Grab a cuppa, settle into your favourite armchair, and let me take you on a jaunt back to a time when shoulder pads were 'in', and Band Aid was telling us they knew it was Christmas time. It was a simpler era when telly only had three channels (flipping luxury, really!), and every child's dream wasn't the latest smartphone, but rather a boxy little marvel known as the "Grandstand Astro Wars."
Ah, Astro Wars. Those two words instantly transport me back to the smoke-filled haze of the local chippy, where the smell of vinegar-drenched chips merged with the electric excitement of that little tabletop game. This was the 80s, my dear readers, when 'high-tech' was your Nan finally getting a colour telly and the pinnacle of our digital escapism was the humble Grandstand Astro Wars... when dial-up internet was still a science fiction fantasy that Raymond Baxter told us about on Tomorrow's World and the only 'streaming' we did involved chucking stones into the local brook. So, buckle up and hold onto your Rubik's cubes, as we delve back into the gaming delights of the 70s and 80s!
Grandstand Astro Wars - We Were Given Ours Second Hand...
This chunky wonder was the closest any of us ever got to a Star Wars adventure, the joystick akin to a real spaceship's controls. And oh, the dazzling LED lights! Each illuminated pixel on the screen was a fiery battle in the cold abyss of space. And the sound - it was as if Kraftwerk had taken up residence in your living room. It wasn't just a game; it was a blinking, beeping, battery-guzzling spectacle!
Astro Wars didn't care if you'd been rubbish at football during PE or if your favourite cassette tape had just unspooled itself. It just welcomed you with open arms (and the satisfying click of the 'on' switch) into a world where you could be the hero.
We'd pass hours zapping alien invaders, defending Earth with nothing but our quick reflexes and dogged determination, fingers dancing on the joystick like Elton John at the piano. And, if you were lucky, after a marathon session, you could boast about hitting the astronomical (no pun intended!) score of 9999. It was a sense of achievement that no modern-day Fortnite 'Victory Royale' could ever match.
Contrast that with the gaming behemoth that it's become today. Today's games have plots more intricate than a Dickens novel, graphics more realistic than a Hockney painting, and they're played on platforms more powerful than the computers used for the first moon landing! Not to mention, they're primarily online. Where's the fun in getting verbally thrashed by a 12-year-old from halfway across the globe when you could have been having a right laugh with your mates, huddled around Astro Wars at a sleepover?
Sometimes, I wonder what the kids of today would make of Astro Wars. They'd probably mistake it for a hipster bread bin or some strange VHS player. Still, I reckon they'd fall in love with its charm if they gave it a whirl. After all, who could resist the addictive simplicity of those blinking lights and tinny beeps?
A (Very) Brief History of 1980s Video Games
Remember the hallowed "Pong"? Released in the early 70s, it was the grandpappy of them all. Two white rectangles and a single pixel darting back and forth - and we were hooked! This game, my friends, was like catnip to our youthful minds. It was a testament to the fact that, back in the day, we didn't need 4K ultra-HD realism to be entertained. Nah, we were perfectly content with a few chunky pixels on a screen.
Then there was "Space Invaders", which was, in essence, Astro Wars' bigger, badder brother. The palpable tension of blasting away increasingly fast-moving aliens was enough to turn your mum's living room into a nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat gaming experience. And don't even get me started on the time we wasted trying to uncover the infamous 'cheat' that allowed you to hide in the corner without getting hit - complete codswallop, of course!
And who can forget the heroic yellow circle that was Pac-Man? That little gobbling champ had us in a trance, navigating the neon mazes and chomping down on power pellets while evading those pesky ghosts. Admit it, we all had a favourite ghost. (Mine was Inky, the bashful one.) Nothing beat the feeling of gobbling up a ghost right after eating a power pellet. It was like David finally defeating Goliath, only a lot more pixelated and with less slingshots involved.
Ah, and there was "Donkey Kong", Nintendo's gift to us 80s kids. This was where we met our good ol' mate Mario for the first time, only he was 'Jumpman' back then, risking life and limb to save his lady friend from the clutches of a barrel-chucking ape. The drama! The heroism! I tell you, it was like a Shakespeare play, only with a lot more monkeys and a serious lack of iambic pentameter.
Sure, nowadays, games have got more dimensions than a Christopher Nolan film, and kids are building entire civilisations in Minecraft while we struggle to operate the telly remote. But, no matter how flashy and hi-tech today's games get, nothing can replicate the pure joy and pixelated wonder of the classics.
Because, let's be honest, we didn't just play these games. We lived them. They were as much a part of our childhood as Spangles and Top of the Pops. And, while we might've grown older and (arguably) wiser, these games will forever have a special place in our hearts. Or should I say, in the high-score table of our hearts? Yeah, that sounds about right.
It might be tucked away in the attic now, but Astro Wars remains an icon of my childhood. It's more than just a game; it's a digital time capsule of a less complicated era. It's a reminder of a time when happiness was as simple as the blip-blip-blip of a pixelated spaceship hurtling across a tiny screen.
Right, I'm off to rummage around the loft, hoping that my Astro Wars machine is still up there somewhere, gathering dust alongside my Adam and the Ants albums. Because, let's be honest, there's no app for nostalgia, is there?