion that meant you just had to spend another 10p if you were just one flag off reaching the next level. It was punishingly hard though.

Spy Hunter (below) is a 1984 game that many players remember fondly. You raced a powerful gun fitted sports car along a treacherous highway viewed from above. Your aim mainly to survive while destroying the enemy cars and not harming the innocent vehicles. Sometimes you could force enemies off the road; sometimes they knocked you for six. Every so often you could drive up the ramps of a friendly supply truck to gain another weapon. These included missiles, oil and a smoke screen. Sometimes a fork in the road would descend to the sea and your car would magically transform into a speedboat. Here you met more villains with names like Barrel Dumper and Doctor Torpedo.

I'll leave the Sega story there. Suffice to say that before they discovered hydraulic cabinets Sega produced many small arcade games with huge amounts of gameplay.

This document is copyright 1998-2001 Keith Ainsworth and can be found at the Retrogamer fanzine site:

I have loads of conversions of Sega games for a wide variety of computers and consoles for sale here.

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